The one book you need to read: The Unmaking of Israel – Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg

I am late to this, but The Unmaking of Israel (published 2011) is that one book that you need to read on Israel, if you read no others.

And if you read others, you should still put Unmaking at the top of the pile.

And if you read nothingnothing else?

At least read the first chapter. It’s only 14 pages, and it’s a brilliant little précis of the book’s entire argument.

Plus the book’s short, and honed razor-sharp, and a pleasure to read, to boot. (And look! It’s only $10.94 on Amazon!)

Gorenberg is an American-Israeli like myself, except he stayed. He’s been there for more than 30 years, is Orthodox, lives in Jerusalem, and he’s a very, very good writer — I often recommend his short-form work, and over on the right you’ll see a link to his blog, South Jerusalem. Before I go any further, though, a caveat: I agree with virtually every single word in Unmaking, and the only reason I say “virtually” is because I’m sure there’s some small point that I would have handled differently, because surely there has to be. I just can’t remember which one, just now.

So it’s possible that part of why I recommend this book so highly is simply because it is such a relief to read something that to me feels like the very finest of common sense. But even so, having gotten that out of the way: It’s a great book, with an excellent summary of Israeli history that manages the supposedly impossible task of respecting the Palestinian narrative as well right in that first chapter, and you really should read it.

Gorenberg’s bottom-line point is this: The settlements, and everything that led up to and is flowing from the settlements, is pulling apart the positive good that is Israel, and has been so doing since 1967 — and it’s not just Israel that’s suffering, but Judaism itself.

The trends I’ve introduced here did not grow out of one carefully premeditated policy. Some resulted from ignoring commonsense warnings about long-term rule of another people. Some are the completely unintended consequences of seemingly safe decisions, or of choices made to solve immediate problems. Many are the product of continuing to sanctify values that made sense before 1948, when Jews were seeking self-determination — and that make no sense in an independent state.

There’s an essential chapter about the utter lawlessness of the entire settlement enterprise — even by Israeli legal standards — and Gorenberg very clearly lays out the dangers of allowing a particular ideological group rise to the top of the military in a democratic state (especially when that group openly opposes government policy), as well as the danger in fostering the flowering of an entire sub-society, the ultra-Orthodox, that rejects the secular state, contributes nothing to it and consciously fails to prepare its children to ever contribute to it, all while depending on that state for its livelihood.

In his concluding chapter, Gorenberg writes:

For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes. First, it must end the settlement enterprise, end the occupation, and find a peaceful way to partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Second, it must divorce state and synagogue — freeing the state from clericalism, and religion from the state. Third and most basically, it must graduate from being an ethnic movement to being a democratic state in which all citizens enjoy equality.

As someone who focuses almost exclusively on Gorenberg’s three-part #1, I must say I got a little bit of a frisson in my Israel-loving heart when I realized that hey now, he’s about to say that ending the occupation/settlements is not the be-all, end-all! Because of course it’s not. It’s the first, prerequisite step, but then there are these other messes that we’ll have to clean up.

In those final pages, Gorenberg presents a very, very reasonable plan (a series of very, very reasonable plans) to essentially save Israel from itself, and perhaps the greatest disagreement we have is in tone — merely by laying these things out, Gorenberg suggests their possibility, and I have become so disheartened that I have a hard time believing anymore in those possibilities. I would venture that Gorenberg probably has his bad days, too, though.

And even if it never happens, I believe there’s value in marking the place and saying “This is what might have been.”

At any rate: If you read nothing else about Israel, read Gershom Corenberg’s The Unmaking of Israel.

(And happy new year!)

New Year’s Eve/Day open thread.

For those who have threads to tie up on this, the oldest/newest day of the year!

Standard FYI clause: I generally wait about 2 hours after Ta-Nehisi would typically open a thread (roughly noon, EST, back when such a thing was typical…!), and if none is forthcoming, I put one up here.

On the liking of things.

A thing I like precisely and exactly as much as I should.

A thing I like precisely and exactly as much as I should.

I weary of posting little but Israel/Palestine posts and open threads! But I have little in mind to write. And thus, I fall back on my old friend Cit E’s suggestion of a grocery list.

And so, I give to you:

Things I Wish I Liked More Than I Do

  • The Hobbit (the movie, not the book).
  • The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the movies).
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • goat cheese
  • taking showers
  • sleeping (which is ironic, because for some time now it’s been something of a struggle to actually get a good night’s sleep, and now I finally mostly am, but I am still unhappy about how much ding-dang time it takes).

Things I Like Just The Right Amount

  • U2
  • libraries
  • my husband
  • my children
  • sitting in a room filled with lit candles and reading my book of a winter’s eve
  • the movie Bend it Like Beckham
  • The Hobbit (book)
  • The Lord of the Rings (movies)
  • oatmeal

Things I Like A Little More Than Is Probably Seemly

  • ZZ Top
  • Tom Hiddleston
  • hardware stores
  • clicking on random links preceded by little but the acronym “WTF”
  • the song “I Hope You Dance”
  • High School Musical

We are all only as God made us.

Abbas threatens to dismantle the PA. Again.,_Davos.jpgPalestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to “dismantle the Palestinian Authority” if there’s no movement toward a two-state peace after Israel’s upcoming elections.

“I will take the phone and call Netanyahu,” Abbas told Haaretz’s Barak Ravid on Thursday. “I’ll tell him, ‘my dear friend, Mr. Netanyahu, I am inviting you to the Muqata [the PA presidential headquarters]. Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority’.”

Which sounds pretty serious, and would be pretty serious, if it actually happened. But given the frequency with which the threat has been made, I have my doubts.

September 2008: “Abbas aide threatens to dismantle PA.” July 2008: “Abbas vows to dismantle PA if Israel frees Hamas prisoners for Shalit.” July 2011: “[Lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erekat said that if the United States continued to stymie the Palestinian efforts to get a state recognized by the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority should be dismantled. ‘[Abbas] should throw the keys in their faces’.” September 2011: “Abbas is considering dismantling the PA.” October 2011: “UN envoy: Israel must take Abbas threats to dismantle PA seriously.” November 2011: “Israeli-Palestinian jolt? Why some want to dismantle PA.” December 2011: “Mahmoud Abbas Could Dismantle Palestinian Authority.” March 2012: “In rebuff to Obama, Abbas says he will send ultimatum to Israel.” In April, former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and peace negotiator Yossi Beilin urged Abbas to make good on the threat, and in September, Abbas was publicly kicking the idea around again.

And that’s just what I turned up in a couple of Google searches.

“Dismantling the Palestinian Authority” (see also: “throwing the keys in their faces”) boils down to code for “abrogating the Oslo Accords,” which is in turn code for “forcing direct control of Palestinians’ daily lives back into Israel’s hands,” a thing which Israel in no way actually wants (whatever Avigdor Lieberman might say).

On the contrary, Israel has been only too happy to benefit from the Authority’s cooperation on security issues, stage the occasional incursion for its own purposes, and leave the heavy lifting on things like health and education to the Palestinian leadership (even while withholding the PA’s tax revenues—crucial to financing such niceties as health and education—and/or urging the U.S. Congress to withhold aid). Behind what Beilin calls “the fig leaf” of the PA, successive Israeli governments have been able to convince the world that the Palestinian government is very nearly an equal player on the world stage, all the while crisscrossing Palestine with settlements, bypass roads, and a massive fence in an increasingly successful effort to destroy the possibility of an actual, viable Palestinian state.

So when Abbas threatens to hand the keys over to his dear friend Mr. Netanyahu, what he’s really threatening is to end the charade. He’s threatening to force the world to concede that what began with such high hopes in 1993 has led only to an entrenchment of the occupation, and beyond the recognition of the Palestinian right to statehood, all the money, time, political capital, and conference halls invested in the two-state dream have thus far achieved absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, really, possibly worse than nothing, because so far, two decades of Oslo have mostly served to let us all look the other way as Israel has actively made life worse for the people living under its military rule and tightened its grip on the land on which those people live.

I thus find myself agreeing (again) with Yossi Beilin’s call to his old negotiating partner, really hoping that Abbas means it this time. I cannot help but think that at this point, only a bone-rattling shock can save the two-state idea, and as I still believe that idea to be the only one that might yet provide security and dignity to both peoples, I find myself pulling for shocking developments.

Yet “hope” is not the same as “believe.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is himself a product of the process that is now so very, very moribund. If he throws his keys at Bibi, he’ll be abandoning legions of Palestinians dependent on their government jobs, undoing the only concession his people has ever wrested from their occupiers, and declaring his own political life a failed experiment. While that sort of thing is not entirely unprecedented in international politics, it certainly is rare.

No, I believe that, absent his own shocking development, Abbas will continue to do exactly what he’s long done: talk. And the United States and European Union will join him in that. They’ll all talk, they’ll all condemn this or call for that, and in the meantime, only one party will actually do anything: Israel.

And what Israel does will render everyone else’s words meaningless.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Friday open thread.

It’s yours….

Standard FYI clause: I generally wait about 2 hours after Ta-Nehisi would typically open a thread (roughly noon, EST, back when such a thing was typical…!), and if none is forthcoming, I put one up here.

What it means for gravel to enter Gaza.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn international affairs as in life, it’s often the little things. As little as a pebble perhaps, or, more specifically: gravel.

Supporters of Israel’s right-wing government like to insist that the Gaza Strip is no longer occupied, the argument being that once the IDF left Gaza’s interior, the occupation ceased—but consider if you will the following information, released on Wednesday by Israeli human rights organization Gisha:

For the first time since the [blockade] was imposed on the Gaza Strip in [September] 2007, Israel has allowed the entry of gravel for the private sector.

Which is to say: For more than five years, a foreign power has determined that Gaza’s commercial interests may not have access to little rocks.

It’s true that some 1000 trucks’ worth of gravel have been allowed into the Strip in recent months, but it was all bound for international organizations (who had to undergo a lengthy application process to obtain the gravel), and absolutely not for local businesses.

I’ve never had to rebuild a war-shattered economy or infrastructure, but I think it’s a safe bet that without gravel, such rebuilding might be a fair bit tougher. Yet for five years, Israel has kept that resource from any Gazans who have needed it, along with a long and varying list of other items, the fate of each item resting, of course, with Israel’s military bureaucrats. At various times the list has included concrete, paper, musical instruments, and nutmeg. Indeed, as Gisha recently forced the government to admit, at a certain point Israel calculated just how many calories Gazans need in order not to starve.

Israel’s official reason for disallowing gravel and other construction materials is that they’re “dual use,” meaning that they can also be used for military purposes. I’m not sure how nutmeg fits into this calculus, but leaving spices aside for the moment, there’s a special kind of knowing obfuscation that insists that the State of Israel may reasonably prevent Gazans from obtaining, well, anything—and may furthermore make decisions about how much food Gazans need—but Israel is not an occupying power.

And of course it’s entirely possible that gravel and concrete can be, and in fact are, used to produce weapons. I’m pretty sure that Israel’s busy producing weapons even as I type—the difference is that no one’s in a position to stop them.

But here’s another thing that’s likely to produce weapons: Treating human beings this badly.

I don’t know if Israel’s noticed, but human beings who are told how much food they may eat and where and whether or not they may build have traditionally chosen to fight back.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Not usually into pyrotechnics… BUT THIS IS AWESOME.



To learn more about what’s actually going on here, go to io9, to which (whom?) I once again owe a hearty hat-tip.

Low expectations for lofty goals.

meretzIn an interesting case of idealistic realism, the last bastion of the peace camp in Israeli politics, Meretz, has introduced a party platform that calls for a four-year path to Israeli-Palestinian peace, while simultaneously acknowledging that they don’t stand a chance.

As Haaretz reported yesterday:

The leftist Meretz party on Tuesday unveiled its diplomatic platform – a four-year path to peace based on the Arab League initiative.

The platform calls for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state followed by negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, a freeze on settlement construction, release of Palestinian prisoners and removal of West Bank roadblocks, Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said on Tuesday at a Tel Aviv news conference.

The plan would also cancel the Oslo Accords in agreement with the Palestinians, and replace them with a new interim pact. Gal-On said she would be meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to discuss the plan on Wednesday.

Which is all well and good, and after having spent several weeks reading about how everyone else in Israeli politics appears to be in a race to see who can be the biggest supporter of two-state wrecking settlement construction, is also a real pleasure to see. Despite what statistics are starting to suggest, apparently some Israeli Jews aren’t yet ready to shrug their shoulders over peace.

Yet despite the time-honored tradition of acting like you’re going to win even when you know you’re going to lose, not even the folks at Meretz are spinning their plan’s chances.

The platform was prepared by Ilan Baruch, a former career diplomat who resigned his post to South Africa in 2011 saying he could no longer represent the Netanyahu government’s foreign policy. At the same Tuesday press conference, Baruch said:

[This] is a plan intended to jump-start the process that has gone into deep freeze, [which is] completely the responsibility of the outgoing government and apparently the incoming one. Any plan that pretends to reinvent the peace process is not serious. Our plan is based on existing materials. The first and supreme test is the applicability of such a plan. [emphasis added]

Baruch is right. Any plan that pretends to reinvent the peace process isn’t serious, and at the same time, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the next Israeli government will have any interest in any peace process whatsoever. Meretz will certainly not be a coalition partner.

But it is an honorable tradition for the opposition to stand firm in the political desert and tell the truth, whether or not the people in charge want to hear it.

Open thread @ anibundel’s!

Whoo-hoo! Click here for all your anibundel goodness.

Please ignore Kristol’s desire to bomb Iran.

I know that not a lot of people, in Washington or out, are thinking about this stuff this week, but former Sen. Chuck Hagel continues to be dogged by a ludicrous smear campaign. Given the Administration’s near-silence on the matter, I continue to be worried that President Obama is going to let the campaign work—simultaneously allowing the world at large to continue to conclude that, really, Israel’s right-wing supporters set U.S. foreign policy (a conclusion that also, frankly, worries me).

Exhibit #1,247 (give or take): this ad, produced by (pay close attention) the Emergency Committee for Israel.

And there it is, straight-up-no-chaser: You don’t support the Emergency Committee for Israel’s desire for an attack on Iran? You are not fit to be Secretary of Defense in the United States government.

It is not good for Israel or the Jewish people to perpetuate the notion that U.S. policy is set in Jerusalem. Neither is it good for America or American security interests to leta small, unrepresentative group of power-hungry political machers set the tone for Presidential decision-making.

Former C.I.A. official Paul Pillar wrote last week in The National Interest, “Intimidation feeds on itself, with successful intimidation encouraging more of the same and failures discouraging further attempts.” This president has an ambitious agenda for his second term, one which I desperately hope includes working toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Allowing himself to be browbeaten by the likes of Bill Kristol will not further that agenda.

As I’ve said before, I like Hagel. He has an instinct toward diplomacy and a willingness to say what he believes is really best for his country. I’ve liked him on Israel for a long time, and I also like his respect for one Israeli in particular, Yitzhak Rabin, as expressed to the Israel Policy Forum in 2008:

I don’t know of a better role model or an individual to point to than Yitzhak Rabin. What Yitzhak Rabin did, what he represented, what he still represents is hope, that in his memory, in his honor, but for his courage and boldness, we can come back with a Rabin too. It takes leaders on the other side. Sadat, Begin. It will take a unique set of leaders to do this. It’s possible. Leaders change the world.

I like Hagel. And I really do not like what is being done to his good name by the likes of the ECI. I hope the President doesn’t like it either.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

%d bloggers like this: