Ahed Tamimi’s Story Puts a New Face on Israeli-Palestinian Divide

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Depending on one’s views, Ahed Tamimi is either a brave symbol of resistance and an icon among the Palestinian people, or a criminal nuisance and threat to the state of Israel. She’s also, as it’s apparently easy to forget, a teenage girl. (Photo Credit: AP/Oren Ziv)

According to Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Education, Ahed Tamimi should spend the rest of her life in prison. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that everyone involved with the filming and posting of her encounter with Israeli soldiers “will not escape from what they deserve,” and that “whoever goes wild during the day will be arrested at night.” While perhaps not wishing a life sentence upon her, other Israelis likely agree that her detention and punishment was/is justified in light of her actions.

For many Palestinians and other more objective parties, however, Tamimi’s engagement of Israeli troops by kicking, shoving, and slapping them alongside her mother, Nariman, and cousin, Nour, after her cousin Mohammed was shot in the head with a rubber bullet does not warrant the kind of response she received from the Israeli government and legal system. By this token, for a 16- (now 17-year-old) girl to be tried in a military court after being detained for her role in a violent December protest in her home village of Nabi Saleh as well as for shouting at and slapping an Israeli soldier may well be judged as excessive. True, the Israeli soldiers depicted in the viral video that helped spread Ahed Tamimi’s fame did not retaliate when approached by the three Tamimi women outside of their (the Tamimis’) home back in December 2017, and Ahed and her family are known for a history of outward expression in opposition to Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Still, Ahed Tamimi is a minor. Even if she is ostensibly an adult, it’s hard to expect her to behave more rationally, so to speak, especially not after witnessing her cousin, also a minor, sustain a serious injury, and not after being born into a world of her people’s subjugation through violence and other means.

Because of her perceived bravery and defiance against Israel even while preparing to go to jail—Tamimi, in accepting a plea deal to serve eight months in prison and pay a 5,000-shekel fine (roughly $1,500), spoke in Arabic of there being “no justice under occupation” and referring to the Israeli court trying her as “illegitimate”—Ahed has earned her status as a symbol of resistance, particularly among Palestinians and more generally in the eyes of those who object to what they see as Israel’s militarism. Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, for one, known for his iconic red-and-black poster image of Che Guevara, raised eyebrows when he depicted Tamimi as the “real Wonder Woman” carrying the Palestinian flag.

For Fitzpatrick, the allusion to Wonder Woman is about more than just admiration for and sympathy for Ahed Tamimi; it also deliberately invokes Gal Gadot, who portrayed Wonder Woman in film, and who served in the Israel Defense Forces and who has espoused pro-IDF views to noted criticism. At least as far as he is concerned, Tamimi’s “violent” acts are akin to “being hit by a rabbit,” and regarding the state of Israel and its treatment of dissenters and people of different races, Fitzpatrick likens it to a virtual apartheid state. (Speaking of apartheid, South Africa, for its part, recently indicated its intentions to cut diplomatic ties with Israel, with the United States’ decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital not exactly helping.)

At this point, it would seem to be worth questioning of how much utility the actions of Ahed Tamimi and her family or the hardline stances taken by the powers-that-be in Israel really are. The Tamimis have been criticized, most notably in Israeli circles, for making a show of their suffering, exaggerating details and dressing and looking like Westerners (Ahed is distinctly reddish-blonde-haired with blue eyes) to try to make Israel look bad. Even some Palestinians might object to her not wearing a traditional head covering. Additionally, and to reiterate, the IDF soldiers berated and struck by Ahed Tamimi did not respond back with threats or violence. Viewing this video in a vacuum, someone less familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or unaware of the context would easily be tempted to treat the Tamimis as instigators and irritators.

As much as figures like Avigdor Lieberman, Michael Oren (Deputy Minister and member of the 20th Knesset as a representative of the Kulanu party instrumental in a probe which questioned whether or not the Tamimi family is a bunch of paid actors), and Naftali Bennett may insist on making an example of Ahed Tamimi as a means of dissuading Palestinian activists from trying to turn public sentiment against Israel, in doing so, they may be doing a great job themselves of helping alienating the segment of the international community not already beholden to Zionist leanings. If reports on Tamimi’s treatment while being detained are accurate and indicative of a larger pattern of abuse, too, the favoritism shown to Israel by Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby merits at least some categorization.

Jesse Rosenfeld, in a piece for The Daily Beast, comments on what is deemed “exclusive” interrogation video of Ahed Tamimi’s interrogation during her detention back in December of last year. Rosenfeld begins with a little context, discussing Tamimi’s aforementioned gesture of defiance in advance of accepting her plea deal, her family’s involvement in regular protests against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank within the village of Nabi Saleh, and her going viral and serving as an inspiration to both Westerners and non-Westerners, among other things. He also highlights the idea that while Tamimi’s arrest was made very public by the Israeli army and Israeli TV news, as somewhat of a concession to right-wingers, courtroom proceedings were closed to the public and records of her trial were sealed. The military court judge presiding over Tamimi’s case indicated this was done out of respect for the “rights of the minor.”

Keeping in mind the very public nature of Ahed Tamimi’s arrest, however, and in light of the contents of the interrogation obtained by The Daily Beast, this seems like less of a concern for “the minor’s rights” and more of a deliberate attempt to reduce transparency, an obvious point of worry for human rights advocates. What was revealed on the interrogation video would seem to confirm those fears. Throughout the interrogation, Tamimi asserts her right to remain silent, refusing to answer even the most basic questions and even initially refusing the water and sandwich she is offered. There are two interrogators on hand, though one does most of the questioning/talking. He alternates disturbingly between flirting with her—recall that Tamimi is 16 at the time of this interrogation—and threatening her, her family, and her friends.

Perhaps worse yet, she may have gotten off relatively easy. According to the Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the Israel Security Agency has for decades subjected Palestinian detainees to physical and psychological torture, and currently, close to 6,000 Palestinians are being detained by Israeli forces. Besides this, as Rosenfeld tells and as documented by Human Rights Watch in 1993, Ahed Tamimi need look no further than her own family history; her father, Bassem, was put into a coma by an Israeli interrogator and his sister was killed when a translator pushed her down stairs and broke her neck. Rosenfeld indicates that Ahed Tamimi remains stoic throughout most of the interrogation, with a look of disinterest as much as anything, but that her “expression melts into a look of horror followed by melancholy” as these threats against her kith and kin are expressed. He then muses that it is “hardly surprising” that Tamimi would react in this way given the aforementioned abuses, and we are compelled to agree.

Adding insult to injury, Tamimi’s eight-month sentence reached through plea deal is but a few months less than the one served by Elor Azaria, an IDF medic who, after Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif had been shot and severely injured, killed al-Sharif with a shot to the head. Azaria was originally considered a murder suspect, but ultimately was convicted of manslaughter, and while he has served time and has been sentenced with probation and a demotion in rank, that his prison term and that of Ahed Tamimi are roughly the same despite vastly different offenses suggests something may be fundamentally wrong with the Israeli justice system, especially as regards disparities for Palestinians vs. Israeli citizens. Moreover, the sharp divide in public opinions about Azaria’s and Tamimi’s cases echo our own uneven relationship in the United States with what is considered proper procedure by officers of the law and/or military. For those who would see these issues as black-and-white, indeed, there appear to be numerous shades of gray with respect to what is deemed acceptable and what is not.


In commenting on the detention and prosecution of Ahed Tamimi, I am not trying to claim either side in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian struggle is inherently good or bad. Without wanting to appear as heavy-handed as our beloved President by saying there is “blame on both sides” in reference to the events of Charlottesville, VA, there have been, are, and will continue to be offenders at both extremes—Israeli and Palestinian alike.

I’m also not particularly interested in relativistic thinking regarding whose offenses have been worse, especially since I am not so well-versed in the goings-on of this region. Besides, as time wears on, support among Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to this conflict is evidently increasing, as is their desire to see an end to armed conflict surrounding the divide. Opinions are yet decidedly mixed on these issues, however, and to boot, many Israelis and Palestinians may tend to believe that either a like-minded majority on the other side of the conflict or a like-minded majority within society at large doesn’t exist. This is not to say that the distance between sides is necessarily and primarily a mental or psychological one, but it is worth noting how a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts can play a role in this regard.

Without, in turn, wanting to appear as creepy as Ahed Tamimi’s main interrogator as depicted by Jesse Rosenfeld, or wanting to give much credence to the views espoused by Michael Oren re the notion she and her family are paid actors, it strikes me as unfortunate that people seem to care more about this issue, well, because Ahed is fair-skinned and photogenic. In the title to this piece, I alluded to Tamimi’s story putting “a new face” on Israeli-Palestinian relations, and while her popularity among Palestinians not only likely speaks to frustration with Palestinian leadership as much as it does the power of handheld devices and social media to influence views, that she is of note even in Western circles (or notoriety, depending on your politics) seems attributable to things not related to her and her family’s confrontational brand of activism.

While someone like Rosenfeld or Jim Fitzpatrick, for instance, might grasp the situation in light of the threats made against Tamimi and the larger context of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, other media seems more enthralled with her curls or turning her into an icon. I myself admittedly didn’t know of her Ahed Tamimi’s story until reading Rosenfeld’s article on The Daily Beast, and this may be indicative of a blind spot that exists regarding Israel and the Middle East at large unless Trump, the pro-Israel lobby, and/or right-of-center Israelis are involved and raising a fuss. At the very least, it suggests an unwillingness of American media and politicians to do or say anything that might rile up the staunch pro-Israel crowd, or for that matter, endanger their financial and political support.

That Ahed Tamimi’s entanglement with the Israeli military court system might facilitate meaningful discussion on broader matters of inequities in criminal justice systems in the West and East, as well as the West’s interaction with the Arab world, is a positive development. Certainly, the response her detention and trial has received on an international front and how she is being hailed as a hero and leader before the age of 18 is inspiring in the way the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School becoming activists and motivators gives one hope that real progress can be made on the issue of gun policy reform in the United States. Conversely, though, idealizing or fetishizing her image seems only to take away from any momentum gained in building a fruitful dialog. Ahed Tamimi isn’t Jeanne d’Arc, and pejorative references to her as “Shirley Temper” by Israeli media are equally problematic. At the end of the day, she’s one teenage girl unable to live the life of a “normal” teenage girl caught up in a conflict that existed long before she was alive, and it’s going to take more than her viral video of slapping an Israeli soldier to make authentic, lasting change happen.

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Do Progressives Have a Seat at the Democrats’ Table?

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Tom Perez may be progressive like Keith Ellison and may have grass-roots appeal. But as the establishment wing of the Democratic Party’s pick to neutralize Ellison as a figurehead of the “Sanders wing” of the party and someone with more a nuanced view of Israel’s role in the Middle East, his victory in the race for DNC chair is symbolic of the notion that the Democrats don’t want to jeopardize their big-dollar donors by bringing in more progressives and younger voters. In doing so, however, they risk damage to their sense of party unity and the ability to recruit independents to their cause. (Photo Credit: AP Photo)

Don’t get me wrong—Tom Perez, the newly-elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, seems like a nice enough guy, not to mention that as Hillary Clinton’s nomination for the office of President of the United States was an historic one because it meant that a woman was a presidential nominee for a major political party for the first time, so too is Perez’s victory in that he holds the distinction of being the first Latino DNC chair in the party’s storied history. Also as with Clinton’s capture of the nomination, once more, the emphasis from ranking members of the Democratic Party and from its most fervent supporters is on a unified party as the best way to defeat Donald Trump and other Republicans in Congress and down the ticket. Unfortunately, much in the way tensions between factions in the Democratic Party have lingered related to the presidential race and behind-the-scenes machinations of the Democratic National Committee, so too does a power play within the party related to the DNC vote threaten to undermine this call to arms and further sow the seeds of division among registered Democrats and would-be Democratic voters. Along these lines, and in short, when it comes to the notion of whether or not the Democratic Party has learned anything from its pattern of losses in the Senate and House and gubernatorial seats, aside from the obvious in their electoral loss to Trump this past November, the apparent answer is no, and it begs the question: will it anytime soon?

Let’s first step back and look at the particulars of the vote itself. Though there were other qualified candidates for the position of DNC chair on the ballot, so to speak, this was essentially a two-horse race between Tom Perez, the Obama administration’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Donna Brazile, who would not be continuing in her capacity as interim chair after Debbie Wasserman Schultz essentially left the post in disgrace, and Keith Ellison, backed by Bernie Sanders, prominent Democrats, various labor organizations, and more progressive members of the party. Perez missed the necessary majority of 214.5 votes (427 were cast) in the first round of voting by a scant one vote, requiring a second round of voting. In that second round, he was able to officially outlast Ellison to 235 to 200. Suffice it to say the vote was a close one, but what did not appear to be close was the enthusiasm behind the candidates, at least from those in attendance there in Atlanta where the vote took place. Jonathan Easley, writing for The Hill as part of a live blog about the proceedings, had this to say about Keith Ellison’s level of support:

It is clear who has the energy here. Ellison’s supporters are loud and in charge and erupting at every chance. “Don’t mourn organize!,” declared Ellison backer and labor leader Randi Weingarten to an outburst of shouts and applause. Minnesota Democratic leader Ken Martin followed, noting that Ellison’s district has gone from the lowest turnout in the state to the highest. “This party is going to rise from the ashes under Keith Ellison,” he said, turning out another standing ovation.

Like Perez, Ellison stressed unity. “Unity is essential, we have to walk out here unified, not just between the candidates but the groups that support all the candidates,” Ellison said. But if Ellison doesn’t win his enthusiastic supporters are going to be extremely let down.

As with Bernie Sanders’ concession of the nomination to Hillary Clinton, needless to say they were let down, as I was. I’m not sure that they were all that surprised, though. I sure wasn’t. This is the Democratic Party we’re talking about here, an organization primarily devoted to fundraising, and only secondarily to change, which it sees fit to dole out incrementally. Back in December, I wrote a piece devoted to the very topic of Keith Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, detailing why voting committee members may not have supported the representative from the state of Minnesota, and surmising that, despite the enthusiasm behind his campaign and endorsements from key political figures, Democrats may well pick someone other than Ellison because, well, they’ve made a habit of making poor decisions lately and getting behind the wrong candidates. About a month-and-a-half removed from the election, the complete list of people running for the top post in the Democratic National Committee had yet to be fully formed, and wounds from the presidential campaign and election were still fairly fresh. At that time, resistance to Keith Ellison’s designs to be DNC chair seemed strongest from those resenting his identity as a Bernie backer, with those vowing to vote for anyone but him dining on the faulty notion that Sanders cost Clinton the election. (Primarily, Hillary lost herself the election, though it was a complex mix of factors that lay behind the Dems’ electoral demise in November.) If the old standby about party unity above all else was a genuinely-held sentiment, come February when the vote was scheduled to take place, these frustrations had a chance to be brought down to a simmer and more people could conceivably have warmed to the idea of Keith Ellison as Donna Brazile’s/Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s successor.

A little over two months later, though, with the race for DNC chair having run its course and more candidates having entered the fray, the apparent reasons for Committee members to bypass Ellison in favor of someone else are yet more insidious and no less galling to progressives and younger Democratic voters. Keith Ellison announced his candidacy for Democratic National Committee chair on November 14, 2016, and pledged to forfeit his seat in the House of Representatives if elected on December 7. On December 15,  Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy, endorsed by the likes of Joe Biden and other Obama administration figures. Why do I mention these details concerning the chronology of the race for DNC chair? As Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, argues, “the timeline here is critical.” Greenwald, who has written more than one piece on the resistance Ellison faced as a candidate to head the DNC, asks not why Perez ran, but knowingly questions why the White House recruited Perez to oppose Ellison. His analysis, as he himself readily acknowledges, owes a certain debt to an article authored by Clio Chang for New Republic, which tries to make sense of choosing Tom Perez in the first place. After all, if Keith Ellison and Tom Perez are ideologically similar, why bother actively trying to torpedo the chances of the former to buoy those of the latter?

The distinction between the two candidates, as Greenwald and Chang detail, is a two-headed monster in it of itself. The first, er, head is found in the death grip the Democratic Party establishment has evidenced it wants to maintain on leadership of and, thus, direction of the party at large. Clio Chang explains:

It appears that the underlying reason some Democrats prefer Perez over Ellison has nothing to do with ideology, but rather his loyalty to the Obama wing. As the head of the DNC, Perez would allow that wing to retain more control, even if Obama-ites are loath to admit it. Sanders has been accused of re-litigating the primary in his criticisms of Perez, but the fact that Perez was pushed to run, while Ellison was quickly and easily unifying the left and center, seems like the move most predicated on primary scars.

In reasoning out the conflict that manifested in the form of the split between supporters of Ellison and Perez, Chang diminishes the “progressive vs. establishment” narrative that has been spun by various outside sources trying to fashion a frame of reference for their audiences, in favor of depicting the struggle as a power struggle. Barack Obama and others high up on the Democratic Party food chain were uneasy about giving Keith Ellison and his less-moderate supporters too much control. This is almost unquestionably related to the antagonistic attitude Ellison and his main man Bernie Sanders have taken against big-ticket donations and highly-paid consultants. The Democrats may view themselves as morally superior to their counterparts in the Republican Party, but on the subject of money, they are all but addicted to mega-bucks fundraisers and wealthy patrons much as the GOP is. Chang connects this resistance among the Democratic elite to grassroots organizing and fundraising to a similar battle fought over the simultaneous existence of the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots fundraising creation from his initial campaign. Ultimately, the DNC absorbed this separate organization, and as Chang highlights, critics of the move blame it in part for the string of losses the Dems have suffered since Obama was first sworn in. The Democratic Party seems expressly averse to a reliance on bottom-up change and small donations, and a separate resolution by those voting Committee members at the festivities in Atlanta against a ban on corporate donations to the DNC exhibits this attitude perfectly.

Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, while he acknowledges the White House’s role in thwarting Keith Ellison’s hopes to be DNC chair, also sees a more reprehensible dimension to his opposition, and from additional parties as well. Ellison, as you may well know, is the first Muslim to serve as a member of Congress. In the past, all the way back to his days as a college student, he expressed support for the likes of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, before reversing his position on them and condemning their anti-Semitic positions. This personal history of Ellison’s, while it could be and was used as fodder against him politically, was not enough to disqualify him in the minds of DNC voting members. His attitudes on Israel, however, break with the mainstream bipartisan lip service that the United States government pays to our chief ally in the Middle East. At first glance, the combination looks bad. A Muslim—waxing philosophical about our relationship with Istael—oy vey! In all seriousness, though, and in reality, Ellison’s past commentary on U.S.-Israel relations is relatively benign, all things considered. By a sizable margin, Israel receives the most aid of any foreign nation from the U.S., mostly in the form of training and weaponry for use by the Israeli Defense Forces. Keith Ellison, like any number of other critics, is justified in wondering why we shower Israel with money when they aggressively pursue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and disputed territory in East Jerusalem against the consensus within the international community. To this end, why do we kowtow to Israel at the expense of our relationship with much of the Arab and Muslim world?

As you might have guessed with respect to these questions and in general, where there’s money, there’s an answer. Keith Ellison, because he appears more amenable to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and because he is not more staunchly pro-Israel, is at odds with wealthy Jewish patrons who possess strong ties to the upper ranks of the Democratic Party. In particular, billionaire Haim Saban, the foremost donor to the Democratic Party and both Hillary and Bill Clinton’s campaigns, demonstrably labeled Ellison an anti-Semite and an anti-Israel individual, and the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization Greenwald slyly quips is ironically named in this instance, saw fit to chime in with their reservations about Ellison and his views on Israel. Their combined influence and lobbying translates to considerable power in Democratic Party circles, and since we know the Democrats can’t get enough of big, fat campaign contributions, they are inapt to risk such important sources of revenue. The result was character assassination at its finest of Keith Ellison leading up to the chair vote. Coming from members of a group that identifies itself as the “chosen people,” it would seem the Jews pulling the strings are quite choosy themselves.

Whether seeing the progressive challenger with rabid support on the left as something of a nuisance or an outright threat, as with attempts to deep-six Bernie Sanders’ chances to capture the presidential nomination for the Democrats by discrediting him or showing favoritism to Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, the smear campaign against Keith Ellison by people and organizations close to the Democratic Party alongside the power play made by the Obama White House in the first place to prop up Tom Perez betrays an unwillingness to authentically embrace party members and supporters more to the left on the political spectrum, often coinciding with younger entrants into the field. What’s more, in all likelihood, both moves were patently unnecessary on the part of those scheming to influence the final result. Going back to the primary race and clear evidence of bias in favor of Clinton on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, and others involved with the Democratic National Committee, as revealed by Wikileaks’ DNC leaks, for all their machinations, Hillary was almost certainly going to capture the nomination. Sanders did provide a spirited challenge for the bid, but Clinton had the support of superdelegates before the race even began, not to mention entrenched, loyal support elsewhere. In the case of Ellison and Perez, meanwhile, the thing that is perplexing to many is the notion the DNC chair is, as Glenn Greenwald describes it, “a largely functionary position, with little real power over party policy or messaging.” As Clio Chang helps buttress this notion, the role of chair is designed to help win elections by increasing turnout and facilitating small-dollar donations, and Ellison is well-experienced in this regard. But apparently, his progressive base of support is neither allowed by the Democrats to have its cake, nor is it allowed to eat it. And, if we’re sticking with the whole birthday party analogy, they are being asked to clean up afterwards, not be petty, and unite. For the good of the party.

All this chicanery, it can be argued, is detrimental to the Democratic Party’s ability to strengthen its base, particularly among younger voters and independents. The DNC’s bias in favor of Hillary Clinton only fueled sentiments that the primaries were “rigged” against Bernie Sanders, serving to erode confidence in a Democratic vote that was already shaky to begin with given Clinton’s scandal-dotted past. Now, with Tom Perez capturing the post of DNC chair over Keith Ellison despite the latter’s enthusiastic following, this fuels the whispers among Sanders supporters that something truly iniquitous has occurred, and in turn, that the Dems don’t really want them at the adults’ table, so to speak. It certainly didn’t help perception matters when, as noted in the Jonathan Easley live blog, the electronic recording devices initially planned on being used to record the chair vote were scrapped in favor of a paper balloting system mid-stream under the pretense that the devices were vulnerable to manipulation and thus unreliable. Then why even have them there at the event in the first place? This just makes it appear as if there is something to hide, a notion not lost on the Ellison supporters in attendance.

Tom Perez may be well suited to serve in his current capacity as DNC chair, and almost certainly will end his tenure on a higher note than either Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Donna Brazile did. Keith Ellison, because he is loyal to the Democratic Party, will soldier on as deputy chair, lending his support serving in a role that is seemingly of even less consequence than the chair itself. Once more, the Democratic Party brass has evidenced it is resistant to change, unwilling to move away from a moderate position, and that it simply doesn’t understand the American electorate—or doesn’t want to. Conceived of in different terms, it is playing not to lose, hoping its distinctiveness from Donald Trump and the regressive politics of the Republican Party are enough to win it back seats all the way up the levels of government. As sports fans can attest to, however, playing not to lose rarely is a sound strategy, especially when you’re already losing. The Democrats haven’t learned anything from their recent electoral defeats, and as the old saw goes that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, their prospects for 2018 and 2020 already look bleak.

Israel, Obama, Russia, Trump—Can’t We All Just Get Along? (Easy Answer: No)

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In his address condemning Israel’s continual expansion of West Bank settlements as an obstacle to the two-state solution, and in turn, peace, Secretary of State John Kerry gave the best speech of anyone who looks like Andrew Jackson in recent memory. (Photo Credit: Yin Bogu/Xinhua News Agency/Newscom)

We get it—Barack Obama is a lame-duck president. In less than a month, Donald J. Trump is set to take the reins of the presidency. On a related note, animals may spontaneously begin to howl to themselves, instinctively aware something is amiss. Human animals, too, some of whom already have shed some tears, may yet have more crying to do, or at least some hand-wringing and head-shaking. Then again, some people may be just as ready to protest and raise hell. If nothing else, this should help communicate to the incoming President that roughly half of the country hates his guts. To what this extent this might faze him, if at all, I’m not sure, but if it at all causes to Trump to put that imbecilic sourpuss look on his face and want to Tweet up a storm out of vexation, I’d deem it worth the effort.

For once, though, it is not the President-Elect who is ruffling feathers, but the lame duck himself. Evidently not about to leave the White House without some parting shots, Obama and his administration have flexed their diplomatic muscle in the waning hours of his presidency with respect to two particular (and particularly contentious) situations. The first is that of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the likes of which I don’t really have to tell you are contentious. In this specific iteration of the seemingly endless conflict, Israel has drawn criticism for its establishment of settlements on the West Bank. Greg Myre, international editor for NPR, and Larry Kaplow, NPR’s Middle East editor, together have put together a fairly good primer on the situation and why the settlement situation is such a big deal, addressing seven key points worth considering in understanding the forces behind the discord.

1. Settlements are growing rapidly.

A key distinction made by Myre and Kaplow is that these “settlements,” while the term evokes something more rudimentary, are often large subdivisions or sizable cities. Since peace talks began in 1993 between the Israelis and Palestinians, the number of Israelis living in these settlements has quadrupled, and has continued to expand during Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as Prime Minister. Even the more moderate and liberal within Israel have pushed for more settlements. Indeed, most of the censure regarding the proliferation of settlements within the West Bank has come from the international community, and not from within Israel’s ranks. In fact, to argue against this trend of increase would seem to be tantamount to political poison for someone like Netanyahu or anyone else of stature within Israel.

2. Settlements complicate efforts for a two-state solution.

I’ll say they do. With settlements all over the West Bank, and the Israeli military on hand to patrol these areas, the prospect of a Palestinian state, already somewhat dim, is made all but impossible. Never say never, yes, but um, don’t hold your breath either.

3. There is a distinction to be made between East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

According to Israel, East Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank, is the nation’s “eternal and indivisible capital.” Funny story—no one else recognizes this, including the United States, which is why, at least until Donald Trump has his way, the country maintains a diplomatic presence in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. As for Palestinians, meanwhile, they consider East Jerusalem the site of their own future capital given statehood, and together with the West Bank, deem it all occupied land. Evidently, land rights, as beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder.

4. What does Israel say about settlements?

Um, that it’s complicated? On one hand, supporters of settlements cite the rich tradition of Jewish history, the good old Bible, and things such as the need for “strategic depth.” On the other hand, while Israel claims to have annexed East Jerusalem, it makes no such claim of sovereign control over the West Bank, despite the wishes of many of those who have settled there. It therefore remains but “disputed” territory currently being occupied. In other words, the West Bank is not quite “no man’s land” with hundreds of thousands residing within its bounds, but it’s no country’s territory all the same.

5. How about the Palestinians?

Yeah—how about the Palestinians? This section is short on Kaplow’s and Myre’s part, and this would seem appropriate given the simplicity of their argument. Here is their explanation, in its totality:

From some Palestinian cities, there are clear views of Israeli settlements — and new construction — on nearby hillsides. And in most settlement neighborhoods, there are wide areas of empty hillside closed to Palestinians, which Israel says are necessary buffers for security.

Palestinians see them as visual proof that their sought-after independent state is being taken from them. Palestinian leaders have opposed peace talks in recent years while, as they see it, Israel is building on land that is part of those talks.

From this standpoint, I feel those who don’t have a specific vested interest in this conflict would probably tend to agree this makes a lot of sense. How could I feel welcome as a Palestinian when Israeli settlements are continuously expanding and whole swaths of land are closed to me seemingly on principle? Though this may hew close to Israel’s actual intent, for the Palestinians, this doesn’t make a two-state solution seem wholly viable when everything around you tells you you’re not wanted.

6. Has Israel ever dismantled settlements?

Yeah, but, like, once—ever. According to the NPR article, back in 2005, some 8,000 Israeli settlers were forcibly removed from the Gaza Strip on the premise that these settlements were too hard to defend. And when I say, “forcibly removed,” I mean dragging, kicking and screaming. As the authors sum this up succinctly: “The episode demonstrated that Israel could remove settlers, but it also showed how much friction it creates inside Israel.” I’ll say it does.

7. What are the proposed solutions?

Here’s where the discussion gets down to brass tacks—how Israelis and Palestinians move forward. At least from the United States’ perspective, the key proposition is an exchange of land rights. The largest Israeli settlements, which are close to the border with Israel as an established state, would formally become part of Israel. The Israeli settlements deep within the West Bank more removed from Israel, meanwhile, would be ceded for the purpose of a Palestinian state. As Myre and Kaplow indicate, however, and as should be no great surprise, this is complicated, outside of the immediate logistics 0f such a swap. Palestinian leadership is unlikely to accept any deal that does not involve removal of settlements, and yet to suggest the removal of settlements within Israel is politically disadvantageous given the current climate. As with any story, there are two sides to such a two-state solution, and as far as Israel and Palestine are concerned, a spirit of reconciliation does not seem to be felt or sought in abundance.


This already fractious situation was made more disagreeable by a recent resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council that calls for an end to the building of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Egypt originally proposed the resolution, though they were forced to delay a vote on the resolution based on pressure from Israel, but what really got Israel’s proverbial goat was the United States’ decision not to vote and not to veto the resolution. As far as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel were concerned, they thought they, President Obama and the U.S. were cool. In a move construed as better late than never, however, Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking for the administration at large, condemned Israel’s continuously expanding settlements as undermining the viability of a two-state solution and thereby standing in the way of peace. Acting in this way, Kerry, again speaking on behalf of Barack Obama, his administration and his legacy, argued that Israel is positioning itself on a path toward isolation from the international community and perpetual warfare with the Palestinians.

Certainly, Netanyahu and Company disagreed with this speech and the accompanying no-vote on the Security Council resolution, calling Secretary Kerry’s address a “disappointment.” There was also disapproval on the domestic front, though, including censure from the likes of prominent lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, including John McCain and Chuck Schumer. But two other interested parties had their own reactions to this apparent reversal of stances, one that moved the U.S.’s position away from their evident unwillingness to challenge Israel on the proliferation of settlements within the West Bank. Within the Arab world, which has a dog in this fight given its solidarity with the Palestinians, the response was generally favorable, although not without a fair bit of indifference among those individuals who feel this about-face is too little, too late. In line with the more apathetic attitudes of some, Arab critics of the speech are quick to point out that change in favor of a two-state solution seems unlikely in light of the ascension of a second relevant interested party.

That would be—you guessed it—Donald Trump. Trump, who has, ahem, not been shy about expressing his opinions with respect to international politics and U.S. foreign policy, condemned the no-vote by the Obama administration, taking to—you guessed it again—Twitter to voice his displeasure, offering the following:

We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S.—but not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong, Israel—January 20th is fast approaching!

Ugh. The very notion that is man is going to be our President is enough to make one’s head hurt and eye twitch. I was unaware Israel was continually so disrespected by the United States, but that’s our Donald—trumping up any perceived slight against him or the people he favors from Molehill status up to Mountain proportions. The Iran nuclear deal, which in reality is a separate issue, is invoked here by Trump as a means of ginning up his base and gaining support for his positions among those distrustful of Iran’s intentions, if for no other reason than Iran is a Muslim-led nation. As for the discussion of Israeli settlement expansion on its merits alone, President-Elect Trump seems content to simply kowtow to the wishes of Netanyahu’s Israel and a majority of its constituents. Adopting a position that has been characterized by some as more Zionist than that of the Zionists, he appears set to discard any ideas of a two-state solution. For one, his choice of American ambassador to Israel, one David Friedman, has not only has dismissed the idea of such a policy but has actively funded some of the settlements John Kerry criticized. In addition, Donald Trump has announced his intention to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the much-disputed city of Jerusalem. So, for all intents and purposes, Trump and his cronies have made it clear that they could give a f**k about a Palestinian state and Arabs as a whole. But you probably already guessed that, too.


The exact nature of Donald Trump’s appeal to the Orthodox neo-Zionist crowd is admittedly somewhat perplexing. As Bernard Avishai, author, visiting professor of government at Dartmouth University, and adjunct professor at Hebrew University wrote about in a December 31, 2016 piece for The New York Times, Trump may feel he is indebted to this group who has voted Republican where the majority of American Jews has not, and will thus advance the extremist Zionist cause, but potentially at the expense of the already-waning confidence the latter group has in him and in U.S. foreign policy in general. Furthermore, the purported move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem—assuming it would actually come to pass, and many imagine the move of dubious likelihood—would threaten stability in Jordan, an important American ally in the Middle East but one with significant Palestinian and Syrian refugee populations. Trump wouldn’t risk the destabilization of a crucial friend in the region just to satisfy Israel’s monomaniacal pursuits, would he? Even if the answer is “I don’t know,” this much is vaguely frightening.

With the latest involving Russia and allegations of hacking, meanwhile, the likes of which is believed to have been designed to interfere with the election and get Donald Trump into the White House, as well as intended to undermine public confidence in the electoral process, Trump’s motivations seem more transparently self-serving. Shortly before 2016 ended, President Barack Obama ejected 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States, imposed sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence organizations, and penalizing four top officers of the GRU, a Russian military intelligence agency. The State Department also acted to close two estates that were suspected of housing Russian intelligence activities, and levied sanctions on three companies/organizations believed to have been involved in the hacking. Not bad for a lame duck, eh?

These actions come backed by our own intelligence, from organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, which purport to have identified malware and other indicators of Russian cyber-attacks. Reservations about the FBI’s credibility in the wake of the Clinton E-mail investigation debacle notwithstanding, there would appear to be every reason to believe that these attacks were coordinated, and while the published findings (i.e. those which won’t remain classified) came short of suggesting any senior Russian officials of the two sanctioned intelligence agencies tried to influence the election, or that these attempts had any material impact on the election’s outcome, as Obama himself insisted, this kind of espionage and meddling in our affairs should concern any reasonable American.

Except now we’re about to address Donald Trump and people talking smack about his man-crush, Vladimir Putin. Already, unless you are a rabid Trump supporter, you might be predisposed to thinking the man, a pathological liar with the temperament and attention span of a young child, is the antithesis of reasonable. Throw in the effective throwing of shade at Putin, an individual for whom President-Elect Trump has expressed his admiration on numerous occasions in the past, and every semblance of reason would seem to go out the window. Trump, while reportedly agreeing to hear U.S. intelligence experts out, reacted to the news of sanctions by insisting that everyone has to “move on” from this whole hacking thing. Moreover, at the news Putin would, heeding the recommendations of his advisers, refrain from retaliating by jettisoning American diplomats from Russia, Trump tweeted, “I always knew he was very smart!” Um, Mr. Trump, you do realize it looks very bad when you’re heaping praise on the leader of a country that just has been publicly reproached for deliberately working against U.S. interests, right? When even your own party is praising Barack Obama for taking action against Russia—albeit in the same breath criticizing this move, as Arab critics of his administration’s condemnation of Israel’s settlements did, deriding this stand as too little, too late—you may want to reassess your position.

As with Donald Trump’s extremist position on Israel which breaks with decades of U.S. policy, not to mention would make the United States an outlier within the international community for its complicity with the Greater Israel ideal, his laudatory sentiments geared toward Vladimir Putin in the face of Russian hacking revelations that put him at odds with fellow Republicans is frustrating, yet not all that surprising. Critics of Trump and his love affair with the Putin regime have largely been left to their own devices regarding suppositions of why a seeming “bromance” exists. Some might suggest Trump, in his naïveté, thinks he can be the best of buddies with Putin, and to some extent, that may be true. Otherwise, his deflecting from allegations of hacking and interference with the election may be seen as defensiveness about his win, as if even the mere allusion to his victory by illegitimate means is an insult to his manhood. Even though, you know, he’s been the foremost accuser of electoral fraud and rigging of the results since the election happened—and, in fact, he was casually throwing out these kinds of charges before the whole shebang started.

As has been inferred from analysis of his business dealings, however, these explanations are merely red herrings for the true reason Donald Trump is all but writing down Vladimir Putin’s name and drawing hearts around it: that he has a vested financial interest in a pro-Russian agenda. Economist Robert Reich—of whom, if you’ve read this blog over the past few months, you’ve heard mention numerous times—penned an op-ed about a week or so again regarding a “dark cloud of illegitimacy” which stands to hang over a Trump presidency, one related to his financial ties to Russia as well as those of his associates. As Reich notes, Trump has close business ties to Russian oligarchs who have financed projects of his and likely have loaned him billions of dollars, and his son, Donald Trump, Jr., remarked at a real estate conference in 2008 that he saw “a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Trump’s one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort also has consulting ties to Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president who was propped up by Russia, and two of Trump’s appointees, foreign policy advisor, Michael Flynn, and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO, have been honored guests at Russian public ceremonies with Vladimir Putin in attendance.

Reich sums up the larger meaning behind these connections and Donald Trump’s refusal to give credence to evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election nicely:

None of these points taken separately undermines the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. But taken together, they suggest a troubling pattern — of Trump deceitfulness about the election, of Mr. Putin’s role in helping Mr. Trump get elected, and the possible motives of both men for colluding in the election. The dark cloud of illegitimacy continues to grow darker.

Of course, we would be better assured that Donald Trump has no ulterior motive in cozying up to Vladimir Putin and the Russians if, say, he would disclose these ties, agree to fully divest himself of his business dealings, and put his holdings in a blind trust. Like the prospect of him agreeing to hold regular press conferences whereby he might be subject to questions by unbiased members of the media, or even that of him apologizing to Rosie O’Donnell for calling her a fat pig, though, this all doesn’t seem bloody likely. And this cuts to the heart of the issue with Trump—you know, besides him being a hateful, know-nothing man-baby. If Trump really had nothing to hide, then he would’ve released his tax returns without all the nonsense about his being audited preventing that, and would be more forthright with the American people and with the press. But he’s not, and so you are left to doubt whether he became President for any reason other than to boost his ego and his personal wealth. I mean, sure, there is the alternative theory that he’s actually a Russian agent (Keith Olbermann advances this idea, if only in partial jest). More likely, however, is the simple idea he is looking to capitalize for his own sake. “Make America Great Again”? More like, “Make Me More Money.”

Barack Obama may be the lame duck president, yes. But incoming president Donald Trump, in his stubborn support of Israel’s one-state monomania at the likely expense of stability in and around the West Bank, as well as his borderline treasonous fidelity to Vladimir Putin and Russia even in the face of disturbing reports of repeated Russian intrusions in American affairs, seems like quite the turkey. Here’s hoping against reason we all don’t wind up with egg on our face because of it.