Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Ruling

Here I am, sitting in Jerusalem, web-casting NPR, and choking back tears at the Supreme Court's decision. As Paul Starr's great book will teach you, and I tried to convey in this long review of it, the healthcare law culminated a one-hundred year fight. It might well have been frustrated by the court.

But Justice Roberts has given us, well, justice, implying perhaps that there will be no monolithic, automatic majority to foil President Obama (or a Democratic successor or Congress) as the years pass. In a way, it is a pivotal moment for an American democracy that looked headed toward a kind of fatal polarization. Oh, and Roberts has now more than made up for flubbing his lines when he swore Obama in.     

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Walid Abu Rass: Not Guilty, Not Freed

You may recall the appeal my friend Sam Bahour forwarded to us last December about his friend Walid Abu Rass. It turns out Abu Rass was about to be summarily released, indeed, a military judge had decided that he was guilty of nothing and reduced his sentence, but the army then decided to extend his detention anyway "for precautionary reasons." You can read Sam's posts about this here and here. It is necessary to do what we can.

Incidentally, if you want to hear from the kind of people Israel has been stripping of residency--see my post from yesterday--watch this interview of with Sam.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Partner, What Partner?

Bank of Palestine, Ramallah
The following just went up on Open Zion, a featured section of The Daily Beast, where I contribute a regular column.

Ever since Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech in 2009, in which he declared himself ready to work toward a demilitarized Palestinian state, his defenders in the United States have justified the collapse of any dialogue with the Palestinians in terms of Israel’s understandable caution. “There is no partner for peace,” we hear again and again, which suggests a number of things at once.

First, that the Fatah leadership is disingenuous about recognition of Israel, that even if Mahmud Abbas and his Ramallah brains-trust are moderate in their means, their ends remain maximalist, and the proof is their unwillingness to recognize Israel as “a Jewish state,” or (what is often assumed to be the same thing) renounce the Palestinian right of return.

Second, even if the Fatah leadership are sincere about recognition, or would compromise on the modalities of return, they cannot be trusted to hold on to power, not with Hamas dogging them. Given a free election—so the argument goes—Hamas would win again, as in 2006. (Just look at how Islamists now triumph in Egypt!) The only hope for peace is some kind of interim solution, in which we all build slowly toward a more peaceful future, a generation or two from now.

Raise the question of continuing Jewish settlement in the territories and you are brushed aside: if there is no partner, how can one expect restraint in promised land; it is not really theft when they are trying to kill you, right? We’ll redraw the border when we have to, when we do have a partner. Until then, don’t blame us.

Now, one can reconsider the right of return, the plausibility of negotiations, etc., in ways that would be more reassuring, but let’s give Netanyahu’s government the benefit of the doubt. Let’s even ignore the settlements for a moment. Can fair-minded people really point to anything the Israeli government has been doing in their government of Palestinians that undermines the chances for peace—I mean, the very peace Israel says it wants a generation from now, when presumably Palestinian society has “matured” politically and conditions have ripened?

The answer, sadly, is perhaps the most indicting data to come out in recent years, revealed this past week. Israel has stripped as many as a quarter of a million Palestinians of residency rights over the past generation—but not just any Palestinians. These are mainly the sons and daughters of West Bank and Gaza families who have gone abroad to study for more than seven years, many earning advanced degrees.

Take a moment and let this sink in. More than anything, Netanyahu is implying that peace cannot happen until there is economic and social development in Palestine, so that its leaders can reflect the more nearly liberal ideals and commercial interests that make living next to Israel a positive virtue—a nation of Salam Fayyads, so to speak.  (This is not a pipe-dream; you can keep up with developments in Palestine’s private sector by reading the Portland Trust’s Palestine Economic Bulletin.)

But if this were a sincere desire on Netanyahu’s part, his government would roll out a red carpet for Western-trained Palestinian talent to return to the cities of Palestine, build businesses, homes, and nurture global networks. It would not simply want the 250,000 to come back.  It would invite tens of thousands more of Palestinian entrepreneurs from Amman, where Palestinian families have over $12 billion in bank deposits and are eager to invest.

It is not simply settlers who create facts, after all.  Palestinian professionals and businesspeople create facts, too. But unlike the settlers, the latter facts are a gain for peace and reciprocity. The only justification for holding back the economic development of Palestine, by starving it of its most educated and cosmopolitan people, is that you don’t really want peace at all.

What you do want is that Palestinian élites will leave, and the Palestinian state will be founded in Jordan, with the toppling of the Hashemite regime; what you want is the Land of Israel, and that Palestinians who are left will be your hewers of wood and carriers of water.

And here is the real challenge to Americans who say they are Israel’s friends, want peace, but are skeptical of a peace process. Can AIPAC, or Eric Cantor, explain why a doctor who earned her degree in Michigan, or a business consultant who graduated Wharton, should not be permitted to build Palestine, implicitly helping to figure out a reciprocal future with Israelis? Some of a quarter of a million people are waiting. It is long past time to put up or shut up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gary Wills And Disappointment

Garry Wills, writing in the New York Review blog, is incensed by progressive commentators, putative independents, "whining about betrayal," who are now attacking President Obama without paying heed to what he inherited, or to the complexity of politics--or the consequences of a Republican victory, which they are assuredly contributing to:

The etherialists who are too good to stoop toward the "lesser evil" of politics—as if there were ever anything better than the lesser evil there—naively assume that if they just bring down the current system, or one part of it that has disappointed them, they can build a new and better thing of beauty out of the ruins. Of course they never get the tabula rasa on which to draw their ideal schemes. What they normally do is damage the party closest to their professed ideals.

I have learned from Wills as much as from anyone over the years. But his sanctimonious tone would seem less curious if he did not himself accuse Obama of betrayal, in the same tone as the people he now attacks--indeed, in the same tone as he now attacks those attackers--back in the fall of 2009, when the coalition that elected Obama began to come apart and, thanks to Wills among others, it became universally hip on the left to speak of Obama as a "disappointment," as if others weren't listening.

The subject for Wills' outrage was was Afghanistan:

If we had wanted Bush’s wars, and contractors, and corruption, we could have voted for John McCain. At least we would have seen our foe facing us, not felt him at our back, as now we do. The Republicans are given a great boon by this new war. They can use its cost to say that domestic needs are too expensive to be met—health care, education, infrastructure. They can say that military recruitments from the poor make job creation unnecessary... I cannot vote for any Republican. But Obama will not get another penny from me, or another word of praise, after this betrayal. And in all this I know that my disappointment does not matter.

Actually, it did matter. It is Wills' belated disappointment with disappointment that now may not.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Susya: Backs To The Wall

I have visited Susya with my friend David Shulman many times. I am traveling at the moment, but David has sent the following emergency appeal to his friends and readers: 

Dear Friends,

Please have a look at the announcement below. For the last twelve years we have worked closely with our Palestinian friends in Susya, protected them to the best of our abilities from continuous violent harassment by Israeli settlers and by the army, fought the legal battle to keep them on what is left of their lands, celebrated weddings and births with them, cleaned wells, put up solar-energy installations in the village, and stood by them in their homes and fields. The Civil Administration-- that is, the Occupation authority-- has now distributed demolition orders which, if carried out, will destroy the entire village. This means only one thing: cruel and violent expulsion. Those of you who are in Israel: please come with us to the protest vigil on Friday, June 22nd.

Those of you who are abroad: we urge you to make your protest known, urgently, in whatever ways you can, in the media, in appeals to your representatives in government and in high positions, to anyone who can intervene. Although the Occupation as a whole aims at dispossessing Palestinian civilians as its sole raison d'etre, only rarely have we seen an attempt like this to drive out an entire village in one fell swoop. This is not the first time the Susya Palestinians have been expelled from their lands; we must not let it happen again. I will be sending out a more detailed description soon; meanwhile, please read the information below and, if you can, sign up for the Friday vigil.

Best, David


Israeli army forces are threatening to demolish the entire Palestinian village of Susya. This week, demolition orders for approximately fifty dwelling structures were handed out, which add to numerous additional orders issued recently. In addition, the Civil Administration has announced to the residents of Susya that it intends to implement six demolition orders issued in the 1990s and 2001. From past experience, such notices are only given when there is genuine intention to go through with demolitions.

The demolition orders cover most of Palestinian Susya. Not only dwelling structures but also animal pens, water cisterns, the solar-powered electricity system – everything. Unlike Givat HaUlpana, this is not a case of building on lands privately owned by others. The rights of Susya’s Palestinian residents over the land in which they reside have been legally demonstrated and acknowledged by the Israeli authorities. 

The occupation authorities deliberately refrain from approving a master plan for Susya in order to deny its residents (like those of many Palestinian villages in area C) any possibility to build in a manner the Israeli authorities will consider legal. Unlike the settlers form Givat HaUlpana, no one will offer the residents of Susya any reimbursement. They will receive no alternative housing. No one will speak of a housing arrangement during the interim period. Netanyahu will not offer to relocate their homes. After their village will be demolished, the residents of Palestinian Susya will simply be driven into the desert, and not for the first time. Since the establishment of the nearby Israeli settlement of Susya, the residents of Palestinian Susya were evicted from their lands four times. 

On Friday, June 22 we will stand side by side with the residents of Palestinian Susya in a protest and support vigil and will call: No to the fifth demolition of Susya! No to the expulsion of people from their homes and tents! No to the silent transfer of the Palestinian population out of area C! For transportation from Jerusalem call Moriel – 054-3157781 For transportation from Tel Aviv call Alma – 054-2292474

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Romney's Israel Gambit

The following just went up on Open Zion, a featured section of The Daily Beast, where I contribute a regular column.

When I joined the strategy consulting firm Monitor (now Monitor Group) in the spring of 1992, the first party its directors, my new colleagues, invited me to was at Mitt Romney's mansion in Belmont. Romney was at the time still with Bain Capital; Monitor’s founders had been Bainies before launching out on their own and remained his friends. 

Romney’s political ambitions were already clear. The party, in fact, turned out to be a fundraiser for Romney’s friend—a member of Harvard Business School’s remarkable Mormon community—who was planning a run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Utah.

As my new Monitor colleagues whipped out their check-books, writing in numbers that elicited broad smiles from Romney and his special guest (Monitor was "kicking McKinsey's butt" at the old AT&T at the time, which was spending tens of millions on strategy consultants on its road to eventual oblivion), I cautiously took out my check-book, too. I wrote in $50, in something like the spirit with which Orwell shot the elephant, and mumbled some apology about being “new.” The smiles came anyway. I did not mention I was a progressive Democrat, needless to say, which would have been a little like admitting you were a Reagan Republican at my son’s Bar Mitzvah.

Let’s just say Romney is now returning the favor, though he is not as stingy about it as I was. Jews are still polling 2 to 1 for Obama, but here I am, back in Jerusalem, and Romney has his check-book out. His foreign policy spokesman is promising that President Romney will come to Israel before visiting any other country, improve relations with Netanyahu, whom Obama tried to humiliate, arm Syrian “moderates,” and credibly threaten military action against Iran (“one of the results of his foreign policy is that our friends and allies, including Great Britain, Israel and others, have not had their interests taken into account”). Thanks, Mitt.

Of course the only way Romney’s tough talk can seem plausible is to ignore the big thing the Obama administration has not ignored. Indeed, the very week the Romney campaign decided to reassure us about his devotion to Israel, Netanyahu’s government announced 850 new housing units to be built on the West Bank, over the State Department’s objections. The Romney campaign is saying pretty much what the iconic Reagan said: the fight is international—in this case against “jihad” and “foes” like Russia—and Israel is America’s power-forward in the Middle East.

Okay, Israel has a bad addiction, to settlements, but why demoralize us? Only professors, Oprah, and “the liberal media” think settlements are reason enough to—how did Romney out it?—“throw Israel under a bus.” Romney’s spent real face-time with Sheldon Adelson in recent weeks, whose capacity to write zeros after the number 5 is somewhat greater than mine. Oh, when Reagan took office there were about 10,000 settlers, 100,000 when he left office. Again, Mitt, thanks.

Then again, it is probably wrong to conclude that Romney’s campaign has been bought, at least not in the ordinary way I was. "Corporations are people," Romney famously blurted out, but what he really meant is that people—certainly politicians—are corporations: they prove their virtue by succeeding in worldly affairs, and the most important way to succeed (or so any Bain, McKinsey, Monitor, etc. consultant will teach you) is to manage your brand into viable market spaces others refuse to occupy.

And the space “Israel” gives Romney is not really Jewish voters but something more profitable. “Israel” conjures the vengeful and righteous Jesus of Revelations: evangelicals love us to death. Israel is also catnip for ethnic Democrats, independents, Joe-the-plumber (who actually visited Sderot), listeners to shock-jock radio, people who may well swing the election in battleground states; people who think in terms of “strength” and “friends” and “interests” and hunger for a real man in the White House, not the feckless Obama (since Jeane Kirkpatrick, “feckless” is the preferred neocon epithet).

We have, of course, seen this market gambit before, with Reagan, the actor, promising to save us from the feckless Carter (an Annapolis graduate and naval officer, remember), and AWOL-for-a-year Bush, having brought the country into a disastrous war, trafficking in distorted images of John Kerry’s swift-boat.

Some in the “liberal media” will call this gambit of Romney’s an “ideology,” but I suspect he is too shrewd a brand-manager to assume anything this fancy. He knows that bravado just works with certain kinds of people, his “target segment,” as the business school put it. Indeed, one of the greatest political strategists of all time could not have put things more bluntly:

Why of course the people don't want war. [But] it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along… All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Dick Morris? Actually, Hermann Goering. As the man said, every country.