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Palestine needs two-state solution

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Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s description of Palestinian recognition as hypothetical is significant after the controversy about the issue before the ALP national conference.

The minister’s comment, hopefully, is a sign of greater realism within the Albanese government over extremist anti-Israel demands that Australia immediately recognise a currently non-existent “state of Palestine” that has neither internationally defined and accepted borders nor a central government or any other criteria for statehood stipulated in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States.

Senator Wong is right to describe the current status of Palestinian statehood as hypothetical. But her assertion that recognising a Palestinian state remains an “important priority” for Australia is not reassuring. Neither is her admission that she was a chief advocate on the wording in the national platform that has been criticised by pro-Israel groups. “One of the reasons I’ve argued so strongly inside our party for that wording, and I have probably been the principal advocate of that wording for some years now, is that I do believe that this is something the party is entitled to express a view on, but ultimately these are sensitive diplomatic issues,” she said.

She is entitled to her views. But when an issue is as wrong as advocating Australian recognition of a non-existent Palestinian state, Senator Wong should avoid backing for anti-Israel ideologues in the ALP demanding immediate recognition. In the end, the conference drew back from extremists’ demands for recognition. It opted to maintain the status quo, drawing acknowledgment from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein said the decision was “positive, given the circumstances”. But asserting that recognition of a non-existent Palestinian state remains an “important priority” is not in our national interest or that of our Western partners as they defend Israel’s right to exist. Agreeing to statehood without the Palestinian leadership agreeing to a negotiated two-state peace agreement with Israel would destroy decades of Australian bipartisanship.

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Article source: The Australian | Editorial | 22.8.23

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Middle East must reach a point where Palestine and Israel can each finally have a state to call their own

As Israel justly celebrates 75 years since its May 1948 establishment, it is indeed a tragedy that there is no equivalent milestone for the State of Palestine.

But contrary to Greg Barns’s statements in his article headlined “It’s high time we called out the injustices of colonialism” (Mercury, May 1), Israelis are not to blame.

Barns’s efforts to analogise the Palestinian story with the dispossession of Indigenous Australians fails simply because Jews are not European colonisers who rocked up one day and displaced the native population.

As one of the Middle East’s oldest indigenous peoples, Jews have an unbroken link to their ancestral land stretching back 4000 years, and have always had a sizeable population living there. Moreover, more than half of Israel’s current population descends from Jews who moved there from Muslim and Arab countries, not Europe.

This indelible Jewish presence and history there is repeatedly verified by both archaeology and contemporaneous historical accounts, including Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Christian and Muslim sources from antiquity through to the present.

Following World War I, when the Middle East was being divided up into today’s modern states, Jewish indigeneity and right to exercise self-determination in their ancestral homeland was formally endorsed by the British, other European great powers, the US and even Turkey and some senior Arab leaders.

Indeed, Britain received the Palestine Mandate from the League of Nations in 1920 with the specific remit to facilitate the re-establishment of a Jewish national home there.

Over the next few decades, the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine invested its energies in laying the groundwork for a modern civil society, while Palestinian Arab leaders unfortunately pursued self-defeating boycotts and terrorism not only against Jews, but against rivals on their own side. During a three-year civil war that began in 1936, the Palestinian Arabs hollowed out their own leadership ranks, and anyone who dared to contemplate co-existence and compromise was targeted for assassination.

Despite Barns’s insinuation that Palestinian Arabs were powerless victims of colonisers, in 1939 the British rewarded Palestinian Arab terror by proposing the creation of an Arab state – something that had never previously existed there – on 85 per cent of the land.

Jewish leaders reluctantly accepted their tiny proposed rump state – though they strongly opposed Britain’s decision to curtail Jewish immigration to negligible levels, even as Nazi persecution of German Jews reached unprecedented levels and the shadow of the Holocaust began looming over Europe.

But Palestinian Arab leaders opposed the proposal if it meant accepting any Jewish state, no matter how minuscule.

Eight years later, Britain announced it was relinquishing its mandate, and a United Nations Commission recommended partitioning the territory into an Arab state and a Jewish state based on the sensible formula that Jewish-majority areas be part of the Jewish state, and Arab ones the Arab state.

Yet ahead of the General Assembly vote, Azzam Pasha, the Arab League secretary-general, vowed “a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongol massacres and the Crusades”.

After the Partition Plan passed on November 29, 1947, the Palestinian Arab leadership launched a mass terrorist campaign against the Jewish community. On May 15, 1948, as the British Mandate ended, five neighbouring Arab countries invaded in an attempt to snuff out the new Jewish state, creating a wider conflagration.

Had the Arab leaders accepted the Partition Plan, a Palestinian Arab state would have been established in 1948 – and no Arabs would have been displaced.

Irrespective, Barns’s claim that “750,000 Palestinians were driven from their land by Israeli forces” is misleading. Many Arabs left because the invading Arab armies said doing so would make it easier to attack the adjacent Jewish communities. Many Arabs fled the fighting of their own accord, without ever encountering any Israeli soldiers.

For Israel, the war was no walkover either. The 1948 Palestine war resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and unarmed soldiers, and Israel suffered between 5700 and 5800 casualties in total, and its economy was devastated.

The Jordanian army evicted the ancient Jewish community in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Dozens of historic synagogues and buildings were destroyed and Jews were prevented from visiting and praying at Jerusalem’s holy sites until Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 war provoked by the Arab states.

After 1967, it would take another 26 years before even some Palestinian Arab leaders agreed to accept Israel’s existence.

Yet since that breakthrough moment in 1993, Palestinian leaders are still rejecting repeated Israeli offers to create a Palestinian state and standing invitations to end the conflict through peaceful negotiation in favour of terror and conflict.

That is the real reason why Palestinians have no state.

Groundless efforts to smear the indigenous nature of Israeli Jews will never achieve peace and justice for Palestinians, but only prolong and delay their quest for their own state. That is indeed a tragedy.

Allon Lee is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.

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Article source: Hobart Mercury | Allon Lee | 8.5.23

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Iran’s transnational terrorists should be proscribed

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Iran’s transnational terrorists should be proscribed

By Oved Lobel (The Australian, 11/1/2023) )

Britain reportedly is poised to join the US in designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety as a terrorist organisation after 10 IRGC plots to assassinate or kidnap British residents last year. Germany and the EU actively are considering listing the group. Canada, although not listing the group in its entirety, has called the IRGC a terrorist group, imposed severe sanctions and listed its expeditionary arm, the Quds Force.

It is time for Australia to begin laying the groundwork to follow suit and list the IRGC in its entirety under the Criminal Code as a terrorist group. Dozens of submissions last year to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee inquiry into the human rights implications of recent violence in Iran advocated this step, which would have symbolic and practical importance for Australian foreign policy and moral standing.

In the first place, the group fulfils all legislative and non-legislative criteria for listing. For a group to be listed under division 102 of the Criminal Code, it must be “directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or advocates the doing of a terrorist act”.

In terms of the key non-legislative factors considered under division 102, the IRGC checks every box, particularly in terms of its historical activity and ideology and its intimate operational links to other terrorist groups listed by Australia, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and al-Qa’ida.

The IRGC directly and indirectly, via Hezbollah, has demonstrable links to Australia and undertakes numerous actions threatening Australian interests – from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, piracy and hostage-taking to human rights, cyber security, attacking maritime shipping and participation in the invasion of Ukraine by providing Russia with weapons and advisers.

The IRGC also reportedly has been undertaking surveillance and threatening regime opponents inside Australia. Given the group’s history of attempting to kidnap or kill dissidents and regime enemies in the US, Europe and elsewhere, and sometimes succeeding, we should be worried about similar operations on Australian soil.

The only legal objection to listing the IRGC is that current legislation apparently does not allow Australia to list state entities under the Criminal Code. If this is truly the primary obstacle, then parliament should introduce amendments to the legislation.

However, such a step is almost certainly unnecessary because the IRGC is not a state entity. While subordinated on paper to Iran’s Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics, in reality it answers to none of Iran’s ministers and obeys only Iran’s supreme leader, and it is funded largely outside the Iranian state budget.

It is a supranational force meant to protect and export the Islamic revolution of 1979. Article 150 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution reads: “The Islamic Revolution(ary) Guards Corps … is to be maintained so that it may continue in its role of guarding the revolution”, not Iran. Its indoc­trin­ation materials refer to members as transnational mujaheddin, warriors of God, waging a violent jihad to expand the borderless realm and divine mandate of the al-wali al-faqih, Iran’s supreme leader.

The IRGC does not think in terms of ethnicity, nationality or borders. In fact, it virulently rejects such concepts and is driven solely by Islamic manifest destiny. There is only land controlled by Islam and land not controlled by Islam. Iran is entirely incidental to this ideology except as a springboard for this jihad.

Listing the IRGC under the Criminal Code would send an important symbolic message to anti-regime Iranians as well as our allies, demonstrating that Australia will no longer lag in condemning or sanctioning the IRGC, as it has to date. It also would have a practical impact, restricting and punishing the IRGC in co-ordination with allies and partners around the world.

It is highly likely that once Britain gets the ball rolling on listing, Germany and the rest of Europe, as well as Canada, will follow suit. There is no need or justification for Australia to be the odd one out.

And in considering Australia’s national interests and values, there is every moral, strategic and legal reason to proscribe the IRGC – the most dangerous and prolific source of terrorism in the world today.

Oved Lobel is policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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Article source: The Australian, 11/1/2023

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Palestinian flags to be targeted in crackdown

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DOV LIEBER  (The Australian, 11/1/2023) )

Israeli police have been ordered to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces, the latest in a series of measures by the country’s new government that threatens to escalate tensions with Palestinians.

Palestinian flags aren’t illegal in Israel, but Israeli security forces have the right to remove them from public spaces if deemed a danger to public order. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s directive against a rallying symbol for many Palestinians comes during a period of deadly violence in the occupied West Bank.

“We will fight against terrorism and the encouragement of terrorism with all our might,” Mr Ben-Gvir tweeted.

The announcement came after residents of an Arab village in northern Israel waved the Palestinian flag as part of a celebration for the homecoming of Karim Younis, who had spent four decades in an Israeli prison after being convicted of murdering an Israeli soldier.

About 20 per cent of Israel’s population is Arab, many of whom identify as Palestinians.

The move followed a series of measures by the Israeli government against the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, in retaliation for its moves against Israel in international forums.

The measures announced on Friday include taking about $US40m from the tax Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and transferring it to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism. Israel also froze Palestinian construction in areas under Israel’s complete control in the West Bank, halted benefits for senior Palestinian officials such as relatively easy freedom of movement and cracked down against organisations seen as promoting anti-Israeli activity under the guise of humanitarian work.

On Monday, Palestinian officials vowed to continue their diplomatic and legal campaign against Israel and warned that Israel’s measures could hasten the downfall of the Palestinian Authority, which has been suffering from a financial crisis for years as funding from international donors has waned.

Israeli and Palestinian security forces work together in the West Bank against militants.

The previous Israeli government said strengthening the Palestinian Authority was crucial to law and order in the West Bank and weakening its rival, Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip and has fought numerous battles with Israel. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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Article source: The Australian, 11/1/2023

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Letters to The Australian

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Israel must be strong

One can argue ad nauseam regarding Israel’s conservative political parties and their idiosyncracies (“Netanyahu must steer ship of state”, 28/12). Despite national opposition, past Israeli governments have returned strategically important regional areas to Arab overlords. The result has been catastrophic, militarily, with many Israeli lives lost. Until at least one influential representative Arab leader declares that the Palestinian Arabs accept the existence of the democratic state of Israel, in the first instance, it is all a waste of time.

Aviva Rothschild, Caulfield North, Vic

It’s a measure of the extremism represented in the governing coalition cobbled together by Benjamin Netanyahu that even the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council has voiced its concern. The far-right dogmatism and ambition of partners such as West Bank settlers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich pose a defiant challenge to Netanyahu’s captaincy.

He may well be “Israel’s longest-serving and most experienced political leader”, as Mark Leibler and Colin Rubenstein declare, but what they and your editorial fail to point out is that Netanyahu is exploiting all his political skills to battle corruption charges.

The Faustian pact he has forged with ultra-Zionist radicals may delay his reckoning but will not serve Israel well, much less address the moral malady that afflicts its nationhood, the entrench­ed and worsening disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people.

Tom Knowles, Parkville, Vic

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Article source: The Australian (29/12/2022)

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

What in the World Is Happening in Israel?

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A week of reporting from Israel and the West Bank has left me feeling that the prospect for a two-state solution has all but vanished. But no one wants to formally declare it dead and buried — because categorically ruling it out would have enormous ramifications. So, diplomats, politicians and liberal Jewish organizations pretend that it still has a faint heartbeat. I do as well. But we all know that the two-state option is not in a hospital. It’s in hospice. Only a miracle cure could save it now.

Alas, though, just because the two-state concept is vanishing doesn’t mean the one-state solution — with Israel alone controlling the West Bank, Jerusalem and pre-1967 Israel forever — automatically becomes the easy default. Not at all. The more you examine closely how Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have been living together between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea the more you realize three important things:

First, you realize that, despite episodic blowups, these highly diverse, often antagonistic, but deeply intertwined communities have been kept in rough equilibrium since the 1993 Oslo Accords, thanks to a combination of Israel’s security clampdowns, the workings of the Palestinian Authority, economic growth and a whole lot of pragmatic compromises and self-restraint exercised by all sides every day.

But you also realize that a variety of long-developing demographic, technological, political and social changes are reaching tipping points that are stressing all the balances between Jews and Jews, Jews and Israeli Arabs, Jews and Palestinians and Palestinians and Palestinians that have kept this place reasonably stable.

By that I am referring to the fading of the peace process and prospects of a two-state solution, the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the corruption and breakdown of the Palestinian Authority and the prevalence of TikTok and other social media. In the past year alone, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, roughly 20 Israelis and more than 150 Palestinians have died in violent incidents.

I don’t think a day passed on this trip when I did not read about or see TikTok or other videos of a Palestinian shot by Israeli soldiers or Israelis rammed into or attacked with knives by individual Palestinians. This conflict porn is new, it’s pervasive and it is incredibly effective at instilling hate in 15-second bites that keep everyone in a permanent state of fear and rage.

And all this was before Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow victory in Israel’s recent election, leading to what soon will be the most ultranationalist, ultrareligious governing coalition in the country’s history. (My rule: Any party that invites the prefix “ultra” before its name is not a good thing around here.)

All of that drives the realization that Israel will need to practice a lot of self-discipline to preserve stability. All of the parties do — but Israel is the effective sovereign over this whole realm. Without self-restraint, the result will not be a stable one-state solution, with the mosaic of Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinian citizens and Palestinians of the West Bank all living in harmony. No, without self-restraint, Netanyahu and his coalition partners could bury the two-state solution and the one-state solution in the same grave.

That would just leave us with the One Big Mess Solution.

If you ask me, that is now the most likely outcome — a total mess that will leave Israel no longer being a bedrock of stability for the region and for its American ally, but instead, a cauldron of instability and a source of anxiety for the U.S. government.

Why such a worry? Because Netanyahu’s new partners stand for the exact opposite of self-restraint. Four of the top five party leaders of the incoming coalition government — Netanyahu, Aryeh Deri, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir — have either been arrested, indicted, convicted or served prison time on charges of corruption or incitement to racism. These are not people known for stopping at red lights.

Moreover, Netanyahu is expected to name the ultranationalist, anti-Arab Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power party, as his minister of national security. He is giving Ben-Gvir oversight not only over the Israeli Police but also over other law enforcement agencies, including the Border Police, which are very active in the occupied West Bank. Ben-Gvir would easily be able to weaponize these agencies against the Israeli Arab and Palestinian populations.

Netanyahu is also expected to make Smotrich minister of finance and also intends to give him and his party, Religious Zionism, responsibility over the Civil Administration, which has always been held by Israel’s Defense Ministry. The Civil Administration has power to expand Jewish settlements, to restrict Palestinian daily life and to enforce the law, including house demolitions.

Both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are religious zealots who promote Jewish presence on Temple Mount, which is also holy to Muslims. The policing of Temple Mount is carried out by the Israeli Police, which Ben-Gvir is about to get control of. You get the picture?

Netanyahu has been basically telling American officials, American Jews and Israel’s Arab allies that although he’s putting foxes in charge of hen houses and distributing matches and gasoline to pyromaniacs, his personal power and savvy will be able to replace institutional checks and keep his extremist partners from taking Israel over a cliff.

We’ll just have to see. Color me dubious. In the meantime, allow me to take you on a quick tour of the political landscape and show you just how many equilibriums are being stressed and why Israel today desperately needs the most pragmatic, restrained government it could possibly produce — but is getting just the opposite.

One of my first stops on this trip was the Jewish community in the heart of the Palestinian area of Hebron, near the tomb of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. A few days before my visit, several controversial encounters unfolded there between Israeli soldiers, who clearly identified with the new right-wing government, and left-wing Israeli Jews who traveled to Hebron to show solidarity with Palestinians under occupation, The Times of Israel reported,

In one encounter, caught on video, a soldier tackled a Jewish demonstrator and punched him in the face. In a separate video, a soldier confronting other protesters is heard to say: “Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out in this place. That’s it. You guys have lost. … The fun is over.”

That boasting soldier, the newspaper added, “was wearing a patch velcroed to the back of his military vest that read: ‘One shot. One kill. No remorse. I decide.’ Patches other than those showing the logo of a military unit or an Israeli flag are against military regulations.”

What happened next, though, is where the story between Jews and Jews gets complicated. The Israeli Army sentenced the soldier who taunted the protesters to 10 days in military prison. The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said the soldiers caught in the video had acted “contrary to the values of the Israeli military.”

This prompted Ben-Gvir to criticize the army for sending a “harmful message” to soldiers. “We must not let the anarchists who slander us endlessly win,” he tweeted. Kochavi then issued a statement: “We will not allow any politician from either the right or the left to interfere in command decisions, or the use of the army to promote a political agenda.”

In the midst of all this — I’m not making this up — Netanyahu’s own son, Yair, retweeted a post calling on Kochavi to push “your disgraceful letter and its feigned governmentalese far up your ass.” The elder Netanyahu stayed silent for a couple days, before finally issuing a declaration backing up the army.

I was shown around Hebron by the spokesman for the Jewish community there, Yishai Fleisher, a couple days after the incident. He expressed his relief that hard-line Jews, like Ben-Gvir, were coming back to power, replacing what he deemed as weak ones. Or, as he put it to me: “The Israel we knew is back — that is, the badass Jewish state that protects the Jewish ethnic minority in this region has returned.”

I simply cannot imagine how this new relationship between Ben-Gvir, the Israeli military, the Israeli Police and both Jewish and Palestinian activists will find equilibrium.

Next, think about the complexity today in relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. Start here: In 2019, an Israeli Arab, Samer Haj-Yehia, was appointed chairman of Bank Leumi, Israel’s biggest bank by market value. Yes, you read that right. The head of Israel’s most important bank is an Israeli Arab — with a doctorate in economics from M.I.T. and degrees in accounting and law from Hebrew University.

I find that pretty amazing — and it truly speaks well of Israel as a democracy. Israeli Arabs are 21 percent of Israel’s population, nearly 20 percent of its doctors, about 25 percent of its nurses and almost half its pharmacists — and at the Technion, Israel’s M.I.T., more than 20 percent of the students are Israeli Arabs.

All good news. But here’s the rub. As more and more Israeli Arabs join the middle and upper classes economically, more are moving out of their traditional Arab towns and neighborhoods and into Jewish-dominated places, like Tel Aviv and Herzliya, which have much better schools, roads and housing. But this also is a new source of tension, as the two communities meet more often in more contexts.

For example, it is much more common for Jews to hear Arabic spoken in their nearby pharmacy or store. Two weeks ago, an Israeli influencer suggested to her followers to walk out of a store in Israel if the clerks are speaking to one another in Arabic — not Hebrew.

Israel’s Palestinian citizens “are integrated more, working more, contributing more and demanding more,” explained Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit promoting Jewish-Arab understanding, headquartered in Lod. Israeli Arabs “are everywhere now. … There are now tens of thousands of meeting points” between Israeli Jews and Arabs, “and they can become explosive or celebrating of diversity.”

In May 2021 — during another military clash between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza, which erupted following Jewish and Arab demonstrations in Jerusalem and the Israeli Police’s taking over the Temple Mount — these tensions exploded. Arab residents of mixed Jewish-Arab cities, like Lod and Acre, attacked Jews and burned Jewish property, including several synagogues.

In retaliation, Jewish right-wing extremists fought with both Arab residents and the Israeli Police. In the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, a mob of right-wing Jewish extremists dragged an Arab driver from his car and beat him viciously.

This violence, particularly the burning of synagogues in a Jewish state, undoubtedly prompted a considerable number of Israeli Jews from the center-right to shift to the ultranationalist far right, giving Ben-Gvir the power that he now has.

Nevertheless, when I sat with several of Abu Rass’s Israeli Arab colleagues, they all made clear, as he put it, that “the duality of identity is becoming normal — ‘I am a Palestinian living in Israel. This is my state and my homeland, too. I have a sense of belonging and ownership.’”

In other words, this accelerating integration of Israeli Arabs — not just their episodic violent protests — is also driving the rise of Israel’s chauvinistic right wing. Which is why Ben-Gvir’s campaign ads were so effective in mobilizing his ultranationalist supporters and so discouraging to Israel’s Arabs. It just had his picture next to the question: “Mi Po Ba’alei HaBayit? — Who are the landlords here?”

That question is getting sharper by the day. If you take Israel, the West Bank and Gaza together, “Jewish people make up less than 47 percent of all those living west of the Jordan River,” The Times of Israel reported in August, citing a prominent Israeli demographer who warned, as the newspaper put it, “of the democratic peril the country is sliding into by possibly becoming a ruling minority in the area.”

Therefore, remaining Ba’alei HaBayit, namely the landlords, will become more and more difficult for Israeli Jews. And because the ultranationalist parties in Israel refuse to share power with Israeli Arabs or West Bank Palestinians, I increasingly believe that the alternative to the two-state solution will not be a stable one-state solution. It will be the One Big Mess Solution.

But there is one major institutional barrier to Ben-Gvir’s and Smotrich’s intentions of becoming the sole Ba’alei HaBayit. It is Israel’s Supreme Court and independent attorneys general, which have long been held in high regard all over the world, and their ability to limit the government’s excesses. In their quest to impose ultranationalist Jewish political agendas and ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious agendas over all other secular Jewish and Arab communities in the country, these ultranationalists need to diminish the power of the courts. Here, their interests are aligned with Netanyahu, who wants to stop his ongoing trial on corruption charges.

That is why the coming government is expected to vote in a new law to allow a simple majority of the 120 members of Parliament to overrule the courts, giving the executive branch superiority over the judiciary.

This possibility led Israel’s attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, to declare on Thursday: “Without judicial oversight and independent legal advice, we will be left with just the principle of majority rule, and nothing else. Democracy in name, but not in essence.”

This possibility also led one of America’s most important Jewish leaders, Abe Foxman, former director of the Anti-Defamation League, to say to The Jerusalem Post, “If Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it,” adding, “If Israel becomes a fundamentalist religious state, a theocratic nationalism state, it will cut Israel off from 70 percent of world Jewry.”

Adding to all this complexity is the unfortunate fact that, for every Israeli Arab who is making it in modern Israel, another is being left behind. This is particularly true among the Bedouin communities in the south, where infrastructure and public schools have long been neglected.

For too many years, the government failed to advance planning and zoning in Israeli Arab areas, so not a single new Arab city has been built, compared with dozens of new Jewish communities. Therefore, illegal construction is prevalent everywhere. In addition, the government seems to have taken the view that Arabs killing Arabs in their towns — over issues of honor or other disputes — is their internal issue, so Arab communities have been massively underpoliced.

As a result, in the south, where some of the poorest Bedouin Arab communities are, weapons smuggled from Jordan are readily available and criminal gangs run protection rackets to extort Israeli farmers, and Israeli Jewish girls are regularly harassed in malls. Murders of Arab citizens by Arab criminals and shootings are reported almost weekly.

But these Israeli Arabs have company at the bottom of the education ladder here. A huge number of ultra-Orthodox Jews are also poor and unable to participate in Israel’s advanced economy. It’s because their rabbis refuse to let them get properly educated in math, science and English — only religious studies of the Torah.

Which is why, explains Dan Ben-David, a Tel Aviv University economist, who heads the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, half of Israel’s population — mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs — are too poor and unproductive to pay taxes.

“In 2020,” Ben-David notes on his website, “22 percent of the first graders were Arab Israelis. This group’s most recent international test scores in math, science and reading (PISA 2018) were not just low: Arab Israelis scored below nine of the 10 predominantly Muslim countries that participated in the exam.”

Meanwhile, 21 percent of Israel’s first graders are ultra-Orthodox Jews, a vast majority of whom grow up with limited education. And the share of the ultra-Orthodox in the country’s population “has roughly doubled from one generation to the next.”

Some 90 percent of all income taxes collected by the Israeli government in 2017 came from just 20 percent of the population — who are largely secular and have modern educations. This is also the community that carries much of the burden of military service.

Despite all of those perils, to win support for his government from ultra-Orthodox parties, Netanyahu agreed to substantially boost public funding for ultra-Orthodox institutions that don’t teach core secular subjects such as math and English and to dilute all initiatives for a more equal burden of military service.

In short, given the increased power of the ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s government, some of the least economically productive parts of Israeli society will more and more be telling the most productive parts how to live in more and more realms.

If that goes to extremes, says Ben-David, “you will have an increasing share of educated and skilled people — the kind that we need the most — who will decide not to remain here.”

Finally, there is the issue of the West Bank Palestinians at the bottom of the power stack and their relations with one another and Israeli Jews. It, too, is being transformed.

One reason so many Israelis have been able to ignore the West Bank, with its roughly three million Palestinian residents under occupation, is that the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas there is funded by external donors and Palestinian tax receipts — and because the P.A. security services have worked hand and glove with Israeli security services to curb Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlers and inside Israel.

That is all unraveling. Abbas is elderly — he recently celebrated his 87th birthday — and his administration is riddled with corruption. The P.A. security forces are fraying and, lately, some of their members have just taken off their uniforms and joined resistance groups against Israel. As a result, Israel’s ability to maintain security control in the West Bank at a relatively low cost is diminishing. Israeli military units almost every night now have to shoot their way into and out of towns like Jenin and Nablus to capture or kill Palestinians whom Israel claims were involved in planning or actual attacks on Jews.

Meanwhile, guns — smuggled in from Jordan, Egypt or Lebanon, or sold on the black market to Palestinians, after being stolen from Israeli Army bases — are everywhere. Over lunch in Ramallah, a Palestinian businessman said to me, “I can buy you a gun right now easier than I can hire a plumber to come and fix something.”

As the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki explained it to me, there has been “a big change in Palestinian society in the last five years among 15- to 25-year-olds — a radicalization in ways we have never seen before. They are completely different from their parents and grandparents. They no longer trust the P.A. They see them as collaborators, and they believe that the only thing the Israelis understand is the language of force.”

This young generation, who are not religious, live on social media, particularly TikTok. They share videos there of Israeli forces brutalizing and sometimes killing Palestinians, become enraged in 15 seconds, and then go out as individuals or in small groups and attack an Israeli. And now they often arrange in advance to record themselves on video doing it. Two or three Palestinian youths get killed this way multiple times a month, feeding a growing online library of rage-inducing videos.

At the same time, a fascinating counter-trend is unfolding among Palestinians. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are now working in Israel every day, and many of their businesses are dependent on access to Israeli markets. More Gazan workers than ever are reportedly studying Hebrew in classes held in Gaza!

Ramallah-based Palestinian business consultant Sam Bahour put it to me like this: Every day more and more Palestinian youths see “more and more Israeli aggression, and more and more settlements and say to themselves: ‘Maybe it is time for our generation to say to Israelis: “Congratulations — you won. You get East Jerusalem, all the water, and all the land, and do you know what else you get? Us! Now, where do I pick up my Israeli health insurance card?” That is totally in our power to do.’”

One interesting new dynamic to watch is the Israeli-Saudi-Palestinian triangle and how that might affect the prospects for peace. Netanyahu gave an unusual interview a few days ago to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English website in which he essentially instructed the Biden administration that the traditional U.S. “alliance with Saudi Arabia … has to be reaffirmed. There should not be periodic swings, or even wild swings, in this relationship, because I think that the alliance … is the anchor of stability in our region.”

What was that about? Netanyahu apparently thinks the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is ready to normalize relations with Israel — without Israel having to make any major concessions to the Palestinians — if Israel helps Saudi Arabia patch up its differences with the Biden administration and Senate Democrats, some of whom want to see arms sales to the Saudis curtailed or frozen in response to Saudi Arabia’s oil politics, involvement in the Yemen war and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

I am all for Saudi-Israeli normalization. But Netanyahu, who spent so many years dissing President Barack Obama and the Democrats, and prioritizing relations with the G.O.P. and evangelical Christian groups over liberal Jews, is an unlikely bridge-builder between Saudi Arabia and this Democratic administration. Watch this space.

In sum, I had not been to Israel since 2019, and I was stunned by the explosion of skyscrapers I found in Tel Aviv — all built with human creativity around science, medicine, agriculture and technology, not fossil fuels. Israel has much to be proud of and to preserve.

But preserving its prosperity and stability, as it veers to the far right politically, will get harder and harder. Because that requires a wisdom and moderation that don’t seek to prove “who is the landlord” but seek to make this diverse society work for everyone.

It has a role model in an Israeli politician with whom Netanyahu is quite familiar. Of all the interviews I did on this trip, the one that stays with me most was with Mansour Abbas, who represents the Israeli Arab Islamist party, which became the first Israeli Arab party to become a full-fledged partner in an Israeli Jewish-led ruling coalition, the national unity government formed in June 2021, headed by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, which Netanyahu just toppled.

Mansour Abbas has openly declared, “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and it will remain one.”

Before Lapid and Bennett formed their government, Netanyahu tried to get Abbas to support his coalition, but his ultranationalist partners said they would not serve with an Israeli Arab Muslim in the same cabinet. So, in the latest election, Netanyahu reversed course and used Abbas’s presence in the Bennett-Lapid cabinet to inflame anti-Arab sentiments among Israeli Jews, which helped him win at the ballot box.

Abbas said to me: “I asked Bibi, ‘Why you are accusing me that I am a Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist?’” He said Netanyahu told him it was political. He needed to get votes.

Abbas is a keen observer of the Israel scene. He explained that he grew up as part of the Muslim minority in a predominantly Christian-Druze Arab village, where he learned early on that in Israel, “diversity exists not just between Arabs and Jews, but inside the Arab sector and Jewish sector, too.”

As a result, he said, he came to believe that “all of us have a lot of identities — religious and national. We can live together with our identities, if we try. I call it ‘a civil approach’ based on values. … I studied political science at Haifa University. I learned the term ‘how to manage a conflict.’ But there is another term — ‘how to manage a partnership.’ I prefer conflict inside partnership and not outside of it.”

So, he added, “I do partnership — and hope then there will be change.”

I can’t think of a more fitting way to end a piece about the true complexity of the situation in Israel than to quote an Israeli Palestinian Islamist telling Israeli Jews about the spirit of partnership needed to preserve Israel as a Jewish homeland and a democracy for all of its citizens — whether it’s in two states or one.

Article link:
Article source: New York Times | Thomas Friedman |Dec. 15, 2022

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Palestinians ‘weren’t there at all’– Netanyahu tells credulous Jordan Peterson

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Palestinians ‘weren’t there at all’– Netanyahu tells credulous Jordan Peterson


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Conservative scholar/media star Jordan Peterson turned over a new leaf this fall by touring Israel with the ideologue Ben Shapiro and dining with Benjamin Netanyahu. Now Peterson has published an interview with Netanyahu titled “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist?” in which he allows Netanyahu to rant against Palestinians and misrepresent history:

Israel did not create “a single refugee” in 1948. No, neighboring Arab armies did that by telling the Palestinians to flee. This has always been Jewish land, the bible tells us so. Though before Jews returned to it, it was just a “barren dump” and “wasteland” and “ruin.”

There was no such thing as Palestinians. They were “southern Syrians” till Zionism built a “miracle” in the desert and they emigrated to the land.

Peterson has a large following, and the interview has gotten 800,000 views in eight days. Though happily, many commenters on the video have denounced Peterson for his hospitality to racism and historical fictions.

Here are some of Netanyahu’s Zionist fables. On the refugees:

“Seventy five years ago when the state of Israel was declared, you did not have a single Arab refugee…. In fact the refugees are the result of Arab aggression and not its cause. …. The Palestinian refugees… fled in advance of the advancing armies [from five Arab countries] being promised that they could return in a few days, the Jews would be annihilated and driven into the sea, that didn’t work out, thank god.

The Zionists “did not kick out an existing population with a national consciousness.” Because no one was there, it was barren land.

“The Arabs who had conquered the land [in the 600s] basically left it barren. They never made it their own. It was a barren land. Practically it was an empty land…. The Jews came back in the 19th century to the land of Israel. The result of this return was that we started building farms, factories, places of employment. Arabs from nearby countries started emigrating. And they now became– they call themselves Palestinians. They reconstructed history, they said we’ve been here for centuries. No they haven’t. They weren’t there at all, and they didn’t have a national consciousness….

“It’s not your land, it’s been our land for 3500 years. If you took over somebody’s apartment, kicked them out, dispossessed them, and they never gave up their claim… and you left this barren dump, OK? And the families, the progeny of the people you kicked out came back, rebuilt the house… you cannot come back and tell them, you don’t belong here, we’re going to kick them out.

“Especially since your latecomers who have come to live in part of the house, which is what so-called Palestinians are. We say to them you can live here, we can live here, but it’s our land, its our state…”

This is Nakba denial, and hateful to those who respect human rights and history. Netanyahu’s claim that Palestinians are “southern Syrians” is the same line that Sheldon Adelson, his friend and the late Republican donor, used to put out.

Jews have suffered more than anyone else.

“If any people has any right to a state, if any people never gave up their dreams… If any people rebuilt their home from nothing, from barren, wasted land, it’s the Jewish people. To tell them, you who have suffered more than anyone else… you have no right to be there, but the Arabs who are trying to destroy you, they have a right, That is a complete perversion of history…

The land belongs to us.

“The Jews belong to this land, this land belongs to the Jews, the Palestinians are free to live here next to us, among us, but they are not free to demand the dissolution of the Jewish state…

There’s no occupation, Netanyahu says, using biblical terms for the West Bank: “our so- called occupation of the heartland of the Jewish people, Judea and Samaria.”

More ranting about Arabs are not productive:

“We came back to this land to this land that was laid barren by the Arab conquest, brought it back to life, and allowed Arab immigration, what we call now Palestinian immigration, to come back in…

“They did nothing with the land. They built one town. Ramle. That’s it. Hundreds of new sites that we built…. The Arabs did nothing with it… We perform this miracle… it was desert, it was nothing.”

Netanyahu repeats that it’s like being evicted from an apartment and when you come back, there are “no tenants” there.

“They took over my apartment a long time ago…The apartment was left barren and many decades– in this case, centuries later, I come back to this barren mess, this ruin, and I build it up back, I not only improve it, I make my ownership based on improvement, but that nobody else did anything with it. There was no someone else! There practically were no tenants, that’s my argument… “

Peterson never challenges Netanyahu’s lies about Palestinian history and Palestinian refugees. He does not touch on Netanyahu’s corruption trial or Netanyahu’s current plan to take on fascistic coalition partners to gut the Israeli legal system so he won’t go to jail.

So the interview is not so different from PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff, interviewing Netanyahu for 11 minutes a few weeks ago and leaving him off the hook on corruption and racism and apartheid charges (“You see a home for the Palestinians in years to come?”).


Peterson accepts the claptrap surely because he is a Christian Zionist and opposes the American left at every turn, so Netanyahu is a hero. But Peterson offers a rationalization for theft that his own commenters are mocking. There is a “principle of ownership in English common law,” Peterson says, that “if you own territory and you’re doing nothing to it and someone squats on it” and does something productive, that someone gets to keep the land. “You have to do something productive with [territory].. The Jews have actually taken the land and did something with it. … They invited other people to live there… It wasn’t an oppressive regime.” This is high-minded hasbara, or explaining Israel to the world.

In turn, Netanyahu justifies Israeli land theft on the basis of the bible.

“The bible describes how the Jewish people lived on this land, were attached on that land, fought off conquerors sometimes were conquered but stayed on their land… till the 7th century… We were conquered by the Romans, conquered by the Byzantines. They did a lot of bad things to us, but they didn’t really exile us…. The loss of our land actually occurred when the Arab conquest took place in the 7th century. The Arabs burst out from Arabia and they did something that no other conqueror… nobody did before… They actually started taking over the land of the Jewish farmer. They brought in military colonies that took over the land.”

(Military colonies — a wee bit of projection there!)

“So it is under the Arab conquerors that the Jews lost their homeland.. The Arabs were the colonials, the Jews were the natives dispossessed… We were flung to the far corners of the earth, suffered unimaginable suffering because we had no homeland. … We never gave up the dream of coming back to our ancestral homeland.”

This is claptrap. The scholar Shlomo Sand debunks it in his books “The Invention of the Jewish People” and “The Invention of the Land of Israel.”

The claim that there was not a single refugee at the time of Israel’s founding is laughable. Consider that the scholar Ibrahim Abu Lughod and his family left Jaffa in May 1948 before the state of Israel was created because they feared for their lives. Hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians took similar actions.

Many fled because of violence by Zionist militias who sought to take over areas coveted by the Jewish state (like Deir Yassin on the road to Jerusalem) outside the boundaries the U.N. had drawn. Many were trucked away from their villages by the Israeli army so as to create a Jewish majority in the new state. Most importantly, at least 700,000 refugees were not permitted by Israel to return once the armistice was achieved in 1949.

How can a serious scholar indulge the racism and cultural supremacy of saying that Palestinians “did nothing” with the land? And does it matter whether the people you kick out of your country have a “national consciousness”? Don’t they still have a right to their homes and villages? Records are clear that over 400 villages were erased by the Zionists. This is dangerous thinking, and it’s a sad reflection on Peterson that he humors it.

Peterson characterizes the Nakba as an intellectual fad. Why has the idea of Palestinians being indigenous and displaced “gained such cachet in the west?” Peterson asks.

Netanyahu is clearly nettled by the rise in consciousness of the Nakba in the west. “Intellectual elites have created a fake history that deracinates Jewish roots,” he says. He seeks to counter the “settler-colonial” critique of Zionism with slogans, of which he’s a master.

We are not the Belgians in the Congo, we are not the Dutch in Indonesia, we are not the British in South Africa. We had been there all the time…. We were kicked out of the Congo and nothing happened in the Congo. Nothing. no other people there, no development, nothing..

He reprises Joan Peters’s argument, in “From Time Immemorial”, fully discredited by Norman Finkelstein, that the Palestinians in Israel in 1947 had emigrated there to get in on the great developments of Zionism.

Netanyahu justifies the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration by the British in 1917, later endorsed by the U.S.– on a similar basis, the bible and Jewish cultural supremacy.

They [western leaders] basically knew that the land was practically empty.. It made sense both from biblical prognostication and also a humanist view that this evil of history, this injustice of history would be corrected. These Jews who had contributed so much to civilization, and morality and history… [the leaders] concluded knowing the history I describe that is so unknown today on college campuses and among so-called intellectuals that Jews had a right to rebuild their national life in their ancestral land.

Reflect that this is the racist political leader, praised by the Democratic establishment, who successfully demolished the possibility of a two-state solution during his first 15 years in office.

Comments on the video are mostly scathing.

Lion Heart. “A quick summarising: If your house is empty and you only put a couch there, someone should come and be in your house instead.” Also judging by Benjamin’s logic, natives should be taking America and Canada back and rule. Right?

theobnoxiousweed”: “Netanyahu’s main philosophy of the entitlement for Israel is based on the inherent superiority of the Jewish people. He repeatedly describes the lands around Jerusalem as barren wastelands. A similar philosophy to my ancestors who declared Australia empty a few hundred years back and thought of the inhabitants as having no entitlement to the land they lived on due to their perceived primitive culture.”

Reid Schwantz: “My great great great great great great great great grand father, the first human on earth posses the whole lands and oceans under the atmosphere where all human live nowadays. inspired by mr. netanyahu, now i’m thinking about to claim it back after 50k years or so.”

Article link:
Article source: Mondoweiss, 14/12/2022

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Police slap ketchup ban on Balfour protester

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Police slap ketchup ban on Balfour protester
Kit Klarenberg and David Cronin The Electronic Intifada 16 November 2022
London’s police force has imposed bizarre restrictions on a woman who spoke out
against Britain’s role in the colonization of Palestine.
On 12 November, two protesters glued themselves to the plinth of a statue dedicated
to Arthur James Balfour in Britain’s Parliament. One also doused the statue in
tomato ketchup.
Attracting widespread media coverage, the protest drew attention to the 1917 Balfour
In that document, Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, expressed support for the
Zionist movement and its goal of establishing a Jewish state – euphemistically
described as a “national home for the Jewish people” – in Palestine. By so doing,
Britain paved the way for the mass expulsion of Indigenous Palestinians three
decades later.
The protesters were trying to educate the British people about imperialism and its
consequences. In a video circulated following their action, one of the protesters can
be heard accusing Britain of profiting from colonial crimes for more than a century.
Despite performing a public service, the women now face criminal charges.
Even though they have been released after their initial arrest, at least one of the
women is subject to onerous bail conditions.
She is banned from carrying “any adhesive substance” in a public place and from
possessing “any condiment or liquid that can be used for defacing property.” She is
also not allowed to enter Westminster – the part of London where the Parliament is
located – “unless for medical, educational and legal reasons with a pre-arranged
The women are scheduled to appear in court on 2 December.
They are being charged under a draconian new law called the Police, Crimes,
Sentencing and Courts Act.
Section 50 of that law concerns the damaging of “memorials.” Through this
provision, a court may impose stiff penalties even if the damage caused to a
monument is small.

White supremacist
In this case, the police appear to have exaggerated the scale of the damage caused to
Balfour’s statue.
They have put a very precise figure of £5,535 (approximately $6,600) on the damage
caused by the ketchup. Though ketchup is usually easily removed from stone
The stains of shame left by imperialism are, of course, far harder to remove and
arguably indelible.
That may explain why the London authorities are so determined to punish activists
who highlight crimes omitted from the version of history taught in Britain’s schools.
Section 50 was introduced following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. During
one London demonstration, the words “was a racist” were written on the plinth of a
statue dedicated to the wartime leader Winston Churchill.
Like Churchill, Arthur Balfour was a white supremacist. Balfour once contended that
Europeans should enjoy greater privileges than Blacks in South Africa by claiming
that “men are not born equal.”
His eponymous declaration of November 1917 was inherently racist. It granted
greater rights to incoming settlers than to Indigenous Palestinians.
Balfour even insisted that Palestinians would not be consulted about the Zionist
colonization project.
The declaration was later enshrined in the League of Nations mandate, through
which Britain administered Palestine between the 1920s and 1940s.
Britain introduced a series of ordinances enabling Jewish settlers to seize land which
Palestinians had farmed for generations.
The British would not tolerate any resistance. A major Palestinian uprising in the
1930s was crushed with great brutality.
British forces mentored and were frequently aided by the Haganah, the largest
Zionist militia in Palestine. The Haganah and some other armed groups later drove
up to 800,000 Palestinians from their homes during the Nakba, the wave of ethnic
cleansing before, during and after Israel’s establishment in 1948.
The recent protest against Balfour’s statue was organized by Palestine Action, which
is best known for breaking into factories and offices owned by the Israeli weapons
maker Elbit Systems.
Confronting the Israeli arms industry and its investments in Britain has proven
effective. Elbit capitulated to sustained pressure from Palestine Action this year by
closing its London office and selling a plant it owned near Manchester.

A Palestine Action representative, who asked not to be named, pointed out that the
British government is constantly developing stronger political and economic
relations with Israel.
“There might not be British troops on the ground in Palestine today, but the country
still sustains violent colonialism there today, in different forms,” the representative
“Elbit factories across the country [Britain] create weaponry daily that is
fundamental to Zionist ethnic cleansing. This horror could not continue without
London’s active acquiescence.”
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence
services in shaping politics and perceptions. Twitter: @KitKlarenberg.
David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His books
include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel (Pluto

Article link:
Article source: Electronic Intifada, 16/11/2022

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

As Netanyahu nears power, the Far Right wants to oversee the Army

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As Netanyahu Nears Power, the Far Right

Wants to Oversee the Army

Bezalel Smotrich is an ultranationalist who opposes Palestinian sovereignty and
wants to govern Israel by Jewish law. He seeks the Defense Ministry in Benjamin
Netanyahu’s government.
By Patrick Kingsley
Nov. 16, 2022, 11:18 a.m. ET (New York Times)
KEDUMIM, West Bank — As Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to form a new
government in Israel, one likely member of his cabinet has drawn particular concern
in Washington and in Israeli security circles: Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right lawyer
angling to lead Israel’s powerful Defense Ministry.
Mr. Smotrich, 42, is a former settler activist with a history of hard-line positions,
including support for segregation in Israeli maternity wards; governing Israel
according to the laws of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible;
and backing Jewish property developers who won’t sell to Arabs.

Mr. Smotrich has described himself as a homophobe, refuses to shake women’s
hands for religious reasons and has said it was a “mistake” that Israel’s founders did
not expel more Arabs when the country was founded.
Now, Mr. Smotrich wants to be defense minister, the second-most-powerful position
in government, and one that would give him oversight over the Israeli occupation of
the West Bank and airstrikes on Gaza. It would also make him a central point of
contact between Israel and the United States, which provides the country with more
than $3 billion in military aid each year.
His far-right ally,  Itamar Ben-Gvir , who is seeking to run Israel’s police forces, may
have attracted more media attention. But Mr. Smotrich’s ideological focus,
organizational discipline and long-term vision — coupled with his desire for the
Defense Ministry — have made foreign diplomats and domestic opponents fear his
rise as much as Mr. Ben-Gvir’s.
Like Mr. Ben-Gvir, Mr. Smotrich wants Israel to annex the occupied West Bank,
ending any hope of a Palestinian state. But both his critics and allies feel Mr.
Smotrich has a clearer idea about how to make that happen.
“From the perspective of preventing Palestinian statehood, his agenda is more of a
threat,” said Ofer Zalzberg, director of the Middle East Program at the Herbert C.
Kelman Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group.
“He thinks a Palestinian state is still possible, and this is why he’s investing so much
in trying to prevent it,” Mr. Zalzberg said.
Mr. Smotrich’s rise highlights the growing role played within Israeli society by
religious ultranationalists, who emerged as the third-largest bloc in the Israeli
Parliament in the general election earlier this month — their strongest showing ever
— and who are increasingly reaching the top ranks of the security establishment and
the police.
Mr. Smotrich’s ambitions also underline the difficult balance that Mr. Netanyahu
must now strike as he tries to finalize his government.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Parliament was sworn in, formally giving Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc
a majority coalition and bringing it a step closer to power.
But before he can formally re-enter office, Mr. Netanyahu needs to persuade his
coalition partners to agree to the makeup of his cabinet and a shared policy platform.
One of the remaining hurdles is a disagreement about Mr. Smotrich’s role. Mr.
Netanyahu has to placate Mr. Smotrich, without whom he has no parliamentary
majority. But Mr. Netanyahu also needs to consider international reaction,
particularly from the U.S. government, which would probably balk at having to work
so closely with someone with such extreme views.
“The administration is considering whether or not it would be consistent with
President Biden’s emphasis on promoting democratic values to deal with Bezalel

Smotrich and others in his party,” said Daniel B. Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador
to Israel and distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, a U.S.-based research
Current U.S. officials have not publicly discussed Mr. Smotrich by name. But as the
Israeli news media increasingly presents Mr. Smotrich as a candidate for the Defense
Ministry, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has said it is closely watching events.
“Obviously we are keenly focused on ministry appointments,” said Thomas R. Nides,
the U.S. ambassador to Israel, in a text message. “Specifically the minister of defense,
who is a major interlocutor with us.”
Amos Gilad, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, told reporters on Saturday
that Mr. Smotrich would be “a major disaster” as defense minister if he refused to
moderate his views after taking office.
Mr. Smotrich’s office declined an interview, as did his spokesman. But his allies
portray him as a diligent public servant whose critics misrepresent him.
“I’m convinced that Bezalel Smotrich will serve all the people,” said Hananel Durani,
the mayor of Kedumim, the Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank where Mr.
Smotrich lives.
“He has a certain image in the media,” said Mr. Durani, a member of Mr. Smotrich’s
party, Religious Zionism. But in reality, Mr. Durani said, he was a conscientious man
who “listens, learns and takes decisions quickly.”
Mr. Smotrich is often mentioned in the same context as Mr. Ben-Gvir, another far-
right politician hoping for a senior security role in the new government. But though
part of the same far-right alliance, the men come from different backgrounds and
rabbinical schools — and in fact lead separate parties.
The son of a right-wing rabbi of European descent, Mr. Smotrich grew up on a
settlement in the occupied West Bank and studied religious law for far longer than
his ally.
Mr. Ben-Gvir grew up in a less observant environment, in a family of Middle Eastern
origin. He spent his childhood in a middle-class suburb west of Jerusalem and only
moved to a settlement in the West Bank as a young adult.
While Mr. Ben-Gvir’s earthy gusto was the driving force behind their alliance’s
success in the recent election, Mr. Smotrich displayed the clearer roadmap.
It was Mr. Smotrich who produced detailed plans to limit the Supreme Court’s ability
to check the power of elected lawmakers. While Mr. Ben-Gvir expressed looser ideas
about accentuating Israel’s Jewish character, Mr. Smotrich set out a sharper program
for doing so — publicly opposing the organization of soccer games on the Jewish
sabbath, for example.

“Smotrich is coming from a place that is much more defined, ideologically and
theologically,” said Mr. Zalzberg, the analyst. “Whereas Ben-Gvir has moved into a
space that is much more vague.”
Throughout their careers, it has also been Mr. Smotrich who has shown the greater
organizational discipline, and the greater ability to work within the system.
Like the vast majority of Israelis, Mr. Smotrich served as a conscript in the Israeli
Army, briefly taking a minor administrative role after studying Jewish teachings for
several years. By contrast, Mr. Ben-Gvir was barred from army service because he
was deemed too extremist.
Both men are lawyers. But while Mr. Ben-Gvir worked largely independently, as a
defense attorney for Jews accused of violence and extremism, Mr. Smotrich
harnessed his legal expertise to found a pro-settler nongovernmental group that
worked systematically to cement Israeli control of the West Bank.
While Mr. Ben-Gvir has several criminal convictions, including for racist incitement
and support for a terrorist group, Mr. Smotrich was released without charge in 2005
after protesting against the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Smotrich even worked in an earlier Netanyahu government, albeit in a more
junior capacity. In 2019 and 2020, he served as transport minister, winning plaudits
from allies and critics for advancing road projects in both the West Bank and Israel
“The group that Ben-Gvir is most focused on, and feels that he needs to deal with and
rein in, are the Arabs,” said Prof. Yehudah Mirsky, an expert on Jewish political
thought at Brandeis University.
“For Smotrich, it’s the state — the state is the real problem,” Professor Mirsky added.
Both men are religious Zionists: They believe that the land in what is now Israel and
the occupied territories was promised to Jews by God.
But they come from different rabbinical schools within the movement, giving the two
men slightly different theological underpinnings, according to Daniella Weiss, a
settler leader and longtime neighbor and ally of Mr. Smotrich.
Mr. Ben-Gvir’s current beliefs are hard to pin down, but as a younger man he was an
unabashed follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, an Israeli-American extremist who
believed in protecting Jews by expelling Arabs from Israel.
Mr. Smotrich’s lodestar is Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the forefathers of
religious Zionism, who placed greater emphasis on establishing Jewish rule over the
land, and was less concerned about how many Arabs lived there.
Rabbi Kahane believed that “as long as we have enemies on the land of Israel, there
will always be problems,” Ms. Weiss said. His “first act was to see to it that the
enemies do not live here,” she said.

Followers of Rabbi Kook, like Mr. Smotrich and Ms. Weiss, believe that “from the act
of redeeming the land, everything in our life will benefit,” said Ms. Weiss.
“If we have more land and if we have more settlements,” Ms. Weiss said, “then the
Arabs will understand that they will not have here a Palestinian state.”
(Reporting was contributed by Myra Noveck from Kedumim, West Bank; by Gabby
Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel; and by Jonathan Rosen from Jerusalem.)

Article link:
Article source: New York Times, 16/11/2022

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000

Bungled handling of West Jerusalem makes a tough decision worse

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Bungled handling of West Jerusalem makes a tough decision worse


By Matthew Knott

Updated October 18, 2022 — 7.19pmfirst published at 7.17pm

Changing Australia’s position on a topic as contentious as the capital of Israel was always going to arouse intense opposition and debate.

But the messy, confusing way the Albanese government executed its decision to no longer recognise West Jerusalem made a challenging task significantly more inflammatory and damaging than it needed to be.

The bungled handling of the issue stands in stark contrast to the rest of Penny Wong’s successful short tenure as foreign minister, which has been marked by competence and assuredness.

There’s been a flurry of visits to Australia’s previously neglected Pacific neighbours and a symbolically powerful trip to Wong’s childhood hometown in Malaysia. Wong has met twice with her Chinese counterpart, helping stabilise a crucial relationship after years of escalating tension.


Now she faces her first crisis in the form of an infuriated Israel.

The main problem on West Jerusalem is not the policy change itself – which Labor announced in opposition – but the timing of the reversal.

The announcement came as a shock to the Israeli government and Australia’s Jewish community, which had no inkling the issue was on the government’s agenda.

The question of West Jerusalem had faded from attention in Australia over recent years and did not feature in the May election campaign.

The decision was an embarrassment for Israel’s fragile centre-left governing coalition just two weeks before Israel’s national elections.

Intensifying Israel’s anger was the fact the decision coincided with the Simchat Torah, a Jewish holiday. On the day the government announced a major change to its foreign policy, the Israeli embassy in Canberra was closed for the holiday, its phone going straight to voice mail.

The Israeli government and its local supporters feel not only disappointed but blindsided by Australia’s lack of consultation and warning – just as Emmanuel Macron did when Scott Morrison axed a lucrative submarine contract with French company Naval Group.

The only reason the issue flared up now is that in recent days the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade quietly scrubbed a reference to West Jerusalem from the Israel page of its website.

According to the government, an overeager public servant got ahead of themselves by updating the website to reflect the government’s stated position on West Jerusalem. The problem was that cabinet hadn’t made a decision on the issue and the government hadn’t announced any policy change.

After the update to the website was revealed on Monday night, the government hurriedly assured reporters and anxious pro-Israel groups that Australia hadn’t changed its position on recognising West Jerusalem.

That was true until, a few hours later, it wasn’t: the Albanese cabinet met in Canberra on Tuesday morning and agreed to reverse the Morrison government’s stance.

As Wong says, Labor’s decision returns Australia to the international mainstream when it comes to the Israel-Palestine dispute. The global consensus has long held that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved only as a result of peace negotiations that lead to a two-state solution.

Donald Trump exploded that consensus in 2017 by officially recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing he would relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

Morrison flagged doing the same in the lead-up to the 2018 Wentworth by-election, a seat that just so happens to have a large and politically active Jewish community.

In the end, Morrison recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but stopped short of relocating the Australian embassy.

According to Middle East specialist Rodger Shanahan, a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute, Morrison’s decision was “intellectually incoherent … policy-making on the run” that made Australia an international outlier. The new government, Shanahan argues, was right to overturn it.

But a change of such a sensitive, globally significant nature should be announced in an organised, carefully considered way. That’s not what happened here.

A policy born in regrettable circumstances has died an unnecessarily painful death.

Australia was already grappling with a volatile and complex geopolitical environment; now it has a self-inflicted diplomatic stoush with Israel to deal with as well.

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Article source: The Age, 19/10/2022

2023-10-24 01:28:30.000000