Thursday, March 31, 2011

UN 377 and the UN 'Responsibility to Protect': a trap for Israel?

In the last couple of weeks, Israel has seen a dramatic increase in hostile attacks: the brutal murder of the Fogel family in Itamar, a Jerusalem bomb blast, another bomb in Haifa that, because heavy rains swept it into the road, did not explode, more rockets fired into southern Israel in a single forty-eight hour period than in the last two years; and, according to at least one American, any list of recent hostilities against Israel must also include  the United Nations authorization to sanction military attacks against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya.
On March 24, 2011 Glenn Beck, an American TV personality, declared that all of these events –including UN actions in Libya--are related: they are part of a global attack against Israel.
Beck told his TV viewers that, while the UN authorization of force against Libya does not look like an attack against Israel, that is nonetheless exactly what it is. For Beck, Libya is not the main concern of the UN. Their real target, he suggests, is Israel. He pointedly argues that what the UN is doing  with Libya is establishing the means to attack Israel through its “Responsibility to Protect” principle—something most have never heard of (and which you’ll hear about in a moment).  Libya, and by inference, any other Arab state where a government is shooting at protesters and where the UN seeks to introduce a military response, is simply a way for the UN to create a working precedence to justify military intervention against the potentially biggest problem they could face this year--Israel.
Before exploring Beck’s thesis, we need to note that his point of view is of interest to us in Israel, because we are now just discovering UN Resolution 377, something former Israel Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev has recently discussed. She believes that this Resolution, known also as the UN General Assembly’s “Uniting for Peace” resolution, could be used to isolate and abuse Israel. UN Resolution 377 exists so that the UNGA (the UN General Assembly) can act, with teeth, in cases where votes in the UN Security Council do not meet certain standards; and current thinking here is that a veto in the Security Council could be, in essence, overridden in the larger General Assembly through Resolution 377. In addition, Amb Shalev suggests, 377 could be used to install sanctions against Israel, and might also be used to send military force against Israel.

Until Ambassador Shalev brought up the subject last week, no one in Israel seemed to know that Resolution 377 existed.
Now Glenn Beck is suggesting that Israel’s enemies might have another tactic—using the same  principle the UN has just used to authorized armed force in Lybia—the Responsibility to Protect;  so where Amb Shalev only suggests that  UN Resolution 377 might be used for military actions, Glenn Beck says unequivocally that the UN now has on its books the specific precedence it needs to take that military action: because of Libya, the UN can now act militarily against Israel without doubt or hesitation.
What is Beck looking at?   The UN Responsibility to Protect  principle has been around for about five years, and received a positive vote of affirmation in the UN in 2009. It posits that every government has the responsibility to protect its people against four evils: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. If a government does not meet this responsibility, then the UN can, for humanitarian purposes, seek Security Council sanctions, along with an official threat of prosecution for war crimes in the ICC (the International Criminal Court).  Military intervention is listed as one option open to the UN if this principle is invoked.
In late February 2011, the UN Secretary-General warned that Libya “must meet its responsibility to protect its people”, a quote taken directly from the language of the Responsibility to Protect. This language preceded the UN’s call to authorize military strikes against Qaddafi forces, and is the justification for that intervention.
To buttress his case that this principle can be used against Israel, Beck cites the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey as saying that, in so many words, the UN should use this same principle to attack Israel.
 But how will the UN do this?
Where has Israel committed any of those four evils—genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity?
How does Israel merit receiving a UN military attack?
The answers come from Richard Falk who, in 2008, was appointed by the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to a six-year term as a United Nations Special  Rapporteur on  the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. Such is his reputation that, in  Dec 2008, on a trip through Ben Gurion airport to visit Gaza and the West Bank, he was detained at the airport by the Israelis, and then , essentially, expelled. In 2008, he said—in a clip broadcast by Beck-- that Israel’s treatment of the people in Gaza amounts to the same treatment the Nazis used for populations, and that such treatment “could produce a Holocaust”. Beck makes clear that, in his opinion, this language could be finessed to trigger the Responsibility to Protect principle, thereby sanctioning military attacks on Israel—just as Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister demanded.  
Who is Glenn Beck? He has been called a polarizing American conservative radio and TV talk-show host on the Fox channel whom Time Magazine described as  “a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies—if he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn’t; he’s just asking questions.”
In his own defense, Beck often tells viewers not to believe him, but to do their own research, to check his facts; he will also regularly recall or replay statements he has made months before which, at the time, were called ‘crack-pot’, and which have subsequently turned out to be true.
Surely, he tells a good story. He has already said that he believes the United States has turned against Israel, and employs White House advisors who are aggressively anti-Israel. He offers Samantha Power, a White House Foreign policy advisor, as an example. Before going to the White House, she had written a book entitled, The Problem from Hell, about genocide, which Beck calls anti-Israel; and in a film-clip that shows Power being interviewed (before her White House appointment), she is seen as appearing to suggest that, if she could, she would cancel all aid to Israel and send it to a new Palestinian state, using much of that aid to support what she called a ’mammoth protection force’ for the new Palestine.
On March 28, 2011, Beck restated his comments about Richard Falk and then declared that Israel is being set-up for a fall in the UN. He believes that, while the United States has been an ally of Israel for more than sixty years, America’s commitment to Israel has now evaporated.
For Beck, US President Obama is the most hostile and anti-Israel US President in memory, who employs Foreign policy advisors who are stridently anti-Israel, and who supports openly anti-Israel UN personnel who do their best to attack Israel.
If both Beck and Amb Shalev are correct, we can suggest what might be the UN  strategy for the Palestinian Authority (PA), to create a new state: first, by using 377 to outflank any veto in the Security Council;  and then, by using the principle of Responsibility to Protect, to introduce a mammoth protection force into the new state to protect it against Israel—and ,presumably, to  help implement and enforce the new state's boundaries.
And since the new state of Palestine could have borders that push Israel back to 1949 lines, the introduction of a massive army onto the West Bank could mean a UN-sponsored  ethnic cleansing of all Jewish residents currently over the Green Line—a cruel irony few in Israel seem interested to explore.
Does the UN have the legal authority to create a new state that demands ethnic cleansing of a specified homogeneous population?  Ethnic cleansing is considered by the UN Charter to be both a war crime and a crime against humanity;  does the UN have the legal right to use  military force to break its own code? No one in Israel’s government seems interested in pointing this out to the UN, even as the PA declares both its intent to become a new state and its intent to remove all Jews from it.
We are entering a world where white is black, and black is white—and no one, least of all Israel’s leadership, seems to be paying much attention.
We do not know if Beck is right. But as you think about his descriptions of the UN and the White House, consider this old Anglo saying: if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and walks like a duck—it’s probably a duck.
Israel does not have the luxury of ignoring such an old saying.  Israel is now being tested, which means that the only question she should ask is, what do we do if both Ambassador Shalev and Glenn Beck are correct?
The way we answer that question could determine if and how we survive.

America's UN veto and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu

When the Obama administration recently used its first UN veto to stop the UN Security Council from passing a resolution to make Israel’s West Bank communities illegal, many in Israel wondered what would be the fallout from this veto. Would President Obama conclude from the way he was humiliated by the PA’s Abu Mazen that it is the PA that is intransigent , or would Mr Obama direct his anger at Israel for having placed him into a position where he had to suffer such a public humiliation?
It took two weeks to get the answer: Mr Obama is directing his anger at Israel—and Mr. Netanyahu is responding.
Consider the evidence:
-Feb 19, 2011, the Obama administration casts its first UN veto, to protect Israel.
-Feb 20, the Knesset announces that a proposal has been presented in Committee, to push for civilian sovereignty for Jews living in Judea and Samaria, to remove Ehud Barak from controlling construction in those territories,  to make it easier to build homes. It fails to pass. Rumors spread that Mr Netanyahu’s Likud was against it.
-Feb 21, an announcement is made that, as a result of yesterday's failure, Opposition factions now plan to bring to the full Knesset--not a Committee-- the same proposal that had just failed in Committee-- to grant civilian sovereignty to the residents of Judea and Samaria, so that building could continue without government interference or control.
-Feb 22, residents of Binyamin and Shomron accuse Mr Netanyahu of caving in to pressure from the US by unofficially continuing the building freeze, because the US demands it.
-Feb 22, Mks confirm that a vote will indeed be called for in the Knesset on Israel sovereignty for Judea/Samaria residents, and that the Netanyahu government will require all coalition members to reject it.  It is reported that coalition Mks ask permission to vote their conscience, to vote for it. Permission is denied.
-Feb 23, the vote  for Israel sovereignty for Judea and Samaria residents is rejected by the Knesset. Likud members are accused of going AWOL, and rejecting that which they claim to support.
-Feb 24, at a municipal (Jerusalem) meeting to discuss new plans for Jewish construction in East Jerusalem, meeting atendees learn that all building plans have, inexplicably, been  held up. No one appears to know why.
-Feb 28, Police shoot plastic bullets at residents of  a small settlement called Havat Gilad in the West Bank, and destroy community buildings. Outrage follows.
-Feb 28, PM Netanyahu says he will personally investigate the incident at Havat Gilad
- March 1, PM Netanyahu announces that his government will tell the Supreme Court its decision to demolish all illegal outposts on disputed land. Present at the meeting when this decision is made are the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Suddenly, the PM’s fingerprints are now visible; he is in control of this issue, not Barak.
-March 1, the PM announces that the residents of Judea and Samaria do not live in the real world; we are in a very difficult international situation, he says; the UN veto was achieved at great effort; the PM must be ‘responsible’; and we must consider the reality in which we live. He is quoted as saying that, “there are those who seek an easy but irresponsible solution, but we won’t help them with that.” Likud Minister Dan Meridor echoes this message, adding that we must make certain not to lose our consensus for keeping the larger West Bank communities.
-March 2, a report on a White House meeting between President Obama and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations stated that Mr Obama gave the impression to many present that he appeared 'enormously hostile' towards Israel. President Obama is reported to have said that Israel bears primary responsibility for advancing the peace process.
We can now understand from these events and remarks that our reality is that if Israel wants to keep any of the largest communities in the West Bank as a result of a peace agreement with the PA, we will have to show the US that we can advance the process by uprooting outlying Jewish communities before they become a peace ‘issue’. If we do that, we may demonstrate that we are ’responsible’ participants in this process, and thereby gain some US support. If we do not show that ‘responsibility’, then our consensus can disappear—and we have to remember that the only nation in that consensus is the US.
I would also suggest that Mr Natanyahu’s words and actions cited above, particularly on March 1, may reflect actual language used by President Obama or US Secretary of State Clinton. I would further suggest that a second message was delivered, that the humiliation suffered by the US at the United Nations was entirely Israel’s fault, and that such humiliation will absolutely never happen again. Indeed, given that, on Feb 20, the day after the veto, Mr Abbas announced an interest to go directly to the UN General Assembly for an anti-Israel vote, such a threat has real near-term consequences:  it is altogether possible that Mr Netanyahu was put on notice that, if Israel does not show ‘good faith’ for peace (by new actions), then the US may allow Israel to swing at the UN.
The evidence above also suggests that Mr Netanyahu is fundamentally shaken by the intensity of this new hostility, a hostility that was clearly noticed at that White House meeting on March 2.
Mr Netanyahu seems caught now between two evils: caving in, or appearing to cave in, to one who looks like a bully; or, taking the ‘easy but irresponsible’ way, by supporting the ‘settlers’.
I cannot tell the Prime Minister what to do, but as he charts a course to cope (since February 28 he has begun ‘calling out’ Abbas while uprooting ‘illegal’ outposts), I would suggest that he remember his roots. Perhaps he should remember these words from the English-language version of the Likud Platform:
“The Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defence of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”
Mr. Prime Minister, these words are neither ‘easy’ nor ‘irresponsible’. You were elected because of them. Do not now turn your back on the vital interests of the State of Israel.

Israel, the Palestinian Authority--and applied Mathematics

Before the end of the second week of October, 2010, after seeing that Israel had not agreed to a continuation of the building freeze that had ended less than two weeks earlier, the PA announced that, if US President Obama did not bring Israel back to the negotiating table with a new freeze, then they—the PA—would go to the UN to seek statehood.  The PA gave Mr Obama thirty days to bring Israel to heel. This announcement seemed to catch many in Israel by surprise.  Unilateral statehood?   Absurd. Then the French Foreign Minister told reporters that he felt there was support for such a resolution, ‘right now in the UN.’
It would appear that the entire world was caught off-guard by this sudden—perhaps brilliant—announcement.
  Since then, the PA appears to have expanded this theme, alternating between a threat to declare  statehood on its own—seemingly independent of the UN—while at the same time continuing to pressure Israel by lining up UN members from South American(and now other) nations who signal that they are willing  to recognize ‘Palestine’ as a new sovereign state, as they simultaneously demand that the UN accept them as a member state. Then, in February 2011, the Palestinians forced a US veto in the UN Security Council over a Resolution to declare the West Bank ‘settlements’ illegal.   Rumors have circulated that US President Obama promised Mr Abbas increased pressure on Israel if Mr Abbas took the Resolution off the table; Mr Abbas, now seeing more clearly than ever before that the US is willing to act against Israel, made another bold—if not brilliant—move by refusing,  thereby  rebuking the US because their offer wasn’t good enough: next time—and you can be sure there will be a ‘next time’—the US will have to up the ante against Israel if it wants Mr Abbas’ cooperation. Seemingly, with this one refusal, Mr Abbas humiliated the United States, got the US to show its cards, gave up nothing, frightened the US into publically castrating its own veto (with its post-veto speech), and went home from New York not only with Britain, Russia and China in his pocket, but also with the image of the United States embarrassing itself before the UN.
For Mr. Abbas, this had to be better than winning at the local Lotto kiosk.
In the meantime, as the PA pushes forward, sometimes weekly, with the effort for both  ‘statehood’ and increased anti-Israel pressure, there has been a virtual blackout from Israel. There seems to be no spirited debate about what actions or counter-moves Israel could take to meet or blunt this diplomatic challenge, and almost no push-back. There appears to be nothing but silence. Our Talmud teaches us that silence is the same as acquiescence. Has Israel decided that it passively accepts what is being thrown at it?
  Today, the Palestinians appear to be the sole player on this diplomatic playing field. In this two-dog fight, they are the only dog that is willing to fight. They do not simply dominate the discussion; they own the discussion.
Has anyone ever won anything when they cede the entire playing field to their opponent?
Do you know what happens in a two-dog fight when only one dog fights? If you cannot stand the sight of blood, don’t ask this question.
While there are never guarantees when it comes to Arab-Israel talks, and while no one dares predict anything for the Middle East, the question of unilateral action by the PA—with or without UN  assistance-- should be taken seriously by the Netanyahu government. Why? Because of something we learn from applied mathematics—game theory.
Game theory is a field of applied mathematics that, in part, studies strategic situations where there is an opponent, where each side chooses various actions in an attempt to maximize its returns.  In non-math language, simplifying, one side’s success depends upon the choices made by the other side. I repeat: one side’s success depends upon the other side’s choices. This is exactly what we see today in the Arab-Israel conflict: the existence of game theory suggests  that the PA’s successes so far have come precisely because of Israel’s own decisions—not those of UN or the US. Game theory teaches us that our future indeed will not be determined by others, but by us—by both our own decisions and actions, and, most important, by our non-decisions and our non-actions. Our future, in other words, is in our hands—and if we do not act, we do not win because the other side is working so hard to maximize its own returns.
Furthermore, I would suggest that game theory tells us we are already losing. Personally, I believe that a two-state solution will be a disaster for both parties (and especially disastrous for the Palestinians), but even if you believe in two states, we are still losing because we are looking at having that two-state structure rammed down our throats by Mr. Abbas.
I am not a mathematician, but right now, if I had to bet on Israel or game theory, I would not bet on Israel.
The irony is, it doesn’t have to be this way—we have options, and there are actions we can take to maximize our return—just as game theory suggests. The tragedy is, if we do not act soon, it might be too late.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Jewish 800-pound gorilla

March, 2011

What does your crystal ball tell you about the Middle East and Israel?

Are the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, etc, harbingers of freedom and democracy awakening in the Arab world?
Or, are they signs of a coming Jihadist storm about to sweep through the Middle East?
Which of these scenarios will be bad for Israel?
Can you tell?
You had better pay attention, because the Left and Right are fighting over your crystal ball—and they both have it wrong.
They miss the point.
 The Israel Left seems to think that, because we are looking at the birth of Arab freedom, we are also looking at the best chance for a two-state solution between Arab and Jew. We must not lose this opportunity, they declare. We must surrender land for peace, now, before changes in the Arab world would make peace impossible.
The Israel Right sees the opposite. The Right sees danger ahead—and possibly war. The Right worries that making agreements with authoritarian or unstable regimes can lead to disastrous consequences. With upheaval simmering all around Israel, the Right cautions, peace now could be a disaster.
Anyone who reads about the Middle East has by now seen multiple variations of each of these themes. The Left lines up over there—on the Left—for peace;  the Right lines up opposite—calling to become prepared for war.
But there is one position we have not seen: that of religious Zionism.  I would suggest to you that If you are a political pundit looking for inside information, or if you’re just an ordinary citizen thinking, ‘crystal ball’, this is where you might start; it may also be where your search will end.
You know about religious Zionism? It’s the 800-pound gorilla sleeping in the corner, the one everyone is afraid of, whom no one wants to talk about.
I suggest that religion—specifically, Judaism—will in the end become the key to Israel’s future.  This does not appear obvious. It is not what political pundits see. It is not in anyone’s script. But it is the center of your crystal ball--if you can see it.
 There’s just one problem:  religion-and-Israel is the last subject anyone wants to talk about as a positive force in our national future.
Look at the world before us:
The Left is not interested in religion.  They have no time or consideration for Judaism because for most of them Judaism is the true apostasy.  Their future Israel will be devoid of Religion. When they speak, it is to savage the religious with loud and angry attacks.
The non-religious Right, on the other hand, does not appear to speak at all about religion on the Israeli side of the Arab-Israel debate.  Unlike the vocal Left, they are silent.  They seem to ignore this 800-pound gorilla. Of course, silence is always difficult to analyze. Does it mean they profess to know little about religion, and therefore respectful, wish to say nothing? That is a reasonable conclusion. But this is Israel. Knowing little or nothing about a topic has never stopped anyone in this country from talking.
I have an idea about this silence. I believe I know what the silence is: fear.
When you are afraid—well, that’s when you say nothing. That’s when you shut up and hope that the thing you fear doesn’t wake up.
The Right that is not openly religious feels strongly for Israel. In fact, it is they who may carry the major burden of defending Israel against the Left. They are articulate and strong. We rely on them. They are our front-line warriors. We need and appreciate them.  But they are already—in early March, 2011-- back-peddling because the Left is on the offensive: Land for peace. Land for peace. Land for peace. Every week, another reason for land for peace.
Even the Rightist Likud government seems to agree to land for peace.
It’s done deal, right?
There are those on the Right who resist this apparent inevitability. They struggle to hold back what seems like the inexorable movement of history. But if the English-language press in Israel in any gauge, their struggle may be losing ground.
Israel, it seems, appears destined to give up land in the Jordan River basin for a peace with those who hate the Jew.
If there is anyone out there who disagrees with this assessment, he certainly remains muted and silent, except for those few brave souls on the secular Right who stand up.
Their struggle is daunting, and this non-religious Right—our heroes-- understands clearly what the nations of the world will say if someone in Israel said, no land for peace.
This Right struggles to defend Israel, but it understands the context within which their struggle unfolds—a hostile UN, the efforts to delegitimize Israel and the PA working behind the scenes to sign up and publicize those nations which declare for a Palestinian state.
This Right also understands what the Arabs will say if someone stands up in Israel and says, the Arab is not ready for peace; and  they understand that you don’t wave a red flag in front of a bull-- you don’t talk, ‘Jewish religion’.
They struggle. They fight. They believe that the land of Israel is ours. They believe that we have spilt too much Jewish blood to secure this land, and we will surrender none of it. But can they stop what some say is the inevitability of history?  Everywhere they turn, they are shouted down; pulling any kind of ‘religion’ card now, in this environment, would be like throwing gasoline onto a fire; the Right’s position is simply not strong enough to argue ‘religion’; and since many in this sector of the Right are not themselves strongly religious,  pushing religion onto the international stage at this moment could  appear foolhardy and self-defeating.
Can you blame them for their delicacy on the matter of religion?
So the picture appears clear: the Left moves forward energized by their view of the end-game, and  the Right struggles, seemingly  frustrated and increasingly impotent.
Who remains, unspoken for?
The religious Zionist. These are the religious ones, all right,  those who are hated by the Left because they believe in an alien and repulsive religion—Judaism; and who are ignored by the non-religious Right, because talking about religion just now seems like the last thing Jews can do, given our standing in the international community.
The religious Zionists, however, will not speak about religion either.  They, too, are silent. They see how the Left—and the police-- feel about them. To speak out now could mean arrest, harassment or imprisonment. Is this the moment for religious Zionism to push its Rabbis to prison?
There is another consideration for the religious Zionist to remain silent: it could be too early to speak.
What the religious Zionist has to say about Israel and the Arab and their individual  futures is serious—and permanent.  What the religious Zionist has to say will not be fun.
For the religious, the challenges before us will require courage.  A lot of courage.  If the timing is not right for speaking out, the results could be painful; and if their timing is just right, the results could be even more painful.
Do you blame them for their caution?
The world knows about Jews and their religion. But right now, all the world seems interested in is condemning, isolating, even delegitimizing Israel. Their attitude towards Israel seems closer to a feeding frenzy than a peace-fest. No one appears ready to hear the message of the Jewish religion; and the religious zionist himself may not be ready to speak it.
We may have to wait.
So the 800-pound gorilla remains sleeping in the corner. Everyone—including the Arab—knows he is there. And everyone also knows that, one day, he will wake up.
We read the newspapers: Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Bahrain and perhaps Jordan. The Arab world is aflame. Are those the fires of freedom—or failure?
As the nations around Israel become white-hot—and the UN turns hostile-- Jews feels the heat and wonder, what will happen to us?
The 800-pound gorilla. Is he stirring?
Perhaps there is a reason everyone remains silent about religion and Israel.  Perhaps they are  afraid— for good reason; and yet, there is irony here, for while it may be reasonable for all to be afraid to mention religion, the truth is that our religion-- the key to our survival and our ultimate strength—will be at the center of everything that will happen.
 History and religion will converge. Over time, our future will come into focus.
So in the face of all the turmoil around us, we should suddenly become afraid?
As the future unfolds, we will see many such ironies.  They will crowd into your crystal ball. They will then show us-- through the choices we make-- how our future will develop.
Naturally, some readers will refuse to believe this. So let’s put it this way: just about everything the Jewish canon says will happen to the Jewish nation, has already happened.
You still doubt the rest of the story?
Check your crystal ball--and if at first you don’t succeed, try again.