Monday, January 13, 2014

Israel Feels the Wrath of the MLA. By Walter Russell Mead.

Israel Feel the Wrath of Modern Language Professors. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, January 13, 2014.


The American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli universities has met with mockery and scorn for the most part, but one scholarly guild is feeling inspired. The annual convention of the 30,000-member Modern Language Association held a panel last week called “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine.” It probably seemed satisfyingly cutting-edge to the participants and their admiring audience, but will sound pretty humdrum to anyone familiar with academe: no one who disagrees with the BDS movement against Israel was allowed to speak on the widely-attended panel. Haaretz reports:
The audience consistently applauded the panelists’ calls for boycotts against Israel and harsh condemnation of Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians. Panelists also compared Israel’s actions in the territories to the apartheid government in South Africa and alleged that Israel suppresses Palestinian education and research. [...]
After the session, which ended without disruption, [panel moderator Professor Samer Ali, University of Texas at Austin], said “I think it went really well. People were very respectful. This was MLA at its best.”
He also defended the decision not to include any dissenting voices, saying this was a common approach in academic environments where panelists who agree on a particular model discuss their approaches while the audience raises critiques.
The MLA isn’t boycotting Israel quite yet, but its delegate assembly will vote this weekend on a resolution to condemn the Jewish state for various moral infractions. We’ll venture to guess that the resolution will pass, and that the modern language professors so sensitive to the needs of Palestinians will feel like the Great and Good upholders of ethical norms their university positions clearly entitle them to be.
Newly outraged charges of anti-Semitism likely will follow, and we have no doubt that some genuine bigotry against Jews poisons the dark recesses of the MLA. But, as we wrote in the wake of the ASA boycott, there’s something a bit more complicated going on here. The cheering audience was probably made up of academics who are (unforgivably) misinformed about the ethnic makeup of Israeli society, confident they’re fighting colonial injustices committed by a white, European country when in fact the majority of Israeli Jews are (or descend from) refugees from Arab or Slavic lands; scholars of Arab or Muslim dissent who understandably sympathize with the Palestinian side of the conflict most; and left-leaning American Jews who feel (again, understandably) justified in holding Israel to a higher ethical standard than any other nation.
As with the ASA, these groups are part of a body of professionals generally uncomfortable with dissenting opinions and tending to have little experience in the world outside the university. The result is a steady stream of ill-informed and self-righteous panels and resolutions. Those who find themselves shocked by all this should probably brace themselves for quite a few more disturbances like these.
Israel faces graver threats today than misguided modern language professors, but this is still an issue worth keeping an eye on. It’s disquieting that many academics in the West are hostile to intellectual and academic freedom. Ill-informed anger directed at the Jewish state is but one manifestation of a larger trend our campuses need to fight.

The General. By Ari Shavit.

General Ariel Sharon standing in the Suez Canal, October 31, 1973.

The General. By Ari Shavit. The New Yorker, January 23, 2006.

An Israeli journalist’s six years of conversation with Ariel Sharon.

Ariel Sharon in His Own Words. By Rick Richman. Commentary, January 12, 2014.


Surprisingly, this secular, Israel-born soldier defined himself not as an Israeli but as a Jew. Israel’s raison d’ĂȘtre, he said, is to be the place where the Jews will finally be cured of their mortal illness, their “eternal wandering.” But he had doubts about whether they would, in fact, be cured. He felt a profound uncertainty about the Jews’ ability to maintain sovereignty, and to hold on to the land and to preserve it. He spoke about the Arabs with great envy—they, he said, knew much better how to keep their honor and their land. “If there is something that I respect about the Arabs, it’s the fact that they never change their position,” he said. “The Palestinian leadership did not give up any of its demands, not one inch.”
Sharon took me on a tour of his ranch in a four-by-four, pointing out his orchard, his sheep, his bulls. He said that his primary concern was with the Jewish future: “What will become of the Jews in thirty years’ time, and what will become of them in three hundred years’ time?” He complained that young Israelis didn’t know their Bible. They weren’t familiar with their history. They didn’t feel a right to this land the way he did. “One generation after another is drifting away from anything Jewish,” he said.
Sharon portrayed himself as someone who lived inside Biblical history in a very intimate and palpable way. Whenever he was in Hebron, he said, the thought that for seven years David ruled the city aroused tremendous excitement in him. When he travelled in the Judaean desert, he narrowed his eyes, so as to see not the electricity lines and the modern highways but, instead, Abigail, the wife of Nabal the Carmelite, decked in her necklaces and bracelets, and riding on her donkey—a scene from the First Book of Samuel. And on the road that descends from Beit Aryeh and crosses Shiloh Creek, not far from Beit El, he always stopped to recall another episode from Samuel, in which a runner is sent from the battle of Aphek to Shiloh, forty kilometres away, bearing the bitter news of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. He always experienced these ancient scenes anew.
At the time of our interview, Prime Minister Ehud Barak had revived peace talks, and there was a general notion that the conflict with the Palestinians might soon end. So, with considerable effort, I tried to bring Sharon back to the political present. I asked him whether the establishment of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank had been a mistake. No, he said. There wasn’t a single shipping container or generator that had been positioned in the territories without a reason. Every settlement was placed in such a way as to consolidate Israeli control of essential regions like the Jordan Valley and the hills overlooking the coastal plain.
Sharon’s charm took me by surprise. Unlike most of Israel’s leaders, who tend to be arrogant and remote, he had empathy and a sense of humor that could even be self-deprecating. He had none of Barak’s haughtiness or Benjamin Netanyahu’s emotional unease. But I was equally surprised by his pessimism. Despite Israel’s military might, he saw the country as a small and fragile state surrounded by hostile countries that would go on wanting to destroy it. As a result, he believed not in peace agreements based on mutual trust but only in non-belligerence agreements based on deterrence. In this Realpolitik, he saw himself as a follower of Henry Kissinger. But, unlike Kissinger, who argued for substantial territorial compromise, Sharon thought that Israel could not risk the little strategic depth it had. Without buffer zones, he argued, Israel would not be able to stand up to new threats when Arab missiles endangered its air superiority.
Sharon was perceptive but not conceptually brilliant; he had charm, but he did not radiate greatness. Sitting in a deep armchair in the living room, as his wife, Lily, offered him muffins on a silver tray, he resembled neither Samson nor Nero. There was something of the overgrown child about him. Grinning, he admitted that he had never had the patience for books on military strategy. What interested him much more was the person, the individual fighter, and what made him attack or lose his balance.
His thinking was not analytical but intuitive, leading him from story to story, from recollection to recollection. He was neither quick nor articulate. His formulations were heavy, like clods of winter earth. Occasionally, Sharon read literature and history, but in a deep sense he was anti-intellectual. Some people who have known Sharon well say that he is a limited, even primitive person. Ideas made him suspicious. What he admired was deeds, facts. Although he was the head of the Likud Party, he saw himself as an heir to the Labor Party. For him, Vladimir Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin, the great Likud forebears, were men of words, of hollow talk. David Ben-Gurion and Yigal Allon, who were leaders of the Labor movement, were men of action, and it was perfectly clear that he felt closer to them. Allon, he said, was the most brilliant commander in the 1948 war: “His concept of national security is the one we should follow.”
Throughout our meeting, Sharon, whose appetite is legendary, plied me with food and drink, and by the time I headed home I was undoubtedly several kilos heavier. As I thought about our conversation, I came to the conclusion that one explanation for Sharon’s power is that he is organic. Without romanticizing him, I found his insistence on land neither rhetorical nor superficial. He had a kind of instinctive intelligence, like a Bedouin tracker or a Cherokee scout. In this, he was an un-Jewish Jew: lacking self-awareness and intellectualism, devoid of complexes, yet the embodiment of the radical Zionist potential. Neither a statesman nor a theoretician, he knew how to strike people at their weak spots and how to win battles by reading a map. He called his autobiography “Warrior.” I thought of him as the samurai of Zionism.
. . . .

Sharon said these things for our interview. Informally, he was even tougher. He made it clear that he did not believe in peace agreements. He said that the 1948 War of Independence had not ended, and that we must be prepared for a struggle that would last for generations. He argued that the unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon carried out by Ehud Barak in May, 2000, had led Yasir Arafat to believe that Israel had softened and that he could acquire more at no cost. Only two years before Sharon erected the separation wall, he scorned the idea. “How are you going to separate?” he had said. “Are you going to put up a wall in Jerusalem? Can you maintain a barrier at all inside a city? And you have to have security zones. You can’t make a separation along the Green Line”—that is, the pre-1967 borders. “So what are you going to do? Separate the Arabs from their lands?”
Sharon wore jeans, a light-blue shirt, and Birkenstock sandals for the meeting, and, affable as always, he insisted that I eat a large breakfast with him: salad and cheese, sardines and olives. During the meal, he said he would prefer that we not talk about politics. “I know more about wheat and olive trees than I do about politics,” he said, laughing. And, indeed, he gave me a long lecture about the olive tree: its longevity, the depth of its roots. He told me that in Israel there are olive trees that are two thousand years old and were harvested by the Jews during the Second Temple period, from 538 B.C. to 70 A.D. He described their precise location.
When we went back to the cozy living room and he sank into his favorite armchair, he showed me the book he was reading: it was about the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. He said that what interested him was the way the rebellion had ultimately collapsed, causing a disintegration of Palestinian society. He clearly saw a certain similarity between the revolt of the nineteen-thirties and the intifada that began in 2000. In time, it became evident that the strategic plan that Sharon was considering involved bringing the Palestinians to a point of political chaos and then luring them into a partial agreement on Israel’s terms—one that would not require evacuation of major settlements in the West Bank and a return to the pre-1967 borders.
“It is impossible at this time to bring about the end of the conflict,” he said. “Therefore we must be cautious. Very cautious. Give the Palestinians only the minimum necessary.”
. . . .

When the talk of food and children faded, I asked Sharon whether the conflict would have an end.
“The conflict isn’t between us and the Palestinians,” he said. “The conflict is between us and the Arab world. And the problem at the heart of the conflict is that the Arab world does not recognize the Jews’ inherent right to have a Jewish state in the land where the Jewish people began. This is the main problem. This also applies to Egypt, with which we have a cold peace. It also applies to Jordan, with which we have a very close strategic relationship, but this is a relationship between governments, not between peoples. The problem is not 1967. The problem is the profound nonrecognition by the Arab world of Israel’s birthright. This problem will not be solved by an agreement. It will not be solved by a speech. Anyone who promises that it’s possible to end the conflict within a year or two years or three is mistaken. Anyone who promises peace now is blind to the way things are. Even after the disengagement, we will not be able to rest on our laurels. We will not be able to sit under our fig tree and our vine.
“It may be that we will never have peace,” he went on. “And it may be that it will take a great many years to have peace. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk. It’s better to talk than not to talk. It’s important to conduct negotiations. Maybe it’s possible to solve one thing or another. But it has to be understood that the conflict may never be resolved. If it is ever resolved, it will be in a very long process.”
Sharon said that he was certain Israel would live in a state of danger for a long time, and that all he recommended was that Israel not “make any moves in which it takes risks that are too great.”
He continued, “What bothers me about the peaceniks is their hatred of the settlers and their excessive faith in the Arabs. They apparently never got the phone calls I got from my mother when I was conducting talks in Egypt in 1980. My mother, who was eighty at the time, would call me in Cairo and tell me what she had harvested in the field that day and what she was going to harvest the next day. And she would always end with the same sentence: ‘Arik, don’t believe them.’ She had been in this country for many years, but she had a heavy Russian accent. And I remember her very clearly, saying to me, in her heavy Russian accent, ‘Arik, don’t believe them.’”
And so, I asked, to this day you don’t believe them?
“No, I don’t believe them,” he said. “And there is a reason for this. The Arabs don’t recognize the Jewish people’s birthright to an independent Jewish state.”
He tried to explain what he derived from this pessimistic assumption. He said that time was the essential factor, which was why he was trying to establish the principle that the Palestinians would have to reform before Israel made further concessions. “The greatest danger is in signing some document and believing that as a result we will have peace. This is not going to happen. . . . Instead, we have to build a process that will enable us to ascertain that indeed a change is taking place in the Arab world. It is necessary to teach all the teachers that Israel is a legitimate entity. And it is necessary to replace all the Palestinian textbooks. And this is beyond the elementary demand for the cessation of terror and the cessation of incitement and the implementation of reforms in the security organizations and the implementation of governmental reforms. It is necessary not to omit a single one of these steps. Under no circumstance should there be concessions. A situation must not develop in which Israel retreats and is chased by terror. Once you accept that, it will never end. Terror will keep chasing us.”
Sharon, it seemed, did not believe in the possibility of a final agreement, or what the negotiators call a “permanent-status agreement.” “What is a permanent-status agreement?” he asked testily. “It is completely unrealistic.”
Throughout Israel, commentators speculated about whether the Gaza withdrawal was merely Sharon’s way of buying time while the Palestinians struggled to bring some order to the miserable enclave that Israel had left behind, and tried to solve their internal political battles. Or was Sharon preparing for another, even more dramatic unilateral move: perhaps an Israeli withdrawal to the separation fence throughout the West Bank?
“There isn’t any possibility of doing this,” he said. “This would be a mistake. . . . There is only one unilateral move. There will not be another unilateral move.”
I asked if he would agree to evacuate twenty or thirty settlements in the West Bank in the near future.
“That isn’t going to happen,” he said. “That isn’t on the agenda. We will discuss that after there are changes among the Palestinians.” He was referring to the requirements imposed on the Palestinians by the U.S.-proposed road map, including an end to terrorism. In any case, Sharon made it clear that the Etzion Bloc, Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, and other large, well-established settlements in the West Bank would never be handed over to the Palestinians. Nor could the Jordan Valley be totally evacuated. “There will be security zones,” he said. “In essential territories that are east of the separation fence, there will be security zones.”
In 2000, at Camp David, Barak and Arafat debated, unsuccessfully, a compromise on control of the Temple Mount, the site of the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa mosque. Sharon was not prepared for such negotiations. “This is the place that is most sacred to the Jewish people,” he said. “It is untenable that it not be under Israeli responsibility.”
I asked him about Hebron, where there is a tiny but fervent Jewish settlement in what is essentially an Arab city.
“Can you conceive that one day Jews will not live in Hebron?” Sharon retorted. “Ben-Gurion called Hebron Jerusalem’s elder sister. If we were a normal nation, when a visitor arrived here we would take him not to Yad Vashem but, rather, to Hebron. We’d take him to the place where our roots are. No other people has a monument like the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and Sarah are buried. And Isaac and Rebecca. And Jacob and Leah. There isn’t anything like it. No other people has anything like it. Therefore, under any agreement Jews will live in Hebron.
“We put too much stress on the security issue,” he went on. “That was a mistake. My mistake, too. The element of the cradle of the Jewish people is critical for us to be able to live here. Indeed, there is a constant questioning of our right. Therefore we have to stress the matter of our right. We have to talk about the continuum of Jewish life that has been here. Even in order to live in Tel Aviv, we need a root in Hebron.”

Is the Demand for Recognition as a Jewish State Just or Wise? By Jonathan Rosenblum.

The demand for recognition as a Jewish state. Is it just? Is it wise? By Jonathan Rosenblum. Jerusalem Post, January 9, 2014.


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will never get an even break from The New York Times. After the tentative – and as yet unimplemented – agreement between Iran and the P5+1, the Times treated Netanyahu’s “bellicose” criticisms of the agreement as if were the only barrier to a spirit of amity breaking out all over between Iran and the rest of the world, and suggested that the prime minister of the only country whose annihilation has been repeatedly called for by Iran should just keep his mouth shut.
The paper takes the same dim view of Netanyahu’s approach to peace talks with the Palestinians: But for Netanyahu – inevitably described as “right wing” – peace would have long since broken out.
Jodi Rudoren’s January 1 “Sticking Point in Peace Talks: Recognition of a Jewish State” is by no means the most egregious or one-sided of the Times’s offerings on the subject. But once again Netanyahu stands accused of “catapult[ing] to the fore an issue that may be even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinian people recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Unnamed critics are quoted as accusing Netanyahu of having inserted a “poison pill” in order to scuttle the negotiations, knowing that the Palestinians will never agree.
It is possible, even likely, that Netanyahu does not expect the Palestinians to acquiesce on this point. But that does not make the demand unjustified. Netanyahu’s task as prime minister is not to sign peace accords with the Palestinian Authority, but to achieve security and peace for Israel. And the two should never be conflated, as they have so often in the past when “peace process” became a substitute for “peace.”
Netanyahu’s demand flows from a recognition that since the outset of Oslo the Palestinian leadership has not even begun to educate its people for peace. They have never told their people that a Palestinian state cannot be achieved without “painful concessions,” including renunciation of the “right of return” by the Palestinians and the acceptance of limitations on Palestinian sovereignty necessary to ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself.
Rather the official Palestinian education system and media has whipped the population into a frenzy of hatred for Israel worse than what preceded Oslo. The hero’s welcome accorded by Mahmoud Abbas to perpetrators of the most heinous crimes against Israeli civilians, who were freed by Israel under American pressure, is but the most recent example. (The sheer evil of forcing a country to pardon the murderers of its citizens was tacitly admitted by the Americans when they protested the return of a Palestinian who murdered an American citizen.) The failure of peace education has rendered Palestinian leaders incapable of negotiating seriously about peace because they know that as soon as they compromise a single holy principle they are dead men walking.
Arafat told Clinton at Camp David that he was asking him to commit suicide, and if that was true of Arafat, the symbol of the Palestinian national movement, how much more so the far less popular Abbas? But without such an education for peace Israel is being asked to agree not to a two-state solution – something to which a majority of Israelis consent in principle – but to a two-stage solution in which the Palestinians receive their state as a launching pad for eventually regaining what they consider their patrimony. Islam views any concession of even an inch of land ever under Islamic sovereignty – so-called dar al-Islam – as strictly forbidden.
And that is still the view promoted by the Palestinian Authority in both secularized and religious forms.
Yuval Steinitz, minister of intelligence and international affairs, laid out the four intertwined strands of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to educate for peace in an excellent op-ed in The New York Times last October, “How Palestinian Hate Prevents Peace.” The first strand consists of denial that there exists a Jewish people with any connection to the Land of Israel. Arafat’s refusal to acknowledge that a Jewish Temple ever stood in Jerusalem, which so dumbfounded president Clinton at Camp David, is one example. The second strand portrays Jews and Zionists as the most inhumane and corrupt people on the face of the earth.
The third strand of official Palestinian propaganda promulgates the message that the struggle must continue until the replacement of Israel by an Arab-Palestinian state, and the fourth that all means are legitimate in pursuit of that goal, including terrorist murders. The repeated references in Palestinian textbooks to all of Israel as Palestine, including cities such as Haifa, Tiberias and Safed, are examples of the third strand, and the idolization of even the most savage of released terrorists by Palestinian leaders from Abbas on down of the fourth.
ACCORDING TO Rudoren, Netanyahu’s emphasis on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state raises several profound, unresolved questions, such as, “Can Israel preserve its identity as a Jewish democratic state while also providing equal rights to citizens of other faiths and backgrounds?” But Israel has been doing that for 65 years. Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. In every Muslim country, including the Palestinian-controlled city of Bethlehem, terrorized Christian populations are fleeing.
Israel’s Arab population enjoys more democratic rights than they would in any Arab state, including the Palestinian Authority. Only 25% of residents of the West Bank and 18% of those in the Gaza say they feel free to criticize the government, according to Palestinian polls. Journalists who criticize the government regularly find themselves in prison or worse. And both Abbas and Haniyeh have pushed off new elections for years.
The Palestinian claim that recognition of Israel as a democratic state would disenfranchise Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens is completely bogus. Arab citizens have been living in a self-proclaimed Jewish state for 65 years already. Every time a proposal is floated to exchange heavily populated Arab areas from Israel into a Palestinian state as part of a peace deal Israeli Arabs lash out against the instigators of such evil plans. They prefer their lives as Israeli citizens to anything they could expect in a Palestinian state.
The claim that Israeli Arabs might ever be disenfranchised is nothing more than projection by the Palestinians, who never tire of insisting that their state will be entirely judenrein, without a single Jewish resident. One could well ask why that demand is always treated as self-evidently just.
The West, in general, has consistently reduced any hopes of peace by treating the Palestinians as spoiled children to whom all must be given but from whom nothing can ever be expected. Thus they are by far the largest per-capita recipients of foreign largesse from Western countries despite both the PA and Hamas-controlled Gaza being run as kleptocracies, and an entire UN apparatus, UNRWA, exists solely to care for Palestinian refugees and their descendants in perpetuity, even as tens of millions of other refugees from ethnic strife since 1948 have long been removed from the refugee rolls.
By failing to treat Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel as an issue of the highest importance fundamentally undermining Israelis’ capacity to trust Palestinian intentions, the West has reduced the possibility of any final status agreement being signed any time in the near future. Prime Minister Netanyahu is insisting Palestinian education for peace as a basic Israeli requirement for a peace agreement.
WHILE THE demand for recognition is both wise and strategically required, it is still possible to ask whether as a tactical matter it is being given too much prominence.
What would happen if, miraculously, a Palestinian leader were prepared to sign off on such recognition? Would Israel, having placed such emphasis on the importance of recognition, then find itself under greater pressure than before for concessions on other issues no less important for its long-term survival? Such recognition without a preceding revamping of Palestinian education and media to educate for peace and without a popular Palestinian referendum would remain not credible in the eyes of most Israelis. Rudoren points out that Palestinian support for such recognition of Israel has dropped dramatically over the last decade – from 65% to 40% – influenced in large part by the continued official PA propaganda.
Overemphasis on Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character must also not be expense of the no less intractable security issues, of which Israel maintaining security control over the Jordan Rift Valley is only one part. The greatest concern about a Palestinian state in the West Bank is that it would simply become a failed-state haven for terrorism against Israel, like Gaza or Southern Lebanon.
The three great “game changers” that keep Israeli strategists up at night are anti-tank missiles and short-range rockets, says former national security adviser Gen. Giora Eiland. Only the Israeli security presence in Judea and Samaria has prevented this from taking place so far.
TO PREVENT a return to the situation of the pre-1967 “Auschwitz borders,” Israel needs to retain control over the high ground overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, the Tel Aviv Jerusalem highway and the narrow coastal plain in which most of Israel’s population and industrial capacity is located. It would also have to retain full control of Palestinian air space – it is only four flight minutes from the Jordan River to Jerusalem – and the electro-magnetic spectrum to prevent jamming. It is even more doubtful that the Palestinians would ever agree to these limitations on their sovereignty that they will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But Israel cannot live without them.
Israel must ensure that it does not set itself up for concessions on its most basic security needs as the price for formal Palestinian recognition of its Jewish character that might not be worth the price of the paper it’s written on.

The Sharon Doctrine. By Hussein Ibish.

The Sharon Doctrine. By Hussein Ibish. Foreign Affairs, January 11, 2014. Also here.

Sharon’s Lessons for Israel. By Martin van Creveld. Foreign Affairs, January 11, 2014. Also here.

Did Sharon Want More Withdrawals? By Walter Russell Mead and Staff. The American Interest, January 13, 2014.


For most Arabs, no Israeli in history is more synonymous with violence and Israeli expansionism than Ariel Sharon. His name quickly conjures the worst massacres, deepest pro-settlement fanaticism, and most extreme nationalistic provocations in the Palestinian bill of particulars against Israel. Less readily appreciated by most Arabs is the complexity of Sharon’s legacy and the important lessons, both positive and negative, his final policies suggest for peace.
For most of his life, Sharon was the epitome of what has been called “gun Zionism”: the notion that Jewish Israelis have a kill-or-be-killed relationship with the Arabs, and above all the Palestinians, surrounding them. He spent most of his professional life armed, first as a teenager in the Jewish underground under the British mandate in 1942, and then as a Haganah fighter in the so-called “Battle for Jerusalem” in the fall of 1948. Sharon quickly earned a reputation as a maverick best suited for missions that required ruthlessness – before long, he was placed in charge of Israel’s early “special operations” Unit 101.
This group eventually specialized in tit-for-tat raids with Palestinian guerrilla groups, which often resulted in civilian deaths on both sides. The most notorious of these was the Qibya massacre in 1953 when troops under Sharon’s command attacked a West Bank village and killed 69 Palestinians, two thirds of whom were women and children. Sharon later wrote that he had believed that the civilians had already fled the village when their homes were destroyed, although contemporaneous documents cast doubt on that account. Sharon told his troops the purpose of the attack was “maximal killing and damage to property,” and reports from both the Israeli military and UN observers are consistent with a deliberate effort to kill civilians as opposed to Sharon’s version.
In Israel's conventional wars with Arab armies, Sharon was generally regarded as an effective, but unpredictable and undisciplined, commander. But the Israeli public was quick to lionize his performance in the 1973 war, during which he was credited with creative maneuvers that defeated Egypt’s Second and Third Armies on the crucial southern front. National fame led to a political career, and in 1981, Sharon became Israeli Minister of Defense.
That made Sharon Israel’s de facto commander-in-chief during the country’s invasion of Lebanon. In September 1982, Sharon’s forces facilitated and, in effect, permitted a large massacre of Palestinian civilians by Lebanese Christian militias at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps under Israeli control. Although Lebanese carried out the actual killings, the Israeli government in general, and Sharon in particular, are almost universally considered by to be responsible. As Israel’s defense minister at the time, the troops controlling the camps were under his direct command. Israel’s own Kahan Commission of official inquiry into the massacre held the Israeli military “indirectly responsible” for the massacre and found that Sharon “bears personal responsibility” for not anticipating the entirely predictable killing or taking any measures to stop it. The Commission recommended his removal from office.
The bodies piled up in Sabra and Shatila irrevocably defined Sharon’s reputation for Arabs and many others. For almost two decades, his political career languished on the margins. But, as memories faded, he clawed his way back into favor, cultivating a growing constituency on the ultra-nationalist right during the first premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu. Succeeding Netanyahu as head of the Likud party, Sharon proved that he had maintained his talent for provocation. In September 2000, Sharon, accompanied by large numbers of police officers and some Israeli extremists, marched through the Haram Al-Sharif complex, also known as the Temple Mount, and declared that the holy Muslim sites there would remain under permanent Israeli control.
In most Palestinian and Arab narratives, this is considered the beginning of the second intifada. Standard Israeli narratives, by contrast, hold that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat launched it through deliberate Palestinian violence after the failure of the Camp David summit in the previous summer. Both versions are contradicted by the definitive Mitchell Commission Report, which cites instead Israeli border police use of live fire against Palestinians at same holy site a few days after Sharon’s visit. But if Sharon was trying to provoke an incident, as the Mitchell Report strongly implies, he certainly succeeded.
The subsequent explosion of the Second Intifada propelled Sharon, at long last, into the premiership, in February 2001. His attitude towards the conflict was tough by Israeli standards (and even by Sharon’s own standards) and ensured that many more Palestinian civilians perished than Israelis. Yet as he was confronting, perhaps for the first time in his career, a conflict that clearly had no military solution, he endorsed, with some reservations, the U.S.-led Roadmap for Peace in 2003. And, in 2004, Sharon explicitly acknowledged the need for a Palestinian state. He even started referring forthrightly to the Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian lands, something most Israeli right-wingers rarely admit.
Sharon was shifting. But why? In general, Israeli leaders who have gone from being pro-occupation to supportive of Palestinian statehood have been impelled by the same factor: demographics. Sharon was no more able to answer what Israel was to do with 4.5 million occupied Palestinians – men and women whom it could neither incorporate nor peacefully dominate – than his predecessors. The only viable conflict-ending solution was a Palestinian state.
Sharon was not the Israeli leader who would make a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. But he did take a major step, the implications of which Palestinians and Israelis alike cannot underestimate: he evacuated settlements in both Gaza and the northern West Bank. Sharon did not do this in the interests of peace. He did it as an Israeli national imperative, and a way to resolve a strategic liability. Sharon's action is sometimes erroneously described as a “withdrawal” from Gaza, but Sharon more accurately termed it a “unilateral redeployment.” In other words, Sharon’s shift was not one towards an agreement with the Palestinians, but rather towards increased Israeli unilateralism. His action was entirely pursuant to Israeli interests and conducted without any agreement on the Palestinian side.
In his unexpected action, Sharon faced and overcame substantial resistance from the settlement movement in Israel. By explaining why the evacuation was a strategic and military necessity, he ultimately mobilized the support of a large Israeli majority. Indeed, the experience led him to leave the Likud and form a new center-right party, Kadima, shortly before the stroke that incapacitated him. Several Israeli journalists have suggested that Sharon was anticipating repeating a larger withdrawal in the West Bank should he become Kadima’s first prime minister.
There are two crucial lessons to be drawn from Sharon’s last major action and final legacy, one positive, the other negative. On the positive side, Sharon demonstrated that settlements can, in fact, be evacuated. Because of his actions, it is no longer even possible to ask whether the Israeli government is capable of dismantling settlements. The questions are simply when and where they will choose to do so. And that means that none of the existing settlements and other demographic, infrastructural, topographic, or administrative changes Israel enforces in the occupied territories should be regarded as irreversible. The implications of this for the prospects of a two-state solution are profound.
On the negative side, Sharon yet again demonstrated that unilateralism between Israel and the Palestinians is a dead-end that only produces more conflict. Unilateral acts do not leave a party on the other side that has entered into a mutual agreement for its own reasons and therefore has a stake in making things work. It would have been wiser for Palestinians to have responded to the Gaza redeployment differently – in the event, they allowed Gaza to fall into the hands of Hamas rather than reflecting a well-functioning and properly-governed society. But Israel did not give them any clear incentive to see the action as an opportunity for progress. Exactly the same can be said of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, which was as unilateral as its various invasions of that country had been.
Israelis should consider this when they complain that their “withdrawals” from Lebanon and Gaza were “rewarded” with rocketfire from Hezbollah and Hamas. To conclude that Arabs are recalcitrant or that agreements with them are impossible is to badly misread the reality of such policies. What unilateralism produces is a change in the context of conflict, not an end to it. The same would almost certainly apply to any Israeli unilateral action, as reportedly contemplated by Sharon, in the West Bank.
One need only contrast the track record of unilateralism with that of mutual agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The peace treaty with Jordan is rock solid, and that with Egypt has survived the transitions from Anwar Sadat to Hosni Mubarak to military rule to Mohamed Morsi and now the new, interim Egyptian government, entirely unscathed. Even the armistice with Syria has been largely satisfactory from the Israeli point of view.
The real legacy of Israel’s most famous and notorious practitioner of “gun Zionism” was to simultaneously demonstrate that the government of the State of Israel is, despite all its doubts, capable of overriding the settler movement in the greater national interest, but also that if it does so unilaterally, it will be a dead-end. Whether Sharon himself would have come to see this by now, or would have clung to a vision of unilateralism – as so many on the Israeli right are increasingly coming to embrace – we cannot know. But, even if he never got the chance to draw the right conclusions from the unsatisfactory consequences of his final policies, the rest of us can, and must, act on their implications.

The “Clash of Civilizations” That Never Was. By Leon Hadar.

The “Clash of Civilizations” that never was. By Leon Hadar. Haaretz, January 13, 2014. Also here.


A famous 1992 claim that the clash between Western civilization and Islam would be the new global battleground has ultimately proved wide off the mark.

For several years, there was a feeling among some Western intellectual elites that the “Clash of Civilizations” predicted by political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1992 had indeed come to pass. The attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the struggle against Islamic terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among others, appeared to confirm the Harvard professor’s claim that the clash between Western civilization and Islam would lie at the center of international relations following the end of the Cold War.
The rise of China as a competing power with the United States, economically and militarily, also fit Huntington’s thesis of a future global struggle between a declining West and East Asian civilization, with China at its core.
Yet today, Huntington’s predictions are depicted as nothing more than a brilliant intellectual exercise. Huntington may have been right when he determined that ethnic, religious and cultural identities would fuel the awakening of new political conflicts. But contra his thesis, most of these struggles now take place within the framework of the large super cultures. Instead of these cultures creating superregional and global frameworks, the different cultural identities are creating political fissures in different nation-states.
Middle Eastern countries are unlikely to unify under the rule of a single Islamic caliphate in the near or distant future. If it were possible to define any one thing as lying at the center of Muslim civilization today, it would have to be the stubborn struggle between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims – with Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively, leading the two rival camps.
This struggle is creating political splits in Iraq, Syria and Bahrain, as well as counterresponses from secular forces in Turkey and Egypt. In Libya and Yemen, old ethnic and tribal conflicts are being revived.
China has not become the core state of East Asia unifying the surrounding countries under an anti-Western cultural banner. To the contrary, its efforts to become the dominant regional power have generated a counterresponse from countries such as Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, which are pressuring the United States to continue playing a key role in serving as a brake on China’s strategic ambitions in the region.
The conflict most likely to light the fuse of a major regional war in East Asia is not the one between Washington and Beijing, but between Beijing and Tokyo. Both China and Japan are driven by nationalist agendas and territorial struggles.
Likewise – and in contrast to Huntington’s predictions – China did not form alliances with radical, anti-Western Islamic countries. Rather, Beijing is working aggressively to suppress the national and religious awakening of its large Muslim minority.
Sometimes, it seems that one of the most faithful adherents to Huntington’s thesis is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who tries to present his foreign policy as part of a global cultural struggle.
Russia has two roles in this struggle. The first is to represent the Orthodox-Christian legacy of Byzantium and its branches in the Balkans (Serbia) and the Middle East (the Orthodox Christian minorities in Syria) in the face of its historical rivals – Turkey and its Western allies – for control of the region.
In its second role, it represents a conservative worldview against the liberal secular values represented by the European Union and the United States, with its opposition to gay rights serving as a symbol of those conservative and traditional values.
The real culture war is taking place within Russia, with the conservative elites represented by Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Western-oriented intelligentsia concentrated in the large cities.
A similar values-based dichotomy propels a clash of civilizations elsewhere. In the United States, supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement oppose the liberal-democratic coalition. In Turkey, Islamist supporters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are arrayed against his secular opponents. In the European Union, those who support a strong centralized union are engaged in struggle with those who oppose it.
In Israel as well, the supporters of liberal, cosmopolitan values found in greater Tel Aviv are opposed by the ultra-Orthodox and nationalist camps.
Putin’s success in using culture as a tool to strengthen his rule and promote Russia’s strategic interests highlights the dilemma facing those who march under the flag of liberal reform: Enlisting public support is much more effective when you present yourself as someone seeking to defend community members from those seeking to harm its collective identity, whether it is Pan-Slavic Russian, Islamist or Messianic Zionist.
This explains the difficult challenge faced by the side trying to defend enlightened universal values in a local clash of civilizations.

Chris Christie’s Conservative Problem. By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

Chris Christie’s Conservative Problem. By E.J. Dionne, Jr. Real Clear Politics, January 13, 2014. Also at the Washington Post.


What is the greatest fear of conservatives when they warn against the dangers of big government? It is that a leader or the coterie around him will abuse the authority of the state arbitrarily to gather yet more power, punish opponents and, in the process, harm rank-and-file citizens whose well-being matters not a whit to those who are trying to enhance their control.
This, of course, is a quite precise description of what happened when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s aides ordered the closure of some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. Their motivation was political payback. The result: thousands of commuters along with emergency vehicles, school buses and pretty much the entire town of Fort Lee, N.J., were thrown into gridlock.
Using public facilities for selfish ends is the very definition of corruption, which is why this scandal bothers people far outside the conservative orbit. It took months for the episode to hit the big time because so many (the governor claims he’s one of them) had difficulty believing that government officials would act as recklessly as Christie’s gang did — and with such indifference to how their actions would affect the lives of people in northern New Jersey who were bystanders to an insider game.
Christie was finally moved to condemn the indefensible only after the smoking gun emerged in the form of e-mails from his staff and his appointees. Their contents reflected a vindictive urge to squelch all resistance to the governor’s political interests.
And this is the problem Christie hasn’t solved yet. At his epic news conference Thursday, he focused again and again on how loyal staff members had “lied” to him and how he felt personally victimized. What he never explained was why he did not press his staff earlier for paper trails so he could know for certain that all his vociferous denials were true. He didn’t deal with this flagrant foul until he had no choice. Saying he had faith in his folks is not enough. Christie still has to tell us why he did not treat the possibility of such a misuse of power with any urgency.
Even assuming that Christie’s disavowal of complicity holds up, he faces a long-term challenge in laying this story to rest. History suggests that beating back a scandal requires one or more of these assets: (1) a strong partisan or ideological base; (2) overreach by your adversaries; or (3) a charge that doesn’t fit people’s perceptions of you. Christie has trouble on all three fronts.
If Christie has a base, it consists of Wall Street donors, a media fascinated by his persona and relative moderation, and some but by no means all members of the non-tea-party-wing of the Republican Party.
He does not have the committed ideological core that Ronald Reagan could rely on to overcome Iran-Contra. He does not have the Democratic base that stuck with Bill Clinton during his sex scandal because the excesses of a special prosecutor and then of a Republican House that impeached him came to enrage Democrats even more than Clinton’s misbehavior.
What of Christie’s base? Wall Street is fickle and pragmatic. The media can turn on a dime. And the Republican establishment, such as it is, has alternatives. Oh, yes, Christie also has support from some machine Democrats in New Jersey who have made deals with him. But they will be even more pragmatic than Wall Street.
Overreach by one’s enemies is always a possibility, but there are no signs of this yet. Christie’s detractors have every reason to take things slowly and methodically. They will enjoy dragging this out.
And as has already been widely noted, the Christie operation’s penchant for settling scores is legendary. This charge fits the existing narrative about the guy so well that Christie had to say the words, “I am not a bully.” Denials of this sort usually have the opposite of their intended effect.
Christie has one other obstacle, and this may be the most important. A great many conservatives never trusted him, and a tale that plays so perfectly into their critique of government could make things worse. Erick Erickson, the right-wing writer, captured this rather colorfully. People sometimes want a politician to be “a jerk,” Erickson wrote on Fox News’ Web site, but “they want the person to be their jerk,” not a jerk “who tries to make everyone else his whipping boy.”
To win Christie some sympathy on the right, defenders such as former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour quickly deployed the GOP’s first-responder technique of attacking “the liberal media.” But liberals are the least of Christie’s problems.