Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Releasing More Prisoners to Strengthen Abbas?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with Time Magazine that he will demand that Benjamin Netanyahu fulfill Ehud Olmert's promise to release more prisoners as a gesture to the PA. According to an article in Haaretz, he is demanding the release of archterrorists Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa'adat. Olmert has confirmed that he promised to release more prisoners once the Shalit deal is reached, but if I understand correctly, Barghouti and Saadat weren't part of the promise.

So, should Israel release more prisoners to strengthen Abbas? Well, first we should ask if such a move would really bolster the Palestinian president's standing among Palestinians. I don't think so. If Israel releases Palestinians to the PA, in order to balance the achievements of Hamas, wouldn't Palestinians credit Hamas also with this additional release? After all, they will argue that it would not have happened in the first place without the Hamas deal, and they would probably be right. At best, Hamas and Abbas would get joint credit.

Let's say Abbas does get a boost from this, does he deserve it? No, he doesn't, with his UN bid and tendency to come up with new preconditions for negotiations. Be that as it may, it is in Israel's best interest to resume the peace process with a serious partner, and Abbas is the closest thing we've got.

Having said all that, I haven't come to a conclusion, one way or another. It may be a good idea to release more prisoners, and it might not be. One thing I'm certain of, though, is that if we do release more prisoners, Barghouti and Saadat should not be included.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gilad Shalit vs. 1,027 Palestinians

Let's make a quick comparison between the people released yesterday. On the one side, there was Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and on the other, 1,027 Palestinians convicted of various crimes, many of them murderers and accomplices. Shalit was a soldier who never targeted Palestinian civilians. Many of the released Palestinian prisoners set out to murder civilians. That's what Ahlam Tamimi did when she drove the suicide bomber to Sbarro in 2001, where he killed 15 people. That's what Amna Muna did when she lured sixteen year old Ofir Rahum to Ramallah, where she and her accomplices killed him.

Gilad Shalit, in his first public interview, said he wished for more Palestinian prisoners to be released if they don't go back to fighting Israel. He also hoped this deal would bring Israel and the Palestinians closer to peace. On the other side, some of the released Palestinian convicts called for the abduction of more Israeli soldiers. Shalit hopes for peace, released Palestinian prisoners hope for more conflict.

The Palestinians' main argument in favor of more kidnappings is that Israel only understands force, and that this is the only way to get their prisoners released. That is simply false, considering the fact that during the last four years, the Israeli government has released 1,233 Palestinians as peace gestures to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas. Of course, there is some truth to the Palestinians' claims. The only way to release mass murderers is by kidnapping Israelis. Those terrorists are the real people Hamas cares about.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Shalit (Real) Deal

After more than five years in captivity in Gaza, an agreement has been finalized between Israel and Hamas to release abducted soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. I'm very glad the end of Shalit's captivity is about to come within a week. I can't say I'm excited about the price, though. One thousand Palestinians is astronomical. It isn't clear yet who exactly the prisoners are going to be, and which ones will be allowed to return to the West Bank. There was some good news about some of the people who won't be released, like terrorist masterminds Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa'adat.

Another troubling aspect of this deal is the release of Palestinian citizens of Israel. If this is indeed part of the agreement, as the Israeli media has reported, then it is a very dangerous precedent. Not only should the Hamas not be able to be seen as the representative of Israeli citizens, no foreign organization or state should have such a role. Terrorists with Israeli citizenship should not be the subject of negotiations.

Having said all that, I can't help but have a stupid smirk when thinking about Gilat Shalit's imminent release and the big smiles on Noam and Aviva Shalit's faces yesterday.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Avineri, Nusseibeh and the Jewish People

A few days ago I wrote about an article by Sari Nusseibeh, where he says Palestinians shouldn't recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but should recognize Judaism as Israel's official religion and and Jews as the majority. Here is some of what I had to say:

"What's the difference between recognizing Judaism as the official religion of Israel and recognizing its Jewish character? What Nusseibeh describes here is what most Jewish Israelis mean and want when they say that Israel is the Jewish State - a democracy with a Jewish majority and Judaism as the official state religion."
I overlooked the fact that Nusseibeh focuses on Judaism as a religion and seems to ignore the fact that the Jewish people is a nation (though he does mention Jews as being an ethnic group, which isn't the same as a nationality). Though Israelis want a state with a Jewish majority and Judaism as the state religion, they also want it to be the state of the Jewish people - a country Jews the world over can feel kinship with, because we're part of the same national group.

I realized my glaring omission when reading Shlomo Avineri's excellent point-by-point rebuttal of Nusseibeh's article today (Hebrew here; English here). Avineri sees the fact that one of the most moderate Palestinian intellectuals doesn't recognize Jews as a people means the gulf between the most moderate Jews and Palestinians is so wide, that it is hard to believe the conflict can be solved yet.

I don't think he is correct. While it does bother me that Palestinians don't recognize us as a people, in the end, what really matters is that we recognize ourselves. We don't need our enemies to define us. By demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state we are inadvertently inviting them into the debate over what a "Jewish State" is or what it means to be Jewish. Those are internal matters, where Mahmoud Abbas and Sari Nusseibeh have no say.

So, even when taking the "Jews as a people" aspect into consideration, my conclusions remain unchanged. We don't need the Palestinians' recognition of the Jews as a people. We just need them to promise not to work against Israel's Jewish character in any way.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Israeli Wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Asking whether any Israelis will win Nobel Prizes has become an annual event. Fortunately, celebrating the naming of a new Israeli laureate has become an almost biennial occurance this last decade.

Today, two years after Prof. Ada Yonath shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Prof. Daniel Shechtman of the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) was announced as the sole winner of this year's prize. His discovery of quasicrystals was so unique and had such important implications, that the Swedish Academy decided he was worthy of a prize all to himself. In recent years, the scientific Nobel Prizes have been shared by two or three people, so being the sole recipient is an extraordinary honour.

I can imagine all the BDSers are popping a vein right now.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Sari Nusseibeh's Jewish State

Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, probably my favorite Palestinian, has written an article on Al-Jazeera's website in support of a Jewish state. Sure, its title is "Why Israel can't be a 'Jewish State'", and most of it is dedicated to explaining why this phrase gives Palestinians the hives. But then comes the final paragraph:

"So, rather than demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a "Jewish State" as such - adding "beyond chutzpah" to insult and injury - we offer the suggestion that Israeli leaders ask instead that Palestinians recognise Israel (proper) as a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish. Many states (including Israel's neighbours Jordan and Egypt, and countries such as Greece) have their official religion as Christianity or Islam (but grant equal civil rights to all citizens) and there is no reason why Israeli Jews should not want the religion of their state to be officially Jewish. This is a reasonable demand, and it may allay the fears of Jewish Israelis about becoming a minority in Israel, and at the same time not arouse fears among Palestinians and Arabs about being ethnically cleansed in Palestine. Demanding the recognition of Israel's official religion as Judaism, rather than the recognition of Israel as a "Jewish State", would also mean Israel continuing to be a democracy."

If it looks like a Jewish State, walks like a Jewish state, and quacks like a Jewish State, it's probably a Jewish state.

What's the difference between recognizing Judaism as the official religion of Israel and recognizing its Jewish character? What Nusseibeh describes here is what most Jewish Israelis mean and want when they say that Israel is the Jewish State - a democracy with a Jewish majority and Judaism as the official state religion.

I'm fine with Palestinians recognizing Israel's Jewishness without actually saying the words "Jewish State". I'd even settle for less, with Palestinians just agreeing that their new state would not work against this internal Israeli matter militarily, diplomatically or otherwise.

Update (October 7): More on Nusseibeh's article here.