Monday, July 28, 2014

Congress blocks Obama’s attempt to order new office supplies (Borowitz Report)

As we all know, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and more on that soon. Meanwhile, back in the World's Greatest Democracy ...

This little piece by Andy Borowitz (satire! satire!) gets to the heart of how our national government has been operating from the moment Barack Obama took office in January 2009 and the Congressional Republicans decided to respond with a strategy of monolithic, unrelenting, indiscriminate obstructionism (which got even worse after the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, a majority they managed to retain in 2012 mostly because of gerrymandering, and began using their control of the House to generate a string of manufactured crises that have twice brought the US government to the brink of default and threatened to blow up the world economy).

Yes, this piece is satire ... but does it really sound so far from plausibility?

In the real world, whenever people start complaining about "Congress" or "Washington" in an undifferentiated way, they need to be reminded that the Republicans are the problem. (And if the Republicans manage to take control of the Senate this fall—which doesn't look at all impossible, since they don't seem to pay any political price for what they've been doing—then we will really be in trouble.)

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
New Yorker
July 25, 2014
Congress Blocks Obama’s Attempt to Order New Office Supplies
By Andy Borowitz

The House panel that mandated the office-supply freeze denied that it was politically motivated, citing “budgetary concerns.” “It’s time President Obama learned a tough lesson,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters. “Being President does not entitle you to a spending spree at Staples.”

At the White House, the President blasted the Republicans’ move to strip him of legal pads, pencils, and other office essentials, calling it “just their latest attempt to keep me from doing my job.”

At the White House, the President blasted the Republicans’ move to strip him of legal pads, pencils, and other office essentials, calling it “just their latest attempt to keep me from doing my job.”

In an Oval Office appearance, a visibly irritated President Obama showed reporters a nearly empty supply cabinet and said, “They have manufactured this crisis,” noting that he will be out of paper clips and Post-its by August.

Andy Borowitz is a New York Times best-selling author and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report for newyorker.com.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What are Hamas and Israel fighting about? – Walter Russell Mead offers a strategic analysis

Hamas and the Israeli government are fighting this war, in large part, on the basis of strategic perceptions and concerns that seem important to them. (Whether those are intelligent or foolish, accurate or misguided, is a separate question.) But this part of the picture rarely gets explored carefully or systematically in discussions I have seen.

In the piece below, "When Strategies Collide", Walter Russell Mead just made an intelligent, informative, and usefully thought-provoking effort to help fill this gap. The main thrust of his analysis is reproduced as a sub-heading for the piece:
Many wars are fought over accidents and misunderstandings. This is not one of those times. With key interests at stake, the conflict in Gaza is likely to continue.
Well, yes and no. There are good reasons to believe that both the Israeli government and Hamas stumbled into a large-scale military confrontation that neither of them really wanted right now.  (I think the best single formulation of this analysis, which I find largely convincing, is still the one put together by J.J. Goldberg of the Forwqrd in two pieces he wrote two weeks ago, here & here. They're must-reads, and can be supplemented with this BBC piece by Kevin Connolly and this recent interview with former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin.) So in that sense one could argue that this war was triggered, to some degree, by "accidents and misunderstandings," not to mention miscalculations. Among other things, Netanyahu's actions in the West Bank during June, motivated in large part by a desire to undermine moves toward "reconciliation" between Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority and Hamas, unintentionally helped set the stage for the Gaza war in July. But once the conflict escalated past a certain point—the key moment was Hamas's decision to launch an all-out missile barrage against Israeli cities—there are powerful reasons why the fighting will be harder to stop than it was to start.

Of course, it's also true that in this war all predictions about what will happen next are risky. They can easily be proved wrong by unexpected developments.
Both sides have reason to think they can pull off a significant victory in the current round of fighting, and neither side thinks it can live with the consequences of a defeat. Until something happens to change the thinking on one or both sides, a cease fire will be hard to achieve.
Again, my first reaction is to say yes and no. I think it's probably right and important to say that "neither side thinks it can live with the consequences of a defeat." And it does seem plausible that Hamas now believes it might be able to pull off a significant victory—in terms of what it would consider a "victory." Among other things, as Mead notes, Hamas
is elated by its success in temporarily but significantly hampering operations at Ben Gurion Airport (arguably the most significant single Palestinian tactical accomplishment since the 1948 War). In addition its fighters have had unexpected success killing Israeli soldiers on the ground, and the Arab street is electrified by the conflict. The resulting publicity offers Hamas an opportunity to emerge from the isolation it faced after the overthrow of the Morsi government in Egypt.
But does anyone in the Israeli government really believe that Israel an score "a significant victory" in this war? I'm dubious. Still, the case is worth considering.

=> And, by the way, Mead also highlights one very important factor in the current situation that has gotten oddly downplayed or even missed in most discussions, the key role played by Egypt. I think Mead's points in the following passage are only slightly overstated:
The real problem for Hamas is the Saudi-backed Sisi government in Egypt. The current Egyptian government sees Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, and crushing the Muslim Brotherhood as thoroughly as possible is Egypt’s top priority these days. Egypt’s Saudi patrons feel the same way; the Muslim Brotherhood looks to the Saudis like a challenge to their claim to lead the forces of orthodox Sunnism—and Hamas in the past has been willing to ally itself with Saudi’s arch enemies in Syria and Iran.

The change in the status quo that led to war with Israel had nothing to do with Israel itself; what has happened is that Egypt has systematically intensified the blockade of Gaza, hoping to throttle Hamas, disrupt its support, and put enough economic pressure on Gaza to force Hamas from power.
[JW: To say "nothing" is an overstatement. But the basic point here is right, important, and insufficiently appreciated.]
For Hamas, the pre-war status quo was a death sentence, allowing Egypt to quietly strangle Gaza. [....] A return to the status quo ante is not acceptable to Hamas, which feels it absolutely must gain some relief or it will go under.
=> Otherwise, rather than try to excerpt or paraphrase the main points in Mead's analysis, I'll just suggest that you read the whole thing.

—Jeff Weintraub

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The American Interest
July 25, 2014
THE GAZA WAR:
When Strategies Collide

By Walter Russell Mead

Many wars are fought over accidents and misunderstandings. This is not one of those times. With key interests at stake, the conflict in Gaza is likely to continue.

As the politicians, pundits, and foreign policy panjandrums of the world Western world wring their hands over the chaos and carnage in Gaza, it’s worth noting that there are solid reasons why peace is proving so elusive. Both sides have reason to think they can pull off a significant victory in the current round of fighting, and neither side thinks it can live with the consequences of a defeat. Until something happens to change the thinking on one or both sides, a cease fire will be hard to achieve.

HOPES FOR A WIN

Israel continues to fight because it believes that with more time, it can destroy enough tunnels and inflict enough damage on Hamas to significantly degrade the organization’s military strength and weaken it politically. Furthermore, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are, perhaps for the first time, quietly rooting for Israel to crush the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas. Given this, Israeli officials presumably think they have a golden opportunity for the extended and crushing war that they really need to inflict serious damage. Any war with the Palestinians involves political costs and setbacks for Israel, but at this particular moment, war in Gaza is less politically expensive than at other times. Given that Hamas is a significant and growing danger, Israeli leaders are likely to think, why not use the opportunity for all it is worth?

Hamas on the other hand is elated by its success in temporarily but significantly hampering operations at Ben Gurion Airport (arguably the most significant single Palestinian tactical accomplishment since the 1948 War). In addition its fighters have had unexpected success killing Israeli soldiers on the ground, and the Arab street is electrified by the conflict. The resulting publicity offers Hamas an opportunity to emerge from the isolation it faced after the overthrow of the Morsi government in Egypt. Since more Israeli progress on the ground will inevitably and tragically mean more civilian deaths, Hamas can also hope for big propaganda victories to offset any military setbacks that prolonged hostilities will bring. Hamas and its Turkish and Qatari allies can also hope that the longer the war lasts, the worse Egypt and Saudi Arabia will look. The Gaza war isn’t just a war between Israel and Hamas; it is a stage in the struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and its Arab opponents. The longer Hamas can bear up under Israel’s military pressure, the more success it has in the intra-Arab struggle.

The hope of victory is one reason the two sides keep fighting; both Israel and Hamas also believe that defeat would impose unacceptable costs.

ISRAELI FEARS

For Israel, there are three big reasons why losing is unacceptable. First, as a small country surrounded by enemies and facing hostile public opinion in the world at large, Israel’s security depends in large part on its reputation for military supremacy. That reputation, Israelis feel, deters many more attacks and keeps opposition passive and political rather than encouraging it to be active and military. This is an advantage that Israel will not lightly give up; hostilities are unlikely to end until and unless the Israelis feel they have made their point.

That motive is always present, but it became much more important after a rocket from Gaza caused a significant interruption in service from Ben Gurion Airport. People don’t travel much across Israel’s land frontiers; the airport is Israel’s vital link with the rest of the world. Hamas and anti-Israel forces everywhere were wildly elated by this success, and Israel’s enemies now think they can imagine a new strategy to drive the Jewish state to its knees by cutting it off from the outside world. Israeli defense officials likely feel that they must now do two things: eliminate the capacity of Hamas to repeat this attack, and make the consequences so wounding and expensive to Hamas as to reduce the attractiveness of repeat efforts. This new factor is a military game-changer, and it greatly raised the stakes of the conflict. (The biggest political mistake of the war so far? The American officials who banned U.S. flights from using the airport made a cease fire much harder to obtain.)

Second, there are specific political reasons why Israel is intent on hitting Hamas as hard as it can. Some of this is about Palestinian politics. Fatah may be corrupt, incompetent and in the eyes of many Palestinians fatally compromised by its willingness to compromise with Israel, but the more the ‘resistance’ path championed by Hamas looks like a historical dead end, the less Fatah’s flaws matter in the competition for Palestinian leadership.

But Israel is after much bigger game than Hamas in this war. Weakening Hamas isn’t just an Israeli project: Riyadh and Cairo are rooting for the Gazan terrorists to lose as well. This strange new band of brothers is Israel’s Plan B alliance in case the U.S. folds on Iran. The Saudis and their Egyptian allies also hate and fear Hezbollah; from an Israeli point of view a successful war against Hamas could be the first step in cooperative action against Hezbollah and, beyond it, Iran. Israel wants this war to go well because it could pave the way to more effective cooperation with the most populous and wealthiest of the Arab states.

It’s also worth noting, from the standpoint of very-long-term Israeli interests, that the willingness of the Saudis and Egyptians and their friends, even silently and tactically, to align with Israel is a promising sign that Israel may someday be accepted in the region. Israel has been given a chance to audition for the role of a tacit ally of the Sunni Arab world against both Sunni and Shia radicals; it doesn’t want to blow this chance and its desire to build its relations with neighboring Arab states may outweigh its concerns about annoying Europe or even the U.S.

The third big reason why Israel needs a win is the one that most of the press commentary focuses on: security. Hamas has developed a network of tunnels and a capacity to launch missiles against much of Israel. Israeli officials will want to see that capacity significantly degraded. From the Israeli point of view, the price of a war in Gaza is high, but the incremental political cost of a few more days of combat, could now be less than the benefits from substantial progress in dismantling tunnels, breaking up Hamas’ leadership and destroying its weapon and missile stockpiles.

Thus from an Israeli point of view, the costs of this particular war are lower than usual, thanks to the tacit Arab support from Hamas’ many Arab enemies, and the need for decisive military results is greater than usual. That would suggest that Israel is likely to want to continue fighting until either its goals are reached or it is clear that they cannot be within a manageable time frame or at an acceptable cost. That point doesn’t appear to have been reached yet.

THE STRATEGY OF HAMAS

Like Israel, Hamas’ war strategy seems to be guided by solid calculations about the organization’s vital interests, and the leadership appears to believe that this is a war that the movement can’t afford to lose.

The chief problem and the real enemy for Hamas is not, however, Israel. Israeli hostility is something Hamas understands and can deal with. The real problem for Hamas is the Saudi-backed Sisi government in Egypt. The current Egyptian government sees Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, and crushing the Muslim Brotherhood as thoroughly as possible is Egypt’s top priority these days. Egypt’s Saudi patrons feel the same way; the Muslim Brotherhood looks to the Saudis like a challenge to their claim to lead the forces of orthodox Sunnism—and Hamas in the past has been willing to ally itself with Saudi’s arch enemies in Syria and Iran.

The change in the status quo that led to war with Israel had nothing to do with Israel itself; what has happened is that Egypt has systematically intensified the blockade of Gaza, hoping to throttle Hamas, disrupt its support, and put enough economic pressure on Gaza to force Hamas from power.

For Hamas, the pre-war status quo was a death sentence, allowing Egypt to quietly strangle Gaza. The business networks dependent on smuggling were hurting, civil servants weren’t getting paid, and residents were increasingly unhappy with a lousy economy and no progress in sight. Hamas is a cornered animal striking out in desperation. A return to the status quo ante is not acceptable to Hamas, which feels it absolutely must gain some relief or it will go under.

There are reports of splits between the political and military leaders of Hamas in the run up to war, but it seems clear that whoever is now calling the shots in Gaza, so to speak, believes that Hamas is in a war for survival, and short of crushing defeat, Hamas is unlikely to accept a cease fire that restores the status quo ante.

Hamas wants a cease fire that will allow it to import enough goods into Gaza to keep the economy going and to allow it to rebuild its military stockpiles. If Israel and Hamas were the only two entities involved, this might not be so hard to arrange. They have had cease fires before, and while each hates the other and wants it destroyed, on a pragmatic, day by day basis, Israel and Hamas have managed to work things out for long periods of time. The trouble is that it is hard for Hamas to force Egypt and Saudi Arabia to accept this deal. The Saudis and their allies are happy for Israel to pay the political price for a war against Hamas that they want the Jewish state to win. Meanwhile, it is Egypt that ultimately can decide on peace or war: when Egypt feels that Hamas has been weakened and punished enough that it’s OK to show it some mercy, then the balance of forces will shift and some kind of truce will become much easier to achieve.

Under the circumstances, Hamas’ strategy is a convoluted one: Hamas is trying to create such a hot crisis by staging a war with Israel that the U.S., Europe and an enraged Arab street will force Egypt and Saudi Arabia to give up their drive to starve Hamas out. That may yet work, but it is unlikely to work all that quickly. Neither Egypt nor the Saudis are particularly unhappy if Israel is getting bad press around the world; as far as they are concerned, if rampaging mobs burn every Israeli embassy in Europe, it is no skin off President Sisi’s nose.

This suggests that for Hamas as well as for Israel, the high price of a long (by Israeli-Palestinian standards) war may make sense. It will take time for the kind of political pressure to build that would lead Egypt to soften its blockade of Gaza; it’s hard to see a good reason (except for the obvious humanitarian one) why Hamas would give up before giving its strategy time to work.

WILL PEACE GET A CHANCE?

Many wars come about by accident or by misunderstanding. This particular war, however it was originally triggered, seems to be driven by the real interests of the chief parties involved. In such cases, peace is hard to make until the parties have seen how things go on the battlefield.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pro-Hamas demonstrators in Paris do the full Hitler


(Photo by Agence France-Presse)

Haaretz's article begins:
Several thousand gathered in Place de la République in Paris, France to protest the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, defying a state ban on the demonstration.

Protesters chanted "Israel is an assassin, Holland is an accomplice" and "we are all Palestinians," and some were seen gesturing the quenelle, a reverse Nazi-salute, AFP reported. Tension mounted as hundreds of protesters, some masked, began throwing stones and projectiles at police who responded with tear gas. [....]
Actually, in the photo above, the four guys in the front row are doing the "quenelle" gesture, a modified version of the Nazi salute popularized by the anti-semitic comedian-agitator Dieudonné  (for a good explanation and analysis by David Hirsh, see here).  But the demonstrators behind them have stopped being coy, and instead are doing a straightforward Nazi salute.

Nothing anti-semitic about that, of course. It's just a logical way to protest Israeli policies.

—Jeff Weintraub






Moshe Feiglin's sickening op-ed on Gaza

It is a depressing and alarming fact, but one that people of good will need to face up to honestly, that there are some politicians in the Israeli Knesset who can sound almost as bad as Hamas or Hizbullah (or the Iranian propaganda machine, or the influential Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, or too many politicians in Europe during the first four decades of the 20th century and around the Middle East today). One of them is Moshe Feiglin, an MK since 2013, who offered his "outline for a solution in Gaza" in a recent op-ed:  Israel should take the gloves off; crush Hamas completely, even if that requires flattening Gaza; and prevent future trouble by expelling the Arab population from Gaza. (OK, individuals in Gaza who want to be relocated to Israel would be offered permanent-resident status, and sometime down the line could apply for Israeli citizenship.) No, I'm not exaggerating. You can read his "clear and concise" piece below.

Feiglin has for some time been an active figure on the ultra-nationalist far right of Israeli politics. In addition to his unabashedly extremist and rejectionist position on the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts, Feiglin's approach to the treatment of Israel's Arab citizens often goes beyond xenophobic hostility to outright racist discrimination, and over the years he has made little effort to conceal his more generally authoritarian inclinations.

Some of Feiglin's views are reminiscent, to a degree, of the late Meir Kahane's. But whereas Kahane was a marginalized demagogue whose party was outlawed, Feiglin is a member in good standing of the Likud Party, head of a major party faction, and currently Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. His recommendations in this op-ed do not express Israeli government policy, nor the policy of any party in the present governing coalition. But the fact that someone like Feiglin is not a complete political pariah is a sign of real sickness in Israel's body politic.

It also provides one more indication of why Israel desperately needs a genuine and durable peace settlement with the Palestinians and with the larger Arab world—not only to improve its external situation, but also to help prevent the kind of poisonous inner corruption exemplified by figures like Feiglin. In that respect, Feiglin is simultaneously part of the problem and one symptom of a deeper long-term problem.

Of course, contrary to some widespread illusions, Israel can't simply make peace all by itself. But Israeli governments need to be trying much harder to achieve that goal, which the current government has not really pursued with any seriousness. And Israel needs to stop pursuing policies—like maintaining and expanding the settlement enterprise in the West Bank—which undermine the possibility of ever reaching a peace settlement, and which also happen to be self-destructive as well as unjust.

—Jeff Weintraub

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Arutz Sheva (IsraelNationalNews.com)
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
My Outline for a Solution in Gaza
Clear and concise, the steps towards achieving quiet in Gaza.

By Moshe Feiglin

Ultimatum – One warning from the Prime Minister of Israel to the enemy population, in which he announces that Israel is about to attack military targets in their area and urges those who are not involved and do not wish to be harmed to leave immediately. Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave. This will be the limit of Israel’s humanitarian efforts. Hamas may unconditionally surrender and prevent the attack.

Attack – Attack the entire ‘target bank’ throughout Gaza with the IDF’s maximum force (and not a tiny fraction of it) with all the conventional means at its disposal. All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental [collateral?] damage’. It is enough that we are hitting exact targets and that we gave them advance warning.

Siege – Parallel to the above, a total siege on Gaza. Nothing will enter the area. Israel, however, will allow exit from Gaza. (Civilians may go to Sinai, fighters may surrender to IDF forces).

Defense – Any place from which Israel or Israel’s forces were attacked will be immediately attacked with full force and no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’.

Conquer – After the IDF completes the "softening" of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations.

Elimination - The GSS and IDF will thoroughly eliminate all armed enemies from Gaza. The enemy population that is innocent of wrong-doing and separated itself from the armed terrorists will be treated in accordance with international law and will be allowed to leave. Israel will generously aid those who wish to leave.

Sovereignty – Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever. Liberation of parts of our land forever is the only thing that justifies endangering our soldiers in battle to capture land. Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel. The coastal train line will be extended, as soon as possible, to reach the entire length of Gaza.

According to polls, most of the Arabs in Gaza wish to leave. Those who were not involved in anti-Israel activity will be offered a generous international emigration package. Those who choose to remain will receive permanent resident status. After a number of years of living in Israel and becoming accustomed to it, contingent on appropriate legislation in the Knesset and the authorization of the Minister of Interior, those who personally accept upon themselves Israel’s rule, substance and way of life of the Jewish State in its Land, will be offered Israeli citizenship.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Terry Glavin analyzes, and celebrates, the power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan

One of the few pieces of good news on the international scene lately was the announcement of what looks like a promising and potentially constructive power-sharing deal between the two main candidates in Afghanistan's recent presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. If the deal actually holds, it will not only help defuse the crisis surrounding this particular election, but may also serve as a first step toward reforming some of the dysfunctional and pathological features of Afghanistan's political system—which is excessively centralized and presidential and winner-take-all in form, while simultaneously fragmented, clientelistic, ineffective, and corrupt in practice.

US Secretary of State John Kerry played a mediating role, so if this arrangement works out with any degree of success, he will probably deserve some of the credit. But most of the credit (again, if this actually works) should go to the Afghan political figures involved.

For an informed, illuminating, and optimistic assessment of how and why this agreement might turn out to be a big deal, see the piece below by the Canadian democratic-left journalist and author Terry Glavin. Glavin's engagement with Afghanistan over the past decade and a half has been personal as well as analytical, and his sympathies for the Afghan people run very deep. (They come through, for example, in his 2011 book Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan; see also here.) As you can see, there is also a distinctively Canadian element in Glavin's analysis here. Where the Afghans and their future are concerned, Glavin is hoping for the best, in the face of a lot of very strong reasons for being pessimistic—and so should the rest of us. Meanwhile, there's some useful food for thought here.

—Jeff Weintraub

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Ottowa Citizen
July 16, 2014
Fixing mistakes in Afghanistan
By Terry Glavin

It is moving testimony to the statesmanship and generosity of both of Afghanistan’s leading presidential contenders that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been allowed to take credit for having pulled Afghanistan back from the abyss. Discretion being the stuff of valour’s best bits, it wasn’t until well after Kerry had arrived at the Palais Coburg in Vienna, when all eyes had turned to his efforts on behalf of the Obama administration’s shambling Iranian nuclear negotiations, that the full outlines of last weekend’s Kabul agreement were allowed to leak out.

The most sweeping, deal-clinching feature of the agreement that ended up unlocking Afghanistan’s tainted-vote conundrum went wholly unmentioned while Kerry was in Kabul. It is an arrangement far more complex than the one Kerry announced Saturday at the United Nations Afghanistan headquarters with UN Afghanistan director Ján Kubiš at his side. Neither did Kerry say anything about it during his remarks later in the day at the presidential palace, in the company of Afghanistan’s twilight president, Hamid Karzai.

Initiated by Afghanistan’s April 5 first-round vote frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah and graciously accepted by the come-from-behind June 14 tainted-vote winner Ashraf Ghani, the arrangement’s central feature is the candidates’ mutual commitment to a thoroughgoing, long-haul constitutional revolution in Afghanistan.

Leaving that all unmentioned was necessary to allow Kerry to save face, and not only because the constitutional-reform project is in aid of undoing the disfigurements in Afghan democracy that the United States insisted on building into the country’s political and electoral system a decade ago. It was also because just one of those malignancies is the presidential vote-rigging toolbox Karzai and his cronies fully utilized in 2009, which caused precisely the agony that Kerry himself, while chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had taken such pains to anaesthetize by his personal interventions in Afghanistan’s bollixed presidential elections of that year.

What goes around comes around, as they say.

In 2009, Kerry was oddly credited for convincing Karzai to agree to do what Karzai was unavoidably obliged by Afghan law to do anyway, which was to submit to the runoff vote ordered by the Elections Complaints Commission, headed at the time headed by Canadian Grant Kippen and still independent of Karzai’s grasp, after the commission’s discovery of vast heaps of faked votes. But Kerry’s neatest trick back then was to convince Abdullah, Karzai’s most formidable challenger in 2009′s presidential contest, to pull out of the race for the sake of “stability” and on the promise that the U.S. would see to it that the country’s gruesomely manipulable electoral system would be repaired.

That promise turned out to be hollow. The 2010 parliamentary election was an open market in counterfeit votes, and by 2012 the Obama administration had given everybody in Afghanistan the impression that “stability” sufficient to allow a cheap American exit from the whole scene was the only thing the U.S. cared about accomplishing in Afghanistan, owing to delicate and “war-weary” domestic sensibilities, especially within Obama’s Democratic Party base.

Thus, what both Ghani and Abdullah were left with by the time Karzai’s term was up this year was an American-monkeywrenched constitution that had allowed Karzai to turn the country into something that resembled not so much a republic as a Pashtun khanate, with a bizarre single, non-transferable voting (SNTV) system otherwise peculiar to such jurisdictions as the Pitcairn Islands, Vanuatu, the near-absolute monarchy of the Kingdom of Jordan and upper houses of Thailand and Indonesia (if it strikes you that this isn’t what 158 Canadian solders had died for in Afghanistan you’d be on the right track, and we’ll return to that in a moment).

How things got this way goes back to 2004, when the U.S. wielded its influence over the architectural drawings for Afghanistan’s post-Taliban constitution in such a way as to establish a strongman presidency that suited the State Department’s convenience and a voting system with a built-in, crippling disincentive to political-party organization. Such was the dysfunction that had left Afghanistan’s June 14 presidential runoff so prone to the “industrial-scale” sabotage that ultimately ruined this year’s elections.

Kerry’s deal brokerage last weekend resulted in two obvious and immediate remedies.

The first is a total recount of the roughly eight million votes tallied from the June 14 runoff. The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force will return all ballot boxes to Kabul from nearly 24,000 voting districts across Afghanistan. The UN will oversee a process of examining all the dodgy ballot boxes, alongside teams of observers assigned by both Ghani and Abdullah. The second part is the pledge by both candidates that no matter which of them is found to be the legitimate winner of the June 14 vote, the other will be intimately involved in the establishment and administration of a “unity government.” Agreeing to a total recount required a climb-down for Ghani, who had earlier refused to be cajoled into agreeing to revisit any more than a third of the votes. But the “unity government” notion had been a key plank in his own election platform anyway.

The third and most ambitious aspect of the deal – the constitutional reform commitment – has been central to Abdullah’s vision for several years. Its absence from last weekend’s arrangements would have been quite properly a deal-breaker for Abdullah’s supporters, who are heavily concentrated among Afghanistan’s largely marginalized, non-Pashtun northerners. For them, especially, another stolen election would have been an indignity they should never have been expected to tolerate.

When Abdullah and Ghani turn their attentions to the hard work of building a constitutional order suited to Afghanistan, the U.S. would be better situated at the sidelines. Canada, however, is a country well-equipped to making some particularly effective use of itself.

Canada’s unique federal system – the primacy of Parliament, clear constitutional jurisdictions vested in the provinces, transparent distinctions between the head of state and head of government, a functioning multi-party system – provides models that Afghans are already looking at. And Canada’s domestic politics already exhibit a healthy appetite for initiatives from Ottawa that would involve non-military and uniquely Canadian contributions “on the world stage.”

Most importantly, Afghans trust Canada, and full Canadian backing for constitutional reform in Afghanistan would go a long way to redeem the sacrifices Canadian soldiers and their families have made to Afghan democracy’s great cause.

Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

David Grossman on hope and despair in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (especially in Israel)

The piece below was an address that Grossman delivered at the Israel Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv on July 8. I think my friend Sam Fleischacker tagged this basically  right:
This is a bit too long, but it's a moving address by Israel's greatest living voice of conscience - its only remaining prophet, I'm tempted to say.
Certainly Grossman is one of Israel's greatest living voices of conscience. And what he has to say here is hard-headed and insightful as well as moving.

(Someone, presumably an editor, titled the Haaretz version of this peace "On hope and despair in the Middle East". But the Middle East is a lot bigger than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the Arab-Israeli conflict. People sometimes forget that when the start talking about "the Middle East".)

—Jeff Weintraub

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Ha'aretz
July 8, 2014
On hope and despair in the Middle East
In memory of Ron Pundak, an architect of the Oslo Accords and the Geneva Initiative.

By David Grossman

Hope and despair. For years, we were tossed back and forth between one and the other. Today, most Israelis and Palestinians seem to be in a gloomy, flat, state of mind, one with no horizon; dully comatose, a self-induced numbness.

Today, in an Israel that has known so much disappointment, hope (if ever mentioned at all) is always hesitant, a bit timid, and apologetic. Despair, on the other hand, is utterly confident and self-assured, as if speaking on behalf of a law of nature, an axiom that states that between these two peoples there shall never be peace, that the war between them is a heavenly decree, and that altogether, it will always be bad here, nothing but bad. As despair sees it, anyone who still hopes, who still believes in the possibility of peace, is at best naïve, or a deluded dreamer, and at worst, a traitor who weakens Israel’s wherewithal by encouraging it to be seduced by false visions.

In this sense, the Israeli right has won. The right, which adheres to this worldview – certainly over the last decades – has managed to instill it in a majority of Israelis. One could say that the right has not only vanquished the left: It has vanquished Israel. And not just because this pessimistic worldview is pushing Israel into paralysis in the area most fateful to its survival, the area where boldness and flexibility and creativity are required; the right has vanquished Israel by crushing what once could have been called “the Israeli spirit”: that spark, the ability to remake ourselves, that “nevertheless” spirit, and courage. And hope.

In the area most critical to its survival, today’s Israel is practically immobile, one might even say incompetent. Strangely enough this state of mind, is not causing overt anguish: Not only its leaders, but most of its citizens are able to keep the situation out of their minds. They excel in the ability to completely separate the two, and to keep doing so for many years, 47 years of occupation, and even do fairly well, while at the center of their being, there is essentially a void. A void of actions, a void of consciousness, a void in which an efficient suspension of moral judgment prevails, a failure to notice the injustice at the root of the entire situation.

The American writer David Foster Wallace once told a story about two young fish who are happily swimming along in the sea when they come upon an older fish. “Hello there, fellows,” the old fish says to them. “How are things?”

“Great!” say the two fish.

“How’s the water?” he asks them.

“The water’s great!” the young fish answer. Then they bid the old fish goodbye and keep on swimming. A few minutes later, one of them turns to the other and asks – “Hey, what’s water?”

Listen to the water. To the water we’ve been swimming in and drinking for the last 47 years. To which we’ve become so accustomed that we no longer feel it. This water is the life that flows here, and it is, unquestionably, still brimming with vitality and creativity, but it has also become somewhat crazed, with a chaotic, clearance-sale feeling to it – a feeling of interwoven mania and depression; a feeling of tremendous strength that sometimes plummets into colossal weakness; of living in a self-satisfied democracy, with pretensions to liberalism and humanism, that occupies and humiliates and crushes another people for decades on end. A life lived amid a deafening media clamor, much of which is deliberately intended to distract and dull the senses – for how would it be possible to face this without a little distraction and self-medication? How else would it be possible to face, say, the results of the so-called “settlement project”? To face up to the full meaning of this crazy gamble on the country’s future? Listen to the water. Below the turbid waters we’ve been treading for the past 47 years runs a deep and cold current, a current of dread over a huge mistake, a monumental wrong turn and loss of way. The current is taking ever-stronger shape before our eyes in the form of a binational state, or an apartheid state, or a state of all its soldiers, or a state of all its rabbis, all its settlers, all its messiahs.

And maybe, just maybe, the despair that has ruled us in recent years is also partly the despair of the doomed, who understand by now that there is no way to avoid punishment for their deeds, or for what they allowed to happen through their support, or their silence, or their apathy, so therefore – Why not eat, drink and make merry while one still can?

This Israeli despair also contains a peculiar element of eagerness for disaster, or at least for disappointment: a certain gloating directed at anyone whose hopes were dashed. This is a particularly twisted form of joy, for ultimately, we’re rejoicing in our own misfortune. Sometimes it seems that Israeli hearts and minds are still smarting at the insult of having dared to believe back in 1993, when the Oslo Accords were signed, not just in an enemy who suddenly became a partner – but in the very possibility that things would be good, that it could ever be good here.

As if having been tempted to believe – say the people of the despair faction – in something that runs so counter to our life experience, to our tragic history, we somehow betrayed ourselves, betrayed some trademark of our destiny, and for this belief we have paid dearly, and shall go on paying, many times over. But at least from now on you’ll never catch us believing in anything, in any promise, in any chance.

Even if Mahmoud Abbas fights with all he has to prevent terror against Israelis, and declares that he knows he will only ever return to Safed, his birthplace, as a tourist; and even if he declares that the Holocaust is the gravest crime in human history – even if he does all of that, Prime Minister Netanyahu will hasten to pour a bucket of cold water on his head.

And even if the countries of the Arab League present Israel with an initiative that could kick-start some type of peace process, that contains an explicit invitation to a new kind of dialogue we’ve never seen before, for which we’ve yearned for years – the Israeli government will totally and demonstratively ignore it for 12 years and counting. Because no one is going to trick us again. We’re not suckers. Never again will we be caught believing a Palestinian, or any Arab for that matter. Or, say, a, tall, silver-haired American secretary of state who doesn’t get what life is really made of. Or in the hope that we could ever have a better life. Or just life.

It’s interesting: We only seriously tried the path of peace with the Palestinians once, in 1993. It failed, and from that moment on, it’s as if Israel decided to seal off that option once and for all. Here, too, see the twisted logic of despair at work: We’ve tried the path of war, occupation, terror and hatred dozens of times, never wearying of it or giving up on it, so why the rush to permanently divorce ourselves from peace, of all things, after a single failure?

Israel has, of course, many reasons to fear and to worry. The Middle East is in turmoil, fanatic and fundamentalist currents toss and turn it, and most of it is still hostile toward Israel and openly wishes for its destruction. But precisely against those dangers and threats, the policy of despair and dejection does not seem to be the right path to follow.

The government of Israel, the governments of Israel, act like prisoners of despair. Like its helpless victims. I do not remember ever hearing any serious statement about hope from Benjamin Netanyahu, or from any of his ministers and advisers. Not even one word of a vision of the possibilities a life of peace could offer, or about the chance that Israel could become part of a new fabric of alliances and interests in the Middle East. How did even the word itself, “hope”, become a dirty, incriminating word, second only to the word “peace” in its dangerous levels of radiation?

It’s maddening to think that the tremendous military power Israel has amassed is not giving it the courage to overcome its fears and existential despair and take a decisive step that will bring peace. The great idea of the founding of the State of Israel is that the Jewish people has returned home, and that here, we will never be victims again. Never shall we be paralyzed and submissive in the face of forces mightier than us.

Look at us: The strongest nation in the region, a regional superpower that enjoys the support of the United States on an almost inconceivable scale, along with the sympathy and commitment of Germany, England and France – and still, deep inside, it sees itself as a helpless victim. And still it behaves like a victim – of its anxieties, its real and imagined fears, its tragic history, of the mistakes of its neighbors and enemies.

This worldview is pushing the Jewish public of Israel to our most vulnerable and wounded places as a people. The very essence of “Israeliness,” which always had a forward-looking gaze and held constant ferment and constant promise, has been steadily dwindling in recent years, and is being absorbed back into the channels of trauma and pain of Jewish history and memory.

You can feel it now, in 2014, within very many of us “new” Israelis, an anxiety over the fate of the Jewish people, that sense of persecution, of victimhood, of feeling the existential foreignness of the Jews among all the other nations.

What hope can there be when such is the terrible state of things? The hope of nevertheless. A hope that does not disregard the many dangers and obstacles, but refuses to see only them and nothing else.

A hope that if the flames beneath the conflict die down, the healthy and sane features of the two peoples can gradually be revealed once more. The healing power of the everyday, of the wisdom of life and the wisdom of compromise, will begin to take effect. The sense of existential security. Of being able to raise children without abject fear, without the humiliation of occupation or the dread of terrorism. The basic human desires for family and livelihood and study. The fabric of life.

Among the two peoples today, the agents of despair and hatred have practically taken over, so it may be hard to believe that the picture I’ve described is truly possible. But a situation of peace will start to produce the agents of hope and closeness and optimism; it will give rise to more people who have a practical interest, unrelated to ideology, in creating more and more ties with members of the other people. Perhaps eventually, after some years, a deeper attachment will evolve, even genuine friendship between these two peoples, and those human beings. Such things have happened. But for now let us suffice with all those mundane situations in which Israelis and Palestinians could live with one another like human beings.

We, the people who have gathered at this Israel Conference on Peace cling to this hope, and preserve it in our heart. We cannot afford the luxury and indulgence of despair. The situation is too desperate to be left to the despairing, for accepting despair amounts to an admission that we’ve been defeated. Defeated not on the battlefield, but as human beings. Something deep and vital to us as humans was taken away, was stolen from us, the moment we agreed to let despair to have a dominion.

He whose policy is essentially a thinly veiled, profound despair is placing Israel in mortal danger. He who behaves thus cannot pretend to speak about being “a free people in our land.” He may sing “Hatikva,” “The Hope,” our national anthem but in his voice we hear: Our despair is not yet lost, the despair of two thousand years.

We who have gathered here today, and many others who are with us in spirit, insist upon hope. A hope that is not wide-eyed, a hope that won’t give up. A hope that gives us – Israelis and Palestinians both – our only chance to resist the gravitational pull of despair.

David Grossman is a writer. His works include “See Under: Love,” “To the End of the Land” and “Falling Out of Time.”

This article was translated by Anne Hartstein Pace.

An anti-semitic riot in a Paris suburb

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters descended upon "Little Jerusalem," the Jewish neighborhood in the suburb of Sarcelles, north of Paris, on Sunday. Rioters threw a Molotov cocktail at a religious institution next to the synagogue, setting alight a Jewish pharmacy and mini-market, burned vehicles, destroyed property and wreaked havoc at the city’s train station while police tried to secure the area.

This neighborhood is home to one of France’s biggest Jewish communities, its members residing in a block of buildings centered around a synagogue and a Jewish school. Outside “Little Jerusalem,” the great majority of the population is of African and North African descent.[....]
This followed last Sunday's attack on a synagogue in Paris itself (A pro-Hamas march in Paris turns into an anti-semitic attack on a synagogue) and a number of other anti-semitic incidents in France during the past few weeks.

Of course, we can expect some people to argue that there's nothing anti-semitic about attacking and trashing a Jewish neighborhood to express anger about something going on elsewhere in the world. In fact, some people will always find ways to pretend that any anti-semitic attack against Jews—for example, the murder of a rabbi and three Jewish children at a Jewish day school in Toulouse by Mohammed Merah in 2012—is not really an anti-semitic attack. Others will suggest that at a time like this, an upsurge of anti-Jewish passions is "understandable".

In the case of the Sarcelles riot, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls took a more straightforward position:
"What's happened in Sarcelles is intolerable: attacking a synagogue or a kosher grocery, is quite simply anti-Semitism, racism," the prime minister said.
I doubt that this will be the last example of this sort of thing. Reactions to the current Hamas-Israel war obviously helped to trigger this particular series of attacks. But the background conditions and the 'root causes' (to use an expression that many people like to invoke) go a lot deeper.

—Jeff Weintraub

========================================
Haaretz
July 21, 2014
Pro-Palestinian protesters raid Jewish neighborhood outside Paris
Rioters throw Molotov cocktail at synagogue, set fire to businesses and vehicles in Sarcelles, home to one of France's biggest Jewish communities.

By Shirli Sitbon

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters descended upon "Little Jerusalem," the Jewish neighborhood in the suburb of Sarcelles, north of Paris, on Sunday. Rioters threw a Molotov cocktail at a religious institution next to the synagogue, setting alight a Jewish pharmacy and mini-market, burned vehicles, destroyed property and wreaked havoc at the city’s train station while police tried to secure the area.

This neighborhood is home to one of France’s biggest Jewish communities, its members residing in a block of buildings centered around a synagogue and a Jewish school. Outside “Little Jerusalem,” the great majority of the population is of African and North African descent.

The situation here has been tense for more than a decade following several anti-Semitic attacks, so when pro-Palestinian organizations called for a protest at the local train station just days after clashes had erupted outside three Paris synagogues – it seemed obvious that things could get out of hand.

To avert public disorder the authorities had banned the Sarcelles rally, as was also the case with a number of events planned for this past weekend in the Paris area, including a protest that the Jewish Defense League wanted to hold.

But like the previous day, in Paris, the pro-Palestinian demonstrators defied the police and began to gather at 3 P.M. Sunday at the train station, about a mile from the local synagogue. The protesters had negotiated with police over the right to hear several speeches and then disperse.

One of the event’s organizers, Suleiman, called for peace.

“We’re not against Israel," he said. "We just want peace for both Palestine and Israel. We have nothing against our Jewish brothers, our friends, our cousins.” He then added, “Allahu akbar (God is great).”

As the protest was staged on the day that commemorates the roundup of Jews in Paris in 1942, the organizers noted: “We respect World War II roundups but what you’re doing in Gaza is genocide, too.”

Quickly, the crowd started chanting anti-Israeli slogans, along the lines of “Israel is a murderer," "[French President] François Hollande is an accomplice."

When the speeches were over Suleiman asked the crowd about 20 times to leave, but it wouldn’t. Hundreds of people carrying Moroccan and other North African flags then started running. At first, they ran in the opposite direction of the synagogue, as police were blocking the street. Then they turned to a street parallel to that of the synagogue, under the gaze of hundreds of people watching them from above in tall buildings.

The crowd then turned again and reached the city’s main avenue, on which the synagogue is located, and then walked toward it. They burned cars, attacked a television crew, and chanted “Allahu akbar.”

Police were stationed on all the streets leading to the Jewish neighborhood, whose residents stood helplessly behind them. Some were afraid that relatives outside the quarter would get hurt.

“I have no news from my boy,” said one father.

“Rue du 8 Mai – it’s the safest way back home,” another man told his daughter on the phone.

“Four Jews were wounded. This is France 2014 and it’s frightening.”

JDL members acted with some restraint on Sunday, unlike a week ago when they confronted pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the synagogue on rue de la Roquette in Paris. The extremist organization dropped the idea of protesting at the Sarcelles station after local community officials pressed them to avoid all provocation. Instead, its members and other young Jewish men lined up outside the neighborhood synagogue, which they vowed to protect.

“We would rather protect the synagogue than protest,” one man told Haaretz.

By that time, two hours had passed since the pro-Palestinian demonstration had started, and its participants were about 30 meters away from the synagogue.

“Watch out! They can take the school from the side streets,” one Jewish man shouted.

“Why aren’t you firing tear gas at them so they will leave?” several Jews asked policemen on the scene.

“Why aren’t they arresting them?” an elderly man asked a younger one.

“How will 200 police arrest 1,000 protesters?” came the reply.

Every time the police brought in reinforcements or changed position, they were cheered by the crowd – a rare scene in France. Dozens of people clapped from windows; hundreds of others were in the streets outside the bakery and small businesses. “Thank you for saving us! Police! Police! Police!” they cried.

In the aftermath, residents were still concerned that, even after the protest was over and the police had left, those who threatened them would come back.

Elsewhere, police instructed businesses situated on rue des Rosiers, the historic Jewish street in central Paris, to shut their doors after receiving warnings about anti-Jewish militants who were planning to invade the neighborhood.

Continuing civil war between Erdogan and the Gulenists within the apparatus of the Turkish state

This ongoing story of the partly overt, partly hidden conflict between these two major wings of Turkish political Islam is no longer being covered so extensively in the western press. But that doesn't mean it has stopped happening or stopped being important. Some highlights from today's Associated Press report:
Turkish police raided the homes of colleagues on Tuesday, detaining dozens of officers on suspicion of "spying" or of illegally wiretapping government officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey's spy chief, news reports and officials said.

Police conducted overnight raids in 25 provinces, detaining the police officers, including at least one former senior-ranking anti-terrorism police officer who was seen being taken away in handcuffs.

Turkish media reports said some of the police officers were involved in a corruption probe launched in December that targeted four government ministers.

Erdogan has long claimed that the corruption allegations that forced the ministers to resign were part of a coup attempt by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamist preacher living in the United States. Many of the officers involved in the corruption probe were removed from posts in a government purge earlier this year.

Erdogan also accuses the Gulen movement of being behind a series of leaked recordings posted on the Internet suggesting corruption by the prime minister and his family members. He has vowed to go after the Gulen movement and has also said he would also seek Gulen's extradition from the United States. [....]

Asked to comment on the arrests, Erdogan told reporters he expected the probe into the alleged followers of the Gulen movement to be widened.
In addition this sweeping purge of the police and the rest of the security apparatus, we can probably expect the ongoing purge of the Turkish judiciary to escalate further, too. Overall, Erdogan seems to be gaining the upper hand in this struggle, though further surprises can't be ruled out.. In the meantime, the integrity, effectiveness, and credibility of major governmental institutions are bound to suffer.

For some background, see these posts from December 2013: Why are Erdogan and the Gulenists slugging it out?, Who is Fetullah Gulen, what is the Gulenist movement, and what are they up to?, and The civil war within Turkish political Islam

—Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How many civilians are dying in Gaza?

This is a difficult subject, so these are points that I want to raise very carefully and tentatively. But I think they're worth considering.

Almost all reports on the fighting in Gaza over the past week and a half claim that the vast majority of people killed in Gaza have been civilians. This is a typical headline: "Israel-Gaza conflict: 80 per cent of Palestinians killed by Israeli strikes are civilians, UN report says". We should begin by recognizing that there are certainly civilians dying in Gaza, including women and children, and that's a terrible thing. But have the overwhelming majority of victims so far been civilians? I don't know, and it's hypothetically possible. But there are good reasons to be skeptical, at least, about the validity of those figures.

Many news reports attribute these estimates about the proportion of civilian deaths to UN agencies. But in fact, as a closer reading of the news articles usually makes clear, the figures all come from the Gaza health ministry—which is of course under the control of the Hamas government in Gaza. The UN agencies basically pass on the figures they receive without really trying to second-guess them. (For one explanation of how that works, see here.) This conflict is, among other things, a propaganda war. As part of this propaganda war, Hamas has an obvious and demonstrated interest in trying to inflate the civilian death toll as much as possible. And in propaganda wars, it is never a good ideal to accept propaganda claims uncritically or just take them at face value.

We do have another public source of information to analyze. Over the past week Al Jazeera has been listing by name all the people killed in Gaza during the fighting: "Gaza under siege: naming the dead". It's a worthwhile initiative. Their list is regularly updated, and unfortunately it keeps getting longer.

I first saw this Al Jazeera list on Tuesday (July 15). At that time several people, including me, noticed some curious features of this list. The points I'm about to make are mostly based on calculations I did on Tuesday, but a quick glance at today's list suggests that they still apply, perhaps with small variations. Bear in mind that the information on the list comes from the Gaza health ministry.

First, the casualties were overwhelmingly male—over 80%. We can presume that the population of Gaza is at least 50% female, so the disproportionate number of male casualties is striking. (Of course, I did not rely exclusively on my own ability to distinguish male from female Arabic names. For a while, Al Jazeera was explicitly indicating which victims were female, and that was true on Tuesday, though I notice they've stopped doing that.)

Second, among the male casualties whose ages were listed (some weren't), a majority were men between 18 and 40—that is, men who might plausibly have been playing active military or organizational roles in Hamas or in other jihadist groups involved in the fighting. A more recent calculation reported today (July 20) suggests that about half of the male casualties were young men between 18 and 30, and a full two-thirds were between 18 and 38. (See below; I haven't checked those calculations myself, but at first glance they look plausible. Updated calculations from the same source for July 23 are here, and calculations for July 25 are here.) By themselves, of course, those percentages don't tell us how many of those male casualties were actually combatants rather than civilians. We don't know. But it's striking that such a high proportion of the casualties were potential combatants.

Third, it is a well known demographic fact that Gaza's population is, on average, exceptionally young. According to the 2007 census of Gaza reported by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), over 50% of Gaza's inhabitants were 14 years of age or younger, and another 10% were between 15 and 19. Yet less than 20% of the casualties listed on the Al Jazeera list have been younger than 18. There is no question that those add up to too many dead children and young teenagers. But those figures are not at all proportionate to the age distribution of Gaza's population.

=> To repeat, none of these figures can establish, by themselves, how many of the people being killed in Gaza are civilians rather than combatants. But those percentages are compatible, at least, with the possibility that most of the casualties are actually combatants. And they are not compatible with the possibility that Israeli forces are just indiscriminately killing civilians in Gaza.

Some people have, indeed, claimed that Israel is deliberately and indiscriminately targeting civilians in Gaza. We can ignore those claims, since they're obviously bullshit. But is Israel waging this war in ways take insufficient care to avoid unintentionally killing or harming civilians—perhaps even recklessly and reprehensibly exposing civilians to possible harm? That's a separate question, and a reasonable question.  Also a complicated question, to which the answer is far from self-evident.

In considering that question, however, it's important not to uncritically swallow every claim that the casualties in Gaza are overwhelmingly civilians. A good deal of current discussion about this Israel-Gaza war is based on the assumption that those claims are correct, but I think it's clear that there are good reasons to take them with a grain of salt. We also know that in previous clashes between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the earliest reports about civilian casualties have turned out to be misleading. Early claims about atrocities and war crimes committed by Israeli forces in these clashes have also turned out to be exaggerated. (Which is not to say that the Israeli military never commits war crimes or other atrocities—all armies do that, sometimes, though some armies try harder than others do avoid them.) So we shouldn't jump to conclusions.

To avoid any possible misunderstandings or distractions, let me emphasize once again what I am not trying to say here. Even if it does turn out that the Palestinian casualties in the current Gaza fighting have been mostly combatants (and at the moment that's just a plausible possibility, not a confirmed fact), by itself that would not necessarily exonerate the Israeli military for everything it is now doing in Gaza. Nor am I suggesting that killing civilians accidentally doesn't matter, or that small numbers of dead women and children are OK, or that civilians in Gaza are not suffering. Nor do the issues I've been addressing here settle all the larger questions about Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, over the past two months or over the past several decades. Nor do war crimes committed by Hamas (which are unquestionable) give Israel permission to commit war crimes  (and vice-versa).  I could go on, but life is too short to pre-emptively avoid all misunderstandings and deliberate misreadings when subjects like these are concerned  ...

All I am asking is that, in moments of high passion like this one, we should try to avoid immediately and uncritically equating propaganda claims (from all sides) with confirmed facts.

 (And if anyone comes up with good arguments to show that the analyses presented here are fallacious, or are discredited by other reliable evidence ... I will stand corrected.)

—Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. Now that some people have begun to notice the implications of the casualty lists reported by the Gaza health ministry, we may start to see those reports skewing more heavily toward deaths of women and children. (Of course, it's also possible that new phases of the fighting, with more Israeli tanks and infantry operating in densely populated urban areas in Gaza, may actually start producing a higher proportion of civilian casualties than before.)]

==============================
Aussie Dave (Israellycool)
July 20, 2014
Analysis Of Gazans Killed So Far In Operation Protective Edge

Some of the claims I am seeing online include how the vast majority of Gazans killed are civilians, and how Israel is deliberately targeting them.

Regarding the latter, we all know this is nonsense – if Israel wanted to kill civilians it would carpet bomb Gaza. It is precisely because we want to avoid civilian casualties, that we opt for pinpoint strikes and ground operations, at risk to our soldiers’ lives.

But what about the first claim? Are the vast majority civilians?

Without having all of the terrorist obituaries or intel to prove who was a terrorist, this is hard to analyze. But what we do have is a list of the names and ages of those killed so far, which does provide us with some insights.

An anonymous Israellycool reader and her family spent countless hours going over this list from Al Jazeera – a media outlet that can’t be accused of slanting things Israel’s way. Their main findings regarding the casualties to date are as follows:





As you can see, over 80% of Gazans killed so far have been male, with almost half of these males being in the 18-28 age group. One can imagine many of these being “combatants.” A further 20% of these males are between 29 and 48, an age group one could envisage may also contain many Hamas members.

In other words, these figures bring into question how many of those killed were really innocent civilians.

What these figures also indicate is if Israel was indiscriminately killing Gazans, the representation in terms of gender and age would be broader (with relatively more children killed than the approx 18%, considering nearly 50% of Gazans are under the age of 14).

Update: Even way back in 2008, Israellycool linked to Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal who noticed Palestinian sources have always reported far too many male casualties to back up the claim of indiscriminate killing by the IDF, let alone the crazy charge of deliberately targeting civilians.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A very basic primer on the historical and political background to the current Hamas-Israel war


(Thanks to Pamela Weintraub for the tip.) Although it may seem hard to believe sometimes, not everyone has spent years closely following the past history and current intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the larger Arab-Israeli conflict in which it's embedded. People who haven't may be interested in a basic primer on the historical background to the latest Israel-Gaza war put together by by Zack Beauchamp at Vox:

11 crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis

I think this is pretty clear, accurate, unbiased, and useful. A few small caveats and other comments:

=> Item #1 is headed: "The Gaza Strip used to be part of Egypt, and is totally separate from the West Bank". Yes and no. Gaza was never technically "part" of Egypt. From 1948-1967 it was controlled by Egypt, while the West Bank & east Jerusalem were controlled by Jordan. (Jordan did formally annex the West Bank, but almost no other government recognized that annexation as legitimate.)

=> Gaza is often described as the most densely populated place in the world, but that's simply wrong. The heading of item #2 might seem to be offering a slightly more qualified version of that common refrain, since it says that "Gaza City is among the most densely populated places in the world". But as Beauchamp's own discussion makes clear, things are more complicated than that heading might seem to suggest. For one thing, "Gaza City" doesn't = Gaza. It's one of several cities in Gaza, the biggest one. The urban areas of Gaza are certainly quite densely populated, even though they're not the most densely populated—according to one estimate cited by Beauchamp, Gaza City is "the 40th most densely populated urban area in the world"—and those urban areas are where most of the fighting and bombing happen, because that's where Hamas and other jihadist groups are dug in. Overall, Gaza is less densely populated than plenty of cities and metropolitan areas of comparable or greater size around the world, including (for example) Singapore and Tel Aviv/Jaffa.

=> As Beauchamp correctly notes in item #6, in 2006 there were elections for the Palestinian legislature (representing both the West Bank and Gaza), and—to most people's surprise—Hamas won a small but solid majority of the seats. It may be worth mentioning that they got a plurality (about 45%) of the overall votes cast,, not a majority. Nevertheless, the fact is that Hamas won fair and square according to the election rules, and their victory was both stunning and consequential. They got more votes than Fatah, the ruling party headed by Mahmoud Abbas, while the other 12-15% of the votes were split between various smaller parties and lists. About a year later, there was a violent showdown between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, in which Hamas beat Fatah decisively and seized complete control of Gaza. Fatah has kept control of the West Bank, and Mahmud Abbas remains the formal (and internationally recognized) President and head of the Palestinian Authority. (There have been no more elections since 2006.)

=> Item #11 makes a point which is worth emphasizing and elaborating a bit further. Egypt is now ruled by a government strongly hostile to Hamas (and favorable to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority). One factor that complicates the present situation is that important elements of Hamas's agenda involve, in effect, getting concessions from Egypt, not from Israel—especially in terms of easing restrictions on movement across the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Actually, item #7 (about Israel's blockade of Gaza since 2007) and item #11 (about the Egyptian role in this conflict) are closely connected. Egypt has participated in this blockade, to varying degrees—in fact, without Egypt's participation the blockade couldn't really be maintained—and recently Egypt strongly tightened up its part of the blockade.

—Jeff Weintraub

"We don't want you here."

This brief video manages to conveys several powerful messages, at several levels. If you want to get the central point it's trying to make, be sure to watch it all the way to the end.  —Jeff Weintraub

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Malaysian airliner shot down in eastern Ukraine?

No, that's neither a joke nor a hoax or a parody. It's a genuine disaster, now being reported. Unlike the Malaysian airliner that disappeared in March 2014 and has never been found, we know for sure that this one actually crashed in eastern Ukraine. Precisely how or why that happened remains uncertain. According to the BBC:
A Malaysian airliner carrying 295 people has crashed in east Ukraine on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, amid allegations it was shot down.

There are no signs of survivors at the scene of the crash near the village of Grabovo, which is under the control of separatist rebels.

Flight MH17 had been due to enter Russian airspace when contact was lost.

Ukraine's president called the loss of the plane an "act of terrorism" as the rebels denied shooting it down.

Separatists are believed to have shot down two Ukrainian military planes over the region in recent days. [....]

Leading airlines have announced they are now avoiding eastern Ukraine.
That's not surprising.

To repeat, the cause of this crash remains uncertain. But if the plane was indeed shot down, and if it was shot down by Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine (who presumably didn't realize it was a Malaysian civilian airliner) with anti-aircraft weapons supplied by Moscow, then obviously the political repercussions could quite serious.
If it does turn out that the Boeing 777 was shot down by the separatists - with weaponry supplied by Moscow - then it could significantly alter the terms of the whole debate surrounding the Ukraine crisis.

Over the past few days there has been growing concern among Western governments that Russia was stepping up its military support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Nato spokesmen insist that more and more heavy military equipment has moved from Russian stockpiles to the separatists across the border.

In response, the United States has strengthened its economic sanctions against Moscow - it is threatening even stronger action - though the European Union has so far failed to follow Washington's lead.

But if Russia in any way had a hand in this tragedy then the pressure - especially on the Europeans - for much tougher sanctions will only grow.

That's all speculative right now, but it's not implausible. Of course, for all we know so far, I suppose it's also hypothetically possible that the plane was (somehow) shot down by Ukrainian government forces, or perhaps by Russian forces. Stay tuned ...

—Jeff Weintraub

Trudy Rubin shares some unpleasant truths about the current Hamas-Israel war and its implications

From a medium-term perspective, this is one of the more alarming, and highly plausible, prospects:
Here's the awful truth about the Gaza war in which Israeli air strikes are matching Hamas rockets number for number.

This kind of violence is likely to become the new normal now that both Israelis and Palestinians believe the peace process is over. [....]
In the shorter run, this part of the story is especially important:
Neither Israel nor Hamas political leaders in Gaza sought the current confrontation, according to Israeli journalists:
]JW: As well as convincing accounts by outside analysts such as J.J. Goldberg—see here & here). At least, it seems likely that both the Israeli government and the Hamas leadership stumbled into a large-scale military confrontation that neither of them really wanted right now. For most of June, it might have seemed possible that the latest crisis could be contained on the West Bank. But once Hamas decided to launch a massive barrage of missiles against Israel's civilian population, a major escalation of the conflict was irreversible.]
The Hamas cell on the West Bank that seized the Israeli teens may have acted without orders from Gaza. Suffering from lack of cash, and having lost its patrons in Iran and Cairo, Hamas hadn't fired a rocket from Gaza since Israel's last punitive attack in November 2012, and had suppressed fire from smaller jihadi groups since then [JW: mostly suppressed it].

Still, the group's military wing decided to resume fire, with little concern for trapped Gazan civilians; perhaps the group hoped to drag Israel into a bloody war that will outrage global opinion against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears anxious so far to avoid another Operation Cast Lead - the 2008 invasion of Gaza that killed at least 1,200 Palestinians and caused a public relations disaster for his country.

But the pressure from Israel's potent far right and its public - fueled by the belief that the peace process is dead - shows how easily things could spiral out of control.

On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, backed by other militant ministers, called for Israel's military to "go all the way" and reoccupy Gaza. He insisted that another cease-fire would only give Hamas time to "prepare for the next round," so the Israeli military must destroy Hamas once and for all.

This is a dangerous fantasy that is gaining strength due to Israeli frustration. An invasion would cause untold civilian deaths and enmesh Israel troops once more in a full-scale Gaza occupation. [....]

Israel's military is unenthusiastic about a ground war, and at this writing, Netanyahu is resisting an invasion. But this kind of thinking will flourish in an atmosphere where most Israelis no longer believe peace is possible. Short of flattening the strip (does the Russian-born Lieberman envision an operation comparable to Moscow's destruction of Chechnya?), there's no physical way to eliminate Hamas. [....]
But read the whole thing (below).

—Jeff Weintraub

=============================================
Philadelphia Inquirer
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Awful truths about Gaza war
By Trudy Rubin

Here's the awful truth about the Gaza war in which Israeli air strikes are matching Hamas rockets number for number.

This kind of violence is likely to become the new normal now that both Israelis and Palestinians believe the peace process is over. Israelis have enjoyed a relative calm for the past several years, with West Bank Palestinians confined behind a separation fence and Gazans locked inside their wretched strip.

That calm won't last once the idea of two states is buried for good.

Under such conditions, extremists on both sides will flourish - like the Palestinians who kidnapped and killed three Israeli youths and the Israelis who retaliated by burning a Palestinian teen to death. Growing frustrations on both sides will ignite violence that will become harder and harder to control.

Neither Israel nor Hamas political leaders in Gaza sought the current confrontation, according to Israeli journalists: The Hamas cell on the West Bank that seized the Israeli teens may have acted without orders from Gaza. Suffering from lack of cash, and having lost its patrons in Iran and Cairo, Hamas hadn't fired a rocket from Gaza since Israel's last punitive attack in November 2012, and had suppressed fire from smaller jihadi groups since then.

Still, the group's military wing decided to resume fire, with little concern for trapped Gazan civilians; perhaps the group hoped to drag Israel into a bloody war that will outrage global opinion against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears anxious so far to avoid another Operation Cast Lead - the 2008 invasion of Gaza that killed at least 1,200 Palestinians and caused a public relations disaster for his country.

But the pressure from Israel's potent far right and its public - fueled by the belief that the peace process is dead - shows how easily things could spiral out of control.

On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, backed by other militant ministers, called for Israel's military to "go all the way" and reoccupy Gaza. He insisted that another cease-fire would only give Hamas time to "prepare for the next round," so the Israeli military must destroy Hamas once and for all.

This is a dangerous fantasy that is gaining strength due to Israeli frustration. An invasion would cause untold civilian deaths and enmesh Israel troops once more in a full-scale Gaza occupation. At present, Israel controls Gaza's air and sea space, electric grid, exports and imports, and most of the border. But because it no longer has any military or civilian presence in Gaza, it can technically claim it no longer occupies the strip.

Israel's military is unenthusiastic about a ground war, and at this writing, Netanyahu is resisting an invasion. But this kind of thinking will flourish in an atmosphere where most Israelis no longer believe peace is possible. Short of flattening the strip (does the Russian-born Lieberman envision an operation comparable to Moscow's destruction of Chechnya?), there's no physical way to eliminate Hamas.

The best way to undermine Hamas would be to help President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA), which administers the West Bank, reassert control over Gaza. A credible June poll shows that a remarkable 88 percent of Gazans prefer the PA to Hamas.

But rather than strengthen Abbas' hand, the Netanyahu government has continually undermined him, most notably by its massive expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank during last year's peace talks. Martin Indyk, former chief U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, says settlement activity effectively killed the talks, undercutting Abbas by making it look as if he accepted the expansion.

The ever-growing settlement network that crisscrosses the West Bank has convinced Palestinians that Israel will never accept a Palestinian state.

Of course, the rockets from Gaza and the growing Mideast turmoil have also convinced most Israelis that a Palestinian state would be too dangerous. Just last week, Netanyahu said the lesson of the Gaza escalation was that Israel could never relinquish security control of the West Bank. (Actually, he has been saying similar things for the last two decades.)

Yet even if the regional situation looks grim, and despite the Gaza turmoil, it is extremely risky for Israel to extinguish Palestinian hopes for a better future.

Yuval Diskin, director of Israel's Shin Bet domestic security service from 2005 to 2011, warned in December of the dangers inherent in "the enormous frustration of the Palestinians in the West Bank who feel their land is being stolen from them, who gather that the state they yearn for is slipping away from them."

Israelis have been lulled into believing the status quo can last. In part this is because PA security forces have helped Israel keep the West Bank quiet for the past seven years. They have helped to control Hamas on the West Bank and offered to help patrol the Gaza-Egypt border if a cease-fire with Hamas can be reached.

Such cooperation won't last if settlement activity continues to devour the West Bank. Abbas could dissolve the PA, compelling Israel to reoccupy the West Bank.

In other words, a status quo where Palestinians are irrevocably bound together with Israelis is untenable. As Diskin also warned, "the combustible fumes in the air have reached a level [where] even a small spark can ignite a huge explosion." His predictions are already coming true.

A pro-Hamas march in Paris turns into an anti-semitic attack on a synagogue

Incidents like this, in Europe and elsewhere around the world, have become predictable and routine accompaniments to every widely-reported upsurge of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (The deaths of over 150,000 people in the Syrian civil war, on the other hand, don't generate very many demonstrations, attract nearly as much attention, or provoke nearly as much passion.) This time around, there haven't actually been as many incidents of this type as in previous episodes (some other examples over the past week are listed here) ... but things are just getting started. We should expect more of this if the latest Hamas-Israel war continues.

=> From the report by Agence France-Presse:
Paris (AFP) - Clashes erupted in Paris on Sunday as thousands of people protested against Israel and in support of residents in the Gaza Strip, where a six-day conflict has left 168 Palestinians dead.

Several thousand demonstrators walked calmly through the streets of Paris behind a large banner that read "Total Support for the Struggle of the Palestinian People".

But clashes erupted at the end of the march on Bastille Square, with people throwing projectiles onto a cordon of police who responded with tear gas. [....]

A small group tired to break into two synagogues in central Paris, a police source told AFP.

Riot police dispersed the group, with two members of the Jewish community and six officers slightly injured in the ensuing scuffle, the source said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the attempted synagogue stormings "in the strongest possible terms". [....]
=> And here's a more detailed report by Michel Gurfinkiel:
On July 13, Bernard Abouaf, a French Jewish journalist, posted on his Facebook wall: “I just passed through one of the truest moments in my life.” A bit earlier, he had been an eyewitness to a pogrom attempt.

About one hundred Muslim thugs had gathered in front of the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Central Paris, a few blocks away from Place de la Bastille (Bastille Circle), and threatened to storm it. Two to three hundred worshipers, who had gathered for a pro-Israel religious service, were locked inside. There were five police officers to protect them–and two dozen Jewish youths trained in martial arts who were members of the Jewish community sponsored Security Organization or of the more militant Jewish Defense League.

For Abouaf, whose family is of Tunisian Jewish descent, the whole scene looked like a reenactment of the storming and torching of the Great Synagogue in Tunis during the Six-Day War in 1967: a traumatic event that accelerated the flight of Tunisian Jews to France or to Israel.
[JW: To help understand the background here, it's worth noting that most of France's current Jewish population is composed of refugees who fled from Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s—mostly from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco—and their children and grandchildren. Since 1948 the Arab world has been ethnically cleansed of Jews almost 100%, as its historic Jewish communities fled or were expelled, with only tiny remnants remaining in a few countries like Morocco. Most of those Mizrahi Jewish refugees wound up in Israel or North America, but a significant number, including most of the Algerian and Tunisian Jews, went to France. For a powerful and moving statement by one one of those Tunisian Jewish emigrants, see Albert Memmi's "Who is an Arab Jew?".]
“What I have seen today,” he remarked, “is Arab hatred against Jews. Pure hatred. Right in the middle of Paris. Don’t try to ‘explain’ or ‘understand’, it was hatred, period.” [....]

The Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue was not stormed. Its bunker-like shape (it was built in 1962) and its strong, straight, iron gates were probably helpful. Even more effective were the young Jewish defenders, who did not shy away from confronting the Muslim rioters. [....]  At least two of the synagogue’s defenders–including a young Chabad chassid–were severely wounded and rushed to a nearby hospital.

The prime minister (and former interior minister) of France Manuel Valls called Serge Benhaim, the synagogue chairman, on his cell phone to assure him that more police forces, including CRS (anti-riot units) would soon be dispatched. It took some time before his orders were implemented; once deployed, even the heavily equipped CRS had to engage into hard fighting and some of them were wounded. Eventually, the worshipers were not just evacuated from the synagogue but escorted away to safer streets or a Metro station: “I will not forget the fear in their eyes as they went out,” wrote Abouaf.  [....]

Similar incidents occurred all over Greater Paris and France at about the same time. The morning before–that is to say, on the Sabbath–a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a synagogue at Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Parisian suburb. At Asnieres, another suburb, the police said a Muslim mob of 300 gathered in front of the synagogue and shouted anti-Israel slogans for about half an hour. Smaller group of Muslim mobsters attempted to get into the Belleville synagogue, in northeastern Paris, and into the Tournelles synagogue, in the Marais district.

No less horrid were the many pro-Palestinian rallies, in Paris, Marseilles, Lille, Bordeaux, and other cities, complete with Palestinian and ISIS flags and proudly displayed fake Fajr rockets. The demonstrators–almost all of them of North African or Subsaharan African origin–shouted explicitly anti-Semitic slogans, notably “Itbah al-Yahud!” (Slaughter the Jews, in Arabic.) Any time they would spot Jewish-owned shops or professional offices they would cover the doors or windows with stickers urging, “to boycott the racist State of Israel.” On Sunday, several thousands pro-Palestinian and pro-jihadist demonstrators marched for miles across the city, from the heavily Muslim Barbes neighborhood to places with large Jewish populations and many synagogues like the Bastille area. [....]
Of course, we know that some people will try to argue that there's nothing anti-semitic about a mob attack on a synagogue filled with French (not Israeli) Jews, or demonstrations where people chant "Kill the Jews". That's also boringly predictable and routine. In case you want to see how it's done, Todd Gitlin tipped me off to one ingenious example at the pathologically obsessive anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss.

[Update: For two follow-up articles regarding the attack on the synagogue, one in English and one in French, see here & here. They add some significant detail and elaboration, but don't change the basic thrust of the story.]

—Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Also, last Sunday a Moroccan rabbi in Casablanca was beaten up on the street, badly enough to be hospitalized, as he was walking toward his synagogue. Before you conclude that this incident reflects badly on Morocco, consider that part of what it means is that there still is a Jewish community in Morocco with its own synagogues and rabbis. Granted, it numbers only a few thousand, as opposed to over a quarter-million Jews in Morocco at the end of the Second World War. But in a number of Arab countries there are just a few dozen Jews left, or less than a dozen (as in Iraq), or none at all.