Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Israel is at war with Hamas

Map showing the territory under Palestinian control and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Source: Public Domain.

David Ignatius is an associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post. He also co-hosts PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues at Washingtonpost.com, with Fareed Zakaria. Capping several major awards in his field, Ignatius is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the International Committee for Foreign Journalism.

Unlike some of his colleagues in the media, Ignatius can be counted on to acknowledge at least two sides in every international conflict. In the current flare up of violence between Israel and Palestine, the press has most often portrayed Israel as the bad guy with little or no indication that Hamas, given to terrorist attacks on Israel, has played a role. Ignatius comes closer to an objective review of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East than any other media rep that I’ve come across since the conflict began.

In his analysis, Ignatius zeroes in on John Kerry’s handling of the hot-button situation:

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry has made a significant mistake in how he's pursuing a Gaza cease-fire -- and it's not surprising that he has upset both the Israelis and some moderate Palestinians.

Kerry's error has been to put so much emphasis on achieving a quick halt to the bloodshed that he has solidified the role of Hamas, the intractable, unpopular Islamist group that leads Gaza, along with the two hard-line Islamist nations that are its key supporters, Qatar and Turkey. In the process, he has undercut not simply the Israelis but also the Egyptians and the Fatah movement that runs the Palestinian Authority, all of which want to see an end to Hamas rule in Gaza.

A wiser course, which Kerry rejected in his hunt for a quick diplomatic solution, would have been to negotiate the cease-fire through the Palestinian Authority, as part of its future role as the government of Gaza. Hamas agreed last April to bring the PA back to Gaza as part of a unity agreement with Fatah that was brokered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kerry has been motivated by two understandable short-term needs: First, he wants to stop the horrific slaughter in Gaza, with its heavy loss of life among Palestinian civilians, including children. Second, he seeks to fulfil the instructions of President Obama, who wants an immediate cease-fire and has become skeptical about solving the knotted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry's approach has ignited a firestorm in Israel, with commentators left and right accusing him of taking Hamas' side and betraying Israel. That criticism is unfair, and it prompted a complaint Sunday from Obama in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry's mistake isn't any bias against Israel, but a bias in favor of an executable, short-term deal. A case can be made for this "kick the can down the road" approach, as I did last week in discussing Kerry's recent diplomatic negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and with rival political leaders in Afghanistan.

But Gaza has suffered from a generation of brutal expediency. Any deal that reinforces Hamas' stranglehold -- rather than building a path toward change of government, elections and eventual disarmament -- is misconceived. In the name of stopping bloodshed this week, it all but guarantees it in the future. That's why public opinion polls show a strong majority of Gazans back the idea of returning to Palestinian Authority control -- because they want an end to the cycle of intermittent warfare.

Israel has undermined its own cause with statements that appear to be insensitive to Palestinian loss of life. One example is Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer's claim that "the Israeli Defense Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize" for showing "unimaginable restraint," at a time when photos and videos provide wrenching evidence of civilian casualties in the densely packed cities of Gaza.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Obama years: a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?

Obama points to the Kansas delegation while giving his address at the
Democratic National Convention in 2004. Via Wikipedia.

In 2008, Barack Obama preached hope, not cynicism, but anyone who knows me is aware that I was cynical from day one about the young, inexperienced senator’s qualifications for the presidency – and besides I was a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter in the primary. Now I feel something akin to pity for our graying second-term president as he’s since learned the magic of his personality on display in Boston 10 years ago has not been sufficient to cure the world’s ills.

But here’s the thing, all things considered, I believe Obama has done a credible job so far in the Oval Office. Politico goes into depth, however, highlighting Obama’s “hits and blunders” on the tenth anniversary this Sunday, July 27, 2014 of his keynote speech at the Democratic Convention.

Dovere and Nather write:

Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention keynote delivered 10 years ago Sunday evening started his journey to the White House.

Those 18 minutes in Boston reshaped American politics. Obama spent a long passage of his speech extolling Democratic nominee John Kerry, but he wasn’t the one whose presidential prospects most people left the Fleet Center buzzing about. Caught by surprise by a convention keynote that was actually worth watching, the crowd went wild. Even Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson were spotted clapping for him.

A decade later, the speech remains a road map to the Obama agenda — and the many places where he’s fallen short in his term and a half so far.

The parts that hold up well: transitioning from a manufacturing base, the pursuit of enemies (like Osama bin Laden), a cooperative economy, voting rights, solving the “health care crisis,” “a road to opportunity” for the middle class.

But parts come across as the oratorical equivalent of an embarrassing hairdo in a high school yearbook.
The line most associated with the speech — “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America, there’s the United States of America” — is the part that’s probably held up the least well over time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A confounding reality: both the stories of the Palestinians and the Israelis are true

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Secretary General Nabil Elaraby in Cairo to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict. Photo courtesy of the State Department.

The headline in the Minneapolis StarTribune blares its devastating message: “UN school sheltering Palestinians in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed.” And so it goes. The Israelis and the Palestinians are at it again.

The AP reports:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory's Hamas rulers.

Hold on a bit, though, especially if you live in my neighborhood:

We have our privileges up here in the metropolitan Twin Cities area. Where else would you have the opportunity to gather on a university campus with a bunch of Christians, Muslims, and Jews and listen to first a couple of Palestinian-Americans, Hussein Khatib and Ziad Amra, describe what it was like for them to grow up in Palestine and a week later, hear Israeli-Americans, Mira Reinberg and Oren Gross, tell their stories?

The above presentations were followed up by Ron Young of The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative For Peace In The Middle East. Young gave an address titled Roads to Resolution: What is Our Role as Americans?

Thanks to the St. Paul Interfaith Network, it all happened in October 2010 at Hamline University. I left the event, which I covered for the St. Paul Examiner, with the deep down realization that the people of Palestine and Israel both yearn for peace. Even with the recent outbreak of war between those two countries, we need to remember it’s the people in power commanding the rockets, not those who are desperately trying to protect their loved ones.

Four years before the current raging flareup between Israel and Palestine, I wrote:

Although I brought a sketchy background on the perennial Middle East conflict to the conversation in Fall 2010, I could only feel compassion for both the Palestinian and Israeli presenters as it quickly became obvious that each had grown up in what must be described as a war zone in which violence might erupt at any moment.

Nevertheless, with the shadow of the holocaust in the background, Israeli speaker Mira Reinberg offered a profound word of wisdom. She advised against being imprisoned by history. Without suggesting that either Palestinians or Israelis dismiss the trauma they’ve experienced, she encouraged them to focus instead on the present and “build a life around or beside the trauma.”

In his address, Ron Young was determinedly optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. He cited a survey he’d done in 1985-6 in which he asked American Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders if they would join in an interreligious effort for peace between Palestine and Israel. He said they were almost unanimous in the affirmative without asking any questions about the politics in the region.

Young mentioned three parts to a message in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  He said,  “The first part of our message is ‘peace is possible’ and frankly, cynicism is one of the main enemies of that message.”

He said the second part is that the U.S. role is essential even though, the U.S. is closer to Israel than it is to Palestine. He explained, “Many Palestinians understand that because the U.S. is closer to Israel, it is the only country in the world that can help Israel overcome its own reluctance and fears to make the compromises necessary.”

The third part, Young said, is that talks are going on now between Palestinians and Israelis.
Young mentioned “resources on the ground” available to those engaged in the peace process, including the Parents Circle, Seeds of Peace, and religious institutions in the Holy Land. He also mentioned groups in Washington now working together to promote resolution of the Middle East conflict.
Young reminded his listeners that both the stories by the Palestinian speakers and the Israeli speakers were true. He said, “That’s part of the confounding reality of this conflict – both stories are true.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hillary has a good time at her book signing in St. Paul yesterday

Hillary Clinton was at Common Good Books in St. Paul on Sunday, promoting her new memoir, "Hard Choices." (Pioneer Press: Ginger Pinson), via twincities.com.
I regret that I was unable to attend Hillary Clinton’s book signing in St. Paul yesterday. But it was heartwarming to see photos showing the line of Hillary's supporters stretched out for blocks – I mean, the woman signed 1,100 copies of her book “Hard Choices.”

In the meantime, a handful of protestors (it's not clear what they were protesting) were kept across the street. And according to the Pioneer Press article cited below, “Protesters couldn't be heard in the store, where events manager David Enyeart was happy everything was going smoothly and Clinton was having a good time..”

Mary Ann Grossman reports:

Hillary Rodham Clinton drew waves of cheers Sunday afternoon when she entered Common Good Books, where she signed copies of her book "Hard Choices," a memoir of her four years as secretary of state.
Clinton acknowledged the love with a wave. Then she deftly organized a photo of the first people to move up to the signing table -- Autumn Paulson of Bloomington, who uses a wheelchair, and her mom, Catherine Kane. "Did you get us all," Clinton asked the photographer as she leaned into the shot.
Admirers of the former first lady and U.S. senator snapped up 1,100 tickets to see the woman they hope will be the Democrats' 2016 nominee for president. She had a smile, handshake and brief comment for each person who was ushered to the table where she signed books.
Clinton was greeted privately by Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. The governor escorted Clinton to the signing table. Holding up her book he promised with a smile, "I'll read it after the election," presumably referring to his bid for re-election.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Facebook friend’s life affected by Oregon/Washington wildfires

Note:  In my original post, I mistakenly said my Facebook friend, Marsha Rumbarger, moved to Oregon; she actually moved to Omak, Washington.

Washington State wildfires, photo public domain.
My Facebook friend Marsha Rumbarger recently moved to Omak, Washington. Her status update a few hours ago brought home the ferocity of fires raging in her area. Marsha wrote:

“No Internet, cable tv or landline due to damage to cables from nearby wildfires. Glad i have my Smart phone. Craig Moen and i also just purchased an antennae so we can get the news. Maybe this will be the end of our cable.”

Marsha’s dilemma prompted me to check out the online news coverage of the Washington, Oregon wildfires. The LA Times reports:

A wildfire in north-central Washington, which has already destroyed 83 homes and threatens at least 150 more, continued to burn unchecked Friday, fire officials said.

The Carlton complex fire, located near the town of Twisp, has burned nearly 170,000 acres and forced the evacuation of between 300 and 500 homes, according to the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office. It is one of the two largest fires among at least 20 raging across Washington and Oregon.

The Buzzard complex fire outside Burns, Ore., is the largest, having grown to more than 270,000 acres. Carol Connolly, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Coordination Center, which oversees emergency response to large fires in both states, said the Buzzard fire had destroyed two homes so far.

Fifteen wildfires in Oregon and five in Washington, nearly all of which started as a result of a lightning storm that moved through the region last weekend, have burned roughly 540,000 acres, forcing evacuations and drawing thousands of rescue personnel to the area.

More than 360,000 acres have burned in central and eastern Oregon while about 180,000 acres have burned in northern and central Washington, Connolly said. All 20 fires have been fed by recent wind gusts of up to30 mph and hot, dry weather, she said.

No fatalities or major injuries have been reported, but several firefighters have suffered minor injuries and hundreds of homes have been threatened, Connolly said.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Michele Bachman and the National Review just wrong on child immigration

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, 1908, via Wiki.

Lies and exaggerations have long been commonplace in American politics and too often in the media. And we shouldn’t be surprised at some of the stuff Michelle Bachman or the National Review comes up with. Still…

An unaccompanied child migrant was the first person in line on opening day of the new immigration station at Ellis Island. 
Her name was Annie Moore, and that day, January 1, 1892, happened to be her 15th birthday. She had traveled with her two little brothers from Cork County, Ireland, and when they walked off the gangplank, she was awarded a certificate and a $10 gold coin for being the first to register. Today, a statue of Annie stands on the island, a testament to the courage of millions of children who passed through those same doors, often traveling without an older family member to help them along.

Of course, not everyone was lining up to give Annie and her fellow passengers a warm welcome. Alarmists painted immigrants—children included—as disease-ridden job stealers bent on destroying the American way of life. And they're still at it. On a CNN segment about the current crisis of child migrants from Central and South America, Michele Bachmann used the word "invaders" and warned of rape and other dangers posed to Americans by the influx. And last week, National Review scoffed at appeals to American ideals of compassion and charity, claiming Ellis Island officials had a strict send-'em-back policy when it came to children showing up alone.

That's not true, according to Barry Moreno, a librarian at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and author of the book Children of Ellis Island. The Immigration Act of 1907 did indeed declare that unaccompanied children under 16 were not permitted to enter in the normal fashion. But it didn't send them packing, either. Instead, the act set up a system in which unaccompanied children—many of whom were orphans—were kept in detention awaiting a special inquiry with immigration inspectors to determine their fate. At these hearings, local missionaries, synagogues, immigrant aid societies, and private citizens would often step in and offer to take guardianship of the child, says Moreno.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hillary Clinton, “the experienced adult in the room”

Bill and Hillary during the 2008 campaign.

Good morning, Katalusis readers, I’ve got another busy day ahead of me tweaking major writing projects in between preparing for dinner guests this evening.

However, while scanning the online news coverage this morning, this piece at Politico titled “A Clinton approach for angrier times” caught my eye, and I wanted to call your attention to it.

Politico's White and Haberman write:

Hillary Clinton has a unique asset if she runs for president — Bill Clinton, who presided over a booming economy and an era of sunny Democratic centrism.

But she also faces a singular challenge: convincing voters who are skeptical of some Wall Street-friendly policies during his tenure that she can connect with their concerns at a time when the wealth gap is massive between the very rich and everyone else.

After a decade and a half of being tethered to her husband’s record, Hillary Clinton established her own political identity as senator and as secretary of state. But a string of questions from interviewers during her book tour about her husband’s tenure as president underscores the ongoing issue she will face reconciling their past with her future.

(Also on POLITICO: Hillary Clinton to 'The Daily Show')

On a broad range of issues from tax policy and Wall Street reform to religious rights, more than a dozen senior Democratic strategists and people who have worked with the former first family told POLITICO that Hillary Clinton will have to craft a platform that reflects the party’s shift left and populist sentiment across the political spectrum that distrusts entrenched interests and worries about growing wage inequality. Some described this balancing act as one of the most significant issues for the potential presidential candidate.

“This is the most important set of conversations going on right now. We are in a different economic era that requires a different kind of response,” said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network who shaped the economic message for Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign. “Apple isn’t making the same products they were 20 years ago, so you should not expect any Democrat to obey policies that are over 20 years old.” Rosenberg added that no one in the Hillary Clinton orbit underestimates the task she faces.

“Their eyes are wide open. No one thinks it’s going to be an easy election in the primary or in the general,” he said. “Things are very unsettled in American politics right now and no one close to her thinks this would be anything but a very tough race.”

The former first lady has embraced her husband’s overall record, which includes the fastest jobs and economic growth of the past half-century.