Thursday, June 4, 2009

Barack Obama on Isr/Pal Principles

Dear Friend,

Here are the exact remarks President Obama spoke in Cairo, Egypt earlier today in regards to Israelis/Palestinians. Very interesting that they are the second of seven "issues of tensions between America and the Muslim Middle East".

In other words, the addressing and resolving of the Isr/Pal conflicts are seen in the context of improved relationships among US and all our Islamic (and Israeli) neighbors in the Middle East. It is further interesting that he chose to come to Saudi Arabia and Egypt before visiting Israel/Palestine, as if to underscore the larger context of the Isr/Pal matter. It is an Arab state/American issue, not just an issue of Israelis and Palestinians.

Therefore, Israelis and Palestinians must see it too, in the larger context of respect for human rights that each and all of us are called upon to accord to one another, respectful of the deeply human nature of our fears, aspirations, grievances and present realities.

I think we must support our President in his call for a "new beginning", a "remaking" of the region according to the Talmud/Torah, Qur'an, and "Bible" expectation that we "do to others as we would have them to do us". (He also has some pointed things to say in re "religious freedom" (i.e., not only Muslims free to express themselves religiously, as in the US, but Christians freely to express themselves religiously, as is NOT the case in many places in the ME).

Now, we all have to put the right actions into place, consistent with a reiteration of these intentions. JRK

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Facts on the Ground

Dear Friend,
Here is the issue in a nutshell. Thanks to the NY Times for today's article by Isabel Kershner.

The gradual take over of previously occupied Palestinian land and homes has and will continue, despite US appeals for a "HALT". This is the reality. One state, two state discussion is irrelevant to the more underlying issue. Enfranchisement. Self-determination of people. The right to live, vote, work, build homes, raise families by ALL parties in the land. First class vs. second class status. Occupier vs. occupied. Oppressor vs. oppressed. Treating "The Other" with respect, giving each their "due" as fellow human beings; acknowledging each parties existence and place in the sun on God's good earth.

As long as the Israelis have the attitude: "This is our land, you no longer belong here", there will be insoluble problems between the Israelis and the Arab Palestinians. These are the underlying issues as always. Your servant, JRK

June 2, 2009
Israel and U.S. Can’t Close Split on Settlements


KFAR TAPUAH, West Bank — Thirty Israeli couples are on a waiting list to move into the Kfar Tapuah settlement, which teems with children on the hilltops south of Nablus. Some on the list grew up here. But there is not an apartment available for sale or rent, or even a stifling trailer to be had.

If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation’s overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank, according to unpublished official data provided to The New York Times.

The decision of whether to build, and how much, goes to the heart of the tensions between the administrations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Obama, an unaccustomed and no-budge conflict between Israel and the United States. Washington is standing firm against any additional settlement construction in the West Bank, including what Israel argues is necessary to accommodate what it terms “natural growth.”

That term has been defined vaguely by Israeli officials, meaning for some that settlements should expand to accommodate only their own children. But Mr. Netanyahu, of the conservative Likud Party, made his own wider position clear on Monday. He said that while Israel would not allow new settlements and that some small outposts would be removed, building within the confines of established settlements should go on.

Israel “cannot freeze life in the settlements,” he said, describing the American call as an “unreasonable” demand.

And in fact, whatever the American demands and Israeli definitions, the reality is that no full freeze seems likely.

The issue is, in part, political: Mr. Netanyahu is trying to hold together a fractious coalition, including parties that favor settlement building and oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state. He must contend with an aggressive settler movement, emboldened by support from Israeli governments for decades and determined to continue building, if necessary through unofficial means.

“It is important for the world to know we won’t stop,” said Doron Hillel, 29, the settlement council head and one of the first children born here after it was founded about 30 years ago. “These decrees make things difficult, but they strengthen us. We will continue to build and grow.”

A partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the strictures. Twenty trailer homes have been assembled in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, for young families over the past year. The Samaria Council, which represents settlers in the northern West Bank, has brought in 150 trailers. Thousands of permanent houses have been illegally constructed within existing settlements, and settlers have recently bulldozed new roads through fields to link up the outposts.

Critics argue that successive Israeli governments have turned a blind eye to this construction and that they have contributed more broadly to settlement growth.

The settlers’ annual population growth, at 5.6 percent, far outstrips the Israeli average of 1.8 percent. But official data from the Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel shows that while about two-thirds of that is a “natural” increase, as defined by settler births in relation to deaths, one-third stems from migration. There is also a disproportionately high level of state-supported building in the settlements compared with most regions of Israel.

And many critics of the settlement movement dispute the notion that settlers’ children have an absolute right to continue living in their parents’ settlement.

“A newborn does not need a house,” said Dror Etkes of Yesh Din, an Israeli group that fights for the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories. “It is a game the Israeli government is playing” to justify construction, he said.

Underlining the competing pressures on Mr. Netanyahu, extremist settlers rioted on Monday in various parts of the northern West Bank, stoning Arab vehicles, burning tires and setting fields alight, according to a witness and the police. They were protesting the government’s recent actions against some tiny outposts. Several Palestinians were wounded. Six Israeli settlers and a rightist member of Parliament were arrested and later released.

The Israeli population of the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, has tripled since the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort started in the early 1990s, and it now approaches 300,000. The settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in about 120 settlements, which much of the world considers a violation of international law, as well as in dozens of outposts erected without official Israeli authorization. Israel argues that the settlement enterprise does not violate the law against transferring populations into occupied territories.

According to the newly disclosed data, about 58,800 housing units have been built with government approval in the West Bank settlements over the past 40 years. An additional 46,500 have already obtained Defense Ministry approval within the existing master plans, awaiting nothing more than a government decision to build.

The data began to be compiled in 2004 by a retired brigadier general, Baruch Spiegel, at the request of the defense minister at the time, Shaul Mofaz. The Defense Ministry has long refused to make the data public, but it has since been leaked and obtained by nongovernmental groups. Mr. Etkes analyzed the master plans in the Spiegel data, together with a colleague from Bimkom, an Israeli group that focuses on planning and social justice.

Under international pressure, construction in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years.

In Kfar Tapuah, a group of young Israelis who grew up here decided about six years ago that when they married, they would stay. The population has more than doubled since then, to 150 families from 60. Like in other West Bank settlements, nobody counts individuals here: the rate of new births makes that impossible.

Revitalized from within, the community also attracted young couples from other settlements and from cities in Israel who were seeking a lifestyle that combined relatively cheap suburban comfort with the national-religious ideal of settling the land.

Kfar Tapuah has a reputation as an extremist settlement, having become a base for the followers of the virulently anti-Arab Rabbi Meir Kahane after he was assassinated in 1990. It now seems overrun by young children. A $150,000 state-of-the-art playground recently went up, a second kindergarten just opened and a third is planned.

“This is our land from the beginning of days,” said Aviva Herzlich, 67, most of whose 10 children and more than 40 grandchildren live in and around the settlement. “We do not have anywhere else.”