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Web Letter

The Nation's call for a new sobriety in US policy vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is heartening, but I suspect that I am not the only reader on the left who might wish that it further clarify the recommended terms of such renewed engagement. There is an awkward ambiguity in the exhortation that the Obama administration "begin by reasserting longstanding principles of international law and US policy," because when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two are not, historically speaking, mutually compatible. US policy since the Oslo Accords has been to find a "solution" for the conflict that absolves Israel of the need to comply substantially with international law, primarily within respect to ceding any rights to Palestinian refugees, but also in allowing Israel to salvage at least some of its territorial conquests in the West Bank. The parameters that emerged from the Taba talks enshrined these two principles, not least with respect to East Jerusalem, where Clinton effectively ruled that Israel should be allowed to keep what land it had seized there, no matter how difficult this makes it to envision a rational Palestinian urban plan in what remains of the city. Just look at the map. The Nation's assertion that the Taba proposals "remain the best chance for resolving the conflict" are accordingly very heavy on its deference to past US policy, and exceedingly light on international law. Which is a pity, for a progressive publication.

The larger issue should be clear here: Netanyahu is correct when he this past month proclaimed that "building in them [settlements] in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution." It is just a matter of what you are willing to call "a state." Or, perhaps, more pointedly, do Palestinians have the right to rights, or merely cheap substitutes like "viability" or "dignity"? Woefully, I have to confess that unlike some of the other commentators on this article I am a moralist, and believe in right and wrong. There is always en ethical dilemma in foreign policy; people who speak of the need for pragmatism are merely obfuscating a bigger question: pragmatic for whom? Usually, the answer is: those with power.

Peter Lagerquist

Jerusalem, Palestine/Israel

Apr 1 2010 - 6:56pm

Web Letter

I find it ironic that those who often take a skeptical position with regard to the US's prevailing geostrategic raison d'état are so taken by Gen. Petraeus's pronouncement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am no soldier-scholar, but while I'm sure Israeli settlement expansion poisons the atmosphere in the Islamic world, I can't imagine Islamicist militants are blowing themselves up for a two-state solution. Or, put another way, there are zealots on both sides of this conflict.

I think the Obama administration needs to put pressure on both parties, and with regard to the Palestinians this is about more than merely healing the Fatah-Hamas rift. It also must be about ensuring that a future Palestinian state will remain demilitarized and that the religious sites of all faiths will remain protected and open to all (as, let us recall, they were not under Jordanian suzerainty in 1948-1967, and as the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif is not under waqf custodianship). Without these guarantees, the West Bank will remain an international flashpoint.

Despite the storied power of the Israel lobby in the US, American leverage over Israel will no doubt be ultimately decisive in bringing that country to Taba-style terms again. The Palestinians, on the other hand, hear many voices counseling permanent militancy. That is why there is no substitute for a mutually agreed and guaranteed peace settlement, as opposed to a prior thrashing of Israel to give up any interest or claim over East Jerusalem before the bargaining begins. Let us have no morality tales in this endeavor, nor expectations that one last smack at Israel will resolve all of America's woes. The best we can get is an imperfect agreement for a liveable peace.

Adam Glantz

Herndon, VA

Mar 30 2010 - 10:11pm

Web Letter

News item: US generals note that American lives are at risk because Israel refuses to to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians!

Moreover, given the fact that Palestinians are losing their land at a rapid pace, it's time to say "no" to Israel and its settlers.

Settlers now comprise one-fourth of Israel's population. They are a powerful bloc, much admired by the rest of the country for their "pioneering" spirit. They provide the push for Israel’s illegal (see UN resolutions, Geneva Convention) expansions. The only way to stop Israel from taking over all of the "Palestine Mandate" (Israel now has 80 percent of the land both parties were supposed to share, and it grows larger every day ) is for the United States to pull the financial plug.

The US gives Israel over $10 billion a year--$3 billion direct, military loans that are never repaid, tax-free giving by US citizens etc. Cutting this subsidy will, hopefully, bring Israel to its senses. If not, we will have succeeded in not enabling their land grabbing and crushing of the Palestinians.

Howard Kaplan

belmont, MA

Mar 30 2010 - 4:35pm

Web Letter

"Nor was George H.W. Bush when Israel refused to halt settlement construction." And that proved effective--not.

Can we please address little known archeology--like:

Israeli archaeologists (e.g., I. Finkelstein, N. Silberman, Z. Hawass, Z. Herzog, W. Denver, et al.) now agree that there was no Exodus, no Joshua invasion, and that the proto-Israelites were native Canaanites living in the highlands of Palestine/Canaan.

Ergo: No Moses, Abraham, covenant or Promised Land, just propaganda created 700 years after the "Moses era" to create a legacy for the benefit of a group based in Jerusalem circa 500 BC. Also, the same archaeologists now agree that the great united kingdom of David and Solomon circa 980-930 BC is a fairy tale. Archaeology now shows that the backwater state of Judah in this era had a population of about 5,000 people spread over approximately twenty-five villages, including Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem in that era had no walls, no monumental buildings and was mostly illiterate.

Also, that David and Solomon were mere chieftains, with maybe fifty warriors to their names. This is now established fact (read, for example, The Bible Unearthed, by Finkelstein).

So if the Zionist claim to Palestine does not rest on the Bible or the mostly fictitious legends of the united kingdom, we are left with who ran Palestine after Solomon and David (who killed his own son, according to their own legends).

History shows that most of the area was run by other nations, such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexander's Greeks, the Romans and finally the Byzantine Greeks, until the Arab conquest.

Netanyahu's claim that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jews for 3,000 years is also entirely false.

Israel is a state built on self-serving myths and legends.

And the world has to witness an endless war against a quarter of all humanity (Islam) for such myths and legends.

Mathew Neville

London, England

Mar 30 2010 - 3:07pm

Web Letter

Yeah, right. Good luck with that. Have you forgotten that the president is a Democrat? That should be enough information for you to know that Israel will be allowed to do as it pleases, with the occasional public scolding as smokescreen for American complicity in this long-running tragedy.

Chris Trakas

Manhattan, NY

Mar 29 2010 - 9:30pm

Web Letter

Sorry, but... the central premise of the aricle is just untrue. General Patreeus has made it clear that he never suggested that Israeli policy endangered US troops. But that aside, how does the Israeli-Arab conflict explain Islamic terror attacks in India, Russia, Sudan, Malaysia, etc.? There is even an Islamic movement to "reclaim" southern Spain.

Rich Binder

Pasdena, CA

Mar 29 2010 - 5:26pm

Web Letter

“Serious pressure on Israel”? You make me want to puke.

What is needed is some serious pressure on the Palestinians and the Arab world, to wit:

Full and unconditional diplomatic recognition of Israel.

Full and unconditional recognition of Israel’s right to exist within secure borders.

Full cessation of all acts of war against Israel, including but not limited to: full cessation of all economic boycotts and embargoes against Israel; full cessation of military action against Israel by independent states (e.g., Syria and Iran) and their proxies: Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade et al. (that is, every single proxy).

If the Palestinians and their Arab enablers are serious about peace, let them forswear all acts of violence against Israel and all calls for Israel’s destruction.

Then we can talk. Until then, no deals.

Jack Davis

Phoenix, AZ

Mar 29 2010 - 2:56pm

Web Letter

It would be the Obama administration's position that the US is fighting anywhere near the Middle East only because US citizens, like WWII-era European Jews before them, experienced attacks by (what the US knows to be its own form of) Nazis. General Petraeus's charge (and I'm not convinced it's the business of a soldier to charge anything other than the enemy, especially if it's understood that that soldier does what he does on behalf of, and in the stead of, the commander in chief) can only be that Israel's existence threatens the US because something about the way Israel is existing is hampering US war efforts.

J.E. Bernecky

Westover, PA

Mar 27 2010 - 8:30am

Web Letter

I believe it is a myth that Israel is one of our closest allies. Certainly, the Holocaust produced sympathy for Jews in general, and, because of this horror, Israel has been viewed as the "only" victim in various Arab/ Israeli conflicts. Jews, as a group, were victims in Europe, and Islamic countries were not responsible. Mohammed's comments on the People of the Book, during his "Night Visit" to Jerusalem gave Jews more protection in the Islamic world than they received in Europe until the advent of modern Israel. As people of the book, Christians have been part of Islamic governments, including Saddam Hussein's. Various Arab/Israeli conflicts have limited Jewish participation in Middle Eastern governments.

The US has never gone to war in the Middle East with Israel as an ally. Before any war in the area, American governments always touch base with Saudi Arabia, with whom we have had a relationship since well before modern Israel existed.

The US, for all its failings, is a multireligious and multiethnic state, and a close relationship with a nation that favors one religion or ethnic group over another religion or ethnic group is unnatural.

Pervis James Casey

Riverside, CA

Mar 26 2010 - 2:30pm

Web Letter

Eisenhower and George H.W.Bush could get away with threatening to withold finanical aid if Israel didn't pull in the reins, but the AIPAC strangulation wasn't so complete then as it is now, and hence it didn't have the overwhelming leverage it does now. AIPAC has tentacles that infiltrate every branch of government including the judiciary, the White House and the media. This is why Netanyahu can afford to flout his middle finger so defiantly, because he knows that if a counter-threat is even mentioned, he can bring down Obama and the government. I have a pretty shrewd idea what that is, and so does pretty much the rest of the world.

The only way to handle blackmail is to come clean, but many believe that is just not going to happen.

The fact is that if Israel threatens to bring down the US government, it will bring itself down also, and that is why Obama should call Bibi's bluff. It can be handled firmly but diplomatically, even incrementally, in private without recourse to rancor and without using the same vile methadology that the terrorist state of Israel uses.

stanley hersh

New York, NY

Mar 25 2010 - 9:18pm