Israel, Obama, 1967, and Obama

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Getting to Yes: Negotiating 101 with Netanyahu and Obama (Part III)

You would think from some  editorial commentary, the bloviating of certain politicians, and defensive reactions in some quarters of the Jewish community that Obama and Netanyahu had a huge argument and that they were now going to have a trial separation. All the neighbors heard them fighting and now the yenta circuit has spread word all over town about the verbal explosion in the well-to-do white sandstone house down the street.  As I have suggested in two previous posts, this reaction is politically naive.

The words of Netanyahu and Obama did not diverge significantly on borders. The tone of Netanyahu was certainly more assertive than that of Obama, but the substance of what Netanyahu said did not differ substantially from what Obama and Israeli negotiators and diplomats have said for years. The 1967 borders will serve as  a baseline for negotiations, but the final borders will not be the same as the 1967 Green Line and the large settlements will remain part of Israel. Netanyahu and Obama agreed on that.

The difference in the language and style has to do with domestic considerations and negotiating strategy.

Netanyahu has to sound tough to appeal to his Likud base (although the majority of Israelis in recent polls did not agree with him on this). American presidents succeed when they take the role of statesmen, because Americans want the U.S. to lead in making the world a more peaceful place. In our national psyche, we see ourselves as having a mission to bring freedom and  success to other parts of the world.

As negotiators, Obama and Netanyahu are playing good cop and bad cop. This has occurred as long as there has been diplomacy. Negotiating in the Middle East is treacherous. Ehud Barak erred in 1999-2000 when he put all his cards on the table without having others in reserve. There is no way that Arab leaders will agree to a treaty unless it seems that they are sticking it to the Israelis and sucking them dry at the negotiating table. Any proposal that an Israel leader approves of at the outset is a dead proposal. No Palestinian would agree to it. At the same, Netanyahu cannot just abandon his base. However, when an American leader pushes him, he can say that he had to acquiesce on some matters, because of the importance of our friendship with the U.S. and because of the transformation that peace would bring to Israel.

This is a kabuki dance. It has always been like this, and it always be like this as long as we play the game of negotiations. What Netanyahu and Obama are doing is Negotiating Strategy 101–basic stuff. That doesn’t mean it will work, but it does provide a chance for peace.

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For Part I, see http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/23/obama-and-1967

For Part II, see http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/24/obama-and-1967-2/

See also the article by Rabbi H.D. Uriel Smith: http://mysticscholar.org/2011/06/06/critique-of-obama-and-1967/

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Obama and 1967: A Sympathetic Response (Part II)

My major point is this:  Israeli negotiators have said exactly the same thing as Obama has–in fact, the Israelis went a lot further. Instead of criticizing Obama, those who attack Obama should argue with the Israelis themselves. Obama is just saying out loud what these Israelis have privately said for years. Those who criticize Obama are in fact criticizing certain Israelis. It just looks like a criticism of Obama, because Netanyahu and his allies are using Obama as a lightning rod to deflect attention off their own negotiators and diplomats and themselves.

But the problem is that Americans don’t have to live in Israel.  A lot of Jews in this country are ready to criticize Israel either for being too bellicose or for agreeing to too much compromise. Many liberal American Jews criticized Israel when it invaded Gaza, but they didn’t have to live in towns receiving daily rocket fire from Gaza. On the other hand, many conservative American Jews ripped Ari Sharon when he abandoned the Gaza Jewish settlements, but they weren’t the ones sending children to Gaza to protect those settlements (which, by the way, had many American Jews in them).

So we should be careful about criticizing Israel when it defends itself and when it seeks peace. Criticizing Obama on 1967 is no different from criticizing those Israeli governments that have effectively said the very same thing. In fact, Netanyahu has spoken similarly– listen to what he says, not to how he says it.  It’s just easier to rip Obama than it is to rip Israelis.

Even on Jerusalem, Netanyahu speaks carefully. In his speech to the US Congress, he never said that East Jerusalem would not be the capital of a Palestinian state. He only says that Jerusalem will not be divided. What “not divided” means, is open to numerous interpretations, as any reader of rabbinic texts should know well.

In many ways, I believe that the venom in the U.S. against Obama on this reflects the frustration of many American Jews and Christians (particularly those who have institutional interests in maintaining the status quo) against Israeli politicians and groups with whom they disagree.  They would rather have Israel dependent on them (a U.S. subsidiary or a victim that relies on the philanthropy of others) than functioning as an independent country that operates on its own terms and in its own indigenous interests as a Jewish country with its own Jewish values.

No doubt, many Israelis are also criticizing Obama, but it’s for the very same reason. He’s a lot more convenient target than their own leaders.

Perhaps Obama’s strategy is to use himself as a lightning rod to draw attention from others so that they can make peace. I doubt that this will work because of the virulent antisemitism of Hamas, the unwillingness of Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state, and the instability of Palestinian governance. But you never know what might happen without trying. It’s worth a try. Peace always is.

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For Part I, go to http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/23/obama-and-1967/

For Part III, go to http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/26/getting-to-yes-negotiating-101-with-netanyahu-and-obama/

See also the article by Rabbi H.D. Uriel Smith: http://mysticscholar.org/2011/06/06/critique-of-obama-and-1967/

 

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Obama and 1967: A Sympathetic Response (Part I)

Israeli negotiators have long acknowledged that the 1967 lines have been and will be the basis for future negotiations of a Palestinian state. Virtually every discussion of security and settlements has assumed this. The info from WikiLeaks confirms this as the Israeli position. Even Netanyahu has more or less admitted this in a recent speech to the Knesset.  He sounds tough, but his positions are in line with previous Israeli negotiating positions. He just doesn’t want to use the word, “1967.”

The reaction to Obama’s statement in the Arab world says it all. Arabs don’t like it because in part everyone (including the Israelis) already knew about 1967. It’s old news. Actually Obama’s statement was one of the most forceful defenses of Israel by any administration: his condemnation of Hamas’ call for Israel’s annihilation and his demand that any negotiations for a Palestinian state require groups to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state; and his frank criticisms of the UN. Many in the Arab world are very upset by this. In my view, Obama’s position is an attempt to protect Israel from the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state by the U.N. General Assembly. It gives (we hope) him, the US, and other nations cover to oppose this by simply stating what everyone already knows to be the case. In the end, the only parties that can determine boundaries and arrangements are the Israelis and the Palestinians, not some third-party bureaucracy.

Obama merely stated what negotiators on both sides have long admitted: Israel will keep the larger settlements, but the “1967” border will remain more or less. Of course, the “more or less” is key, and there will be territorial, financial, and other arrangements. This is just boiler-plate stuff. It’s only the politicians and rhetoricians who pander to their true-believing bases that naively think there is some kind of alternative or new deal or conquest or God that will solve the problem. My guess is that Netanyahu understands this as well-privately, but will never admit to it publicly (even though his actual public words may be read as confirming my point).

As for Jerusalem, Israelis have already offered some kind of arrangement of East Jerusalem under both Barak and Olmert: Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli control, Palestinian ones under Palestinian control. Israeli negotiators confirm this time and time again. Many of us make not like it or think it unworkable (frankly I wonder), but it’s what the Israelis themselves have offered–not Obama or the far-left.

In other words, what I am saying is what is in fact what Israelis themselves have already stated or offered in private talks.  It’s not new. What we’re all are arguing about is rhetoric that the negotiators and diplomats in Israel only pay attention to for political and PR reasons, not substantive ones. In other words, those of us who argue about Israel are just talking, but the negotiation facts are way ahead of us.

The real issue is not territory any more. Its culture and politics. Until the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state, nothing will happen. And they don’t accept Israel. That’s one enormous problem. The other is the state of Palestinian governance and society. The Palestinian government is still (compared to Israel and the West) unstable,  corrupt, ineffective, and repressive. There’s no authentic democracy or freedom. The culture and economy are still backward, primitive, and unmanageable.  Of course, Gaza is much worse than the West Bank.

And we Jews have to admit that we have some problems with extremists on our side as well, particularly among the settlers. And there are discrimination and prejudice issues in Israel itself. They are not as serious or as significant as among the Palestinians, but we who are Jewish have to face this honestly and deal with it.

Until Palestinians deal with their deep problems, there will be no meaningful agreement.  And I don’t feel very positive about that–unfortunately.  Still, as Obama says, we have to try. You never know, and events can unfold in unpredictable ways that are turn out better than expected from time to time. This is the moment when we have to push forward, not sit back and watch events on the ground deteriorate.

I say this as a thank-you to President Obama from a Jew and a strong Zionist.

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For Part II, go to http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/24/obama-and-1967-2/

For Part III, go to http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/26/getting-to-yes-negotiating-101-with-netanyahu-and-obama/

See also the article by Rabbi H.D. Uriel Smith: http://mysticscholar.org/2011/06/06/critique-of-obama-and-1967/

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A New Day

A NEW DAY
© 2010, Dr. Laurence H. Kant
Essay for the Evolutionary Envisioning Circle of the Annual Great Mother Celebration, September, 2010

A new day emerges, as so many have in millennia past. Once, after we foraged and gathered, we became hunters. Once, after we hunted, we became farmers and shepherds. Once, after we lived in villages and small enclaves, we became city dwellers. Once, after priests and kings ruled, leaders came from the people. Once we did not know what was on the other side of the ocean; now we can not only travel there by boat or jet, but we can be virtually present on other continents when we’re secure at home half a world away. Once we thought that mass violence and genocide were normal; now we don’t. Once we did not even have a word for genocide; now we do.

Each time we move a few steps closer to the land of Eden, where, amidst friendship, dance, love-making, study, and work, we will dine again with God, the Source of All That Is. The sparks of fire that scattered at creation slowly come together to create a flame that lights our world in times of dissolution and chaos. We move from confusion toward knowledge, from fear toward courage, from despair toward hope, from separation toward unity, from pieces toward wholes.

What is wholeness? In Hebrew and Arabic, shalom/salaam connects to a Semitic root that means “whole” and “complete.” Some say “peace,” but that’s only part of the story. In its mystical sense, shalom/salaam really means interconnected oneness. It is that place where difference and oneness coexist, where each being finds its own unique purpose and self-expression as part of one planetary tableau, one eternal poem, one cosmic body, one collective consciousness, one Source.

During the shift, the ego (the I) recedes, and the authentic person emerges from its mother’s womb. The true self, the person You truly are, takes its place in the chariot palace, near the blazing wings of the multi-headed cherubim and the flashing heat of the serpentine seraphim. There it dines with other new-born true selves to seek wisdom in the new Temple of Knowledge and Love. Feminine and masculine energies, whose significance we assumed we understood, reveal unexpected meanings to thinking bodies and heart-filled minds. Days of pleasure and collective communing finally allow a slumbering species to shed its ego hide and put on a healing garment of shared awareness.

What will wholeness mean for evolving human culture? “Conformity” means a mass of individuals forming a collective mega ego (an I). Genuine “community” means a critical mass of individuals building a whole that transcends the individual egos and creates a collective Higher Self.

The events we see on our television sets and computer monitors—boiling, jittery delirium and tumult accompanied by earth’s eruptions, swirling storms, and disappearing ice—signal a shift from one age to the next. There will be many more such shifts in the future. But, for now, at this moment, our twenty-five-hundred-year sojourn at the inn of familiar habits, nations, and institutions has ended. Dying structures make way for new. Another day of travelling begins toward another inn on the road circling back and forward from and toward Eden. Here, in another time long, long ahead, we will be able to eat of both trees—of life and knowledge—but with experience enough to do so as humble partners of the Source, adult co-creators, sharing in the miraculous birthing of new worlds.

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How to Start a Peaceful Revolution: The Story of Gene Sharp


A wonderful story about a mild-mannered man whose ideas have inspired non-violent uprisings worldwide against dictatorships.

<http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/17sharp.html?hp>http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/17sharp.html?hp
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“Maybe this is the Moment to Put Our Trust in Freedom”: Natan Sharanksy

I stand with Sharansky.  Freedom is the only real hope for peace.  In the end, if we support dictatorships against democratic movements, we will alienate the vast majority of Arab/Muslim populations, and we will give them only one option:  the Muslim Brotherhood.  A truly democratic society, not only with elections, but with independent institutions and the capacity to pursue whatever wants to pursue (i.e. freedom), sounds the death knell for extremist, violent, backward-looking, tyrannical, theocratic religious movements.  Freedom is also what the U.S., Israel, and other democracies are supposed to stand for.  Of course, failure is possible, but the risk is worth it:  http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Editorials/Article.aspx?id=207745

See also the excellent article by Jackson Diehl on the upsides of Egypt’s revolution
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/12/AR2011021200483.html

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Yoko Ono’s Message of Peace

Sometimes simple ideas are what we need to practice:  “IMAGINE PEACE.”

http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/imagine-peace-2011

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Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt

I don’t agree with Religion Link’s description (http://www.religionlink.com/topic_110131.php) of the Muslim Brotherhood as “not simply a religion, but a way of life.”  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood believes that.  Yet, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, it also believes that Egypt should be an Islamic state, as should other Muslim countries in the Middle East.  It does not historically affirm freedom, openness, an entrepreneurial economy, or secular democratic values such as a free press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.  Unlike Iranian Shi’ites, the Mujhadeen, and Jihadists generally, the Muslim Brotherhood is not wedded to intimidation and violence as the primary means of achieving its goals, but it is willing to use violence when it sees fit.  For example, members assassinated King Abdullah I in Jordan in 1951, tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, were implicated in the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981, assassinated a number of moderate Arab leaders in the 1950’s, and perpetrated other terrorist attacks including the Hebron massacre of Jews in1929.  Since the 1970’s and 80’s, it has renounced violence and has spoken of Islamic democracy, but given its history and its hostility to generally accepted democratic values, it would not be unreasonable to view its democratic advocacy very skeptically.  Further, Hamas (which rules Gaza) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has consistently used violence against both Israelis and Palestinians as an important tactical component.  In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood views Israel as the enemy of Arabs and Muslims.  The Muslim Brotherhood has also had a long-standing, well-documented admiration of, and support, for Nazi ideology.  In general, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt now uses moderate tactics, but its goal is still an Islamic state.  And, remember, calling for Islam to be a part of government is not the same as calling for an Islamic State, with Sharia law and all its accoutrements.  There’s certainly the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed and will continue to evolve into a democratic movement, but there will have to be more evidence to trust that.

Here is a link from Juan Cole, suggesting that a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is unlikely.  Many Egyptians who are religious and who oppose the current government also have democratic, secular values.  And there is a long tradition of secular politics in Egypt.  There is also widespread support for Islamic values, but not necessarily for an Islamic state:  http://www.juancole.com/2011/02/why-egypt-2011-is-not-iran-1979.html .  I hope Cole is right.

That said, in the final analysis, prosperity and peace in the Middle East depend upon Muslim/Arab societies developing democratic traditions and cultures of openness,  That will be good for everyone, including the US and Israel, in the long run.  Of course, the “long run” can take a long time, and there can be a lot of turbulence and suffering in-between.

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Noam Chomsky and Israel

I wrote the following to a friend when he sent me an article by Noam Chomsky from Salon: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2010/04/27/chomsky_middle_east/index.html?source=newsletter

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Chomsky claims he is a Zionist, but does not really support the idea of a Jewish state or of a two-solution (even though he implies that he does here and elsewhere–he’s not serious and calls it temporary).  He does not take seriously into account Arab anti-semitism and Arab views of Jews over the decades or, even more important, the Arab commitment to annihilating Israel.  He neglects to mention that Israel came to occupy the West Bank in 1967, because every surrounding country was on the verge of a massive attack against Israel motivated by the desire to drive “Israel into the sea.”  What was Israel supposed to do?  Allow themselves to be slaughtered to feed the egos of those who do not believe that Jews have a right to defend themselves?  The goal of annihilating Israel and Jews still remains for many, obviously for Hamas, but even in the PLO and in many Arab societies, as well as the Iranian government.

How do you have a peace agreement when the majority of the peoples around you wish to destroy your country and slaughter or deport your citizens?  How do you have a peace agreement with a government which does not demonstrate a commitment to a democratic, non-corrupt, free society?  How do you have a peace agreement with a government that does not demonstrate even the most rudimentary capacity to run an orderly society?

Chomsky also claims in many of his interviews and writing that antisemitism no longer exists in any meaningful form.  That’s nice for him.  I don’t know what reality he lives in, but it’s not one I’m familiar with.  Perhaps he should take a look at what it’s like to be Jewish in France or Britain or Venezuela.  Or he might take a look at FBI religious hate crime stats in the US, which show that in 2007 69.2% of religious hate crimes are against Jews while 8.7% are of an anti-Islamic bias (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2007/victims.htm).  Chomsky is a well-to-do, successful, academic in a highly privileged institution who has no clue what it’s currently like to be Jewish in other settings, including the Middle East.

The real reason that Chomsky opposes Israel is that he is at heart an anarchist and does not really believe that states should exist in the first place–certainly not a Jewish state.  That’s nice for those who live in La La land.  I am certainly no backer of nation states and believe that they are on their way out as governing entities.  But I’m not so silly as to believe that we don’t need government and authority of some kind.

It’s sad that Salon would feature someone like Chomsky who is not taken seriously in the Jewish community, even on the left.  There are many others who could critique Israeli policies and offer a progressive vision of the Middle East.  Featuring Chomsky, an anarchist, does not encourage discussion or debate.  It shuts it down.

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By the way, I’m not joking when I call Chomsky an anarchist.   He really is a self-proclaimed anarchist.  He has written extensively on the topic, including a book.  My best guess (and it’s only a guess) is that a lot of his strong opposition to Israel stems from his own Jewish identity and his anarchism.  As a Jew, he is especially opposed to Zionism and Jewish statehood, because the very concept of statehood is anathema to him.

But, in the real world today, with the way people live and act, the possibility of anarchism is a fantasy.  It bears a lot of resemblance to radical libertarianism, which comes from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.

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Decline of Human Violence

Decline of Human Violence

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_is_there_peace/

This article by Steven Pinker (from Dianne Bazell) briefly reviews the substantial evidence for the decline of human violence over the millennia (see also the excellent book by Gwynne Dyer, War: The Lethal Custom). When I would get up in a front of a class (including my classes on the holocaust, genocide, and violence) or in front of public groups, I would explain to people that, as horrifying as these events are, we are less murderous toward one another than at other times. The most violent cultures, in fact, have been hunter-gatherer societies. I would explain that groups have committed genocide throughout all of human history, and there has been precious little criticism of it. Religious texts (including scriptures) frequently sanction it. People generally refuse to believe me, but the evidence is very clear about the increasing value of life for human beings. Sometimes I use this as an example to explain the validity of the Enlightenment notion of human progress, but many just close their ears to this. I think what is difficult for people to comprehend is that human beings can be so hideous to one another and that, ever though we often treat one another in repellent ways, we now treat one another slightly less repellently than we have in the past.

From a spiritual point of view, I see this as an part of the unfolding evolution of human and planetary consciousness (Teilhard de Chardin would have a lot to say about this). This is a good thing, but it reminds us of our shadow side, and we don’t like it and cannot accept that we still have it with us. So part of the process involves recognizing our shadow components, accepting them while not indulging them, and moving toward a more harmonious level of awareness.

The best way to do this is not to deny the our nature as aggressive beings, but to harness our competitive impulses to make the world a better place

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War and Peace in Middle East

I wrote this this to a friend who was very upset with Avigdor Lieberman’s statement, “those who want peace should prepare for war.”

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I know that this sounds awful and that Lieberman has used racist language toward Arabs.  This is certainly true, and that part is wrong.

At the same time, I agree with his statement that there is no peace without preparing for war.  That is a part of Jewish thought for millennia and is encompassed in the Jewish notion of “shalom.”  Shalom means “wholeness,” not peace.  In this case, “wholeness” includes both the retreating and assertive sides of human nature and of nature itself.  I did not like Ronald Reagan’s domestic policies, but he was right in the way that he dealt with the Soviet Union.  And, in the Middle East, that is even more true.  You have to be tough, and you have to take into account that those who hate you will use various means at their disposal to annihilate you.  That’s the way it is, and anyone who wants peace also has to understand this fact.  Otherwise, you invite aggression and violence.

If I were in Lieberman’s position, I would not say what he said publicly about preparing for war, but preparing for the possibility of war is what I would do.

I am attaching an article by Yossi Klein Halevi who understands the Middle East as well as anyone that I know.  He wrote a wonderful book called “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden:  A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.”  He is a political centrist, very realistic, but very much wanting peace.  This article expresses much that is in my view true:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123846458281572307.html.  The idea right now of negotiations toward a two-state solution is naive and foolish.  I believe in a two-state solution, but the Palestinians are at this time nowhere near in a position to have a functional, democratic state.  The best that we can hope for is movement in the Palestinian and Arab world toward a civil, democratic, tolerant society.  That is a precondition and prerequisite for a meaningful peace settlement.  Olmert and Livni (and Barak in the past) did everything they could to engage in dialogue with the Palestinian leadership about an agreement.  They failed primarily because the time was not yet ready for them to succeed.  Palestinian society needs to change in order for peace to even have a chance.

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