Rhonda, USA

August 2, 2011

A regular on here reading all these posts!

Josh- no question! Just wanted to say that the exchange between you and Hossam (Egypt) was extraordinary. Great job to both of you! I surely hope that this site continues to see that level of discourse. All of this remains very educational. Thanks.

Hi Rhonda,

Please forgive me for taking so long to write back to you, but I unfortunately broke my hand on Sunday, and have been busy with doctors and hospitals for the last few days.

I’m glad that you found my conversation with Hossam interesting as I do too!

I also hope that we can keep it up, and thanks to the support of people like you, it looks like we can.

Thank you,

Josh.

Just me…a regular here with a ton of questions.

If in September, the Palestinians declare a unilateral state on the West Bank with the support of the UNGA but without a peace agreement with Israel, I’ve heard talk that Israel may annex the West Bank. Can you explain why some people in Israel would think this is in her best best security interest? Wouldn’t it create a nightmare for Israel in needing to have an increased presence within the West Bank, have to deal with the Palestinian residents there even more and deplete military resources needed to guard it’s northern borders and Gaza? Or is it the concern that this unilaterally declared state would pose a border that can’t be defended such a short distance from Tel Aviv, etc? What do you think of the idea that Israel pursue an annexation?

How is that broken hand of yours?

Hi Rhonda,

I’ve not heard much talk about an annexation in response to a Palestinian declaration of statehood, but I can take a stab at why people might want to see that.

It would seem that the most obvious explanation would be some feel that a unilateral move by the Palestinians must be met by one from Israel, so as not to give the impression that we will ‘allow’ such actions. Perhaps an annexation would balance a Palestinian declaration and we would end up back where we started (today’s situation).

Clearly, an annexation of the West Bank is completely impossible for any Israeli government to perform as there are only a few possible outcomes;

1.     Israel annexes the West Bank and naturalizes all the Palestinians as Israeli citizens, which would constitute the ‘demographic threat’ that so much of Israel fears,

2.     Israel annexes the West Bank and transfers all the Palestinians to another country in order to preserve the demographic, which would be a crime of astonishing scale,

3.     Israel annexes the West Bank, disbands the Palestinian Authority and gives all the Palestinians residency, but not citizenship, at which point Israel would be guilty of the Crime of Apartheid.

I think it’s pretty obvious that this is just bluster, no Israeli government would be able to annex the West Bank in the current political climate.

My hands doing good thanks, I should be all better in a few more weeks!

All the best,

Josh

Hi Josh

I would appreciate your thoughts on why so many people seem to think that Netanyahu is the “obstacle” to peace negotiations moving forward with the Palestinians and the growing negative attitudes towards Israel internationally. This seems to be the focus of alot of op-ed pieces and especially in the Israeli press (from what I can access). I don’t understand this at all and would like some insights into it. I mean it’s just a week since Hamas, who insists upon calling Israel the Zionist project or Zionist entity, once again said it would never accept the State of Israel. Last Sunday we see people trying to storm the Israeli/Syrian border, etc. Under these conditions, what is he suppose to say about the 67 lines? I was so mad at Obama. He brings this up 24 hours before the Prime Minister arrives in the US, but is silent about the Palestinian Right of Return. He could have talked about this in private. I felt he “called out” both the Prime Minister and the State of Israel. Yes, he said alot of good things in his speech but it seemed ridiculous that he said this under current conditions over there. What are your thoughts about any of this?

Do you ever foresee a time when FaS would set up a moderated “chat room” even if it only met during high intensity news cycles? The past week has really been something with the news. I know I would have valued the opportunity to chat in real time with FaS people and interested others who have been on here about what was going on. Just wondering about that…By the way, it’s great that you have been able to add some additional volunteers and the videos are really excellent. Thanks for answering all of this.

Rhonda

Hi Rhonda,

It’s nice to hear from you again, I hope you’re well. I don’t believe that he’s the only obstacle, but he’s definitely in the way. The way I see it, the pre-1967 borders are the only viable starting point for negotiations, they won’t be the final borders in a solution as there will be land trades and other such mechanisms, but they are the basis of a real future agreement. His continued denial of settlement constructions freezes and his lack of willingness to compromise are traits that I see as counterproductive. Once again, none of the things are the sole obstacle to peace, but they contribute. However, I agree with you that to view Netanyahu as the sole problem is unfair.

I see a few possible reasons for the Israeli reaction to Netanyahu right now. Some people here are simply more politically liberal than he is (I know I am!) and, thus, won’t ever agree with him. Others are upset with the way that he’s handled Israel’s relationship with the US, the settlement freeze debacle is still fresh in people’s minds, and are angry with him. It is also important to remember that he’s been in the news a lot in Israel for his possibly dubious use of public funds and, although we are used to government corruption here, that’s got a lot of people angry.

From the Palestinian perspective, their national cause has come a very long way in the time since the second intifada. They are modelling their resistance on more non-violent revolutions and Salam Fayyad has done an excellent job of promoting non-violent resistance. Because of this, they are able to frame their struggle as being similar to the American Civil Rights struggle of the 20th century. Although many parts of Palestinian society are not viable partners for peace and negotiations (as you said, Hamas has a long way to go before we can live side by side with them) they have made many compromises, and the world has noticed. As such, it is much easier for them to avoid the touchiest subjects, such as a Palestinian right of return, as they can point to the large reduction in violent activity from the West Bank.

As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two narratives. Hamas are not good people as far as I am concerned, I see them as violent, misogynistic, theocratic and dangerous. However, they are part of the system and we can’t afford to freeze them out as they have a large support base and are a vital aspect of engagement with the Palestinian people. Hamas have, on a few occasions, said that they will recognize Israel within pre-1967 borders which, whilst it is not ideal and it is certainly not their consistent stance, shows hope that they can be politically moderated in return for an element of governmental control. I’m sure that Hamas are just like any other political party and they hate the idea of being irrelevant even more than they hate Israel and, as such, it may be possible to moderate them.

I do see your point about the timing of Obama’s remarks and Netanyahu’s visit, but it’s not like Israel’s never announced settlement expansion on the same day as the US envoy to the Middle East has arrived to try and make progress in peace talks. The whole world of politics is one of power plays and egos and it’s the people on the ground like you, me and the Palestinian from Nablus that just wants to live his life, that have to bear the consequences. It’s sad, but true. The day that Israel, the Palestinians and the United States have leaders that truly care more about their people and the world then their own careers and images, I believe that we will find peace within five minutes.

We would love to add a chat room, and it’s certainly a possibility for the future, but it’s just not viable at the moment. As you know, everyone on here is a volunteer and has many responsibilities and I think that to add something as labour intensive as a chat room is just beyond our capabilities at the moment. We do, however, have a lot of plans for the future, and that is one of them. We are still a very young project and we have to grow organically.

Thank you for your kind words, we hope to be producing more videos in the future and it’s very exciting for us to expand with new volunteers and increase our capacity. It’s only due to support from people like you that we can do these things, we really appreciate it.

All the best,

Josh

Josh-

I just finished watching the interview. How do you feel it went? What did you like/not like about it? I hope you realize what a very good job you did in facing 3 interviewers. And of course, going on the show demonstrated a willingness to “put yourself” (and FAS) out there. I have to hand it to them…they were quite deft. First, they know how to stage it: very sharp “look”, high end graphic design, excellent sound and… they know how to balance what to wear (and also how to play that off of each other), their body language and camera angles. As you know, for better or worse, that’s part of what carries the message for something like this.

I found them manipulating the message without even appearing to do so, for example, to start the characterization of FAS as “The Army’s online outreach campaign” when anyone with any familiarity with this initiative knows damn well that it has no direct relationship with the IDF and that all of you are veterans and not speaking on behalf of the IDF or the Israeli government. The way the tweet from the Ambassador from Turkey was characterized made it sound suspicious. To be honest, I became a bit suspect that almost every time you tried to answer a question something seemed to go amuck with the audio so you frequently didn’t get an opportunity to make your whole point. I find it hard to believe that they had so much difficulty- they are well established and you weren’t reporting from a war zone. A couple of times I thought you got sniped (relative to the “illegal” settlements) and I found myself talking to the computer (!), “stop lecturing this guy, his IQ is likely higher than the three of yours combined.”

I know, I know, it’s all about dialogue. I’m allowed to have an attitudinal relapse. I just felt like you went on the show and they had an opportunity to really have more of a “let’s open a conversation” dialogue and they were too interested in appeasing the angry people whose tweets they cited. Anyway, what did you think about how it went? You did a very, very good job!

R

Hi Rhonda,

Thanks for the support, it was an intense experience.

I assure you that there’s nothing to be suspicious about in terms of the connection, the guy who was on before me also had connectivity problems. There was no foul play there.

Whilst there was some heated discussion, and some of the things that the hosts said were a little disingenuous, ultimately the show opened its doors to us and encouraged free debate, which is always to be recognized and applauded. They gave an enormous amount of time to us and it was an overall positive experience.

Obviously, there’s a lot we can learn from it and carry forward.

All the best,

Josh

Hi Josh.

Hope all is well with you!

Sometimes I read the papers from over there and I think that the society is coming unglued. Of course, then I read the American papers and feel the same way! I am particularly interested in the housing market protests. I’m trying to get a context the protests and what the average Tel Aviv/Israeli resident is struggling with.

As a comparison, on the near north side of Chicago which is a pretty nice area within several blocks of the lakefront, one might expect to pay the following per month for an average (not luxury or even a place with upgrades) 850 square foot, one bedroom condo with a lobby security guard: around $1300 on the mortgage, between $800-1000 for “assessments” (building wide costs or special building repairs) if the building doesn’t have a pool, workout room, etc, $50 if you have a landline, $80 for wireless charges, anywhere between $130-225 for power during the hottest months. How does this compare to what someone would pay for a similar place in Tel Aviv?

The talkbacks online range from “stop whining” to “people starting out in their careers shouldn’t expect to live in a major cosmopolitan area” to “it’s our country too and we are taking it back from the government and wealthy land barons/real estate speculators”, etc. There are so many horror stories that are being posted on how much difficulty people are facing trying to find places to live…What do you think is the root of the problem? Should the government be stepping in to do something?

Thanks so much!

Rhonda

Hi Ronda,

I’ve got to tell you that your email definitely made me smile to myself. The apartment that you talked about pretty much doesn’t exist in Tel Aviv. 850 square feet is an absolute palace for central Israel, and will cost about half a million dollars if you can find it. There certainly won’t be a porter or a pool, that’s only for rock stars and oligarchs here! There’s just no comparison.

In fact, there’s no way of comparing the lifestyles between here and the US at all. For example, Israel has one financial and commercial center, Tel Aviv and its surrounds (called Gush Dan). That means that there’s no option to live elsewhere at the beginning of your career, because there’s no careers anywhere else! Also, direct price comparisons don’t help either, as the difference in wages is enormous. There are people who contribute to this site that are college educated, incredibly bright and motivated, skilled and hard-working who earn $9 an hour as security analysts in the private sector. They feel lucky to have the job. Compare this to US ex-special forces soldiers that hold degrees from one of the best schools in the country with high GPAs and are working in the private security sphere, quite the difference. Lawyers in central Israel are lucky to earn over $20,000 for their first few years of practice. Furthermore, the housing problem is less connected to purchase, and more to rental problems. Unlike the US, home-ownership is a distant dream for most Israelis in the center of the country, people simply can’t afford it. Young professionals (designers, consultants, lawyers etc.) either live with roommates or have a 250 square foot studio apartment that been illegally partitioned from a larger apartment. It’s like Manhattan, but without the glamour.

As such, we have to look at the housing problem in isolation and see what can be done to remedy it.

One of the biggest issues has been the total lack of regulation in the real-estate sector. Whilst this has helped us weather the storm of the current economic crisis, it’s generated its own set of problems. The mortgage system is Israel has no government intervention at all, banks have total discretion on their lending. This allows for serious price-fixing between banks (something that’s also seen in cell phone providers, cable TV providers and other private industries. This allows banks to jack up the prices of mortgages without suffering from a lack of uptake, as there is no consumer choice. In the US, this is illegal. This cost is passed on to renters, who pay enormous premiums for homes.

Whilst I don’t advocate a ‘mortgages for all’ policy (as that leads to the kind of crash seen in Ireland’s real-estate sector) there needs to be some consumer protection laws passed with regards to mortgages in Israel. In fact, we need general consumer protection to be increased.

This extends to a lack of anti-discrimination law, and enforcement thereof in this sector too. Young, single, people find it very difficult to rent apartments in Tel Aviv and central Israel as landlords have every right to only accept married tenants, tenants with a certain income level or even based on their level of religious observance. Again, in most developed countries this is illegal. If a renter can pay the deposit and has guarantors (something else that Israeli landlords require) then there is no reason that they shouldn’t be allowed to take an apartment. This is, of course, also reflected in the difficulty that minority sectors face in getting housing, as they are not protected from discrimination.

Another large problem is the lack of subsidized affordable housing. Tel Aviv has no housing projects at all. The idea of a major city that is a country’s economic center having no government subsidized housing is crazy. Even in the US and Britain, two of the most liberal economies in the world, there is extensive public housing construction. Every urban locale needs its low-income labour in order for high industry to exist, and these workers need to live.

The reality is that the government definitely does need to do something. They can’t fix the whole problem, and they are not solely responsible for it either, but they can help. Greater regulation of the banking sector, enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and the construction of affordable housing would be a good start.

Anyway that’s just my two cents worth,

Josh

Click here to read Liran’s correspondence with Rhonda

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