Wednesday, February 24, 2010


We live in age of political extremism. It's not necessarily a reflection of the tough issues of the day; there have been tougher times to be sure, and it's not just bad manners; politicians have probably always been street fighters at heart, despite their grinning photo-ops, and their groomed appearances to the contrary.

Today's noisy 24/7 media overload may be part of the problem inasmuch as bad news sells better than good; discouraging scandal entertains more than encouraging statistics, and misinformation on the internet has a life of its own.

But there is something about the uncompromising vitriol of the current age, perhaps magnified by the paradigm shift in digital communication, that is ripping the social fabric to shreds and threatening the health, safety and resilience of entire nations as a whole.

The worst thing about the morass of politics today is the myopia of spoiler politics; if one side fails to get its way, it responds to no higher calling than to ruin it for the other side. It's like two people fighting to get on a raft, each pulling the other off, willing to risk drowning rather than cooperate with a rival.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010



US-China relations have gotten off to a less than roaring start in the Year of the Tiger, but the venom of mutual incrimination can be avoided if both sides engage in some retrospection and put things in an historical perspective.

Indeed, the positive achievements of the world's most important bilateral relationship are so numerous, profound and complex, that it has become part of the landscape and second nature to younger generations who never experienced the frigid depths of the Cold War and the polarizing antipathies in which the global East and global West defined one another as the quintessential enemy.

While there's no space to enumerate the many people-to-people initiatives that made today's peaceful economic integration of two great economies possible, it is worth reminding ourselves that the rich and constant exchange of people and goods across the Pacific that we take for granted today was almost beyond imagination just a generation ago.

Because the mutual gains of economic interdependence and intellectual and cultural exchange have been such game-changers the accomplishments and sacrifices of previous generations may be obscured from view. Those who have contributed to US-China amity have built so sturdy an edifice that we find ourselves standing on a foundation of good deeds and accomplishments so massive that it is almost impossible to view as a whole.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Goldstone Commission member draws fire for noting that Hamas did respect the June-November 2008 ceasefire

[Cross-posted with "From the Field"]

Desmond Travers, one of the four members of the Goldstone Commission, has drawn fire for noting that an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire, initiated in June 2008, was being respected by Hamas, at least until Israel punctured the ceasefire early November 2008.* In an interview in Middle East Memo, a London-based website that focuses on the Middle East and seeks to promote “fair and accurate coverage” of the Middle East, Travers claims that only two rockets were fired into Israel the month before Israel’s Gaza operation began. Travers is correct, but he should have been more precise. While the ceasefire technically expired in December 2008, in early November Israel broke the ceasefire by launching a raid into Gaza.

Here is what Travers said to interviewer Dr. Hanan Chehata:

HC - Israel claims that its attack on Gaza was based on self-defence. In your opinion is their claim of self-defence enough of a reason to justify their attack on Gaza last year?

DT – No, I reject that entirely. No, my first sentence is that Israel, like every other country, has a right to defend itself. However, it should be borne in mind that the number of rockets that had been fired into Israel in the month preceding their operations was something like two. TheHamas rockets had ceased being fired into Israel and not only that but Hamas sought a continuation of the ceasefire. Two had been fired from Gaza, but they are likely to have been fired by dissident groups.

HC – For how long had there been a ceasefire?

DT - From June [2008]. And Hamas sought an extension of the ceasefire with Israel and Israel said no. To be honest, Israel might have had a very good reason to refuse an extension of the ceasefire because we all know, in the counter-insurgency world, that ceasefires are opportunities for insurgents to re-arm and re-equip but unfortunately they have never offered that as an explanation, but it is possible, if I’m trying to be fair to them [the Israelis].

Travers is correct. The ceasefire was working. According to Israeli data, including “The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement,” a study prepared by the
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (released in December 2008), from June 2008 until November 4, 2008 a ceasefire (“lull” in the Israeli report) produced a significant reduction in missile and rocket from Gaza into Israel. Israel significantly reduced its attacked into Gaza during that period as well. Israeli compiled figures, indicate that 20 rockets and 18 mortar shells were fired from Gaza. 17 of the rockets and 15 of the mortar rounds reached Israel. Of those that reached Israel, the numbers per month, from June to October were 9, 6, 11, 3 and 2, respectively. To quote the report (at p. 7):

During the period of the ceasefire, according to the Israeli “Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire and its operatives were not involved in rocket attacks. At the same time, the movement tried to enforce the terms of the arrangement on the other terrorist organizations and to prevent them from violating it. Hamas took a number of steps against networks which violated the arrangement, but in a limited fashion and contenting itself with short-term detentions and confiscating weapons.

On November 4, Israel launched a raid into Gaza, which it justified as being necessary topre-empt a Hamas operation. At least six Hamas members were killed. Hamas denies that it was preparing an operation, and it retaliated by firing rockets into Israel. Thus did the ceasefire end.

Even after the November incident, Hamas was wiling to extend the ceasefire, but with several provisos, notably an end Israel’s crippling blockade of the strip. Israel rejected the Hamasconditions and the ceasefire expired in Decemver. Arguably, when Hamas refused to extend the ceasefire, it was a gift to Israel “on a gold platter,” to borrow the metaphor of the Egyptian Foreign Minister (see my “
The Gaza War: Antecedents and Consequences” for more details).

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched the Gaza war with the tragic and troubling results that are elaborated in the Goldstone Report.

*For instance, see the comments of Alan
Dershowitz who accuses Travers of having an "anti-Israel agenda" and defying the historical record. Dershowitz has recently drawn fire himself for allegedly calling Judge Richard Goldstone a "moser", a Jew who informs on other Jews. Dershowitz later stated that he did not know what the Yiddish term meant, a claim that strains credulity.

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