Thursday, March 11, 2010

Building Peace in East Jerusalem

Israel has decided to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, and the announcement came while Vice President Joe Biden was in that country to promote peace talks. It was seen as a slap in the face to Mr. Biden who is a strong supporter of Israel, and the highest ranking American official to visit there. Predictably, the Palestinians have pulled out of planned shuttle diplomacy.

I make no secret of my strong support for Israel, which is based on my analysis of what is best for the United States and my belief in the necessity of a Jewish homeland. Nor am I ashamed to say that my support of Israel is informed by my religious beliefs.

Having said that, I am not clear on what Israel did that is so wrong. Undoubtedly, the Israelis have jurisdiction over East Jerusalem. It was ceded to them by Jordan, the previous sovereign, which has renounced any claim to the territory. (This, by the way, is the reason that the term “occupied” does not apply to the West Bank, although by constant repetition, it has become accepted -- a huge propaganda boon to the Palestinians.)

If the Israelis have jurisdiction over the land, they have the right to regulate land use there. Case closed. Those who argue otherwise would have you believe that because the land is disputed, Israel should take no steps that might prejudice the outcome of future negotiations. However, what these people fail to understand is that by forbearing to exercise jurisdiction, the Israelis would be conceding to the Palestinians the very point of the negotiations. Such a major concession on the part of the Israelis ought to be matched with some consideration from the other side. But it is assumed by these people that Israel should make concessions before negotiations.

The action taken was the beginning of a zoning process that would allow construction some number of years in the future. It should be noted that the land is in the middle of a Jewish neighborhood, and across the entire Israeli political spectrum there is universal agreement that the land will never be ceded to a future Palestinian state.

By taking this action, Israel gives an incentive to Palestinians to negotiate now. An important part of any negotiation is getting the other side to believe that it is in their interests to strike a deal, and that any future deal will be less favorable, or at least, harder to come by. Building within a Jewish neighborhood in the eternal capital of the Jewish state creates just that dynamic.

Let us suppose that the Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem will one day be part of a Palestinian state. Said state will be able to make whatever zoning decisions it likes. And if that does not come to pass until Israelis have built apartments there, we must ask this question: Did the buildings make the land less valuable to the future state? While it is true that Palestinians destroyed Israeli-built agricultural installations in Gaza when they were granted jurisdiction there, that was a choice they made for their own reasons. But they could just as easily have chosen to use the farms to feed their population.

As I have said, the Palestinians’ use of this excuse to pull out of negotiations was predictable. The chattering class would have you accept the notion that therefore, Israel was scuttling the peace talks. In every other area of discourse we encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. Is there a good reason why the Palestinians cannot be expected to take responsibility for pulling out of the peace talks? Can it truly be said that they had no other choice? If the Palestinians cannot accept responsibility for their intransigence, then perhaps they are not ready to govern an independent state, in which case, negotiations are worse than useless. By the way, the evidence that Palestinians are incapable of self governance also comes from the fact that the Gaza is ruled by Hamas (officially listed as a terrorist organization) and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) are ruled by the successors to the PLO.

But what of the timing of Israel’s decision? Wasn’t that an insult to Vice President Biden? The answer is yes, it was, and for that reason it was a mistake. It was a mistake committed by a minister of housing, who belongs to the right wing religious party, Shas. Israeli democracy is composed of many diverse groups and undoubtedly, the decision will receive great condemnation for its timing from the many opponents of Shas. When Vice President Biden announced to an audience at Tel Aviv University that he had recommended to the President that the Israeli action be condemned, his remarks drew loud applause.

In fairness to Shas, we should examine the internal logic of their decision. The vice president was embarrassed on foreign soil, notwithstanding his long term, genuine support for Israel. It makes it much less likely that President Obama will be rushing to put himself in the same position. There are those who believe that President Obama will tilt American foreign policy toward the Palestinians, and keeping him away from the region weakens his ability to do so. Some of these people may think that in three years, there might be a different American president, who is more sympathetic to Israel. I don’t agree with any of this reasoning, but it is internally consistent, and explains more than the presumption that Israel was just trying to be mean to friends like America and Joe Biden.

Israel has a right to build on territory that it controls in its capital city. If Palestinians want Israel to give up that right, they must offer some quid pro quo. Perhaps a declaration that Israel has a right to exist in safe and secure borders would be a good start. Perhaps an agreement to share in Israel’s commitment to allow free access to and protection for all religious sites in the area could be negotiated in exchange for a halt on building permits. But it is not for me to decide the outcome of negotiations. That is for the parties. And they can’t do it, as long as Palestinians refuse to come to the table.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cheney surrenders to terrorists

Dick Cheney, Revisionist Historian and former Vice President, says we should treat the Underpants Bomber as an enemy combatant. It has been brought to everyone’s attention that he is a hypocrite given that did not criticize the previous President who did exactly the same thing with the Shoe Bomber.

The problem is that there must be a better defense for Attorney General Holder’s choice to try the Underpants Bomber in civilian courts than “Bush did it.” In other words, could it be that Bush got it right, and that the reasons for trying Umar Abdulmutallab as a civilian stand on their own? After all, even a blind pig gets an occasional truffle.

At present, the debate is about whether we should try the terrorist in a military tribunal or in a civilian court. The case for the civilian courts is easy to make. The symbolism of trying an al Qaida terrorist in downtown Manhattan is potent, indeed. Additionally, the civilian courts have judges and prosecutors with vast experience in the prosecution of terrorists. The U.S. Attorneys have an excellent record of putting terrorists behind bars with no possibility of escape or release.

Far be it from me, a self-described knee jerk liberal, to prejudge the case of the Underpants Bomber, but safe to say, there is no chance of him being acquitted and released. It is likely that the U.S. Attorney will hold some charges in reserve so that even if he were acquitted, the government would simply bring new charges against him. While it is theoretically possible that he could be acquitted on all charges, it is also possible – in theory, at least – to get hit by lightening twice on the day you win the lottery.

What about the case for military tribunals? They have secured the convictions of three so-called terrorists, two of whom have since been released from custody. The highest ranking al Qaida partisan to be convicted was Bin Laden’s driver.

Military tribunals have a long history in the law of war. They are provided to deal with a particular situation which occurs frequently in the fog of war, videlicet, a person is captured and it is not certain whether he is a combatant or a civilian. If he is a civilian, he must be released, but if he is an enemy combatant, he may be held until the end of hostilities. At that point he must be released, unless he is held over for trial in civilian courts on charges alleging war crimes.

The first question we must ask is whether or not Abdulmutallab is an enemy combatant. It is entirely possible, though not very likely, that he was a mentally disturbed individual who acted on his own, for his own purposes. It is also within the realm of possibility that a fair court could reach this conclusion, by mistake. Let’s assume that if any of these possibilities came to fruition, the would-be Christmas day bomber would be arrested and tried in a civilian court.

Of course, it is much more likely that he would be held to be an enemy combatant, and placed in custody to await the outcome of the war. Say what? What will happen if three years from now, the vigorous efforts of the Obama administration to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al Qaida are successful? Suppose, for example, that the government of Afghanistan arrives at some modus vivendi with the Taliban, and together they agree to disarm al Qaida and execute the leadership. This sounds like good news, but especially so for Captain Underpants, since the legal rationale for holding him will no longer exist.

In other words, what Dick Cheney and his ditto heads are saying is that we will never win the war on terror. The question that needs to be asked is why are Republicans surrendering in the War against Al Qaida?

If we are going to follow the example of the previous administration shouldn’t we start with framing the issue to our best advantage? After all, the party that won World War II shouldn’t lose an argument to the party that cut and ran in Vietnam. The party that won the war in Kosovo, shouldn’t take a back seat to the party that got us mired in Iraq by lying to the American people. The party that sold arms to Iran to raise money for the Contras ought not to be lecturing Democrats on national security. The party that tried to destroy the American constitution isn’t the one teach us about criminal procedure.

... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Update to "Who's responsible ..."

TPM Muckraker alerted me to the news that some of the “facts” reported by ABC – and repeated by me – are not true. ABC has issued a retraction and/or correction. Only one of the planners of the attempted Christmas day bombing was released from Gitmo by the previous administration.

Interestingly, the tenor of the TPM article suggests that the original story has been a darling of right wing blogs. What am I? Chopped liver?

“… and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!”