Celebrating liberation in Gush Etzion

In September of this year, Israel plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan heights. The main event will be held at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, in the Gush Etzion area of Judea, south and slightly west of Jerusalem.

Zahava Galon, the leader of the Meretz party, which represents approximately 4% of Israeli voters with its 5 Knesset seats, and Chemi Shalev, writing in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper expressed their outrage that anyone would celebrate what they consider an oppressive and evil occupation of Palestinian land, and that Israel would add insult to injury by holding the ceremony in what they insist on calling the West Bank.

I know its a little thing and that most of my readers already know this, but I cant say it too often: it was called Judea and Samaria from biblical times until 1948 when Jordan occupied it, ethnically cleansed it of Jews, and renamed it the West Bank. We really ought to stop calling it that.

Lets talk a little about the Gush Etzion area, and specifically Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Here is a summary of its early years by Ami Isseroff, zl:

The Etzion Bloc, or Gush Etzion as it is called in Hebrew, is located on the main road from the south to Jerusalem, northwest of Hebron. The Etzion bloc was settled and resettled three times, on land purchased by the Jews, beginning in 1927. Each time, residents were forced to abandon their homes in the face of Arab violence. The final saga of the Etzion bloc included two separate massacres and a prolonged and stubborn defense against hopeless odds. The bloc was finally overrun by soldiers of the British armed and officered Jordan Legion, who were responsible for the final massacre of surrendered defenders, a war crime.

The first settlement in this area was called Migdal Eder, built on land purchased from local Arabs by the Zichron David Company. It was founded in 1927. The pioneers included orthodox Yemenite Jews. During the Arab riots of 1929, Migdal Eder settlers were evacuated to the Russian Orthodox monastery and thence to the Arab village of Beit Umar, from which they were evacuated to Jerusalem by British mandate police. The British made no attempt to guard the settlement or safeguard property, and it was completely destroyed.

Additional lands were purchased by the El Hahar Company, which founded a kibbutz called Kfar Etzion in 1934. Like Migdal Eder, Kfar Etzion was abandoned during the Arab violence of 1936-1939 and destroyed by the Palestinian Arabs.

A third settlement attempt was made beginning in 1942 under the auspices of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet). Kfar Etzion was re-founded in the Spring of 1943. In October 1945, a second kibbutz, Massuot Yitzchak, was added. Its members were Holocaust survivors from Eastern and Central Europe. A third Kibbutz, Ein Tzurim, was founded in 1946 by Israeli members of the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist movement. All three kibbutzim belonged to the religious Zionist movement, but in February 1947, a fourth kibbutz, Revadim, was established by the Marxist Hashomer Hatzair Youth Movement.

On May 13, 1948, the area was overrun by the Jordanian army. The remaining defenders of Kfar Etzion surrendered to the Jordanian Legion, who together with Arab irregulars, massacred some 128 (all but five) of them. The defenders of the other three kibbutzim surrendered in the presence of the International Red Cross, and were taken to Jordan as prisoners of war.

After Israel liberated the Gush in 1967, Kfar Etzion was rebuilt yet again. The other three, Revadim, Ein Tzurim and Massuot Yitzchak were reestablished within the Green Line shortly after the original kibbutzim were destroyed. I lived in Revadim in 1980-82 and worked in the musach (garage), where my boss told me about being forced to repair Jordanian military vehicles as a war prisoner.

There are many stories of heroism around the area, including the lamed hay (thirty-five), members of the Palmach (an elite force part of the Hagana) who were massacred trying to bring supplies through hostile Arab villages to the kibbutzim of the Gush.

So the complaints about holding a celebration in the Palestinian West Bank ring false to me. The land upon which Kfar Etzion stands was purchased dearly, with Jewish money and not a little Jewish blood.

It is true, as the kapos of +972 Magazine write, that the area of todays Gush Etzion Regional Council is larger than that of the original land purchased in the 1920s and 30s. But they accept as they did in the case of the settlement of Amona the fanciful ownership claims of Arabs without verification, and do not accept Israels right to adjudicate land as state land.

Their uncritical acceptance of Arab claims is why they object to any celebration of the liberation of Judea and Samaria (they are quiet about the Golan and about Gaza, for different reasons), no matter where it is held. They believe that all land outside of the 1949 lines belongs to the Palestinians, simply because the Palestinians and their supporters say so, and despite the fact that the armistice agreements explicitly declare that the Green Line is not a political boundary.

They will tell you over and over that it is forbidden to acquire territory by war, as Israel did in 1967, but apparently do not object to Jordans conquest and annexation of Judea and Samaria in 1948 areas that had been designated in the Mandate as the site of a future Jewish national home.

They will ignore the geostrategic imperative that says that our state cannot be defended without the high ground and the Jordan Valley. They will forget or ignore the fact that the hills and deserts of Judea and Samaria are the place where our people became a people. They will talk about the need of the newly-created Palestinian people for self-determination, but abandon the Jewish people.

Legal and political arguments may go on forever, but what will ultimately determine the ownership of the land will be who lives in it who settles it and controls it. The original settlers of Gush Etzion, who put their bodies on the line for the land understood that.

The strategic and spiritual value of these lands is more important today than ever. Celebrating their liberation is appropriate, because they both make our country defensible and give us something important to defend, the historical heartland of the Jewish people.

And what better place to celebrate it than Kfar Etzion?

Vladimir Putins evil stroke of genius

As a child, one of my great fears was being the victim of a chemical attack. I read and reread the article on chemical warfare in the Encyclopedia Britannica in the school library with horrified fascination. When we practiced getting under our desks in case of an atomic attack I was relieved that it was only an atomic attack that was expected. Gas would be 100 times worse, I thought. Maybe this was because I was a Jew and heard that the Nazis had gassed Jews, even though as far as I knew my own relatives in Ukraine had been shot and not gassed.

The sarin gas attack carried out this Tuesday in Idlib by forces controlled by Bashar al Assad (the word alleged is not necessary) was a war crime, a mass murder of civilians by horrific means. To make it even worse, hospitals where victims being treated were also bombed. Its not the first time the same criminal has committed the same crime. But Assad could not have done it alone. He has a powerful accessory to his crimes.

Russian planes are not dropping sarin (or chlorine or barrel bombs), but they are supporting Assads forces with more conventional weapons, and killing plenty of civilians in the process. The Obama Administration, which initially provided some minimal support for the rebels that had opposed Assad, more or less gave up on the idea of deposing him when Russia stepped in, and recently the Trump Administration admitted that it too is focused on defeating Daesh and not on removing Assad.

Interestingly, although Putin initially claimed that he was intervening in Syria in order to defeat Daesh, he has actually done very little against it. The Atlantic Council, which is funded primarily by European governments, said this about the Russian intervention in Syria:

The results have been grievous. Russia carried out its air strikes with scant regard for the rules of war: Open-source footage shows the repeated use of banned cluster munitions, and strikes on targets including mosques, hospitals, and water treatment plants. Imagine the outcry if the United States or its allies conducted military operations in this manner. Russias military campaign allowed Assads forces to retake lost ground, a task they did with great brutality and immense human suffering. It barely dented the ISIS terrorist group, whose recent territorial losses have largely come at the hands of Kurdish militias backed by a US-led coalition. Far from shortening the war, it exacerbated itand in so doing, it sent yet more waves of refugees flooding into Turkey and Europe.

Until recently, I hadnt understood Putins motives. Its been clear that he wants to protect and expand his naval and air installations in Syria, but by putting his eggs in Assads basket he is enabling the Iranian project of creating a corridor from its western border to the Mediterranean, something that might prove dangerous to Russia in the long term.

But if his goal is to destabilize his traditional enemies in Europe by flooding them with refugees, then both his intervention and the brutal way it is carried out as well as his tolerance of Assads even worse behavior become understandable. The wars going on in Syria and Iraq serve his purpose, and so does the continued existence of Daesh.

This also explains why Russia has not interfered with Israeli activities in Syria. Although Assad and his Iranian patron are interested in building up Hezbollah as a threat against Israel, Putin doesnt necessarily share their goals, and may even wish to limit the advance of Iranian hegemony in the region. Russia has its problems with radical Islamic jihadism, and Iran either has or shortly will have missiles that can reach Moscow. What does serve Putins purpose is chaos which he promotes by helping Assad stay in power and kill anyone associated with (or stuck in the same town with) the opposition. Israels bombing of weapons bound for Hezbollah doesnt detract from his goal.

Its also an incentive for Israel to not interfere. There have been suggestions that Israel should intervene against Assad for humanitarian reasons. It is highly unlikely that Israel would take such a step. Not only would it place Israel in direct conflict with Russia, but Israel is dependent on Russia to allow it to operate against Hezbollah in Syria. The greatest direct threat against Israel today is Hezbollah as a proxy of Iran, and it would be disastrous if Putin were to decide to protect it.

I think Putin is the big winner here. In a stroke of malevolent genius, he managed to turn the Syrian civil war, the rise of Daesh, the struggle between the Sunni and Shia worlds, the advance of Iran toward the Mediterranean, and the concomitant suffering of the peoples of the region, to his advantage. He now controls the airspace of the eastern Mediterranean region and is building up important air and naval bases here, a strategic coup against Europe and the US. Meanwhile, Europe is being destabilized by the waves of refugees from the conflicts in our region. All this on the backs of a few million dead and displaced Arabs!

Whether or not Russian activities had any effect on the American election, there is no doubt that Russia is carrying out psychological warfare against the US with the intent to create as much dissension and chaos there as possible. This isnt anything new the Soviet regime did it too but social media have made it easier and increased the leverage of a small number of operatives.

Putin is a remarkable figure. I would call his actions in fanning the flames of war in Syria psychopathic, although maybe any despot has to be a psychopath. He seems to have suppressed internal opposition to his regime quite effectively (and brutally, in part by murdering anyone that threatens him). He has drastically improved the strategic position of Russia relatively cheaply, and is on his way to restoring the Soviet empire.

Various pundits have said that Putin is playing chess while Western leaders play checkers (or even simpler games, like marbles). I agree except that the pawns he sacrifices so unemotionally are people.

If you love me, let me go

We recognize that some boycott advocates are driven by opposition to (and even hatred of) Israel. Our motivation is precisely the opposite: love for Israel and a desire to save it. Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, We are lifelong Zionists. Heres why weve chosen to boycott Israel.

I have something to say to the Jewish-American we love Israel but we know what is good for you better than you do crowd:

Stop it.

You dont know better than we do. Even if you know a lot. And even if you did know better, you dont have the right to tell us what to do.

Israel is a democracy. That means that the Knesset and the Prime Minister are chosen by its citizens. Even with 20% of those citizens being Arabs, we chose Benjamin Netanyahu to form our government. You dont think that was a wise choice; I get that. But can you deny us the right to make that choice?

You say that our country is becoming less democratic. So you want to fix that by intervening in our politics?

You demand that we should make peace, or end the Occupation, or grant the Palestinians their rights. But do you know that only a minority of Jewish Israelis agree with you that withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is a good idea? Only 29% agree with the moderate idea of withdrawal to the Green Line with land swaps for the large settlement blocks!

The Israeli political party whose foreign policy most closely matches the views of J Street or the Union for Reform Judaism is Meretz. Meretz won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Only five, even though some of its domestic policies are relatively popular. There is a reason for that.

What do you, living in America, know that the majority of Jewish Israelis dont? After all, they have to serve in the army or send their children to do it. Do you know what it feels like to know that your son (and lately, daughter) who is serving in a combat unit is on a battlefield in a hostile country? It really makes you care about the quality of your national leadership.

You dont like the policies of our government. Thats your right. I think youre misinformed, but go ahead and have whatever opinions you like about our government, yours, or North Koreas. But you go farther. You say that as Jews you have a special right not only to criticize us, but to tell us how to behave. Thats ridiculous.

Yes, Israel views herself as the homeland of the Jewish people, and Israel will grant citizenship to any Diaspora Jew that asks for it. This degree of openness to immigration is uncommon, but came about because of the unique history of persecution of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, this doesnt imply that potential citizens have a right to determine Israeli policy. Ireland will grant citizenship on request to someone with a grandparent who was born there, but eligible Irish-Americans dont insist on the right to determine the policy of their ancestral home.

You are fond of telling us that your patience is running short and you will stop supporting us if we dont do what you tell us. But that support is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Financial support is already politically targeted. I was the treasurer of a small Jewish Federation belonging to the Jewish Federations of North America. I was explicitly told by officials of the national organization that no Federation funds would support projects in Judea and Samaria, and that there are procedures in place to ensure that money given by JFNA to the Jewish Agency was not spent in settlements. Large independent federations like New York, Chicago, Boston, and others also limit the use of their funds in this way (J Street actually complained that in some cases they do it but dont admit this publicly!)

You also contribute to J Street and the New Israel Fund, organizations that sharply criticize Israeli policy and try to get the US to pressure Israel, or fund NGOs that do. And you strongly supported Barack Obama in both of his elections, despite the fact that he was the US president least supportive of Israel since the founding of the state (even Jimmy Carters policies as president were not as bad).

At this point I want to distinguish the distressed lovers, like the academics responsible for the quotation at the beginning of this post or the Reform Movement leaders who invariably declare their love before bashing Israel, from the haters who skip the ritual profession of love, and claim that Judaism justifies siding with Israels enemies for example, the members of If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.

I too am a strong Zionist, so I think a lot about whats right and wrong about my country. Every day I thank God for the privilege of living here. But it bothers me that my daughter cant afford to buy her own apartment because real estate prices are insane. It bothers me to know that my children and grandchildren are within rocket range of our enemies (all of us are). It bothers me to know that unless something unforeseen happens, there will be a major war within the next few years in which many Israelis and Arabs will die. It bothers me to know that Haredim are blocking traffic because they think they have a right to live in the state of the Jewish people but not the obligation to help defend it. A lot of stuff bothers me, and when we have elections, I try to sort it all out and vote for the party that I think represents the best balance of policies and people to deal with these issues.

So here is what I think: stop trying to help us be better people, because it is much more complicated than you think. There are a lot of things in the USA that are, shall we say, suboptimal, that you can work on. There are ways that you can make your country fairer and more democratic. There are Americans who cant exercise the rights guaranteed them in the constitution. There are even people who dont have enough to eat.

Let me know when youve fixed that stuff and well talk about improving Israel.

A discussion at the seder table

So we are sitting around the seder table with our American Uncle Max and he says,

[I] remain convinced that a two-state solution is the only outcome that would quell ongoing incidents of violence, maintain Israel as a secure, Jewish and democratic state, and provide a just and stable future for the Palestinians.

Having had the traditional four cups of wine, my first, immediate reaction would be to say something about 1993 calling and wanting its policy back. But actually this and other surprisingly stupid things appeared in a letter signed by 191 members of the US Congress, read at AIPAC by Nancy Pelosi, and sent to Donald Trump.

Many things have happened in the past 24 years, both in the US and especially in the Middle East, but for these (mostly Democratic) lawmakers, nothing has changed. One wonders exactly what could happen that would change their minds, which seem to have accepted the necessity of an additional partition of the land of Israel as an article of faith.

My second thought is an almost overwhelming feeling of fatigue over the fact that this irrational and dangerous idea will not go away, and that I am yet again forced to argue about it.

So, pay attention, Uncle Max. I am not going to repeat this like the verses of had gadya.

First, there wont be a 2-state solution. The Palestinian leadership and man-in-the-street will not agree to anything acceptable to Israel. They have already rejected deals that were better than what Israel would offer today. Their conditions, including the right of return for millions of descendents of Arab refugees and the expulsion of Jewish residents of Judea/Samaria, will always be unacceptable.

But even if some kind of agreement were reached with the PA/PLO, why would we expect them to adhere to it? They have broken countless promises made in the framework of the Oslo agreements, including essential ones like ending official incitement and changing the PLO charter; and they have an ideological/religious mandate to break promises on the smallest of pretexts.

But even if the signers of the agreement did not break it, what guarantee is there that their successors who could represent Hamas or even more militant radical Islamists would honor it? If they didnt, the only option for Israel would be war.

In this connection, its interesting that 2-staters often say that Mahmoud Abbas is the most moderate PLO leader, and that therefore we should get an agreement with him before he is replaced and it is too late. But this is exactly why an agreement with him will be worthless.

But even if Abbas successors did not break the agreement, an additional partition of the land of Israel more or less along the Green Line would restore Israels pre-1967 indefensible eastern boundary. In addition to the absurdity of reversing the outcome and punishing the winner of a defensive war, it would leave the most populated parts of Israel vulnerable both to terrorism from the high ground in Judea and Samaria, and invasion from the east.

At this point I get my relief map of Israel off the wall and wave it under Uncle Maxs nose. How is it possible to defend Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport from short-range rocket and mortar attacks when terrorists can sit on commanding hills only a few miles away? How can Israel prevent the introduction of weapons and terrorists into these areas if it doesnt control the Jordan Valley to the east? There are five mountain passes across the Judean and Samarian hills. With Iran controlling more and more territory in Iraq and the unstable country of Jordan tottering, what will prevent Iranian forces from reaching them?

John Kerry in 2014 suggested implementing American-assisted security arrangements that would theoretically protect Israel while allowing Palestinian sovereignty in most of the territories. But former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon considered the plan ludicrous, and not worth the paper it was printed on. Others have since come up with more sophisticated plans, but Israel is loathe to depend on high-tech sensors, Palestinian cooperation, or (especially) foreign troops. We also need to keep in mind that future American administrations might be even less friendly than the previous one. Only Israel can defend Israel.

***

But its Palestinian land. Theres an international consensus. The settlers are motivated by extremist religious ideas, says Uncle Max.

Wrong. According to the Palestine Mandate, whose guarantee to the Jewish people is still in force, its Jewish land. And the border of Israel legitimately extends to the Jordan River. The international consensus is a consensus between the Islamic bloc and the Europeans, both of whom are offended by the idea of a sovereign Jewish state. Both the Muslims and the Europeans, although in different ways, are no less religious in their convictions than the observant residents of the territories. The consensus is no more than a correspondence of racist anti-Jewish attitudes.

But wait. Most Israeli Jews support the 2-state solution.

No they dont! A new poll shows that there has been a large decrease in support for a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria from 60% in 2005, when Israel withdrew from Gaza, to 36% in 2017. Apparently Israeli Jews learned something from the Gaza experience.

But, Max continues, the alternative to two states is one state, and Israel cant absorb all those Arabs and still be Jewish and democratic.

Wrong. There is no exhaustive dichotomy. Who said Israel has to absorb them? Who said there has to be a sovereign Palestinian state in almost all of Judea and Samaria? How about creating an autonomous territory in a contiguous part of the area like Puerto Rico is to the US where the population votes in local but not national elections, and in which external security is provided by the sovereign? Thats just one of many possibilities. Sure, working out the details would be complicated, but no more complicated than the security arrangements John Kerry tried to foist on us. And although some Arabs and some Jews might have to move, it would be far less traumatic than the massive expulsion of Jews that is envisaged under a 2-state plan.

I dont know, he says. There must be a way to make 2-states work.

No, there isnt, and that is exactly the problem. You are searching for an answer to the wrong question, one that does not have an answer. The real issue isnt how to partition the land of Israel yet again. Its how to guarantee the security of the state and its citizens within its rational, legitimate and defensible borders.

Its time to say dayenu to the 2-state solution. The starting point must be defensible borders, not a Palestinian state.

Of course the Palestinians would find this approach unacceptable, but they also find any 2-state deal that doesnt provide for the ultimate replacement of the Jewish state with an Arab one equally unacceptable. So why does it matter?

Why do you think we followed Moshe out of comfortable Egypt and into the desert, Uncle Max? It wasnt in order to create Palestine!

No deal, Donald

Donald Trump likes deals. He likes the idea of brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and thinks that he can do it. He cant, and heres why:

The insurmountable obstacle to a deal is that the essence of the Palestinian movement is the denial of a state belonging to the Jewish people (they dont even agree that we are a people) in any part of the land between the river and the sea. Questions of borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian unity, and settlements no matter how difficult are all secondary to this major problem.

This is why the Palestinian understanding of two state solution includes a right of return to Israel for the descendants of Arab refugees, and why it does not include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, or a renunciation of their claim to all of the land. This is the Palestinian bottom line.

Israel is willing to make many compromises (including some that are extremely stupid and dangerous to our security) but we are not prepared to agree to disappear. This is the Israeli bottom line.

Neither side can go any lower.

Mahmoud Abbas understands this very well. This is why he correctly considers direct negotiations with Israel a waste of time. This is why he insists that PM Netanyahu does not accept the two state solution, because he understands that he and Netanyahu mean different things by that expression. This is why he favors getting the Europeans and the UN to force Israel to give him what he wants. He knows that deep down (or not so deep down) many of these elements believe there should not be a Jewish state and would be happy to see it disappear.

There is no hope of changing the bottom line of Abbas and the PLO. But couldnt we appeal to the ordinary Palestinian, the man or (very occasional) woman on the street? Dont they want to succeed like all of us, to raise their children in peace, to be secure economically and physically?

No. Or maybe they do want these things, but other things are more important.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab citizen of Israel, often writes about the repression of Palestinian Arab journalists by the PLO and Hamas. He has written about the corruption and brutality of the Palestinian Authority and the attitudes of the Palestinian street. Unlike pro-Palestinian Jewish writers like Gideon Levy, he understands the language and culture of the Palestinian Arabs and has contacts that provide information rather than propaganda.

So when he tells us that PA Arabs favor armed struggle against Israel, despise Mahmoud Abbas as a collaborator with Israel and the US, and reject the idea of a peace agreement, we should pay attention. Last week, he reported on a demonstration against Abbas in Ramallah:

On the eve of US envoy Jason Greenblatts visit to Ramallah last week, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the city, calling on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. The protesters also condemned the ongoing security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

Listen, listen to us, Abbas; collect your dogs and leave us alone, the Palestinian protesters chanted during what has been described as the largest anti-Abbas demonstration in Ramallah in recent years. They also called for the abrogation of the Oslo Accords with Israel, and denounced Abbas as a coward and an agent of the Americans.

Yet this was far from a simple a protest against Abbas and his security forces. It was also a rallying cry for pursuing with further vigor the armed struggle against Israel.

No to peace and no to all the nonsense, we want bullets and rockets, some of the protesters chanted. Notably, these calls in favor of an armed struggle against Israel were coming from the streets of Ramallah and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The protests also reflect Palestinians rejection of the so-called peace process with Israel. In addition to the calls on Abbas to step down, the protesters demanded as well that the PA leadership cancel all agreements with Israel, first and foremost the Oslo Accords.

In other words, Palestinians are trying extremely hard to get their message across: Israel is our enemy, not our peace partner.

This has been clear since Arafats intifada in the early 2000s. Polls consistently show that a majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that an armed intifada would help achieve national rights in ways that negotiations could not.

Its interesting to note that polls show that a majority of Palestinians also say they favor a two state solution. This is because they define it just like Abbas, with a right of return, no recognition, no end of claims. This is why they too consider negotiations fruitless. When they are asked, a majority also say that the two state condition is only a temporary step on the way to the unification of Palestine.

But despite the fact that both the leadership and the population do not want a deal, the Trump administration still thinks one is possible, and this week we have been hearing about it in the context of a regional solution involving the Arab league. The theory seems to be that the PLO will make concessions like recognizing a Jewish state or giving up their demand for a right of return if the Arab states tell them to. Abu Toameh believes that this approach is probably even less likely to succeed than direct Israel-Palestinian talks.

First of all, Palestinians dont trust the Arab regimes, who have always preferred to talk about how badly Israel treats Palestinians to doing anything for them themselves. Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have all oppressed and even killed Palestinians. Palestinians in those places today are second-class inhabitants (in Syria, most are dead or have become refugees). They also provide little or no financial help to the PA. What the PLO wants, Abu Toameh explains, is for the Europeans and the US to force Israel to give in and meet their demands. But this is not going to happen, regardless of whether the Arab League is involved in the negotiations or not.

Secondly, most of the Arab countries dont see anything good for them in a possible deal. Jordan is afraid that it might end up with the Hashemite regime replaced by a Palestinian one; Lebanon worries about possibly being forced to grant citizenship to the Palestinian refugees it presently treats like dirt; and Egypt fears being asked to cede part of the Sinai to Gaza Palestinians. The Syrian regime is presently in chaos, hates Palestinians and Jews almost equally, and isnt likely to be a constructive partner.

Finally, Abu Toameh notes that,

Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a traitor who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.

Abbas has been straightforward about rejecting negotiations. But Israeli leaders have acted as though they believed that something positive could come out of them. They have done this either out of navet or because they wanted to placate the Americans who were demanding it and threatening to withhold diplomatic or financial support. Israel paid a high price for this: murderers were released who murdered again, and Israels honor vis–vis her enemies was weakened; Israel froze construction in Judea and Samaria and weakened her claim to be a sovereign nation. But even despite this, the Palestinians didnt change their bottom line.

Trump should know from his real estate experience that a deal is only possible when both sides think they are getting something that they want. But what the Palestinians want is something that Israel isnt selling.

It doesnt matter how persuasive you are. It doesnt matter what sweeteners one side or the other can throw in. It doesnt matter how hard you push or what you threaten. Sometimes there just isnt a deal.

This is what Netanyahu should explain to Trump. There isnt a deal here.

Liebermans verbal bombing run

If youre not catching flak, then youre not over the target. And one good way to know that we are scoring points is when our enemies start screaming bloody murder.

So back in 2002, when Israel started building its security barrier, the PLO and its fellow travelers had fits. They had lots of excuses it was inconvenient for them, it was built on their land, it was an apartheid wall, it was ugly, and on and on; but the real reason was simple: by making it easier for us to stop terrorists on their way to our buses and restaurants, we took away their best weapon. I know: my son was in the police counter-terrorism unit at the time, and they were going 24/7 to intercept and stop the bombers who were trying to murder us on almost a daily basis. The barrier made their job much easier.

This applies in many areas, not just physical barriers and military tactics. For example, how the Israeli Left squealed in pain when the Knesset passed a law that demanded transparency for foreign-funded NGOs! Even though the law was a pale version of what had been originally proposed, the idea that our country would dare to protect its sovereignty against foreign subversion, subversion that was a meal ticket for hundreds of operatives that spent their days provoking security forces and filming the interactions, informing to the PA about Arabs who considered selling land to Jews, filing lawsuits against the government and the IDF, petitioning the Supreme Court to dismantle Jewish communities the very idea made them furious. It was undemocratic to let people know that anti-Israel governments in Europe were paying them!

Or what about the recent anti-BDS law? Among others, its the progressive Jewish community in America whose ox is being gored this time: the ones like Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism, who love Israel so much that they want her to be better, which they are trying to achieve by boycotting products from settlements in order to force her to create another Hamastan next to Route 6, so terrorists can hit the airport and Kfar Saba with mortar shells. How undemocratic it is to say that non-residents of our country who are (either deliberately or because they are useful idiots) working to help destroy it may not sit on the beach in Tel Aviv!

But one of the best examples of the hypocrisy of the Arabs and their friends is their spluttering reaction to this recent remark posted by Avigdor Lieberman on his Facebook page (Hebrew, my tr.)

At the threshold of a new attempt to start up diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, we must learn the lessons of the past, and the first lesson is: every attempt to solve the Palestinian issue on a land-for-peace basis is bound to fail.

The only way to a sustainable agreement is through the exchange of territory and population as part of a larger regional peace deal.

It is unthinkable that a homogeneous Palestinian state will be established without a single Jew 100% Palestinian, and that despite this, Israel will be a bi-national state, with 22% Palestinians.

There is no reason for Sheikh Raed Salah, Ayman Oudeh, Basel Ghattas or Haneen Zoabi to continue to be Israeli citizens.

Lieberman has expressed similar ideas before. Its essential to understand that he is not advocating that Arabs be expelled from their homes in Israel. His plan is that borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state should be drawn so that large Arab populations that today are in Israel such as in the triangle area near Umm al Fahm would fall in Palestine, and Israelis today living across the Green Line will be in Israel. Such a trade would not require anyone to move, and would allow Arabs to live under Palestinian sovereignty and Jews under Israeli rule.

Leaving aside the legal complexities, one would think this would appeal to the Arabs. Dont they want self-determination? Unsurprisingly they hate it, calling it racist and fascist.

MK Basel Ghattas, who is presently facing charges of smuggling cellular phones to imprisoned terrorists, did his best to prove Lieberman right, saying,

there is no doubt that Lieberman, an immigrant from Moldova, doesnt understand the meaning of a homeland or its native people.

Under any possible future settlement there will be neither room for any land-grabbing settlers in a Palestinian state nor any room for racists the likes of Ivet [Liebermans Russian name]. The Palestinians living today in Israel are the masters of the land, and Lieberman is just a passing guest.

According to Ghattas, Lieberman doesnt understand that the land belongs exclusively to Arabs, that the descendants of Arabs who settled here in the 19th and 20th centuries are natives, while the Jews living in places mentioned in the Bible are land-grabbing settlers.

Haaretz, in an editorial, wrote,

The defense minister believes that hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arab citizens dont really belong to the state and should be transferred from sovereign Israeli territory to another country because of their ethnic affiliation. Practically speaking, under the guise of seeking a sustainable arrangement, Lieberman wants to convey to the states Arab citizens that they arent wanted by the State of Israel and that their citizenship is temporary and conditional.

Lieberman knows that the right of those born here to maintain Israeli citizenship is no less than that of a Jew who is naturalized by way of the Law of Return. Its not only that the idea of creating an Israel cleansed of Arabs is warped, but that even raising it as an option is unacceptable.

The word transfer, which usually refers to forced resettlement, is inflammatory, but that is how the editors of Haaretz like it. Nevertheless, their argument is faulty. Haaretz and the Arabs both want a chunk of sovereign Israel to be torn off and given to the PLO. So if boundaries need to be drawn, is it not more reasonable to do it on the basis of the ethnicity of the population? Wouldnt it be better for everyone if Palestinians were ruled by Palestinians and Jews by Jews? Why are the 1949 armistice lines a better choice? Why is physical expulsion of Jews from their homes acceptable, but drawing the border to include Arabs in the Arab state not?

Haaretz thinks that Liebermans proposal is just a stunt to make the Arab citizens of Israel feel unwanted. I dont support Liebermans idea myself, for various reasons, including that it really does insult Arab citizens of Israel, many of whom with notable exceptions, as Lieberman made clear are loyal and productive citizens of the state. But whether or not you think it should be implemented, it makes a very important point: it emphasizes the blatantly racist nature of the PLO demand for a Palestinian state without any Jews in it. Whats sauce for the goose, in other words, should also be sauce for the gander.

And lets face it: why do the Arabs prefer to live under Jewish sovereignty? Of course the answer is that they know very well that despite the alleged discrimination and racism of Israel, they are and will continue to be far better off in almost every way as Israelis than under the kleptocratic, corrupt, unjust and violent regime of a PLO or a Hamas.

Why we should pay more attention to Putin than Trump

Iran is responsible for more than 80% of Israels security problems, said PM Benjamin Netanyahu, at a ceremony marking 25 years since the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in which 29 died. Two years later, he noted, Iran was behind the bombing of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) building in the same city in which 85 people perished.

Iran supports Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and of course operates Hezbollah, with whom Israel has fought one vicious war and which has turned most of South Lebanon into a base for attacking Israel with an estimated 130,000 rockets and missiles. On an almost daily basis, the Iranian regime threatens Israel with destruction, calling our country a cancerous tumor.

Irans program is to control the entire region. It is a certainty that its nuclear weapons program will bear fruit in the next few years. The regime is expanding its sphere of influence eastward to the sea, through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The political arm of its Hezbollah militia, now more an army than a militia, has solidified its control of Lebanon and along with it, the US-supplied Lebanese army. Iran is establishing choke points at critical spots in the Gulf through which much of the worlds oil flows, and (through its sponsorship of rebels in Yemen) the Red Sea. The conservative regimes of the Gulf are trembling with fear, to the point that they have moderated their criticism of Israel and may even cooperate with us to some extent.

Unfortunately, the US has left the building, as far as the Middle East is concerned. Its been a tragic process. The Bush administration atomized Iraq (instead of simply dealing with Saddam) and destroyed the Sunni/Shia balance of power, allowing Iran to expand into the prostrate corpse of Iraq. Obama went further, actually tilting toward Iran and against its traditional allies, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. US military budgets have been cut and land and naval forces withdrawn from the region, while Iran is flush with funds as sanctions have been removed and massive ransoms paid.

It is difficult to guess what Trump will do, but from his statements it seems that the last thing he wants is more American involvement in the Middle East. Trump is facing more militant opposition than any US president in my lifetime, and I believe that domestic unrest will get much worse before it gets better. There is even a significant possibility that he will not succeed in serving out his term. The European countries, although they are coming into nuclear missile range of Tehran, are themselves militarily weak and behaving obsequiously in order to sell weapons and aircraft to the newly-unsanctioned Iran.

The Soviets always wanted control of the Middle East since the days of Nasser, but were faced down by the US. Today, Russia has taken advantage of the American and European power vacuum and become the strongest power in the region. Russias that is, Vladimir Putins goals are not entirely clear, but he is allied with the Assad regime in Syria, in whose favor he has turned the tide of the civil war. Russia has developed a port in Tartus and airbase facilities in Khmeimim, near Latakia. It has deployed the latest wide-ranging, stealth-defeating S-400 antiaircraft systems in Syria, as well as Crimea. These facilities give it a strong military foothold in the region.

Israel is in a difficult spot. We seem to have non-hostile relations with Russia, which has not prevented us from bombing convoys and supply depots in Syria to stop the delivery of game-changing Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. But despite this, Hezbollahs buildup continues. Estimates are that Hezbollah could fire thousands of missiles a day at Israel, and our defensive systems couldnt stop all or even most of them.

I asked Jonathan Spyer, one of the most well-informed experts on Hezbollah, whether he thought war with Hezbollah was inevitable. His answer was that it is unlikely while Hezbollah is enmeshed in the Syrian war, but will become much more likely when the war ends. The intervention of Russia has given the Assad regime a new lease on life, and although it is almost certain that the regime will not control all of the territory that it had before the war, it will likely defeat the Sunni rebels and Islamic State forces that it is fighting, reducing the pressure on Hezbollah. That is when we will need to start worrying here in Israel.

Despite the fact that Hezbollah is the greatest direct threat to our security today, Netanyahu correctly noted that it is the Iranian regime that stands behind it, finances it and tightly controls it. This presents a problem for our strategy of deterrence. Although we can (and do) credibly threaten that if attacked we will turn southern Lebanon where the rocket launchers are into a lunar-landscaped parking lot, and indeed destroy the infrastructure of the state of Lebanon so thoroughly that it will take decades to recover, the Lebanese arent calling the shots the Iranians are, and they are ready to fight to the last Lebanese soldier or civilian.

The conclusion is that for deterrence to work, we need to deter Iran, a nation with a land area of 636,000 square miles and more than 80 million people, which is presently undergoing a serious military buildup and will very shortly have nuclear weapons. I can see only one threat powerful enough to do that, and that is a nuclear threat a balance of terror like the one that held between the US and the Soviet Union in the latter part of the 20th century. Israel would need to convey to the Iranians that a massive missile attack from Hezbollah will trigger a nuclear response against Iran.

This would be a much less stable and more frightening balance of terror than the US-Soviet one. For one thing, the distances are so short that there is very little time to decide how to react in the event of an alert. For another, the Iranian nuclear program is spooking other countries into obtaining nuclear weapons, for sale by actors like Pakistan or North Korea. Saudi Arabia is the most likely candidate to go nuclear this way, but Egypt is also a possibility. Then there is the destabilization that could be provoked by large-scale terrorism, even using nuclear materials, if not nuclear bombs. Deterrence by nuclear threat is not a good long-term solution.

The solution to the Hezbollah rocket problem may come from Russia. I dont believe that a destructive war between Israel and Hezbollah is in Russias interests, and Putins actions so far seem to indicate that he also feels this way. Russia might restrain Hezbollah, or even force it to divest itself of the rocket system in the south. I am not sure what inducement Israel could offer to Russia, but this is at least a possibility.

In the past 15 years or so, the Middle East has irrevocably changed. The large Arab states created after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan are in chaos or barely avoiding it. Iran is daily becoming more powerful and advancing its program to create a Shiite crescent all the way to the Mediterranean (and yes, we seem to be in its way). The US has lost most of its ability to influence events here, and Russia is now the main player. Even China is showing an interest.

In Israel, we seem not to have noticed. The daily newspapers are devoted to events in the US, to speculation about what Trump will do or analysis of his somewhat random remarks. But perhaps we should be more interested in what happens in Moscow than Washington?

An explosion of Jew-hatred or a coup?

It seems like every day brings a new anti-Jewish incident in the US. Journalists are harassed by anti-Jewish Twitter trolls, cemeteries are desecrated and Jewish organizations receive bomb threats. Of course it is not like Jew-hatred in France, where Jewish fingers are sawed off, but it is still shocking. People expect it in Europe, much of which agreed with Hitler that the Jews were the misfortune of the countries they lived in, but America since WWII has been the one place in the world other than Israel where a Jew could forget (most of the time) to watch his back.

The ADL and FBI maintain statistics on anti-Jewish acts. The FBIs hate crimes numbers are available from 1996 to 2015, and show a steady decline in anti-Jewish crimes from over 1100 in 1996 to 664 in 2015. The ADL keeps track of incidents which may or may not be crimes, and statistics have been presented in annual audits since 1979. The recent trend is similar to the FBI statistics, although the numbers are somewhat higher (for example, they report 941 incidents in 2015). The peak year was 1994, in which the ADL reported 2,066 incidents, including 25 arsons, 10 attempted arsons, and a mass shooting in which one person was murdered (by a Lebanese immigrant as revenge for the Baruch Goldstein massacre). One of the changes over the years is an increasing number of incidents on college campuses, mostly on background of the Middle East conflict.

But with the 2016 presidential campaign, it seems as though there has been an explosion of Jew-hatred. Is this true? Who is responsible?

It seems to me that there are three kinds of perpetrators of anti-Jewish acts. First there are the organized neo-Nazis, skinheads, white supremacists, and so forth. Then there are anti-Israel activists. Finally, there is the kind of Jew-hatred that I remember from my childhood, ordinary people who express their dislike of Jews in the context of neighborhood disputes, teenage bullying, or petty crime.

Has there been a sudden increase in membership among neo-Nazi groups? I doubt it. And I think that the ordinary people category has been becoming smaller in recent years. On the other hand, anti-Israel activity, especially on campuses, has grown rapidly. Radical delegitimization of Israel in the alternative media (and even in the left-leaning segments of the mainstream media) has motivated and excused extremist activists to express themselves in anti-Jewish ways. It really doesnt make sense to hate Israel and love Jews, as some suggest they do, and how better to support the Palestinian people than by drawing a swastika on someones door?

There is also a revival of traditional anti-Jewish attitudes on the Left, such as appeared in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which liked to talk about Jewish control of banks and media. And more recently, the Black Lives Matter movements intersectional embrace of the Palestinian movement has given impetus to already simmering black antisemitism.

But despite all this, the explosion of Jew-hatred associated with the election has been blamed on Trump and the Right.

In 2016 a very well-publicized anti-Jewish event occurred: Jewish journalists were harassed by thousands of hateful tweets. Interestingly, while they included the usual traditional memes (banks, Holocaust, media control, etc.) the most common subjects had to do with Zionism and Israel. The ADLs analysis showed that 68% of some 20,000 anti-Jewish tweets directed at journalists came from only 1,600 Twitter accounts, illustrating the force-multiplier effect of social media. And since journalists were targeted, we were guaranteed to hear about it. Much of the activity could have been automated. We saw a technically similar (but far less vicious) phenomenon when Ron Paul ran for president in 2012, and online polls and website comments sections were inundated with pro-Paul material. A small group was able to have a disproportionally large effect.

The campaign against the Jewish journalists was related to the campaign of Donald Trump, both as a trigger (journalists who criticized him were targeted) and in content (anti-Jewish tweeters suggested that Trump was on their side). The tweeters were encouraged by white supremacist web sites, and it is clear that this element has adopted Trump as its champion. I dont intend to try to analyze Trumps thinking and motivations here, but I do not believe that he shares their ideology. And he definitely does not benefit from the association.

The public manifestation of Jew-hatred by white supremacists adds to the anti-Jewish signals coming from the pro-Palestinian Left. The fact that people now hear and see this stuff all the time legitimizes it and emphasizes it. Just as words can be said on television today that once were never heard at all in polite society, ideas that were considered too ugly to be expressed in public have become not just thinkable, but sayable. Many Americans have always held classically anti-Jewish beliefs (see Tuvia Tenenboms book The Lies they Tell), but the public expression of these ideas has always been socially unacceptable at least until recently. This adds to the impression that Jew-hatred is at an all-time high.

Now we come to the latest manifestations of Jew-hatred in America, the bomb threat campaign in which at least 100 threats have been made against Jewish institutions in 5 waves (as of Wednesday), and the damaging of headstones in two Jewish cemeteries.

The bomb threat is one of the easiest and most inexpensive means imaginable to create chaos and get media attention. In about 10 seconds of googling, I found countless websites that offered services and applications to make anonymous phone calls. Some bragged that they dont log IP addresses and some were outside of the US. Some offered text-to-speech conversion, so the perpetrator doesnt even have to disguise his or her voice. The use of a VPN with such a site would make it doubly hard to track down the caller (although there are ways).

Something which in the past was risky I remember bomb scares at my middle school in which the perpetrators were caught the next day and expelled, sent to what was called reform school is now trivial and safe. Any 14-year old can do it and not get caught, at least for a while. All 100 calls could easily have been made by one or two persons. It is not indicative of a wave of Jew-hatred.

The cemetery vandalism has also been given publicity far beyond its importance. Cemetery vandalism happens all the time, including to Jewish cemeteries. Sometimes its anti-Jewish and sometimes not. According to a blog written by Emily Ford, who owns a company that provides planning, maintenance, restoration and research services to cemeteries, there were 127 incidents of vandalism affecting at least 1,811 individual markers costing at least $488,000 in the US in 2016. And this is a conservative estimate, because much vandalism isnt reported. Three Jewish cemeteries were among those hit last year, but so was a cemetery containing the graves of notable Confederate figures, which were tagged with anti-racist graffiti. Vandalism is almost inevitable in any sparsely-staffed cemetery, Ford writes. If 2016s data is any indicator, nobody should be shocked by cemetery vandalism. Indeed, and normally it is not of interest to the media.

To summarize:

  • With the exception of certain highly publicized events, there are fewer anti-Jewish hate crimes and incidents than in the recent past.
  • Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are still around, but more and more of the Jew-hatred is coming from the pro-Palestinian extreme Left.
  • A smallish group of provocateurs was responsible for the massive anti-Jewish harassment of journalists on Twitter.
  • It has become more acceptable to publically express dislike or even hatred of Jews, but theres no reason to think these attitudes have suddenly gotten stronger or more popular.
  • The bomb threat calls could have been made by one or two people and have no real significance as an indicator of a spike in Jew-hatred.
  • Cemetery vandalism is common. There is nothing out-of-the-ordinary in two Jewish cemeteries being vandalized, except the media attention. Usually its teenagers that knock down headstones.

So, should we just say nothing to see here, move along?

No, I dont think so. The country is probably not becoming more anti-Jewish. There is not a real spike in anti-Jewish incidents or behavior. But there may be something else.

Trump has claimed that the other side is responsible for the bomb threats. Ha ha, that crazy narcissistic Trump. But what if hes right? What if the tweets and bomb threats were part of a plan, a plan that may just be getting off the ground, to delegitimize him and destabilize his administration? What if the idea is to make it impossible for him to make appointments or to get congressional support for his initiatives? To build an increasingly numerous and vociferous group of protestors that wont give him a moments rest?

Add to this the fabrications against Bannon and Gorka throughout liberal media. If its possible to tar Trump and his key people with the brush of antisemitism, it will go a long way toward destroying him.

They dont need a complicated conspiracy. Just the ability to do a few simple dirty tricks and to use fortuitous events, perhaps like the cemetery vandalism, to amplify the effect. And a media echo chamber. Sound familiar?

I have no idea who they might be his domestic opposition, people in the intelligence community, or even an international actor. Maybe Im as hysterical as the rest, and there are no connections between events, just a few delinquent teenagers making sophisticated prank calls.

But if there is something to it, then whatever you may think about Trump it is one of the most profoundly anti-democratic maneuvers in American history.

Meditations on todays news

I opened my newspaper this morning (Wednesday) and was greeted with the headline: the White House has no comment on the regularization law that was passed yesterday, and will talk about it when PM Netanyahu visits Washington to meet with President Trump next week.

Imagine my relief. I mean, why should the White House have an opinion about something which is really an internal Israeli affair? I am amused well, pretty irritated, actually by the way Haaretz and my social media friends have decided to call it the land grab law, when it actually goes farther to compensate owners of land than customary common law would. As Eugene Kontorovich explains,

Israels proposed Regulations Bill has attracted broad international criticism, including from the U.S. State Department and the European Union, as well as from opposition Israeli politicians and some government lawyers. The bill seeks to solve a situation in which, over several decades, over one thousand Israeli homes in West Bank settlements have been built in open areas to which Palestinians subsequently asserted property claims, typically based on broad give-aways of state land by the King of Jordan during the Hashemite occupation (1949-67). The homes are in communities built with some level of government involvement. Thus the bill provides the government would compensate the landowners 125% of the value of the land, in order to allow the communities that have been built there to remain.

The plots are generally open, uncultivated fields. The frequently used characterization of private Palestinian lands is misleading. In the overwhelming majority of cases, no individual Palestinians have come forward to claim the lands. Indeed, in most cases, no property claimants asserted their interests for decades after houses were built, a situation that in common law would certainly warrant the application of adverse possession doctrines, under which long-term possession of property unprotested by owners can change legal title, exactly to prevent these kinds of conflict between long-term users and owners who slept on their rights . Under Jordanian law, rules of prescription, which would turn the land over to its existing inhabitants, would apply. In cases like the community of Amona, which inspired but are not covered by the law, the Court made its determination without any fact-finding, and the lands claimed by the Palestinian petitioners only slightly overlap with those on which the Israeli homes stand.

Its not really a big deal, is it? No Palestinians are being exploited, and the residents of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are just getting the same kind of protection for their investment as people in the rest of Israel, the US and many other developed countries have. Better, since the state is willing to pick up the tab for compensation.

Of course the world leaders in virtue and morality, the EU and the governments of Germany and France, are dead set against the law. The folks whose wisdom brought us two world wars and a Holocaust have lost confidence that we are serious about the two-state solution that they hope will slice our country into indefensibility.

Later today I listened on the radio to the reactions of the European representatives in Israel. You would think that the Knesset had passed a law demanding that the Palestinians must throw all their male children into the sea, and not one that simply makes it possible to compensate people in return for taking property that they may not even have clear title to, and havent used for years, if ever. I am becoming more and more convinced that after Iran, Europe is our greatest enemy, and the Palestinians their weapon.

Well, Amona is rubble, its residents are homeless, and the cabal made up of the Civil Administration (the military entity that rules Area C, where almost all Jewish settlements are and few Arabs live), the left-leaning legal establishment, and the subversive European-paid NGOs are smacking their lips over how they will do the same to numerous other Jewish communities, just as soon as the Supreme Court voids the new law.

Because, after all, who cares what the democratically elected Knesset and government decide? Dont we understand who really runs the country and knows whats good for us? Those religious settler fanatics are an obstacle to peace! Just ask the talking heads on Israeli radio and TV.

Which brings me to the next headline: Channel 2 reports that Netanyahu told the police that have been investigating him nonstop for who knows how long, that he didnt know about bottles of champagne and other gifts received by his wife from a businessman friend, and he didnt check the value of cigars that he himself was given. He just smoked them! Not only that, but he told the police that he bought plenty of cigars with his own money.

So, just some random thoughts on this scandal: Channel 2 has been selectively dribbling out information about Netanyahus supposedly confidential police investigations for months. Where do they get it, and why is it OK for them to release out-of-context snippets of interrogations in a country where the names and faces of people accused of crimes are routinely redacted from news reports?

The investigation itself is on the same level as one of the previous ones, in which Mrs. Netanyahu was accused of returning deposit bottles that had been used at official functions, and keeping the money. Yes, she did it; yes, the small amount of money was returned; and yes, the silliness of creating a scandal about deposit bottles was duly noted.

The fact is that the same media people that deliberately mischaracterize the regularization law and also gleefully bash Netanyahu on every occasion, are running a long-term project to make him look like a crook. How much of the evening news is devoted to his non-scandals, almost every day? How many hours has he wasted, answering police questions and trying to deal with the fallout from these frivolous investigations? Hes the Prime Minister of the strongest country in the region, economically and militarily, the one and only Jewish state which half the world hates and wants to destroy and you are busting his balls about some cigars?

This isnt really funny. Netanyahu has said that he believes there is a media campaign to force the Attorney General to indict him. And if he is indicted, he could be forced to resign.

The story on page 11 of the newspaper reminds me that not everything is frivolous or political. It is about Trump and Iran trading barbs over the Iranian missile development program. Now that Obama is gone, it may be possible for the US and Israel to develop an effective policy to prevent their common enemy, Iran, from producing and deploying nuclear weapons.

I devoutly hope that this will be the main subject for discussion between Netanyahu and Trump, rather than Judean real estate law. Or cigars.

What kind of a state are we?

Tuesday afternoon we started to hear that the police and IDF were preparing to remove the 40 families that live in the community of Amona, in the Binyamin region of Judea. Just now, a few moments ago, I heard on the radio that the evacuation (some prefer expulsion) is beginning. It doesnt look like it will go smoothly.

To explain the situation in the fewest possible words, the community was built 20 years ago. A portion of it, about one half acre out of a total of 125 acres, is owned by Palestinian Arabs who were given title to the land by the King of Jordan, during the 19-year Jordanian occupation. About 15 more acres are registered in the names of Arabs who apparently do not exist.

The Supreme Court of Israel decided that the only acceptable remedy was to bulldoze the entire community. The Court did not accept the suggestion that the Arab owners, who had never utilized the land, could be paid compensation for it. The government developed a compromise that would have provided an alternative location nearby for some of the families, which the community agreed to. But this was stymied when additional Palestinians petitioned the court claiming to own that land. The residents were only told that the deal was off a few days ago.

The Palestinians have been assisted in their legal proceedings by the Israeli organization Yesh Din. Yesh Din received more than $4.6 million from foreign government bodies between 2012 and 2016. Foreign sources accounted for 93.5% of their total donations. Yesh Din specializes in lawfare against Israel and the IDF.

This raises, yet again, a very fundamental question for the State of Israel. In a sentence, what are we?

Are we the nation-state of the Jewish people in its historical homeland, which derives its right to the land from both the biblical promise made to us by Hashem and the modern promise made by the international community in the Palestine Mandate, a right that we defended more than once by force of arms? Are we a Zionist state, in other words?

Or are we something else a multinational state which exists at the pleasure of todays post-nationalist, anti-Jewish international establishment?

It would seem that the answer should be obvious, and it is to the great majority of Israeli Jews. But the state has not acted as though it believes in its own Zionist principles.

When the Jordanian occupation and its illegal annexation of land set aside for the Jewish people was ended in 1967, Israel did not annex Judea and Samaria, because its leadership was forced by its friends in Europe and the US to accept the idea of land for peace. Israel would give Judea and Samaria back to Jordan, for example, and Jordan would give us a peace treaty.

The injustice inherent in this is obvious. Who gave Jordan the right to take that land in violation of international law and to ethnically cleanse it of Jews? How can we be asked to give something back that was ours in the first place? But this was our policy until King Hussein decided in 1988 that he didnt want the hassle of trying to control the PLO, and transferred his ownership of the land to the PLO. And shortly thereafter, the Israeli government tried to continue the land for peace process with the PLO via the Oslo accords.

Israel never annexed the land it regained in 1967 (except for Jerusalem) and it even retained Jordanian law in Judea and Samaria. Because Israeli governments believed that some or all of the territory would ultimately be returned to Arab control, it treated it as occupied territory, despite the fact that, by the most reasonable interpretation of international law, for the first time since 1948 it was not under occupation.

24 years later and several wars and intifadas later, Israelis have finally come to realize that an exchange of land for peace wont bring peace. Anyone with half a brain who looks at recent history (especially the results of the withdrawal from Gaza) and listens to what the Palestinians themselves say and do, understands that.

Its often said that surveys show that a majority of Israelis favor a 2-state solution. That is correct, if the survey question is something like Do you favor giving up the territories in return for peace and security? The unfairness of this question is manifest if we rewrite it as follows: If giving up the territories would bring peace and security, would you favor it?

Since giving up the territories would put a terrorist entity next door to Tel Aviv, and since the Arabs wont even pretend to agree that they would give up their claims on Israel in return for the territories, and since the PLO is unstable and easily overthrown, the if clause of the conditional statement is certainly false. And virtually every Israeli knows this.

A religious Zionist also understands the importance to his or her spiritual life of the places mentioned in the tanach, like Hevron and many others. But even a secular Zionist appreciates the first words of the Declaration of Independence:

ERETZ-ISRAEL was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Virtually every Israeli knows this as well except possibly much of our leadership and our legal establishment.

If the lessons of history, international law, and Zionist ideology (both religious and secular) were translated into action, the courts would find a way to legalize Amona and other communities that would also be fair to the Arabs. Ultimately, we would annex all of Eretz Israel.

Unfortunately, the government has yet to get clear of the land for peace mentality; and the legal establishment seems dedicated to beating us into the mold of the multinational, secular democratic state that former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak so much admired.

This needs to change. Fear of the international community is not a reason to deny our own birthright. Politicized institutions like the UN and the International Criminal Court have no moral authority, and no practical way to punish Israel. And there is absolutely no reason we must allow foreign agents like Yesh Din to continue to subvert our country.

In fact, now, while there is an American government that for the first time may itself be able to shake off the ideas of land for peace and the 2-state solution, is the perfect time for Israel to finally become the truly Zionist state that Jabotinsky, Begin and Ben-Gurion dreamed of.

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