Saturday, September 19, 2009

When Everything is a Crime.


by Yagil Henkin

It is said that the term "civil war" is an oxymoron; civil war, a term including guerilla wars and counter -insurgency operations tends to be, as T.E. Lawrence famously wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, "Like trying to eat soup with a knife." That is, long, dirty and messy. The same can be said for urban warfare, whether between conventional armies or non-state organizations. Civilians populate the battlefront, the enemy is invisible, and visibility is almost zero. To this day, battles fought in densely populated urban areas have inevitably resulted in heavy collateral damage and civilian deaths. For example, it is estimated that during the Second Battle of Falujah in 2004, at least 7,000 out of the city's 50,000 buildings were totally destroyed, and many more were heavily damaged. The number of civilian deaths is not known; some claim 6,000, while US Marines Expeditionary Force 1 Commander Lt. General John Sattler has estimated that a mere 1,500 civilians (and 5,000 terrorists) remained in the city during the battle.
In addition, urban fighting has a tendency to evoke allegations in its aftermath, often unjustified. Sometimes it seems that human rights organizations and other observers ignore the complexities of urban warfare; they prefer to see a story of good versus evil – perhaps in hopes of minimizing the suffering of civilians. But by ignoring the complexity of such battles, these organizations tend to bring about unintentional results.

Listening to human rights organizations in April of 2002, one was easily convinced that Israel had committed massive war crimes during Operation Defensive Shield. These claims primarily focused on the battle that had taken place in Jenin, where 52 Palestinians were killed, most of them combatants, and an additional 23 Israeli soldiers lost their lives. Terje Larsen, the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East, claimed that what had happened in Jenin was "horrific beyond belief…. We have expert people here who have been in war zones and earthquakes, and they say they have never seen anything like it." Likewise, in a November 2002 report, Amnesty International accused Israel of war crimes.

In retrospect, one has to wonder: If the Jenin battle was "horrific beyond belief" despite the very low percentage of civilians killed (relative to other modern urban battles), what would Larsen say about the IDF’s ’08-’09 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, during which, in absolute numbers, more civilians were killed, even if, according to the IDF, their percentage was still relatively low?

In Jenin, the IDF began using tanks only after forty hours of battle, and employed bulldozers to create safe passageways only after an ambush killed thirteen IDF soldiers. No artillery was used, and no bombs were dropped. In contrast, Cast Lead was a more conventional military operation: the IDF used artillery, smart bombs and other forms of military arsenal. The results, accordingly, were much more devastating. According to the Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi, at least 600 people were killed, with both the IDF and Hamas claiming the number at least twice as much. (The IDF claims most were armed terrorists, while Hamas and some human rights organizations claim most were civilians.)

Why the difference in magnitude?

First, Gaza was a bigger nut to crack. Hamas was better organized, armed and prepared than the Palestinian fighters in Defensive Shield. While many had believed, before Defensive Shield, that the IDF would pay a terrible toll fighting in the refugee camps and casbahs, Gaza was seen as a more difficult tactical problem. Tactics such as swarming (an assault by many small forces moving simultaneously and unpredictably through buildings while avoiding the streets) which had succeeded in Shechem (Nablus) in 2002, had limited success in Gaza. Thus, the IDF’s decision to instead use heavier weapons was quite logical. Because Hamas used civilian homes and mosques as arms caches and command posts, the collateral damage was significantly higher. The international law clearly states that Hamas bears responsibility for this damage.

Second, Israel did not control the area around the Gaza battlefield in the same way it did during Defensive Shield. Despite technological advances, intelligence is still hard to gather in urban areas, and Israel’s loose grasp of Gaza enabled Hamas to shift its forces around Gaza relatively undetected. Despite Israeli aerial surveillance, isolating the battlefield remained challenging – hence the use of artillery barrages before attacks from infantry forces. (The armored brigade that bifurcated the Gaza Strip had the advantage of operating in a relatively open area).

Third, during Defensive Shield the IDF made extraordinary efforts, relative to other western forces fighting urban battles, to prevent collateral damage. The initial plan for entering Jenin required D-9 bulldozers to demolish homes and create two corridors inside the refugee camp. This plan was rejected; the upper echelons of IDF command and Israel politics wanted to minimize collateral damage – even if it meant endangering soldiers' lives. Bulldozers were employed en masse only after a lethal ambush claimed thirteen soldiers’ lives. Of course, this resulted in more damage than had the original plan been implemented. Additionally, Israel received little credit for the fact that civilian casualties were lower than expected from an urban battle between an army and irregular forces.

The "Jenin massacre" lie was refuted, but films like Muhammed Bachri's "Jenin, Jenin" (where claims are made that "the Nazis did not do things like this," and a montage creates the false impression of an Israeli armored vehicle running over POWs), or Amnesty's 2002 report "Shielded From Scrutiny: IDF Violations in Jenin and Nablus" created the impression that Israel was responsible for the worst imaginable atrocities. Amnesty, it should be noted, consciously writes reports, as Stathis Kalyvas wrote in The Logic of Violence in Civil War (2006), in a way "such that […] could not yield a document that could be comparative across countries within a single year or by country across the years". In other words, Amnesty does not want to measure human rights violations against each other, thus allowing reports to exaggerate in one country while ignoring another, without any standard way to compare reports. In short, if everything is a crime, then nothing is a crime.

But this is nothing compared to Janine di Giovanni from the London Times, who claimed that "Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life." This is a ludicrous claim, considering that the lowest estimates of civilian deaths in the 1995 battle of Grozny in Chechnya were 6,000, or that Sierra Leone’s civil war caused the death of tens of thousands of civilians while two million were displaced and tens of thousands more were attacked with machetes.

One thing was clear to the IDF after Defensive Shield: It would get bad press either way. Endangering soldiers more than international law required was illogical, since the IDF would be blamed one way or another. The wholesale condemnation of the IDF in the wake of Defensive Shield, combined with bereaved families feeling that their sons were sacrificed in order to save face, contributed to the IDF taking a different approach during Cast Lead.

While the IDF still caused less collateral damage and civilian casualties than, say, the Americans did during the second battle of Falujah, the Israeli military was less prepared to take chances. True enough, tactics such as phoning to warn Hamas leaders to evacuate their families before bombs were dropped on their homes (and arms caches hidden there) were the norm during Cast Lead (although considered abnormal by any other military logic). In another instance, a missile was diverted from its target after the terrorist ran into a civilian crowd. At the same time, some charges against Israel also proved false: the claim that white phosphorous had been used against civilians, whereas a M825 smoke shell had exploded, which is not, as the Red Cross affirmed, prohibited under international law. It is telling that Human Rights Watch decided to send Joe Stork, whose blatant Anti-Israel bias was revealed when he claimed, in the 70s, that "Zionism may be defeated only by fighting imperialism" to research Israel's alleged atrocities.

Yet it remains true that while Israel used firepower in accordance to international law, the number of civilians killed and the collateral damage in Gaza was much greater than in Defensive Shield, although lower than the "normal" damage of urban warfare. Comparing the cases reveals an interesting phenomenon: in some cases, human rights organizations can cause more damage than good to their case, since wild claims and exaggerations after Defensive Shield contributed to Israel’s change of tactics in Gaza.

If you not only act in accordance with international law but go above and beyond the legal requirements to minimize collateral damage, while paying the price in soldiers' lives, yet are still blamed for "massacres," and, as a result, are treated worse than countries that have committed massacres, the incentives to make this extra effort are inconsequential. Organizations that blame Israel for "lack of proportionality" should first examine themselves and their claims – since their own lack of proportionality also affects human lives.

 

 

Yagil Henkin, an associate fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, explains why international human rights organizations damage their own agendas.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Muhammad (Abu al-Mahir) Ghaneim: The Man Who Will Make Comprehensive Peace Impossible

 

by Barry Rubin

There’s nothing written about more often—and inaccurately—than the Palestinians, yet there is curiously little interest about the politics and ideology which governs their behavior. The same situation applies to the man s slated to become that movement's next leader, only the third to hold that post in 50 years, after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

The fact that an issue that is supposedly the most important, high-priority question in the Middle East, or even the world, is so little studied in depth has a simple answer. The contemporary narrative is that the Palestinian leadership yearns for a state, an end to the conflict, and peace, while the failure to achieve can be blamed on Israel. Yet even the slightest real examination shows the exact opposite is true.

This point is only underlined by looking at the current candidate for next leader, Muhammad Ghaneim, often known as Abu Mahir. Of all those who might credibly have been considered for the leadership of Fatah—and hence of the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA)—he is probably the most hardline one.

Ironically, while media coverage of the 2009 Fatah Congress stressed the accession of young and more flexible leaders, the 72-year-old Ghaneim certainly does not fit that description.

Born in Jerusalem on August 29, 1937. His first political involvement was with the Muslim Brotherhood but he became a founding member of the Fatah movement in 1959 and active ever after, involved mainly in recruitment and organizational matters.

It is difficult to say to what extent Ghaneim’s early involvement with radical Islamism has shaped his thinking and whether it would make it easier for him to reconcile with the even more radical Hamas. Most Fatah and PLO people came out of more secular Arab nationalist or leftist movements. The only prominent leader who blended an Islamist background with nationalism was Arafat himself, and this certainly remained a prominent theme in his worldview during his entire career.

Ghaneim’s big career break came in 1968 when at the age of just 30 Arafat appointed him commander of Fatah’s forces in Jordan. And later that year, at age 31, he was put by Arafat on Fatah’s Central Committee in charge of the organization and recruitment department.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of these two jobs. At that time, Jordan was a Fatah stronghold and the group constituted a dual government alongside that of King Hussein, the country’s nominal ruler. Fatah guerrillas—and shortly after Arafat took over the whole PLO—had military bases from which they launched attacks on Israel across the Jordan River. Arafat must have had an extraordinarily high opinion of Ghaneim to appoint him to such a sensitive post.

Since so much of this task was involved with military matters, Ghaneim took a short officers’ course in China. On his return, in 1969, Arafat gave Ghaneim still a third chore, as is deputy for military issues. While the details aren’t clear this means Ghaneim must have played a central role in planning and implementing scores of guerrilla and terrorist attacks.

The other job was just as important. Ghaneim played a central role in selecting those to be given key jobs and just how much authority each had. Of course, everyone was far below Arafat in power but Ghaneim was about as essential as a second-tier figure could be. That job is also useful in making contacts with those who would continue to be top people in the movement in ensuing decades.

In 1970, Fatah overplayed its hand, was defeated by Jordan’s army, and had to flee to Lebanon. Ghaneim continued his organizational and military duties there. When the PLO and Fatah were forced out of Lebanon in 1982, Ghaneim accompanied Arafat to Tunis. From 1982 to mid-2009 he remained living there, though as early as July 2007 he may have begun visiting the PA-ruled territories in the West Bank.

Ghaneim didn’t return with Arafat in 1994 because, despite serving Arafat closely and loyally for 35 years, Ghaneim rejected the Oslo accords of 1993 as too moderate. Only continued armed struggle, total victory, and Israel’s destruction were worthy goals in his eyes.

While Arafat’s strategy sought these things covertly, the compromises involved in such a pretense were too much for Ghaneim, who openly criticized his old chief. He stayed in Tunisia despite numerous invitations from Arafat, starting in October 1994, to join the PA and instead insisted Arafat cease all negotiations with Israel.

Ghaneim moved closer to the popular Farouq Qaddumi, often referred to as the second most powerful man in Fatah and PLO or as the PLO’s “foreign minister.” Qaddumi rejected the Oslo agreement and kept up a close connection with Syria. Arafat undercut him but Qaddumi was so strong in the movement that he could never be fired altogether.

Finally, Ghaneim decided to return and support Mahmoud Abbas. While the details are not clear, this coincided with Abbas naming him as successor, which was certainly a great incentive for changing sides. Despite some analysts claiming that Ghaneim has moderated his positions, there is absolutely no evidence that he has done so.

On the contrary, it is likely that he joined the PA and Abbas because he felt that they were closer to his long-held views in many respects.

Ghaneim has a definite appeal for Abbas as ally and successor. He is one of the few remaining original founders of Fatah and has wide contacts throughout the movement.

On the one hand, he possesses Arafat’s seal of approval historically but on the other hand he is so hard-line as to appeal to that powerful tendency in Fatah. In addition, as someone who has been outside the PA politics for 15 years he was seen as a neutral figure in many petty and personal disputes.

But this is not the man to choose if your top priorities were making peace with Israel and maintaining good relations with the West. He is the man you would choose if you intended to reject compromise, rebuild links to Syria and Hamas, and perhaps return to armed struggle in future.

On arrival at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan on July 29, 2009, just before the Fatah Congress, Ghaneim was picked up by Abbas’ personal limousine, taken to his office, and welcomed in a ceremony.

At the reception, Ghaneim stated: "The struggle will continue until victory" and that if political means did not win Palestinian demands the movement would return to armed struggle. (Al-Hayat al-Jadida, July 30, 2009). It is clear how Ghaneim defines victory and it is not a West Bank-Gaza state with its capital in east Jerusalem living alongside Israel in perfect harmony.

That Ghaneim would give up demands that all Palestinian refugees and their offspring must be allowed to live in Israel or that he would make any territorial compromise, or that he would end the conflict permanently in any peace agreement is extremely unlikely. These are things—all necessary for peace—that even the less extreme Abbas has rejected.

Thereafter, Abbas promoted Ghaneim among the delegates to the meeting. He finished first in the Central Committee elections with 1338 votes, about two-thirds of those participating and far ahead of every other candidate.

Ghaneim’s success, and the others elected, show that the old Arafat crowd is still in control rather than any transition, youth cohort, moderate, or reformist group. Given the fact that there are virtually no real moderates in the leadership, having the tired, corrupt old guard in charge is better than having younger, more extreme elements running things.

Yet the hardline parts of the old guard have a large portion of power even among this group. If Ghaneim becomes leader of Fatah the PA and PLO, then you can forget about peace. Violent conflict becomes far more likely. Yet Ghaneim will not take over by a coup but because the current elite wants precisely the policy he represents.

No one should say a word about the Palestinian issue, the peace process, or Israeli policy without analyzing these factors. Unfortunately, there isn’t at present a Palestinian partner for peace. Fortunately, there is a Palestinian partner for maintaining a relatively peaceful status quo. But if and when Ghaneim takes over, even this consolation might be gone.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obama Is Pushing Israel Toward War.

by  Bret Stephens

 

President Obama can't outsource matters of war and peace to another state.

Events are fast pushing Israel toward a pre-emptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, probably by next spring. That strike could well fail. Or it could succeed at the price of oil at $300 a barrel, a Middle East war, and American servicemen caught in between. So why is the Obama administration doing everything it can to speed the war process along?

At July's G-8 summit in Italy, Iran was given a September deadline to start negotiations over its nuclear programs. Last week, Iran gave its answer: No.

Instead, what Tehran offered was a five-page document that was the diplomatic equivalent of a giant kiss-off. It begins by lamenting the "ungodly ways of thinking prevailing in global relations" and proceeds to offer comprehensive talks on a variety of subjects: democracy, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, "respect for the rights of nations," and other areas where Iran is a paragon. Conspicuously absent from the document is any mention of Iran's nuclear program, now at the so-called breakout point, which both Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his boss Ali Khamenei insist is not up for discussion.

What's an American president to do in the face of this nonstarter of a document? What else, but pretend it isn't a nonstarter. Talks begin Oct. 1.

All this only helps persuade Israel's skittish leadership that when President Obama calls a nuclear-armed Iran "unacceptable," he means it approximately in the same way a parent does when fecklessly reprimanding his misbehaving teenager. That impression is strengthened by Mr. Obama's decision to drop Iran from the agenda when he chairs a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 24; by Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly opposing military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities; and by Russia's announcement that it will not support any further sanctions on Iran.

In sum, the conclusion among Israelis is that the Obama administration won't lift a finger to stop Iran, much less will the "international community." So Israel has pursued a different strategy, in effect seeking to goad the U.S. into stopping, or at least delaying, an Israeli attack by imposing stiff sanctions and perhaps even launching military strikes of its own.

 

Thus, unlike Israel's air strike against Iraq's reactor in 1981 or Syria's in 2007, both of which were planned in the utmost secrecy, the Israelis have gone out of their way to advertise their fears, purposes and capabilities. They have sent warships through the Suez Canal in broad daylight and conducted widely publicized air-combat exercises at long range. They have also been unusually forthcoming in their briefings with reporters, expressing confidence at every turn that Israel can get the job done.

The problem, however, is that the administration isn't taking the bait, and one has to wonder why. Perhaps it thinks its diplomacy will work, or that it has the luxury of time, or that it can talk the Israelis out of attacking. Alternatively, it might actually want Israel to attack without inviting the perception that it has colluded with it. Or maybe it isn't really paying attention.

But Israel is paying attention. And the longer the U.S. delays playing hardball with Iran, the sooner Israel is likely to strike. A report published today by the Bipartisan Policy Center, and signed by Democrat Chuck Robb, Republican Dan Coats, and retired Gen. Charles Ward, notes that by next year Iran will "be able to produce a weapon's worth of highly enriched uranium . . . in less than two months." No less critical in determining Israel's timetable is the anticipated delivery to Iran of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft batteries: Israel will almost certainly strike before those deliveries are made, no matter whether an Iranian bomb is two months or two years away.

Such a strike may well be in Israel's best interests, though that depends entirely on whether the strike succeeds. It is certainly in America's supreme interest that Iran not acquire a genuine nuclear capability, whether of the actual or break-out variety. That goes also for the Middle East generally, which doesn't need the nuclear arms race an Iranian capability would inevitably provoke.

Then again, it is not in the U.S. interest that Israel be the instrument of Iran's disarmament. For starters, its ability to do so is iffy: Israeli strategists are quietly putting it about that even a successful attack may have to be repeated a few years down the road as Iran reconstitutes its capacity. For another thing, Iran could respond to such a strike not only against Israel itself, but also U.S targets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

But most importantly, it is an abdication of a superpower's responsibility to outsource matters of war and peace to another state, however closely allied. President Obama has now ceded the driver's seat on Iran policy to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He would do better to take the wheel again, keeping in mind that Iran is beyond the reach of his eloquence, and keeping in mind, too, that very useful Roman adage, Si vis pacem, para bellum. ("If you wish for peace, prepare for war")

Bret Stephens

Who cares about "negotiations"?


by Ted Belman

Mitchell, Netanyahu fail to agree on settlement halt. But don’t stand up and cheer just yet. Mitchell is still hanging around.

Netanyahu told his party

“In any case, I will not agree to enter into talks whose results are defined and known in advance. That’s what negotiations are for and we are willing to begin right away.”

In discussing the talks with the United States on freezing construction in the settlements, Netanyahu stressed that the agreement is only about “cutting down the construction” and said that it was still uncertain how long the restrictions would apply.

Netanyahu said that the agreement includes the continued construction of 2,500 housing units on which work has already begun, and 450 new housing units in the large settlement blocs. Netanyahu also said that public structures will be allowed, including schools, synagogues and more.


The truth of the matter is that negotiations will not end in any agreement or even a partial agreement. Surely the Israeli government knows this. Surely the US knows this too. Either they want negotiations for the sake of appearances or they must have a plan as to how they are going to force Israel to give the Arabs most of what they want. If it is the latter, as I suspect, then Netanyahu’s remark highlighted above is all the more telling. But why should he agree to any kind of freeze if he believes the negotiations will go nowhere?

Another thing that bothers me about this is the fact that we are being asked to commit to the US. What do we hope to get from the US for our commitment. If the settlement freeze is the big issue to the “Palestinians” then why aren’t we sitting with them and asking them what they are prepared to give in exchange.

The only thing that the freeze is intended to do is get the negotiations started. But why is Israel interested in negotiations that go nowhere or worse still that will involve increased pressure on Israel. Israel should prefer no negotiations. Then there wouldn’t be a freeze and Israel could unilaterally impose a deal on the Arabs, step by step.

It is clear that the Arabs don’t want negotiations. Which is another way of saying they don’t want a state, at least one that requires compromises to achieve or more importantly, one that prevents them from pursuing their dream of destroying Israel. The fact that they are not begging us for negotiations is all you need to know about how good the present situation is for them, save for those pesky settlements.

Abbas, as you know, keeps demanding a complete freeze before negotiations can commence.  Fatah to Haaretz: No settlement freeze, no talks

Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Fatah Executive Committee, told Haaretz that the Palestinian demand for a complete building freeze in settlements remains.

Without such a freeze, he said, there is no possibility for a political process. “Why should we start a process we know won’t be of any use?, he asked.

However, Abed Rabbo also noted the PA has yet to hear a detailed American proposal, and that Abbas was undecided about meeting Netanyahu.

“The decision will be made after Abu Mazen meets with Mitchell and hears what he has to say,” Abed Rabbo said.

He told reporters that if a meeting does take place, its primary objective will be determining Netanyahu’s stands on political issues.

[..] However, since the American administration clearly signaled its interest in a trilateral summit, Abbas risks being presented as a refusing a peace offer, while allowing Israel to claim it has no partner for a peace process.

For all these reasons, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership are keenly expecting an American offer that would allow them to present a Palestinian achievement to counterbalance Israel’s construction in the territories.

In the present situation, the economy in Judea and Samaria is growing rapidly, the West is underwriting the PA’s deficit and their militarization, diplomats are beating a path to their door, they have the protection of the IDF and they don’t have to make compromises that could get them killed. What more could they want? A statelet or autonomous area as proposed by Netanyahu? Forget about it.

We must conclude that the US is the only one pushing for negotiations. If so they miscalculated.

According to Mort Zukerman, Obama is Fumbling a Chance for Middle East Peace

Alas, the American pressure campaign following Obama’s ascent has had one clear outcome, and not one we had hoped for: It has made a peace deal much less likely. Obama has not exerted pressure equally. He ignores what Israel has done in recent years to advance the cause of peace and what the Arabs have failed to do. The onus has been on Israel and Israel alone. This has allowed the Arabs yet again to abdicate responsibility. It has reinforced the long-standing Arab belief that the United States can “deliver Israel” if only it has the will to do so, thereby reducing Arab incentives to make concessions in direct negotiations with Israel. The moderate Arab states, whose principal concern is not Israel but an expansionist Iran seeking domination in the Middle East, have been unwilling to raise a finger to advance the process—not Egypt, not Jordan, not Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore Bret Stephens argues Obama Is Pushing Israel Toward War . Because Obama is demonstrating a lack of will, Israel must prepare for an attack all the more.

I expect that a tripartate meeting will not take place until after the holidays.

 

Ted Belman
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Goldstone’s Report: Fundamentally Flawed or a Step Towards Sanctions?


by  Gerald M. Steinberg

In a first quick review, the 575-page report of the Goldstone mission seems as bad or worse than had been expected – the critics who warned of a "kangaroo court" created in order to find Israel guilty will claim that they were correct. Goldstone's press conference in New York and the report's recommendations constitute another step in the Durban strategy in which the language of human rights and international law are misused as weapons in the political war to isolate and demonize Israel.

The tenor of the report, the "balance" between charges of war crimes committed by Israeli and Hamas, and the effort to involve the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court all constitute a frontal attack against Israel and a further development. As a result, the damage may not stop with the publication of this report, and the Israeli government is faced with a serious and difficult strategic challenge in demonstrating that the committee and its members were fundamentally flawed from the beginning.

But when the report is examined in detail, a number of basic flaws are likely to emerge – perhaps enough to expose the entire process as invalid and morally tainted. The evidence, as Goldstone stated, was based almost entirely on unverifiable Palestinian claims and publications from politicized pro-Palestinian NGOs – the report cites B'tselem and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights each more than 70 times, Al-Haq allegations get more 30 mentions, and there are many more NGO co-authors.

Human Rights Watch is referenced 33 times, including the "Rain of Fire" report co-authored by Marc Garlasco. He was HRW's "senior military expert" (until suspended yesterday after exposure of his Nazi memorabilia fetish), but his analyses are tainted by false claims and speculation masquerading as expertise. Goldstone's long association with HRW essentially means that in this report, he is quoting his own highly problematic organization. More generally, the methodology used in the 36 incidents examined by the committee will give critics of the report and the commission the strongest basis for rejecting its conclusions.At the same time, Goldstone's report is full of statements of "fact" that defy belief and come without any evidentiary source. For instance, contrary to numerous contemporary reports in media outlets like the New York Times, the report denies without citing any of the evidence, that Hamas fighters dressed in civilian dress, hid in hospital facilities and used ambulances to transport combatants and other military purposes.

Even more shockingly, the Goldstone report repeatedly accuses Israel of violating international law by committing acts of terror, while it refrains from directly accusing Hamas violating those laws. Even worse, the Goldstone report never even admits that Hamas is a terrorist organization.

If this was a real court process, and not the façade based on a political mandate from the inherently biased United Nations Human Rights Council, both Goldstone and Professor Christine Chinkin would have been disqualified from participating. As UN Watch noted in its 28-page legal brief to the UN, Chinkin's biased was reflected in statements that "categorically rejected" Israel's right to self-defense against rocket attacks from Gaza and accused Israel of "aggression" and "prima facie war crimes." But without any due process, this brief was simply dismissed.

In parallel, the choice of Goldstone was seen as an insurance policy against charges of antisemitism. Indeed, when the issue came up at the press conference in New York, Goldstone invoked his Jewish background and his involvement with Israel as a defense. He expressed sadness over the situation in which Israel was found (at least by his committee and its allies) of having committed war crimes.

Near the end of his statement, Goldstone told his audience that they should, "Rejoice that we are living in a world today in which there is accountability for war crimes." Sadly, the rejoicing will come from exactly those quarters that fear true accountability. The Hamas leadership and its supporters, including the Iranian regime, will gladly accept the result, but few Israelis or fair-minded individuals will find this mission, its report or its recommendations as having providing accountability or restoring the morality of the United Nations.


Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg heads NGO Monitor and is on the political science faculty of Bar Ilan University

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

U.S.-Iran Negotiations: Once you start you must be nice to them, right?

 

by Barry Rubin

 

Before I respond to some points about the U.S. government negotiating with Iran, let me tell a personal story that illustrates the issue.

Some years ago, a colleague wanted to invite me to speak at his think tank in Washington. To his surprise the director of the program absolutely refused to have me as a speaker. He said that I had done something he didn't like but he just couldn't remember what it was.

While this seems a rather flimsy excuse—hey, this is Middle East studies so one always expects the worst—I know exactly what happened. It was in Cairo and I was on a delegation of researchers. A couple of mid-level bureaucrats from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry were giving a briefing which was pure junk, a waste of time to listen to, constituting the official line that everything that has ever happened and was going on in the Middle East was Israel's fault.

My philosophy on these matters is to challenge this kind of performance. There are good reasons for doing so.

First, the way it works in the Arabic-speaking world is that visitors are fed nonsense unless they show that they won't accept it. When that happens, you get a higher level of information and more respect.

Second, it puts the speakers on notice that they have to be more honest and more realistic if they want to get anywhere.

Remember, I was not an official or a journalist representing any governmental or journalistic institution, but a researcher and analyst. We're supposed to question things, right?

In fact, my polite demurrals upset others in the delegation to the point that I was immediately disinvited from continuing with the group to Saudi Arabia and, apparently I was banned from speaking at the think tank of one member of the delegation (not the organizing group).

Now, why am I telling you all this? The reason is this: the person in question has just written an article supporting U.S. negotiations with Iran. He gives three reasons why negotiations are a great idea (he doesn't really engage with the critique very much) but the real problem is revealed by his own behavior.

Briefly the argument is this :

A. By talking with Iran the United States will better keep together the Western coalition for higher sanctions. I have repeatedly asked: What specifically are you talking about? This argument is never accompanied by examples. Russia and China won't switch to supporting higher sanctions as a result of these talks; from everything we've heard, Britain, France, and Germany are ready to raise sanctions now. So who is Washington trying to convince? Unless you hear something specific, disregard this argument, the main theme of the administration.

B. The United States talks to other dictatorships so why not to Iran? Answer: Some dictatorships do not threaten U.S. interests and so once one disregards human rights there are no big barriers to talking. Libya is given as an example, but the United States engaged Libya only after the Libyans abandoned their nuclear program and gave full information to U.S. policymakers. In contrast, Iran has done nothing and will do nothing. Moreover, the Tehran regime has become far worse but is being rewarded now at the moment it is most repressive and extremist.

C. Iran might help the United States on other issues, Afghanistan being the one specifically mentioned. Ok, but what will have to be given up to gain that help, assuming Tehran would do anything? Obviously, the first thing is acceptance of the Iranian nuclear program. The game is not worth the candle as the saying goes or, more bluntly: the United States would be giving up a lot to get very little in return.

Now back to my point. Once talks begin, the tendency is to become uncritical. Can the United States raise sanctions? But that would jeopardize the talks and their collapse would be America's fault. Can U.S. leaders be tough in criticizing Iran (they are hardly doing so even now) about things like repression, anti-Americanism, killing American soldiers in Iraq, sponsoring terrorism, having a wanted terrorist as defense minister, and breaking all their promises regarding their nuclear program?

No, because—as the author of the article I have in mind showed in my case—you punish people who raise tough questions and point out the other side's shortcomings and lies.

Thus, we arrive at a ridiculous but common situation. Iran or Syria, or even Egypt or Saudi Arabia, ridicules U.S. policy and attacks the United States daily—the former through government circles; the latter through state-controlled media—but any American response so upsets the other side that it is forbidden.

After all, it's impolite and they get angry if you criticize them, right?

 

 

 

Barry Rubin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Sderot: The World Turns its Back

 

by  Jacob Shrybman



It doesn't seem that there will be any quiet.

 

Yesterday alone, over 89 trucks of international aid and gasoline were poured into the Gaza Strip. Since September 1, 2009, over 700 truckloads of international aid, including over 1,760,000 liters of gasoline have been given to the Gaza Strip. Since the end of Operation Cast Lead on January 18 of this year, over 2,000 truckloads of far more than 37,000 tons of humanitarian aid has been delivered to the Gaza Strip.

 

As the international community continues its uproar over the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israeli Civil Administration, which manages the Palestinian Authority requests for aid, goods and gasoline, says that these are in fact decreased amounts.

"Over the past two to three months we have seen a definitive decrease in the requests from the Palestinian Authority, because they have goods, foods and medicines that still have not been used," Guy Inbar says. He continues by explaining the situation inside the Gaza Strip: "As we have said before, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

 

While sitting for hours watching truck after truck drive in and out of the Gaza Strip, I spoke over the phone with Dr. Adriana Katz, director of three of the five mental health and trauma centers in Sderot. She told me that there has been no change in the lack of budgets for the centers. The area's trauma centers, which are constantly treating the victims of largely psychological terrorism, are being forced to close their doors. The Emergency Center in Sderot, which is the first aid clinic that treats victims immediately after an attack, was shut down this past July; the director of the Sderot Trauma Center, Dalia Yosef, has been let go; and the area's four remaining centers are all set to be closed by December 1.

 

How can a world that prides itself on slogans and political jargon regarding "both sides of the conflict" and "two states for two peoples" completely turn its back on Sderot?

 

After a letter from the Sderot Media Center to the European Union, calling for international aid for the victims of rocket fire in southern Israel, British Ambassador Tom Phillips visited the trauma centers in Sderot with the Center on June 4. Ambassador Phillips met with both Dr. Adriana Katz and Dalia Yosef regarding the situation of the trauma centers; yet, the centers still have not seen any allocation of aid.

 

On August 5, five top Australian parliamentarians visited the closed Emergency Center in Sderot, but the centers still have not seen any allocation of aid.

 

On August 11, Texas Governor Rick Perry and ranking Republican member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen visited the closed Emergency Center in Sderot, but the centers still have not seen any allocation of aid.

 

With now more than 240 aerial attacks from the Gaza Strip since the end of Operation Cast Lead, and eight in the past week, Dr. Adriana Katz commented "It doesn't seem that there will be any quiet, even though I am only slated to work until December 1."

 

An average of 80 truckloads a day of international aid and gasoline, all materials frequently used to produce the fuel for the Kassam rockets, will continue to pour into the Gaza Strip with no end date in sight. And the world turns its back on the thousands and thousands of Israeli victims of the past decade of rocket attacks.

 

Jacob Shrybman is an activist and writer with the Sderot Media Center.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson


Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson

General:

· Israel is appalled and disappointed by the Report published on 15 September 2009 by the Gaza Fact Finding Mission. The Report effectively ignores Israel's right of self defense, makes unsubstantiated claims about its intent and challenges Israel's democratic values and rule of law.

· At the same time the Report all but ignores the deliberate strategy of Hamas of operating within and behind the civilian population and turning densely populated areas into an arena of battle. By turning a blind eye to such tactics it effectively rewards them.

· The Report barely disguises its goal of instigating a political campaign against Israel, and in its recommendations seeks to involve the Security Council, the General Assembly the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council, and the entire international community in such a campaign.

The Mandate of the Mission:

· The one-sided mandate of the Gaza Fact Finding Mission, and the resolution established it, gave serious reasons for concern both to Israel and to the many states on the Council which refused to support it - including the member states of the European Union, Switzerland, Canada, Korea and Japan.

· It also troubled many distinguished individuals, including former High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who refused invitations to head the Mission and admitted that it was "guided not by human rights but by politics".

The Conduct of the Mission:

· These concerns were exacerbated by the conduct of the Mission itself, including reports in the Palestinian media that, throughout its visits to Gaza, it was continuously accompanied by Hamas officials and its refusal to recuse members of the mission with clear political views on the issues under investigation. One mission member signed a letter to the Sunday Times saying that Israel's actions against Hamas attacks were acts of "aggression not self-defense", prejudging the investigation before it had even begun.

· The unprecedented holding of telecast hearings also gave cause for concern. The fact that all the witnesses were prescreened and selected, and none were asked questions relating to any Palestinian terrorist activity or the location of weaponry and terrorists in civilian areas only supports concerns that they were part of an orchestrated political campaign.

A "non-judicial" document

· Justice Goldstone as Head of the Mission repeatedly insisted that the Mission was not a judicial inquiry and so "could not reach judicial conclusions". On this basis that he justified the inclusion of partisan mission members, admitting that their involvement "would not be appropriate for a judicial inquiry'. The Report however is highly judicial in nature, reaching conclusive judicial determinations of guilt, and including 'detailed legal findings' even in the absence of the sensitive intelligence information which Israel did not feel able to provide. These determinations are made notwithstanding the Report's admission that it does "pretend to reach the standard of proof applicable in criminal trials".

Elements Ignored by the Report:

· The Report all but ignores the deliberate terrorist strategy of operating in the heart of densely populated civilian areas which dictated the arena of battle. Even when the Hamas terrorists mixed among civilians, the Report rejects the notion that there was an intention to put the civilian population at risk.

· Astonishingly, despite the many widely reported instances in the international press of the abuse of civilian facilities by terrorist groups, and the statements of Hamas own leaders praising women and children who acted as human shields, the Report repeatedly stated that it could find no evidence of such activities. This, even despite its admission that those interviewed were "reluctant to speak about the presence or conduct of hostilities by the Palestinian armed groups".

· The Report also ignores Israel's extensive efforts, even in the midst of fighting, to maintain humanitarian standards. While it does, reluctantly, acknowledge Israel's "significant efforts" to issue warnings before attacks, it does not find any of these efforts to be effective

· While the Report passes judgment against Israel in respect of almost any allegation, it seeks to absolve the Hamas of almost any wrongdoing. The word "terrorist" is almost entirely absent. Soldier Gilad Shalit, now held incommunicado in captivity for over three years, was "captured during an enemy incursion" and the Hamas members that the Mission met with in Gaza are thanked as the "Gaza authorities" for extending their full cooperation and support to the Mission.

· Even the thousands of rocket attacks against Israelis which necessitated the Gaza Operation are given the most cursory treatment, and indeed the Report indirectly blames Israel even for these by terming them "'reprisals".

Rejection of democratic values:

· In a Report which relies so heavily on Israeli human rights organizations and which also petitions on sensitive security issues to Israel's Supreme Court the Report devotes considerable attention to "repression of dissent in Israel". It bases this assertion in large part on the widespread support for the military operation in the Israeli public, assuming that Israel has "created a political climate in which dissent is not tolerated. The notion that the majority of Israelis genuinely supported action to bring years of continuous rocket and missile attacks against Israeli civilians to an end does not appear to have occurred to the members of the Mission.

· The Report is also critical of Israel internal investigations even though these compare favorably to investigations of allegations in military matters in most western countries, and have regularly resulted in criminal investigations and convictions.

Recommendations:

· The Report's recommendations are as one-sided as its findings. It seeks to harness the Human Rights Council, the Security Council the General Assembly, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court and the international community as parts of its hostile political campaign.

· Despite token recommendations in respect of the Palestinian side, all the international pressure is directed solely against Israel.

· The true test of such a Report can only be whether in future conflicts it will have the effect of increasing or decreasing respect for the rule of law. Regrettably a one-sided report of this nature, claiming to represent international law, can only weaken the standing of law in future conflicts. At the same time, it will broadcast a deeply troubling message to terrorist groups wherever they are that the cynical tactics of seeking to exploit civilian suffering for political ends actually pays dividends.

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