Tuesday, December 30, 2008

GAZA: A Test for Progressive US Jewish Groups

Progressive Jewish Groups See Test in Crisis

Spencer Ackerman
The Washington Independent
December 30, 2008
http://washingtonindependent.com/23198/progressive-jewish-groups-see-test-in-cri... [1]
As the Israeli bombardment of Gaza enters its fourth day, there is no shortage of tests. The wisdom of Israeli strategy is being tested. The resilience of the Palestinian people is being tested. The ability of the U.S. and the international community to impose a ceasefire is being tested.

And the might of the new progressive American Jewish infrastructure that emerged in 2008 — unapologetically pro-peace and pro-Israel — is undergoing its own test as well: How to effectively argue that an Israeli war is counterproductive to Israel’s long-term security while the bombs are falling.

“Absolutely,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a new liberal Jewish lobby group. “This is a real testing moment for those of us who honestly believe you can be supportive of Israel but questioning of steps its government takes.”

M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum, another progressive Jewish organization, was similarly blunt. “It’s put-up-or-shut-up time,” he said. “For a two-state solution, for the U.S. to be an honest broker — if all of us just sit back and say, ‘Israel had no choice [to bomb Gaza], then we’re just a bunch of phonies. But I don’t see that happening.”

As is typical during moments of crisis in the Middle East, the bombing of Gaza quickly led to statements of unambiguous support for Israel from leading American politicians, including from Democrats and progressives.

“When Israel is attacked,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), “the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally.” House Majority Leady Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “Israel is acting in clear self-defense in response to heinous rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza.” Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the progressive chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, at least acknowledged the 364 Palestinians killed in Gaza over four days, but only to say, “The loss of innocent life is a terrible tragedy, and the blame for that tragedy lies with Hamas.”

The Gaza crisis is the first Israeli-Palestinian emergency since J Street launched in April. As a self-identified force to shift the American debate on Israel and Palestine to the left, it has not previously had to make its arguments while Israel has been at war. Usually, when Israel finds itself at war, “our side gets cowed into silence,” Ben-Ami, a former domestic policy aide to President Bill Clinton, told the Washington Independent in April. So Gaza is the first test for whether that silence can be broken, and the expected pro-bombing statements made by U.S. politicians and media commentators demonstrates its uphill struggle.

On Sunday afternoon, J Street emailed supporters and asked them to endorse a statement: “I support immediate and strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza. This is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinian people and the United States.”

The appeal was accompanied by an anguished email written by online director Isaac Luria. “At this moment of extreme crisis, J Street wants to demonstrate that, among those who care about Israel and its security, there is a constituency for sanity and moderation,” Luria wrote. “There are many who recognize elements of truth on both sides of this gaping divide and who know that closing it requires strong American engagement and leadership.”

By 5 p.m. Monday, the organization said it had collected 11,870 signatures. Ben Ami said he would present the petition to the Obama transition team, with which the organization is in talks about appointments to Middle-East policy positions.

For its part, the transition has been circumspect, declining to step on the Bush administration’s efforts before Obama takes office. “President-elect Obama is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza, but there is one president at a time,” said Brooke Anderson, the transition’s chief national-security spokeswoman.

Further steps, Ben Ami said, depend on whether the Israeli campaign winds down or escalates. But he said that the organization’s leadership would “do whole range of media” appearances in order to demonstrate that “this organization with strong roots in the pro-Israel community is willing to say, ‘Let’s discuss the best way going forward and not blindly go down a path we think is counterproductive.’”

Others discussed next steps already. Rosenberg anticipated forming a coalition with organizations like J Street and Americans for Peace Now, another progressive Jewish lobby group, as well as progressive Arab-American organizations like the American Task Force on Palestine — which has also called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza — to coordinate messaging and lobbying.

While coordinated efforts have not yet coalesced, some in the progressive Jewish community think that the “message is getting out there,” as Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans For Peace Now, put it. “It’s getting reported by Jewish and general media, getting it out to our base,” Nir said. “We sent out yesterday our statement and today an action alert calling on activists to send letters to President Bush urging what the press statement urged, and to President-elect Obama.”

In the statement, Americans For Peace Now’s president, Debra DeLee said, “While we hold – as we always have – that Israel has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens from attack and threats, we know that military power alone will not provide real, long term remedy for the threat that the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip poses to Israel. Israel needs stability on its border with Gaza. Such stability can only be achieved through a political process,” a sentiment echoed by organizations like J Street and the Israel Policy Forum.

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow with the American Task Force on Palestine, urged progressive Jewish organizations to “be very clear with their Israeli friends that there isn’t going to be a military solution [to the conflict], just as we are with our Palestinian and Arab friends.” But he cautioned that a moment of hostility might not actually be such a proving ground for the new liberal Jewish lobbying apparatus.

“Peace groups on both sides are more fully tested when the spotlight is not on the process, counterintuitively,” Ibish said. “That’s when the hard work — building the basis of a negotiated agreement comes in. That’s the only way this ends, and you can’t bring that out in any meaningful when the bombs are flying.”

American Task Force on Palestine - 815 Connecticut Ave., Suite 200, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Work of Reconciliation

Dear Friend,
I'm trying to shed light on injustice AND steps being taken toward Salaam/Shalom/Peace.
Below is an in depth report of a women's conference in Isr/Pal that frankly looks at the pain we must see in each other's soul, that will lead to understanding, humility, compassion and the roots of shared existence, beyond the cycle of carnage that spirals ever downward. In my view, THIS is what it's all about for "peace" and "security". Until the world is ready and willing to go HERE, it just won't happen!
Read, digest and share with your "world".
Thanks to our friends at MUSALAHA and all, have a blessed season, JRK

Dear Friends,

We just finished our second national women’s conference this year which proved to be an intense time of tackling tough brokenness resulting from [women's] experiences of the Shoah (Holocaust) and the Nakba (the catastrophe termed by Palestinians dispossessed and displaced from their land in 1948). The purpose of the conference was to understand the other side’s pain and not to compare. Though it exposed the pain of the women who attended, it was by the grace of God a success. The women had to come to a level of trust that enabled them to listen to the stories of the other side’s brokenness, moving them one step closer to reconciliation. Here is a report:

Every single one of us is broken. I am a broken person. You are a broken person. We can be broken physically or we can have a broken heart. An endless number of devastating and evil things in this world can break us down and fill us with bitterness, anger, despair and hatred leading us to self destruction. You can be broken by people destroying your self confidence, by depression or loneliness eating you up inside, by the financial crisis stripping you of everything you own, by war or conflict destroying everything and everyone around you. Brokenness is a focal element in our everyday life. How many of your conversations today have centered on brokenness, your pain or someone else's pain?

We often tend to compare our brokenness, sometimes for more sympathy and compassion. But every one's brokenness, each person's pain and suffering is deeply unique and individual and to a person suffering, their pain seems enormous, no matter how small it may seem to others. In Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, he says, “Each human being suffers in a way no other human being suffers.” The way each person is broken tells us something unique about the person and therefore sharing our brokenness with others will deepen our relationship with them and bring us closer to our own healing.

The Holocaust has broken the Jewish people. The Nakba has broken the Palestinian people. Horrible and unique events for both have caused some in the two groups of people to grow angry, bitter and have hatred, becoming the driving force behind their behavior towards each other. As such brokenness is a hindrance to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and one of the issues at the root of the conflict between them. We cannot reconcile with another person if we do not know the pain and suffering of the other or deal with our own brokenness.
At our latest women's conference, which took place at the end of November, 45 Israeli and Palestinian women studied the Holocaust and the Nakba in order to listen to and acknowledge each others brokenness and in order to recognize and deal with their own brokenness. From this point on, they were able to move yet another step forward towards reconciliation. It is not easy to face pain and suffering straight on, whether it belongs to someone else or to yourself and because of this many women felt anxious before the conference. It is also not easy to acknowledge the pain of others, particularly if your pain is closely intertwined and you fear that acknowledging the pain will diminish your own pain. “But the first step to healing pain is not a step away from the pain, but a step towards it" (Nouwen, 93). We have to find the courage to embrace it, no matter how frightening that can be.

Following lectures on the Holocaust and the Nakba, two guest speaker shared with us their personal testimonies.

A Dutch Holocaust survivor told us how she was forced to leave her home, parents and brother at the age of six and flee from the German soldiers together with her aunt and her sister. A Christian family in southern Holland hid them in their house until the end of the war. Her parents were not as fortunate. Her mother died from a simple illness after not getting the necessary medical care. Her father and brother managed to jump off a train enroute to a concentration camp but the German soldiers saw them escaping and shot her father. Her brother managed to hide in a small doghouse until the soldiers were gone again and then to get to a house that was willing to hide him. After the war, the three orphans were reunited.

A Palestinian woman shared with us the traumatic night in 1948 when her family, living in Bet Sahn (Beit Shean), was given two hours to leave the house by the Hagannah (Israeli resistance movement) or they would be shot. With only a few belongings, they ran to the town hall where buses waited to take them and other Christians to Nazareth while the remaining buses transported the Muslims to Jordan. On the way, they ate unleavened bread and the whole situation reminded them of the Israelites fleeing Egypt. The girl thought that she would return home after a few days and left her pocket money in her drawer. And, now 60 years later she still has not returned to the house, which remains in Israeli hands. A bank and playground have been erected over the area where her house once stood. The first night in Nazareth, they all slept on the floor in a big hall. After that the Anglican Church took them in to live on their compounds. They still live there today. She encouraged us with this statement, “I cannot change the past but I can change the future.”
We were moved to tears as we sympathized with our sisters who had gone through such pain and suffering. I came to the conference with the idea of what our message would be – understanding each other’s brokenness and not ignoring the pain. But God is great and he had much greater things in store for us and a much more important message. The testimonies of the two ladies did not end here.

The Jewish survivor went on to tell us how she started reading the Bible, looking for answers to all the gruesomeness she had experienced. As she read through the book, she realized the greatness of our God and came to faith. Shortly thereafter, she immigrated to Israel and married. Every year a German professor came to visit them and every year he encouraged her to visit Germany. Filled with enormous hatred towards the German people, she blankly refused and swore that she would never set foot in the land. After refusing to go for ten years, she felt that God was calling her to Germany to deal with her brokenness and today she is a free woman. No longer broken, no longer filled with the anger and hatred that she once felt was slowly eating her up and destroying her life.

The Palestinian woman did not deny that the episode still remains in her mind and her heart and that it still hurts till this day but she has forgiven and does not hold grudges. Many still have hatred towards the enemy but we do not have enemies. We were the enemies of Jesus, who died for us and gave us life. This woman came from a family of strong believers and she firmly believes that the Lord had a plan for what happened. She met her husband in Nazareth and for 35 years they worked with Christians and Muslims. Today she is involved in reconciliation. She felt that the Lord was with her and the family through it all and her message to us came from Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

We shouldn’t wait for others to settle our hatred, but we should deal with it ourselves by bringing it to God. To seek healing, healing from brokenness does not only come from someone else. Healing from brokenness comes also from God and to seek healing we need to seek him. While we need others in order to understand their pain we don’t need their apologies for our own healing. These women didn’t wait for others to ask forgiveness or for situations to change, such as getting a house back, but surrendered their hatred to God. They were set free and today they shine out as an amazing witness of the greatness of God. As part of a mass service by Leonard Bernstein, it is written that a priest drops a glass chalice and says, “I never realized that broken glass could shine so brightly.”

We cannot allow the pain and suffering of the past to paralyze us but we need to look and see how we change the present for the future. It is not an easy process. At this conference, we saw how the lectures stirred up many mixed and strong feelings in the women and how they led to heated discussions and disagreements. We still have a very long way to go and we still need to study many issues relating to the Holocaust and the Nakba. It took the two women more than 10 years to move forward. But these women have shown us that it is possible to overcome hatred and anger resulting from awful and life shattering experiences. It reminds me of the fact that God never gives us more than we can handle. He wants to bring us near to him but in order to do so he sometimes needs to break us first. This way the suffering does not become an obstacle to peace, but a means to it. It becomes a blessing. We are no longer victims. That, to me, is comforting.

We came to the conference to move one step forward, God ended up moving us two steps forward.

Written by Louise Thomsen
Project Coordinator


Friday, December 12, 2008

Getting Obama's Attention for a New Start

There are many proposals being drafted and circulated, urging Barack Obama to take an entirely different tack in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for real change.
Here is one of the most comprehensive, by Jeff Halper, long-time Jewish activist opposed to land confiscation and Palestinian home demolition. It is based on the proposal by Brent Scowcraft Zbeigniew Breezinski, US officials "in the know".

Jeff Halper
December 10, 2008

Writing recently in The Washington Post ("Middle East Priorities," Nov. 21), Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, two former US National Security Advisors, a Republican and a Democrat, declared: "We believe that the Arab-Israeli peace process is one issue that requires priority attention [from the incoming Obama Administration]."

Their assessment is correct, of course. . . . Let us begin with the four "well known" elements which Scowcroft and Brzezinski suggest as essential for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

(1) Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders with minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications. This is indeed a central element in any two-state solution, but it conceals the dangers inherent in all negotiations between a strong Occupying Power and a powerless people under its control: the likelihood that "minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon" will be defined by the strong side and imposed on the weaker one, to its detriment. Merely the annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem to Israel, only a "minor" adjustment of just over 1% to the 1967 borders, will rob a Palestinian state of its political, cultural and religious center, not to mention its economic heart. Israel's annexation of its West Bank "settlement blocs," containing fully 80% of its settlers, would involve a "minor" adjustment of only 7-10% of the 1967 borders, but it, too, eliminates a viable Palestinian state.

Reciprocal? Is the exchange of 10% of West Bank land containing East Jerusalem, the settlement blocs, some of Palestine's richest agricultural lands and its water resources for an equivalent amount of land in the Negev desert truly "reciprocal"? Does the notion of reciprocal land exchange include such considerations as the territorial integrity of a Palestinian state, freedom of movement or, in the end, genuine sovereignty? If, for example, Israel was to annex or "lease" the Jordan Valley, which it has always insisted must be done, it could easily "compensate" the Palestinians with another few percentages of land within Israel, but how could that "reciprocal" exchange compensate for the loss of a border with an Arab country, something that would turn a Palestinian "state" into a mere Bantustan?

And "agreed upon," as we have seen in previous negotiations, means little if there is no parity of power between the sides. Only a peace process based on international law, human rights conventions and UN resolutions – all studiously eliminated from negotiations by the US and Israel – will level the playing field. So while Scowcroft and Brzezinski's "element" is indeed fundamental to a just peace, it must be embedded in three other principles that make up the underlying approach and prevent abuse: negotiations based on international law, human rights and UN resolutions; the principle of return to the '67 borders agreed upon before modifications begin, in conformity to UN resolution 242 (and not to Israel's self-serving interpretation of it); and commitment to a viable Palestinian state possessing territorial contiguity, control of borders, airspace, resources and movement of people and goods. Only then will negotiations be able to avoid the pitfalls of power differentials.

(2) Sharing Jerusalem as a capital of two states. This is actually an important step forward, but it's certainly not "well known," since the "Clinton Parameters" which guided discussion over Jerusalem, envisioned a divided city. This is, indeed, the way to approach the issue of Jerusalem. But here, too, the devil is in the details. Who defines "Jerusalem"? The Israeli definition incorporates the eastern side of the city, annexed to Israel already in 1967, but plans are almost completed for the further annexation – de facto if not de jure -- of what Israel calls "Greater Jerusalem." Not only will an additional 150,000 Jews be added to the Jerusalem population, but the Palestinians in the city will be isolated from the West Bank, thereby depriving a Palestinian state of its main source of income, tourism, as well as other crucial economic and political resources. Indeed, Israel has defined, for planning purposes, a "metropolitan" Jerusalem that includes Ramallah and Bethlehem, effectively turning those Palestinian cities into economic satellites of an Israeli Jerusalem. Palestinians, on the other hand, while agreeing with Scowcroft and Brzezinski's "element" of a shared Jerusalem, consider it an integral part of their country. This element, then, must also be anchored in a principled approach: Jerusalem should not only be shared but it must be wholly integrated into the political, economic, social and cultural fabric of the Palestinian state, not simply accessible from a few bus routes.

(3) No right of return into Israel, but compensation and agreements with Arab states for the granting of citizenship. Again, a technical "solution" to a problem that will simply not work because it ignores the principle of justice. It is true that, technically, a resolution of the refugee issue may not be difficult. Studies indicate that only 10% of the refugees have a desire to return to what is today Israel, and those are mainly the elderly. Others will return either to a Palestinian state, stay where they are in an Arab country or expect resettlement and compensation in another country. Israel could also allow a limited return: Ehud Barak, when he was Prime Minister, once spoke of 150,000.

But, as Jews well know, victims of an injustice on the scale of the Nakba require more than merely compensation, especially if they are expected to give up their right to return to their country – and they do have an absolute right to return that cannot be taken from them. Two preconditions, symbolic but indispensable, must precede any negotiations. First, Israel will have to acknowledge the right of the refugees' return. Palestinians will not allow their 60-plus year nightmare of suffering and injustice to be dismissed as merely a "humanitarian" problem. By the same token, Israel will have to admit and acknowledge its role in creating the refugee issue in 1948. Victims need the injustice they suffered to be acknowledged if the wounds are to heal and reconciliation take place. (We may even need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.) Getting Israel to do these two things is the most difficult part of the refugee problem; Israel will resist doing so. But unless this principled approach is adopted, the refugee issue – which is central in the Palestinians' view of the conflict – will never be truly resolved and the conflict never really ended.

(4) A demilitarized Palestinian state, perhaps with NATO and other foreign troops to protect Israel (!) and the Palestinians. This element of Scowcroft and Brzezinski's approach exposes the bias and naiveté of the traditional US position. Why in the world does Israel, a nuclear power with an army that rivals any in Europe, need foreign troops to protect it?! And what of the Palestinians? Even if they also receive some foreign protection, why should they be the world's only demilitarized state and, given Israel's military aggressiveness, will a foreign contingent really protect them against Israel? Once again, principle must precede technical "elements" of a peace agreement. The Palestinians should be guaranteed what every other country has, actual sovereignty, including unmediated borders with its Egyptian and Jordanian neighbors, the essential corollary of national self-determination. Once genuine sovereignty and viability are defined to the Palestinians' satisfaction, and in line with international norms, negotiating the details specified by Scowcroft and Brzezinski can proceed.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski then add one other element to the mix:
(5) The president speaking out clearly and forcefully about the fundamental principles of the peace process [and pressing] the case with steady determination. This, however, is more than an "element." It represents precisely what I have been advocating: the realization that without a declared and principled approach underlying a peace process, we have nothing more than the failed Oslo process, open-ended negotiations towards no clearly defined goal, which, in the end, only permit Israel to entrench its control. And its absence is not simply an oversight; nor is it as easy to articulate as Scowcroft and Brzezinski indicate. The problem has to do with framing.
And here is where a president hits up against Israel's fundamental refusal to enter into a peace process that might actually threaten its hold over the Occupied Territories. A framing based on the principles I enumerated or the elements of a genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace as outlined by Scowcroft and Brzezinski will simply not be accepted by either Israel, its allies in Congress or sectors of the American public Israel is capable of mobilizing. For both the principles and the elements are already framed as "anti-Israel" because they lead precisely to what Israel has avoided these past 40-odd years: a complete dismantling of its Occupation and the rise of a genuine Palestinian state. Any presidential statement, especially if it is forceful, that does not place Israel's Occupation at the forefront is simply not acceptable. And yet, without it, there can be no fruitful negotiations or an end to the conflict.

If framing is the problem, it may also be the solution. If the elements listed by Scowcroft and Brzezinski must be anchored in a set of principles which direct the negotiations, then those principles themselves must be anchored in an American reframing. Obama could by-pass the Israeli framing by taking a lesson from Reagan, who faced a similar problem in 1981 when he sought to sell AWAC surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia. When it became clear that AIPAC might actually muster enough opposition in Congress to block the sale, Reagan pulled rank – which is just what Scowcroft and Brzezinski seem to be suggesting that Obama do. Reagan told Congress: I am the Commander-in-Chief, and I am telling you that this sale is in the vital interests of the United States. Framed like that, Congress could hardly reject the deal. In order for President Obama to "speak out clearly and forcefully about the fundamental principles of the peace process," as he will have to if he wants to enter into meaningful negotiations, he must anchor those principles in American interests. A complete end to Israel's Occupation and the establishment of a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state next to a secure state of Israel, he must state, is in the vital interests of the United States.

Only that package – identifying the essential elements of a peace agreement, anchoring them in an approach based on overarching principles of justice acceptable to the Palestinians, and then framing it all in terms of American interests in seeing this conflict resolved – will enable a president to finally break through the obfuscation created by the Israeli framing, the major obstacle standing in the way of a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict. But in reversed order: first the framing, which will present the president's case in a coherent and compelling fashion to the public, followed by the principles and then the specific elements. Tiny points in a global conflict, but then again, if Israel has taught us anything these past four decades of fending off attempts to end its Occupation, it is that the devil is in the details.
(Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at .)

Friday, December 5, 2008

An Informed, Accurate Palestinian Perspective

Obama's 'Palestinian friend' laments catastrophic U.S. policy in Mideast
By Akiva Eldar
Ha'aretz -- Friday - December 5, 2008

No one stopped Rashid Khalidi, the Columbia University professor of Modern Arab Studies, at Ben-Gurion airport. Having just landed after the long flight from New York, the professor was anticipating the traditional reception from airport security personnel reserved for visitors with "suspicious" names. To his surprise, he entered the airport like anyone else, with no problems or delays. Perhaps word had gotten around at Ben-Gurion that he was the Palestinian friend of United States President-elect Barack Obama.

Khalidi, 60, who spent three weeks in Israel and the territories before continuing on to Beirut this week, doesn't like all the fuss surrounding his relationship with the president-elect. Up to now, he had avoided speaking about it publicly, for better or worse. The reason may be, as reflected in my interview with him at his hotel in Jerusalem, overlooking Damascus Gate, his disappointment in his Chicago friend's treatment of the Arab and Islamic community in the United States. Or maybe it's also discomfort with the Democratic candidate's response during the campaign to reports about the ties between them. "He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel's policy," said Obama in a widely publicized comment from a May campaign event, in response to a question about their relationship. His spokesman made certain to add that the president-elect has been "clear and consistent on his support for Israel."

"Obama was my colleague at the University of Chicago, a family friend, neighbor and my district representative in the Illinois State Senate," says Khalidi. "Since I moved to New York in 2003 and he moved to Washington a year later, we've had much less opportunity to remain in contact." In April, The Los Angeles Times reported that, at the farewell party at an Arab-American community center, Obama noted that they had shared frequent dinners and interesting conversations, adding, "I'm hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation - a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table," but around "this entire world." The article further related that Obama said he hoped to give the Palestinians hope with a new American policy in the Middle East. Another one of the guests reportedly likened the settlers in the territories to Osama bin Laden, asserting that both are "blinded by ideology."

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, took the story and ran with it, seeking to score some points with Jewish voters. "Obama is a friend of a Palestinian hater of Israel," proclaimed McCain. Palin attacked The Los Angeles Times for refusing to make public a videotape of the farewell party. Their people "discovered" that, during the 1980s, when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was considered a "terror organization," Khalidi was the organization's spokesman in Beirut.

Khalidi, considered the successor to Prof. Edward Said among the Palestinian intelligentsia, studied and taught for 12 years, until 1983, at the American University of Beirut and the Institute for Palestinian Studies there. While he did maintain connections with foreign reporters, he was never a PLO spokesman. Later on, between the Madrid summit in late 1991 and the Oslo Accords in September 1993, Faisal Husseini got Khalidi added as a consultant to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid summit and to the bilateral talks with the Israeli team, headed by Elyakim Rubinstein. That was when Khalidi formed his opinion of the coordinator - the U.S. mediator Dennis Ross, who is one of Obama's advisors on foreign affairs. Khalidi alludes to him when he says in the interview that he hopes the new president will not bring back the same people who contributed to the failure of the peace process here. Nor was Khalidi thrilled to hear that Obama has appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Clinton's courting of Israel during the darkest days of the intifada made her a darling of the Jewish community and distanced her from the Palestinian community.

Obama's campaign went on the counterattack against McCain-Palin: This is yet another attempt, they said, to recycle controversy and divert public attention from the fact that McCain supports Bush's economic policies. Obama's spokesman suggested that instead of berating the media's supposed double standards, McCain ought to explain why, during the time he was chairman of the International Republican Institute, for years it helped fund the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, an organization that sponsored some of Khalidi's lectures and published some of his work.

Khalidi, who wanted the black Democratic candidate to win, kept his head down and avoided the media. As the son of a political family, he is adept at swimming in such murky waters. His family tree in Jerusalem on his father's side dates back at least to the 15th century. He says it's quite likely that some of his ancestors, who were Chief Judges in Cairo during the Mameluke period, are buried in the Muslim cemetery in the Mamila area (the designated site of the new Museum of Tolerance). His uncle was the mayor of Jerusalem from 1935 to 1937, until he was deposed by the British Mandate authorities and exiled to the Seychelles. In the 1950s, the uncle was appointed foreign minister of Jordan and, for a brief time, also served as prime minister under King Hussein.

Khalidi, who is married and has one grandchild, speaks with eloquence and firmness. He was born in New York in November 1948. His father, a university student at the time, married a woman from Lebanon and developed a diplomatic career as an international civil servant working in the UN Secretariat. After his return from Beirut, Rashid Khalidi earned a place of honor among the Palestinian intellectual elite, alongside professors Edward Said, Walid Khalidi (his cousin) and Ibrahim Abu Lughod. His book Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking during the 1982 War, was translated into Hebrew and published by Ma'arachot Press. He is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and served as the Director of the Middle East Institute there for five years, before stepping down last year. In 2006, he published his most recent book, "The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood" (Beacon Press).

After being around for about two weeks, after quite a long time away, what kinds of changes have you sensed in Palestinian society?
"It would be presumptuous of me, after an absence of over two years, and not having been able to go to Gaza, to pronounce myself on this subject. I will give some impressions nevertheless. I sense even greater anger than before in Jerusalem at the systematic choking off of the city from its West Bank hinterland, the unceasing pressure of new settler strongholds and property expropriations, and the denial of a minimal level of basic municipal services to Arab neighborhoods. Just compare the miserable state of the roads or the schools or the parks in East Jerusalem to those in the West. On a broader level, I detect enormous popular frustration and disgust with both wings of the national leadership, Fatah and Hamas. In spite of this crisis at the political level, there is an irrepressible dynamism, ingenuity and vitality in the Palestinian economy and society, whether in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem or the Palestinian community inside Israel. This is the underlying strength of the Palestinian people: it is like water that cannot be dammed up, but finds a way to get through. This resilience is there no matter what new refinements the occupier devises to torture his captive."

Do you believe that the current PLO leadership will be able to cut a deal with Israel on a two-state solution that will be accepted by the Palestinian people?
"The current PLO leadership does not and will not properly represent the entire Palestinian people until it can achieve a historic compromise with the other wing of the Palestinian national movement, and until a renewed, unified leadership can agree on minimal national goals and a strategy, whatever they are. This requires resisting the internal and external pressures that are intent on keeping the Palestinians divided. Only if they are unified do the Palestinians have a chance of achieving their national goals. Thereafter, to be binding and legitimate, any agreement that might be reached would have to be submitted to a referendum of the entire Palestinian people, inside and outside the country."

How do you see the future of the Palestinian territories? "Both the occupation regime and the settlement enterprise have gotten constantly stronger since the negotiating process began in 1991 - after being weakened by the first intifada. These twin processes went on steroids after the second intifada started in 2000. If these two bulldozer-like endeavors are not rapidly reversed - not halted, reversed - then there is no possibility whatsoever of a two-state solution. These processes - the consecration of the occupation regime and the expansion of settlements - have been ongoing for 41 years. I suspect that because of them, combined with the blindness of Israeli leaders and the weakness of Palestinian leadership, there is little chance for a two-state solution to be implemented. And anyone who wants to implement a real, equitable two-state solution would have to explain in detail how they would uproot all or most of the settlements. Equally difficult will be overcoming the powerful interlocking complex of forces in Israeli society that have extensive material, bureaucratic, political and ideological interests in the Israeli state's continued control over the lives of 3.5 million Palestinians, a control that is exercised under the pretext of security."

As someone who has long been involved with the PLO and Palestinian politics, what can you say about the current Palestinian leadership?
"The Palestinian people have certainly not always had the leadership they deserved. Israel worsened this situation by systematically liquidating Palestinian leaders - generally the most effective and intelligent among them - going back to the early 1970s. Several Arab regimes also played a part by assassinating key PLO leaders. Historians have pointed to similar efforts by the Zionist movement in the late 1930s and 1940s.
"That said, the current leadership seems to me to be lacking in several respects, and certainly does not seem up to the difficult tasks at hand. It is time for a wholesale renewal of the Palestinian leadership, and the replacement of the few remaining members of the founding generation of the modern Palestinian national movement and their entourage with younger individuals with new ideas. This requires a major effort to confront the failed policies of the current leaders of both major factions, and to find new approaches to the grave problems the Palestinian people face."

How do you assess the last eight years of U.S. conduct in the Middle East and specifically in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
"It has been catastrophic. It made a bad situation worse, undermined democracy all over the region by helping to sabotage the results of the 2006 Palestinian elections, played a major role in splitting the Palestinian national movement, and helped Israel dig itself even deeper into the hole of a permanent occupation. The administration's other foolish Middle East policies, like the occupation of Iraq, the 'cold war' with Iran and Syria, and encouraging Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in the region, have all been negative in and of themselves, but they also had a profoundly harmful effect on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Many American historians say George W. Bush may have been the worst president in American history, but his impact on this region has certainly been little short of a disaster."

What are your expectations of Barack Obama's administration in the Middle East? Do you believe he will stick to his promise to put it at the top of his agenda?
"I have no special insight. I do believe that the president-elect takes this problem very seriously, and will give it his attention. Obsessed as we are with our own issues, however, we should not ignore the fact that he faces the greatest American and global economic crisis since 1929, and must necessarily give that priority.
"In any case, much will depend on who is chosen for the key positions relating to the Middle East. If some of the unimaginative, close-minded and biased advocates of conventional thinking who bear a major share of the responsibility for the mess we have been in for over 20 years - from the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations to that of Clinton, even before George W. Bush made things even worse - are appointed to important posts, my expectations will be low. I was involved in the negotiations as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation from Madrid in 1991 until June 1993, before Oslo. Those American officials who helped get the Palestinians and Israelis into the mess they are in via a deeply flawed negotiating process, and a cowardly refusal to confront occupation and settlement head-on when it would have been far easier to do in the 1980s and 1990s, do not deserve another chance to ruin the future of the peoples of this region."

Can Obama save the two-state solution, or is it too late? What would you suggest he could do in order to accomplish this?
"It may well be too late, as I have said. The new administration would have to prevail on the Israeli government to put into reverse the twin bulldozers of occupation and settlement. This would mean removing walls and barriers inside the occupied territories that separate Palestinians from Palestinians and allowing free movement instead of restricting the population to segregated inferior roads. It would mean ending land confiscation and the building of new residential units for settlers all over the occupied territories, and the return to the population of these territories of the land stolen from them on various 'legal' pretexts or without a pretext at all. In sum, it means ending Israeli security control over the occupied territories, and scrapping the whole overarching structure of the occupation regime that has constantly grown more deeply rooted for 41 years.

"Doing this would require a lot of the new president's political capital. Despite the immense significance of Barack Obama's victory in terms of American history and politics, I do not think things have necessarily changed in terms of the balance of forces in Washington where Israel/Palestine issues are concerned. This balance of forces is and has long been an obstacle to progress toward ending occupation and settlement and achieving peace."

Are you disappointed with Israeli intellectuals and the peace camp?
"I respect what many Israeli groups and individuals do. However, their efforts are insufficient in light of the looming prospect of a permanent occupation and the continuation into the indefinite future of what exists today. This is a de facto one-state solution, wherein the State of Israel rules over the entirety of Mandatory Palestine and over more than 5 million Palestinians, most of whom have no rights at all in the polity that takes all the important decisions, the Israeli polity. Although the responsibility of Israel in this matter is paramount, the efforts of Palestinians and of outsiders have been insufficient as well, and we will all be affected by such an outcome, so we all have an urgent responsibility to act. More immediately, targeting a civilian population of 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip with hunger, deprivation and effective imprisonment, whatever the nature of their leaders, is criminal and is a violation of international law, as are all attacks on civilian populations, Jewish or Arab - something I have said repeatedly in talks here. That people, whether in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, the Arab countries, or the capitals of the world, can remain silent while Gazans are punished on this scale is beyond belief."

What have you learned from the political-media affair in regard to your relations with Obama?
"It proved once again that to be of Palestinian origin and to be publicly opposed to the occupation and critical of U.S. policy is grounds for public defamation as a 'terrorist.' It attests to the survival of McCarthyite tendencies in the U.S. media and politics. It also reaffirmed that Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians specifically are still the 'other' in American society. A higher percentage of Arab-Americans voted for Obama than any other ethnic group besides African-Americans, and they voted in record numbers too, I believe, and yet they are still pushed aside, almost literally. For instance, two Arab-American women in hijab were removed from the camera's gaze at one of Obama's rallies during the election. Obama did not visit one mosque or Arab community center throughout the entire two-year campaign, and he never mentioned Arab- or Muslim-Americans in his speeches. Whatever may have been the 'strategic' political reasons for these actions, they show the kind of atmosphere we in the U.S. live in.
"This situation is linked to the problematic notion that it is acceptable to create a U.S. Middle East policy which caters to Israel - and specifically to the Israeli right - and to the concerns of powerful forces like the Israel lobby that are allied to the Israeli right, but hardly at all to Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Such a policy is based on the opinions, 'expertise' and allegiances of Washington insiders who are not knowledgeable about all the complex realities of the region, and are mainly sensitive to Israeli concerns. Just as an Obama administration aspires to reflect the entire country in all its diversity, so should its Middle East policy-making reflect a comprehensive set of interests and concerns, and not just one narrow range of them."

Do you believe that J-street and Arab-American peaceniks can contain AIPAC and Jewish right-wing organizations?
"They appear to have begun to make some headway. They need to convince American politicians, Democrats in particular, that where Israel and Palestine are concerned, leaders of the main institutions of the American Jewish establishment, notably AIPAC, do not represent the views of the majority of the American Jewish community. In fact, the hawkish views of most of these leaders are far closer to those of the 24 percent of that community who voted for McCain than they are to the 76 percent who voted for Obama.
"Arab-Americans of course have a long way to go before they have significant influence, although this is already beginning on the local level in some states. This is still largely a first-generation immigrant community, although more and more of the young have been born, brought up, and educated in the U.S., and will play a much larger political role than their elders. Part of the problem is that the range of opinions that is permissible in the United States is far narrower than those voiced in politics and the media in Israel, or anywhere else. And the general level of ignorance in the U.S. about Middle Eastern realities, in part due to the unceasing propaganda bombardment, is higher than any place in the world."

As an historian - why did Oslo fail and why does it look like our conflict is reaching a final deadlock?
"Oslo was doomed to fail for several reasons. It was never an agreement between equals, granting statehood and self-determination to the Palestinians, nor was it intended to allow that outcome, Palestinian illusions about it notwithstanding. It did not deal with the key issues between the two sides - Jerusalem, refugees, land, borders, sovereignty and water - and failed to halt settlement or end the occupation. It was an agreement that in effect allowed one side to continue eating the pie that the two were supposed to negotiate over dividing. Indeed, the decade of negotiations that began with Madrid saw a doubling of the settler population, the implementation of plans to parcel up the West Bank into cantons, and the consecration and strengthening of the occupation regime. The 2000 intifada then gave [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon a chance to accelerate those already ongoing processes.
"There is no such thing as 'final' in history. The current situation is inherently unstable, with intolerable pressure being put on the Palestinians. This pressure will sooner or later produce a reaction, unless it is relieved. The Palestinian national movement is currently in eclipse, as has happened before. Who can say what will come next, but the past 60 years have shown that Palestinian society, whether the part that remained behind in the Jewish state in 1948, or that currently under occupation, or that in the diaspora, has shown enormous vitality and a remarkable capacity to re-knit itself and resist enormous pressure. Look at the Palestinians in Lebanon, who have suffered and suffer more than any segment of Palestinian society, except the people of Gaza. In spite of the serial atrocities committed against them, the multiple external foes they have faced, and the many terrible mistakes and failures of the political leadership, like the Gazans they manage to maintain their social cohesion in conditions of indescribable difficulty."


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Thanksgiving Spirit: A Welcome, Gratitude, Mutual Service

Thanksgiving in the Holy Land - Grace and 4 Questions
By Bradley Burston
Ha'aretz -- Tuesday - November 25, 2008

TEL AVIV - I have a need to say grace this Thanksgiving night, but I'm not ready.

There are American Jews - especially those, like me, who grew up as the youngest in their family, and thus were forced, year after year, to recite the Four Questions at Passover - who may look at Thanksgiving as a Seder without the embarrassment.

Now that I am grown, though, and living thousands of miles from that home, I find myself asking questions about Thanksgiving. And about how and why one says grace.

This morning my wife asked the most important one. It is a question which, in the act of asking, says grace:

"What would this land look like, if we were really thankful for what we have?"

We were on the highway to Tel Aviv, where she works as a nurse for Africans who fled their homes in grave peril and found shelter, for the moment at least, in Israel.

It is not difficult, in that clinic, to understand the story of the first Thanksgiving. There are people seeking refuge in a strange land. Some of the inhabitants, who do not know nor easily understand the refugees, elect to help them survive.

It is in a place like this, that what appears to be a simple question, can shed a world of light.

The answer, I suspect, is that if we were truly thankful for what we have, then what we would have here, is peace.

But I'm not ready to accept that, just yet.

You can feel it drain out of you in this place, your ability to feel blessed, to feel grateful. It is one of the ways that the land devours its inhabitants. History has been cruel to everyone here, Jews and Arabs in particular, displacing them, oppressing them, disenfranchising them, putting them to flight, putting them to death. Compelling them to fixate on a partly imagined past and a partly impossible future. Robbing them of their ability to live in the present, to see what they do have, to give thanks.

As an experiment, walking around the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Jaffa outside the clinic, I told people the story of the first Thanksgiving. The reactions of both Arabs and Jews were strikingly similar. "So the Indians helped these white people, then the whites turned around and annihilated them?"
Both sides identified with the Native Americans, welcoming at heart, ripped off and murdered for their trouble.

It makes you wonder. What would this land look like, if they had been welcoming to us, and if we had been - if we were - welcoming to them?

We can know, if nothing else, that we would spend much more of our resources teaching children how to make a better life for themselves and others, and much less teaching them how to clean and operate a rifle.

We can know, also, that we would spend much more of our time and trouble producing clean water, for example, and worthwhile workplaces, rather than finding ways to claim and fight over the dwindling resources we have left.

There's a reason, I believe, that Thanksgiving takes place in a season of transition, with the brief, heartbreaking natural artistry of leaves catching the colors of fire just before they dry and fall. There's a lesson, also, in the fact that in the Holy Land, the autumn is our only true spring. It is when the rain comes, and restores new life to the burned-brown vegetation, dead as winter, that summer leaves behind.

What would this place look like, if instead of craving what the others have, people truly appreciated what they themselves possess?

They might realize that compromise, rather than ferocity, is a part of God's work. And a large part of being fully human.

If we could get past the endless, the irresolvable debates over who was here first, who are the true natives, who has done more injustice to the other, perhaps we could better value life and each other.

There are children right here with nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep - if we really appreciated what we have, wouldn't we help them?

We, all of us, waste their resources of intellect, youth, life itself, in lethal obsession over the other half of this place, allowing the conflict to keep help from reaching the needy in their midst.

Why, in the end, is this Thanksgiving night different from all other nights?

Because, before we eat, even before we say grace, we stop to think. We stop in order to notice what God's work really is. To appreciate the ways in which it gives us life, sustains us, and has brought us to this night.

We stop to be reminded that these gifts of sustenance are to enable God's work. And to be reminded that everyone in this world is, in fact, God's work.

Tonight, together, we bless the glory in the miracle of the most ordinary. It took countless impossible coincidences of heritage and survival and geography, and faith amid blackness, and people doing God's work for its own sake, to allow us to come together this night, and to give us the power and the wisdom and the gratitude, despite everything, to be able to listen for the stirrings of peace in the word ...


Friday, November 21, 2008

Ref. Church in America Gen. Sec. Weighs In

New friend Vern Hoffman pointed out Wes's article in the December Sojourner's Magazine, Discoving Palestine. Wes is the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, a small Reformed/Presbyterian Church body in the USA.

The whole article chronicles his journey into understanding. What follows is his insightful conclusion. JRK

Discovering Palestine. by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson. Sojourners Magazine, December 2008 (Vol. 37, No. 11, pp. 18).

MANY PEOPLE in the region believe that all U.S. Christians are right-wing Zionists. That widely held stereotype seems deeply rooted in popular and political opinions. And the damage that it does is awful. The policies of President Bush and the beliefs of Christians are seen as united, so Christian faith is perceived as antagonistic to the vast majorities of those in the Arab world. You can imagine the difficulty this creates for Arab Christians.

Evangelical Zionism is the enemy of Christian witness and mission in the Middle East. It's not just a theological aberration. Rather, it's a doctrine that actually endangers fellow Christians and cripples the effective proclamation of Christian faith throughout the region.

We recently observed the 40th anniversary of the illegal Israeli occupation. The brutal situation in the Holy Land dehumanizes Palestinians and Israelis alike and undermines the peace and security of the region and the world. The support of Christian Zionists and the United States government for expansionist policies and actions of Israel, and the turning of a blind eye to the persistent illegal activities of the Israeli government, undermines our ability to serve as peacemakers or honest brokers in that area of the world.

An American Christian in Jerusa­lem, Marlin Vis, wrote in his blog: A small Palestinian Muslim child, 4 or 5 years old, burrows his face deeply into the skinny chest of his 10-year-old brother. Their furniture and clothing, all they could carry, lie in a heap outside their stone-block home. Big brother has explained that in a matter of minutes, the soldiers will destroy the home. The little boy's eyes express the terror that his tongue can't describe. An 18-year-old Israeli soldier stands guard over the seven children of this family. His eyes too tell the story that he would never allow his tongue to repeat. ... These are the hidden wounds of occupation, and these wounds are as hurtful and damaging as any other. ... For the sake of that little boy, his brothers and sisters, and his 18-year-old cousin standing guard, this occupation must end.

The continuing task of Christians is to nurture an incarnational presence in the Holy Land that informs our perspectives, our witness, and our action. We must follow Jesus again, today, among those who feel the brunt of military oppression, among those who so readily exercise dominion over others, among those who seek to be peacemakers, and among those who thirst for justice and yearn for healing.
We must find ways to open our lives to the actual human experience of those who live in the midst of these realities, and be with them. And then we must witness to their struggles, their fears, and their hopes. From that place, we can learn how to pray and act for the peace of Jerusalem.

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson is general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. This article is adapted from an April 2007 address at North Park University's Center for Middle East Studies.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Our Toothless Sec of State: more evidence

Barak approved settlement expansion despite Road Map
Uri Blau
November 14, 2008

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved dozens of construction projects in the West Bank in recent months, contradicting Israel's commitments to the Road Map, Haaretz has learned. Barak also approved the marketing of hundreds of housing units in settlements.

Some of the permits for construction projects were granted in settlements to the east of the separation fence, which are beyond the areas the state defines as "settlement blocks" and it expects to retain under Israel's control following a permanent agreement with the Palestinians.

By press time, the Defense Ministry had not responded to Haaretz's query on the matter.

The Road Map, an American initiative put in place in 2003, calls on Israel to avoid any expansion of settlements, except for construction necessitated by the needs of natural population growth. The construction permits appear to contravene Israel's obligations.

Construction in the settlements is a permanent matter of dispute in talks for a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and has drawn strong criticism from both the U.S. and the European Union.

At a March press conference with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the U.S. continues to insist that Israel ceases settlement expansion. Rice stressed that such construction contravenes the Road Map.

In January Barak asked that all construction projects in the West Bank be brought to him for authorization. Data received by Haaretz suggests that since April, Barak has authorized the following construction projects in the West Bank:

* The marketing of at least 400 housing units and plots, of which 315 homes and 32 plots are in Beitar Ilit, 48 homes and 19 plots in Ariel, and 40 housing units and and a commercial center at Efrat.

* The construction of some 60 homes in a neighborhood that is several kilometers away from its mother settlement of Eshkolot, in southern Mount Hebron, but is included in its municipal jurisdiction.

* The registration and publication of construction projects in Ariel, Modi'in Ilit, Ma'aleh Adumim, Mevo Horon, Oranit, Efrat, Givat Ze'ev, Beit El, Neveh Daniel, Alon Shvut, Har Adar, Kochav Ya'akov and Talmon. The two latter settlements are situated to the east of the separation fence.

* Mekorot, the Israeli water company, was given permission to prepare plans in Kiryat Arba, which is also situated east of the fence.

* Authorization to plan "an experimental electricity production farm" in southern Mount Hebron.

* Renewal of authorization for the marketing of 31 homes and commercial properties in Beitar Ilit.

* The planning of a cemetery in the area of Ma'aleh Adumim.

* The allocation of 4.6 dunams (just over one acre) for the development of a nature reserve in the Prat stream in Wadi Kelt, which is east of the fence.

* The allotment of plots for the construction of public buildings in the neighborhood of Matityahu-East in Modi'in Ilit (which has been partially built on lands of the Palestinian village of Bil'in). Similar allotments were made in Elkana, Kfar Oranim, Kedumim and Beit Aryeh.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU)


AMMAN, JORDAN – In a strategic gathering of Middle Eastern, European and American Christian leaders, westerners were given an inside view of the Middle Eastern Church’s struggle in a war-torn land.

Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding’s (EMEU) Sounds of Hope II conference was held in Amman, Jordan on Oct. 15-18. It was a time for over 70 select individuals from various ministries to hear from 11 speakers with experience in the Middle East Church.

According to Dr. Ray Bakke, EMEU chair, the conference was held out of a concern that ignorance in the West was negatively influencing the worldwide Church. “We had people who are evangelical who thought that every Arab was a terrorist or a fat oil sheik,” he said.

EMEU’s purpose is to break down those stereotypes through direct dialog and help to build relationships and understanding across different cultures. As Bakke put it, “It’s not an organization, it’s a conversation.”

Three aspects stood out for Tom Bower, an attendee from Iowa: exposition of biblical material as it relates the Middle East today, a clearer definition of the area’s political and economic issues, and “wonderful networking” between Church leaders from across the globe and across the denominational spectrum.

Speakers from Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq shared on everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to America’s role in the Middle East, to a loving Christian response to Islam.

Dr. Nabeel Jabbour shared his concern that, after September 11th, some Christians would quit praying for and ministering to Muslims. “If that happens it will be the biggest setback in the history of missions,” he said. “Muslims are about 1.4 billion people in the world. It’s predicted that by the year 2020 they’ll become a quarter of humanity. If we consciously or unconsciously omit them from the Great Commission it will become no more the Great Commission; it will be the Great Omission.”

Jabbour walked attendees through the different belief systems in Islam, explaining that only a small percentage of Muslims are actually radical fundamentalists, but it is the activities of this faction that make the news.

John Sagherian, regional coordinator for Youth for Christ International, said that young Muslims as well as nominal Christians in the Middle East are asking the same question when presented with the biblical truth of salvation: “So what?” He said that they need more than textbook answers.

“I believe the answer lies in our changed lives and our changed values and our love for each other,” Sagherian said. “They need to see Christians living as Christians. And it would help if there were a revival in the West and the Christian West really became Christian.”

But the underlying frustration behind many of the messages given at the conference was over the apathy of westerners toward the Arab Church. Speakers said Christian Zionists have fixated on the renewal of the Israeli state, while ignoring severe abuse of the Palestinian people’s rights.

“Our message to the Jewish people (should be) that it is in the person of Jesus the Messiah that their hopes have been fulfilled, not in their return to the land and in the creation of the state of Israel,” said author and educator Rev. Colin Chapman. “When I see how Jesus has already fulfilled so many of the hopes and dreams of Israel (prophesied of) in the Old Testament, I can see how… the followers of Jesus today can… both hunger and thirst after righteousness, justice and be genuine peacemakers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

While this conflict is extremely complex, understanding the issues involved touches on a person’s biblical interpretation, theology, politics, interfaith relationships and method of sharing the Gospel. “What is at stake over this issue is nothing less than our understanding of God, our witness to the Gospel and the credibility of the Christian Church,” said Chapman. “The stakes are very high.”

Bakke told attendees about a conversation he had with a Jewish rabbi concerning the current existence of modern Israel. “Every people, to be a whole people, must somewhere in their history be stewards of power. We Jews have always been victims of power. The state of Israel is our first opportunity to be stewards of power,” said the rabbi. Then with a tear rolling down his cheek, he finished, saying, “If God is just, he will have to remove us one more time for what we have done to the Palestinians in this land. We are treating them the way the Nazis treated us.”

Antoine Haddad, vice president of Lebanon’s InterVarsity Fellowship, said that America has had a blind support for Israel, ignoring injustices the Palestinians have faced. He said that this “created seeds for instability in the Middle East region and led to wars and civil wars, dictatorships, poverty, oppressive regimes – all of which have been negatively reflected on the Christian presence in (the Middle East).”

And while the western Church’s response has been poor, Haddad says the Church in the midst of the conflict has also reacted incorrectly: “The response of Christians has been emigration, forsaking the cradle of Christianity and forsaking their roots.”

In Iraq, Archbishop Mar Avak Asadorian of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Baghdad., is seeing a similar exodus in persecuted Christians.

“If the present state of affairs continue in the region of the Middle East and Iraq, then the Eastern manifestation of the Christian Church – the churches that saw the birth of the Lord and worshiped him in his own tongue, giving millions of martyrs throughout 2,000 years – yes, these churches, are already at peril,” Asadorian said. “(This is) a matter not to be taken lightly, otherwise we are going to lose the Eastern manifestation of the Christian Church.”

Although troubles facing the Middle East Church are plentiful, the stories of faith and perseverance were equally abundant. “I had no idea that every time I’d sit down I’d be sitting down next to a person who had the most incredible story ever, and when I’d think I’d come to the most interesting story I’d meet somebody else that would surpass that,” said Cindi Steele, who works with Orthodox Jews in Arizona through Make A Difference Ministries. “I have enjoyed every moment of it.”

Steele attended the conference with her husband and says she is thinking of eventually bringing a club basketball team back to the Middle East to work among the Palestinian people.

Speakers asked Christians everywhere to work to understand the religions and politics of the Middle East in order to have a positive influence, to look for ways to partner or offer aid to the Middle Eastern church, and most of all, to pray for those who are hurting in the Middle East.

Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church just outside Chicago said that she knows there must be some action after this dialog. She compared the Sounds of Hope conference to her experience of going to Africa five years ago to learn about AIDS. She left Africa asking the question: “How have I ignored this situation? Why didn’t I ever let what I knew in my head travel down to the level of my heart?”

She continued, “And now I’m going home with that same question that I left Africa with: What’s happened this week is that I’ve seen the pain… I’ve heard the anger. I think Christians in the Church in the West have shown a lack of concern. By supporting global policies that have very much hurt the Middle East as a whole we have betrayed our Christian brothers and sisters here. What am I to do? That’s a prayer that I know God will answer, but not easily; but I go home with that prayer.”

The Jordan conference was the second Sounds of Hope event, the first being held at Wheaton College at the Billy Graham Center in Illinois in 2006. For Sounds of Hope II, EMEU partnered with Manara International, Jordan. To find out more, the EMEU Web site can be accessed at http://www.emeu.net.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"The Courage to Persist, the Will to Build"

Remarks by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (Palestinian Authority) at the ATFP "Gala" in Washington D.C. October 12, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen;Your Excellencies.

It is really an honor for me to have the opportunity to address such an esteemed audience tonight.

Tonight’s event is neatly book-ended by a number of significant events in the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last month, we marked fifteen years since the signing of the first in a series of interim agreements. Next month, of course, will mark one year since the renewal of peace negotiations at Annapolis. And, yet, regrettably, we continue to walk the bumpy road to peace that began in Madrid seventeen years ago this month.

A lot can be said, and has been said, about the ups and downs of this process. But, what we do know is that we all hoped that we would be a lot closer to peace by now. The Annapolis Conference embodied the hope that we would achieve a comprehensive peace agreement by year’s end. In the meantime, we, Palestinians, had expected an improved economic and security environment to underpin the political track.

Alas, few expectations have been met. Settlements pepper the West Bank and continue to grow. Every indicator of settlement activity – from public- and private-initiated construction, to tenders and building permits – shows that rather than stopping, settlement activity has in fact accelerated since Annapolis. … That’s right. Accelerated.

Similarly, restrictions on access and movement are tighter than they were before Annapolis. Compare 563 checkpoints and roadblocks before Annapolis to 630 today, not to mention the severe tightening of the siege on Gaza. And land confiscations, home demolitions, military incursions and raids all continued.

Needless to say, the quality of life for the average Palestinian has worsened. And if we are honest with ourselves, vague pronouncements that the current peace talks are “on-going” and “serious” mean little on the Palestinian street and, when all is told, are of little relevance to people who are living hand to mouth.

As devastating as these developments have been on Palestinians’ fabric of life, the combination of deteriorating conditions on the ground and the lack of a political horizon have had an even worse impact on the Palestinians’ state of mind, which had already been seriously deformed by the erosion in self-esteem, and self- assuredness, prompted by decades of Israeli occupation and oppression. We, Palestinians, have felt this erosion. Those old enough to remember the first Intifada felt it during the second Intifada. We felt the shame of it in June of last year. We felt it last month when twelve of our citizens, including a baby, were killed in Gaza.

I have always felt that an understanding of how this sad state of affairs came about was necessary to enable us to position ourselves on a path that could lead to freedom and independence. The truth is: the loss of self-esteem and assuredness had tended to elicit one of two seemingly diametrically opposed reactions among the Palestinian public, namely, defeatism and belligerence. The painful truth is that neither is constructive. You cannot end the occupation if you are dominated by a “can do nothing,” defeatist kind of attitude. Nor will belligerence get you there, with what may come with it by way of violence and isolationist tendencies.
When viewed this way, it becomes clear that the greatest obstacle that has prevented us, Palestinians, from achieving our national goals was not occupation per se or factionalism, not poverty or separation, but that deadly erosion of self-esteem and consequent loss of faith in our capacity to get things done.

If this analysis is correct, which I believe it is, it follows that to end the occupation, we, Palestinians, must first rid ourselves of what four decades of Israeli occupation have precipitated by way of fear, skepticism, cynicism, self-doubt, and, yes loss of self-esteem.

I believe we can – though I must confess I didn’t always. At one point, the erosion of our esteem seemed to have taken on a life of its own, propelled by its own momentum, becoming almost self-fulfilling … almost. However, I truly believe we can regain our sense of self-assuredness, once we, Palestinians, collectively embrace – consciously embrace – a paradigm that says that, along the way to freedom, defeatism must be defeated and belligerence must be set aside. To me, this is not only emancipation – it is deliverance.

Acting on this conviction, and from day one – a day of national tragedy of virtually unprecedented proportions – my government set out to put in place and set in motion mechanisms capable of getting us there. My motto was “building towards statehood despite the occupation”. This involved, in the first instance, building strong, effective institutions capable of delivering services to our people in an effective, expeditious and fair manner, all within the framework of good governance. The effort has already started to bear fruit. In the area of financial management, for example, I am proud to say that we now have a system that truly measures up to the highest international standards and practices. In addition to building up our credibility at home, this has won our government the international confidence necessary to secure much needed aid, including from the United States and the European Union.

Indeed, last March the US Administration transferred US $150 million directly to the Palestinian Authority coffers. This transfer was the largest sum of assistance to be transferred to the PA in a single tranche by any donor for any purpose since the Authority’s inception. What is more, the Administration is about to transfer another US$ 150 million to us the same way. Surely this will be another strong message of support and desire to help, which I deeply cherish. What I cherish even more is the strong message of confidence in the integrity of our public finance system which this action by the Administration implies. For, as you know, however strong the desire to help is - - and indeed it is - - Congress would not authorize a transfer directly into our coffers, of this amount or indeed any amount, were it not for the integrity and the credibility which our financial system and management have come to enjoy.

This is but one example of the progress we have been able to achieve over the past year in building towards statehood. There are other important examples, especially in the sphere of security and law and order. Together, these efforts prompted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to speak of “an emerging sense of self-empowerment” among Palestinians.

I share his assessment. I have had the opportunity to visit most districts in the West Bank this past year – which I hope to be able replicate in Gaza – and everywhere I have been, I was greeted by a cautious, yet distinct glimmer of the self-respect, pride and resilience that makes me, despite all the obstacles we face, so very proud to be Palestinian.

It is there in the streets of Nablus and Jenin, where law and order and, thus, a modicum of normalcy have been restored. It was there in Manger Square in Bethlehem one starry night last May, when a thousand businessmen and dignitaries from all over Palestine and abroad, including Israel, dined together in the open air. It is there every Friday – and has been for the past few years, and will continue to be there – in Bil’in, where villagers peacefully protest against the erection of a despicable wall that threatens their livelihood and, sometimes, their lives, though never their spirit. It was there one sad day when Palestinians walked up a Ramallah hill to bury Palestine’s most highly revered literary icon (Mahmoud Darwish), conjuring up memories of the day our nation mourned the loss of our late President Yasser Arafat. It was there the day when a shipment of Palestinian pharmaceutical products, destined for the first time ever to Germany, made its way through the maze of economic restrictions in the West Bank, to meet the most exacting pharmaceutical standards in the world. And, yes, it was there the day Palestinians welcomed a boat-load of visitors off the shore of Gaza … And it is there, every single day, that a Palestinian child goes to school, that a Palestinian farmer manages to work his/ her land, that a Palestinian mother remains hopeful that her son will be released from Israeli prison, that a rural community begins to benefit from the implementation of one of literally hundreds of community projects being implemented throughout the country, that a Palestinian family chooses - finds a way - to remain on their land for another day.

We are approaching a critical mass of positive change – positive facts on the ground, as I like to call them, that are indicative of a most encouraging shift in the mindset of our people, away from doom and gloom towards a distinct sense of possibility and the promise of a better future.

When and where possible, with President Abbas’s guidance and support, our government tried to help generate opportunities and create conditions to make these things possible – and, in so doing, to nurture our people’s sense of dignity in themselves. This, more than anything, is what I think our job is about – as we say here tonight, “the courage to persist, the will to build”. And I am unequivocally committed to continuing to do that – now and even after I leave office.

Still, there is no dignity in what is happening to us now. And the same is true for the Israelis. There is nothing dignified in Israeli parents having to be afraid while their children are away at school. There is no dignity for the mother of the Israeli soldier who delayed a Palestinian woman at a checkpoint near Nablus, causing her to lose her unborn child. There is also nothing dignified about the world’s fifth largest army subjugating a people with no country and no army. There is nothing dignified in a country that prides itself on being a democracy when it allows itself to be held hostage by a group of extremist settlers who forcibly put their own interests ahead of the will of the majority.
Despite this – indeed, because of this – we, Palestinians, remain hopeful – resolute – to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict between us and Israelis based on a two-state model. Palestinians long to live in freedom like any other people. For, in freedom, there is dignity, as there is in freedom from fear.

In fact, we don’t just seek peace; we seek a meaningful and lasting peace with Israel. We seek strong ties with Israel. We seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine. We seek warm relations with Israelis. We do not want to simply get to a point where we just accept each other – we want to have warm relations where we both recognize the mutual economic, intellectual, spiritual, and of course security benefits of living and working together. We do not want to erect walls; we want to build bridges. We do not want to close Israelis out of our lives; we want to live with Israelis as our neighbors.

However, let it be known that Palestinians are not interested in just any state and not at any cost. It is not just Israel who has a constituency it has to worry about and serve. Let’s not forget the reasons why the results of Palestinian parliamentary elections were what they were in 2006. As one prominent Israeli advocate of peace put it, “There is no Palestinian partner for improving the quality of the occupation – there is only a Palestinian partner for ending the occupation.” When all is said and done, the Palestinian leadership will have to take any agreement it negotiates with Israel to its people.

People have an inherent sense of fairness by which they judge any settlement. And that inherent sense of fairness tells them that a peace agreement with Israel must yield a viable, contiguous, independent, potentially prosperous, sovereign Palestinian state on 22% of their historic homeland with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a solution to the refugee issue that honors the refugees and recognizes their legitimate rights and their suffering. That same inherent sense of fairness tells them that a rump state made up of disconnected Israeli throw-aways is not what they have waited so long or sacrificed so much for. It tells them that the great compromise they made back in 1988, when they relinquished claim to 78 percent of their historic homeland, should be acknowledged and respected by the other party.

Regrettably, the two-state solution is teetering under the weight of 170 settlements and almost half a million settlers. Time is running out on the two-state solution. With every brick that is laid in a settler house, with every road that is paved for settlers, with every concrete slab that is erected for the wall that snakes in and out of the West Bank, the bond that ties Israelis and Palestinians together, which originates in the fact that we must share the same piece of land, grows just a little bit tighter. That is the great irony of Israel’s settlement enterprise. Prime Minister Olmert recognized this. He said “The day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.”

Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that, through negotiations, we can reach a lasting peace between us on the basis of a two-state solution. For this process to be successful, however, we must, again, bring to it dignity and credibility. Oslo stalled because it quickly lost credibility– there was talk of peace while actions on the ground worked against peace. Annapolis risks being the same unless Israel reconciles its behavior on the ground with its stated intentions of peace and creating a viable and independent Palestinian state.

And so, if we are to get to where we want to be, we have to treat each other with dignity – lead with dignity. This means behaving like statesmen instead of politicians – thinking of the next generation, not the next elections.

For Palestinians, what this means is remaining steadfast not just to our principles for a solution, but to our commitment to non-violence and previous agreements. And we are resolute in this. Make no mistake about it. As I mentioned earlier, I view my role as Prime Minister as one of assisting our people, to the best of my ability, to live just a little bit better than the day before, and to stay on their land for another day … and another. But we do it – and will continue to do it – through constructive, non-violent means that honor our very noble cause.

For Israel, what this means is negotiating an agreement with us as equals, no more and no less. Not bullying Palestinians at the negotiating table with facts on the ground it only erected yesterday – or five years ago, or 10 years ago, or 35 years ago. Saying “no” to the settlers. Not abusing its stature as an occupying power to coerce, for example, by withholding much-needed tax dollars when it disagrees with our legitimate means of diplomatic protest. Not shutting away 1.5 million Palestinians from the world for the unacceptable actions of a few.

For the rest of the world, this means showing strength of leadership, and getting tough with transgressors of our commonly-held values, whether friend or foe. The world has been generous with us, backing our state-building efforts with robust financial investment. And it has been tough with us when it felt we strayed onto an undesirable path. We now need it to be equally demanding of our neighbor. We need the international community to hold Israel to its word when it says it desires the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. We need the world to take practical steps to keep the establishment of such a state possible. Wagging its finger at continued settlement activity is simply not enough.

With the help and encouragement of this US Administration, we are off to a good start. However, neither we nor the Israelis can afford to wait another four or eight years. We will desperately need the immediate assistance and investment from the incoming administration if we are to make a success of the process begun at Annapolis.

This is where the Palestinian-American community can be of great service. To members of this community, let me first say that I am privileged to have lived long enough in this country to appreciate its beauty and understand why you think this nation of immigrants became so great. You are an enormous but enormously underutilized source of strength to the cause of a just and durable peace. We need to work together to create that other state which, one day, you may wish to call home. We are facing many domestic difficulties and challenges, especially those related to the current state of separation. Do not give up on us. We have proposed concrete ideas the adoption of which is capable of reuniting Gaza and the West Bank. These include the formation of a national consensus, non-factional government in the run-up to presidential and legislative elections, and the utilization of Arab security assistance for a transitional period to help with the rehabilitation of our security services and with the provision of law and order in Gaza until our services are rehabilitated. National dialogue on the key political issues can then proceed, but then against the backdrop of a reunified country, in the hope of sorting out our political differences or at least forging a national consensus on how to manage these differences in a civilized, orderly, and non-violent manner. Just as you were not indifferent to the less-than-perfect way in which the PNA managed the affairs of the Palestinian people after Oslo, you cannot, I would submit, be indifferent to the risk of our country – our state-in-the-making – sliding towards backwardness, isolation, repression of freedom, gender inequality, and cultural and religious intolerance. For those who may have crossed that bridge to nowhere, to nothingness, indeed, destructive nothingness, I respectfully ask that you to reconsider.

And so, my friends, we are at a crossroads. A lot is riding on the choices we all make. Outcomes are not ordained or inevitable. We must seek to draw the right lessons from our experiences of peace-making since Madrid. Now is not the time to ditch the solution concept which, with President Bush’s 2002 speech, became a matter of explicit international consensus, namely, the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security. For abandoning that concept would be another escape to destructive nothingness.

Instead, we should make adjustments. Since Oslo, the pendulum has swung too far away from what international law and justice prescribes, towards the diktat of practicality, towards what may be seen as acceptable to each of the parties to the conflict. This shift would not have been too problematic had it occurred in a context of parity of influence. However, with us, Palestinians, holding the shorter end of the stick, this disparity has necessarily meant an erosion in our position with each round of diplomacy that did not end with a solution. This structural defect has to be redressed. It is time for the pendulum to swing back in the direction of what international law and justice requires. Back in 1988, Palestinians made the historic and painful compromise that we felt was necessary to secure a solution to the conflict.

As our Israeli neighbors think about what they consider to be painful compromises, it is my hope that they will devote equal time to reflecting on the promise that ending the occupation of all Arab territories holds: normalization not just with Arab countries, but with the 57 member states of the Islamic Conference who all endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative. That consideration will no doubt be aided by effective international engagement, with the US leading the way in close partnership with the rest of the community of nations, especially the other members of the Quartet, as well as Arab countries. To me, this is the way forward.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is This Another Crossroad?

Final Stages of the Palestinian Conflict?
Claude Salhani
The Middle East Times
October 14, 2008

Every decade of so the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict undergo serious transformation as the result of changing conditions on the ground. The changes, however, have not always been for the better.

Consider the following shifts in direction from the late 1940s with the creation of the State of Israel and the declaration of war by all its neighbors in 1948. Almost 10 years later, Israel goes to war against Egypt during the Suez crisis (1956). Then 11 years later Israel launches the Six-Day War, capturing large swathes of Arab lands.

It took six years for the Arabs to regroup and rearm and start the October War, in 1973. Nine years later, in June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and evicted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But in doing so a new enemy was created, Hezbollah.

Five years after the invasion of Lebanon, the first intifada erupts in 1987, followed by the second intifada in 2000.

The timing is just about right – eight years since the second intifada - for another repositioning in the region.

Recent developments in the Palestinian territories and in Israel suggest that we are on the threshold of another major shift in the 60-year-old conflict.

Consider two tectonic policy shifts that have taken place in recent weeks in the Middle East conflict. The first comes from Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the second and more recent statement comes from the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad.

Speaking to the Hebrew language daily newspaper, Haaretz last week Olmert ventured where no other Israeli prime minister had gone before him, saying that the time had come for Israel to recognize the reality that its occupation of Arab land had to stop and the only resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians was to recognize the need for a two-state solution.

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished," Olmert was quoted as saying by the Israeli daily.

The second astonishing statement comes from Fayyad and was made Sunday night in Washington in front of about 600 prominent Palestinian Americans, journalists and diplomats attending the third annual black tie gala hosted by the American Task Force on Palestine, where Fayyad was the keynote speaker.

The Palestinian prime minister stated that the future Palestinian state wanted more than just peace: "We don't just seek peace. We seek a meaningful and lasting peace with Israel. We seek strong ties with Israel. We seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine. We seek warm relations with Israel. We do not want to get to the point where we just accept each other."

Fayyad, a Texas educated economist, said the Palestinians did not want to erect walls, but build bridges.

His statement is probably the most direct outreach from the Palestinian leadership toward Israel since the PLO recognized the existence of the State of Israel.

Olmert said Israel now had a "partner" in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fayyad said Sunday night that Israel would have "a Palestinian partner in ending the occupation, but not "for improving the quality of occupation."

"We do not want to close Israelis out of our lives," said Fayyad. "We want to live with the Israelis as our neighbors."
Regretfully, the timing for this historic rapprochement of view on both the Israeli and Palestinian outlook to the crisis comes at a bad moment, with the United States and Israeli leadership in transition.

The U.S. presidential election is now only 21 days away, rendering the current American president incapable of pushing through any major policy issues in the final three weeks of his mandate, a la Clinton.

And Olmert, too, is something of a lame duck as he prepares to step down in the wake of an alleged financial scandal.

If one fact emerged from this 30-year debacle in the Levant it is the realization that as tectonic as individual initiatives might be, without the active participation of the White House, chances of any breakthrough in the Middle East conflict stand at nil.
"Ultimately," said the Palestinian prime minister, "the only way forward is with the United States leading the way."

And that will have to wait until the new administration is settled.
"We are at a crossroads," Fayyad said Sunday night.

Hopefully, the next administration will waste no time in trying to bring together both two sides at the crossroads and get traffic moving in a positive direction.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A "Sea Change" in Isr Politics!

Olmert's Lame-Duck Epiphany About Palestinian Peace
Scott MacLeod
Time Magazine
September 30, 2008


He is a former leader in the rightist Likud Party who for decades staunchly believed that the West Bank and Gaza Strip belonged to the Jewish people and that the territories, along with the Golan Heights, should remain part of Greater Israel forever. Along with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert gradually came to understand that this was a fantasy. They broke away from Likud and created the centrist Kadima ("Onward") Party three years ago. Now, as Olmert hands the reins to Tzipi Livni and leaves office amid a corruption scandal, he's made a series of stunning departure statements that form a swan song of historical importance. Peace advocates, Israeli dreamers, Arab skeptics and U.S. mediators in a future McCain or Obama Administration should read his words carefully and take note.

The political lame duck's views expressed in interviews and public comments reveal the sweeping reversals that have taken place among some of Israel's ultra-nationalists. Olmert says Israel should withdraw from "almost all" of the West Bank and Golan Heights. A former mayor of "the undivided capital of the Jewish state," he now advocates dividing Jerusalem with the Palestinians. He wants to keep some of the Jewish settlements that adjoin Israel's pre-1967 border but accepts giving the future Palestinian state Israeli territory in a land swap with a "close to 1-to-1-ratio." "The notion of a Greater Israel no longer exists," Olmert says, "and anyone who still believes in it is deluding themselves."

True, these are not radical views. Former Labour PM Ehud Barak put something like this on the table at Camp David negotiations with the Palestinians eight years ago. What Olmert is saying today broadly conforms to the thinking of Israeli Labour politicians, mainstream Palestinian and Arab leaders, and U.S. officials, as well as the international community. What is important is the source, content and context of Olmert's statements.

Olmert is no Arab-loving pacifist. As Prime Minister, he ravaged half of Lebanon in 2006 in a military offensive after Hizballah killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers. He has unmercifully turned the screws on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Olmert's comments reflect a profound shift toward realism among Israeli rightists, akin to what Palestinian and Arab nationalists started going through three decades ago, when Israel was in the prime of its strategic strength. The shift is evident not only in Olmert's prescription for a peace settlement, but also in his severe critique of a [self]-righteous Israeli mind-set that has turned out to be self-destructive.

"Forty years after the Six-Day War ended, we keep finding excuses not to act," Olmert says. "We refuse to face reality ... The strategic threats we face have nothing to do with where we draw our borders ... For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at the reality in all its depth." Saying Israel would not attack Iran unilaterally to stop Tehran's nuclear program, Olmert scoffs, "Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself."

Olmert is by no means agreeing to a surrender. Yet, after Israel's failure to impose its will on Arab opponents by force over four decades, he's crying uncle. "We invested our mental resources and thoughts in 'how to build Judea and Samaria,' yet history made clear to us that the state of Israel has other realistic and viable options," he says. "The state of Israel's future won't be found in intermixing with the Palestinians, but rather, is to be found in unpopulated regions that are desperate for our entrepreneurship and innovation."

Palestinian demands, Olmert is acknowledging, won't go away. Recall, the Likud Party, with which Olmert made his career, always refused any dealings with the PLO or even to recognize its demands for Palestinian independence. Indeed, Sharon invaded Lebanon in 1982 with a grand vision of redrawing the Middle East map with no place for a Palestinian state. The expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank proceeded rapidly in the ensuing decades. With his about-face, Olmert effectively acknowledges that the Palestinian uprisings of 1987 and 2000 succeeded in forcing Israel to address Palestinian rights. Everybody, including Camp David host Bill Clinton, loved to blame Yasser Arafat for the collapse of the peace process. When Sharon succeeded Barak as Prime Minister in 2001, he began implementing a unilateral vision of a settlement by ending Israel's occupation of Gaza. Yet for the last year, at the tragically belated coaxing of the Bush Administration, Olmert, who replaced the ailing Sharon in 2006, has been quietly engaged in a revival of negotiations with Arafat's successor. Like Olmert's willingness to enter those talks, his swan song amounts to an admission that Israel never went quite far enough in accommodating the Palestinians' basic requirements for peace.

The realism behind Olmert's change of heart is of tremendous import, summed up by one sentence: "The international community is starting to view Israel as a future binational state." In other words, forget about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the map. Echoing views he initially expressed in 2003, Olmert reasons that without an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, the Jewish state faces the self-inflicted, mortal danger of being destroyed by demographics, overwhelmed by Muslim and Christian Arabs demanding political representation. Olmert fears that the international community could ultimately favor a one-state solution, thus spelling the death of the two-state partition that has been at the core of an acceptable Israeli-Palestinian solution for decades. "Time is not on Israel's side," Olmert says. "I used to believe that everything from the Jordan River bank to the Mediterranean Sea was ours ... But eventually, after great internal conflict, I've realized we have to share this land with the people who dwell here ? that is, if we don't want to be a binational state."

In the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Aluf Benn disparages the Israeli Prime Minister's "epiphany," saying "Olmert is an excellent commentator, but he lacks the firmness to execute his ideas."

Sadly, that seems to be the case. Yet Olmert, on the eighth anniversary of the second Palestinian intifadeh, has done history a valuable service by puncturing some myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If future negotiators, as well as American mediators, abandon their fantasies as Olmert has done, a peace that truly benefits all parties is much likelier to come.