Saturday, November 24, 2012

Let’s Talk Fundamentals: Israel is Not The Problem and Israel Does Not Have The Solution

This is a guest blog-post that appeared here:
The recent post by John Glaser began in a manner that gave me hope. He seemed to be prepared to focus clearly on issues of foreign policy or strategic choices, without resort to the ill-informed judgments that plague discussions on the tragic conflict we are now witnessing. That hope evaporated instantly when I read his fourth paragraph. Said judgments then followed thick and fast. Too bad.
I would like to try and deal with this tangled web of legitimate concerns and ugly mischaracterizations by first stipulating some points on which we might find substantial agreement, or at least recognition that more than one opinion is legitimate given the uncertainties involved.
I imagine all libertarians agree that foreign military aid ought to be ended. This includes the annual $3 billion to Israel and the $6 billion to its enemies and neighbors, and it includes as well the $1 billion plus that makes its way to the Palestinian politicians through the permanent UN agency created for the Palestinians 65 years ago, UNRWA (about which I shall have more to say). So, yes let’s pull the money from Israel, but let’s pull it from everyone else as well, and let’s not pretend that this funding occurs in a vacuum. Mr. Glaser talks about this funding of other countries in the region in a different context, but I assume he agrees in principle.
Having said this, there is always the practical question of how you get from here to there. Are we to remain silent on how this is to be done or do we have an opinion on whose funding we should cut first? Presumably, my readers will identify a first-best solution as the cutting of all such aid at once. I agree. But this is not likely to happen. So, in its absence, is it to be taken for granted that we should support cutting Israel’s funding and not the other’s, on the premise that any cut is better than none? We should not pretend it does not make a difference. If it is true, as I firmly believe that Israel (i.e. the Israelis) faces a real existential threat, then to pull her military support without pulling those of her enemies and would-be killers, would be to risk indirectly precipitating a genocide. I would argue strongly that doing it the other way round (cutting aid to Israel’s opponents first) would more likely bring a deescalating of hostilities.
I expect we will disagree about this. But it is not a disagreement about principle, it is a disagreement about the correct strategy to take in pursuit of principle in an imperfect world. Absent the immediate cessation of foreign military aid, what half-measures should we support if any? Let’s not be self-righteous about this; this kind of choice cannot be avoided. (I put aside the observation that if the U.S. got out of the business entirely, the enemies of Israel would find other sponsors to fill the gap. It is probably true, but acting on this line of thinking that leads down the black hole of we are now in. I trust Israel will be able to fend for itself).
The second area of potential agreement in principle is the question of the tragedy itself. No one considers the terrible loss of life and injury currently suffered by innocents in Gaza as anything but awful and tragic. The question is, why it is occurring? If we grant Israel the right of self-defense, is there a better, more humane, response, especially given the practice of Hamas of putting civilians in harm’s way (there is ample evidence that this has been a deliberate strategy – though probably not in every case)? I am open to real suggestions about what Israel might do to deter the rocket attacks on its citizens. Mr. Glaser wants to minimize the importance of the rockets, but, I am not sure on what basis and what he advises as an appropriate response.
This third topic concerns the settlements. As I said earlier in a comment, the settlements are a mixed bag. Those that are part of the state-agenda, and are state financed, are simply coercive and ought to be clearly condemned. There is room for reasonable disagreement about how the state of Israel should respond to private settlements, on land bought with private money. And there is also the practical question of what to consider a settlement. Mr. Glaser throws in East Jerusalem. This is an unjustified rush to judgment. Jews have lived in East Jerusalem continuously for thousands of years.  Many were expelled in 1949. There are claims on both sides. What libertarian principle would allow us to so easily call this unjustified settlement?
I think this is about as far as we can go in a reasonable discussion without getting into the inflammatory areas of disputed facts, motives, and consequences. To appeal to fellow libertarians about the need to cut funding to Israel, because we should cut funding to everyone, is one thing. But to then proceed to gratuitously vilify Israel on the basis of incorrect and incomplete information is something else entirely.
Mr. Glaser starts his story in 1967, and seems to suggest that that the war occurred because Israel wanted the land. This is crazy. The occupation is a headache and a long-term liability. Most Israelis would trade land for a real secure peace in a heartbeat. The war was about survival and defensible borders. I expect this to be received with skepticism by some, but I urge a careful examination of the history, looking at all the arguments,  and not only those of the revisionist Israeli historians, that I personally consider to be discredited. Mr. Glaser then goes on to claim, incredibly, that it is Israel that is intransigent in not accepting offers of peace. He refers to the Arab League as having endorsed a so-called deal, and even suggests that Hamas has. Really? (here?)  Where is the actual text. Where is the textual evidence of the Arab League, Hamas, or the PLO, having recognized the State of Israel and its right to exist as a Jewish state. Why a Jewish state? Because all of the other states in the region exist as Moslem states. We may wish for separation of church and state, we may moreover wish for the abolition of all states, but this is not the context we are talking about in the choices we face to minimize violence and save lives.
The truth is exactly the reverse of what Mr. Glaser claims. It is the PLO and the Arab leaders that have walked away from all and any reasonable peace proposal, most notably the one at Camp David hosted by President Clinton, but others as well. Israel risked much with the Oslo Accords and paid a very heavy price in lives and casualties. Hamas has never recognized Israel at all, in any form, and its charter specifies and emphasizes commitment to the destruction of Israel as a political entity and it has never wavered from this. You can’t just ignore these things! It is also clear that you cannot trust any momentary accommodation. There is strong reason to believe that Hamas, and for that matter the PLO, will make concessions for strategic proposes that they have no intention of maintaining. Any serious proposal must ensure some credible, verifiable commitment to Israel’s security.
Mr. Glaser goes on to tackle the case of the settlements. I have already indicated where I think this may be a legitimate area of criticism against the Israeli government. But, having said this, one thing is clear to me; even if all settlement activity ceased tomorrow, this would do nothing to solve the fundamental problem. The problem long predates the settlements and will endure beyond it. It is not what Israel does that matters for the achievement of peace, it is where and what Israel is. If we are talking about the big questions here, we should be under no illusions that this conflict is about land. This is the fundamental mistake in Mr. Glaser’s whole analysis, and it is a common mistake. It was never about land. Israel is to greater Arabia as a postage stamp (or a sheet of paper) is to a football field – think about that image. Withdrawing to 1967 borders will not solve the problem.  To make that suggestion is to betray an ignorance of the history. The period between 1948 and 1967  was an unending struggle for survival, in a country less than fifty miles across in its middle, and therefore extremely vulnerable. Suggesting that the Israelis should withdraw back to that situation and trust the Arabs to honor a commitment to peace ignores the question of the burden of proof.  What evidence is there that Israel’s neighbors would honor such a commitment, given their past actions? Surely the history bears on this. No, emphatically, this is not really about land or settlements.
The rest of Mr. Glaser’s piece is about Israel’s cruelty and the “illegal” blockade (he is not able to resist an  obscene reference to the Nazis in the context of Israeli actions). Again he argues in a vacuum. I want to hear what he would have Israel do. He seems to fault them for their superior technology to neutralize the rockets, suggesting that this means they should simply tolerate the rocket barrage. He resorts to the oft-repeated notion that because the number and severity of Palestinian casualties is greater than the Israelis’, this somehow bears on the merits of the case. Israel suffered horribly before it was able to stem the tide of unending terrorist attacks on its cities. Intentions matter. Hamas deliberately targets civilians. The IDF takes risks and pays a price to try to avoid civilian casualties. As for the story about the embargo not allowing essentials, even children’s toys, through to Gaza, I have to say I am highly skeptical. The Arab press is completely unreliable and the European press is not much better when it comes to Israel. The Israeli press is often critical of its government and is much more reliable.
Mr. Glaser throws in a few comments about how anti-Arab racist Israelis are. Examine the popular press in the territories, in Egypt or anywhere in the Arab world to see the anti-Semitic cartoons and vicious anti-Jewish propaganda. In Israel’s vigorously free press there is, by contrast, ample evidence of sensitivity to Arab minority rights and concerns. On what evidence would Mr. Glaser base his claim of the dangers of anti-Arab racism? Surely it is relevant to note in this context that Israeli Arabs have more rights, freedoms and opportunities than the vast majority of Arabs do throughout the Middle East, and certainly more than any Jews living under Arab rule .
Any discussion of how to achieve peace must take account of the history and nature of the “Palestinian problem.” If one is really concerned about their suffering, it behooves one to look carefully at this. Why has this particular refugee problem, dating from 1949, persisted – especially when so many millions of other displaced persons from that era are no longer a matter of international concern? What makes the Palestinian refugee problem so different from the other refugee problems? The answer involves the political agendas of many of our corrupt allies in the region in a manner that savvy libertarians should easily be able to relate to.
The origin of this problem is the war of 1949 which followed the attempt by Britain to establish a partition of the land between Jews and Arabs (the term “Palestinian” arrived much later) – a two-state solution. The Jews accepted it and so did many of the Arabs. Absent the efforts of the nascent Muslim Brotherhood, under the Palestinian leadership of Haj Amin al Husseini, a Nazi propagandist during WWII, there arguably would have been a two-state solution (here). Everything that has followed since is the result of those fateful events, from which time the refusal to recognize the right of Israel to exist became written in stone.
In the months following the onset of the war roughly 750,000 Arab residents were displaced in one way or another. At the same time about 850,000 Jews were forcibly, often violently, expelled from the Arab countries of the region – communities that had lived there for generations. These were “absorbed” into the new state of Israel. But the displaced Arabs and their children and grandchildren were left to linger until this day. A special UN agency was created to deal with them, UNRWA, The United Nations Relief Works Agency, which today has an annual budget in excess of $1.1 billion. UNRWA must stand as the most perniciously destructive and counterproductive of the agencies of the UN. The “achievements” of the UN in the world have been rightly criticized and even vilified. But this must be the worst of them. It may be a case mostly of unintended harms, but that is no mitigation to those millions whose lives it has affected. The Arab states for their part have continued to treat the Palestinians as second class citizens and have refused to allow them to immigrate and become citizens or permanent residents.
Those who rise to condemn Israel pointing to the injustice of the displacement in 1949 of the Arabs whose descendants became today’s Palestinians, should consider the balancing of evils over the years that have attended all of the many millions of refugees from that awful period in history. Absent the dependency enabling (nay producing) role of UNRWA, the refugee status of the Palestinians would not have endured. In the meantime, UNRWA has evolved into a Palestinian controlled, terrorist sponsoring, paramilitary organization that is also an all-encompassing welfare-state perpetuating refugeeism. Remember, this is an agency of the United Nations. And, as such, it receives most of its financing from the taxpayers of the United States! The foundationally pathological structure of the Palestinian situation is at the root of it. If this is not fixed, the problem quite simply will never go away and will probably get steadily worse. (here)
The ensuing fate of the Palestinians being condemned to be perpetual refugees is the predictable result of political opportunism and the racism of fundamentalists and ultra-nationalists. The Arab states have cynically used the Palestinians as pawns in their political agendas – either to divert attention from their corrupt dictatorial domestic oppression, or as a motivating factor in the Islamist agenda. Had the original 750,000 refugees been settled like the rest of the millions of refugees in various countries around the region, and the world, including Israel, the current horror would not exist. Quite simply, the Palestinian situation was not of Israel’s making and is not in Israel’s power to solve. On the other hand, a real honest to goodness desire to solve it, by the Arab states, especially the Saudis, could do so, though the longer it lingers the more difficult it becomes. State oppression in one way or another is at the root of it and real progress toward peaceful coexistence through many cultural, trade and investment initiatives has been squashed by the local leaders, with the support of their foreign sponsors.
Thus while we might oppose any government funding of settlements and any coercive displacement of Palestinians to facilitate the establishment of settlements (as I do), and while we may reasonably  debate Israeli’s defense strategies, we cannot, in good conscience, require of Israel to dismantle its embargo, dismantle its checkpoints, dismantle its fence, and generally stand down in its attempt to combat acts of terror. That makes no sense. These measures have proven incredibly effective in keeping Israel’s population safe after suffering for years a horrendous barrage of attacks directed specifically against civilians, where they live, shop, learn, and play. These measures create great hardships, but, in the final analysis, they are effectively imposed on Israel as much as they are imposed on the Palestinians, by the presence of a real, credible, significant, terrifying danger. Similarly, calls for Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, or beyond, make no sense. The same threats that exist now, existed before 1967 all the way back to 1949, except that Israel was defending less secure borders. The settlements are not the fundamental obstacle to peace. Nor is the “occupation.” The refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and actions taken in support of that, and the cynical use of the “Palestinian problem”  – these are the fundamental problems.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From my FB page - The real Obama and why it matters.

This afternoon (November 17, 2012) I heard Richard Epstein talk on the implications of the recent election for the economy. He gave the annual distinguished scholar lecture as the SEA meetings. To hear Epstein talk is awe-inspiring. Hard to describe. Always without notes, he delivers intricate, clever, funny, insightful prose without hesitation, seamlessly weaving his web of logic, backwards and forward, while making knockdown points.

What he said today reinforced my conviction that Obama is by far the worse of the two candidates we faced in this election - though both were pretty bad. Epstein's knowledge of the details of each and every Obama program, the law, the economics, the bureaucracy, ... left me with little doubt on this score - and pretty pessimistic for what lies ahead. In addition Epstein has the rather unique advantage of knowing Obama personally from his University of Chicago days.

This is a situation where personality matters a lot. According to Epstein, Obama is the exact opposite of his convivial exterior. He is someone who is unlikely to change his mind on anything and who takes criticism extremely badly. He brings to the White House not your standard self-serving, but flexible politician. He is, rather, someone who is a principled and stubborn believer in policies and values antithetical to the health of the American economy and its civil society. His serious agenda is not the "liberal" agenda of the 1960's which focused on civil rights; rather it is the agenda of the Progressive era in America, wherein social planning politician sought, by the power of government, to redesign society from top to bottom. And you see this in every part of the various programs he has already addressed.

Healthcare, financial regulation, environmental policy, protectionism in international trade, trade unionism, education, and more. In every case Obama has skillfully constructed a powerful regulatory apparatus. Where he has been able to use Congress he has obtained the legislation he wanted (and designed), legislation deliberately vague, so as to leave as much discretion for the bureaucracy as possible. Where legislation was unnecessary, or unobtainable, he has resorted to administrative discretion, issuing decrees often without the necessary Congressional approval. He knows that the regulated companies and organizations have the option of either obeying or taking the government to court, and that the latter is costly inconvenient and risky, so they almost always comply. In this way, little by little, our freedoms are regulated away.

Epstein pointed out that the accumulating regulations act like taxes to sap the creative power of private economic initiatives and when combined with macro tax and spend policies can only have one outcome. The prospect for the future is one of dwindling growth, smaller technological advances, less capital investment in America and slowly declining standards of living, not only for or mostly for the 1%.

I wish I could do his analysis justice. I can't even come close. But he has expressed this in parts in various places available on the internet and I will be looking for them so as to be able to share more specific detail.