This was the first full day of the Jerusalem Conference, with many excellent speakers and much of importance to share. If there is anything to be regretted it is that some sessions run concurrently, so that choices must be made and it is impossible to attend everything.
Here I share highlights, in terms of issues and speakers. More than this would be impossible. Hopefully even these highlights will provide significant facts and also perspective. Perhaps they will stimulate deeper inquiries into the issues on the part of some of you.
The Keynote speaker for the morning was Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), and his news was very good:
In spite of the difficult part of the world in which we exist, we withstood the financial crisis better than most nations. And so, today, throughout the world, we are recognized for the way in which we have coped during the worst of the crisis and for the fact that we began recovery sooner than most nations. Within the crisis we found opportunity — to improve our financial status, to become more stable, and to polish our image.
We have focused on long-term planning and not stop-gap measures.
The session on Lawfare: Goldstone, the UN, and NGOs was highly informative.
Lawfare = the use of the law to demonize Israel.
Moderator Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy, began by pointing out that when Goldstone’s history is examined, it is clear that he tends to please political powers. Says Dr. Ehrenfeld, he aspires to be UN secretary-general.
Lt. Col (res) Jonathan Halevi, Senior Researcher on the Middle East and Radical Islam for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, carefully demolished any notion that there was objectivity at work when the Goldstone committee of inquiry did its work. What is to be regretted, he says, is that the world sees this report as representing a balanced investigation.
Among the things to be questioned with regard to the Report are the methodology, the fact finding, the objectivity, and the presence of an (open) hidden agenda.
The Palestinian Arab version of events was always accepted. No testimony was challenged. No questions were asked about Hamas. All witnesses denied there was “resistance,” and this was accepted.
No alternative scenarios were ever considered. E.g., the IDF hit a mosque. Goldstone claimed the IDF intended to attack those at prayer. He never even considered that it might have been because of the presence of terrorists. Goldstone asked witnesses, how many breadwinners were hit, and not how many were affiliated with Hamas. The committee extended condolences to those witnesses who lost family in the mosque attack, when in fact those family members were members of Hamas.
The military expert for the inquiry came with a bias. For example, he asked a Palestinian psychologist, “What drives Israeli soldiers to shoot parents in front of their children?”
Anne Hertzberg, a legal advisor to NGO Monitor, spoke at length about the NGOs — ostensibly human rights organizations — and their campaign of vilification of Israel.
This campaign stems from the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference, at which 15 NGOs declared Israel the single violator of international law. What followed was the Durban Strategy, which achieves a veneer of credibility by couching its attack in legal terms. There are attempts to drag Israel to the International Court of Justice, etc.
A discernable pattern can be recognized: when Israel responds against terrorism, NGO charges follow. These NGOs are then called upon to take part in legal processes. We saw this with Jenin, building of the security fence, the Lebanon War, and Cast Lead.
During the three weeks of Cast Lead, 500 statements were issued by NGOs, accusing Israel of occupation, war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc. NGOs frequently listed combatants as civilians (thereby increasing the ostensible number of civilians Israel killed). 90% of the police defined by NGOs as civilians were actually terrorists.
Goldstone had strong ties to NGOs. He was on the board of Human Rights Watch (until pushed into resigning), and members of his committee of inquiry had ties to Amnesty International. The UN Human Rights Commission provided Goldstone with staff and at least one member had Palestinian solidarity connections.
Ronen Shoval, of Im Tirtzu, spoke about these connections. When his group began to analyze the footnotes of the Report, it was discovered that 92% of accusations were from Israeli NGOs, with some 16 groups involved. New Israel Fund, says Shoval, had provided these groups with $7.8 million in 2008-2009.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Weisenthal Center, spoke about a different, and less known, issue regarding the World Council of Churches (WCC).
This is an exceedingly important topic, which I will touch upon only very briefly here. Perhaps at some point I will return to this.
Cooper explained that this is a movement of liberal Christian groups, most notably Presbyterian — and in strong contradistinction to the very solid support we have among other Christians — that seeks to erode support for Israel in the US. It says that Israel is illegitimate, the last gasp of colonialism. In 2008, theologians within the movement analyzed the theological understandings of the Bible, and reasserted replacement theology (which says that the covenant of the Jews with G-d has been superseded by Christianity, so that, among other things, the connection of the Jewish people to the Land no longer applies).
Within Congress, it should be noted, there are 33 members of this group in the House and 13 in the Senate.
On the huge subject of Iran there were several speakers. About the fact that Iran represents a huge danger there is unanimity. But about little else. There are different takes, for example, regarding whether the unrest in Iran now will lead to a regime turnover, and, more so, whether this is possible before Iran reaches nuclear capacity.
One point of importance is that this is a regional or international threat, and not one just to Israel. Iran aims to challenge international stability, and weaken Sunni control in the area. The goal is political, says Amos Gilad, Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs for the IDF.
Gilad thinks it is inconceivable that Fatah will not fall under Hamas dominance in time. This is the model, just as Hezbollah is taking over Lebanon. He does not believe the insurgents will succeed before Iran would become nuclear.
Dr. Dore Gold, Director of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (and author of a book on Iran), certainly concurs with regard to the regional threat — with Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Gaza, Sudan, Iraq, etc. all affected.
But he put it even more starkly. Iran going nuclear, he says, will affect the entire battle against terrori
sm. In 2001, the US retaliated for 9/11 by going into Afghanistan. Today Iran shelters both Shia and Sunni terrorist groups. What would be possible in terms of going after them if Iran had the bomb?
Dr. Gold does not believe that sanctions can be effective. They take a long time, he said, far longer than we have. What sanctions would do is signal Iran that finally the world is serious. He believes that the Obama administration has a fall-back position if sanctions don’t work: deterrence. That is, the threat that if Iran used the bomb they’d get hit in turn by the US. This is what prevailed during the Cold War. But Gold does not see this model as applicable because he doesn’t think that Iran would take the US threat seriously.
The question of whether the US would accept a nuclear Iran in the end (assuming Israel doesn’t set Iran’s nuclear clock back), or resort to military power at the last moment is the greatest unanswered question.
Senator Birch Bayh (D-Indiana) addressed the gathering by video. He said that it’s worth trying to rally the world, but he doesn’t have much hope for this, and in the end it’s appropriate to use force if all else fails. This is better than a nuclear Iran.
Congressmen Elliot Engel (D-NY 17) participated on this panel. He said repeatedly, “We cannot allow Iran to go nuclear.” And I had the impulse to say, “Nu?” Neither Bayh nor Engel is sitting in the White House. Unfortunately.
The last session I will report on here addressed the best way to handle the Israeli-Palestinian situation. I found it fascinating because there was an absolute unanimity in terms of diagnosing the situation, and incredible diversity regarding how to respond.
To a person, it was agreed that the Palestinian Arabs don’t really want a “two-state solution.”
Minister Benny Begin spelled it out neatly: There is no solution, but there is an internal need to find a solution (doing nothing doesn’t “feel right”). Do we try to compromise, or take the issue off the agenda?
He described much of what you read here on a regular basis: Fatah has not moderated. At their August conference, they had the opportunity to do so, but instead reaffirmed the charter that calls for Israel’s destruction. Thus no agreement can be reached, and there will not be one. Things will remain as they are. To give any land to the PA would be irresponsible with Hamas waiting in the wings. We can, and should, try to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian Arabs.
TV journalist Ehud Ya’ari, who has some inside connections to the Palestinian Arabs, shared some things we don’t routinely hear:
A former aide to Arafat said that the idea of a Palestinian state within the ’67 lines is a “punitive construct designed by the US and Israel to hinder Palestinian movement.”
Not only is there no enthusiasm for a state within ’67 lines, says Ya’ari, he was asked: “Who told you that the struggle for independence means sovereignty?” To the Palestinian mind independence and statehood are not the same thing. They are fighting “to cast off Israel.” There is the battle cry of a state within the ’67 lines, but no real political agenda.
The Palestinian Arabs, says Ya’ari, are aiming for “reverse annexation” — attempting to swallow us up. “They [the Israelis] are collapsing into our unwilling arms.”
Ya’ari’s “solution” for this is very strange indeed: quick, force them into interim sovereignty. As Arieh Eldad (about which more below) said, Who ever heard of forcing sovereignty on someone?
Yoram Ettinger, former minister for Congressional affairs at the Israeli Embassy, said there are two elements for a nation — history and security. But what we’ve done is base our arguments for why we cannot have a two-state solution on security, thus removing the moral high ground of history. There can always be arguments about how we can find security within a two-state paradigm. But our history in this land is our history.
“When you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging.” But our leaders keep digging: Oslo, Road Map, Annapolis, etc.
It is politically correct to speak of a “two-state” solution, but this is not a territory-driven conflict.
For 1,400 years there has not been peace between different Arab groups. Why do we imagine we can make peace with them now?
Ettinger shared with us what Syrian president Bashar Assad had said, when asked about making a small compromise with regard to how much of the Golan Heights he would accept back:
“Anyone who gives away a square inch of his land does not deserve to be respected.”
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also said that the idea of a Palestinian state was dead.
She told a joke: “Only five people believe in a two-state solution and four of them sit in the White House.”
And she offered a direct quote from Ehud Barak: “Between myself and Benny Begin there is no difference regarding Palestinian intentions.”
But, she cautioned, don’t decide not to decide. Stop playing the game and don’t leave the status of Judea and Samaria in ambiguity any longer.
Her solution: apply Israeli law to all of Judea and Samaria. Right now 300,00 Israeli citizens outside the Green Line live under military rule. They should not have a separate or secondary status any longer.
As to the Arabs, give them citizenship, she says.
The problem here, as I see it, is not demography— not an issue of getting swallowed up by Arabs. It’s a question of what sort of citizens these people, who have been trained to hate us and incited to kill us, would be.
There is a modified approach in line with what she suggested: apply Israeli civilian law to all of the Jewish communities outside the Green Line. Make them clearly and unequivocally ours, with our full sovereignty applying to them.
MK Arieh Eldad (Ihud Leumi) said he is for ending the occupation — the occupation of our land by Arabs. He also is for a two-state solution, with the recognition that one of those states is Jordan. We would have Arab residents of Israel, but they would have citizenship in Amman.
The problem with this is that Jordan wants no part of it, although it is said in some quarters that the Hashemite kingdom might be induced under the proper circumstances.