Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jerusalem Day 2009

Uzi Arad, chairman of Israel’s National Security Council, hinted last night on Israel Television that the Obama demand for a two-state solution was more rhetoric than substance. Arad was part of the Netanyahu government’s group meeting with their U.S. counterparts in the first visit of Israel’s PM Netanyahu to the USA. Arad diplomatically hinted that Obama was naïve thinking such a solution was possible in the near future.

Since June 2007 Arad was forbidden from entering the United States, according to a March 2009 report in the Washington Times, since he was considered a ‘security risk’ for his suspected involvement in the Larry Franklin affair. Franklin, the former Pentagon analyst, was sentenced in 2006 to more than 12 years in prison for giving classified information to an Israeli diplomat and members of a pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said he gave Franklin a sentence on the low end of federal guidelines because it appeared Franklin was trying help the United States, not hurt it. The US government removed its objection to Arad entering the USA once he was appointed chairman of the Israel National Security Council.

Arad told Israel Television’s Channel 1 that a peace agreement including the West Bank was possible, but how could the same agreement include Gaza. “Gaza is the elephant in the room,” he said, stressing Gaza couldn’t be ignored. In his opinion the two-state solution had become a slogan not a real demand. “There are people in the Obama government who know what is going on,” he said. “Some are friends of Israel.”

Still Arad hinted that Obama was showing naiveté if he expected a solution to the Palestinian issue to solve problems in the Middle East, including any problems with Iran.

How serious is the recurring demand for a two-state solution? Surverys report that most Israelis would agree to a two-state solution if it would bring peace, however, ‘no one wants Hamastan,” in the West Bank,” said Arad.

Arad pointed out that the Road Map, proposed by the Bush administration, was greatly exceeded by Israel when the Sharon government withdrew entirely from the Gaza strip. Arad pointed out that this withdrawal did not lower the danger to Israel from hostile forces, but rather increased it. Hamas took over Gaza. The greenhouses, schools, buildings meant for peaceful purposes were used to fire missiles and mortars at Israel.

Arad said that a new Road Map might be drawn up but until the Palestinians are willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state the talks will be fruitless. “Sure they want two-states, but neither one will be Jewish.” According to Arad the two states would be Gaza and the West Bank, controlled by the Palestinians with Israel as the room they’d use for expansion.

During their talks in Washington the Netanyahu government made the point that until the Palestinians, and Hamas, accept the existence of Israel there will be no chance of any peace. This echoes the theme espoused by Arad, and is apparently the Israel government’s official position.

The Obama government’s demand that Israel freeze settlements was honored Thursday morning in a minor gesture. The tiny hilltop outpost Maoz Esther was cleared when the Israeli army hauled away seven metal containers converted to cabins.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, a highly placed source said,“Evacuating illegal outposts in the West Bank is expected to be the Netanyahu government's first gesture toward Obama and the Palestinian Authority.

“This is part of the ‘price’ Netanyahu paid Obama in exchange for the latter's statements about Iran's nuclearization, the sources said.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he would evacuate the outposts by force if necessary. Pundits believe that the 26 outposts, usually tiny with only a few families are easy to destroy, but the large settlements will be left untouched.

Observers point out that the settlement issue has been a bone of contention between Israel and the USA’s various administrations since just after the 1967 6-day war. Depending on the administration the demands were from evacuation, to a complete freeze, to allowing only natural growth. These discussions have been on-going for 42 years, and show no signs of letting up, or reaching a resolution.

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy believes that only the evacuation of the settlements, and Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank can save Israel from a dark limited future. According to Levy “Obama is about to save Israel from itself.” Levy continued,
“In a single move he shrank the fear mongering of Benjamin Netanyahu and his mouthpieces on Iran to its proper size. In a single move he put the centrifuges of occupation, the real existential threat to Israel, at the top of the agenda.”

Gideon Levy also wrote, “How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel - one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.”

From Levy’s words it is clear that not all of Israel is behind Netanyahu and his party line. However, Levy has always taken a far left point of view out of step with mainstream Israel. But there are those who support his views.

Thursday is “Jerusalem Day,” a celebration of the liberation of Jerusalem during the 1967 6-day war. Prior to that, from 1947-1967 Jews were forbidden to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, nor get any closer to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the holiest site in the Jewish religion, than no man’s land on Mt. Zion.

Today Jews have repopulated the Jewish Quarter, pray at the Western Wall, and have built a virtual wall of new neighborhoods, almost all over the 1967 “green line.” Jerusalem's population currently stands at 760,800, with 492,400 Jews and 268,400 Arabs, said the report published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS).

Since 1967, the Arab population has increased by 291 percent, the Jewish population grew by 149 percent and the city's population overall rose by 186 percent. A separation fence is nearly completed around Jerusalem, funneling any West Bank visitors to the city through army checkpoints.

(According to the latest data released by Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel's Jewish population stands at 5,593,000, or 75.5 percent of the population, and the Arab population is at 1,498,000, or 20.2 percent of the population. A recent University of Haifa survey showed that 40 per cent of Israeli Arabs denied that the Holocaust ever occurred.)

Somewhere between Uzi Arad and Gideon Levy lay the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem, but only time will tell where that somewhere is.