Forward Thinking

Kerry's New Road Map for a Mideast Peace Deal

By J.J. Goldberg

From Tuesday’s Yediot Ahronot, as translated in the emailed Daily News Update of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace comes a fairly detailed description by Alex Fishman of John Kerry’s game plan for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Fishman is Yediot’s veteran, impeccably well-sourced military affairs correspondent. He attributes this information to State Department sources. It doesn’t appear on line (neither in Hebrew nor English) so I’m posting the Abraham Center’s translation below in full.

In brief, Fishman reports that Kerry is aiming for a 4-way meeting in Amman between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Jordan. (Kerry is very eager to have Jordan step in as a sponsor of peace talks, both to give Abbas some substantive Arab backing and to give King Abdullah II a boost.) You’ll note at once that Abbas is already refusing to attend without a clear gesture from Israel. In the past he’s demanded a full Israeli settlement freeze. Lately he’s begun demanding a map showing Bibi Netanyahu’s notion of a future Palestinian state. As I’ve reported in the past, Abu Mazen has been refusing to talk to Bibi (after willingly talking to Ehud Olmert before him) because his sense is that Bibi has no intention of ever ceding enough land for a real state. The idea of the map is to show that the talks will go somewhere, so Abu Mazen doesn’t enter a dead end and end up looking like a fool.

So if you stop reading after paragraph 2, you get the sense that Kerry’s plan is dead in the water. But Fishman goes on to report that Kerry thinks he can eventually get Bibi to give up some lesser concessions that will satisfy Abu Mazen and get the talks started. The two sides’ notions of final borders are impossibly far apart at this point, but Kerry is aiming for an interim agreement on Israel ceding 80% of the West Bank as a first stage. It’s a long shot, but who knows? So were the 1969 Mets…

The Kerry Plan

By Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot, April 9, 2013

The new American secretary of state, John Kerry, is trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to sit down to a four-way meeting in Jordan. The answer he’s received from Abu Mazen, at least for the time being, has been flat out refusal.

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Woody Allen Talks Israel, With ... (Surprise!) Love

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images
Woody Allen

L.A. Jewish Journal publisher Rob Eshman’s campaign to raise funds for Woody Allen to film in Israel has touched off a mini-media flurry over Allen’s merits as an artist and a Jew. Rob notes that Allen “has done much to define the image of ‘Jew’ in our time,” but has never been to Israel “as far as I know.”

Haaretz blogger Allison Kaplan Sommer responded yesterday with a list of reasons why it’s not worth the money. She cites Allen’s undeniably negative depiction of Jewish women, his 1988 “tantrum” on the New York Times Op-Ed page, “chiding Israel for making him look bad,” and his “deliberately” choosing not to visit Israel even though “he’s been happy to go almost anywhere else.” She doesn’t mention the long-running scandal over his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, but from her caustic tone I’m guessing it’s on her mind. I don’t have real evidence, mind you—I’m just speculating, sort of the way Kaplan is speculating about Allen’s attitude toward Israel. (I love Allison. I’m just saying…)

Coincidentally, we don’t need to guess any longer about Allen’s feelings toward Israel. He discusses them — passionately — in an interview with Yediot Ahronot Paris correspondent Yaniv Halili, published last Friday (in Hebrew) in Yediot’s increasingly readable weekend entertainment supplement, 7 Nights. Most of it is about growing old (he hates it), the Soon-Yi scandal (the public never got it, he doesn’t read the tabloids), his non-relationship with his son and his work habits. Israel only comes up at the end, but he goes at it with gusto. I don’t have time to translate the whole thing (and it’s not online even in Hebrew, alas), but here’s the part about Israel, Jewish identity and, intriguingly, the dilemmas of his half-Jewish children’s Jewish identity:

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Flotilla Flub: Bibi Acted Poorly, Public Did Worse

By J.J. Goldberg

Israel’s state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, in his second-to-last report before retirement, delivers a searing critique of the Netanyahu-Barak government’s handling - make that catastrophic mishandling - of the lead-up to and aftermath of the May 2010 Turkish flotilla incident. The report charges haphazard, seat-of-the-pants decision making in place of planning, consultation and staff work. Yediot Aharonot political-military commentator Ron Ben-Yishai writes about the report’s broader implications for Israeli security - the evidence that Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak simply ignore the elementary requirements (including legal requirements) of good defense and intelligence work when they make fateful decisions about Israel’s future. He worries - as do numerous other commentators in the last few days - about the fact that these are the guys who will decide whether or not to take Israel to war against Iran.

The report, and particularly Ben-Yishai’s analysis, flesh out what I wrote a few months ago about the disorder in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bureau, with accent on his critical mishandling of the National Security Council set up three years ago, largely in response to his own legislative initiative as an opposition lawmaker before the 2009 election.

Having said all that, the most stunning piece I have read about the comptroller’s report and what’s not in it - namely the Israeli public’s response to the flotilla incident - is this blog post by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz.

In case you can’t get past the paywall, here’s the heart of his argument:

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Israeli Brass Astir Amid Pressure for Iran Strike

By J.J. Goldberg

“Have the prime minister and defense minister sealed a deal between them, one on one, to attack the nuclear reactors in Iran?” So asks Nahum Barnea, commonly described as Israel’s senior and most respected political journalist, in an article leading the top of the front page of today’s Yediot Ahronot. He writes that growing rumors to that effect have created a quiet but urgent buzz within Israel’s political and military elites. They’re also troubling foreign governments, which “have a hard time understanding what is going on here”: a fateful decision that could “seal the fate of the Jewish state” for good or ill, and yet near-total silence on the topic in the public arena.

Barnea writes that the question of whether or not to attack divides Israel’s leadership into four camps. One camp says the benefits would be slim and the risks “insane,” given Iran’s ability to bombard Israel with deadly missiles from Lebanon, Gaza and Iran itself and touch off a regional war “that could destroy the state of Israel.” This camp says it’s better to focus on international sanctions, bearing in mind that if they fail and Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, “it won’t be the end of the world” — while an Israeli attack just might be.

The second camp says there’s no rush. Iran is still at least two years away from a weapon, which leaves plenty of time to let other options play out, reserving a military attack as an absolute last resort. Barnea quotes a senior American diplomat who told him Israel should back renewed negotiations on international inspections. If and when Iran turns out to be lying, an Israeli attack will have a lot more international understanding and support, which could be crucial in determining how well Israel survives the ensuing onslaught. Some Israeli cabinet ministers subscribe to this view, and suspect that the growing pressure for an immediate attack stems from “outside motives, whether personal or political.” More on that later.

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David Grossman on the Tent Protests: 'Window to a Different Future'

By J.J. Goldberg

Israeli novelist David Grossman participated last week in the large demonstration in Tel Aviv that was a high point in the ongoing economic protests, and wrote a powerful, poignant and much-discussed account of the emotions it generated. It appeared August 5 on the front page of the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement (here is the Hebrew original). A blogger known as blogzahav has posted his own earnest English rendition. What’s most powerful is the tumbling flow of emotions - confusion, joy, regret, hope - at finding himself believing again in the possibility of social solidarity and a vision, however blurry, of a better future.

… I felt that we, the marchers, looking at ourselves with amazement and a little doubt, didn’t completely believe ourselves what was coming from inside us: whether we are really “the masses,” the angry masses, a wave of fists, like we see at similar demonstrations in Tunis, and in Egypt, in Syria and in Greece? Whether we want to be the masses like this? Whether we are seriously ready for what we are shouting for in rhythm here: “Rev-o-lu-tion!”And what will happen if we succeed “too much,” and this fragile state cracks. And what if the protests and the passion turn to anarchy?

But after a few steps, something happens, the blood moves. The rhythm, the momentum, the togetherness. Not a threatening faceless togetherness. But rather a togetherness that is not uniform, but mosaic, chaotic, familial with a strong sense of - here, we are doing the right thing, finally we are doing the right thing.

And then also rises the amazement- where were we until today? How did we allow this to happen? How have we put up with governments that we have chosen turning our health and our children’s education into luxuries? How did we not shout when the Treasury officials crushed the social workers, and before them - the disabled, the Holocaust survivors, the old, and the pensioners? How for years have we pushed the hungry and the poor into soup kitchens and charities and to lives of humiliation for generations. …

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