Friday, January 16, 2009

Its official.

Israel is a terrorist state. President Shimon Peres:

"Israel's aim [in attacking Gaza] was to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so that they would lose their appetite for shooting at Israel."

They need each other.

Right wing fanatics, that is. Osama bin Laden has called for a jihad against Israel in Gaza. Way to go Israel and US--you just inflamed Islamic fanaticism. There is peace, fleeting.

Neoconservatism and Israel

A reader writes Andrew Sullivan:

I have to take exception to your equation of what's happening in Gaza right now to neoconservatism. Of course today's bombing of the UN facility was a terrible and tragic mistake, and will do nothing to help move the peace process forward. Of course the entire situation, the deaths of Palestinian civilians, the international outrage, in essence all of the negative results of the Gaza offensive, are sad and unfortunate. Ultimately, what this comes back to, though, is the bottom-line question of what you would have Israel do? Hamas will simply never be a reasonable player in the move toward a two-state solution. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and its stated attitude is that there is no need for a long-term truce, because it won't be terribly long before Israel is in fact destroyed.
No other country on earth would be asked to stand still while its neighbor, bent on its destruction, continuously fires rockets at populated areas. Removing Hamas from power is going to be ugly and cause tremendous collateral damage, but it's an absolute pre-requisite for any hope of a lasting peace.

I would have Israel negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas, only this time I would have Israel honor the terms of the cease-fire. I would also have Israel--provided I could go back in time--not collude with the US in helping bring Hamas to power. Hamas is a nefarious force, and everyone would be better served if Fatah ruled Palestine. Also, no other society on earth would be asked to stand still while its neighbor, bent on its destruction, continiously blockades the borders, bulldozes their houses, and fires into populated areas.

On the neoconservatism equation, Sullivan is right. Pace Christopher Hitchens, there is not a neoconservative on the planet who isn't a far right supporter of Israel's aggressive policies against the Palestinians. This isn't a coincidence. What binds the US and Israel together is their "shared culture", i.e., their copious contempt for Arabs and the belief that Arabs can be "helped" through massive amounts of violence. This mental disease has infected American public discourse since the 1950s, at which time, it began to mirror Israel's descriptions of its Arab neighbors. To say that neoconservates have an attachment to Israel misses the point. Lots of people have attachments to Israel who aren't neoconservatives. What makes neoconservatives different is that they fetishize Israel's military bombardment against the Palestinians as a model worth emulating. They saw Israel's destruction of a people and society and emulated in Iraq. They honed their talking points that apologized for torture and terrorism on the pages of US newspapers when Israel was demolishing Lebanon in 1982. They learned this skills then, and applied them to Iraq. The good news is that there is a chance that the shifting tide of world opinion will wash away the stain on neocons.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I was more right than I knew when I wrote that Israel's goal in Gaza was to massacre innocent Palestinians. Now Thom Friedman is saying the same thing:

I have only one question about Israel’s military operation in Gaza: What is the goal? Is it the education of Hamas or the eradication of Hamas? I hope that it’s the education of Hamas. Let me explain why...

[In the Lebanon war] Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future...

In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

Got that? According to Friedman, Israel is right to "inflict...heavy pain on the Gaza population" in order to teach them a lesson, just like Israel did in the Lebanon war. As Greenwald points out, this is a textbook definition of terrorism. As Walt points out, Friedman misstates some basic facts about the Lebanon and Gaza wars.

Jeffrey Goldberg's Op-Ed in the Times isn't much better, and he can't seem to remember that Israel, not Hamas, violated the cease-fire. Goldberg's Op-Ed is too boring to quote, but his final paragraph exhibits a willful denial of reality:

The only small chance for peace today is the same chance that existed before the Gaza invasion: The moderate Arab states, Europe, the United States and, mainly, Israel, must help Hamas’s enemy, Fatah, prepare the West Bank for real freedom, and then hope that the people of Gaza, vast numbers of whom are unsympathetic to Hamas, see the West Bank as an alternative to the squalid vision of Hassan Nasrallah and Nizar Rayyan.

Its astonishingly how Goldberg can deny that the US and Israel covertly funded Hamas, and it saddens me that the the Times continues to publish this dross. Sullivan's barb dulls the pain.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Stephen Walt asks Hillary Clinton:

Given the priority that President-elect Obama has placed on achieving Israeli-Palestianian peace, is it true that you intend to appoint a Middle East team whose principal members failed to achieve this goal during the eight years of your husband's administration, and whose objectivity and even-handness has been questioned by key actors in the region and by their own prior associates here at home? Wouldn't U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian interests be better served by appointing a new and more diverse team that enjoyed greater credibility?
I doubt it. Hillary Clinton, was, after all, part of the team who peddled one of the biggest lies about the Israeli/Palestinian "peace process": that it was all Arafat's fault. Of course, it wasn't.

In the world?

What in the world is Israel trying to accomplish with the destruction of Gaza?

EI reports that the invasion of Gaza--like the invasion of Lebanon in 1982--has been in plans for a significant amount of time prior to the invasion. EI reports:

Having struck thousands of targets from the air in the first phase, followed by a ground invasion that saw troops push into much of Gaza, a third phase would involve a significant expansion of these operations.

It would require the deployment of thousands of reserve soldiers, who are completing their training on bases in the Negev, and the destruction and seizure of built-up areas closer to the heart of Gaza City, Hamas's key stronghold. The number of civilian casualties could be expected to rise rapidly.

This will only serve to weaken Israel's interests, embolden Hamas, and ultimately, have more corpses in the Levant.
A fourth phase, the overthrow of Hamas and direct reoccupation of Gaza, is apparently desired neither by the army nor Israel's political leadership, which fears the economic and military costs.
This now seems to be the course that Israel will follow. This is, of course, in terms of Israel's interests, stupid and foolhardy. World opinion is now attuned to the suffering and plight of Gazans and the brutality of Israel against a helpless people. Reoccupation will only ignite the voices of dissent.

Those options have long been in preparation, as the defense minister, Ehud Barak, admitted early on in the offensive. He said he and the army had been planning the attack for at least six months. In fact, indications are that the invasion's blueprint was drawn up much earlier, probably 18 months ago.

It was then that Hamas foiled a coup plot by its chief rival, Fatah, backed by the United States.

Ahhh. As we now know, the US and Israel executed a coordinated policy to bring Hamas to power in Gaza. This scenario illustrates the fact that the perpetuation of this conflict rests on outside meddling and opposing right-wing regimes in Israel and Palestine. Until the leaders of Israel and Palestine fail to benefit from violent attacks, and until outside actors back away and cease meddling in the affairs of each party, the conflict will continue.

And its only getting worse.


One thing to take away from Israel's reckless behavior in Gaza (reckless with regard to life and Israel's state interests) is that Israel appears to be operating with the belief that it can act recklessly without punishment. Meaning, Israel believes that whatever it does in Gaza, the US will still support any Israeli military action against the Palestinians, and that those who object to Israel's actions will be ignored. The obvious antidote to Israel's actions is for Israel's critics to punish Israel by making their voice heard. As Greenwald says, the only reason the Israel Lobby can pressure nearly every elected official in Congress to blindly support Israel is because Congressmen face no potential benefit from disagreeing with Israel's policy. If the opposition becomes loud enough, they will be encouraged to respond.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama and Gaza

Its no surprise, but, Daniel Larison thinks that Obama will do nothing to change US policy toward the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. As Larison points out, both Greenwald and Philip Weiss say that one cannot know Obama's future policy toward the conflict.

Larison writes:
I don’t think Obama’s likely course of action is so hard to discern, and his public position is going to be exceedingly predictable, regardless of whether that is what he “really” believes...

The incoming administration will almost certainly abide by Obama’s campaign pledges not to force Israel to make concessions or “drag” them to the negotiating table. It will maintain what Weiss and perhaps even Greenwald will find to be an incredibly out-of-touch position of absolute support for ongoing military operations in Gaza (assuming the operations will still be going on in three weeks’ time) just as Obama supported Israeli actions in Lebanon in 2006 to the hilt. The public stance of the administration will be staunchly, almost embarrassingly supportive of the actions of Olmert’s outgoing government and whatever new government forms later this year.

All of this assumes that the structures that enable the Israel lobby to dictate US policy toward Israel/Palestine will continue. I don't think Obama (or any President) is strong enough to confront the lobby if the lobby maintains its current level of power. Certainly someone like Obama, with his accomodationist and extablishiment pattern of ruling, will not take on such a hard-headed foe. However, I think Obama may deviate from the past 50 years of slavishy toeing the Israel lobby's line because the lobby's ability to enforce its will may be deteriorating.

The press created the miasma that allowed the lobby to thrive, and the cultural fetishization of the Holocaust and demonization of Palestinians has allowed the lobby's power to endure. These cultural forces have been mutating in the wake of Israeli's atrocities against Gaza. Foreign Policy now hosts a blog by the author of The Israel Lobby. Rashid Khalidi, who, lest we forget, was demonized as a anti-Semetic terrorist by the nation's ruling political party just two months ago, has published information on Gaza in The New York Times. Pro-Palestinian demonstrationsn are occuring all over the country. The zietgiest is shifting--more and more people recognize that Israel is continuing to commit atrocities against the Palestinian people.

For Obama, if he recognizes this shift--and this shift continues and intensifies throughout his Presidency--he may hop on the bandwangon and do something about the situation. Or, at the very least, would be able to put more pressure on Israel to grant concessions to the Palestinians in peace negotiations. 2009 isn't 2006. Speaking out about Israel's bombardment of Lebanon in 2006 would have killed Obama's career. Hopefully, Obama will recognize the changing mood in the US, and adapt accordingly, like he has throughout his political career.

But don't get your hopes up.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


IOZ is spot on:

Congress is declaring, once again, its eternal and unending support for Israel to do fuck-all whatever it pleases. Why why why? The answer is that the anti-Arab/Muslim forces in America have successfully deployed a curious American contradiction, which is our national Cult of the Holocaust, which has become the central fetish for our moral pornography, even as Jews become ever-more-thoroughly mainstreamed.

This gets to the heart of this cultural bond between the US and Israel (or rather, the US' identification with Israel as a national appendage). The larger question is, why did this identification occur?

Friday, January 9, 2009


What he said.

On intentions

Many observers of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict who sympathize with Israel and its residents, but also criticize the large scale killing of Palestinians, often insert a caveat into their criticisms that goes something like this: "Yes I know that Israel is killing exponentially more Palestinians that Palestinians are killing Israelis, but there is no moral equivalence between the two, because Israel is doing it to protect their state and adheres to Western morality, but Hamas has no regard for human life and kills indiscriminately." Cf., Andrew Sullivan.

The problem with this formulation is that it places too much emphasize on the intentions of those committing the violence in the conflict. It also, by stressing the concept of "moral equivalence", elides the very real disparity in military and state powers between the two groups. Hamas has no state. Israel does. Not only does this affect the daily lives of their residents, but influences the tactical decision that each respective leadership can entertain. Meaning, Hamas has no apparatus for controlling its members actions or the actions of rogue attackers against Israel. Hamas simply cannot be expected to be held to the "Western" standards of war, like Israel, if it does not enjoy the benefits of a nation-state.

The crux of the problem with the aforementioned defense of Israel is that one cannot fully know the intentions of other individuals. The emphasis here is on individuals--the Israeli government, like Hamas, is not homogenous. People in either party may view violence as a means to a larger end, or simply as a good inself. We don't know, and it hinders understanding to view both groups as homogenous, and ascribe a Western morality to one, and barbarity to the other. Also, intentions themseves are inchoate concepts--the why of a military operation will always be infintiely more complex than the what. Who knows why individuals do certain acts, including ourselves.

Also, the idea that the IDF is more concerned with human life may just not be true.

Or, would Sullivan's thinking consider the Irgun or Stern Gang to be barbarians?

Thursday, January 8, 2009


This is racist. Goldberg writes:

Well, yes, of course. Ariel Sharon did not evacuate Gaza to serve the Oslo peace process. But he evacuated Gaza all the same. His motivation is not as interesting to me as the colossal reality. Yes, it was wrong to do unilaterally -- I agree with Daniel on that -- but he did it! And Daniel knows as well as I do that Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert, hoped to do the same thing across much of the West Bank. But what stopped him? Palestinian rockets from Gaza, a special gift from Hamas.

Riiiiight. Goldberg thinks that Olmert was full of good intentions, but those crazy 'stinians stopped him from peace. Too bad Israel, with the US, was aiding Hamas and thus had a direct role Hamas' firing of rockets into Israel. Moreover, Olmert didn't merely stop the dismantling of settlements in the West Bank--they expanded.

Palestinians interested in a two-state solution would have viewed the withdrawal in 2005 as a first, important step toward independence. They would have used the billions in aid money that flowed to Gaza to build schools and hospitals and roads and farms on the abandoned land of the Jewish settlements. But they turned those ruined settlements into rocket launching pads. Sharon was wrong to pull out of Gaza without extracting concessions from the Palestinians, and he should have done it in the framework of a negotiation, but that doesn't change the fact that he gave the Palestinians of Gaza what they said they wanted.

I really don't know what world Goldberg lives in. The Palestinains who are interested in a two-state solution are the majority of Palestinians. The Palestinians who control the aid money in Gaza are Hamas. Unfortunately, Hamas isn't a government; its a resistance movement. Its like complaining that the FLN didn't give French lessons. Lumping the two together is akin to equating the Israeli government with all Jews--which is, frankly, racist.


Two years ago, during the Lebanon war, it would have been unthinkable for the New York Times to publish something like this.

Just war

Both Ross Douthat and Daniel Larison have been musing about the merits of Just War theory and its applicability to the Gaza conflict.

The problem with this approach--i.e., approaching the normative question of what actions are just in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--is that a reliance on abstract theories aiming for general applicability is ultimately futile in this context. In polite society, the notion that Israel doesn't have a right to be a Jewish state is anathema. Yet the notion that nation-states should be purely secular--in the abstract--is a much more common position that the idea that Israel shouldn't be Jewish. The point here is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sui generis, and bringing abstract principles into this particular conflict ultimately results in the abandonment of the principle or adopting a position that ensures the intractability of the conflict.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Jeffrey Goldberg is pissed off and pornographic:

One more thing, speaking of pornography -- we've all seen endless pictures of dead Palestinian children now. It's a terrible, ghastly, horrible thing, the deaths of children, and for the parents it doesn't matter if they were killed by accident or by mistake. But ask yourselves this: Why are these pictures so omnipresent? I'll tell you why, again from firsthand, and repeated, experience: Hamas (and the Aksa Brigades, and Islamic Jihad, the whole bunch) prevents the burial, or even preparation of the bodies for burial, until the bodies are used as props in the Palestinian Passion Play. Once, in Khan Younis, I actually saw gunmen unwrap a shrouded body, carry it a hundred yards and position it atop a pile of rubble -- and then wait a half-hour until photographers showed. It was one of the more horrible things I've seen in my life. And it's typical of Hamas. If reporters would probe deeper, they'd learn the awful truth of Hamas. But Palestinian moral failings are not of great interest to many people.

My guess that these pictures are omnipresent because the IDF has killed lots of Palestinian children. I loathe the pysche of person who is angrier at the publicizing of murdered children than the actual murdering of children. That, truly, is pornographic.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Match made in Heaven

As Schmittian logic dictates, the American and Israeli right wing thrive on enemies, hence their role in getting Hamas elected in Palestine. Obviously, the plan to bring Hamas to rule was not out of any concern for the human beings that inhabited Palestine or Israel, as the result of Hamas' win over Fatah was surely more violence and bloodshed. Bush and the State department knew that Hamas would violently resist Israel, and even expressed glee at the prospect:

Alvaro de Soto, then UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, wrote in his confidential "End of Mission Report" that the U.S. "clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas." He recalled that the "U.S. envoy" to a Feb. 2, 2007, meeting of the Quartet in Washington had twice declared "how much I like this violence," because "it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas."

That U.S. envoy was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

So much for Democracy in the Middle East. Hamas' inevitable rocket attacks provided an ever-diminishing cover for Israel's massacre of Gazans, which was the ultimate goal of the Bush administration's policy toward Israel and Palesitne. Or,

As the commander of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Khalid Jaberi, told Vanity Fair's David Rose, "We can only conclude that having Hamas in control serves [the Bush administration's] overall strategy, because their policy was so crazy otherwise."

But the Bush administration had not only accomplished its goal of eliminating a Hamas-dominated government; it had also set up a new argument that could later be used to justify an all-out Israeli offensive in Gaza: that Hamas had mounted an "illegal coup" in Gaza. That was the term that Rice used on Jan. 2 in justifying the Israeli operations against Gaza.


The Atlantic continues its downward spiral. Robert Kaplan writes:
And yet in a startling rebuke to geography and recent history—and in testimony to the sheer power of audacity and of ideas—the mullahs in Teheran hold more sway in Gaza today than does the tired, Brezhnevite regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
I don't see how this Iran's putative influence in Gaza servers as a testimony to the power of ideas. Rather, Egypt likely holds little influence in Gaza because it aids Israel in blockading and consequently starving Gaza. Ideas simply aren't powerful enough for Gazans to bow to Egypt when Egyptian troops are slaughtering Gazans attempting to escape the open-air prison for Egypt.

Kaplan continues:

Gaza constitutes the western edge of Iran’s veritable new empire, cartographically akin to the ancient Persian one, that now stretches all the way to western Afghanistan, where Kabul holds no sway and which is under Iranian economic domination.
This is sheer, fantastic nonsense. They said the same thing about Nasser. Suggesting that Iran--a moderately sized, fairly poor nation-state--is a reincarnation of the immensely powerful ancient Persian empire is absurd. Kaplan continues manufacturing nonsense:

Whether it is the sub-state entities of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the Mahdi movement in Shiite southern Iraq; or the hopes, dreams, and delusions of millions of Sunni Arabs, principally in Egypt, who feel a closer psychological identity with radical Shiite mullahs than with their own Pharaonic Sunni autocracy, Iran has built its dominion on a combination of anti-western ideas and the dynamic wiliness of its intelligence operations (which, in turn, are a reflection of a civilization more developed and urbanized than that of the Arabs).

Hamas is fighting to establish a nation-state in Palestine. Hezbollah was created as a response to Israel's occupation in Lebanon in 1982, and speaks for Shi'ite Muslims in Lebanon, who, without them, would have little other political representation. The Mahdi army is fighting to controll Iraq. These are all disparate groups with disparate goals, and lumping them together reflects the thinking of someone who casually refers to Arabs as less than civilized.

Monday, January 5, 2009


While overall a great post, and one that 10 years ago could not be published by Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt writes:

Pundits like Walter Russell Mead are fond of claiming that the U.S.-Israel "special relationship" reflects shared religious traditions and the will of the American people. The evidence suggests otherwise: although most Americans support Israel’s existence and have more sympathy for them than they have for the Palestinians, they are not demanding that U.S. leaders back Israel no matter what it does. But that's what American politicians reflexively do, even though it encourages Israel to continue immoral and self-destructive policies (including the continued expansion of settlements) and contributes to Arab and Islamic anger at the United States.

This only makes sense if we define the US-Israel "special relationship" to mean that the US leader must back Israel no matter what it does. That seems like a definition that few, if any, reasonable people adhere to. The idea of a common Judeo-Christian culture and disdain for Arab peoples has been a powerful component of US postwar American culture, and this cultural phenomena created the environment that allowed organizations like AIPAC to be ubiquitous in the halls of Congress. Moreover, among low-information voters, there is no differentiation between Palestinians in terrorists--popular movies and TV shows simply don't portray Palestinians as humans. If Palestinians were depicted differently in the US, or if Israel was occupying the land of an ethnic group that that the US was capable of empathizing with, the Israel lobby would not have the power it does today.

A workout

If you want an exercise in moral casuistry, justify Israeli's continuation of a war that causes death tolls this disparate:

In 2002, at the height of the second intifada, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed, compared with about 400 Israelis. In the past eight days of war, more than 460 Palestinians were killed, and four Israelis died by rocket fire.

On the origins of the US-Israeli special relationship

The best way to understand why a US-Israeli Special relationship exists is to study its history, that is, the how the relationship was formed.

The US and Israel were intimately tied together since Israel's declaration of Independence--The future Israeli's called Truman to inform him of the declaration prior to its publication. However, there wasn't a consensus in the higher levels of the US government on this issue. George Marshall famously stormed out of a meeting to protest the recognition of Israel, and almost all of the State Department thought that a prompt recognition of Israel would damage the US relationship with the Arab states. The larger point is that the prompt recognition of Israel by the US doesn't say much about the US-Israeli relationship--the Soviets did it to.

When Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, came into office in 1953, they fulled intended to be impartial in the Arab-Israeli conflict. For the first part half of their administration, this wasn't too difficult. The US even aided in the successful Suez Base negotiations with Egypt and Britain.

However, things changed between 1955 and 1958. For one, the rise of Gamal Nasir posed a political threat to Israel, and his purchase of arms from the Soviet bloc made in 1955 transformed him into a military threat to Israel. The US press did not like this, and immediately compared him to Hitler. Eisenhower ultimately resisted public pressure from the press to intervene in the Suez war, and was publicly opposed to Israeli actions. Neutrality prevailed.

Everything changed in 1958. Eisenhower intervened in Lebanon partly because he believed another Munich crisis was on the horizon. Moreover, the Eisenhower administration began viewing Israel as a strategic asset in the Middle East, and the US became closer to Israel while the Soviets became closer to the Arab states. In the second half of the second Eisenhower administration, they forged closer ties with Israel for strategic reasons.

However, this is not to say that culture had no influence--the memory of world war II allowed Israel's enemy, Nasser, to be compared to Hitler in the press. Jewish people were being publicly assimilated into American life, and many in the US praised Israel as a democracy. However, all of these cultural factors preceded the Eisenhower administration's decision to forge close ties to Israel.

The relationship endures because these cultural factors persisted after Israel became a strategic liability during the end of the cold war. The constant cultural attachment to Israel, which aided the strategic relationship, failed to die with along with the strategic rationale for supporting Israel.