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Archive for December, 2012

Bibi’s chutzpah

MIDEAST ISRAEL POLITICS

Here are links to worthwhile articles I’ve read over the past few days on the aftermath of the UNGA Palestine vote. A pétage de plombs by the Israelis was more or less expected but one is struck by, indeed near speechless at, the incredible chutzpah of Benjamin Netanyahu in poking the United States in the eye with the announcement of his E1 plan. Bibi is no doubt expressing his mauvaise humeur at the reelection of President Obama, who, despite Bibi’s overt support of Romney, nonetheless went to bat for the Israelis at the UNGA last week. If Israel weren’t Israel, one would want to tell them to, well, just f— off.

Even the Israeli right—the “moderate” part, not its Tea Party wing (Likud Beitenu-Bayit Yehudi-etc)—is criticizing Bibi’s move, as one may see, e.g., in David Horovitz’s Times of Israel op-ed, “The Politics of Petulance.” The lede:

Israel is moving to the right — unsurprisingly, given the threats on every front — but the Likud just took that shift to a whole new level. Electing a band of grandstanding populists, and announcing settlement plans as a kind of punishment to the Palestinians, won’t help Israel negotiate the treacherous new regional realities.

In this general vein, Slate’s centrist contrarian commentator William Saletan expresses his exasperation at “The Chutzpah of Bibi Netanyahu.”

Haaretz’s fine columnist, Bradley Burston, says that “Netanyahu finally has his ground war: not Hamas, but Obama.” Money quote:

There will be time after the election to mend fences with Washington, the Prime Minister’s advisor believes. In any case, there is always the fallback cushion of Netanyahu support – Congressional campaigning that never ends. 2014 is just around the corner.

Right now, Netanyahu wants the voter who appreciates chutzpah in the darker sense, speaking trash to power, grabbing what you want from whomever you want, whenever you want it. Because the suffering you’ve gone through in life means you deserve it.

The voter who savors an Israeli prime minister who is master of the art of the sucker punch, the late hit, the bitch move. The prime minister who is, at heart, the ultimate manyak.

For the sake of the lowest common denominator, it is in Netanyahu’s interest for the world to get to know his new party, for its distinct tinges of racism, fascism, and even a call for rebuilding the ancient Temple.

Because, for the sake of his target voter, it’s in Benjamin Netanyahu’s direct interest for the world to hate Israelis. For the sake of his campaign, it’s in Benjamin Netanyahu’s direct interest that Barack Obama be fed up and furious with Israel.

That is, at least until Election Day, January 22.

In French this is called la politique du pire. BTW, if one doesn’t know what a “manyak” is—which is a perfect characterization of Bibi—, see here.

For a solid, level-headed analysis of Bibi and E1, see Hussein Ibish on “The E1 emergency.”

For detailed info on the E1 scheme, the Peace Now website has a highly informative post—and with maps—on “11 thousand units in one week – the government’s settlement offensive.”

Michael Koplow, of the first-rate ‘Ottomans and Zionists’ blog, writes on TDB’s Open Zion that “Bibi is bluffing on E1,” that he won’t follow through on it. I think Koplow may be right. Bibi is playing electoral politics. And being a manyak.

An article in the NYT the other day focused on European anger at the E1 move, pointing, among other things, to the disconnect of Israeli decision makers.

But beyond the tit-for-tat measures set off by the United Nations vote, analysts pointed to a trend of deteriorating relations between Israel and Europe in particular.

“That is because the top-level people making decisions here in recent years are completely insular and out of touch with the rest of the world, especially regarding the Palestinians and the settlements,” said Mark Heller, a foreign-policy analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

For people who are multilingual and certainly well-traveled, this would seem surprising, though perhaps not so much. Orthodox Jews are insular and not totally connected in with dynamics outside their confessional milieu. E.g. in France, the Orthodox, mostly North African juifs communautaires construct the larger society differently than do non-Orthodox juifs laïques. The former keep the larger society at a distance—and which inevitably shapes attitudes—, the latter do not. This is not a value judgment, just a statement of the way it is. It is likewise, I think, with right-wing Israeli governments. If anyone wishes to disagree with me on this, I’m all ears.

On the reaction of major European states to the E1 plan, Ynetnews.com has an opinion piece by Shimon Shiffer, who says that “[Israel is] going to pay,” that “Europe [is] no longer satisfied with mere condemnations [or] expressions of concern over settlement construction.” The Europeans, led by France, want Israeli action, for it to cancel the E1 plan. If the Israelis don’t give satisfaction on this, i.e. if they continue to poke the Europeans in the eye, then I say that the EU should consider suspending part of its association agreement with Israel. And, if that doesn’t have the desired effect, threatening suspension of Israel from the OECD. I don’t know how doable the latter is but it needs to be looked into.

Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson, writing on Robert Wright’s Atlantic blog, explains “How Obama Could Stop Those Israeli Settlements.” One measure:

Write out a statement that he’s willing to deliver on TV. It should criticize Netanyahu sharply and say something that will shock the Israeli people: If the prime minister is going to behave this outrageously, America can no longer guarantee that it will stand by Israel’s side at the United Nations. It can no longer guarantee that it will veto Security Council resolutions that declare West Bank settlements in violation of international law. Indeed, America may now introduce such a resolution–that’s how outrageous this latest settlement project is.

Pourquoi pas ?

Finally, Shlomo Avineri has an op-ed in Haaretz on “Netanyahu’s missed opportunity,” on how Bibi should have addressed Mahmoud Abbas after the UNGA vote. Nice, conciliatory words. Dream on.

Plantu in L'Express, 6 Dec. 2012

“A Palestinian state is hidden in this drawing; can you find it?” (L’Express, 6 Dec. 2012)

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James C. Scott

James C Scott Seeing Like a State

Today’s NYT has a very interesting article on Yale political scientist James C. Scott, the “Professor Who Learns From Peasants.” In addition to his originality—as a political scientist and as a person—he has the singularity of writing books that appeal to left-liberals and conservative-libertarians alike. There are not too many people like him around in academia.

He’s…the kind of big thinker (and stylish writer), colleagues say, who has all but disappeared in his field: the last of a breed of wide-angled 20th-century social theorists, going back to Max Weber, to marry the insights of social science to the broad sweep of history, even as he cautions against putting too much faith in theory.

“He marches to his own drum completely,” said Ian Shapiro, a longtime colleague of Mr. Scott’s in the Yale political science department. While most social scientists pick apart problems in previous research, “Jim always starts with problems in the real world,” Mr. Shapiro said. “That’s why his work launches ships.”

On his work:

In the late 1970s Mr. Scott took his family to a Malaysian village for two years of fieldwork, despite colleagues’ warnings that it would be a “career-killing” move for a political scientist. The result was “Weapons of the Weak,” which (along with a follow-up, “Domination and the Arts of Resistance”) explored the ways peasants and other powerless people used evasion and subterfuge, rather than direct confrontation, to thwart efforts at centralized state control.

“Seeing Like a State,” published a decade later, looked at the limitations of state power from the other end, examining — through examples as diverse as 18th-century German scientific forestry and “villagization” in 1970s Tanzania — the way that “high modernist” social engineering doomed itself by ignoring local custom and practical knowledge, which Mr. Scott, borrowing the classical Greek word for wisdom, calls “metis.”

Mr. Scott has also been a longstanding critic of what he sees as the overconfident hyper-rationalism of political science itself, which has sacrificed its own kind of metis in favor of statistical analysis and abstract, immutable laws of political behavior. These days he’s flattered to be so often misidentified as an anthropologist.

“An anthropologist goes in and tries to have as few prejudices as possible and be as open as possible to where the world leads you,” he said, “whereas a political scientist would go in with a questionnaire.”

I am ashamed to admit that I have not read any of Scott’s many books but will absolutely, and soon (and particularly the above). Encore de la lecture…

James C Scott Weapons of the Weak

James C Scott The Art of Not Being Governed

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Who is Fethullah Gülen?

Fethullah Gulen

Fethullah Gülen

[updates below]

Istanbul-based journalist Claire Berlinski has a good, informative article in City Journal on Fethullah Gülen, the “[c]ontroversial Muslim preacher, feared Turkish intriguer—and ‘inspirer’ of the largest charter school network in America.” I’ve posted several articles on Gülen and his movement over the past year-and-a-half (see here, here and here). Claire’s is one of the best.

Here are some other interesting articles I’ve read on Turkey of late:

On The National Interest website, Halil Karaveli says how “Erdogan Pays for His Foreign Policy,” in the sense of paying the price. In the space of three years, Turkey has gone from zero problems with its neighbors to problems with almost all of them. Insofar as Erdoğan’s domestic political standing is undermined as a consequence, this is objectively not a bad thing.

On the NYT’s Latitude blog, Andrew Finkel , in “Erdogan, the Not-So Magnificent,” tells us how the Turkish PM and his party are “parodying Turkish history with a slew of misguided construction projects attempting to revive the Ottomans’ glory.” Quelle bande de ploucs…

Also in the NYT, Anand Giridharadas had a good piece last week on “Forging a New Identity” in Turkey, on the deep socio-cultural-political cleavage and conflict between “white Turks” and “black Turks” (which has nothing to do with skin color). In this conflict, I am resolutely with the “whites,” though I do think they should seek accommodation with—and show a little more tolerance toward—their “black” compatriots. And vice-versa.

UPDATE: Soner Cagaptay has a good article in The Atlantic on “Turkey’s Distinctive Brew,” in which he asserts that Turkey’s institutionalized Westernization and deeply-rooted secularism will limit the extent of Islamization. (December 11)

2nd UPDATE: Nicholas Birch has an article in The Majalla on how “Tension [is] mount[ing] between Turkey’s biggest Islamist players, Erdoğan and Gülen.” (September 5, 2013)

3rd UPDATE: Dani Rodrik has an article in Project Syndicate on the Gülen movement, “Erdoğan is not Turkey’s only problem.” In the piece he links to an important post in English from his and Pınar Doğan’s Turkish-language blog on the Balyoz affair, “Fethullah Gülen, the Jews, and hypocrisy.” (September 11, 2013)

4th UPDATE: French journalist Ariane Bonzon, inquiring into Fethullah Gülen—now an enemy of RT Erdoğan—, has a piece in Slate.fr asking “What is the Gülen neo-brotherhood, a state within the Turkish state, and a thorn in Erdogan’s side?” (en français ici) (December 23, 2013)

5th UPDATE: BBC Newshour reporter Tim Franks interviewed “Fethullah Gulen…[the p]owerful but reclusive Turkish cleric” at his estate in Pennsylvania. (January 27, 2014)

6th UPDATE: Ariane Bonzon has conducted an enquête asking “How strong is the Gülen movement in France?” (en français ici) (March 4, 2014)

7th UPDATE: Berna Turam, Associate Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Northeastern University, writing on the Al Jazeera English website, weighs in on “Gulen, Erdogan and democracy in Turkey.” The lede: What will come out of the struggle between the Gulen movement and the AKP? (March 13, 2014)

8th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski has another piece in City Journal on Gülen, this one after the falling out with Erdoğan, “Turkey’s two thugs: Erdoğan and Gülen are both dangerous—but only one of them lives in the Poconos.” (December 23, 2014)

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TEDx Women Khartoum 2012 Harriet Martin

The Al Jazeera English website has a blog post by journalist Harriet Martin on last weekend’s TEDx event in Khartoum. She reports that

TEDx Women Khartoum  was one of 150 events taking place across the world simultaneously this past weekend, in which women with Ideas worth sharing, as the TED slogan goes, stood up in front of an audience and shared them on the same day, worldwide.

I found this passage in the post noteworthy

A glamorous Sudanese Ambassador, who is also a serious tennis player, novelist and mother, spoke of her multiple role as ambassador for all these things.  She urged the audience, that if ever they did not like the way they were represented, to seek to find ways of representing themselves.  Taking up the conference slogan of claiming our space, she told them to find their own voice to represent their religion, their culture, their values, their beliefs.

Disclosure: the glamorous ambassador (below) is a personal friend of many years. And in addition to being a fine novelist she is also the very fine mother of an impressive teenage son (and who will go places in life). Keep up the good work, Maha!

مها ايوب

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Hamas militants preparing to launch deceptively festive looking Qassam rockets

I have links to two noteworthy analyses of last month’s Gaza flare-up that I want to post. Not that I find both analyses of equal value. loin s’en faut. The lesser value one is by Norman Finkelstein, writing on a website called New Left Project, on “Israel’s latest assault on Gaza: what really happened” (h/t Roane C.). WADR, NF is, as we say in France, à côté de la plaque, i.e. off-the-wall. I am not going to give a point-by-point commentary on NF’s take—entre autres, he thinks Israel suffered a “stunning defeat”—but will offer comments on a few passages I highlighted. E.g. this one

But this past year Hamas has been on a roll. Its ideological soulmate, the Muslim Brotherhood, ascended to power in Egypt. The emir of Qatar journeyed to Gaza carrying the promise of $400 million in aid, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to visit Gaza soon thereafter. In the West Bank many Palestinians envied (rightly or wrongly) that Gazans fared better economically.

Now it is indeed the case that Hamas has been on something of a roll lately, but Gazans being “envied (rightly or wrongly)” by their West Bank cousins because they are “far[ing] better economically”?? Hey, I thought Gazans in their open-air prison were supposed to be starving! Or, at best, living lives of extreme privation on account of the Israeli blockade. But WBers, so NF is informed, are apparently receiving reports that life isn’t so bad in the Strip after all, that it may even be better than chez eux in the WB (but where, in point of fact, it is not catastrophic; e.g. see my pics of Ramallah-El Bireh, Bir Zeit, and Nablus, taken 3½ years ago). So what gives?

And there’s this

The natives were getting restless. It was time to take out the big club again and remind the locals who was in charge.

That’s right, the Israelis decided to kick some Palestinian butt because, well, it was just time to do that… Norman: analytically-wise I think you can do better.

It is possible to pinpoint the precise moment when the Israeli assault was over: Hamas leader Khalid Mishal’s taunt to Israel at a 19 November press conference, Go ahead, invade! Netanyahu panicked. His bluff was called, and Israel stood exposed, naked, before the whole world.

Right again… Bibi N., Avigdor Lieberman, and the general staff of the IDF shat bricks at tough guy Khaled Mashal’s trash talking them from his villa in Cairo… Seriously now, Norman. I have a hard time imagining this scene, literally or figuratively.

In a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, Hamas’s Mishal cut the figure and exuded the confidence of a world leader.

Oh please, GMAB! I linked to the Amanpour-Mashal interview in my IVth Gaza post, remarking on how Amanpour seriously grilled him. She had the SOB on the defensive almost throughout. Now Mashal does cut a more dashing figure than Avigdor Lieberman and is definitely better looking than Bashar al-Assad, but does this ergo make him look like “a world leader”???…

It appears that many Palestinians have concluded from the resounding defeat inflicted on Israel that only armed resistance can and will end the Israeli occupation. In fact, however, Hamas’s armed resistance operated for the most part only at the level of perceptions—the projectiles heading towards Tel Aviv did unsettle the city’s residents—and it is unlikely that Palestinians can ever muster sufficient military might to compel an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

NF is correct in what he says about military might (and even understates his point) but on the matter of “projectiles” he uses this term (and “projectile attacks”) throughout his piece for those devices that have been hurled at Israel from Gaza over these past months and years. “Projectile” has indeed become the substantive of choice for the Palestinian Amen Corner (PAC) when discussing the phenomenon. As the web’s Free Dictionary defines “projectile” as “[a] fired, thrown, or otherwise propelled object, such as a bullet, having no capacity for self-propulsion,” and which may be a rocket or missile, then it not stricto sensu incorrect to characterize in this way those metallic tubes that Hamas, Islamic Jihad et al propel at Israel. But when one employs the term “projectile” it is normally to describe an object thrown by hand, e.g. the stones and other objects that were hurled by teenage boys at IDF soldiers during the first Intifada. By contrast, during the Cold War one did not refer to the thousands of metal tubes with multiple nuclear warheads that the USA and USSR pointed at each other as Intercontinental Ballistic Projectiles. In the case of the Qassems and Fajrs, which constitute 99.9+% of the projectiles that are propelled at Israel from Gaza, these are rockets tout court. So why not just come out and call them that? Pourquoi la pudeur? They’re rockets, Norman. Rockets.

But if one calls a projectile rocket a rocket tout court, this naturally makes the matter sound somewhat more serious, and that could ergo possibly lead to a certain comprehension of the Israeli position, ce qu’il faut évidemment parer à tout prix. In this respect, it has become courant in the PAC to describe the Qassem rocket attacks on Israel as “pinpricks” at worst, that injure or kill almost no one. What the relative loss of life on the Israeli side in fact suggests is both the sophistication of the Israeli civil defense efforts (e.g. rocket shelters in Sderot every 15 meters) and the lack of sophistication of the Qassems and other such projectiles. But if these were more sophisticated—if Hamas & Co had the guidance systems and requisite intelligence (in the spy sense) to score hits on high-value targets—it stands to reason that the casualty rate on the Israeli side would be rather higher. So it is not for lack of desire or want of trying. After all, it really doesn’t make much sense—strategically or financially (these things do cost money, after all)—to deliberately fire rockets into empty fields. Why would one do that? So what are Hamas, Islamic Jihad et al’s strategic objectives in firing all those rockets into Israel? For the answer, see below.

NF’s final passage

But Gaza’s steadfastness until the final hour of the Israeli assault did demonstrate the indomitable will of the people of Palestine. If this potential force can be harnessed in a campaign of mass civil resistance, and if the supporters of Palestinian rights worldwide do their job of mobilizing public opinion and changing government policy, then Israel can be forced to withdraw, and with fewer Palestinian lives lost than in an armed resistance.

Insofar as NF is calling for civil, as opposed to armed, resistance, this is salutary. But I would think he’d have read enough on the subject to know that the Israelis are not going to withdraw from the West Bank in the same way they did from southern Lebanon and Gaza, i.e. unilaterally and with no negotiations or security arrangements with the other side. The Israelis feel burned by what happened afterward in these two places—though they were hardly blameless themselves—and are simply not going to do it again. The occupation will only end subsequent to face-to-face negotiations and the conclusion of an agreement that is approved by a large majority of Israelis (and of Palestinians too, of course). It won’t happen any other way.

The second analysis I want to post—and the one of higher value—is an interview in the Istanbul daily Today’s Zaman with Bora Bayraktar, a Turkish specialist of the I-P conflict, who says that “Hamas [and] Israel [made] political gains following Gaza fighting” (h/t Claire B.). Interesting that this appeared in TZ, which is a mouthpiece of the Fethullah Gülen movement. Bayraktar is manifestly very knowledgeable on the subject, having authored three books on it (in Turkish), including one on Hamas. The interview is worth reading in full but this exchange is particularly noteworthy

Hamas must have had something certain in mind by sending that many missiles to Israel. Would you elaborate on the strategy of Hamas?

I had interviews with Mahmoud Zahhar, a senior Hamas leader, who told me that Hamas’s strategy is to reverse the Jewish immigration.

There you have it. The “projectiles” are being fired from Gaza into Israel to terrorize the population, so they will pack their bags and leave, to go back to where they came from; or, if they were born or raised in Israel—which is the case for the majority of Israeli Jews—, to go wherever. Hamas’s strategic objective, and from which it has never deviated, is to liberate all of Palestine, from the sea to the river. And no namby-pamby talk about a binational state, or a secular, democratic state for all its citizens blah blah. It will be an Arab, Islamic Palestine. Tout court. It’s all so simple, no?

gaza-rocket-fire-f-83638

hamas-rockets-2012-1

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unvote

Voilà some links to interesting commentaries and analyses on the UN General Assembly’s vote to admit Palestine as a non-member observer state. As with just about everyone outside Israel and its American (and Canadian) amen corner—plus a handful of Obama administration officials—I was for it. Or, rather, I wasn’t against it. Palestine is not a state at the present time—though maybe in the future it will become one, inshallah—and joining the UNGA doesn’t change that reality. Regardless of the reservations one may have had over the Palestinian Authority petitioning the UNGA at this particular moment, once Mahmoud Abbas decided to go ahead with it and over US and Israeli objections, it was a foregone conclusion that the UNGA would approve it, so one had to take a position. I was pleased when France announced it would vote ‘yes’ rather than abstain. If the French had abstained, they would have lost credit among the Palestinians and in the Arab world—and President Hollande domestically in France—but without gaining a thing in return. And Hollande did display his sympathetic sentiments toward Israel during Netanyahu’s visit last month—the French Socialists, in their majority, have always been pro-Israel to varying degrees—so France can hardly be viewed by Israelis as an unfriendly country.  The French thus did the logical thing in supporting the resolution and, in the process, gave cover to the other states of the European Union to vote ‘yes’ or abstain.

The fact that only one EU member state—and not a major one (Czech Rep)—voted ‘no’ is striking. The EU has been very nice to Israel over the years, signing association agreements and then deepening them, admitting Israel as a full member of the OECD, contributing heavily to maintaining the Palestinian Authority—which is totally in Israel’s interest—, and the like. But the Europeans—and particularly France, Italy, and Spain—have close, longstanding relationships with and major interests in the Arab world. The intransigence of the Israelis when it comes to the Palestinians—of settlement expansion and the manifest contentment of the Israelis with the status quo—collides with European interests, and is a domestic political issue for several EU states in a way it is not in the US (where the pro-Israel consensus is total). So 26 of the 27 EU members declining to vote ‘no’ on the Palestinian petition is a very strong signal to Israel that the status quo cannot continue indefinitely.

It was also essential, at this particular conjuncture, to hand a victory to Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, in view of the Gaza flare-up—during which the PA was marginalized to absent—and the temporarily enhanced stature of Hamas in the eyes of Palestinians and regionally. The focus has to shift from Gaza back to Ramallah. As for the Obama administration, I have not yet read a good analysis as to the reasons behind its strong opposition to the Pal UNGA bid—apart from fears over the International Criminal Court—, but figure it was a no cost position for Obama to take. The last thing Obama needs right now, while he’s playing hardball politics on the fiscal cliff, is to get Congress worked up at him over Israel, not to mention another public fight with Netanyahu, who is almost certain to be reelected next month. And by strongly backing the Israelis on this issue—which changed nothing, as the UNGA resolution would have passed regardless of the US position—he has collected more IOUs to hand over to Netanyahu when he re-engages with the “peace process” next year, e.g. in putting the squeeze on Israel in regard to E1 (see below).

One interesting analysis I’ve read is Raghida Dergham’s in Al-Hayat, “The Palestinian goals behind demanding a non-member state.” The UNGA vote is a game changer. In paving the way for the PA to join international organizations and sign conventions—including the ICC—it gives the PA some serious cards to play. As she concludes

It’s a new day. It’s a new chapter. It is a test to choose between the serious implementation of the two-state solution and putting the occupation on trial, and between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as the representative of the Palestinians. Indeed, the legal instruments have changed the foundations of the relationship between the parties to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

Hussein Ibish, with whom I invariably agree, has a nice piece in The Daily Beast on “The death of Israel’s ‘quality minority’,” that “quality minority” being the Western and democratic states that could be counted on to support Israel at the UN and other international organizations, against the “quantitative majority” of Arab-Islamic states and the rest.

Israel’s “quality minority” now consists of the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. The Israeli argument that the postcolonial world may be pro-Palestinian, but the democratic West is solidly pro-Israel collapsed. The “quality minority,” is dead, at least for now and on this vote.

That the last four of these “states” are even members of the UNGA is further proof of what a joke the UNGA is. Ibish concludes his comment with this

For the Palestinians, the next step should be a pivot toward seeking a rapprochement with Washington, because without American support they are unlikely to be able to make further progress on their goal of independent statehood. The Israelis, however, need to do some immediate soul-searching, for they seem to have convinced many of their former Western allies they are simply not interested in a genuine two-state solution.

Correct on both counts. And in a rapprochement with Washington the Pals need to do something unpleasant but necessary, which is to try to make nice with Congress. They did so in the ’90s and weren’t always treated well, but there’s no choice. Does the PA even have a paid lobbyist in Washington (a real one, from a mainline PR firm)?

Arguing the contrary to Ibish, Paris-based lawyer and past Palestinian negotiating team adviser, John V. Whitbeck, in a particularly stupid op-ed in Haaretz, “Diplomatic prostitution and disconnect at the UN,” says that the US, on account of its ‘no’ vote, has rendered itself hors jeu in the peace process. The lede:

Representatives of 95% of the world’s population supported Palestine’s bid for enhanced status at the UN. The U.S.’ opposition should be a sign for the world that the U.S. can longer enjoy a monopoly on the peace process, and that its further involvement is no longer needed or wanted.

As one would say over here, Monsieur Whitbeck prend ses désirs pour des réalités, i.e. he is engaging in wishful thinking. More to the point, one wishes to ask what geopolitical planet he is living on. If, for the sake of argument—but which, of course, will never happen—, Mahmoud Abbas were to tell Barack Obama that his peace process services were no longer needed or desired—and assuming the Israelis would have nothing to say on the matter—, whom would he seek as a mediator? Catherine Ashton? François Hollande? (he’ll decline the offer) Vladimir Putin? Mohamed Morsi? Soyons sérieux.

J.J. Goldberg of the JDF asks “Who Stands Against Peace? Palestinians Are Sounding Reasonable as Israel Drifts Right.” On The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog is an informative post by Mark Leon Goldberg on “Who’s afraid of the ICC?” The Israelis certainly seem so—of the Palestinians being able to refer cases to the ICC—, but, as Goldberg explains, this is unlikely to happen and for several reasons, a big one being political, on the part of both the Palestinians and the ICC itself. In point of fact, there is a near zero chance that the ICC will ever indict members of the Israeli cabinet or high-ranking IDF officers. So all the pro-Pals out there—including several FB friends the past few days—who have been salivating at the prospect of top Israelis being dragged to The Hague are going to be disappointed.

One question I have is if the ICC could hypothetically pursue Israel for settlement activity on the West Bank, as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinian Amen Corner (PAC) partisans are saying yes but I need to see confirmation of this from specialists who are not in that corner. If this answer is indeed yes, it will quickly become an issue if Israel makes good on its just announced plan to build 3,000 housing units on E1, between E.Jerusalem and the settlement-city Maale Adumim, that would cut the West Bank in two and render a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible (see the map below, plus the photos I took of E1 3½ years ago). This would be the gravest, most provocative settlement expansion in a long time—even more so than Har Homa in the late ’90s—, and a veritable casus belli for the PA. Quoting the NYT’s report

“This is not just another few houses in Jerusalem or another hilltop in the West Bank,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel and Egypt. “This is one of the most sensitive areas of territory, and I would hope the United States will lay down the law.”

If the Israelis do make good on the plan and the US is unable to lay down the law—and the always courageous Europeans issue strongly worded communiqués et c’est tout—, the PA would have no other option than to go nuclear and refer the case to the ICC. Somehow, though, I can’t see the Israelis crossing the Rubicon on E1. They’ll back down, I’m sure of it. Well, almost.

But even if the E1 plan does not come to fruition, there are the daily vexations and worse committed by fanatical West Bank settlers against Palestinians, such as detailed in this post on the blog of British journalist Orlando Crowcroft, “Yanoun, West Bank: Villagers, violence and a quiet takeover,” that I just came across. Yanoun is a village next to the Itamar settlement near Nablus (where the family was murdered in March 2011). If fanatical settlers continue to render life miserable for the inhabitants of neighboring Palestinian villages and the Israeli security forces and judicial system are unwilling to do anything about it, there could be pressure on the ICC to take up the matter, even in the absence of a formal PA referral. The hypothetical prospect of this could possibly prompt the Israelis to take stronger action against the fanatics.

Adam Garfinkle has a post on his American Interest blog, “Small Calamities,” that is not favorable to the Pal UNGA vote. He says, entre autres, that

As the Obama administration has said countless times both in private and public, this effort by the PA is unhelpful. It said so more than a year ago, and managed to delay the effort, and it said it more recently, as well. And it’s true: It is unhelpful, and the “peace process” really doesn’t need more disadvantages; if it has an abundance of anything, that’s it…

Ah, but so what? It isn’t as though some other route to a revived and successful peace process is in prospect, so the vote could easily be dismissed as a marginal tactical stunt. Besides, everybody knows that United Nations is not a place where problems get solved, but a place where either insoluble or trivial issues go to be talked to death by second-rate diplomats with nothing better to do.

This may turn out to be the case, but it’s not obvious that it will. There are at least three reasons to think that this episode will turn out to be more important and more harmful than that.

Garflinkle’s essay is long and complex but it’s worth the read.

Gil Troy, a historian at McGill University and writing on TDB’s Open Zion blog, also has a commentary that is not favorable to the UNGA vote, “Fear and Suspicion of Turtle Bay,” that gives voice to the negative Israeli view of the UN.

Yossi Klein Halevi, in an op-ed in the Toronto Globe and Mail, writes that the UNGA vote is an example of “How not to create Palestine.” He begins

There is only one way for the Palestinians to achieve statehood, and that is to convince a majority of Israelis that a Palestinian state would be a peaceful neighbour, and not threaten their most basic security. The farcical vote on Palestinian statehood about to be enacted at the United Nations – to upgrade the Palestinian presence to non-member observer state – will only reinforce the fear among Israelis that Palestinians intend to impose a solution that will leave Israel without peace or security.

Vivienne Walt of Time magazine has a most interesting account of Palestine’s experience at UNESCO since it was admitted as a full member last year, and that may be a harbinger of what awaits the Pals at the UNGA and other specialized agencies they may join.

The Palestinians hoped UNESCO membership would be a platform from which to press for diplomatic gains, but in interviews with TIME, diplomats say that the realpolitik of international organizations has turned out to be far different. “It has been an extraordinary year, and there have been some surprises,” a UNESCO diplomat told TIME on Wednesday. For the Palestinians, he said, “I don’t think it has unfolded the way they expected it to.”

In short, the Palestinians at UNESCO, who are now a member like any other, have not been automatically getting their way on issues they’ve been raising. With Palestinian membership came the cancellation of the US’s sizable financial contribution to the organization, which was in the law passed by Congress, about which President Obama could do nothing, and that everyone knew was going to happen if Pal membership was approved. But when the Pals pushed forward with their membership request, the member states were hardly going to reject it. And so now UNESCO finds itself in difficult financial straits, with cuts to programs and a hiring freeze. And, as Vivienne Walt reports, a lot of people at UNESCO are pissed off, and at the Palestinians, not the Americans. Voilà something for the Palestinians and the PAC to think about.

Finally, Edward Said wannabe Joseph Massad—who cannot hold an intellectual candle to Said—has a comment in The Guardian, asserting that “The UN vote to recognise Palestine legitimises a racist status quo,” in which he expresses his extreme unhappiness with the UNGA vote. I would normally not sully AWAV with links to JM—what a scandal that he received tenure at Columbia—but his elucubrations here are not entirely devoid of interest. Noting the “bitter irony” of last Thursday’s vote occurring on the 65th anniversary of UNGAR 181, Massad sees it as a legitimization of Israel as a Jewish state and of undermining the status of the PLO at the UN. I have indeed not seen anything so far on what happens to the PLO observer delegation at the UNGA now that Palestine as a state has attained the status of non-voting member. It doesn’t seem to make sense for there to be two separate Palestinian delegations at the UNGA. So does the new state of Palestine replace the PLO in the eyes of the UNGA? Insofar as the Palestinian state is defined as the WB/Gaza within the ’67 borders, what now happens to the Palestinians in the diaspora, notably in Lebanon and Syria, and for the sacrosanct “right of return”? Good question.

E1 Map

Below: E1 (my photos)
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E1, looking toward E.Jerusalem.

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Below: Maale Adumim arriving from E1 and Jerusalem.

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