Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Palestine Now! The UN vote and Some Personal Thoughts

September 21, 2011

After Forty-four years of the Israeli occupation of lands which had been previously occupied by Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza) for 19 years, the time has come for the United Nations to correct an injustice long overdue: recognize Palestine as a state.  Clearly, the Palestinians have exhausted all efforts in reaching an agreement with the current Israeli government.  Since the tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s began in early 2009, the current Israeli government has clearly demonstrated that it is not the least bit interested in reaching an agreement with the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.  Without a doubt, once Netanyahu took on board the extreme right-wing Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, it was clear that the Palestinians simply did not have a partner.  Settlements are continuing to eat-up more Palestinian territory, which is no more than a last ditch attempt to de facto annex more land.  The damage Netanyahu has caused Israel in the world is irreversible; be it relations with Turkey, most Arab countries, and the US. Simply put, Netanyahu and Lieberman, long ago became bankrupt of any legitimacy and are continuing to pull Israel into deeper waters with no lifeguard in sight.  

The United States has threatened to veto a move by the Security Council if a majority calls for a Palestinian state.  This move is one of the worst moves President Obama can take in the Middle East today.  He truly has become the disappointment of the region and a veto would be another major blow to an administration that most Arab countries simply do not trust or believe in.  Therefore, I call on President Obama to vote where his heart is and say “YES!” to Palestine and clarify that the US support is contingent on real progress in the peace process, making it clear to Israel that it simply has no other choice than to sit and negotiate. The likelihood of this happening is next to nil; however, it must be stated. Further, recognizing Palestine is practically good since it will give them (and the Israelis) true urgency to reaching a peace agreement. The Palestinians know that in the end it will be an agreement with Israelis which will secure the success of their state.

As an Israeli citizen, I call on Israelis to welcome this move and to support a Palestinian state if recognized; whether in the Security Council or a watered-down version in the General Assembly. We all know that this is inevitable; the time has come to get the show on the road! How much longer can we as a people lie to our children and act as if this land will be ours for eternity.  Our children deserve more than this! Furthermore, I have to admit that I feel the pain of many of the settlers who have been misled by each and every Israeli government and simply are being used as negotiating pawns. We all know that most of the settlements will be evacuated sooner or later. The facts are on the ground: a Jewish state occupying Palestine cannot exist much longer and time is running out.

For Palestinians, I have to state that since immigrating to Israel as a youngster, I have always supported a Palestinian state next to Israel, and for the citizens of the region to be able to decide their fate and what type of state they wish to have (one or two-states). I long for the day when both peoples can live as one.  Together with you, I have shown my solidarity and placed great hopes. Together with you, I have cried and felt the pain of Jewish and Arab violence. Therefore, whatever the outcome I call on all the forces, Jews and Arabs to support the establishment of Palestine through passive resistance and not to raise arms. Enough with death! 

Lastly, I will state that if Palestine is recognized on Friday as a state among nations, I will be the first to make a sigh of relief, while bracing for a storm of chaos and clashes.  This day brings back memories when in November 1988, as an Israeli soldier, I was patrolling in a village near Bethlehem when fireworks lit the sky of the West Bank. On that night, the late Yassar Arafat declared the establishment of a Palestinian state and we, Israeli soldiers, were there to suppress the celebrations and put out the sparks of a dying intifada.  However, secretly so many of us rejoiced in our hearts believing that just like the Jewish people, the Palestinians are equally entitled to the land.  Since then, a whole generation has been raised, with many of them now raising a new generation; new generations having to witness even more extreme violence and destruction.  Palestine as a state is long overdue. For now, the solution is two states for two peoples. Once this is reached the sky is the limit with both peoples challenged to make this work by offering new solutions such as confederacy, open borders and free exchange of populations, with residency rights for both Jews and Arabs to live where they wish. The road is long. Our work is far from over.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Saving Turkish-Israeli Ties: Sideline Netanyahu and Lieberman

The Israeli government’s incompetence in solving the ongoing crisis with Turkey should be ample proof that it is time for this government to pack up and go home. While this is not likely to happen, sadly it seems that Foreign Minister Lieberman once again has gotten it his way. The damage he has caused is reaching the point of no return, and has been shockingly sanctioned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While late last week details of the Palmer Report were leaked by the New York Times, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that Israel had 24 hours to apologize for the death of the nine Turkish activists, who were killed in last summer’s botched Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla, warning that the consequences would be nothing less than scathing. For weeks, Turkish and Israeli diplomats and politicians tried to work out a formula that would save the relationship between the once friendly states, but to no avail. Netanyahu made it clear that Israel would go no further than expressing regret; meaning an Israeli apology was out of the question. This was despite wiser government officials who believed that it was in Israel’s absolute interests to mend ties with the Turkish state.

While I will not focus on the details of the Palmer Report, I will make the following comments (here is a link to read it in its entirety): it is clear that like most diplomatic pieces of work it worked hard to give each side something it wanted: for the Israelis the report legitimized its blockade of Gaza and clearly show intent by the Turkish activists at provoking an Israeli response:

Although people are entitled to express their political views, the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority if the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly the IHH..”

for the Turkish side, it claimed that the Israeli forces acted excessively and ends with the serious claims the Israeli soldiers killing the victims were done execution style:

the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the vessels was unacceptable…forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.

With the report further stating:

Two people were killed by a single bullet wound: Cevdet Kiliclar was killed by a single shot between the eyes, and Cengiz Songur was killed by a shot to the vase of the throat.

And continues to state information about the death of the student and US citizen Furkan Dogan who:

may already have been lying wounded when the fatal shot was delivered.

The reports also documents violence perpetrated against the Israeli soldiers and how the events played out perhaps will never be completely clear. However, this report demonstrated that  Israel has failed to answer serious questions concerning the deaths of the nine activists. In short, where I agree with the report that the Turkish activists were provoking an outright conflict Israel is at fault for falling into the trap, and setting off on an operation which would leave so many people dead. For this Israel needs to apologize; if not only for the fact that even if the activists were clearly enemy to the Jewish state, they were citizens of a friendly power.  

As of today, the relations between the two states have been scaled back, with Turkey expelling the Israeli ambassador, and suspending all military ties. There were fears that this would be expanded to trade relations also; fortunately, this still not has happened but certainly the threat is looming. With such repercussions, it seems inexplicable why Israel simply did not come forth and issue an apology, if only out of realpolitik. Especially since Turkey was more than forthcoming in explaining that an apology and compensation would put the matter behind and serve as a way to rekindle their ties. However, it is clear that once again the Israeli government has been hijacked by the likes of Avigdor Lieberman, and that Netanyahu has opted to secure the coalition government even in light of such destructive policies, totally disregarding what is best for the Israeli state and its citizens.

As for the Turkish government, they too seem to be climbing higher and higher up a tree which will be difficult to come down from. With scornful messages coming from foreign minister Davutoglu, the president Abdullah Gul, and most lately from the Prime minister Erdogan himself, it seems that they are set on throwing fuel on the fire. However, the question is once this fire is a set will they be able to extinguish it. Much of the language being used seems nothing more than bullying and in a region where the status quo recently has been turned upside down, such rhetoric can lead to even more instability. Simply put, in this debacle there will be no winners.

One way out of this mess, is for the Israeli opposition to immediately work to stop the deterioration of ties; if a coalition of Israeli politicians and academicians, along with other citizens were to formulate an apology and visit Turkey, meeting with Turkish counterparts, this could serve as the first step at mending ties between the two states. Perhaps, it is now up to citizens (on both side) to stop this free-for-all which is causing the region irreversible damage. As almost 450,000 Israelis marched for social justice not allowing their government to dictate their future, other right minded Israelis should come together in an united voice to rethink their future in the region at large; this concerning the upcoming recognition of Palestine, and just as well their future ties with Turkey.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Early September Update

Dear all,

After almost 14 months in Istanbul and Tel Aviv, I have arrived back to New York to continue teaching, after being away due to my research. Like always, I am excited to be back at Brooklyn College and to be teaching such a diverse and interesting group of students. Coming back to teach Middle eastern history after the Arab uprisings, the worsening of Israeli-Turkish ties, the establishment of a possible new social order in Israel, and on the eve of a possible official recognition of the Palestinian state in the United Nations, makes my work even more exciting. For years, teaching Middle Eastern history was quite frustrating, with me declaring at the last lecture that "one day Mubarak will fall, along with Bashar Assad, stating that it was just a question of time. And, as Assad continues to tries to violently suppress the uprising in his country we know too well that his days are numbered, with almost 3000 Syrians killed by their own armed forces. For Mubarak, he now is on trial and with his health in such bad condition, it seems his days are numbered also.

Due to the painstakingly return to my office, and catching up on my work, I have not been able to submit a blog for a few weeks. However, currently I am working on two topics (a new social order in Israel, and another one on the continuing deterioration of Israeli-Turkish ties related to the issuing of the UN report which investigated last year's flotilla incident. Hopefully, by Tuesday I will have posted them. Until then, I wish all well and my warm greetings.