Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do Israeli withdrawals lead to peace?

Since 1949, Israel has occupied and withdrawn from territories that are much larger than its internationally accepted area (which is about 21,000 square kilometers). Below I have drawn up a table of occupations.

Only two withdrawals have resulted in, or from, peace agreements: The 1979 withdrawal from Sinai was the result of a treaty with Egypt and the 2005 treaty with Jordan was the result of a partial withdrawal from the West Bank (in reality it was more of a ceding of control) resulting from the Oslo agreement.

Only once did Israel withdraw for very clear reasons of international pressure; In 1956 when it occupied both Sinai and Gaza. Most other withdrawals are the result of internal Israeli dynamics and/or military conflict, though international pressure may have play some role.

The key finding is that only if withdrawals were preceded by a peace treaty did they lead to (some kind of) peace. The imposed 1956 withdrawal actually made the situation more volatile: Nasser misinterpreted it as proof of his power leading him to overplay his hand in 1967.

If the objective of "BDS" (supporters of sanctions against Israel) is a forced Israeli withdrawal than that will mostly likely not lead to "peace".  Of course what BDS mean by peace is ambiguous: The extermination of Israel could be said to be a form of peace.

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has, arguably, not improved conditions there and it seems safe to assume that unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would lead to exacerbated conflict.

Can you force Israel to talk to the Palestinians and then force the talks to lead to an agreement?
Pressure only on Israel would give the Palestinians an incentive to stiffen their conditions and could make agreement harder. BDS have never pressured the Palestinians (or condemned their anti-Semitism), which is one of the many reasons that BDS lacks credibility.

In 1938 the British forced Palestinian Arabs and Jews to negotiate in London. The Arabs refused even to use the same door as the Jews and would not sit in the same room. No agreement was reached, so the British imposed one of their own: The 1938 White Paper. It's hard to say how much the White Paper changed the future, except that it did make the Holocaust much worse.

Total Area in square kilometers
Date of Occupation
Date of Withdrawal
Cause of withdrawal
Did it lead to a peace treaty?
US & USSR demands
US & USSR demands
Peace treaty with Egypt
Israeli internal pressures / Hamas attacks
Golan Heights

West Bank
1993 Ceded control of 20%
Shared control of another 20%
Treaty with PLO
Yes (but with Jordan) 
South Lebanon
2,000 (estimate)
UN Security Council demand
South Lebanon
2,000 (estimate)
1982 (included brief occupation of Beirut)
 Israeli internal pressures / Hezbollah attacks

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Disproportionate responses: The UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict

It is ironic that UN reports on conflicts which involve Israel always accuse Israel of a "disproportionate response", ironic because that is a precise definition of how the UN handles Israel: For example, according to UN Watch, the UN General Assembly passed 25 resolutions in 2013, 21 of them condemning Israel.

The UN report on the 2014 conflict was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council,  a body which from 2006 - 2015 issued over 100 resolutions of condemnation, over half addressed to Israel.

The latest report records Palestinian suffering and searches (with a magnifying glass) for possible evidence of Israeli war crimes. I think it is fair to say that no other conflict is subject to such tight inspection. Such inquiries have forced the Israelis to take increasing care during wars and conflicts and as a result, the Israelis probably take more care to avoid war crime accusations than any other army. So if you hate the Israelis you have more reason to hate them and if you love them, you have more reason to love them.

We can't really quantify how relatively bad - or good - we Israelis are, because other conflicts are not subject to the same scrutiny. We also can't tell if we are getting worse or improving because the report does not compare out behaviour with previous conflicts.

The report argues that war crimes are judged by the proportionality of the response and then assesses proportionality in terms of numbers killed, where there is a clear imbalance. However, that is only one way of assessing war crimes.  Intent to kill civilians would be another and persistence of behaviour needs to be taken into account (is it isolated or systematic abuse).
The Palestinians launched 5,000 missiles at Israel (paragraph 66) and the Israelis bombed them 6,000 times (paragraph 111), so there are other ways of measuring proportionality, and the death toll disparity is partially the result of extensive Israeli investment in protection, while Hamas frequently encouraged Palestinians not to seek protection and did not invest in the issue.

The lead up to the conflict, when the Israelis often did not respond to missiles and the Palestinians persistently fired missiles for no reason, is not discussed. The Israelis tend to accumulate anger and then vent. The objective of the venting is to discourage further attacks by causing a lot of damage. The war is thus a defensive-offensive war: offensive in terms of destruction, defensive in terms of objectives and the report is focusing on a narrow section of a longer conflict.

How you understand offensive vs. defensive hinges on what you think of the Israeli blockade and that is a serious problem with this report.  The report relies on a "Gaza is still occupied" formula, this is addressed in paragraphs 26 and 27 of the report. Gaza is still occupied because:

"...the law of occupation also applies in areas where a state possesses the “capacity to send troops within a reasonable time to make its power felt"."

Egypt has a border with Gaza which vilifiers of Israel find convenient to ignore. There is no reason why flotillas to Gaza should not go to Egypt and then cross into Gaza from there. The reason why the Palestinians had so many weapons was that the Moslem Brotherhood had been in power in Egypt and allowed a flow of weapons into Gaza. Precisely for that reason Israel does not have the capacity to easily re-occupy Gaza, as the report claims.  At the moment, it would be easier to conquer Damascus then to re-occupy Gaza.

The UN Security Council, which is the only UN body whose decisions are considered binding on all UN members, seems to accept that there was a full Israeli withdrawal in resolution 1860 but says that Israel retains some responsibility towards the population of Gaza and must continue to allow free flow of goods, water and electricity. Through-out the conflict Israel kept up these services and goods continued to flow in and out of Gaza. The Israelis can interfere with the flow of goods, but their ability to use these elements for control is restricted by the Security Council.  It is not an occupation but some other form of relationship.

It is probably a good idea to report on conflicts, but then all conflicts must be reported on, not just those involving Israel.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Arabs are almost strong enough to conquer Western Europe

The Roman Empire existed for some 1000 years before it fell. Modern Europe has dominated the world for far less time, perhaps since the reconquest of Spain and discovery of America in 1492: about 500 years. Since 1945, Europe has been weaker, but it has continued to exercise massive influence over the world.
The fall of Rome was not something one could have easily predicted.  Standards of living in Rome far exceeded anything that could be found in its neighbours. Roman army barracks on the borders had piped running water, fountains, baths with underfloor heating.  Slavery had been ended. All Romans were citizens.  And yet the Romans were no longer able to repulse invasions and their armies had become reliant on non-Roman troops and ineffective.

The Ancient Egyptian pharaonic kingdoms were undefeated for even longer than the Romans: some 2,000 years.  However it would appear that sometime in around 1600 BCE a group of tribes, possibly from Canaan successfully and unexpectedly conquered Egypt.

Western Europe is far more vulnerable than would appear from pure economic data. While it dominates the global economy and exercises massive influence everywhere, Western Europe has systematically neglected its military and simply relies on the USA to protect it from the outside.

To make this point, I have taken the four largest military powers in Western Europe and compared them to four large Arab states (all Sunni except Syria which has a Sunni majority), using data from the globalfirepower website.
I have not included Iran which is not Arab but has massive military power. Were Syria and Iraq to be combined they would be a formidable power and there are no European countries (except Russia) which can rival these countries in military terms. Turkey is arguably more powerful than any of the countries listed below but is Islamic and in NATO, so in a sense it keeps the balance of power.

For comparison purposes I have added Israel, which is almost as strong as Turkey (not in active military forces).

What you can see is that on land the balance is clearly shifting in favour of the Arabs.

GermanyFranceBritainItalyEurope 4IsraelArab 4AlgeriaEgyptSyriaSaudi Arabia
Soldiers (active) in thousands1802021463208481601391512468178233
Soldiers (reserve) in thousands1801958242499630179540080057025
Missile systems504442211574826011481481650322
Combat Planes29754024927013564841730188811340391
Combat Helicopters344665592044811735362818
aircraft carriers00123000000

What is missing in this chart is nuclear power which is a potential game breaker and economic power, with its implied military potential where Europe is more powerful than anyone.
Even so, it does show just how limited European military power is and that, if this trend continues, Europe could become vulnerable particularly if it loses its USA backing and its (possibly quite small) nuclear option is neutralized in some way.

If you think Europe can easily power-up then bear in mind that it takes a lot of time to train military personnel - especially commanders - and that the skills and know-how associated with warfare are gradually being lost.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ten paradoxes of the Israeli - Palestinian Arab conflict

I have long been struck by the many paradoxes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I tried to make a list of them and have provided explanations below.  If you can suggest any others I would like to hear.

  1. The minority are a majority and the majority are a minority.
  2. Israel is more Arab than some Arab states.
  3. The Arabs will not be able to defeat the Israelis until they stop trying.
  4. Anti-imperialist Arabs are usually Arab imperialists.
  5. Palestinian cities are often built on the ruins of Jewish cities, while many Jewish cities are built on the ruins of Palestinian cities. 
  6. The more Israelis and Palestinians won't compromise the more they will lose.
  7. The conflict used to be between Socialist Jews and Social Arabs, now it's between Religious Jews and Religious Arabs.
  8. The "City of Peace" is the greatest cause of conflict.
  9. As many Arabs have migrated to Europe as Jews have migrated to the Middle East.
  10. European anti-racists are frequently both racist and anti-Semitic.

  1. The minority are a majority and the majority are a minority.
    In Israel Jews are a majority, but within the Middle East Jews are a small minority, perhaps 2% of the general population - the same as in the USA.  Arab complaints about Israel are often related to an unwillingness to accept minority status while Jewish fears reflect a sense of being a minority. 
  2. Israel is more Arab than some Arab states.
    About 40% of Israeli Jews were either born in Arab countries or have two parents who were born in Arab countries.  In either case, their ancestors have lived in the Arab world as long - or longer - than the Arab population. A further 20% of Israeli Jews have one parent who belongs in that category. In addition 20% of Israelis are "native" Arabs.  In other words 80% of Israelis are either fully or half-Arab.  In Iraq, at least 30% are Kurds and many other Iraqis may be considered non-Arab, so Iraq is less Arab than Israel.
  3. The Arabs will not be able to defeat the Israel until they stop trying.
    To defeat Israel the Arabs will need to develop societies that are open to Western Civilization and tolerant. Once they do that, they will have they strength to defeat Israel but may well lose the desire. Saladin was famously tolerant of other religions and the enemy of Moslem fundamentalists, he only fought the Crusaders after they attacked him.
  4. Anti-imperialist Arabs are often imperialists.
    Many Arab leaders who fought Colonialism and European imperialism strove to re-create an Arab Empire in the Middle East. It's still true. In contrast, the Jewish religion could be said to prohibit empire-building: Jews are allocated a specific territory and no more.
  5. Many Palestinian cities are built on the ruins of Jewish cities, including Bethlehem, Hebron, Arabeh, Jaffa and more. Many Israeli towns are built on the ruins of Palestinian towns or villages including Ashdod, Yehud and Be'er Sheva. In some cases there are multiple layers: Tiberias, Tzfat and Ramleh are predominantly Jewish cities that were built on Palestinian ruins which were built on Jewish ruins.
  6. The more Israelis and Palestinians won't compromise the more they will lose.
    The Palestinian refusal to compromise famously resulted in the Jews having a state while they had none. The Arab refusal to accept Israel led, in 1967, to Israel gaining possession of the entire land. Israeli lack of flexibility contributed to the 1973 war which was arguably very damaging to Israel. Today the settlers' unwillingness to compromise may be strengthening the Palestinian claim to the land internationally while making Israel weaker.
  7. The conflict which was once between Socialist Jews and Socialist Arabs is now between Religious Jews and Religious Arabs.
    Nasser described himself as an "Arab Socialist" and the Ba'ath parties that ruled Syria and Iraq defined themselves as Socialist, while the Labor Party which dominated Israeli politics until the mid-Seventies was Socialist and most senior Israeli officers were Kibbutzniks: Moshe Dayan was the second child to be born on a Kibbutz. (his mother was a former "Narodnik"). Now the conflict is led by Hamas, Hizbullah and Orthodox Jewish settlers.  Although Orthodox Jews don't yet dominate the upper echelons of the Army they are increasingly dominant in the officer corp and it may be just a question of time.
  8. The "City of Peace" is the greatest cause of conflict.
    Jerusalem's name in Hebrew is said to also mean the City of Peace, but it is anything but.  In the Middle-Ages it was the main focus of international conflict between Christians and Moslems  and today it arguably remains the most intractable part of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  9. As many Arabs have migrated to Europe as European Jews have migrated to the Arab world
    About 3 or 4 million Arabs have migrated to Europe in the last 100 years, This is roughly the same as the number of Europeans who have migrated to Israel.  See
  10. European anti-racists are often both racist and anti-Semitic.
    Many Europeans who describe themselves as "anti-racist" believe that race theory is a valid way of seeing the world, that is that Jews and Arabs are separate "races". In fact, very few Jews or Arabs see themselves in terms of "Race", and most see themselves in terms of religion which is the principle method by which Middle-Easterners define themselves and practise discrimination.  This is as true of the Jews as it is among the Arabs. Because Europeans see the world in terms of race they tend to assume that others do so as well, and because they are prone to demonise Jews, they easily assume that Israel is racist. Having decided that Israel is racist, often for anti-Semitic reasons, they feel free to be anti-Semitic because they are "anti-racists" and because Israel (and with it most Jews) are racists.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Graven images of God and the prophets

After the initial outrage at the killing of the cartoonists in France, I started re-assessing my attitude to Charlie Hebdo and found myself thinking that it is a very offensive publication.  Obviously I don't condone the use of murder to silence the magazine, but it is true that here in Israel many of its cartoons would be deemed racist and banned from publication.

There are plenty of depictions of Mohammed around if you choose to actually look for them. Take this compilation of Renaissance depictions of Mohammed:  Apparently Moslems also depicted Mohammed:
The murder of the cartoonists raises another issue: the status of Mohammed in Islam. Basically, Christians think that Jesus is part God, while Moslems assign a semi-divine status to Mohammed in which he remains human but apparently is so sacred that we mustn't even imagine what he looked like. And Jews? We barely mention Moses. The Passover Haggadah, which is all about the Exodus completely ignores him.  You might say that we are quite happy to insult his memory.  On that grounds at least Jews must count as better monotheists then Moslems and Christians: No one over-shadows God. Though, of course, each religion has its own oddities.  Jews ascribe magical sacred status to a building (the Temple).

If you object to depictions of Mohammed, its a bit odd to ignore depictions of God.  Christians depict God all the time.  The attitude would seem to suggest that Mohammed was more important than God, though it may be related to different ideas of the nature of God - Moslems are less likely to "humanize" God.
As for creating images of Mohammed, both orthodox Jews and Moslems make a big fuss about having no images while printing plenty of images of rabbis and imams. It seems to me that there is an element of idolatry in hanging up giant pictures of Khomeini or Rabbi Ovadiah, though perhaps it's better that religious zealots allow pictures if the alternative is that they allow none.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

How I cycled in a sudden blizzard without gloves.

This is a story about my most extreme cycling experience in terms of weather.
It was about 2004. I was volunteering once a week at a charity for the homeless funded by David Gilmour of the Pink Floyd, located in Aldgate in East London. My ride home was 15 kilometers and there was a sudden drop in temperature to sub-zero cold accompanied by snow and strong winds.  I didn't have any gloves.
The snow was so heavy that I couldn't see where I was going, and the lack of gloves meant that my hands were agonizingly painful, so I decided to head to Kings Cross and travel by train.
Somewhere on the way to Kings Cross I had a puncture.  I remember swearing heavily at my bad luck and trying to remove the tyre with my frozen hands which was very painful.  I broke a tyre lever -   Possibly the fiberglass couldn't handle the sub-zero temperatures.
At Kings Cross I managed to get onto a train going to Finsbury Park. My destination was Alexandra Palace which is a several stops further down the line. Finsbury Park was packed with people trying to find a train, and no trains were going any further than Finsbury Park "due to snow on the tracks".
There were crowds of people milling around waiting for a train and it was clear I couldn't get a bicycle on a train and there was no point in waiting. I decided to risk cycling in the cold.
Cycling with no gloves in sub-zero weather is so painful that normally you have to stop within a couple of minutes but on this occasion the sudden weather change had resulted in a 5 mile traffic jam which went all the way from Finsbury Park to Muswell Hill and beyond.  My entire route was lined with cars which weren't moving but had their engines on keeping the drivers warm.  The heat generated was enough to keep my hands warm and get me home. Although my experience was hard it turned out to be better then commuters and drivers who spent hours getting home.

In Israel, I have cycled in Middle-Eastern heat waves, but one of the hardest times to cycle is during Mediterranean rainstorms. We get at least one of these rains storms a year.  Typically 10-20% of our annual rainfall will drop within a 48 hour period.  It quite literally comes down in buckets. Tel Aviv's drain system tends to get blocked up during the summer and it can't handle the sudden deluge so you find yourself cycling through flooded roads, large puddles while being beaten by heavy rain.
I have a very attractive British raincoat, which was great in England but can't handle the Israeli rain.
We had one fo these storms this week and I donned two rain jackets, heavy hiking boots and storm pants and rode through the park.  It was wonderful: I was the only human in the Eastern end of Park HaYarkon and passed right next to the Jackals which have now moved into the park, further down I saw two huge herons and a tree with Cormorants. Rothschild Boulevard (my destination) was littered iwth dead umbrellas.
Tree with Cormorants

Rothschild Boulevard in the rain
Palm trees shed their dead leaves

Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common...