America's best Jewish minds are wracking their brains, trying to find a magic formula that will put the settlements close to the hearts of Israel's supporters, not to mention its critics. A new guide to the perplexed, disseminated by the leadership of the Israel Project, the organization spearheading Israel's public relations efforts in the United States, offers a glimpse into its very own internal confusion.
The informative document recommends discontinuing the usage of three traditional arguments, frequently used by Israeli and Jewish advocates in conversations with journalists and public opinion shapers: It cautions against religious arguments based on quotes from the Bible, which even put off a Jewish audience; it warns that the argument that the land of the settlements "belongs" (the quotation marks were used in the original) to Israel is unconvincing because, officially, Israel itself defines the territories as "disputed" (and not occupied); and explains that the argument that the Arabs use the settlements to their own advantage fails to justify Israel's policy.
The Israel Project's leadership recognizes that public opinion, even among Israel supporters, is ambiguous about the settlements. Despairing Israel advocates still embrace the delusional security argument, from which even retired general Moshe Ya'alon has distanced himself: They argue that the settlements are necessary for Israel's security and suggest telling audiences that the settlements were not created randomly. They were put on mountaintops and in militarily sensitive areas to create a security buffer between Israel and its Arab neighbors (Jordan?). If that does not do the job, remind the audience that the settlements constitute an effective early warning system (does this include their well-baby clinics?). And if that is still not enough, point to the Qassams as convincing proof of what happens when Israel evacuates settlements (kindergarten children in Gush Katif protected their friends in Sderot, or was it the soldiers who protected them?).
But the joker is undoubtedly the term "ethnic cleansing." A weak defense calls for an offensive. The guide for Israel warmly recommends that advocates complain bitterly about the idea that a given area will be cleared of Jews (did someone say Judenrein?). Why can Israel accommodate and even grant equal rights to its Arab minority (the Or Report is just a rumor?), whereas the Palestinian territories must be cleansed of Jews? Unfortunately, the guide does not suggest a response to anyone who heard and/or read the opinions of Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, or of Ahmed Qureia, the head of the negotiating team, who invited the residents of Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim to remain in their homes and live in peace and equality as a Jewish minority in Palestine. Qureia even said he broached this subject with former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
Too bad none of the prime minister's many advisers directed his attention to this generous Palestinian offer. Had he been aware, he might have refrained from making cheap usage of the ethnic cleansing argument in a conversation he had last week with Germany's foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier.
Many American Jews will not heed the Israel Project's many suggestions. The leadership of the Reform community in the U.S. and Canada, which encompasses more than one million Jews, decided last month to adopt U.S. President Barack Obama's call for an end to construction in the settlements and for an immediate dismantling of the outposts. An official announcement released by the Reform community's leadership voiced concern over Israel's failure to meet its obligations in this regard. They are even demanding that the government take firm action against fringe settler groups that resort to violence against Palestinians.
The roads less traveled
Apropos natural growth, it will be interesting to see how Benjamin Netanyahu will explain to Obama section five of the plan for road improvement, part of the Transportation Ministry's new budget book: "Upgrading Highway 1 between Mishor Adumim and the Good Samaritan Inn and between the Zeitim Interchange and the Coca Cola Interchange [at the foot of French Hill in East Jerusalem], at a cost of NIS 280 million."
Let's leave aside for now the question of why the government is investing over a quarter of a million shekels in relatively lightly traveled roads that do not extend beyond seven kilometers when, at present, there is no time to expand the most accident-prone roads, like the Beit Shemesh highway, where six more people lost their lives over the weekend. How, then, can Israel explain its decision to establish new facts on the ground in the heart of the territories whose future it actually agreed to discuss?
Who will believe that Israel came to the negotiation table with clean hands at a time when it is putting its paws on yet another chunk of land? Some will surely claim that it's all linked to safety reasons and that we sometimes even allow the Palestinians to use these roads. In a previous instance, the Migron-Adam deal, it turned out that business is proceeding as usual in the settlements - and not just while there were ongoing negotiations for an arrangement with the Palestinians, but at the very height of talks with the United States over natural growth. Washington was furious. Maariv's report of erstwhile American consent to completing the construction of 2,500 apartments in the settlements only added fuel to the fire.
A retired hero
European diplomats are wondering what happened to Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief. Throughout his many long years in this post, the Spanish statesman always carefully maintained a low profile with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here a relaxed meeting with Ariel Sharon at the height of Operation Defensive Shield, there a courtesy visit with Ehud Olmert toward the end of Operation Cast Lead. Even when his legs were in the East, his heart was far away in the West, in the White House and in the U.S. State Department.
During president George W. Bush's eight years in office, Solana transformed the European Union into a ward of the Americans with regard to anything related to the Mideast conflict. It is unclear what suddenly prompted him to take the initiative and suggest that the UN set a target date for the creation of a Palestinian state, even without Israel's consent. Perhaps it is the new spirit emanating from the White House, or perhaps it is his impending retirement - maybe both.
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