Haggai's Place

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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Tuesday, February 08, 2005 ::

New digs
For anyone re-directed here, I'm now blogging over at Liberals Against Terrorism. Specifically, this part of the site.
9:04 PM
:: Friday, July 16, 2004 ::
Hanging it up
I'm going to stop posting here, maybe not for good, but at least for a while.  I haven't had much to say lately anyway, and there's also the factor of starting one of those strange aspects of modern life that I've never partaken in--an everyday full-time job.  I'll be working at this place, starting sometime next month.  I'm not exactly sure what I'll be working on, but it looks like a really interesting place, very much along the lines of what I was hoping to find after finishing my thesis at Michigan.  I'm already staying with a friend in Maryland, and I'm starting to look for a place to live closer to where I'll be working, on the northern Virginia side of the Washington DC metro area.  New e-mail, as well, which is indicated above. 
Thanks to everyone who's stopped by here at any point.   

10:23 AM
:: Monday, July 12, 2004 ::
Nothing new here
Those tricky Israelis, always setting off bombs against themselves. Or so says Arafat:
Arafat suggested that the attack was an act of provocation carried out by Israel following the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague against the West Bank security fence.

Arafat said: "We are against such kinds of bombings, and you must never forget that the Israelis are completely behind it as they have been in the past."

Speaking to reporters after meeting with UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner General Peter Hansen, Arafat added: "You know who is behind these acts, which are aimed at harming the court decision. Europe knows it, the Americans, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Israelis also know it."
The article goes on to point out that this is par for the course with Arafat. Yossi Alpher summed up his own personal experiences on that front a couple of years ago:
[I had] a meeting with Arafat in his office in Gaza; it is typical of the three or four such meetings I have participated in over the years since 1994. Arafat explains that Israel is really two-thirds an Arab country: the Israeli Arabs and the "Jewish Arabs" (i.e., Sephardic and Yemenite Jews) already make up 70 percent of the population. He goes on to blame the Mossad for Palestinian suicide bombings. When his leadership is questioned, he goes on an egomaniacal rant: "I am Mandela, I am de Gaulle." He is asked about a CNN clip in which he is seen praising children who recite slogans of incitement; he says he will discipline their teachers! In short, he comes across as a liar who is totally out of touch with Israeli (and Jewish) reality. From this performance it is but a short distance to his insistence in 2000 on the right of return and his rejection of any Jewish link to the Temple Mount, and to his denial of the Iranian arms ship in 2002.

10:40 AM
:: Wednesday, July 07, 2004 ::
The face of positive campaigning
Quick, which 2004 Democratic primary candidate said this, about a year ago, with regards to Bush's economic policies:
Make no mistake: this is the most radical and dangerous economic theory to hit our shores since socialism a century ago. Like socialism, it corrupts the very nature of our democracy and our free enterprise tradition. It is not a plan to grow the American economy. It is a plan to corrupt the American economy and shrink the winners’ circle.
Whoa, that's pretty hard-hitting (naturally, I loved it). The wild-eyed Bush-hating Howard Dean must have said it, or some other nut like him.

Actually, as I found out at the time in this William Saletan article, it was John Edwards. The "sunny-faced," "optimistic," "doesn't-go-negative" candidate. Now, I'm sure he's not going to go that over the top in the general election campaign, but it certainly speaks to his political skills that he's been able to avoid the media narratives of crazy/extreme/lunatic Bush-hatred that stuck to Dean, who actually never said anything as tough on Bush as that Edwards quote. I referenced it frequently last fall on various liberal blogs, when some Deaniacs were constantly labelling every other candidate in the race as a cowardly Bush-appeasing wuss.

That whole Edwards speech doesn't seem to be available on his campaign site anymore, which has merged with the Kerry website, so here it is from the Google cache.
12:41 PM
:: Saturday, July 03, 2004 ::
Kerry's Israel policy? Troubling.
His latest assurances to American Jewish groups aren't too encouraging on his support for Israel:
In a position paper outlining his stance on Israel, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry promises not to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and expresses support for Israel's right to defend itself by attacking terrorist organizations.

The paper, entitled "John Kerry: Strengthening Israel's Security and Bolstering the U.S.-Israel Special Relationship," was sent in mid-June to a group of people in the Jewish community as part of the Kerry attempt to maintain contact with Jewish supporters in the United States and to clarify his positions on Israel.
Hmmm. But surely a UN-loving leftist like him will unleash the Israel-bashing world forums on issues like the security fence, not to mention settlements and refugees?
The presumptive Democratic nominee also declares his opposition to transferring debate on the fence to international forums. The paper shows consistent support for Israel on all the issues at hand: Kerry backs Israel's disengagement plan and also the two central points in President Bush's letter to Prime Minister Sharon - the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state, not within Israel, and recognition of Jewish population concentrations in the West Bank when establishing the permanent borders. "In light of demographic realities, a number of settlement blocs will likely become a part of Israel," Kerry wrote his supporters.
Oh. Interesting. Ah, but here we go, he's a flip-flopper who can't be trusted:
Kerry, who previously spoke against the separation fence at a gathering of the Arab-American Institute, is now seeking to correct that impression: "The security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense erected in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israeli citizens."
Surely anyone who ever spoke against the fence can't be trusted to back Israel in a time of need. Like when the IDF first launched its Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, after more than a hundred Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks in the previous month, Bush's first major public statement was this:
Flanked by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush on Saturday urged Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories "without delay" -- some of his strongest words directed at the long-time U.S. ally since he took office.
Almost forgot about that one. But then a month later, Bush and Sharon had a friendly press-conference together at the White House, and all calls for immediate withdrawal were forgotten. Meaning that Bush had...um...flip-flopped from his earlier position. But what was Kerry saying in April 2002, when Bush was calling on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank?
If the United States has a right to respond in Afghanistan to suicide attackers in New York City -- and we do - then Israel has a right to respond to suicide bombers in the West Bank. But our role - and our responsibility - is to engage more aggressively and positively -- and to stay engaged.
Well, there you go.

All sarcasm aside, my point is obviously not that Bush's "withdraw without delay" statements from two years ago prove that he's anti-Israel. Clearly, he's about as pro-Israel a president as there's ever been, and one statement that he made before flip-flopping a month later doesn't change that. My point is that the same standard has to apply to Kerry. His Israel record over the years is as supportive as almost anyone else's, and one statement he might have made (and later walked back on) against the fence, or about possibly appointing Jim Baker as a Middle East envoy (assuming one sees that as some dramatically anti-Israel move), doesn't change that, no matter how much some people insist on pretending otherwise.
11:20 AM
:: Friday, July 02, 2004 ::
Egypt in Gaza
Dennis Ross hopes that it might work, but he says it needs US support:
Ironically, Sharon's decision to leave Gaza has led Egypt to assume the role previously played by the United States. It is now Egypt that seeks to coordinate Israel's withdrawal and the parallel assumption of responsibilities by the Palestinian Authority. It is Egypt that seeks to address Israeli security concerns to ensure that the withdrawal will be complete. And it is Egypt that is trying to reorganize, restructure and train Palestinian security forces, and empower the Palestinian prime minister...

It's hard to believe that such coordination can work out if there is not a cease-fire -- a real cease-fire. Unquestionably, the Egyptians will also try to produce that. But all this is a tall order, and the Egyptians are unlikely to succeed without active U.S. support. Already the Egyptian timetable of two months for Arafat to concede on the consolidation of Palestinian security forces suggests to some Palestinians and Israelis that the Egyptians are reluctant to push too hard when they believe the U.S. administration is otherwise occupied.

Middle East moments have a way of appearing and disappearing quickly. The time to prepare for the Gaza withdrawal is now. We had better reinforce the Egyptian effort soon lest it too slip away.
Yossi Alpher says forget about it:
The Egyptian initiative to facilitate Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is not going to work. That is the only conclusion one can draw after studying the demands put forward by Egyptian Minister of Intelligence Omar Suleiman, and juxtaposing them with the known political and security priorities of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat...

Like those before them who attempted over the past four years to end this conflict, the Egyptians may soon become frustrated with both Arafat and Sharon. They may then seek alternative ways to rebuff the threat of radical Islam in Gaza and to deflect American pressures for reform--the real reasons for their current intervention. Or they may continue to cultivate unrealistically broad expectations. Either way we are liable soon to confront the thesis presented disdainfully by Joseph Samaha in al-Safir on June 24: "'Mubarak's plan' is the missing link between a unilateral withdrawal that may never take place, and a roadmap that may never be implemented."
I'm more sanguine about the prospects of some sort of withdrawal happening, since most of the Israeli political spectrum is firmly behind the concept now. I'm a lot less confident about it being successfully conducted by the likes of Sharon.
11:36 AM
:: Monday, June 28, 2004 ::
Aren't you forgetting something?
This is from a Washington Post article about the political fighting that's going on about homeland security:
In the first two years after the [9/11] attacks, the politics of homeland security were relatively easygoing. Congressional Republicans were as likely as Democrats to criticize the Bush administration for foot-dragging and inattention... But the two-party collegiality on homeland security has worn thin in recent months.
In fact, a new department of homeland security started as a Democratic proposal not long after 9/11. Bush opposed it, very intensely, for about half a year, before making an unambiguous flip-flop in mid-2002, when he suddenly started supporting it. He then made a shrewd political move in demanding expanded presidential powers to override union protections for government workers in the new department, if the president determines that it's necessary on national security grounds. Rather stupidly, the Democratic congressional leadership walked right into the trap, opposed Bush's proposals on union-related grounds, and got hammered in the 2002 congressional elections as being against Bush's homeland security proposals--the very idea that he had co-opted from them after spending half a year in severe opposition to it. In terms of Democrat-bashing, Bush never even went as far on Iraq as he did on this issue, when he disgracefully claimed--twice!--that Democrats who opposed his version of the new department were "not interested in the security of the American people."

The Washington Post reporters know all of this, so deosn't it sort of contradict their thesis that "the politics of homeland security were relatively easygoing" from the 9/11 attacks up until the last few months? The fierce political battle over the creation of the Department of Homeland Security is probably worth a mention in an article that discusses the politics of homeland security.
12:13 PM
:: Thursday, June 24, 2004 ::
Hispanics in the military
A June 21 post on Letter From Gotham noted that in an article about young combat veterans in Iraq, more than half of the dozen or so names mentioned shared a common characteristic: most of them are Hispanic. But then this Slate article, which argues against re-instituting the draft, mentions these statistics:
Looking at the military as a whole... blacks do represent a disproportionate share—22 percent of all U.S. armed forces. By comparison, they make up 13 percent of 18-to-44-year-old civilians. The difference is that blacks re-enlist at a higher rate than whites. (Hispanics remain under-represented: 10 percent of all armed forces, as opposed to 14 percent of 18-to-44-year-old civilians.)
Maybe there's a higher percentage--a much higher percentage?--of Hispanics in combat units than there are in the entire military.
12:00 PM
:: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 ::
More words of wisdom from Reservoir Dogs
I've turned to that movie for political guidance before, in this post from last fall, and I think it applies again now that Bill Clinton's book is out. I definitely want to see what he has to say about the Middle East, but I know that I won't get anything more than a passing reference in any major media coverage of the book, and that's among the small percentage of the coverage that'll even mention the issue at all. Obviously, the media take on his book can be summarized by the following passage from the movie, where the character played by Tarantino explains his theory about the real subject of the song "Like A Virgin":
Mr. Brown: I'm talking morning, day, night, afternoon, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.

Mr. Blue: How many dicks is that?

Mr. White: A lot.
I read an anecdote once about Tarantino meeting Madonna, sometime after the movie was out, and getting her to sign his copy of one of her CDs that he owned. Apparently she signed it, "Dear Quentin, it's about love, not dick."
10:28 PM
:: Saturday, June 19, 2004 ::
Strange fantasies
For no particular reason, I went and dug up this Ha'aretz article by Akiva Eldar from mid-December 2001. It was the only place I remember reading about a very specific bit of speculation regarding what Arafat hoped to gain from the intifada.

A bit of background is in order first. When Sharon first became prime minister in early 2001, he formed a unity government with Labor as the primary partner. Sharon's Feb. 2001 landslide win over Barak was the last instance of direct election for prime minister in Israel, separate from elections for the Knesset. It still had its make-up from the 1999 elections, with Labor as the party holding the most seats. So the Knesset speaker at the time was Avraham Burg, one of the more left-leaning high profile members of Labor. Peres was the Foreign Minister, and Fuad Ben-Eliezer, also more hawkish than Burg, was the Defense Minister. Burg and Ben-Eliezer were then the two main candidates to head the Labor party (Amram Mitzna didn't enter the picture for about another 6 months). This article was written just after Anthony Zinni had come to the region as a special envoy to try to negotiate a cease-fire, only to run into the worst spurt of suicide bombing that had happened up to that point in the intifada:
[Arafat's] close associates try to persuade him to impose a cease-fire on the Hamas and Tanzim and impose a return to the negotiating table on Sharon. They implore every foreign visitor with any kind of influence (lately, Anthony Zinni) to help them bring Arafat down to reality and shake off the nonsensical notion that the intifada will topple Sharon and Ben-Eliezer and bring Avraham Burg to power.
Now that was quite the theory. A dinosaur from Israel's founding "1948 generation" who had long been thought of as too militant (and carrying too much controversial baggage from the past) to be elected as prime minister had come into office less than a year earlier, in the biggest land-slide in the country's history, as an undeniably direct result of the intifada. And yet a continuation of the same strategy was supposed to topple him and bring to power someone who was noticeably more left-wing than the previous prime minister, who had been annihilated in the last election?

Truly a brilliant plan. Probably not much of a plan, either--my guess is that it was just one of many theories that Arafat concocted at one time or another to justify continuing with the intifada. Depressingly, I can't bring to myself to categorize the apparent plan of turning Iraq over to Ahmad Chalabi, in order to bring about a pro-US/pro-Israel Arab democracy, as being any less absurd. Not exactly good company for a large number of senior American officials, in the strategizing department.
2:20 PM
:: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 ::
Congratulations Pistons!
NBA champs, what a surprising turn of events. A superstar-less team winning it all is even more rare than most of the media coverage I've seen has indicated. A few outlets mentioned the '79 Seattle Sonics as the last team without a major star to win the league championship, but nobody pointed out that since the first few years of the NBA's existence in the late '40s and early '50s, that Seattle team was the only one to win it all without having any of the 50 Greatest Players in league history, as named back in '96. Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson were already on that list when it was named, and an updated version would obviously include Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. So, aside from Seattle in '79, you have to go back to the '51 Rochester Royals to find a championship winning team without any of the league's all-time 50 best players on its roster. Until the 2004 Detroit Pistons, that is!
11:45 AM
:: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 ::
The argument goes ever on
Yet another pissing match in the Israeli media regarding who said what about Arafat, when, and why. I guess it started with this article from last week by Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz, describing a dispute between two generals who were leading members of Military Intelligence a few years ago, Amos Gilad and Amos Malka. Before the Camp David negotiations in 2000, Gilad put forth the theory that Arafat was a completely unreliable partner who would never make peace, but Malka and other MI people disagreed, according to Eldar's article. Now Dan Margalit of Ma'ariv is piddling all over it, arguing that Malka and Gilad have both claimed (in effect) that Arafat is an out-and-out peace refusenik.

I recently read an excellent book by one of the most prominent Israeli scholar/diplomats, Waging Peace by Itamar Rabinovich, which Margalit refers to in passing. Rabinovich classifies the different schools of thought about Camp David and the breakdown of the peace process into four categories:

(1) The Orthodox School: First articulated by Clinton and Barak at the time of the Camp David failure. The Israelis made a far-reaching offer, pursued in good faith by the Barak and Clinton governments, and the peace process might have succeeded, but Arafat and the Palestinians failed the ultimate test of their intentions and torpedoed the whole thing.

(2) The Revisionist School: Although the Palestinians bear some of the blame, the process failed primarily because of mistakes made by the Israelis and the Americans. The primary source for this school, and surely the most frequently referenced one, is the July 2001 NY Review of Books article "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors" by two members of the Camp David delegations, Rob Malley (US) and Hussein Agha (Palestinians).

(3) The Deterministic School: The primary right-wing-Israeli view, that Oslo was a huge scam from the beginning, with Arafat having entered into it only as a change of tactics, en route to his strategic goal of destroying Israel. Rabinovich describes the Gilad viewpoint I alluded to above--that Arafat had certain "red lines" unacceptable to Israel (primarily on right of return and the Temple Mount) that he wouldn't cross, which made violence all but inevitable--as a "more nuanced" variation of this deterministic school. Rabinovich characterizes Gilad as "the chief and most consistent articulator of this view."

(4) The Eclectic School: A combination of the various schools, or someone whose views don't exactly fit into any of them. I was a little surprised to see that Rabinovich put Yossi Beilin into this category, since he's probably more closely associated with a "revisionist school" outlook than anyone else in Israeli politics (the primary Israeli articulator of the revisionist school, in Rabinovich's view, is Ron Pundak, one of the originators of the Oslo process). Gilead Sher, one of Barak's chief negotiators and closest confidants during his time as prime minister, also ends up here, having written a book that Rabinovich praises highly as "an invaluable source for the history of this period but [which] does not offer a clear-cut thesis." Rabinovich describes Sher as having a quite different version of events from Barak, and pretty critical of several of the other Israeli figures in the negotiations.

So we can safely say that Akiva Eldar is in the revisionist school, while Dan Margalit is in the orthodox school, as this translation of an article he wrote three years ago demonstrates quite clearly. I'd put myself in the orthodox school as well. I have no problem criticizing Barak, Clinton, and whomever else for having made some mistakes along the way, but it just doesn't add up to pin the blame for the ultimate failure of the entire process on their mistakes. One of Margalit's arguments from that 2001 article has definitely resonated with me since then:
Instead of admitting that Arafat stubbornly wants to perpetuate the conflict, the "Oslo architects" (primarily Pundak) note what they claim is the problematic conduct of the peace negotiations during the Barak era and argue that this factor was one of the "prime limitations" that obstructed the road to peace. This argument, which is not particularly convincing, insults the intelligence of Arafat and his followers, who, according to the architects, passed up an opportunity for peace because they did not like the way Barak behaved during the talks.
That really is what almost every argument against Barak and Clinton essentially comes down to, that things would have been different if Barak and Clinton (primarily Barak) had only been more courteous to the Palestinians.

Although I think there are limitations to the parallels that can be drawn between the Israel/Egypt negotiations of the late '70s and the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations of the past decade, it has to be remembered that for all his diplomatic clumsiness and difficult personality traits (for which he was criticized as much by his colleagues as he was by the Palestinians), Barak was Miss Manners compared to Menachem Begin. Every account I've read of the Begin/Sadat negotiations leaves the impression that Begin was just about the most impossible person to deal with that anyone could ever imagine: dogmatic, stubborn, a stickler for minor details where almost nobody else could even comprehend what the hell he was going on about, you name it. And, undoubtedly, mistakes had been made along the way (leading up to, as well as during, the Camp David conference) by all the parties involved, the Americans, the Egyptians, and the Israelis. Yet the agreement eventually happened, because both Begin and Sadat were more committed to making peace than they were to any other possible scenario. Even many of Barak's most notable critics (like Malley and Agha in their article) conceded that in spite of all his flaws, he really was committed to making a deal happen. There's no getting around the conclusion that if Arafat had been as well, it would have come together, one way or another.
2:45 PM

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