4 Articles: Bibi Freezes Construction?; General Jones Tells a Joke; How Foreign Subsidies are all that’s Keeping Two Palestinian Governments from Collapse; The Direction of Europe: Netherlands: Opposition to Holocaust Education; U.K.: Voting Trends
- Bibi Freezes Construction? (Written Exclusively for PajamasMedia)
- GENERAL JONES TELLS A JOKE
- How Foreign Subsidies are all that’s Keeping Two Palestinian Governments from Collapse
- The Direction of Europe: Netherlands: Opposition to Holocaust Education; UK: Voting Trends
Posted: 27 Apr 2010 03:40 PM PDT
My article on the latest developments regarding U.S.-Israel relations and the reported Israeli decision to freeze construction in Jerusalem is HERE written for PajamasMedia. For your convenience, I’ve put the text below BUT if you are going to reprint or send to people please respect my request and provide their url
Bibi Freezes Construction?
By Barry Rubin, for PajamasMedia
Here’s a mystery: Why has the recent crisis in U.S.-Israel relations suddenly seemed to clear up?
Here’s an answer: A secret understanding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama to stop construction in Jerusalem outside its 1967 borders for a while.
There hasn’t been — and won’t be — any public confirmation of such an understanding, yet it seems quite likely that this has happened. In effect, Netanyahu is saying: We are cooperating in every way possible, so how can you complain about us?
Behind this argument is an Israeli belief that Obama will now be able to see the difference between a cooperative Israel and an intransigent Palestinian Authority, which will block any progress on peace. Indeed, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has already provided an example of that paradigm — he publicly stated that he wants a solution imposed from outside, not one negotiated with Israel and requiring any compromises or concessions on his part.
Netanyahu has taken another step which was more public. At times in the past, he has defined the next stage of talks as being more limited — not including, for example, a discussion on the future status of Jerusalem in any comprehensive peace agreement. The Israeli prime minister now says he is willing to discuss all issues.
But any freeze on Jerusalem won’t be made too explicit for a number of reasons. First, ever since the Oslo agreement was originally made in 1993, Israeli leaders have maintained that they interpret it as permitting construction on existing settlements and Jerusalem. For 17 years, the PA accepted this position. It never refused to talk on the basis that such construction was happening. Only when President Barack Obama raised the issue in 2009, it became apparent that the PA couldn’t be less militant than the American president.
Last October, the United States accepted a deal, with lavish praise for Obama, that construction would cease for nine months in the West Bank but would continue in Jerusalem. When the equivalent of a zoning commission announced during Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Jerusalem that a housing project had passed the fourth of seven steps and might be built in several years, this was blown up by the White House into a major insult.
In fact, the United States was going back on its own deal. Moreover, the PA decision to name a square in Ramallah after a PLO terrorist who had murdered two dozen Israeli civilians and an American citizen sparked no such outrage.
Netanyahu and his government wanted to defuse the conflict, but the prime minister is constrained politically. While his government is in fact — contrary to frequent Western media reports — a national unity coalition between his Likud Party and the main left party, Labour, he is also dependent on the parliamentary votes of smaller right-wing parties. They would be extremely angry about a freeze on Jerusalem construction and might withdraw their support.
It is interesting to note, by the way, that Netanyahu could not have made such an understanding with the United States without the support of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the coalition’s third largest party.
Netanyahu still maintains Israel’s right to build anywhere in Jerusalem, but is stopping actual construction now in order to facilitate negotiations with the PA.
The apparent move leaves three key players to decide their response.
First, will the PA in fact now go to indirect negotiations, having lost all excuses for refusing to do so?
Second, how will Israeli right-wingers react to the decision, both in terms of demonstrations and pulling out of support for the coalition? Since Netanyahu will insist that there is no formal freeze, this could undermine their efforts, while a desire for good relations with the United States and knowledge that any freeze is temporary will build Israeli popular support for Netanyahu.
And third, will the United States show reciprocal appreciation for Netanyahu’s concessions, or will Washington soon be back with more complaints and demands? The freeze has about five months left to run. If there is no real movement on negotiations — and this is unlikely — Netanyahu will want to end it. Would this lead to another conflict or would an Obama administration, perhaps better educated in PA behavior and worried about the erosion of electoral support at home, accept it?
Even given all this, no progress on peace negotiations is likely given all the problems involved. One of these is the fact that almost half the territory the PA purports to represent is the Gaza Strip, ruled by the PA’s rival, Hamas, which is totally against any peace with Israel.
Indeed, it is somewhat ironic that any return to indirect negotiations would be celebrated, since this is a step backward. After all, the PA (and its original parent body the PLO) and Israel have been holding direct talks since 1993.
PS: Additional new information for my blog readers. Secretary of Defense Gates met Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and held a press conference afterward. A reporter asked, good question, whether this wasn’t designed to show the relationship was back to normal since such a press conference had never been held before. Obviously that was the intention.
To help the relationship, Gates added that no U.S. officer had said that Israel endangers American lives but merely that the lack of progress in the peace process was used as ammunition by U.S. enemies to mobilize support. Well, that’s better but do you really think that Hamas, Hizballah, al-Qaida, the Taliban, etc., etc., win over people who are saying: “Wow, if only there was progress in the peace process toward a two-state solution I wouldn’t be strapping on this suicide bomber’s belt? As I’ve said before, progress toward peace–as desirable as it is–will increase attacks by terrorists determined to sabotage it and who are angry at the United States for “betraying” their chance of wiping out Israel.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition, Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth about Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).
PLEASE NOTE, This article was written for PajamasMedia and is available HERE
Posted: 28 Apr 2010 08:20 AM PDT
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GENERAL JONES TELLS A JOKE
By Barry Rubin
Today’s public culture focuses a lot more on categorization than thought processes. The immediate question that arises after various incidents is whether or not they meet the criterion of being objectionable rather than considering what they actually tell us about the assumptions and thought processes of those involved. So it is with the joke General Jones, national security advisor to President Barack Obama told at a recent speech.
Should General Jones be fired or resign because of the joke? Of course not. He should be fired or resign because he hasn’t been doing a very good job as national security advisor.
Actually, the speech itself was a good one. The goal was to mark the end of the U.S.-Israel rift after a secret understanding by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop construction in Jerusalem for a while. It is also meant to mark a need to shore up growing criticism about the administration’s policy on Israel and ineptness at getting sanctions on Iran. The joke should not be allowed to block an understanding of the administration’s regional policy and political maneuvers.
But it does show why the administration is in so much trouble at home and abroad in the first place and may soon be again.
Here is a brief summary of Jones’s version of the joke. The scene: southern Afghanistan. Hungry Taliban militant, raving hatred against Israel, asks Jewish merchant for water. Jew counters on Israel issue and refuses to sell it to him. Tells him instead he will sell him a tie. Taliban guy confused. Eventually goes onward, then returns. Now I see why you wanted to sell me a tie, he explains, they won’t let me into the restaurant over the hill without one.
Ha! Presumably the merchant sold him at a tie at an exorbitant price or, to use the old term for such things, the merchant “Jewed” him, a word in many dictionaries until recently.
It is no secret that Jones is one of the administration officials most hostile to Israel. Thus, the joke is put into the context: is it or is it not antisemitic? That is the least interesting issue. What is fascinating and more important points is what it reveals about Jones’s world view.
The incident also reminds us of something many people would find shocking but is true: Many members of the Western political and cultural elite know far less about Jews than about the “exotic” minorities that they deal with abroad or as immigrants to their countries nowadays. The ignorance about Jews springs, of course, from the assumption that they know so much. It is also augmented by assimilationist Jewish intellectuals, including those in the elite, who have never known, forgotten, or prefer not to disclose much about their own people.
Of course, one shouldn’t read too much into a joke. But as another joke puts it, the issue is not just that Jones told the joke but the way he told it.
Let’s first run through the introductory points:
–Jones decided to tell the joke. The issue is not whether the joke is objectively objectionable, that’s a matter for debate. What’s really impressive is that neither he nor his staff considered it risky. Here’s a man considered to be hostile to Israel, and perhaps to Jews, involved in very delicate issues, showing poor judgment in walking along the edge of the precipice in an era where people are obsessively—I’d say insanely—sensitive to any nuance of prejudice.
Even if one concludes that the joke is not truly objectionable, it shows poor judgment in a man whose job requires dealing with the fate of millions of people, including millions of Israelis. If he doesn’t understand how Jews might find it objectionable perhaps he can’t understand how Israel finds certain demands objectionable because of the level of risk they require it to take?
It makes me wonder how smart and able to understand situations Jones could possibly be. And if you respond that if he weren’t exceptional he wouldn’t hold his current job you’ve spent considerably less time around Washington than I have.
–How does one evaluate the joke? The basic joke exists in both Jewish and non-Jewish forms. In some ways it is a typical kind of Litvak Jewish joke designed to show cleverness. But in its origins the joke was dealing with sensitive material. After all, the implication is that these wily merchants were taking advantage of Eastern European peasants or others in their business dealings. It was for stereotypes like this that pogroms took place, including ultimately the biggest pogrom of them all. Thus, the basic structure of this joke has both typical Jewish and antisemitic features.
This is not atypical of “ethnic” humor and what makes it different when spoken by a member of the group and someone who isn’t. If you don’t believe that, listen to African-Americans or others telling jokes about their own people and try repeating one yourself in front of an audience. In the current climate, you will soon be looking for a new job. For some reason, this doesn’t seem to apply to dealings with Jewish sensitivities.
One sophisticated Jewish audience member later said that Jones was trying to flatter Jews by showing them as outsmarting the opposition. Others have pointed to the speaker’s gruff military culture. Again and again, though, I want to stress that the question of whether the joke was antisemitic is something that cannot be resolved, isn’t that important, and is the least interesting aspect of the situation.
What is revealing are two key issues which relate to changes Jones made in the way the joke has been told by Jews.
First, he sets the story in Afghanistan. Why there of all places in the world, somewhere there have never been any Jews and are certainly none today? When it has appeared on Jewish sites, the joke was set in the Sahara Desert. Note also Jones insisted–part of the joke but also revealing–that it was based on a “true” story.
Well, Afghanistan is the main theatre of operations for the U.S. military, especially if one takes into account future plans. So the joke shows that even in Afghanistan, there are people obsessed with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. (That’s not true by the way.) The idea that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the central issue in the world determining everything has become a theme of Obama Administration foreign policy and of Jones in particular.
The truth is that Taliban guys don’t spend a lot of time worrying about Israel. In fact, after years of research on Afghanistan I have never once heard anyone in the Taliban mention the words “Palestinians” or Israel. So what Jones is doing is an extension of the claim that Islamist radicals in Afghanistan are killing Americans because of Israel. And the Taliban was the host for al-Qaida which launched the September 11 attacks. So it is a short step to saying that hatred of Israel was responsible for the September 11 attacks which is a staple among antisemites and extreme Israel-haters.
Second, instead of an individual Jew, the focus of the story is switched by putting in references to Israel, and making an Afghan Jew describe Israel as “my country.”
The Jew, now made into a representative of Israel–in effect–rather than a generic Jew, seeks to charge (presumably overcharge) for letting the Taliban guy get what he needs. Indeed, Israel does demand an admissions’ fee for revolutionary Islamists, that is Hamas, to earn engagement withthe West.
The tendency of the current U.S. government and of Europe is—and I don’t want to overstate this—to say that such a barrier is unnecessary. End the sanctions on the Gaza Strip, they say, let Hamas into the talks (I’m not saying the Obama administration endorses this idea), give the PA a state. Then everything will be okay and peace will prevail.
The adaptation of this into the joke is a reminder that much of the West wants to let the radical Islamist (Hamas, Hizballah, and even the Taliban) in without a tie and trust him to pay at the end of the meal. Indeed, that if you do so he will stop cursing Israel (or America) and want to be friends. After all, most restaurants today have given up their tie and jacket requirement.
Now here’s the joke I’ll tell when they ask me to speak at the National Security Council:
An Israeli is walking through a dangerous desert, beset by enemies on every side. He comes upon an American general who is national security advisor. “Please help me,” says the Israeli, “I’m out of ammunition.”
“I’d love to help you,” says the general, “but I can only sell you a tie. It’s because I’m helping you that they are all out to get me!”
“No thanks on the tie,” says the Israeli, “I’d rather have your support as an ally against those antisemitic, anti-American totalitarian forces which are out to destroy you any way.”
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.
Posted: 27 Apr 2010 09:47 AM PDT
In a new article, “A Tale of Two Palestinian Authorities,” my colleague, Jonathan Spyer, points out–in an article well worth reading–the fragility of the Palestinian Authority (PA), an entity that is hardly able, if it were willing which is also a problem, to make a comprehensive peace with Israel.
But here’s the most stunning point:
“Veteran Palestinian political analyst Yezid Sayigh recently noted that both the Gaza and Ramallah governments are dependent for their economic survival on foreign assistance. The Fayyad government has an annual $2.8 billion budget, of which one half consists of direct foreign aid. The Hamas authorities, meanwhile, announced a budget of $540 million, of which $480 million is to come from outside (Iran).”
In addition, remember that, as I have noted, the Hamas regime also depends on Western aid provided through the Palestinian Authority.
Tale of Two Palestinian Authorities
By Jonathan Spyer*
April 27, 2010
Posted: 27 Apr 2010 09:46 AM PDT
The Dutch magazine Elsevier has published on its website its findings on the current teaching about the Holocaust in the Netherlands. Of the 339 high school history teachers surveyed, twenty percent say they have encountered hostility, mainly from Muslim students, which made conducting the lesson difficult or even impossible.
In the run-up to the United Kingdom parliamentary elections, Islamic organizations have been trying to organize a bloc vote to support anti-Israel candidates, with a strategy of gaining influence in the small Liberal Democratic party which may hold the balance of power in forming a government.