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Pompeo’s Mission: A Deal in Jerusalem?

Israel’s new two-headed government, with Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister, was supposed to be sworn in on Wednesday. Then suddenly the inauguration was postponed by one day to accommodate a quick visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. What brought Pompeo so far for so short a time?

It obviously wasn’t the declared agenda of coordinating American and Israeli policy on Covid-19 and Iran. Many American lives would have been spared if Trump had followed Israel’s example on the coronavirus threat (Israeli deaths per million 30, US deaths per million 252), but it’s too late for that now. And there’s nothing very urgent about Iran at the moment.

The real purpose of Pompeo’s lighting visit to Israel was to make sure that Netanyahu actually goes ahead with the annexation of part of the occupied West Bank, thus killing off the possibility of a ‘two-state solution’ that includes a Palestinian state. But surely that’s what Netanyahu wants to do anyway.

President Trump’s ‘Vision for Peace’, released in January, endorsed the unilateral imposition of Israeli sovereignty on 30 percent of the West Bank. Netanyahu has made endless promises to Jewish settlers in the West Bank, an important part of the voting support for his various coalitions, to annex their settlements to Israel. So why was Pompeo’s visit necessary?

It’s because everybody knows Netanyahu can’t be trusted – and he has reasons not to go ahead with the annexation as planned.

The bigger Arab states are all resigned to the end of Palestinian hopes for a state, but there would still be negative consequences for Israel in the region. Jordan has a long border with Israel, and popular protests against the annexation (the country’s population is over half Palestinian) might force the king to end the peace treaty with Israel in order to survive.

The Palestinian Authority, an unelected body that effectively runs the occupied West Bank (except the Jewish settlements) on behalf of Israel, would probably collapse. That would leave Israel with the difficult task of maintaining direct military rule over three million Palestinians.

Even worse, if Netanyahu actually annexed the West Bank he would lose the ability to dangle that promise endlessly before the settler voting bloc. He is quite cynical enough to be guided by this calculation, so Donald Trump cannot trust him to do the annexation – and Trump really needs him to do it before November, because of the US election.

“For Trump’s evangelical and right-wing Jewish base, Israeli annexation – and the last rites it will administer to the dying two-state solution – is wildly popular,” wrote Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, in the Israeli newspaper ‘Haaretz’. Trump will need the enthusiastic support of those voters to win in November, so he has to nail Netanyahu down now.

That is tricky, because the government that has just taken power in Jerusalem is far more complicated than the usual Israeli coalition. It is a two-headed monster in which Netanyahu’s Likud bloc and Benny Ganz’s Blue-and-White bloc (which was originally founded with the explicit goal of driving Netanyahu from office) will not share power but exercise it separately.

It says so right in Article 2 of the 14-page coalition agreement: “The government will be a two-bloc government.” Netanyahu and Ganz will each appoint half the ministers, and they will have no power to change or dismiss those appointed by the other man.

Netanyahu and Ganz will each be prime minister for eighteen months, and every government committee will be equally divided between the blocs. For the first six months, at least, both men will have a veto on any proposed legislation – with one important exception. From July 1, Netanyahu can propose a law annexing part of the West Bank without fear of a veto by Ganz.

Netanyahu fought hard for that exception, because Trump is his ally and he needs to be able to deliver for Trump on the annexation. But how much of the West Bank should Israel seize? Mike Pompeo is there to help the unwilling partners decide, and here’s what he’s probably selling.

Trump would be content to have Israel annex only a few chunks of the West Bank near the Israeli border – say Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel. Most of his evangelical supporters wouldn’t notice the difference, because they’re not good on the geography of modern Israel (although they are pretty solid on Old Testament geography).

Benny Ganz would settle for that too, because it would be less likely to trigger the collapse of the Palestinian Authority or the abrogation of the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.

And Netanyahu? He would still have the annexation of the other Jewish settlements in the West Bank to dangle before the settler voters of the next generation. Even if he’s convicted of corruption in his forthcoming trial, he’s only 70.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 11. (“It obviously…moment”; and “It says…man”)

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.

Next Year in Jerusalem

“All of us are saying: ‘Hey, United States, we don’t think this is a very good idea’,” said Jordan’s King Abdullah II in 2002, when it became clear that President George W. Bush was going to invade Iraq. But Bush didn’t listen, and it turned out to be an extremely bad idea.

This time, with President Donald J. Trump about to announce that the United States will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there, King Abdullah
simply sounded resigned: “The adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East.”

He knows there’s no point in protesting, even if it ends up meaning that Jordan has to break diplomatic relations with Israel. Trump is simply keeping a campaign promise he made in order to win the votes of American Jews and evangelicals, and he neither knows or cares about the implications of his decision for the Middle East.

Neither does he care that he is abandoning an American policy that has endured for seven decades and is still observed by every other country with an embassy in Israel. They are all down on the coast, in Tel Aviv, because the final status of Jerusalem in international law is still to be determined.

It’s still up in the air because the 1947 United Nations resolution that recommended the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states in Palestine also put Jerusalem under a separate Special International Regime, since it is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

That never happened, because the UN resolution triggered a war that left Jerusalem divided between Israel and what remained of Arab Palestine (all of which was promptly annexed by Jordan and Egypt). And since the Old City, the heart of Jerusalem, was now part of Jordan and exclusively Arab in population, all the embassies stayed in Tel Aviv.

In the 1967 war Israel conquered the eastern, Arab-majority part of Jerusalem (and all the rest of Palestine too), and in 1980 it declared that the entire ‘reunited’ city would be Israel’s eternal capital. The embassies still didn’t move, however, because Israel had not more right to annex East Jerusalem in 1980 than Jordan did in 1948. International law no longer allows borders to be moved by force.

Nothing has changed since then. There are 88 foreign embassies in Tel Aviv, and not one in Jerusalem. This is inconvenient, since most Israeli government offices are up in Jerusalem, but diplomats and foreign ministries generally take international law quite seriously. They’d gladly move if Jerusalem were internationally recognised as Israel’s capital, but it is not.

This view of things is enshrined in the Oslo accords of 1993, a US-sponsored pact that has defined the Arab-Israeli ‘peace process’ for the past quarter-century. It leaves the final status of Jerusalem to be decided by negotiations between the two parties – although, significantly, Israel did not cancel its 1980 annexation of Arab Jerusalem when it signed the accord.

Now in fact, everybody knows that Israel has no intention of ever giving up Jerusalem as its capital, and that it is too strong for any combination of Arab countries to force it to do so. Everybody realises (or should realise) that the ‘peace process’ has actually been dead for at least a decade, and that there is currently no possibility of resurrecting it. So this whole fuss is just about symbolism – but symbols matters.

Everybody goes on pretending that there is a ‘peace process’, just as they pretend that the status of Jerusalem is still unsettled and that the United States is neutral between Israel and the Palestinans, because these fictions allow the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, to pretend they have not lost the struggle decisively. But they have, at least for this generation.

What Trump is doing now, for no better reason than to keep some American voters happy, is rubbing the Arabs’ noses in their defeat. Being normal human beings, they will respond by re-opening the struggle – not to the point where they risk being destroyed by Israel, but at least enough to save face and do a lot of damage.

Some Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel (and even some other Muslim countries) will feel compelled to downgrade them or cut ties completely. Jordan and Egypt, which actually have peace treaties with Israel, may be forced to reconsider them. The Palestinians may feel obliged to launch a third intifada, just to show that somehow they are still in the game. It won’t be Armageddon, but it could get quite ugly.

There is one important group of pro-Trump voters, however, who would be delighted if it did turn into a real war: white evangelical Christians, or at least the ‘dispensationalists’ amongst them. Armageddon is what the Bible prophesies, in their reading of it, and they eagerly await the prophecy’s fulfillment. Even if it comes at the hand of a thrice-married pussy-grabber.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“Nothing…accord”)

Mossad’s Latest Blunder

21 February 2010

Mossad’s Latest Blunder

By Gwynne Dyer

Everybody assumes that Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, carried out the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander, in Dubai last month. The Israeli government will neither confirm or deny it, but the average Israeli citizen is sure of it, and quite pleased by it. After all, who else was going to go after him?

Well, theoretically it could have been the rival Palestinian political organisation, Fatah, which has been more or less at war with Hamas for almost three years now. (Fatah runs the West Bank; Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.) Proponents of this theory argue that the Dubai hit was too clumsy and sloppy to have been a Mossad operation.

Would any serious spy agency put eleven people on a hit team? Why would seven of them be travelling on British passports borrowed or stolen from British-Israeli dual citizens resident in Israel? Would they let themselves be caught repeatedly on video surveillance cameras as they set up the killing? This was just not a professional operation.

It certainly was amateur night in Dubai, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Mossad was not behind it. The Institute for Espionage and Special Operations, to give its proper name, may be “legendary”, but some of its past operations have been anything but professional. Take the case of the Norwegian waiter.

In the twenty years after Palestinian terrorists massacred eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Mossad killed more than a dozen people it suspected of involvement in the operation. Most of them had some link to it, but Ahmed Bouchiki had none at all.

Bouchiki was a Moroccan immigrant to Norway who worked in a restaurant in Lillehammer. Mossad mistakenly thought he was Ali Hassan Salameh, the planner of the Munich atrocity, so an Israeli hit team murdered him as he walked home with his pregnant wife. But the two killers committed the elementary error of driving to the airport 24 hours later in the same car they had used for the getaway (which had been spotted by the police).

They were arrested, and the woman of the pair broke down and confessed that they were working for Israel. The man had a telephone number on him which led the police to the safe house where the other three members of the team were staying. One of them had a list of instructions from Mossad on him, and they all ended up in Norwegian jails. Amateur night again.

Or take the Mossad attempt in 1997 to kill Hamas’s political chief, Khaled Meshaal. It happened in Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, but the Mossad assassins travelled there on Canadian passports borrowed from Canadian-Israeli residents with dual citizenship. They broke into the building where Meshaal was sleeping and injected poison into his ear, but two were captured by Jordanian police and the other four took refuge in the Israeli embassy.

Jordan’s outraged King Hussein demanded the antidote to the poison, and the Israeli government reluctantly handed it over. In response to Canada’s furious protests about the use of its passports, Israel promised never to do that again. Just as it promised Britain in 1987, and New Zealand in 2004.

This time the hit team, though ridiculously large, was less incompetent: the victim died, and they all got out of Dubai safely. The fact that they left enough evidence behind for the Dubai police to figure out what happened does not exclude Mossad from consideration: it has bungled operations before. The Dubai police say they are now “99 percent if not 100 percent sure” that Mossad was behind the murder, and most Western governments assume the same.

Four Western governments are especially angry: Britain, France, Germany and Ireland, whose passports were used in the operation. Israel will doubtless promise once more never to do that again, and the fuss will eventually die down.

The Dubai police chief, Lt.-Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, has asked Interpol for a “red notice” on Mossad head Meir Dagan, the usual preliminary to an arrest warrant, but Dagan need not stay awake worrying about it. What should be causing him sleepless nights is the fact that all these killings are counter-productive.

Killing off the leaders of Hamas – and of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia resistance movement – does not improve Israel’s security. For example, it assassinated Hezbollah’s leader, Abbas al-Musawi, in 1992, and got the far more formidable Hassan Nasrallah as his successor. It also got the revenge bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina, which killed 29 and wounded 242.

The leaders who get killed are replaced by others of equal competence, the cycle of revenge gets another push, and Israel’s reputation as a responsible state takes another beating. True, Israel does nothing that the United States, Russia and several other great powers have not done when fighting insurgencies, but they are shielded by their great-power status. Like it or not, there is one law for the great powers and another for the others.

Smaller countries are expected to obey the rules. Many Israelis think they don’t need to worry about this because everyone hates them anyway, but the wiser ones realise that the state’s security and prosperity still depend heavily on the good-will of Western countries. Actions like the Dubai operation, when they become public, erode that good-will. But the wiser Israelis are not currently in the majority.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8, 9 and 11. (“Or take…2004″; and “Four…down”)

The War of Six Days and Forty Years

31 May 2007

The War of Six Days and Forty Years

By Gwynne Dyer

On the 5th of June, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In six days it annihilated the Arab air forces, defeated the Arab armies, and conquered the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. It seemed like a decisive victory at the time — but forty years later, the outcome is still in doubt.

By the 10th of June, 1967, the amount of territory under Israeli control had tripled. Most of it was the empty desert of the Sinai Peninsula, which was returned to Egypt eleven years later in exchange for a peace treaty. The Israeli government also decided in principle in 1967 to give the Golan Heights back to Syria in return for a peace treaty, although that deal has still not happened. But no decision was ever taken to “give back” East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The temptation was too great.

From the start, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been about two things: demography and land. If Israel was to be a Jewish state, then most of the Palestinian Arab population had to be removed, and that deed was accomplished during the independence war of 1948-49. Some of the Arabs fled and others were driven out, but by the end of the war the Arab population of the land under Israel’s control, which had been close to a million, was only two hundred thousand.

As Benny Morris, the doyen of the “new generation” of Israeli historians, put it in “The Guardian” in 2004: “Pillage (by Jewish fighters) was almost de rigueur, rape was not infrequent, the execution of prisoners of war was fairly routine during the months before April 1948, and small and medium-scale massacres of Arabs occurred during April, May, July and October to November. Altogether, there were some two dozen cases.” So by 1949, Israel was an overwhelmingly Jewish state.

David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, noted in his diary: “We must do everything to ensure they (the Palestinian refugees) never do return.” We would now call it “ethnic cleansing” — no matter why the refugees fled, if you don’t let them go home again when the shooting stops, that’s what you are doing — but it was vital to the project of founding a Jewish state in former Palestine. And for twenty years, it worked.

Before 1967, Israel was militarily insecure but demographically triumphant: 85 percent of the people within its frontiers were Jewish. Then, with the victory of 1967, it showed that it had become militarily unbeatable, a fact that was confirmed by the last full-scale Arab-Israeli war in 1973. But the conquests of 1967 revived its old demographic insecurities, for most of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 were now back in the same political space as the Jews.

Many Israelis saw the danger, and urged that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip be handed back to the Arabs (though almost none were willing to give back East Jerusalem). A few brave souls even argued that the occupied territories should become the Palestinian state that had been promised in the United Nations resolution of 1948 that partitioned Palestine and created Israel. But most succumbed to the lure of the land.

Jewish settlement in the West Bank began almost immediately. By now, forty years on, there are 450,000 Jews in former East Jerusalem and the West Bank (plus another 17,000 in the Golan Heights). None of that could have happened without the 1967 victory, but the implication is that the separation of the populations that happened in 1948 has been undone.

All the land between the Jordan river and the sea is effectively a single political territory, because Israel ultimately controls all of it. There are now ten million people living in that space, but only a bare majority of them are Jews: 5.5 million, versus 4.5 million Palestinians. Since the Palestinians have a much higher birth-rate, they will become the majority by 2015, less than a decade from now.

This is what Israelis call the “demographic problem,” but it is really a political and territorial problem. If they want to hang on to the land, then they are stuck with the Palestinians who live on it. If Israel is truly democratic and grants all these people the vote, then it will cease to be a Jewish state. If it chooses to remain Jewish by excluding them, then it is no longer democratic. And yet it cannot bring itself to let the occupied territories go.

The 1967 victory has brought Israel two generations of military occupation duties, two Palestinian uprisings, and a chronic terrorist threat. It has also brought it an existential political threat, because essentially what 1967 did was to reunite the Palestine that had been divided in 1948. What if, one day, the Palestinians simply accept that fact?

Ehud Olmert, now Israel’s prime minister, put it bluntly in an interview with “Yedioth Ahronoth” in 2003. “We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: ‘We have been won over. We agree with (extreme right-wing Israeli politician Avigdor) Lieberman. There is no room for two states between Jordan and the sea. All that we want is the right to vote.’ The day they do that is the day we lose everything.”

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“As Benny…worked”)