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Remaindered Reporting

I was going to use this in a column, but I've decided not to, but it may as well see the light of say somewhere. The other day Rand Beers got asked a question about "would we under the Kerry administration see a US representative lift a sole hand" to check Israeli actions in the West Bank. The construction of the security wall, for example. Beers said, that Kerry's view on the subject "is a recognition by John Kerry of Israel's right to its own self-defense which is why we have stood in opposition to the World Court's jurisdiction over this." It looked to me from Beers' body language like this was the statement of a man who knows he's advocating for a bad policy, but thinks it's what he needs to do in order to be able to accomplish what he really wants to do.

Or maybe that was wishful thinking on my part. Either way, the question remains whether it's really possible to do what Rand Beers wants to do if in order to be in a position to be able to do it, he needs to stick with our current Israel policy. I tend to think that it isn't. Well-meaning as John Kerry and his team may be, if they don't think they can get away with deviating from the AIPAC line (and I readily admit they may be correct in thinking that they cannot so deviate) there are big limits on what they can really do.

July 30, 2004 | Permalink


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Tracked on Oct 6, 2005 9:10:09 PM


Historically, Democrats have been less willing to deviate from the most pro-Israeli line possible because their electoral college majorities have depended on huge wins among Jews, who tend to be concentrated in swing states like Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. (And I know not all Jews think the same thing about Israel, or even consider it when they vote, but it does matter to many.) At the moment, a lot of traditionally Democratic Jews are considering crossing over to Bush because of foreign policy. (Ocean Guy might be the most vocal example in the blogosphere, though Allison Kaplan Sommer also shows the trend.) Kerry can't afford to take chances with them.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Jul 30, 2004 9:58:44 PM

Kerry said the same thing in his interview with Tom Brokaw.

Posted by: q | Jul 30, 2004 10:00:42 PM

Not deviating from the established hawk line of international policy is what brought Rand Beers (and Holbrooke, and Sandy Berger) to Kerry's side in the first place.

Posted by: dstein | Jul 30, 2004 10:13:41 PM

Opposition to UN jurisdiction over the fence isn't bad policy. Building the fence deep within Palestinian territory in several places is, of course, an awful idea, and opposition to it is clearly justified. But demanding that the entire fence be taken down without a single mention of terrorism--the International Court of Justice position--is absurd.

I've never been convinced that heavy US pressure on Israel is likely to produce great results. It does take two to make peace, and if the Palestinians and Arab governments conclude that they can get effective concessions via US pressure on Israel without doing anything themselves, then we certainly won't get anything from them. Consistent and meaningful US *involvement*, a basic element sorely lacking under Bush, is always good, and I think Kerry would definitely provide that.

But, unless we take a pretty radical step like a US-led trusteeship in the Palestinian territories as proposed by Martin Indyk, I can't see any really dramatic improvements coming solely from more US involvement. That involvement does matter, and I think it would be better under Kerry, but something like the trusteeship plan (which I think is a good idea) is highly unlikely under any administration. Not because of the Jewish vote, or whatever, but because it would take a massive amount of effort with a pretty slim chance of success, and almost no chance of any tangible short-term success. Politics don't usually allow for that sort of thing.

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 30, 2004 11:16:12 PM

I think your parenthetical - "(and I readily admit they may be correct in thinking that they cannot so deviate)" - is indeed spot on. AIPAC dictates orthodoxy with respect to Israel policy and thus, from the politicians' point of view, represents the Jewish community. Until alternative Jewish communities such as Tikkun (www.tikkun.org) and Jewish Voice For Peace (www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org) gain larger followings (and there are certainly growing in size), the situation will remain unchanged which, imho, will be disastrous for Jews in the long term (the bitter irony of the situation).

As for what Kerry and his team really think: at this point in time, it seems to be a matter of impossible speculation as they have zero choice as to Israel policy if they want to get elected. Remember how Dean was assailed from all sides when he had the outrageous temerity to suggest that the I/P conflict may benefit from a slightly more "even-handed" approach by the US ?

Oh yes, and then they're the Christian Zionists...

Posted by: Alex | Jul 30, 2004 11:18:19 PM

On the flip side, the anti-Israel votes are all lefties, who will either vote for Kerry or Nader, so this is almost certainly the correct move. So there is no gain for him in saying "well, we should really be working towards peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". It is possible that if this came up in the debate, say, a few anti-Israel far lefties could desert Kerry. But I think this is the sort of message that can be made quietly, in targeted magazines and such.

It's interesting that we've finally gotten away from the Hard Line in Cuba, but haven't gotten there in Israel yet.

Posted by: niq | Jul 30, 2004 11:34:39 PM

"Remember how Dean was assailed from all sides when he had the outrageous temerity to suggest that the I/P conflict may benefit from a slightly more "even-handed" approach by the US ?"

That was a lot more about Dean's choice of language than anything else. The Palestinians and the Arab states have always complained that the US should be more "even-handed," even when their policies explicitly called for the destruction of Israel, as they did for decades. Being "even-handed" has no meaning if one side refuses to recognize the other's right to exist. That was why some people were worked up about it, the historical associations it brought up.

Now, a clear-cut case of pro-Israel spin in the Dem primary was when Dean said to Wolf Blitzer that Israeli assassinations were justified because Palestinian terrorists should be seen as soldiers in a war, and thus fair game for military measures, not just arrests. Absurdly, the Kerry campaign latched onto this as an instance of Dean being *against* Israel's assassination policy (because they're terrorists, you can't call them "soldiers"!), when any idiot reading the context could easily see that Dean was defending Israel's policy. That was some straight-up bullshit, since Dean's critics on that point were well aware of what he said, and just decided to lie about it.

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 30, 2004 11:41:53 PM

Haggai: this is probably provocative way beyond the bounds of what we're talking about in this thread but it's not entirely clear to me that the Palestinians should (in a moral sense) recognize the right of Israel to exist and by that, I mean to define itself as an ethnocentric state, to the exclusion of Palestinians who've lived on the land for many hundreds of years.

The pro-Zionist, anti-Zionist debate (disclaimer: I'm an anti-Zionist Jew) is clearly a very difficult one to conduct but I did want to raise this point of principle. Sure, from a practical point of view given the current circumstances, the Palestinians have little choice but to recognize Israel's right to exist if they want to get anywhere in a political process (were a viable one to arise, as opposed to the utter charade we have at the moment). I'm just saying I'm not sure if it's right and I actually think, in the practical sphere, that some form of bi-nationalism has to occur at some point (probaby preceeded by a nominal two state 'solution'). The latter assertion does make one great leap of faith though: that the world, including the US, will not stand by while Israel executes its long term plan to ethnically cleanse Greater Israel of all Palestinians because if the current political dynamics remained unchanged, that is what will happen.

Posted by: Alex | Jul 31, 2004 12:41:45 AM

Yeah, just like they've been ethnically cleansing the territories since 1967. Whatever.

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 31, 2004 12:44:21 AM

Why can't those Semites get all post-modern, forget about their tribes, and just blaze up together like Harold and Kumar?

Posted by: next big thing | Jul 31, 2004 12:48:56 AM

Prescott Bush.

Posted by: John Isbell | Jul 31, 2004 12:55:44 AM

Kerry is lucky that Bush has probably managed to piss off all the Arabs/Muslims in the USA. Thus Kerry keeps their votes despite his Zionist feints.

(I admit, perhaps some Iraqi Americans, sick of Saddam, will vote for Bush.)

But with demographic trends, at some point in the near future, the primary political calculation will surely be to attract the Muslim vote, before considering the sons of Jacob.

Posted by: next big thing | Jul 31, 2004 1:00:54 AM

Yeah, just like they've been ethnically cleansing the territories since 1967. Whatever.

Can you tell me how many Arabs live in Ariel, the capital of Samaria?
Perfectly ethnically cleansed it is. And we're proud of it!

Yours in Friendship, Ron Nachmann

Knesset Member Ron Nachman, who is the head of Ariel Council, was born in 1942, the 4th generation in the country. Married and a father of 4, he comes from a family who took part in the starting of the Nes-ziona.

Posted by: Factoid | Jul 31, 2004 4:58:01 AM

I think this "even handed" suggestion is a red herring. Israel has no real friends in the world other than the US. Every single other state in the world is either truly even-handed(most of Europe), or downright hostile(The Middle East, Africa, parts of the Far East). With dozens of nations lining up firmly on the side of the Arab states and the Palestinians, how does one state, however powerful, siding with Israel reduce the chances of peace? It's a bogus argument. Our unique relationship with Israel gives us more leverage. We have gotten major concessions out of Israel in the past. We are the only ones who can do that.

However, I don't really think it's just political expediency. There was probably no President more genuinely pro-Israel than Bill Clinton, and that fact was what enabled him to present the best offer ever to Arafat at Camp David. Personally, I don't see how a President can help but not to love Israel, as Israel is a sister state, a democracy. How can an American President ever be neutral between a liberal democracy and a tyranny run by a murderous despot? That wouldn't just be a change in Israel policy, it would be a change in American basic values.

And before anyone gets started about American support for dictators, I concede that. But there is not one time in our history where we have actively favored the interests of a tyrant over a neighboring democracy. Taiwan, for example, is a strategic liability for us, but we can never abandon their interests because they are a democracy. And like Israel, Taiwan has only one friend they can count on: the United States. In this case, Europe doesn't even adopt the pretense of being "even handed". They are blatantly pro-China.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Jul 31, 2004 7:47:11 AM

What's the point in trying to twist Israel's arm over terrorism ? It sure as heck won't achieve peace.

Sharon's disengagemnet is probably the most realistic plan out there.

Posted by: Harry | Jul 31, 2004 8:08:29 AM

But demanding that the entire fence be taken down without a single mention of terrorism--the International Court of Justice position--is absurd.

IIRC, the Court had no objection to a physical barrier, and they did mention "security". They only found against the present and projected location, as a taking of land.

Posted by: Roger Bigod | Jul 31, 2004 9:14:48 AM

Actually, I kind of like the idea a zionist friend had for promoting peace. Get the USA to occupy palestine, and then start negotiating for peace on the following territorial lines: the palestinians start out with the entire west bank and gaza. For every israely killed by palestinians during the negotiations, give israel an extra 10 square kilometers. For every palestinian killed by israelis, give palestine an extra 10 square kilometers.

If we'd had that approach from the beginning of the intifada israel would be behind by more than 20,000 square kilometers now.

Posted by: J Thomas | Jul 31, 2004 9:16:47 AM

AIPAC is not the last word within Israel. The hardliners within Israel have not incosiderable pressure from the moderate majority. It is not at all clear that a hardline government in the Knesset can survive in the environment it has created for itself in the last four years, without the continuous nuturing it recieves from the current administration. Moderates in America and in Israel have had enough of the lies, and the fudged figures and the continual spin to justify bad policy. The hardline voter bases in both countries have small but significant percentages that are openly questioning the honesty, integrity, and efficacy of their own leaders, given the dramatic failure within both nations to achieve their administrations stated goals.

The reality is that the hardliner regime's in both nations have had their time, gotten large passes on their scandals, and failed miserably.

Change is coming.

Posted by: patience | Jul 31, 2004 10:17:09 AM

IIRC, the Court had no objection to a physical barrier, and they did mention "security". They only found against the present and projected location, as a taking of land.

You're going to have find those passages and point them out to me in the ICJ decision. Here's what I've seen (link available here):

"[Israel has the] obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall, to dismantle it forthwith and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith the legislative and regulatory acts relating to its construction, save where relevant for compliance by Israel with its obligation to make reparation for the damage caused"

Find me any place where it says "we only object to the location of the wall" or "we acknowledge its potential use as an anti-terror measure."

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 31, 2004 10:30:49 AM

The fundamental problem is the settlements. The Egyptians made peace on the basis of the removal of all the Israeli settlements in the Sinai, and the same deal is possible with the Palestinians. No Palestinian leadership can agree to accept thousands of settlers (let alone hundreds of thousands, as Barak and Clinton offered) on post-1967 Israel (just as no Egyptian govt could) and no Palestinian government structure could survive after having accepted it. You cant want the post-1967 settlements and want seriously want peace, just was wanting the Sinai settlements was a way of saying you didn't want peace with Egypt. Put another way, if peace was possible by ending all the post-67 settlements, would you want to continue the conflict to maintain them?

The political mobilisation in USA needs to be Israel Yes, Settlements No. Almost everything else Israel wants is acceptable, not least in military cooperation and funding, demilitarised zones, a wall around pre-67 Israel, you name it. But not settlements.

Posted by: Otto | Jul 31, 2004 11:51:47 AM

Haggai: you seem like a reasonable and well-informed person. I'm not quite sure why my post elicited such a dismissive response.

Posted by: Alex | Jul 31, 2004 12:32:29 PM

The decision mentions "terrorism" twice, not zero times. There's also:

The fact remains that Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. It has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens.


The Court would emphasize that both Israel and Palestine are under an obligation scrupulously to observe the rules of international humanitarian law, one of the paramount purposes of which is to protect civilian life. Illegal actions and unilateral decisions have been taken on all sides...

I can't find an explicit statement that a barrier on the Israeli side of the Green Line would be legal. But the ruling repeatedly limits the decision with "in the Occupied Palestinian Territory". A few times they don't use this qualifying phrase, possibly for for brevity. It's certainly in the final statement of the points decided.

It looks like the Court didn't ignore the threat to Israel's citizens at all. If one imagines the hypothetical of Israel building the wall behind the 1967 border, they'd probably refuse to hear the case. If anyone brought one.

Posted by: Roger Bigod | Jul 31, 2004 1:55:48 PM

There is an international border between Israel and Egypt that goes back all the way to an Anglo-Turk agreement in 1906.

There is nothing like that between Israel and a hypothetical Palestinian state on the west bank of the Jordan.

Posted by: Harry | Jul 31, 2004 4:14:10 PM

Alex - So you are an anti-zionist Jew....Tell me, has there ever been an Arab country anywhere at any time since the birth of Mohammed that recognized the Jews living there as full citizens with the same rights as Moslems? (Keeping in mind that over 1/2 of the Jews now living in Israel fled there or are descended from those who fled from Arab countries and Iran.) Is there any Arab country that is a functioning democracy with respect for minority rights, the rule of law, and the rights of private property and contract? So, please, tell me, I'm interested, why do you, an anti-zionist Jew who claims not to hate Jews, think that the Jews of Israel should turn Israel into an Arab-majority state? What do you think would happen to to the Jews? That they would live happily and prosper? Oh well, at least the Europeans would grieve mightily at their deaths.

Posted by: DBL | Jul 31, 2004 5:17:10 PM

Haggai: you seem like a reasonable and well-informed person. I'm not quite sure why my post elicited such a dismissive response.

Because when people claim that Israel's long-term plan for the territories involves ethnic cleansing, while ignoring the fact that 37 years of occupation have passed without this happening, I find that to be very unreasonable. Yes, there are an uncomfortably non-trivial number of people in Israel who claim to favor "transfer," and, disgracefully, some of them are serving in the government. There's no defending that, but it's a long way from any ethnic cleansing actually taking place, now or anytime in the future.

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 31, 2004 7:32:40 PM

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