Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Declaration of a Palestinian state - why is this good for Israel?

The wheels keep spinning towards the end of September, when the UN is expected to vote in favor of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. Our government struggles to prevent it, and keeps telling us why such a decision at this time would be bad for us Israelis. Well, I would like to remind us all why this could actually be good for us.

Yes, a Palestinian declaration of independence will cause some problems, but nothing we can't handle. On the other hand, it will have some favorable consequences, which in my opinion far outweigh the unfavorable ones. Here are some of these consequences:

1. Legitimacy for the Palestinians government as the representative of the Palestinian people: one of the biggest problems of the peace process was that we were talking with a body whose legal legitimacy to hold these talks was not at all clear. Say we succeeded in reaching an agreement with Abu Mazen's PA, and withdrawn from the West Bank in exchange for peace. Immediately, this agreement would have been opposed by the fundamentalists, by many of the refugees and by some Israeli-Palestinians, who would have claimed that the PA had no right to sign a deal in their name, and therefore they are continuing the armed struggle. Naturally, this would have immediately been backed by many Western leftist intellectuals, who would have made the legal case for them, claiming that the PA is actually a "puppet regime" formed under Israeli occupation, in an elections that did not involve the refugees or the Israeli-Palestinians, an election it didn't even win. We would have found ourselves in the same war situation, without any territorial assets to bargain with, and with the enemy sitting on the hills overlooking Tel Aviv and almost every other major Israeli city.

On the other hand, global recognition in Abu Mazen's government as the official representative of the Palestinian people will give it the legitimacy it needs. By the time the terms for a final peace deal finally materialize, ten, twenty years from now, there will be no legal grounds to contest it.

2. Strengthening of the two states solution: one of the biggest threats to Israel is the attempt to delegitimize it as the state of the Jewish people. This attempt is driven by a coalition of Arab imperialists, Western leftists and neo-Nazis, and it is gathering strength around the globe. The current Palestinian move, creating a state living side-by-side with Israel, will pull the rug under this coalition's feet. That is why Hamas, for instance, is so displeased with the move.

3. Strengthening the 1967 borders: the legal right of Israel over the lands inside the 1967 borders is not uncontested, a fact we tend to forget because we are so busy arguing about the lands outside them. One of the threats we deal with is the PLO's infamous "stages plan", which is to destroy Israel by gradually peeling it of its territories. According to this plan, once they take over the West Bank, they will immediately start demanding territories inside Israel as well, a demand which will of course be backed by many Western leftists. But the current move sees the Palestinians announcing the borders of their state to be the 1967 borders, and the fact that it happens while Israel is still an occupying force in the West Bank will compel the Palestinians to struggle for years to get it out of there, all the while committing themselves further and further to the 67 borders, to the point where the "stages plan" will become obsolete.

4. Weakening the refugee problem: and of course, the biggest threat to Israel's future is the refugee issue. A Palestinian state will provide a homeland to these refugees, and they will no longer be considered stateless. The Palestinians will of course claim that this is not a just solution, and these refugees deserve to return to the exact plots of land they once lived in, but most of the international community will have no patience for this argument. Do you really think the Arab states will be willing to keep hosting millions of refugees for decades to come, when they have a country to go to? The refugees will start migrating to Palestine and building a life, and the refugee problem will eventually become manageable.

For these reasons, and several lesser ones, I hope the Palestinians go for it, declare sovereignty, and get the world's recognition. The positives I counted are far greater than any negatives. As for the question whether Israel itself should immediately recognize the Palestinian state, that depends on the nature of the new state (for instance: will Palestine recognize Israel?). But that's for another post.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mission accomplished

The main importance of Bin Laden's elimination is one that I don't hear being discussed: it means that the US will not lose the war in Afghanistan.

When the US invaded Iraq, I said, basically: great, now they made themselves vulnerable to the fundamentalists, who will do to them what the Vietcong did. And then it will spread to Afghanistan as well. In the end, the Americans will run away, and we will be left with a much stronger Jihadi movement, invigorated by the fact that they defeated the almighty America. Nice going, Uncle Sam.

For a long while, it seemed my fears were coming true. But now, no one will be able to say that the Americans were defeated in Afghanistan, or Iraq. Primary objectives - getting Bin Laden and Saddam - have been achieved.

After the invasion into Afghanistan, aimed at going after Al Qaeda, President Bush became more ambitious, and set a new primary objective, a much bolder one: to bring democracy to the Middle East, and thus dry the swamps that breed terrorists. That was the main reason he invaded Iraq, but the logic was all wrong. He was right in identifying the source of terrorism, but his belief that the US is strong enough to make this change was ridiculous.

But then, a miracle happened. What took place in the past six months is the best thing you could hope for. The Arab people themselves have risen, and demand freedom. We are still many years away from seeing real democracy in the Arab world, but the first and all-important step has been made. Also, this has completely invalidated the ideology of Al Qaeda, which claims that the only way for the Muslims to win back their honor is by violence. Even before Bin Laden's death, the Al Qaeda ideology was a dead horse.

The past few months vindicate Bush to a large extent. The idea that you can enforce democracy on people was foolish, and the invasion of Iraq was impetuous and dangerous. But the Bush administration did other things as well, smarter things, which helped advance the liberal forces in the Arab world. The credit for the revolution goes to the Arabs themselves, but the US helped.

Al Qaeda is defeated. Saddam in defeated. Democratic movement in the Arab world has been initiated. The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq are fairly functioning. The wars against the Taliban and Iran are undecided. That's a pretty good score.

So, eight years after Bush did, it is finally time to say: mission accomplished. Bring the boys back home.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

After Mubarak: an Israeli perspective

So Mubarak is gone. I didn't think it would happen so soon, but it was obvious he was going - after all, he was preparing to quit even before the demonstrations began. Let's hope he saw to it that there would be no chaos after he's gone.

Mubarak was no friend of Israel. He was an important ally, who shared some interests with us, but in some respects he was bad for us. his departure opens up dangers, but also hopes.

So what happens now? Here is my prediction, based on what I see and read.

I believe the Egyptians will eventually (after much haggling and some violence) manage to draft a new constitution, and will have democratic elections. The Muslim Brotherhood will keep a low profile for now, will not run a presidential candidate, will win about 20% of the seats in the Parliament, and sit in the opposition. There will emerge a relatively secular and moderate government, which will obviously have to deal with massive problems.

The peace with Israel will not be annulled, but the relationship will be cold and hostile (not much change there, then), and the discussions will be held on a military level. The Egyptian people don't like Israel, but they will not be happy about going to war with it, so the new government will have an interest to maintain the peace. Same goes for the army, that is dependent on American money.

In Gaza, our situation will change for better and worse. Mubarak played a cynical game, closed the border with Gaza, and lay all responsibility for it on Israel. The new Egyptian government will not be able to do so. They will open up the border (which will take pressure off Israel), and form political and financial ties with Gaza. The Israeli wish of breaking away from Gaza will finally come true.

The Muslim Brotherhood, in the meantime, will be in the opposition, and allow the Egyptian people to get tired of their government. When it suits them, they will use Hamas to provoke Israel, thus creating a wave of anti-Israeli sentiment in the streets, and ride it to gain more popularity. The eventual goal is of course to take over Egypt, and the fundamentalists know that they hold the stronger hand, so they can play it patient.

But we can find answers to that as well. If Egypt develops a stronger connection with Gaza, we can use diplomatic means to get it to restrain Hamas. Israel will have to develop a less aggressive and more diplomatic strategy against Gaza, and that's basically good. We must remember that one of Israel's biggest fears was that if we let Hamas succeed more than the Arab armies did, it will prompt the Egyptian masses to overthrow Mubarak, put the Muslim Brotherhood in power, and open war. That is why Israel felt compelled to be over-aggressive against Hamas, to give it absolutely no victories. But if Egypt now has a government that is more acceptable to its people, we don't have to be so anxious about not allowing Hamas any victories.

Like I said, the Muslim Brotherhood holds the stronger hand. The Egyptian people are religious, uneducated (one third of the population is illiterate), economically undeveloped, and have no democratic tradition - not the traits that would enable the rise of a thriving democracy. It is also highly Antisemitic, afraid of Israel and hates the West, other things that the Muslim Brotherhood can exploit. But on the other hand, even the small amount of freedom is a taste that is hard to erase, and if the Egyptian people get to experience it, they can get addicted. When the Brotherhood finally make their grand bid, they might be shocked to find out that they no longer hold the better hand. And if they do manage to take over some years from now, we will be facing an enemy, but we are strong enough to contend, and wait until the Egyptian people rise again, to regain their lost freedom.

The game in the Middle East has changed. It is now an inner struggle in the Muslim world, between the forces of democracy and the forces of fundamentalism. It is already going on in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia and Egypt, and it will spread further. In the other countries there are still dictators who are holding these two forces down, but they are going to fall as well. Looks like Algeria might be next.

All of this demands of Israel to change its strategy. No longer to try to reach peace deals with Arab dictatorships, but to think in longer terms. Our goal should be strengthening the forces of democracy, and weakening the forces of fundamentalism. In the long run, this is our only chance to have a normal existence.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Here we go gaga, again

Here it comes. Lady Gaga just released the leading single off her upcoming album (no video yet), and we are once again going to be subjected to a blitz of sounds and visions from out of this world.

It is also the title track of the album: 'Born this Way'. Some call it a gay anthem, as the lady has become a loud advocate of gay rights in the past year and a half. But it isn't, it's broader than that. It is an anthem for anyone who feels different and weird (and who doesn't when they're young?), encouraging them to be proud of who they are. And of course, it will surely become one of Gaga's biggest personal anthems.

Judging by initial listening, it isn't genius, but it is a massive hit. It some place it invokes Madonna's 'Express Yourself', and this could be intentional, since both records carry a similar message. And "Don't be a drag, just be a queen" is one of her best lines.

And I LOVE this photo. Did she pull a Peter Gabriel, and shaved her forehead? If so, it is going to be her most bizarre look to date.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sharif don't like it...

The Arab world keeps on rocking. Today there's a demonstration planned in Khartoum, and on Saturday in Damascus.

I have mixed feelings about an Egyptian revolution, but Sudan and Syria are among the world's worst regimes, and I'd be very happy to see them go. The Sudanese government announced its intent to implement Sharia laws in the state, so in their case we don't even have to be afraid that the Islamists will take over - they are already there anyway.

But here lies the big question: can what has happened in Tunisia and is happening in Egypt can also happen in countries like Sudan and Syria?

The regimes of Egypt and Tunisia were connected to the West, and that restrained their ability to crush the demonstrations. The regimes of Sudan and Syria, on the other hand, don't give a damn (maybe the Sudanese regime cares a little more, but not much). They will come down hard.

Can the power of the people, and the encouragement they got from the successful uprising in Tunisia, overcome even repressive regimes such as those?

As we've learned in the past couple of weeks, everything is possible. In the meantime, what is happening kinda makes me want to dance.

The Clash-Rock the Casbah
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Friday, January 28, 2011

Egyptian plages

No internet in Egypt today, and no SMSes. Dictators learn fast.

And yet, they have riots on an unprecedented scale. Mubarak's regime is wobbling.

After today, I can't see things going back to the way they were. Either Mubarak's regime falls, or it is forced to make large-scale reforms, or it really clamps down on the citizens, and rules with an iron fist. Either way, it won't last long.

What happens if Mubarak falls?

The main concern is that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over. But I don't think this will happen. There are other strong forces now in the Arab world, and they will make a stand. There will have to be some sort of power share.

Maybe there will be some sort of democracy, like in Lebanon.

If that happens, Egypt will become very hostile towards Israel. The Egyptian people hate our guts.

I fear for the peace. They can easily announce that anything the previous regime signed is null and void, and tear up the peace agreement with Israel.

But this is something we will have to deal with at some point anyway. If the new administration wants to be taken seriously by the international community, it will be hard for them to disregard previous agreements. It will be tough, and there will be a lot of hostility at first, but in the long run, it might produce the growth of a stronger relationship between our two nations.

If we ever want to live in peace, we in Israel must wish for the fall of Arab dictatorships, and a rise in the power of the Arab people. In the long run, this is the only thing that can bring peace. I was hoping it won't start with Egypt, but it isn't up to me. And a successful uprising in Egypt will surely inspire an uprising against worst dictatorships, like Libya and Syria.

The battle over the new face of the Middle East begins now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Middle East is boiling

Panoramic view:

Tunisia: things are still volatile. How will the first successful popular uprising in modern Arab history turn out? Five years ago I would have been pessimistic, believing that it could only result in the rise of the Muslim fundamentalists. But now, I don't know. The Arabs have sure changed a lot in the past decade, and now they seem ripe for a more democratic rule.

Egypt: the masses are rioting in the streets, angry mainly with President Mubarack's intent to pass the role of Presidency to his son. They are emboldened by the Tunisian revolution, and so far they are unmoved by the threats of the authority's. Twitter has been blocked in Egypt, proving once again how important social networks have become in the fight for freedom.

It is good to see people standing up to a dictatorship, but also worrying. Egypt, at the moment, plays a much needed stabilizing role in the Middle East, and helping in the fight against fundamentalism. I would rather see the regime remaining in place for now. Let the democratic revolution happen in other Arab countries first.

Yemen: the people started rioting today. See how that goes.

Algiers: still rioting. Hard.

Lebanon: power shift. With reports that the international tribunal is about to implicate Hizballah for the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri, Hizballah threatened to spark a civil war if Lebanon doesn't turn its back on the tribunal. PM Saad Hariri, son of the slain PM, showed guts and refused, so Hizballah quit the government, and managed to gain a majority in the Parliament for its side. The result: Hariri was impeached, and Lebanon has a new PM, Mikathi, a man loyal to Syria.

So it appears that Hariri, and the pro-Western camp, have lost, while Hizballah, the assassins, have won. But I'm not sure. First, it is significant that this coup took place according to the rules of democracy, and even Hizballah felt obliged to play by them. Second, Hizballah is now in the majority, which will keep them busy in running the country, while the makeup of their coalition will prevent them from passing any fundamentalist laws - they will not be able to turn the country into Iran, as some people fear. Third - Hariri may have lost for now, but it is important that he didn't play the usual Lebanese game of compromising with criminals, and keeps demanding justice against the assassins.

It is not certain yet what Hariri and his camp will do now, and if they will accept the new PM and continue to play by the rules of democracy. But for now, Lebanese democracy holds. In the past, this situation would have already escalated into civil war. The fact that it didn't shows that maybe Lebanon has grown.

Palestinian Authority: is rocked by Al Jazeera's revelations that the heads of the PA were ready to give up on the right of return, and parts of East Jerusalem, in the talks with Israel. But surprisingly, so far, there are no riots against the leadership. Could it be that the Palestinian people actually accept it? Let's see what happens tomorrow, after Friday prayer.

Iran: out of the spotlight, the regime is executing all those who participated in last year's riots. About a hundred have been executed just in the past month. Go ahead, this will only precipitate your downfall. January 29 has been designated as a global day of protest.

Sudan: about to split up, as the South just voted on it. Official results are not known yet, but they say about 99% voted for cessation. We still don't know what this will cause.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia: terrorism continues to run rampant, killing thousands every month.

Israel: continues to be the quietest corner of the Middle East.

Tomorrow is Friday, Yaum al Juma'a, the day when Muslims meet in the mosques, and hear rousing sermons. This is usually when the boiling pot starts to overflow. Watch out.