Carter Praises Obama on Mitchell Pick

This is sure to get the AIPAC crowd’s panties in a twist.

“I have total confidence in him,” Carter said of Mitchell.

“What about Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state?” Blitzer asked.

“I think she’ll comply with the policies established by the president. As will George Mitchell,” Carter replied.

Carter also said he “spent a long time with President Obama” the evening before the five living presidents met at the White House January 7.

As Rosalynn Carter and David Axelrod took notes, they talked policy, he said.

“I would say he was most interested in the Middle East because I had been to that region twice in the previous year and had met with some people that others usually don’t meet with as you probably know, Carter said.

Friend’s of Israel should realize that there is more to promoting Israel’s interests than toeing the Israeli line. We have the ability to push the Israeli government to make political choices that they have agreed need to be taken, but their political system doesn’t have the ability to allow them to make. Putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians simultaneously changes the incentives on both sides, and is an absolutely necessary precondition to peace in the region.

I should say that my belief that Obama would take a different line on Israel than the Clinton’s would have was an important part of my support for him in the primaries and I think everything he has done thus far has vindicated that belief. It’s good to see Jimmy Carter agrees with me.

People interested in the future of the conflict should check out Prospects for Peace, a fantastic blog on the situation that always has thoughtful, pragmatic takes.

The Battlefield of New Media: The Online War Over Gaza

Al Jazeera has an interesting article up about the online war over Gaza. Both pro-Palestinian and Israeli forces attempted to use new media, both through official and grassroots channels.

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Within minutes of the first missile landing in Gaza, global reactions appeared online.

During the first few days of the war, online discussions were restricted to war of words. Both sides engaged in heated debates and blamed each other for the fatal surge in military operations.

As the discussions grew, attempts were then made by supporters of both sides to establish a coordinated response aimed at combatting the other side’s propaganda.

With this awareness in mind, both Israel and the Palestinians resorted to a variety of media platforms to justify their positions and tactics used during the conflict.

Israeli supporters set up the Help Us Win website, and some Palestinian supporters created Gaza Talk.

Hundreds of groups were created on Facebook by Israelis and Palestinians to create an awareness of the facts as they saw them.

I have a hunch that this change supported the Palestinians more than the Israelis. Anecdotally, this conflict seemed to garner a much different tone of coverage from the mainstream media (read: not rabidly anti-Palestinian), and I wonder if the rise of new media voices in the US (especially the many critical and influential Jewish voices in the progressive blogosphere) and abroad had anything to do with it.

Thanks Sheldon for the Wings

Tonight I’m going to a party sponsored by Birthright Israel, but one which they probably wouldn’t sponsor if they knew what it was about. My friend is writing his thesis on birthright, and I suspect his conclusions will be fairly harsh in their criticism of its colonialist heritage. However, Birthright apparently sends you up to $400 to host alumni parties, and my friend has made use of these funds to procure a massive amount of delicious wings from Fire on the Mountain.Unfortunately, Birthright lost a considerable amount of its money in Madoff’s schemes, and this might be our last time to get at some Israeli sponsored wings.

44-19

This Guy Bought Me Wings

Israel Defense Force Invades the the Blogosphere

From Haaretz (h/t Internet and Democracy Project):

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.

The program’s first volunteer was Sandrine Pitousi, 31, from Kfar Maimon, situated five kilometers from Gaza. “I heard about the project over the radio and decided to join because I’m living in the middle of the conflict,” she said.

Before hanging up the phone prematurely following a Color Red rocket alert, Pitousi, who immigrated to Israel from France in 1993, said she had some experience with public relations from managing a production company.

“During the war, we looked for a way to contribute to the effort,” the ministry’s director general, Erez Halfon, told Haaretz. “We turned to this enormous reservoir of more than a million people with a second mother tongue.” Other languages in which bloggers are sought include Russian and Portuguese.

There is nothing ethically wrong with these kinds of efforts, but I think it shows the inevitable maturation of the blogosphere into a medium of mass communication as subject to the efforts of government and political spin masters as newspapers or television. Blogs put these grassroots efforts at a more equal footing to compete with these governmental and political efforts, and offer real possibilities to oppositional organizations that didn’t exist offline. However, any claims to the radical political potential of the internet need to be reformed to include the evolving ability of governments to adapt to the new informational environment.


Hamas’ War 2.0 Counterstrike

From We Are Cyborgs:

Hamas has launched a new website, www.palutube.com, to highlight pro-Palestine videos from the war in Gaza and assorted other pro-Palestinian content including nationalist songs and spirited demonstrations. This is in response to Israel’s already strong Web 2.0 presence covering the war. Palutube is in Arabic by default but a drop down menu on the right side allows you to switch to English. Currently I am having a great deal of trouble loading the site so don’t be surprised if you are have trouble as well. Nonetheless I will try to embed a video from Palutube below. It is worth noting that because Hamas has chosen to host their own website (though not host all of their own videos), they are not bound by any other web portal’s terms of service (like the IDF is bound to YouTube’s TOS and authority). Thus there is some powerful and controversial language on Palutube. Most notably a banner that reads “The Zionist Holocaust in Gaza of the Innocent People [sic]”.

(Editor’s note: For some reason WordPress is not allowing me to embed video from Palutube here despite the fact that it works on the other site)

palutube

We are now talking about a war in which Israel refuses to allow foreign journalists access into Gaza, and both sides are battling for global support and to shape the narrative of the conflict via Web 2.0 strategies. As the Gulf War was the first cable news war, the current Israel-Palestine conflict is the first YouTube war. The obvious question being: is this the future of wartime journalistic propaganda?

It is clear from watching just a few of the videos available on Palutube that there is a different tone here than on the IDF’s YouTube channel. The IDF’s content has focused on justifying their attacks, which have been widely criticized as a disproportionate response to Hamas’ aggression, through videos of Hamas’ rocket attacks and evidence of other Hamas wrongdoing. In contract new Hamas site is a mix of videos that either display the large scale suffering that is going on in Gaza or provide evidence that Palestinian morale in Gaza is not dead through songs and videos of demonstrations.

The latter videos are particularly of interest considering the character of the Israeli attacks. It is quite clear that Israel’s attacks are an act of aggression by the side with the upper hand. Hamas rocket fire into Israel, while indefensible from the perspective of someone who would like to see the conflict resolved through diplomacy, is essentially impotent in comparison to the Israeli response. The Israeli message is that Hamas is thoroughly out gunned and by continuing to fire into Israel Hamas is inviting Israel to respond tenfold simply because they can. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece Rashid Khalidi presented a particularly insightful quote from former IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” Temporarily setting aside how disturbing that statement is, with Palutube Hamas appears intent on saying it is also not correct.

Negotiation is the first step towards peace

Yesterday I wondered whether the incoming Obama administration would be able to maintain the realist/Clintonista/Obamanaut coalition of foreign policy operatives on difficult questions like the situation in Gaza. The apparent appointment of Richard Haass as Middle East envoy is the first step towards a more pragmatic, even handed role in the crisis (it could have been Clinton era negotiator Dennis Ross). Haass has had sensible things to say about the US’ role in the Middle East more generally, and I believe he understands the importance of strategic leadership in a post-unipolar world. Of even greater interest to the potential for a solution to the conflict is the possibility of negotiations with Hamas, who must be satisfied for any ceasefire agreement to have lasting effect. According to the Guardian:

The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s ­doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush ­presidency’s ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 ­Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.

The article goes on to explain that the administration won’t give Hamas diplomatic status or hold high level talks. But  merely recognizing and engaging with Hamas could eventually prove to be a move towards reconciliation, and is a useful first step in the path towards a lasting peace. The situation in Gaza is in some ways analogous to the financial collapse: the collapse of current policy could provide political cover to finally make the sacrifices to move the world in a more positive long term direction. I hope the Obama administration will start to bring Hamas into the international community, just as was done with the PLO, and give credence to the complaints of the Palestinian people.

In doing so, Obama should embrace and extend the non-military aspects of Bush’s democracy promotion in the Middle East. Bush was committed to democracy in name only, and was not truly willing to accept the will of the people in instances where Islamist governments won free and fair elections. However, the US, and the West more generally, would be making a grave strategic mistake if they fail to accept the inclusion of Islamist parties in government, and will do much more harm than good by seeking to marginalize all Islamist groups. Hamas won a free and fair election to represent the Palestinian people and were immediately opposed by Israel, the US and the international community. This was a mistake from the start, and the Palestinian civil war, and the War on Gaza are the direct result of this decision.

What I am advocating here may sound radically pro-Palestinian, but I actually think of myself as a Zionist who wishes to see the continuation of a majority Jewish state in the Middle East. I believe the only way to reconcile my traditionally liberal political beliefs and my desire for a majority Jewish state is the creation of a stable, viable, Palestinian state that provides the Palestinian people with the autonomy and resources to create a future for themselves. The US must recognize the importance of the creation of a vibrant Palestinian state for the continuation of Israel as a Jewish state. Furthermore, we should recognize that any organization that legitimately represents the Palestinian people will express resistance to what the Palestinians view (as does most of the rest of the world) as a occupation by a foreign power. The current conflict will only solidify Palestinian feelings of injustice and powerlessness, and strengthen groups like Hamas that prey off the anger that ensues.

The US must be tough and fair with the Israelis – but also with the Palestinians. This means recognizing that Hamas is the most legitimate broker of the Palestinian agenda – an agenda that must be reckoned with. However, bringing Hamas to the table doesn’t mean acceding to their demands. The US should overwhelm the potential resistance to a peace deal by offering terms that would make Hamas look foolish for refusing. We could do this by pledging to underwrite a peace keeping force that would be responsible for maintaining preliminary international boundaries, while negotiations for a final agreement were underway. The terms of the final agreement will, for political and policy reasons, look something like the Arab Peace Initiative, and include an agreement with Syria.

Of course, the path I am outlining is a bold one, and will require an extreme amount of care taken towards solidifying Israeli public opinion. There are an incredible number of potential obstacles to this path, not the least of which is domestic American political opposition to the move towards peace by a right wing, Likud affiliated US pro-Israel lobby. However, after eight years of languishing without any hope of movement towards a lasting peace, any change in policy, not matter how slight, could be the first step in a forging a new path in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ah, there it is again: Hope! Change! In these halcyon days of transition from the administration that is the originator of all evils to the administration That Can, we (I?) can project any and all actions as a move towards the ideal policy.

Yes we might!

The Coalition of the Sensible

There is an emerging foreign policy consensus between all non-neoconservative factions that the US must reengage with the rest of the world and move towards relying more on soft power. This shift can be seen, ironically, in the appointments of Jim Jones as NSA, Hillary Clinton as SoS, and Robert Gates at DoD, as they all agree on the reinsertion of diplomacy and strategic political engagement in national secuirty policy. There is plenty to say (and others have already said much) about this emerging coalition, but I wonder what issues will cause disagreement between realists, Clinton era foreign policy hands, and the Obama team (to the extent they aren’t one of the previous two). The new national security team will face a real test in the ongoing Gaza situation, and no one quite knows how they will react.

Obamas National Security Team

Obama's National Security Team

If this article by Aaron David Miller is any indication, there is a tantalizing political opportunity for this coalition to pursue bold leadership on the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. From Newsweek:

The departure point for a viable peace deal—either with Syria or the Palestinians—must not be based purely on what the political traffic in Israel will bear, but on the requirements of all sides. The new president seems tougher and more focused than his predecessors; he’s unlikely to become enthralled by either of Israel’s two leading candidates for prime minister—centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or Likudnik Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, if it’s the latter, he may well find himself (like Clinton) privately frustrated with Netanyahu’s tough policies. Unlike Clinton, if Israeli behavior crosses the line, he should allow those frustrations to surface publicly in the service of American national interests.

The issue at hand is to find the right balance in America’s ties with Israel. Driven by shared values and based on America’s 60-year commitment to Israel’s security and well-being, the special relationship is rock solid. But for the past 16 years, the United States has allowed that special bond to become exclusive in ways that undermine America’s, and Israel’s, national interests.

The peace process faces several daunting political obstacles: domestic political opposition in the US, the complexities of the upcoming Israeli election and the byzantine politics of competing Palestinian factions. But for the first time in a long time it seems mainstream American officials are arguing for the benefits of political leadership that will create a lasting peace. Obama’s team has the domestic political capital to create real change by breaking with the tradition of allow Israel to unilaterally dictate the terms of peace. The emergence of pro-Israel, pro-peace groups like Jstreet.org, who have been very active in support of a new ceasefire in Gaza, and the realignment of moderate realists towards a more dovish stance could finally give the US space to act as an honest broker in the region. This coalition may of the sensible could, hypothetically, create the justification for a leader in Israel to make Olmert’s acknowledgement of the need for Israeli concessions while they still have some political power.

Yes we might.