Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

March 25, 2015

Pressuring Israel

By David K. Shipler

            “If the United States decided it wanted to stand by the Palestinian people, we’d have our state in forty-eight hours,” Muhammad Arrar told me several months ago. He was a sinewy man in his mid-forties, a council member in Jalazoun, the West Bank refugee camp. “Israel is America’s fifty-first state,” he continued, in a standard line you hear from Palestinians. Then he added a plea: “In America in the 1700s, a majority of Americans stood up with their weapons and fought, and they raised their rights of liberty.”
This refrain was on the lips of virtually every Palestinian I encountered in the camps, in schools, in government offices; it was a naïve caricature of Israel as a kind of vassal state that could quickly be brought to heel by a flick of the superpower’s wrist. I tried to explain the limits of Washington’s power. Nobody accepted my brilliant analysis. I could see, through their veneer of courtesy, that they thought I was the one being naïve—or disingenuous.
But the relationship is complicated and contradictory, and its core—the dollars and hardware that bolster Israel’s military security—remains undamaged by the recent tiff between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Largely overlooked in the reporting on Monday’s speech by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough—whose criticisms of Netanyahu were given front-page coverage—was his affirmation of the nuts-and-bolts commitment, his impressive listing of the muscular, technologically advanced weaponry already in the pipeline. He pledged unflagging support, while criticizing Republicans for holding the defense budget, which includes aid to Israel, at 2006 levels.

March 17, 2015

The Rise and Fall of the Palestinian State

By David K. Shipler  

No matter who forms the next Israeli government, whether Benjamin Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog, a bet on statehood for the Palestinians is about as good as money in a Ukrainian bond. Netanyahu has said, not on his watch, and Herzog has not said. Palestinian leaders, especially in Hamas, have done nothing to make Israelis feel secure enough to take the gamble. Conditions can always change, of course, but for the foreseeable future, a two-state solution looks dead.
The idea didn’t last long. Thirty years ago, hardly any Israeli Jews supported the creation of a Palestinian state. The only Jewish-led political party to do so was the tiny Communist Party, which garnered only a handful of seats in the Knesset and never joined a governing coalition. Even liberal leaders of Peace Now, the movement that campaigned against Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, would not come out for a Palestinian state back then, for fear that they would be discredited among the rest of the Jewish population.
A sea change in Israelis’ attitudes accompanied the 1993 Oslo Accords, which won the Palestine Liberation Organization’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist and allowed Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders to come in from exile to set up an interim administration in a patchwork of areas in the West Bank and Gaza. Serious negotiations were launched with the ultimate goal of two states living peacefully side by side.
Public opinion polls showed a sudden jump in the percentage of Israeli Jews supporting Palestinian statehood: to 46.9 percent in 1994, fifteen months after the accords were signed.

March 10, 2015

Iran: Threatening and Threatened

By David K. Shipler

            Why would hardliners in Iran want to forego the prospect of becoming a nuclear power, especially when faced with hardliners in the United States and Israel, both in possession of nuclear weapons? The question is raised again by the condescending little lecture on the American constitutional system, delivered by 47 Republican Senators in the form of an open letter. Without Congress or the next president’s approval, they told Iranian leaders, no agreement by President Obama would by honored by Washington.
            Undermining the full faith and credit of the United States has now been extended from financial matters to foreign policy. Republicans, who lament our supposedly weak president, work relentlessly to weaken him. (Don’t think Vladimir Putin fails to take notice.) And while I admit to knowing no more about Iran than any informed citizen—never having been there and having read too little about that complicated country—I really wonder why policymakers there would want to take the huge gamble of abandoning their weapons program when their apparent enemy the United States cannot be counted on to uphold its side of a bargain.
            Yes, Iran would like to get out from under the crippling sanctions, which have grown internationally and strengthened during Obama’s tenure. They deny Iran markets for its oil and access to international financial institutions. Yes, Iran’s theocracy is tempered by cross-currents of moderation among those partial to opening the country to Europe, the United States, and the rest of the industrialized world. And yes, Iran has refrained from actually going nuclear, notes Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia, despite its reported ability to do so for the last decade. “The entire U.S. intelligence community and most of our allies—apparently including Israel—have concluded with high confidence that Iran has not made a decision to build a bomb,” Sick writes.
            Why not?

March 5, 2015

Policing in Blue and Black

By David K. Shipler

            The most racist institutions in America are police departments. Decades after the military launched sophisticated efforts to train and educate in cross-racial interaction, long after colleges and corporations saw their interests served by diversifying and managing relations within their communities, many police forces remain impervious to revisions of attitude that followed the civil rights movement. Especially in small cities and counties, but even in pockets of larger urban departments, racial stereotyping governs many officers’ assumptions and behavior.
So the Justice Department’s devastating report on the department in Ferguson, Missouri, comes as no surprise to anyone who has researched the problem or, more vividly, has lived it.    African-Americans who encounter white cops—and sometimes black cops—have been telling the rest of us horror stories steadily, in between the egregious beatings and killings that periodically prompt us to rediscover the affliction, conduct investigations, promise reform, and then move on.
If the Justice Department wants to make real change this time, it would take a leaf from the Defense Department’s book. At Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, the Pentagon runs a sophisticated set of trainings for officers and enlisted personnel at the Defense EqualOpportunity Management Institute (DEOMI), which also conducts surveys into the climate between races and genders in military units. Nobody would pretend that DEOMI has erased racial tensions in the services—or sexual assault, obviously—but it has helped open the lines of confrontation with those issues, and it has populated the ranks with people who get it.