Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jerusalem in the Crosshairs

Hard to imagine an act of greater diplomatic idiocy than yesterday's decision to build 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem smack in the middle of Joe Biden's visit.

Haaretz wraps up the story here. It's not clear who the precise idiots were: Netanyahu apparently saw it coming and warned Eli Yishai, the relevant cabinet minster, not to screw up during Biden's visit; Yishai now claims the officials under him didn't inform him about the pending decision - which is a lame excuse at best; probably a dishonest excuse; and if true, shows that Yishai is an abysmal manager. Which he isn't, so I expect his apology is dishonest.

So we created an opportunity for everyone from the American Vice President down through the EU suits all the way to the boss of the UN to condemn us - and for what? What was gained? Nothing. (Though come to think of it, how do we know who's lower on the totem pole, the UN or the EU? Just asking).

That's one side of the story.

The more important side of the story is that it demonstrates how warped the dynamic has become. Some bureaucrats pushed some papers on the way to eventually building housing for some 10,000 haredi Jews in Jerusalem, and there's world-wide condemnation? What? Huh?

I'll be uncustomarily blunt. Jerusalem was invented by Jews. It is known worldwide because of Jews. It's significance for Jews is greater - far, far greater - than the significance of London for the English, Washington or New York for the Americans, or Mecca for the Muslims (that last one is probably the closest example, however). There have been Jews living in Jerusalem for most of the past 3,000 years, often as the majority, and when not as the majority, often because they were expelled or slaughtered or both. A plausible case could be made that if the Jews could choose between owning Jerusalem with war, or not owning Jerusalem with peace, the former would be preferable - and keep in mind that for the Palestinians there's no question at all that they prefer war with a dream of Jerusalem over peace without it.

At the moment, however, no-one is offering the Jews peace for giving up ownership of Jerusalem. Not, not, not. The current narrative beloved by the international community is a simple lie. It's not true. Here's another piece by an Israeli centrist expert on the Mideast, to continue yesterday's thread - Barry Rubin, this time.
The best way to stop building on, and even fully remove, settlements on the West Bank would be to make a peace treaty in which all settlements would be removed from the territory of a Palestinian state. (Though, with Palestinian agreement, some could be incorporated into Israel as part of territory swaps. Indeed, the Obama Administration has accepted this idea.)
The Palestinians want all Israeli settlement activity to cease? That's easy. Agree to make peace with Israel, and there will be no more "illegal" settlements. it's that simple. Really.

In the meantime, while everyone tells us we're so awful and horrendous, the Jews are strengthening their presence in Jerusalem. Seen from the perspective of any arbitrary moment in the past 2,000 years, that's awesome.

Postscript: Here are two articles such as you'll never read in non-Israeli media, examining the issues from the opposite perspective. One, two.


Alex Stein said...

Calling Barry Rubin centrist? Quoting Karni Eldad? You've really shown your true colours, Yaacov, but I guess that's what happens when the blood pressure rises. It's awesome that there are settlers in Sheikh Jarrah singing songs of praise to Baruch Goldstein, is it? Why don't you show that to your readers?
If Zionism to you means creating the world's last legally mandated Jewish ghetto, then you're missing the point of the exercise.

Yaacov said...

There may be a handful of weirdos singing praise of a Jewish murderer,Alex, but the top tier of the Palestinian establishment sings praise of hordes of Palestinian murderers, so we might want to keep things in perspective.

Barry Rubin - like most of us - would disband settlements immediately and hand over the West Bank to Palestinian sovereignty if only the Palestinians would agree. Which they won't, since our (partial) control over them is their best weapon against us, and the last thing they want is for it to end. Those are my colors, Alex, and I've been stating them clearly ever since my previous, erroneous, set of understandings of the situation proved so disastrously wrong in late 2000. DO you have anything better to offer, perhaps?

Barry Meislin said...

I think the problem here is that Barry Rubin has no illusions---and is generally able to explain just why that is.

Pity, isn't it?

Empress Trudy said...

No, you are incorrect. Why should Israel bow and scrape for nothing? The permits are a bargaining position, something the US is completely disconnected from. As if the PLO was going to 'bargain' in the first place. Now we know that if the wind blows or they see something they don't like the PLO just refuses to negotiate. Ok, that's not news. So Israel may as well proceed foreward more or less indifferent to what the US imagines the PLO might do.

Anonymous said...

when I came across the headline that Israel has been forced to apologize my first reaction was, when will the mighty US, let alone the EU or the UN, ever force the Palestinians to APOLOGIZE for anything they may have done that makes them look less than almighty? With them it is always they can't help themselves ...

I imagine an underling who has found a loophole/a plausible misunderstandable wording in the order to wait until Biden has left and feels sure his boss is not going to tear him/her to pieces for it - so there must be no dishonesty involved it can be just due to the feeling of being constantly wronged.

it may have been grossly unwise but I'm with the perpetrator because I feel as sure as can be that the outcome would have been the same with or without the "action" (we clerks are experts in seemingly dumb misunderstanding if we want to oppose)

Michael W. said...


Baruch Goldstein was condemend by everyone in authority in Israel. There are idiots in every village, and Israel is no exception.

Israel is not a ghetto. It receives a tremendous amount of venture capital and tourists. Israelis can go out when they want to where they want, except to some backward countries.

And per capita, Israel is the most technologically and scientifically productive country.

Sergio said...

I am no expert in middle east history (or anything else, to be frank), but this noise about Jerusalem is seems ludricous. Let me try to figure: the city has ancient significance for the Jews foremost, not equaly to Christians and Muslims (that came later, and try to tell the story backwards); muslims have plenty of important sites (Meca, Medina, etc); historically Jews were barred from the site when the city wasn't in their hands; and finally, the city was taken in a victorious defensive war and christian and muslim have free access to their places of worship.

In any "normal" world, this would have ended the discussion...

Cheers (d'apr├ęs Gavin).


Yaacov said...

Which reminds me, Sergio (that comment of what you're an expert in) that I've not yet gotten to your article. It's on my list, but hasn't happened yet... sorry.

Sergio said...


Which reminds me, yet again: there is a new book by the late Hyam Maccoby,
"Antisemitism and modernity" that is worth putting on your list. I'm reading the second time and it is brilliant, full of interesting insights and information.

My only qualm with it (I've got to complain of something, after all!) is that Mccoby takes psychoanalysis too seriously...

Best regards,

Dimitry Papkov said...

Alex, how would you describe Barry Rubin?

I would call him slightly right of center (as did Yaacov in the past. I can go and look for the comment if it is really important to you). This is despite the fact that Rubin campaigned for Ephraim Sneh during the last election. Most importantly, I'd call him a true realist and a very good and knowledgable analyst. Even if you can disagree with his analysis, he does delve into things nobody else does, and he has a wealth of first hand knowledge among the players, as opposed to us shooting the breeze here.

NormanF said...

Leaving the timing aside, why should the Palestinians make an issue of homes being built in a Jewish neighborhood? Even they agreed in the past Ramat Shlomo will remain a part of Israel. I'd ask Yaacov to see what happened not as an act of idiocy but as a message to the world: Jews have the right to live in Jerusalem and they need no one's permission to do so. And the international uproar is amazing given the fact not a single Arab was harmed, dispossessed or had his claims compromised in any way by the Israeli government decision. There are far worse things going on in the world but no one says a word about them.

Gavin said...

I'll admit to being a bit puzzled with Israels approach to the new building. The situation as I see it is that the Palestinians are making excuses for not beginning negotiations. That would lead one to conclude that either their complaints are justifed or they have no intention of negotiating a peace deal. The latter is the most likely.

It seems to me that Israel are just handing the Palestinians the excuses they want, and Israel are also subsequently being blamed for the lack of progress in negotiations. It's a lose-lose scenario, what's the actual strategy here?


Anonymous said...

no matter how wonderfully Israel would have behaved the Palestinians would have come up with something (sooner rather than later) and why shouldn't they given this Biden-quote - which translates to me that "martyr"-cult doesn't entitle Israel to get tense they have to be reasonable, take it in their stride.

Applying Miss Marple's Logic I report that my experience in office feuds is that the more you take in your stride the uppiter they get. (read Rumpelstilzken - the only fairy tale in there is that the king marries her after three nights of spinning straw to gold - in real life he would have kept her doing it forever, every now and then upping the ante)

cheers and hygeia

Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that the administration would hold both Israelis and Palestinians “accountable for any statements or actions that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks.”

Barry Meislin said...

This is an excellent question, to which there are several possible answers, running the gamut from sheer incompetence---to cunning strategy; from pre-empting the American government's perceived abandonment of Israel---to merely following decades-old Israeli policy regarding building in J'lem (and nothing more than that); from individual coalition parties (and party leaders) making power moves in the inter-coalitionary(?) chess game---to sending messages to their own (or potential) constituents.

Or anything in between.
Or any combination of the above.
Or anything else.

(My vote, for what it's worth, is a combination of incompetence and sending messages.....(but to whom?))

Here's some commentary that sheds quite a bit of light on the issue---and the larger issues involved.

(Which means it sheds no light at all?)

Gavin said...

I don't know the politics involved Barry but I've been in business a long while and I'm familiar with the art of negotiating. Israel seems to be taking a neither here nor there approach which just doesn't seem aimed at achieving anything except stall for time.

If Israel was to say "The Palestinians are not interested in peace so we'll keep building settlements until they sit down at the negotiating table" then that would make sense. Or they could say, "ok, they're bluffing so we'll call their bluff about building. We'll halt all bulding and see if they sit down to negotiate a peace deal." They're not doing either, they're stuck halfway between and it's handing over all the bargaining power to the Palestinian side. Doesn't make any sense.

Cheers, Gavin

Anonymous said...

Let me make sure I have this straight. You, Barry and others roundly condemn Interior Minister Eli Yishai for making public, the plans to build much needed housing in Jerusalem. Plans that make thousands of Israelis very happy. Obviously their happiness (or lack thereof) is of little consequence to you and Barry. No, it is Vice President Biden’s worthless opinion that really counts. It is Biden you must please, even though he represents the opinion of every Jew-hating, Israel hating, anti-Zionist, anti-democracy liberal in the world.

Then out of the other side of your mouths you show that Jerusalem is Jewish, has always been Jewish and that there is nothing wrong with building in your own country, in your own capital.

But it is the timing, you say. Fair enough. Israel should not mention plans to build when Vice President Biden is there. Nor should she mention the plans when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is there. Nor should she mention the plans when Special Envoy George Mitchell is there. Or when Abu Mazen is there. Or when the various dignitaries and diplomats from Europe constantly traipsing in and out of Israel are there. Or when the various NGO’s that support the ‘palestinians’ are there.

Given that there are always people in Israel that will take ‘great offense’ if Israel acts in anyway like a sovereign country in charge of her own affairs, I propose this.

The state of Israel should start an underground newspaper. This newspaper should be handed out on street corners with an admonition that everything in it is top secret. In this newspaper, Israel will keep her citizens up to date on any plans or news that might upset anyone. News such as building in cities that will never be part of the mythical muslim state, news of new checkpoints installed because of renewed terrorism, news of highways being closed to muslims because of a high number of injuries due to rock throwing, news of the IDF removing squatters from Jewish land.

That way, Israel can carry on with her own affairs while the world is blissfully ignorant of what is really going on.

What do you think, Yaacov? Is not this a solution that will please everybody? Or are there too many people that are unpleasable?

Sincerely - SarahSue

Barry Meislin said...

I think the answer lies not in what I think, but what the Netanyahu administration wishes to achieve, and how it thinks it can do that best.

Clearly, it does know how to alienate the American government (and with it, alienate, or at least confuse, many of Israel supporters---inside and outside Israel---along with providing all kinds of joy for Israel's multitude of opponents).

In addition, the Israeli government certainly knows how to appear incompetent, if Bibi is reduced to saying he didn't know of this, that or the other, and flailing around for excuses, which may or may not be true. (Does it really matter?)

On the other hand, one could argue that the Obama government, proving itself incompetent in almost every sphere, and cozying up to dictatorships while thumbing its nose at purported allies, is already alienated beyond hope, and that Israel should look out for itself.

Which brings one back to the question, how to best do that?

Could this brouhaha been handled differently? Did it have to happen at all? Did Israel shoot itself (again) in the foot? Or did it proudly assert its rights and policies?

Because you can bet that the failed American administration, desperate as it is for finding excuses for its manifold failures, and given the inclinations of those who supposedly make its policies, will milk this controversy with Israel for all its worth, now as well as down the road.

Though, it is certainly probable that, with no "ME solution" in sight, or even possible, this would have happened in any case.

(By the way, the Obama administration has two years and eight months left. Does this matter? Perhaps not....)

Sylvia said...

You can't shut the mouth of every clerk in the country, nor can you go around accusing particular people that the timing of their release of the announcement to the press was malicious.
Netanyahu has done the only thing reasonable which is cancel the planning council meeting for this week so there are no surprises while he is overseas.

On the other hand, the hysterical reaction of the Obama administration is what will ignite the fires in the Middle East. This is what the Arabs, the Palestinians, the Iranians and Israel haters the world over have been praying for.
Could that lead to violernce? The next few days will tell.

Dar said...

As an American, and a Jew, let me say this: the way in which this particular event triggered America's frustration with Israeli settlements is emblematic of a larger dysfunction in the relationship between Israel and the U.S. Imagine, for example, that these construction plans had simply been announced a month following Biden's visit. Would we hear a word of condemnation from the Obama administration despite its continuous stated policy of opposing settlements in the territories? Highly unlikely, certainly not to the extent that occurred because of Yishai's poor timing.

But here's the point: America reacts this way because we are fundamental hypocrites on this matter. On the one hand, the American government considers Israeli settlements in the territories illegal, a policy that has passed from Johnson in '67 to Obama today. On the other hand the American government helps fund many of the very same settlements it considers illegal. If Obama had his way, he probably would pull this funding. But in the U.S. this is politically unfeasible. So what occurs is the U.S. talking out of both sides of its mouth and hoping the rest of the world doesn't notice. The official line in the U.S. media is that the convergence between Biden's visit and the settlement announcement "made America look bad." But America already looked bad on this matter, for anyone who bothered to look. The convergence, however, made it impossible for the entire world not to notice.

Sylvia said...

!. The US doesn't fund the settlements. As a matter of fact, the US contribution to Israel in this regard is strictly limited to military aid, which benefits the US economy in the first place, since these are not gifts. Enough with this canard.

2. Ramat Shlomo is not a settlement. For those old enough to remember, it is the area between Talpiot and Mount Scopus University that they used to call the "no man's land" in North Jerusalem.And Biden knows it.

3."Israel" didn't make the announcement. An anonymous person in the local planning committee did send a press release to the media. That would be like a local planning council in El Paso Texas announcing new construction near the border with Mexico. Would they have to inform the WH of their decision? I don't think so.