Some Interesting Facts…

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Although many are finding fault with all sides for the breakdown of the Kerry negotiations – we are in the blame game period – I just encountered a critical piece of information. Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) in Israel, the premier monitor of settlement construction in the West Bank, just released a summary of settlement planning and construction activity that took place over the Green Line during the 9 months of the Kerry negotiations. Here is an excerpt (bold type is from the original):

During the 9 months of Secretary Kerry’s efforts in the region, the Netanyahu Government promoted plans and tenders for at least 13,851 housing units in the settlements and East Jerusalem – an average of 50 units per day and 1,540 units per month.

The 13,851 units include:

1 – Tenders for 4,868 units – 2,248 of them in West Bank settlements and 2,620 units in East Jerusalem. (There were also tenders for another 1,235 units in re-issued tenders, where the tenders are calls for bids to buy units that weren’t sold in previous tenders).

2 – Promotion of plans for 8,983 units – 6,561 of them in West Bank settlements and 2,422 in East Jerusalem.

The average yearly number of tenders was 4 times higher compared to previous years.

 Doubling the number of construction Starts:

According to the Israeli CBS data, in the second half of year 2013, some 828 new units were started to be built in the settlements, while at the equivalent time in 2012, only 484 units started. (the CBS data does not include the first three months of 2014).

Click here to read the full report with additional statistics.

This new construction also included legalizing some previously “illegal” settlements and the establishment of new ones. Assuming an average family of 4 for each housing unit (this is a conservative figure for settlers), these 13,851 new housing units would ultimately mean an additional 55,400 people living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – roughly a 10% population increase from just nine months of planning activity.

From the perspective of Palestinian towns and villages, where residents have seen Israeli settlements sprout like mushrooms on the surrounding hilltops while their farmland is taken and their lives further impoverished and restricted, this increased settlement activity created intolerable facts on the ground. Although some blame can be apportioned to all sides, it is no wonder that the Palestinian leadership found it politically impossible to continue and finally gave up, choosing instead to pursue other avenues.

As Peace Now stated in their summary of the report, “[This settlement activity showed] …not only that the construction and the announcements of settlements were destructive for the American efforts and for the faith between the two sides, it also created facts on the ground that proved more than anything else that the Netanyahu Government did not mean to go for a two state solution but rather acted in order to strengthen the Israeli control over the Occupied Territories.” 

It is facts and actions like this that will provide traction for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. Supporters of Israel will have less and less credibility to counter that.

 

 

 

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What Happens if the Kerry Negotiations Fail?

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I am sorry that it’s been such a long time since I posted on this blog. Life has been hectic and time has been at a premium so please view this column as a bit of catch up.

As most of you know, prospects for peace look bleak right now as the Kerry negotiations teeter on the verge of a complete breakdown. I am posting below a few articles from the past several months that are definitely worth a read since they offer a big picture overview of the situation and the ramifications if negotiations fail.

1 – The most important article that anyone who cares about Israel should read, whether on the left or the right, is from the January 31st edition of The New York Times. Hersh Goodman, a respected centrist journalist in Israel, outlines how the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is growing stronger and, if the negotiations do not succeed, it will gain momentum. As the author states, whether or not Israel fits the exact definition of an apartheid state is irrelevant. The fact is that much of the world, including some of Israel’s key trading partners and world opinion leaders, are beginning to think that it is. There is the old saying, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Israel’s economy is based on exports and it is closely wired to the world with its booming high tech and biotech industries. All that will slowly grind to a halt if the negotiations fail. Israel will be blamed because it cannot win the propaganda war as it continues to announce new building on the West Bank, as it has done throughout the Kerry negotiations, and the oppressive and photogenic aspects of the occupation continues. The future is an Israel that is economically crippled, as South Africa was. Now those on the right will proclaim “That’s not fair! Israel is not an apartheid state!” but world opinion, fair or not, does not see it that way. It is time that those in power realize that their actions to achieve the dream of a Greater Israel will end up with there being no Israel. Click here to fully understand this dose of reality.

2 – Bernard Avishai, an economist and journalist on the left, has long raised the issue of the economic threat to Israel from the BDS movement and how the current government’s policies will kill the golden goose of Israel’s high-tech miracle. His recent column in The New Yorker offers a analysis of the current political situation in Israel vis-à-vis the negotiations – Netanyahu cannot survive politically with his current coalition if he agrees to a two-state solution. However, there is a course that Kerry and Obama can take, along with the moderate elements in the Israeli polity, to move the negotiations forward. But it will take courage and it is risky. Click here for Avishai’s penetrating perspective.

3 – To reinforce how deeply the ideological far-right has penetrated into Israeli policy making, J.J. Goldberg’s column in The Jewish Forward last February documented how former leaders of the Mossad, Shin Bet, military intelligence and the IDF general staff are being attacked for being pro-Palestinian because they favor a two-state solution and they fear the consequences if the negotiations fail. This article is just one example of how ideology has trumped rational and realistic decision-making in the highest echelons of the Israeli government. Click here to better understand this topsy-turvey perspective.

4 – And finally, to further illustrate the rise of the far-right in Israeli politics, below is an excerpt from an April 11th op-ed in The New York Times with the provocative title, “Are Israel and Iran Trading Places.” The authors’ position regarding Israel is stated succinctly at the beginning of their article.

 “…secular democrats in Israel have been losing ground to religious and right-wing extremists who feel comfortable openly attacking the United States, Israel’s strongest ally. In recent months, Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, called Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic,” while Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, labeled Mr. Kerry a “mouthpiece” for anti-Semitic elements attempting to boycott Israel.

 Israel’s secular democrats are growing increasingly worried that Israel’s future may bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Iran’s recent past.”

Near the end of the article, the authors segue into a brief discussion of how the BDS movement is gaining traction.

“If Israel continues the expansion of settlements, and peace talks serve no purpose but the extension of the status quo, the real existential threat to Israel will not be Iran’s nuclear program but rather a surging tide of economic sanctions.

What began a few years ago with individual efforts to get supermarket shoppers in Western countries to boycott Israeli oranges and hummus has turned into an orchestrated international campaign, calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli companies and institutions.

From academic boycotts to calls for divestment on American university campuses to the unwillingness of more and more European financial institutions to invest in or partner with Israeli companies and banks that operate in the West Bank, the “B.D.S.” movement is gaining momentum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently called B.D.S. advocates “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”

In the past, Israel could rely on Western nations and especially the United States to halt such initiatives, but as the fabric of Israel’s population changes, and Jewish populations in the West become less religious and less uncritically pro-Israel, the reflex to stand by the Jewish state, regardless of its policies, is weakening.

Moreover, as Western countries shift toward greater respect for human rights, the occupation is perceived as a violation of Western liberal norms. A new generation of American Jews sees a fundamental tension between their own liberal values and many Israeli policies.

Click here to read the full column, along with the authors’ views on the potential trends in Iranian society.

It is possible that all we are facing now is political posturing and hardball negotiating tactics on the part of Netanyahu and Abbas, and that the negotiations will get back on track shortly. But if they don’t, the above articles offer a peak at the possible consequences, the least of which might be the further strengthening of the paranoid right as they circle the wagons and work to destroy the democratic and Western liberal underpinnings of Israeli society in the name of survival. There already are influential currents in the Knesset intent on doing that.

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