Archive for the ‘Israel/Palestine’ Category

Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

President Trump says constantly that he is an extraordinary negotiator (The Art of the Deal).  That may be true, but in considering the relevance of his self-centered praise, one has to understand that his experience as a negotiator was established in the dangerous canyons of New York City,  and the way he discusses his negotiating style makes it clear that he does not feel he has to abide by many rules. That may work in New York and the USA and maybe even in the international commercial world.  The real question is whether it is likely to work in the far more complicated world of foreign policy.


The world is a frightfully complex place.  It is beset by regional, political, tribal, economic, military, and confessional issues.


Take the issue of Syria.  Mr. Trump would like to depose the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.  In pursuit of that goal, he has enlisted the military assistance of the Kurds.  The Turks despise the Kurds, constantly referring to them as “terrorists”.  In fact, the Kurds, who live in a number of countries in the Middle East as well as Turkey, are the largest ethnic population in the world that does not have a country of its own.  All told, they total 35-45 million souls.  The Turks are members of NATO and at least until we brought the Kurds on board on the volatile Syrian issue, were among our best friends in the Middle East.  The Turks are infuriated with this new Trump policy and are rapidly turning against us on many other issues that are important to us.


Or look at Palestine/Israel.  In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mr. Trump has created a firestorm of anger, not only in the Islamic world which favors a mutually negotiated solution to that issue, but also in thoughtful countries, most prominently in Europe and in many other countries around the rest of the world. This Trump position on Palestine/Israel, a radical American departure from the past seventy years, is clearly a move to court ideological Americans who strongly support Israel.  It is certainly not the first time US foreign policy has been designed purely to woo American voters, but it has been focused on a region that does not need further foreign meddling causing further tensions.  And that is precisely what it has done.  It may please some of Mr. Trump’s political base, but it has further destabilized an area that desperately needs stability.


Despite the fact that Mr. Trump calls himself a “stable genius” on many issues, most emphatically including foreign policy, he presents as the exact opposite.  He doesn’t like to read and says that for him it is not necessary. So, he insists that all policy papers submitted to him be limited to one page in length. Issues like Israel/Palestine and Syria simply cannot be appropriately covered on one page.  Policy decisions based on insufficient information are always dangerous.


Mr. Trump acknowledges that, rather than reading, he gets his critical information from watching a lot of TV. Apparently his choice of stations is highly focused on the most politically partisan.  In this case, only the word “partisan” is important.  It makes absolutely no difference if it is far right or far left.  Either way, he is not getting the impartial information that is critical to, first, understanding this complicated word and, second, formulating foreign policy.  And this is true both for a “stable genius” and for a blithering idiot!


Assuming that he really is an extraordinary negotiator, he got his expertise in the commercial world.   Clearly that world thrives on uncertainty and instability, the kinds of things that make  businessmen and commercial companies say yes to avoid financial chaos.  That is the exact opposite of what is needed in the world of international relations.   What is needed there is stability and predictability.  Those were the elements that got the world through the Cold War.  Both sides understood that and followed policies that were predictable and stable.  We survived.


So far, Mr. Trump has followed policies that have been unstable and unpredictable.  That’s OK if you are buying a new hotel, or talking about an irrelevant country like Monaco, but it is not the case for places like North Korea, China, Russia and now, additions like Pakistan, which he has recently offended – all of which have atomic weapons.


It would be nice and almost certainly potentially productive to see and hear some more dignified and less inflammatory verbiage both within and emanating from the White House.  It might even make us some international friends, the exact opposite of what our current modus operandi is bringing us.


Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served during the Cold War in East and West Europe, and the Middle East, focused on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  He also served as Executive Assistant in the Director’s office and as the first Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.

*** You are subscribed to Salon as twopond@comcast.net. If you wish to unsubscribe, or modify your preferences please visit https://mailman.listserve.com/listmanager/listinfo/salon ***

Read Full Post »

Originally appeared in THE RUTLAND HERALD

The situation today in Israel/Palestine (the old British Mandate of Palestine) is dictated almost entirely by history, by demographic reality and by the fact that each of the parties involved seeks to control the entire area at the expense of the other.

Historically, the first documented instance of the name “Israel” dates to the 12th century B.C., although Jews previously had already been living for centuries in what is now Israel/Palestine. During the first two centuries A.D, the Romans expelled most of the Jews from the area and replaced Israel with the Roman province of Palestine. That was the beginning of the Jewish diaspora. After the third century A.D., the area became increasingly Christian. Following the seventh century, it was largely Muslim and remained so until the middle of the 20th century.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a partition plan for the British Mandate. This plan established borders for new Arab and Jewish states, side by side, and created an area of Jerusalem that was to be administered by the United Nations.

The end of the British Mandate was set for midnight on May 14, 1948. That day, David Ben-Gurion, the president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared “the establishment of a Jewish state, to be known as the state of Israel.” That proclamation precipitated the departure or expulsion of almost three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs from Israel, many of them ending up in refugee camps in the surrounding Arab countries. Tens of thousands of them and 1.5 million of their descendants remain in those camps today.

Since 1948, Israel and Palestine have both felt aggrieved. The Israelis feel that they have an historical and moral right to the area by dint of their past ownership in the centuries before Christ. The Palestinians believe that they were expelled from lands that were theirs because of their occupancy of those same lands after the death of Christ. The parties have gone to war over the issue on five occasions since the founding of Israel in 1948 and have seldom lived in any sort of peace.

The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine illegal under international law, because the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits countries from moving their citizens into territories (the Palestinian occupied areas) occupied inawar. The U.N. Security Council, the U.N. General Assembly, the International Red Cross and the International Court of Justice have all affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. Israel disagrees, saying the 1967 conflict was not a war.

Since 1948, the United States has vetoed dozens of anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian resolutions in the U.N. Security Council. The first time America has done anything different was when it abstained on the late December 2016 U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, creating a maelstrom in Israel and inducing endless anti-Obama administration remarks from right-wing Israelis and their American supporters.

Israel has choices. It can occupy all of Israel/Palestine, as some Israeli voices are already recommending, and either expel, or leave the Palestinian Arabs (the numerical majority) as non-voting, non-citizens, thus voluntarily becoming an apartheid state. Or it can create a state that includes Palestinian Arabs (the majority) as voting citizens — voluntarily becoming a non-Jewish state. Finally, if it truly wishes to survive, it can agree to the creation of two separate states, Israel and Palestine.

The demographic realities of Israel/Palestine dictate that, under the current arrangement, in 2025, 48 percent of the future population residing there will be Jewish. That would drop to 46 percent by 2035. The Palestinians are reproducing at a rate far faster than the Israelis.

Absent a two-state solution, if Israel wants to remain democratic, it will be in the minority in its own country. If Israel chooses to remain Jewish, it will have to expel the Palestinians or go to an apartheid system. Neither of these solutions is acceptable. Israel is a democratic Jewish state and is internationally acceptable only as such. Given the reality of demographics, that can only be accomplished through a two-state solution with Israeli and Palestinian states side by side in peace.

Those who argue for the two-state solution, like Secretary of State John Kerry, are the best friends Israel has, whatever Mr. Netanyahu chooses to say. Those who argue against it, whether Israeli or foreign, are Israel’s worst enemies in the long run.

Read Full Post »

Originally circulated in Rural Ruminations
By Haviland Smith

Sometimes it’s almost impossible to figure out precisely why Israel involves herself in activities that appear not to be in her national interest.  This time, that activity is Israel’s perpetual battle with Gaza and Palestine.


There is no question about Israel’s right to protect herself against incoming rocket barrages from the Gaza strip.  In fact, she is not doing badly as her missile defense system has held Israeli casualties to under ten, while Palestinian casualties are over a hundred dead and a thousand wounded.


The real issue is just how the prosecution of this war is going to improve Israel’s position in the Middle East.  Most importantly, how has that battle affected Israel’s close–in neighborhood?


Until Gaza began, things were going pretty well for Israel.  Despite the Arab Spring, which could have been very unsettling for Israel, the attention of the world was focused on Middle East events in a way beneficial to Israel.  Syria was the major media focus with Iran and Iraq not far behind and it was all negative.


As a Shia-run country, Syria has active ties to both Shia Iran and to Shia Hezbollah.  In the case of Syria, most of the world, including the Middle East, was aligned against those three entities who are Israel’s closest regional enemies.  Keeping them in a negative limelight has been good for Israel.  Now, they have virtually disappeared from our view in the media which is now filled with Gaza – an activity earning mostly brickbats for Israel.


Then consider Egypt with her new Muslim Brotherhood governance and her peace treaty with Israel.  The last thing in the world Israel needs is to lose her special relationship with Egypt, yet that is where it easily could be heading.  The simple fact of the Gaza conflict inflames Egyptian public opinion against Israel and puts the Egyptian President Morsi, who is trying to negotiate a cease fire for Gaza, in an impossible position with his own people and in the netherworld between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  It is a no-win, nightmare situation, which could do serious harm to the Egypt/Israel relationship.


And then there is Jordan where, for the first time there are significant stirrings against the King, his Palestinian wife and his government.  Jordan is home to over 3 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars.  They have further been burdened by the arrival of over 30,000 refugees from Iraq and a like number from Syria.  This has increased the level of general dissent.   Jordan is suffering economically from the Syrian situation because Syria is one of its biggest trading partners.


In Lebanon, Shia Hezbollah has called for all Arab states to send weapons to Gaza.  Lebanon is, itself, about as precarious a “country” as one can find in the Middle East with a population containing just about every nationality, ethnicity and tribe in existence.  Hezbollah, which owes its allegiance to Shia Iran, is estimated to have something in the neighborhood of 30,000 rockets on hand and capable of hitting deep into Israel. George Mitchell, former US Middle East Peace envoy, describes these rockets as “better, longer range, more destructive” than those already fired from Gaza.


As if that were not enough, consider the cyber attacks now underway against Israel.  “Anonymous”, an ad hoc group of hackers waging war on Israeli Web sites, is the least of Israel’s cyber problems.  After almost a week of millions of cyber attacks by Anonymous, they have been joined by a far more virulent and effective set of attacks, apparently originating from Gaza and Iran, that have introduced malware and RATs into the picture – programs capable of taking control of the infected Israeli computers.


And then we have Turkey, a country that clearly would like to see its role and importance increase in the Middle East.  The Turks have been openly negative on Israel’s ongoing Gaza blockade and their invective against Israel has risen to the point where the Turkish president has accused Israel of trying to eliminate the Palestinian population of the Gaza strip.


On balance, Israel’s neighborhood is in far more ferment than it was prior to the beginning of the Gaza fighting.  It is becoming increasingly unstable at a time when Israel, surrounded as it is by hostile populations, can ill afford such instability.  Sadly, it seems fair to say that Israel’s increasing instability is largely self-induced.


The big question here is Why?  The logical end to this instability is regional conflict and it is difficult to see how Israel could find advantage in such a dangerous situation.


Of course, it may be that Israel’s entire Gaza show is there simply to influence Israel’s upcoming elections in favor of the Likud and Mr. Netanyahu.

Read Full Post »

Originally published in Harvard’s Nieman Watchdog

By Haviland Smith

It’s difficult not to notice that there is a growing crescendo here at home which appears to be encouraging the United States to attack Iran.  Backers of this campaign, at least until recently, have been limited to the Neoconservatives who would like us to invade everywhere and who got us into the Iraq invasion, parts of the Israeli government, and those American supporters of Israel who never question anything the Israelis do.

However, to the amazement of many who do follow this kind of story, the game changed late last year with an article in “Foreign Affairs” which purported to explain “Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option”.  And this from one of the most venerated, serious, foreign policy publications in the world!

So, what’s wrong with this notion of attacking Iran?  Perhaps it’s best to look at it strictly in terms of American national interests, because that is what US foreign policy is supposed to reflect, particularly in matters of war.

Even if Iran is actually in the process of developing a nuclear weapon, which, incidentally, they and the International Atomic Energy Agency both say they are not, how does that represent an existential threat to the United States?  The Iranians do not have the required rocketry to deliver it here.  Even if they did, the decision to do so would involve Iranian acceptance of the fact that the inevitable retaliatory strike would destroy most of Iran.  If you are among that group of Americans who think of the Iranians as ignorant ragheads, think again.  These are educated, intelligent, sophisticated people.  They may be annoying, but they are anything but suicidal.

Furthermore, irrespective of the exhortations of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, the same is true for Israel, since Israel’s nuclear arsenal and delivery systems leave little to be desired in terms of their effectiveness.  Retaliation, either from Israel or the US, for a strike on Israel would essentially eliminate Iran and the Iranians know it.  Nothing we have learned since the Cold War has invalidated George Kennan’s “containment policy”.

The value of nuclear weapons in foreign policy remains valid only as long as those weapons are not used.  Once used, once the damage is done, they are irrelevant.  No one can say precisely what is likely to happen if we or the Israelis are somehow stupid enough to try a preemptive attack on Iran, but it is worth looking at the possibilities.

Iran presides over the 34-mile-wide straights of Hormuz and probably can shut them down for long enough to create economic chaos in the rest of the world.  Where the Iranians are not stupid enough to initiate nuclear war, they most certainly would retaliate conventionally against an attack on their own country.  Such an attack, originating from the West or Israel probably represents the only thing that could unite the Iranian people behind the Ayatollahs.  Shipping through the Straights carries 20% of the world’s crude oil.  Its denial to worldwide markets, particularly in these times of economic stress, would be catastrophic. How does gasoline in the range of $15-20 a gallon appeal?

Iran is the 18th largest country in the world.  It has a population that exceeds 77 million, a standing army of over 500,000 backed by an active reserve of over 600,000.  The military is well-equipped and well-trained.

Iran has Shiite connections throughout the Middle East.  They constitute 36.3% of entire regional population and 38.6% of the regional Muslim population.  The Shiite majority countries are Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain, homeport of the US Fifth Fleet.  Shiite Muslims constitute significant portions (20% or more) of the population in Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Through these Shiites, Iran has the potential to cause all kinds of trouble for us and our interests in the Middle East, most emphatically including our naval assets and troops in the region.  Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Mahdi army in Iraq and the Shiite majority in Bahrain represent only a partial list of the troubles Iran can cause us through the Shiite populations of the region.

Unless the US has some unknown, magical weapon to deploy against Iran that will prevent Iranian retaliation after a raid on their nuclear sites, it would appear that we suffer from a real tactical disadvantage in the Middle East when it comes to planning an attack on Iran.  Unfortunately for us and the rest of the world, that tactical disadvantage has almost limitless potential to morph into a strategic, worldwide, economic disaster.

An attack on Iran is a really bad bet, whether initiated by us or by the Israelis.

Read Full Post »

Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus

Article published Nov 6, 2011

Currently, the Arab world seems to be in nearly complete ferment, not necessarily heading for liberal democracy as we know it but probably toward self-determination, the result of which, if fulfilled, is likely to add to stability in the region.

Even though the process of getting to self-determination is likely to be exceedingly rough — take Libya, for example — it is inexorably under way. Every country in the region will be profoundly affected, most emphatically including Israel, which in the long run could face an even more united, less accommodating Arab world. Even today there is talk in Egypt of doing away with the 1979 peace agreement with Israel.

Recently, more than 110 members of the United Nations General Assembly announced their support for a Palestinian state. It is possible that in the coming months, the General Assembly will vote to recognize Palestine as a state defined by its pre-1967 borders. Such a motion would not be subject to Security Council veto and would have far-reaching ramifications for both countries.

And through all of this, Israel and the United States are talking about restarting Palestine-Israel negotiations. However, the likelihood of their taking place seems daily more remote.

The Palestinians, backed by the Arabs, and Israel, backed by the United States, remain equally resolute in setting up preconditions that the other side cannot or will not meet. Mutual recognition, establishing borders, negotiating the right of return and the ongoing Israeli settlement program are prominent among those issues.

To further complicate matters, UNESCO has just voted overwhelmingly to admit Palestine as a member state. Such a motion will not be subject to Security Council veto and is also likely to have a direct effect on Palestine’s ongoing attempts in the General Assembly to become a member state.

These could be ominous events for an Israel intent on maintaining the status quo. Remember, absent a two-state solution, the threat is to Israel’s Zionist roots of Jewishness and democracy, not to Palestine, which after half a century of statelessness has nothing much left to lose.

In addition, at a time when both Palestinians and Israelis need flexibility to reach any kind of acceptable solution, Israeli politics appear to be increasingly in the political grip of the settlers and their supporters, among whom we find Israel’s religiously conservative political right, the most strident of Israeli’s Christian and Jewish American supporters and the increasingly dogmatic Russian immigration to Israel.

For anyone who really cares about the Zionist future of Israel, a quick look is enough to bring tears to one’s eyes. It really doesn’t matter who is at fault; everything that is happening, every inescapable trend, every policy in place, every incontrovertible reality represents a virtually iron-clad guarantee that Israel is in the process of giving up its soul — its Zionist democratic and Jewish roots.

Unfortunately for Israel, time is not on its side. Demographics will do it in. The only answer for an Israel that decides to retain both its Jewish and democratic character lies in the two-state solution. As time goes on, however, the ongoing West Bank settlement program and ingrained Arab hostility toward the very existence of Israel make that outcome less feasible — some say, impossible.

So, absent the two-state solution, Israel has two options: giving up its democracy for apartheid, or giving up its Jewishness for a one-state solution. Retaining both seems highly unlikely, and neither would be acceptable for a true Zionist.

Recently, some committed Zionist supporters of Israel are showing subtle changes in attitude toward the future. The media contain daily articles questioning the settlement movement and the Likud’s approach to human rights. Israel’s daily Haaretz has just asked, “Is Israel confusing legitimate criticism of its policies with anti-Semitism to avoid having to make difficult existential decisions?”

Here in America, a new organization called J Street, “The political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” is gaining membership, particularly among younger Americans, while being totally rejected by the Netanyahu government.

Will American Jewry be able to continue to support Israel if it maintains its current political, social and religious orientations?

Is the situation reaching a point where liberal American Jews will be forced to choose between their values and their emotional attachment to Israel? That would be a sad day, particularly when successful negotiations on four issues — security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem — could save Zionist Israel at the cost of some of the settlements.

That is an impossible goal if Israel continues to refuse to even try. Lose some settlements or lose your Zionist soul.

Read Full Post »

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus]

Israel’s only hope for the continuation of its Zionist dream of a democratic, Jewish state lies in a solution in which both Israel and the Palestinians have their own separate states — the “two-state solution.”

Absent such a solution and because of demographic imperatives, Israel will become either a non-democratic, apartheid state or a state in which Jews will be in the minority.

This situation has existed since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, after which Israel took possession of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and large chunks of the West Bank, all previously held by Palestine under the 1948 U.N. partition of Palestine.

In those 44 years of occupation, the two-state solution has been extremely elusive. Israel would seem to have been driven by its desire to hold on (illegally, under international law) to those territories and to expand them through its “settlement” policies, where Palestinian motivation appears to have been driven by their desire to “throw the Israelis into the sea.” Arab countries have fully backed the Palestinians, and we Americans have done the same for Israel. Under those circumstances, there has never been enough momentum for success, and recently, America’s ability to actually influence the situation has faded with our increasing military involvement in the Middle East.

Now, suddenly, the game has changed. Instead of continuing to rely on the United States for support, which has never materialized, and to push for a two-state solution, which is clearly of little to no interest to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have changed course. Hamas and Fatah have decided to make nice. They have finally given up on any help from America. Sensing increased international frustration with a lack of progress toward a two-state solution, as mirrored in what many countries see as Israeli intransigence, they have decided to try to gain recognition as a state under the United Nations.

If this succeeds, as appears likely, the Israelis will be put in the position of occupying parts of a fellow member state of the U.N.

Where would that leave Israel in the international community?

As the author of much if not most of the violence against Israel, Hamas has always been a total anathema to Israelis. Israel has flatly refused to deal with them in any way other than militarily.

All of this has happened without any participation of the United States. We have, in fact, continued our attitude that Israel can do no wrong, despite the obvious fact that either Israeli or Palestinian intransigence will likely lead to a total change in the nature of the state of Israel, leaving an undemocratic apartheid state that would be difficult for Americans to support, or a minority Jewish state impossible for Israeli Jews to support.

Common sense would make one think that the two-state solution would be more and more attractive. But where it may be so for Palestinians and, by extension, Arabs, it would appear not to be for the majority of Israelis. In addition to that, the Palestinians have now apparently made peace between their two previously hostile factions, Fatah and Hamas.

The Netanyahu government has said it will never negotiate anything with Hamas. At the same time, it has pulled out all the stops in trying to block the Palestine recognition move in the United Nations. In doing that, it has cranked up all its “Israel right or wrong” allies, particularly here in the United States, to fight against any consideration of U.N. recognition of Israel, even though that flies directly in the face of hopes for the continued existence of a democratic Jewish state that Israelis and Americans will continue to support.

This leaves only one question. What are the true goals of Israelis and their American supporters who are so stridently opposed to a two-state solution? The only answer that holds water is that they are more interested in the acquisition of Palestinian land than in the Zionist dream. Nothing else makes any sense.

A clue to this phenomenon may lie in the nature of recent Jewish immigration to Israel from the Soviet Union and Russia. In both cases, the raw material that has come to Israel has had neither interest nor experience in democracy. Given their backgrounds, they are the direct antithesis of the Zionists who created and nurtured that Israel.

Zionism may be dead or dying. Today’s Israelis and their supporters appear far more interested in growing the size of Israel than in its democratic nature or its Zionist founders’ dreams.

Read Full Post »

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

Since Israel declared independence in May 1948 as a Zionist (democratic and Jewish) nation, the United States has been its most loyal friend on earth. As other nations have vacillated in their support, ours has never faltered. Since World War II, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in the world. The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in grants to Israel.

U.S. bilateral military aid provides Israel with privileges unequalled by any other recipient country. Israel can use some U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the U.S. and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers.

In addition, all U.S. foreign assistance earmarked for Israel is delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year. Most other recipients normally receive aid in installments. Congress also appropriates funds for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs.

In August 2007, the Bush administration announced it would increase U.S. military assistance to Israel by $6 billion over the next decade. The agreement called for incremental annual increases in foreign military financing to Israel, reaching $3 billion a year by 2012. The Obama administration requested $2.775 billion in foreign military financing to Israel for 2010.

Although we have provided assistance with nuclear delivery systems, France, not the U.S., was most heavily involved in supporting Israel’s development of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, we have had a consistent policy for Israeli nuclear activities of looking the other way. That policy, and the concessions we have made to Israel to persuade it not to use nuclear weapons over the years, have validated its nuclear arsenal’s existence.

In the international political arena, the U.S. has been unstinting in its support of Israel. In 1972, George H.W. Bush cast the first U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council. Between 1972 and 2009, the U.S. cast 48 vetoes and negative votes on every issue that was in any way critical of Israel.

We have vetoed resolutions proposed by our allies, Spain and France, and by our then enemy, the USSR, as well as resolutions with signatures from three to 20 nations.

This history reflects the fact that there are millions of Jewish and non-Jewish Americans, particularly those who were alive and aware of the Holocaust, who genuinely support the existence of a democratic, Jewish Israel and continue to do so.

The situation became more complicated in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, largely as a result of Israel’s West Bank and East Jerusalem settlement policies and by the political emergence in Israel of the Jewish emigration from the USSR, a country that, along with its citizens, never really understood much about democracy.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 forbids resettlement by an occupying power of its own civilians on territory under its military control.

On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development [… and] have been established in breach of international law.”

By acceding to Israel’s every wish, the U.S. has enabled an Israel that believes it can act with impunity, without making any adjustment to the international, regional and national realities that face her. Her own imperatives far outweigh those of her neighbors and her people. This situation encourages aggressive behavior, as in the Gaza War and its aftermath, the ongoing settlement program, and a knee-jerk military reaction to perceived threats.

Although the Obama administration, doggedly searching for the elusive two-state solution, has slightly hardened the position of this government on Israeli settlement policies, all of the requests made by the administration have either been ignored, or flat-out rejected by the Netanyahu government.

But the two-state solution is the only one that preserves a Zionist (democratic and Jewish) Israel. Demographic realities show clearly that Jews in Israel will soon be outnumbered by Arabs, forcing Israel to choose between democracy and Jewishness. The situation worsens as the settlements absorb the West Bank and more and more Arabs. In the longer run, it is doubtful that Americans will support an expansionist, apartheid, and/or non-democratic Israel.

Our ongoing uncritical backing has enabled Israel to behave in a self-absorbed and counterproductive way. Israel lives in a “safe” world constructed with U.S. economic bricks and mortar, surrounded by a U.S. political moat and protected by U.S. military hardware. This uncritical support has permitted Israel to behave in ways that have weakened her morally in the eyes of the world, left her in a perpetual state of war with her neighbors and with a highly questionable Zionist future.

This is hardly what sensitive and thoughtful Americans would have done for Israel if we truly had cared about her future as Zionist state. In terms of Israel’s future viability, we have not behaved like her true friend.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

Read Full Post »

[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

The two-state solution is dead. The Palestinians and the Israelis have both become paralyzed by the most extreme elements in their respective societies and apparently are incapable of compromise, even in their own interest, on virtually any issue. And America has done nothing to help.

On the one hand, with strong support and influence from Syria and Iran and from individual supporters throughout Islam, militant Palestinians have managed to wrest control of their national movement from the more moderate Palestine Authority. They continue the decades-old battle for the “right to return” and the final destruction of Israel, through their support of Hamas and Hezbollah.

On the other, Israeli fundamentalists, eyes fixed on the re-creation of Biblical Israel, have plunged ahead with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. They thus destroy the last hope for peace. They are fueled by support from hard-core Americans who automatically and uncritically support Israel on any and all issues and from American Christian fundamentalists who seek the second coming and, paradoxically, the ultimate conversion of Jews to Christianity.

America always has been Israel’s most staunch supporter. According to the U.S. State Department, between 1972 and 2006, the United States vetoed every single UN Security Council resolution that was critical of Israel. That totaled more than 40 vetoes and it was rare that any other country even abstained on those votes. This practice has brought neither Israel or America any real friends.

In the first 50 years of Israel’s existence, the United States contributed almost $135 billion in direct aid to that country and in interest on loans to procure it. The result is that Israel has survived as an island in an essentially hostile sea. Is that a success? Certainly not when you look at their options for the future.

America has done Israel no favors. Over the years, we have protected her so completely that Israel has never had to face the realities of either living in her own neighborhood, or of developing appropriate policies to do so. Israel right or wrong.

Israel was established as a “democratic, Jewish state.” Without a two-state solution, Israel will either become a non-democratic, apartheid Jewish state or a majority (Palestinian)-ruled democracy. Because of demographic realities, Israel will become either democratic or Jewish, but not both.

Because of our smothering protection, Israel has passed the point of no return on a two-state solution. We have enabled her to sow the seeds of her own destruction and we did this largely because of our idealistic national will to protect a young democratic Jewish state.

What went wrong? Why has Israel today chosen this self-destructive path when the Zionists were so totally committed to democracy and Jewishness?

Israel is about 50 percent secular. Recent polls in Israel show her youth to be far more secular and less interested in the philosophies of liberal democracy and Zionism than their parents or her founders. Sixty years after Israel’s birth few original Zionists remain; emigrants from the former Soviet Union have replaced their numbers.

The USSR was not a country that tolerated organized religion, Jewishness, Zionism or democracy. The emigrants who were raised in that repressive environment, whether secular or believers, are generally far more prone to accept non-democratic ideas and activities than the original Zionists.

It’s hard to judge the true impact of those former Soviet citizens on Israel, but it seems fairly clear, given the nature of their significant current involvement in the settlement movement and broader Israeli politics, that they think and behave very differently from Israel’s founding fathers.

The emotional attachment of the American people to the idea of Israel is constant, but is the same true of our feelings about today’s reality of Israel? Do we support its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza? Israel’s bellicose policy toward Iran with its implications for America? The settlement movement that slowly takes over the West Bank? Their manipulation of U.S. public opinion and politics? The list goes on.

Ultimately, Israel must be allowed to pursue her chosen policies without the pervasive international political cover now provided by the United States. Only then will Israeli policies be influenced by realities in her neighborhood, and only then will Israel find broad support in the international community, support that has diminished over the past few years.

Right now, under America’s political umbrella, there are no viable alternatives for Israel. Only through modifying our policies can we help her learn to deal with her own realities and find new policies that guarantee her survival as a democratic Jewish state.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

Read Full Post »

[Originally published in the Herald of Randolph.]

In early March, the United States announced that after 14 months of no negotiations, Israel and Palestine had agreed to conduct “indirect” talks on the future of Palestine, brokered by the US.

A week later, Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel to shore up a somewhat tattered relationship between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu’s Likud Party.

Then the Israeli Government announced that it was going ahead with plans to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.

On hearing this, Biden arrived two hours late for dinner at Netanyahu’s, the equivalent of a diplomatic slap in the face.

He then openly aired his anger when speaking with the Palestinians in the West Bank and later directly with Netanyahu on his return to Israel.

The Netanyahu government apologized for the timing of the statement, but quite pointedly did not alter their settlement construction plans.

In mid-March, General David Petraeus sent a team to the Pentagon to brief the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  The message, which was relayed to the White House, was that Arab governments view us as too weak and disinclined to deal with Israel in pursuit of an equitable Palestine solution.  The conclusion was that Israeli policy is thus threatening the welfare of our troops in the Middle East.  This caused great consternation in the White House.

According to some members if the Israeli peace movement,  the Israeli government has absolutely no concern about the prospect that the United States government might turn against it in any fundamental way.  The Israelis have been so successful over the years in keeping the United States in their corner in international affairs that they really don’t think anything can change that.

In the aftermath of the announcement of the East Jerusalem settlement plans and the negative reaction from the Obama Administration, the Netanyahu government has focused on trying to mitigate American anger.  This has been all about damage control, not about considering the American equities involved.  In fact, Netanyahu, after issuing an apology, has reiterated his government’s intention to go ahead with the settlements.

So, what are the implications of this dust-up?  If you are prepared to accept the Pentagon’s contention that Israeli policy is, in effect, dangerous for our troops, then a number of things flow from that.  First, it would seem that despite what Israel and her hard line supporters in the US have said for the past sixty years, US and Israeli national interests are not always identical.

That implies that in the critical area of our military involvement in the Middle East, continuing the settlement policy and avoiding a two-state solution are more important to Israel that the welfare of US troops.  In fact, those troops were sent there to create conditions more favorable to Israel – the democratization of the Middle East.  No matter that this was a neocon pipe dream.

Not only are we faced with the difficult religious, ethnic, tribal and political realities in our plans and hopes for the region, we have to deal with the sudden realization that the one country in the region we thought was on our side, really isn’t wholeheartedly there at all.

It would seem that Israel has made a terrible mistake here.  America is Israel’s protector, not vice versa. We have important national interests in the Middle East which have been crassly rejected by the Israeli government.  This is an extraordinarily imprudent thing for Israel to have done.  They need to fix the matter.  The Israeli Lobby, AIPAC, which immediately called on the US to calm things down, might better address that demand to Israel.

Ultimately, and this is the $64 Billion question, one has to ask if the Obama Administration believes that US national interests are involved in what the Pentagon sees as a threat to our troops. Are we as a nation prepared to say that we are capable of differing with Israel, at very least on the most important issues, which this certainly is?  And then, are we prepared to do anything about it?

Most important, all of this comes against a shared consensus here and in Israel, particularly among some of Israel’s former leaders and best thinkers, that, dominated by demographics, the only hope Israel has to continue as a democratic Jewish state is a two state solution. That will mean the end of the settlement program.  Without that, they will soon become a minority in their own land or, even worse, move to a form of apartheid, which, given our own value system, is something we could never support.

Is a continuation of our decades-old policy of overlooking the settlement policy going to threaten our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq?  If you believe the Pentagon on this issue and if you care about the future of a democratic Israel, then you have to decide whether or not continued uncritical support of Israel is in our national interest, or theirs.

Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.  A former longtime resident of Brookfield, he now lives in Williston.

Read Full Post »

Israel: Condemned to conflict

[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

here are a number of truths that involve the Middle East and the Arab/Israeli impasse. The first is that the best, most pragmatic solution to the problem for both sides is the two-state solution. It is the only way all those involved have a chance of getting any part of what they want. The Palestinians would get their own state and some physical connector between the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis, having received guarantees for their peace and security, would probably get at least some of their West Bank settlements. Both sides would get some sort of hegemony over parts of Jerusalem. Everyone would get an absence of war.

Having said that, it looks extremely doubtful that we are going to see that solution reached. Under Bibi Netanyahu, Israel has said clearly that it does not want a two-state solution. In a June speech, his demands for Palestine to have no arms, no control over its airspace, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and no consideration of either the long-cherished Palestinian “right to return” or hegemony over any of Jerusalem, he managed to hit just about every button that is unacceptable to Palestinians and, by extension to Muslims in general. At the same time, his only “concession” to the Palestinians was the creation of a gutted state completely at the mercy of Israel. It would seem that his formulation was consciously designed to preclude any serious future discussion of a two-state solution.

Since the recent publishing of the Goldstone report on Israeli activities in the recent Gaza fighting and the successful push by Israel to get America and ultimately the Palestinian Authority (PA) to help quash that report, Netanyahu’s government has made it quite obvious that it wishes to diminish the moderate role of the PA and leave Israel only a hostile Hamas to deal with, thus guaranteeing there will be no peace treaty.

For their part, Hamas and Hizballah have repeatedly demonstrated that under current circumstances, they are not interested in giving Israel any sort of peace.

America’s invasion of Iraq and our subsequent regional policies have been major catalysts in the rising instability in the region: Iraq’s historical role as a counterbalance to Iranian regional aspirations was ended with the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Baathis who maintained order in Iraq, and the subsequent installation of a Shia government there. In wiping out Saddam’s Iraq, we empowered Iran and the Shia and diminishing Sunni regional power to the benefit of Iran. By leaving Afghanistan for Iraq, we have re- empowered the Taliban, creating a threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most important, our actions have rekindled Iran’s centuries-old dreams of regional hegemony, which may well have been a critical component in the focus of their nuclear decisions.

If regional stability is our goal, as it certainly should be, then everything we have done has threatened our interests there. How then is this likely to play out? Frankly, if a two-state solution cannot be reached, all the alternatives are bad for everyone involved. In examining these, consider that Israel was founded and sees itself as a democratic, Jewish state.

The Arabs, Palestinians included, would probably prefer a one-state solution. This would mean the West Bank, Gaza and Israel all part of the same state. Once created and if democratic, today’s Arab minority would soon turn into a majority – the law of demographics – and Israel would no longer be a Jewish state. This would certainly be a disaster for Israel.

Israel might opt for disenfranchising all its Arab citizens, guaranteeing a future of sorts for a Jewish state, but ending its democracy. Or it might literally eject those same Palestinians with the same result – a Jewish, but non-democratic state. This course of action would be violation of who the Israeli Jews really are and a public relations and international disaster for them.

Unfortunately, there is an additional, even worse possibility. That is the indefinite maintenance of the status quo with the Jews and the Palestinians continuing today’s paramilitary/military battle forever, the Jews supported by the United States and the Palestinians supported by their Muslim brethren. This “solution”, quite apart from the misery it will cause in Israel and Palestine, will keep the rest of the Middle East and Islam in a constant state of military readiness and instability. It is not a pleasant prospect. It will create and maintain a level of instability in the region and in the world which we have not heretofore seen. This would be humanitarian disaster for all involved.

Any sane person who looks at the current realities in the Middle East has to ask how it is possible that all the parties are not clamoring for the two-state solution? Where roughly 60 percent of Palestinian and Israeli citizens would accept such a solution if it met most of the needs of their countries, the people in charge clearly are not as eager.

The fact is that there is a limited number of possibilities for the future of the region and none of them favor either side. Yet, apparently each side truly believes that it can refuse such a solution and still “win.” This means casting in stone the Israeli goal of expanding its settlements into a pure, Jewish state encompassing virtually all of the West Bank, and the Arab goal of maintaining “the right to return”, which would effectively be the end of the democratic, Jewish state of Israel.

Neither side will allow the other to “win” and unless a reasonable two-state solution can be reached, it looks as if the region is about to be condemned to perpetual conflict with all the instability that will bring to America and the rest of the world.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »