The Palestinian State

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians will commence on September 2 in Washington, DC under the auspices of the United States.  The aim of these negotiations will be to resolve all final-status issues and bring an end to the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are long odds that the summit will actually meet its goals, but it is interesting to exam what a future Palestinian state would look like and how the Jewish State will be impacted.

Here are my recommendations for the resolution of final-status issues:

1. There Shall Be No Right For Palestinian Refugees To Return To Their Former Homes Within Israel-Proper.

If the Jewish State was to allow all Palestinian “refugees” into its borders after a final settlement it would be committing politicide. Millions and millions of Muslims would flood Israel and forever change its demographic balance. It would no longer be a Jewish nation and that would contradict the whole point of Israel engaging in these negotiations in the first place; which is to secure a Jewish State with defined borders that is democratic and secular.

There is moral justification for the right of return. Claims of ownership within Israel-proper are dubious at best and they can rarely be verified. Additionally, Arabs weren’t the only refugees in 1948 — 800,000 Jews had to flee their homes for fear of their lives, leaving all their invaluable belongings behind. By any logic, if the Palestinians are allowed to return to places within Israel, Jews should be able to go home to their property in the Muslim world. What happened in 1948 wasn’t a displacement of a people, it was a population exchange of Jews and Arabs. And any final settlement must acknowledge this.

The only reason the Palestinians are still refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and throughout the region is because rather than ease their plight, Arabs leaders have preferred to use their cause as a cudgel against Israel . The Jewish State assimilated its immigrants, the Arabs haven’t.

It is only because of pragmatic political concerns that Israel should offer these refugees a compensation package, which should total up to $30 billion, an amount proposed in 2000 during the almost-successful negotiations at Camp David. In return, these Palestinians should renounce the claims they and their children have made on property within Israel-proper.

(above) Maaborot in the early 1950s.

2. All of  Jerusalem shall remain a pat of the Jewish State and all people — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — shall have access to holy sites.

Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish religion and state, and it is the home to the Western Wall, which is the most sacred shrine of Judaism. It also hosts the Mount of Olives, holy to Christians, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-most important place of worship in Islam. Under Israel, all three major religions have had access to their holy sites. However, before 1967, when the Jordanians ruled the city’s eastern half, Christians and Jews were denied access to the Mount of Olives and the Western Wall, and the Arabs desecrated Jewish places of worship.

In 1967, after the Six-Day War, the Jewish State took control of all Jerusalem, an event commemorated by the Israeli holiday of Yom Yerushalayim. All were free to pray as they pleased, and the slums of eastern Jerusalem evolved into prosperity. With this history in mind, all of Jerusalem should remain under Israeli sovereignty. With that in mind, Palestinians should be allowed authority over Muslim holy places and they should be permitted to hold their Parliament and base their governmental functions inside the city.

(above) Jews praying at the Western Wall.

3. Israel shall annex settlements that are close to pre-1967 borders and Palestinians will be compensated by land from Israel-proper.

Following the Six-Day War,  Israelis settled in the West Bank, to the east of the pre-1967 borders. Today, over 300,000 Jews live in Judea and Samaria, most of them in neighborhoods miles from the Green Line. These settlements would probably be annexed by Israel in any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Just as there are many Jews in the West Bank, there is a sizable Arab population within Israel. These Israeli-Arabs constitute a demographic threat to the Jewish State, which is already 25% non-Jewish. For settlements in the West Bank that are close to the Green Line, Israel should exchange land from within Israel-proper, particularly from the north, in Galilee, which have large numbers of Arabs. This land swap would make both Israel and a future Palestinian state as ethnically homogeneous as possible, and thus  maximize the chance for peace

(above) The Galilee, in Northern Israel, which has a large Arab population.


4. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized and Israel will retain a security presence in the Jordan Valley to protect water resources and patrol the international border.

Any Palestinian state has to be demilitarized. Israel cannot have Arab armies a day’s march from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Like Japan after World War II, Palestine should only be allowed to have a small military force, whose mission is solely a defensive one. To ensure Israel’s security, international peace-keeping forces should man the international border between the West Bank and Jordan, inspecting cargo going to and fro Palestine and preventing the spread of weaponry. To maintain its economic prosperity and to procure the natural resources it needs, the Jewish State should be allowed to continue to draw water from the Jordan River, as it faces a chronic shortage of H2O.

(above) The Jordan River, which provides much of Israel's water supply.


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Crafting A Coherent Climate Policy

With the BP oil spill, America has witnessed first-hand the consequences of inaction on climate change and the logical conclusion of the “drill baby, drill” philosophy. Hundreds of millions of gallons of petroleum later, our country has awoken to the looming environmental catastrophes that will be the result of the business-as-usual approach. Today, it is not a question of whether global warming and energy policy must be addressed, but rather how they should they be dealt with.

Workers scooping up oil on the Mississippi shoreline.

In the House, a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s environmental and energy policies was approved last year. The House draft, known as the Waxman-Markey bill, would reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050 and by 2020 require utility companies to meet 20 percent of their energy needs through renewable resources. It would do so by setting up a cap-and-trade system, in which permits to pollute would be bought and sold by businesses on an open exchange, which would promote greater energy efficiency and encourage the use of more environmentally sustainable practices.

In the Senate, action on climate change remains stalled by byzantine parliamentary rules, under which the Republicans have tried to filibuster to death anything and everything the Democrats have proposed. Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA) are putting together a package that will probably be weaker than the House version — which was already a compromise — and whose passage will be far from assured. While this is disappointing, Democrats must be willing to take a half-loaf and renegotiate, rather than grab for the whole thing and wind up with nothing.

Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA) unveiling climate change legislation.

One part of the House legislation that must not be watered down is the mandate for a cap-and-trade system. It is essential that this mechanism be put into place, because it will concentrate market forces on the difficult — and potentially lucrative — task of harnessing the power of the sun and wind to produce clean and reliable energy. Without cap-and-trade there can be no comprehensive energy bill and there can be no solution to climate change.

Congress can do even more to encourage innovation in green technology by ending corporate welfare for oil companies that ravage our waterways and wallets, and giving those subsidies to corporations that seek to move us away from unsustainable sources of fuel. But, the research and development needed to realize the goal of clean energy cannot be funded simply by government grants — it requires the taxpayer to shoulder some of the burden. This can be accomplished through a slight increase in the gas tax to $1, an idea repeatedly espoused by foreign policy expert and columnist, Thomas Friedman.

The once and future energy source -- the windmill.

The largess generated by this new levy could be used to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure and jump-start the green jobs industry. Taxes, while they raise money for the government, also modify people’s behavior and spending habits. In this vein, a surcharge on petroleum would push Americans towards more fuel-efficient cars and away from gas guzzlers. And to sweeten the pot, the government could resurrect the highly-successful cash-for-clunkers program.

In the end, any bill addressing climate change and energy policy must deal with not just the symptoms of our addiction to fossil fuels — the Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills — but also the root causes of it. By taking a holistic approach, we can stop petroleum from fouling our shorelines, while slowing and eventually halting the progress of global warming, and at the same time, no longer seeing our foreign policy held hostage to the whims of petty dictators.

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A Theocracy’s Bete Noir: The Young

Through countless generations and among all societies, the young have been bringers of change who have upended the status-quo and dramatically altered social and political mores. In today’s time this truth still holds, and it is evidenced by events currently unfolding in Iran, where youths have kept alive the sputtering Green Movement. Last year, after the Islamic Republic’s stolen election, hundreds of thousands of university students and others filled the country’s streets and demanded that their voices be heard. The government, in characteristic theocratic-authoritarian fashion, effected a brutal crackdown on dissent; arresting, raping, and maiming dissidents and then prosecuting them in Stalinist show-trials where death sentences were handed down.

The government’s reign of terror has driven much of the revolution off the streets and has dissuaded many from further resistance. However, the young and learned are tenacious in their struggle for freedom. On university campuses and in their social circles, they challenge the Iranian regime’s legitimacy, while they remain one of the last sectors of society willing to openly defy the theocracy. They are brave men and women who take their lives in their hands and possess more courage and strength than the dispirited and hesitant politicians who claim to lead them. When these politicians called off protests last month, the students massed on the streets and campuses anyway, braving beatings with no bravado and telling their stories to the world via social media.

Neda Agha-Soltan is the symbol of the Green Movement: a young, vivacious 26-year-old, who was gunned down by government thugs.

It is this bravery and determination that sustains the Green Movement, and the Iranian regime is taking steps to destroy it. The first crackdown didn’t silence the young, so now the theocracy is going after them with a vengeance. The universities, which have been the breeding grounds of dissent, are now being flooded with government clerics, who will spy on students and stifle free speech. In an even more blatant move, the regime has sought to wrest outright control of educational institutions away from the non-profits that run them.

While fighting on that front, the theocracy is also taking aim at the young’s more relaxed social attitudes. The government’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance recently published a list of approved hairstyles for men that barbers must stick to when cutting their clients’ locks: a response to stylings that are quiet protests against the Islamic Republic’s distaste for personal freedom. If men have it bad, women certainly have it worse. The morality police have stepped up their arrests of females who don’t adequately cover up and those who don’t conform to the nation’s ridiculous dress code. This primarily affects the young, who are resistant to gender inequality and who give little heed to the Islamic Republic’s mandated separation of the sexes.

Iranian men with "un-Islamic" hairstyles.

The Iranian regime might be for some time kept afloat by guns and thugs, but a government that lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the people and keeps control through brute force, will face a day of reckoning. Time is on the side of the young, who make up 70 percent of the population, and who will soon enough wield political power that matches their numbers. Eventually, the tree of liberty will grow in Persia, given life by the blood of tyrants.*

*This sentence is paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

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Obama’s MacArthur Moment

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama sacked the general implementing his counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, on the heels of unflattering remarks the military leader and his aides made about the commander-in-chief’s national security team in a recently published Rolling Stone article. McChrystal flew in from Afghanistan and arrived in Washington yesterday morning with his tail between his legs, as he offered Obama his mea culpa and tendered his resignation. Shortly after, surrounded by the country’s military leadership and his Cabinet in the Rose Garden, the president announced the general’s replacement, the highly respected David Petraeus, whose surge strategy brought Iraq back from the brink, and declared that while he “welcome[s] debate, [he] won’t tolerate division.”

President Barack Obama announcing McChrystal's sacking.

While Obama went to lengths to assure the public that the firing was “a change in personnel, but … not a change in policy,” the situation nonetheless echoed the events of an earlier age, namely, when President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of command during the Korean War. In that conflict, which was one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the Cold War, the commander-in-chief and his subordinate had a genuine disagreement about policy, with the general publicly advocating the abandonment of the Truman Doctrine and pushing for the invasion of China, while his boss sought to prevent the Cold War from turning hot. When MacArthur — who I happen to believe was right — refused to carry out Truman’s orders he was fired.

While Truman’s policy of containment may have prolonged the Cold War, and though the general may have been correct in his convictions, the president’s decision to fire MacArthur was unmistakably right. From time to time, this country’s armed forces need to be reminded that America’s defense policy is under civilian control and that we are not run by a military junta where generals run the show. Ultimately, while the military leadership does possess a voice on matters of defense and national security; in a democracy, final say must rest with the commander-in-chief elected by the people.

US President Harry Truman with General Douglas MacArthur, who he would later fire for insubordination.

Men in uniform must respect the limits the Constitution places on them for the American experiment to survive. We have had many presidents with distinguished military careers; from Grant, to Theodore Roosevelt, to Eisenhower, and to George H.W. Bush. And all of them knew that they could not wear their military uniform while in the White House. The sacking of insubordinate generals predates Truman and stretches back to Lincoln’s firing of McClellan during the Civil War. In the end, as McChrystal learned the hard way, it is the general’s job to implement strategy, not to make it or gripe about those formulating it.

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Britain’s Budget and Europe’s Future

Yesterday in Great Britain, the new Conservative government’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced a new austerity program that includes deep reductions in spending and a raft of tax hikes. The budget, which cuts everything from education to the military by an estimated 25 percent over five years, is the most ambitious of its kind since the days of Margaret Thatcher, who, through the use of shock-therapy revived the British economy from its decades-long slump. It also raises the value-added tax (VAT) 2.5 percent while increasing to 28 percent the amount of money investors will pay on capital gains.

UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne with the budget brief.

In unveiling this new plan, the United Kingdom has become the face of the wave of austerity that is sweeping Europe and threatening that continent’s much-vaunted welfare state economic model. Awash in unpaid bills and the victims of capricious markets, many European governments have reached the conclusion that unfunded social spending is unsustainable and have responded by raising retirement ages, cutting benefits, and backing away from their commitment to a cradle-to-grave society.

The European debt crisis, which originated in Greece and has spread to many nations on the periphery of the Eurozone, threatens the world’s fragile economic recovery and it is comforting that the continent’s leaders have responded to the situation in earnest. However, it is their responsibility to ensure that the medicine isn’t worse than the disease and that in their bid to quell the markets they don’t plunge the world back into recession. In other words, they must walk a tightrope between austerity and stimulus; keeping the economy going through tax incentives and limiting the pain of spending cuts on average citizens, while slashing some of the excess and unfunded liabilities that threaten European bonds with junk status.

The long and winding road towards fiscal solvency will be bumpy and painful and will require sacrifice, but if the continent does not get in control of its finances it will be strangled by debt. The European Union and the economic model that its member states have adopted are worth preserving and sometimes to save something it must be shrunk.

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The Jewish State and Its Detractors

Israel has increasingly come under fire from Europe, the United States, and the Arab world for its behavior in its conflict with the Palestinians.  It has been called an apartheid state, compared to Nazi Germany, and been the target of innumerable boycotts and divestment campaigns. Liberals across the Western World have pilloried it, it has been demonized at gay-pride parades, lambasted by feminists, and criticized by human-rights organizations. However, this anger is misplaced and progressives, rather than attack the Jewish State, should embrace it.

There is no moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies. Israel is a democracy, where each citizen, Arab and Jew alike, chooses their leaders in free and fair elections. The Jewish State has a vibrant free press, which regularly takes on the country’s leaders, and a judiciary that often overrules the government on the most substantive matters. Everyone is entitled to worship as they choose and the holy sites of Jerusalem are open to the adherents of all three Abrahamic faiths. Women are treated as equals and in Tel Aviv there is a sizzling gay night-life. It is blessed with economic prosperity and a dynamic free market, and all of its people enjoy higher living standards than those living in other parts of the Middle East.

Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv.

Now let’s compare Israel to its Muslim neighbors. The only other democracy in the area is Turkey, where everyone is afraid to speak out against the government. Iran is ruled by the oxymoron, known as the Islamic Republic, Saudi Arabia is under the thumb of absolutism, and Syria is governed by a military dictatorship. In Pakistan, freedom of expression is restricted by Internet censors, who recently blocked Facebook for un-Islamic content. Jordan, supposedly ruled by an enlightened monarch, bans Jews from owning property or holding citizenship. In Saudi Arabia, women endure a truly untenable existence; banned from driving, allowed out only under the supervision of a male relative, and forced to hide their faces in a sweaty, black abaya. It is even worse in the Islamic Republic. In Iran, where President Ahmadinejad claimed no gays live,  homosexuals face the death penalty. Most Arab economies are government-controlled and resistant to innovation, and even in Dubai, the financial capital of the Muslim world, abject poverty persists.

A lighthouse shining through the darkness

More succinctly, Israel is a lighthouse of freedom, shining over a dark sea of despair and depredation. Because of this fact, it is hypocritical for progressives to sully the Jewish State’s good name while condoning Arab oppression. Real liberals, which I consider myself to be, should support Israel for the sake of shared values, from an accurate reading of history, and with a good sense of the challenges that it today faces. The struggle of the Palestinians is not one of national liberation, it is one that seeks to destroy an established nation and people, replace light with dark, and supplant hope with hate. The Palestinians are not an oppressed people, they could have had a state long ago. They are rather the most recent manifestation of an enemy that has plagued the Jewish people from time immemorial; the heirs of the Amalekites, Nebuchadnezzar, and Hitler. Indeed, Hamas is not a big leap from Haman. They are the barbarians at the gate and the Visigoths of our time, the arch-foes of civilization and civility. It is in this historical sweep that the conflict must be viewed to be properly understood.

American liberals must seize on the positions of the giants of their past, like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, both dear friends of the Jewish State. But why should they support Israel over the multitudes of Arabs? Simply “because it is right,” as President Johnson once declared.

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Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

Before the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, many people had probably never heard of the country or were barely aware of it. Now however, what has occurred in the Central Asian republic is a matter of international interest and importance. Last week, there was what appears to have been a spontaneous eruption of ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in the southern city of Osh, which led to the deaths of hundreds of Uzbeks, of which 400,000 have been displaced, and 80,000 of which have fled to Uzbekistan.

To understand the current situation we must rewind the clock a couple of years. In 2005, after rigged elections were held, the Kyrgyz people overthrew their increasingly corrupt president in what was known as the Tulip Revolution. The new leader was Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came from the country’s Uzbek south, and who though installed on a platform of reform and transparency, soon ran afoul of the country’s democrats through his involvement in the murders of several politicians and journalists, for initially refusing to curb his expansive executive powers, and for purportedly stealing the 2009 election. All this discontent culminated in his ouster this April, which the BBC gives a good account of. Bakiyev fled to Kazakhstan and then Belarus, while a new provisional government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, came to power.

People protesting during the Tulip Revolution.

The provisional government had not yet consolidated its hold on power and was dependent on the military to keep it afloat. It is rumored that the armed forces had a hand in the violence and the UN has said it might have been orchestrated, while Otunbayeva has accused Bakiyev of stirring up the trouble in his southern power base. Meanwhile, in the afflicted area, many have fled to Uzbekistan, which yesterday shut its borders to anymore refugees, and other Uzbeks have blockaded themselves in their homes and neighborhoods. A worsening humanitarian crisis has also ensued with shortages of food, a lack of medical care, and a dearth of clean drinking water accompanying the violence.

This situation has wider implications for the world’s major actors in the region, the United States, Russia, and China, because of the country’s strategic location. Kyrgyzstan used to be in the USSR and it is today viewed by Russia as part of its “near-abroad,” its post-Soviet sphere of influence, where it continues to have military installments. America has a huge military base at Manas, in the Central Asian republic, which supplies soldiers and military personnel fighting in Afghanistan. China has also been vying for influence in the region, in its quest for resources and as its tries to take on the US’s hegemonic position in Asia. This instability threatens the interests of all parties. Just recently, rumors circulated that the Kyrgyz government would close America’s vital base if Britain did not hand over Bakiyev’s son to the provisional government. Russia, which has been asked by Otubayeva to deploy troops to the country, does not want to be forced to commit soldiers to the Central Asian republic, and China, with its characteristic emphasis on stability and social harmony, can see no benefit in the current situation.

That is why all three countries must act to bring this violence end and once again establish peace in the area. Russia and the US could perhaps send a limited number of troops to the country on a peace-keeping mission, while China could provide economic assistance to Kyrgystan. This way the two pillars of stability; economic prosperity and a solid political system could be erected. Nonetheless, any solution that is implemented should involve the actions of all of these players, the Kyrgyz government, and most of all the people.

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