"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." ~ Frederick Douglass


One of the biggest flaws of liberals, from the perspective of the left, is their assumption of good faith. Now, this attribution of good faith takes on many forms.

One is the belief in the meaningfulness of rhetoric, that words imply intent and future action rather than mere manipulation—even when belied (repeatedly) by the reality of the actions taken or policies pursued.

Another is the belief in common goals—that we all ultimately want the same thing and that if only we could all see the facts, the data, the reality on the ground, we would all come to an agreement, that our differences are more in the means to achieve ends than in the ends themselves.

Another is a tendency to accept the pursuit of socially destructive policies as long as there is the requisite wringing of hands.

Another is the tendency to view compromise or consensus as an end in and of itself rather than as a means to an end (and a corresponding aversion to conflict).

These ultimately end up producing a rather stunted view of how change is made, one that all too often ignores the working of power.

I was reflecting on this dynamic recently after seeing some of the recent actions of J Street, the self-described "pro-Israel and pro-peace" group that bills itself often as a liberal alternative to AIPAC.

Last week, J Street sent out a petition "Questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu."

What does J Street demand in this petition? Let's read it.

Now that the fighting between Israel and Hamas seems to be finally and thankfully over, it is appropriate to ask what either side got out of it.

Hamas, as an authoritarian organization that does not permit free, political life in the territory it controls, may attempt to evade accountibility for a while. Of course, we have some tough questions for Hamas too.

But in the spirit of Israeli democracy, Prime Minister Netanyahu owes Israelis a full accounting of the government's actions and decisions over the past two months.
Here are some questions he and his cabinet are already being asked, or may be in the days and weeks ahead:

Let Prime Minister Netanyahu know that it's time for answers. Sign now.

1.    What were Israel’s war aims in Gaza and to what extent were they achieved? Yes, Israel inflicted heavy losses and tremendous destruction in Gaza. It destroyed over 30 tunnels and assassinated some Hamas military leaders. But it also lost over 60 Israelis and discovered that the price of a full-scale invasion of Gaza was unacceptable. What has really been achieved? Was there an expectation of a different outcome?

2.    Did this operation make Israel more secure? Did it lower the risks Israelis face going forward and specifically did it make the residents of southern Israel safer?

3.    Did the operation serve to weaken or strengthen Hamas, which was almost completely isolated in the Arab world, financially bankrupt and at a historic low point before the war began?

4.    Has the war in any way changed the strategic balance in Gaza – or was it another case of “mowing the lawn” – inflicting damage on Hamas in exchange for a few months or years of quiet?

5.    Does the government finally realize that the blockade of Gaza leaves its residents with no hope and no future and breeds hatred of Israel? Is the government prepared to substantially loosen the blockade? Is Israel willing to allow a massive program of economic development to unfold in Gaza including the construction of an airport and sea port that could really change the situation there, or does it intend to allow some token moves and then get back to “business as usual?”

6.    Does the prime minister finally grasp that in President Abbas, he has a partner committed to non-violence who presents an alternative to Hamas and is willing to make peace with Israel?

7.    Israel welcomed and agreed to the stationing of Palestinian security forces on the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt. Yet it apparently does not trust those same forces, backed by a multilateral international contingent and the most sophisticated technologies the world has to offer, to police the borders of a future Palestinian state. Why not?

8.    Were all of the tactics and weapons used by Israel during the war justifiable under the doctrine of proportionate use of force? What about the use of relatively inaccurate artillery and tank fire in densely-populated areas? Will the government launch a credible, independent, judicially-led inquiry into the conduct of the war, both by the government and by the IDF?

9.    In a speech in Tel Aviv on July 8, Philip Gordon, the White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, posed the following critical questions that go to the heart of Israel’s future: “How will Israel remain democratic and Jewish if it attempts to govern the millions of Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank? How will it have peace if it is unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupations and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security, and dignity? How will we prevent other states from isolating Israel or supporting Palestinian efforts in international bodies if Israel is not seen as committed to peace?"

10.    Is the Israeli government willing and/or able to seize the opportunity that has arisen from this war and the sacrifices made by Israelis, to forge a full-scale diplomatic initiative that could tackle the root causes of the conflict and transform the region?

Sign your name and say: Now that the war is over, Mr. Netanyahu, it's time for some answers.

Their only demand is that Netanyahu answer a bunch of questions, many of which we already know the answer to.

Spoiler: The answer to #2, #5, #6, #8, and #10 is NO. And regarding #3, Israel's actions clearly strengthened Hamas, at least in terms of its popularity.

I also find it rather amusing that the "ten questions" are not 10, but 19 (at least by counting the number of question marks).

And today, in light of the Israeli government's announcement of another illegal land grab--the largest in 30 years, J Street's ask of the US government is again a liberal self-parody.

J Street condemns as provocative, damaging and extremely destructive to Israel and to hopes of peace a decision by the Israeli government to seize almost 1,000 acres of land in the occupied West Bank to build a massive new settlement.

The decision, both in its timing and intrinsic nature, could hardly be more negative and harmful. This has been described as the largest grab of Palestinian land for the purpose of building settlements in 30 years. It demeans and weakens Israel’s peace partner, the Palestinian Authority; it defies the will of Israel’s most important ally and friend, the United States, and it flies in the face of a broad international consensus.

Most of all, it casts serious doubt on the Israeli government's sincerity in claiming to favor a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu says he is in favor of peace based on a two-state solution, yet almost all of the government's actions and words point to the opposite conclusion.

This decision is also a test of US seriousness in Mideast peace-making.The United States has protested settlement announcement after settlement announcement for decades – yet its opinion has been disregarded by successive Israeli governments to the point that US credibility has been called into question. How can the world expect US leadership in dealing with hostile actors across the Middle East when even its closest friend in the region flagrantly ignores its policies? It is time for the Administration to make clear to Israel that it means what it says and that US opposition to settlements is not just symbolic but real.

J Street urges the United States government to undertake a thorough review of its policy toward Israeli settlements and to announce the steps it will take if Israel goes forward with this decision. As a first step, it should declare now that it is the view of the United States that settlements are not merely "unhelpful" or "illegitimate" but illegal under international law as laid out in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

It may be true that the land being expropriated from five Palestinian villages lies within one of the settlement blocs that are likely to be retained by Israel in any prospective peace deal. But until there is such an agreement, this kind of land grab can only be seen as a blatant unilateral move to create new facts on the ground.

It is particularly unfortunate coming on the heels of last week's Gaza cease-fire which seemed to offer a new start for diplomacy in tackling the conflict. One would have thought following that war, that Israel would do everything possible to strengthen PA leaders and their pursuit of diplomacy and non-violence. Instead, this move undermines President Abbas and reinforces his opponents, including Hamas, whose abhorrent use of violence shows exactly why now is the time to empower moderate Palestinian leadership.

We urge the Israeli government to reverse this decision, to announce a settlement freeze and its readiness to return to negotiations for a final settlement based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have already noted how much harm this decision will cause to the US-Israel relationship. Other responsible members of the ruling coalition should join them in working to reverse this decision and to move urgently to seek a two-state solution.

It is nice to see them condemn the Israeli government's actions (something they did not do during the attack on Gaza).

But in terms of an "ask," all I can see is (1) that the US government conduct a policy review and (2) that it acknowledge illegal activity as illegal.

Demanding a "policy review" is like demanding the creation of a "committee." Without clearer demands and objectives, it means next to nothing.

Demanding that illegal activity be called illegal attributes power to words that simply does not exist without enforcement, and therein lies one of the biggest weaknesses of international law (putting aside the question of whether the US would even let a law be enforced on one of its allies/clients if it could even be so in the first so).

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