There is a fair measure of dark news that must be shared. But the flip side in many instances is bright: for I see growing strength in the responses to what is ugly and threatening.
We must be grateful for this and do all we can to encourage yet more strength.
The UN is an appropriate place to start. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia — composed of 18 Arab states — released a report last Wednesday declaring that:
…it has been determined on the
“basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid…Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”
The report — co-authored by Richard Falk, who is infamously anti-Israel and antisemitic — divided Palestinian Arabs into different groups and declared that Israel oppressed all of them.
On March 15th, UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said at a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon that the report was the “first of its type” from a UN body that “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state…”
Khalaf was correct that this report was the “first of its type.” It is an outrage, exceeding the scope of previous UN outrages. I refer to it here for several reasons.
The first is to thoroughly refute it. “Apartheid” is one of those libelous terms (such as “occupier”) that our enemies blithely throw at us without regard for veracity. As the intention is to delegitimize Israel, facts are irrelevant.
Anyone who is familiar with the apartheid once enforced in South Africa – which required complete separation of the races and demeaned people of color in a host of practices – understands that nothing in Israeli law or social practices even remotely resembles this.
Arabs who are citizens in Israel have total rights: to vote and have representation in the Knesset, to attend all universities, to patronage all restaurants and shops, to receive all social welfare benefits, health care, etc. Those Arabs who have residency papers for Jerusalem receive all of the same with the exception of voting, as they are not citizens.
Go into any Israeli hospital, and you’ll see Arab patients together with Jewish patients; Jewish medical personal working alongside Arab medical personnel.
Apartheid? Give me a break!
And then, to track the response to this report:
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is head and shoulders above his predecessor with regard to fairness to Israel, first declared that the report did not speak for him. He then demanded it be taken down from the website of ESCWA.
While US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley ‒ who is proving herself, on behalf of her government, to be a staunch supporter of Israel ‒ not only called for the removal of the report from the website, she called for the resignation of Khalaf.
And indeed, Khalaf resigned two days after she had released the report!
A good end to an ugly story.
There is one other point to be made with regard to this report, however. This concerns our “peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas, who on Saturday announced that he would be awarding “the highest Palestinian medal” to Rima Khalaf for her “courageous” stand for humanity with regard to the ESCWA report.
This is the sort of information about Abbas it’s important for people to have.
Sounding a note similar to that of Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has written a letter to a group of human-rights non-profit organizations indicating that the US is considering withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, an agency that is obsessed with criticism of Israel. While withdrawal is not imminent, Tillerson indicated that considerable reform would be necessary for the Trump administration to be convinced that continued membership was of value. As a Tillerson aide put it,
“We’re not taking withdrawal off the table.”
One of the issues of concern to the Secretary is that nations that themselves have abysmal records on human rights, such as Egypt, Qatar, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, sit on the Council.
Tillerson, wearing the hat of a diplomat, did not quite say this, but I can: The Council is a farce, and a highly malignant one at that.
For further elucidation on this issue, see what Elliott Abrams — a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush — had to say recently:
“The key reform must be to bar from membership countries that are themselves great human rights violators.” (Emphasis added)
This must be a rhetorical flourish by Abrams. For the 47 members of the Council are elected by the General Assembly in secret ballot. Does anyone imagine that the nations of the General Assembly, which are in the main not democratic, truly care about human rights?
Abrams did provide background:
“The council was created [in 2006] due to the scandalous failings of the UN Human Rights Commission. It was obvious to us in the Bush administration that the council had not cured those failings, so we refused to join. The Obama administration reversed that decision [in 2009].”
The argument is made that the US, in retaining membership in the Council, has an effect on the proceedings. I find this dubious, as the US is so greatly outnumbered; the net effect of a US presence is to give the Council’s proceedings credibility.
As follow-up to the above I also note this:
Israel is the only nation on the permanent agenda of the Human Rights Council, and the discussion that ensues when the agenda is on the table results in the passing of multiple resolutions that condemn Israel for this, and for that.
Nikki Haley has now announced that the US will be boycotting those discussions:
“[The focus of discussions] is not Syria, where the regime has systematically slaughtered and tortured its own people. It is not Iran, where public hangings are a regular occurrence. It is not North Korea, where the regime uses forced labor camps to crush its people into submission. It is Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.
“The so-called ‘Agenda Item 7’ discredits the standing of the only UN body specifically designed to address the state of global human rights by allowing nations to distract from their own abuses back home by churning out anti-Israel propaganda.” (emphasis added)
It would be nice to say that all of the decisions emanating from President Trump and his administration were as reassuring as the above, but this is not quite the case.
Last week, officials in the Trump administration indicated that the president was considering a peace conference, to be held either in Egypt or Jordan.
Doesn’t he know better? I want to ask. Isn’t he smarter than this?
Well…it’s possible that “smart” – recognizing the pitfalls of attempting to bring “peace” – has little to do with how the president is thinking.
Several factors in his personality may have gotten in the way of careful rational thinking here. He is impulsive, and has a very “generous” sense of himself and his capabilities. To top it off, as a close associate of mine pointed out, he has a penchant for making deals. This would be the ultimate deal.
Nothing is written in stone yet.
We do not know what Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt is telling the president. Abbas said after the Greenblatt visit that nothing had been promised. Greenblatt essentially listened, as he had said he would.
However, I would like to mention here a critique by Prof. Efraim Inbar, written for BESA, which says in part (emphasis added):
“…Whatever its object[ive], the peace mission of Mr. Greenblatt started off on the wrong foot. He stressed how important it was to President Trump to stimulate the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of life for Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Greenblatt that he is fully committed to broadening prosperity for the Palestinians and sees it as a means of bolstering the prospects for peace. According to the press release, the two discussed concrete measures that could support and advance Palestinian economic development.
“It is odd to offer carrots to the Palestinians before they have committed to returning to the negotiations table they left in March 2014. The impulse to give out carrots displays the conventional wisdom of the international community (including Jerusalem): that the Palestinians must be well fed to prevent their erupting into violence. This attitude has led to continuous financial support to the PA despite the growing awareness that a large proportion of that aid is channeled to terrorists and their families.
“Short-term calculations of this kind only prolong the conflict…”
A word about Jordan as venue of a peace conference.
Jordanian King Abdullah sits very uneasily on his throne.
The vast numbers of Syrian refugees that have entered the country have been a destabilizing factor. Unquestionably, jihadis are breathing down his neck and plotting his overthrow; there is certainly a strong Muslim Brotherhood presence in Jordan, and there are indications that ISIS has found its way into the country as well.
The king truly, truly does not wish a Palestinian state at his border; he has considerable security cooperation with Israel and receives Israeli assistance via provision of water. Yet in public he conveys a belligerent tone towards Israel that often seems unnecessarily vehement. He is playing to the radical crowd. This is tolerated by Israel without public retort because the alternative to Hussein would likely be far worse.
Twenty years ago, when his father, King Hussein, a far stronger man, was on the throne, a group of school girls from Beit Shemesh in Israel was on a field trip to a site at the Israeli-Jordanian border. A Jordanian soldier shot at the girls, killing seven.
I will never forget this: King Hussein went to the homes of each of the bereaved Jewish families, and got down on his knees, in tears, and begged their forgiveness.
Very recently, the soldier (whom I prefer not to name, he should be eternally cursed) was released from prison, totally unrepentant. He was hailed as a hero, and declared (emphasis added):
“The Israelis are the human waste of people, which the rest of the world has vomited up at our feet…We must eliminate them by fire or by burial…
“Do not believe the lie that is normalization with the Zionist entity. Do not believe the lie that is the two-state solution. Palestine is one land from the river to the sea, there is no state called ‘Israel.’”
What is most distressing is not his statement, but his embrace by the crowd.
Let us not be deluded.
Interestingly, Caroline Glick and I in this instance had minds focused in the same direction. After having written the above, I saw that her Tuesday piece in the JPost deals with the same subject. She points out that the adulation of this murderer is so great that in 2014 “the majority of Jordan’s parliament voted for his immediate release.”
Negotiations are on-going between the US and Israel regarding how much building (if any) Israel will be doing in Judaea and Samaria. No agreement has been reached. Yet.
Netanyahu enthuses about what a positive thing it will be, if an arrangement is reached that is agreeable for Israel, and agreeable for the US. But will this happen, or will our prime minister concede to please the president? There are suggestions that Trump would prefer to see a building freeze as a step towards negotiations. (Shades of the recent past haunting us still!) This is an unsettling scenario that potentially threatens the principle of Israeli sovereignty.
While he was here, Jason Greenblatt did meet with leaders from the Shomron Regional Council and the Efrat Council. This was a first. Now back in Washington, Greenblatt will be discussing the issue with Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.
In the small hours of Thursday night/Friday morning, Israeli jets entered Syrian airspace in the Palmyra region of central Syria to take out a convoy carrying advanced weapons meant for Hezbollah. The incident was unusual in several respects.
First, it was announced by Israel directly. Usually, Israel has no comment and all reports come from non-Israeli sources. Not so here.
It is believed that the weapons were tie-breaking Iranian weapons, not Syrian, brought overland via Iraq and accompanied by Iranian troops. Thus was this an incident that had heightened significance.
Said Prime Minister Netanyahu in footage aired on TV (emphasis added):
“When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah and we have intelligence and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it.
“That’s how it was [in this instance] and that’s how we shall continue to act.
“We are fully determined and the evidence of that is that we are acting. Everybody must take that into account — everybody.”
This is a fairly direct message to Iran, which is attempting mightily to change the balance of power to our north. Let no one imagine Netanyahu does not mean what he says with regard to crossing this red line.
Second, the Syrians launched several ballistic missiles at the Israeli planes. In one instance the Arrow 3 Defense System was utilized to take down a missile. The most advanced Arrow system, designed by IAI, it had just been incorporated in January into the multi-layered Israel air defense system – which includes the Arrow 2, David’s Sling and Iron Dome. Until last week it had only been tested. One of the world’s best interceptors, it has now proved its mettle: to the great pleasure of the Air Force and all concerned, it successfully took down the Syrian missile.
Brig.-Gen. Zvika Haimovich, commander of the IAF’s Air Defense Division, explained this week that the Syrian missile taken out by the Arrow 3 presented a direct threat to the Israeli people. Carrying a 200 kg. warhead, the missile was moving in a trajectory that would have carried it into Israeli air space.
The import of this is huge. Until now, over the course of the six years of the Syrian civil war, we had encountered nothing like this. It would be difficult not to see the finger of Iran here.
“In this situation there is no room or time for question marks or dilemmas. Our operational rules are very clear in this regard: to neutralize any threat that poses a risk to Israel and her citizens. And that is what we did, and that is what we will do in the future.”
As we face the escalating situation to our north, it is reassuring to know that the current resident of the White House is on our side, and, hopefully, capable of strong action when or if it should prove necessary.
Last Friday, Secretary of State Tillerson visited South Korea. At a press conference at the highly guarded buffer zone with North Korea, he said:
…the US does not want a military conflict,
“but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten South Korean forces or our own forces that would be met with appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option [pre-emptive military action] is on the table.”
After years in which Obama ignored the situation in North Korea (as he neglected Syria), this is a refreshing change of attitude. While one always hopes that military action won’t be necessary, it is very reassuring to know that should it be necessary, there will be no running away from it.
Actually, the more the enemies of the West know that there is genuine resolve to confront them if necessary, the less likely they would be to challenge the West. This is deterrence. The lack of resolve on the part of the US over the last eight years emboldened our enemies.
Needless to say, I hope and trust the same applies with the US and Iran, as with North Korea.