Posts Tagged borders

Having your cake and eating it too on United Jerusalem

Nathan Diament from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America writes on uniting Jerusalem in the Atlantic. Some of the arguments that he uses (which are by no means his original material) really tend to bother me; the more religiously motivated Jews have a way of making extremely disingenuous attempts to sound like they are reasoning objectively, when they are quite transparently creating these arguments after-the-fact as a way to justify their ideological beliefs.

The Case for a United Jerusalem – Nathan Diament – International – The Atlantic.

The reality, however, is that Jerusalem today is a demographically intertwined city. To be sure, there are neighborhoods, particularly east of the security barrier, where Jews seldom venture. But modern-day Jerusalem is far more an interwoven checkerboard of Jewish and Palestinian enclaves. The Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, for example, lies between the Jewish neighborhoods of Talpiot and Gilo, while the Arab neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah lies between the Old City and the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill. Separating these neighborhoods between two countries would create an unwieldy and unsustainable border.

What he is saying has some truth to it, but only if you are trying to draw a line that cuts every Jewish neighbourhood from every Arab neighbourhood. If there is some wiggle room so that maybe some Arab neighbourhoods are absorbed into Israel and others are handed-over, then there is no longer such an issue with dividing the city. After all, Diament is pretty adamant that keeping the Arabs in Jerusalem is a good thing (look at this map to see what I mean, although it has been carefully designed to make the Israelis look bad so don’t read too much into it). Also, it’s not a coincidence that some of the Jewish neighbourhoods cut Arab neighbourhoods off from one another – in many cases, that was why they were placed there.

The other argument that really irks me is the one below (emphasis mine):

One significant reason against dividing Jerusalem is that many of the Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem wish to remain under Israeli sovereignty. Recent polling indicates that, despite the fact that municipal resources and services have not been evenly allocated between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem segments of the city, a plurality of Palestinians residing in eastern sections of Jerusalem would move from Palestinian Jerusalem to Israeli Jerusalem, if given the opportunity, should the city be re-divided.

The hypocrisy in this this argument is unbearable. Diament is not for a second criticising the poor treatment of Arabs in Jerusalem or demanding that they are allocated resources evenly, and yet he is trumpeting the fact that even though we treat them badly, we’re not quite as bad as the alternatives. Now that’s a hasbarah line that can sell!

Israel: sure we treat our Arabs badly, but we’re still slightly better than an Arab dictatorship.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you truly believe in uniting Jerusalem, then start working to unite it. That means reaching out to the Arabs and including them in Israeli society; it means advocating for equal treatment and equal allocation of municipal resources; it means finding money to make up for the years of neglect and bring their infrastructure up to the same standards as the Jewish residents; it even means allowing Arabs to buy land in Jewish areas.

If you aren’t comfortable doing that but you are still adamant that we cannot cede one inch of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, then the reality is you are not arguing for a united Jerusalem, just a Jewish-controlled but segregated one. That is something that I am a little uncomfortable with. Of course, this is in fact what Diament wants. He reveals his true argument near the end of the piece.

Proposals for joint sovereignty, deferred sovereignty, or even divine sovereignty ignore the deep-rooted significance of the holy city. The search for a “split the difference” compromise also ignores the fact that the Old City of Jerusalem has been the national capital of the Jewish people for the past 3000 years and is Judaism’s holiest site, while it is Mecca that plays that role for Muslims. The international community would never expect the Islamic world to cede sovereignty over Mecca; the Jewish people ought to be accorded no less respect with regard to the Old City of Jerusalem.

See, what he does right there is say that our claim over Jerusalem is stronger than their claim because it’s our number one whereas they have their number one already. That’s not quite how religion works. I don’t see many Jews saying “well, I guess the Mearat Ha Machpelah is less important than the Kotel, so we can give them that one and keep the more important one”. You can’t barter over who the site is more holy to, it’s holy for both and that’s pretty much as far as you’ll get.

Plus the Mecca comparison doesn’t hold up. Fortunately for the Muslims, Mecca is not claimed by two other religions. That said, I can definitely see a future where Shiite Muslims start demanding that Sunni Muslims cede control over Mecca and it’s administered by a joint Muslim authority rather than just Saudi Wahabbis.

The point is, Diament does not really want to keep the Arabs in Jerusalem and he doesn’t really want a united city. He doesn’t particularly care whether or not Muslims have access to their holy sites, which are not quite as holy to them as they are to him anyway, or so he says. No, he believes that Jerusalem was given to us by God and that means it should be a Jewish -controlled city. Arabs can live there if they want, but they can’t expect us to make it easy for them, they should just be grateful that they aren’t living in Syria or something like that.

Ironically, there is one point that he was completely right about, only he doesn’t seem to be doing much to change this:

One reason peace in the Middle East has not yet been possible is because most efforts to achieve it have been aspirational but untethered from reality

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Great guide to Israel/Palestine borders and land swaps

I was just linked to the below video from The Atlantic and the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.  It’s brilliantly done, very simply and clearly explaining the whole concept of land swaps and going through the possible options and the difficulties that they create.

Drawing an Israel-Palestine Border – The Editors – International – The Atlantic.

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Finally, an article about the future of books that made me smile

David Blackburn in The Spectator has written an article on the demise of Waterstone’s, the biggest book retailer in the UK, but there is a bright, gleaming silver lining to the cloud:

Book Blog | The Spectator

The bell seems to be tolling for the high street bookshop. The HMV Group, which owns Waterstone’s, has issued its third straight profit warning. Waterstone’s is supposedly on target for this financial year, but 11 of its branches were forced to close across the UK and Ireland in February alone and the company has conceded that it can’t compete in the mass market. Therefore, managing director Dominic Myers has decided on a strategy that challenges readers to escape the ‘stifling homogeneity’ of Dan Brown and Katie Price. The latest campaign will push 11 exciting first time novels on a public that largely ignores new novelists.

Admirable though this plan may be, it is accompanied by the whiff of panic. It is the exact Granta-inspired business model that Tim Waterstone demolished in the early ’80s. But, given that the ruminations of a meerkat from an advert top the bestseller list, Waterstone’s has little choice but to gravitate towards quality.

This is kinda what I was getting at in this post – stores like Borders and Waterstone’s lost their edge to Amazon because all they do now is sell bestsellers that everyone has heard of, which Amazon can do better and cheaper. The advantage that bookshops have over online retailers is the allure of stumbling across something that you had no idea about whilst browsing books. When the only fiction titles on display are Twilight, Steig Larsson and Dan Brown and the non-fiction is all bright-coloured autobiographies of B-list celebrities that have been ghost-written by the same Rolling Stone journalist, you are giving away that advantage. Add to that the fact that the sales staff are 16-year-olds on minimum wage who have never read anything outside of the afore-mentioned library and you have signed your 21st-Century bookstore death warrant.

Hopefully, other stores will follow Waterstone’s and start actually looking for writing talent again. Who knows, people might actually read more (but probably not, because people are dumb).

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Why books are dying (and it’s not just the Kindle)

In a funny coincidence, a whole pile of books from arrived in my letterbox yesterday, then today I read in the newspaper (yep, paper! Crazy huh?) that the biggest chain of bookstores in Australia, Angus and Robertson, who also own the Australian Borders stores, are being forced to hand over to a corporate recovery firm.

Naturally, they blame the internet. And as someone who rarely buys books in bookstores anymore since they are so much cheaper online, I can see why. Book prices in Australia are driven up by some irresponsible government protectionism over our domestic publishing industry, the fact that overseas purchases are currently GST-free, as well as the usual issues of high salaries and high rental costs for retail properties.

To explain the protectionism, for any new title, if an Australian publishing firm secures publishing rights to it within 30 days, Australian retailers are forced to sell the domestically-produced book and are not allowed to import foreign editions. This forces the prices up firstly because of the small scale of Australia’s industry and secondly because it means that the domestic publishers have no one to compete with besides each other.

On a Global Level

The other internet story, of course, is ebooks. Since Amazon’s Kindle, Borders’ Kobo, Sony’s Ereader and all of their competitors have been becoming increasingly popular and sophisticated, ebook sales have been picking-up. This is also fuelled by Apple’s iPad and the iBook store. Mashable‘s Pete Cashmore writes on CNN that Apple and its competitors (particularly Google) have already defeated the publishing industry. As he points out, publishers are at Apple’s mercy, allowing Apple to charge a 30% fee on every ebook that it sells without the publishers having any say over it at all. The only way Apple could be overcome is if Google’s new One Pass store, which charges 10%, starts out-competing Apple’s.

Reviewing Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century by John B. Thompson in the New York Review of Books, Jason Epstein sheds some light on how the publishing industry missed the boat on the digital revolution. He even notes, very humbly, that he originally conceived of the business model that could have saved them, but it was instead taken by other entities:

Books: Onward to the Digital Revolution by Jason Epstein | The New York Review of Books.

In the mid-80s I proposed to my collegues at Random House that we create a direct mail catalogue comprising 40,000 or so backlist titles selected from the list of all publishers, to be ordered by readers over a toll-free number. The internet had not then been commercialised but digitisation was in the wind and disintermediation had become a buzz word. I argued that with retailers increasingly unable to stock our backlist we should now sell our backlist to readers directly. I was, of course, proposing the opportunity that Amazon eventually seized.

…Early in the new century book publishers, confined within their history and outflanked by unencumbered digital innovators, missed yet another critical opportunity, seized once again by Amazon, this time to build their own universal digital catalog, serving e-book users directly and on their own terms while collecting the names, e-mail addresses, and preferences of their customers. This strategic error will have large consequences

Epstein paints a very bleak picture of the publishing industry, chronicling his 52 years as an editor at Random House. He notes how when he began his career, the editors were given free-reign to choose books for literature’s sake, then how this slowly morphed into what we have today. Small, urban booksellers gave way to commercialised chains, which gave way to the Borders, Barnes and Nobles and Dymooks that we see today. The great casualty in this process was the back catalogue, where the increasing commercialisation of the bookshop world, as a result of the increasing number of other forms of entertainment for books to compete with, led to a market dominated by recent bestsellers and a few best-selling authors, at the expense of past greats and smaller writers.

But it’s these competing media that are really the story here. As Chauncey Mabe says in the Open Page blog,

The problem with the way Epstein, Thompson and others analyze the digital revolution is one of perspective. They look at the ways technology is likely to affect books, but the real impact is in the way digital technology is going to alter people.

After all, how many people do you know who actually read whole books anymore? I made a new year’s resolution for 2011 to read at least 1 book every month; so far, I’m failing. There’s just too much other material out there.

Our generation may be the last to read books at school, have textbooks at uni and have to hand-write exams. Bookshelves are becoming decorative and nothing more. I’ve said this to people who reply “but I really like going to bookshops and I like holding something in my hand!” Sure you do, but do you like it enough to pay for the paper, printing, shipping, store rental and staff salaries that let you get there? For most people, probably not. And so ends the book, may it rest in peace.

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The Middle-East holding hands and working together?

Complete naivete or the only solution?

The Myth of Defensible Borders | Foreign Affairs

It doesn’t seem to say on the site, but Google tells me that Omar M. Dajani is a law professor at the University of The Pacific (yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either) and a former PLO negotiator and Ezzedine C. Fishere is an aide to the Egyptian Foreign Minister.

Either way, what they are proposing is interesting to think about. Basically, they want:

  1. A US-led regional security apparatus, involving Israel coordinating with Turkey, Jordan and others in order to combat terrorism and Iran.
  2. A “multinational peace-implementation force” – basically, an extension of the above organisation, focusing on building-up Palestinian infrastructure and kind of taking over the job from the Israelis, so that the IDF can withdraw from the West Bank.
  3. Integrating Hamas into the agreement, under the assumption that legitimising them in this way would force them to become more moderate due to the accountability that it would bring and since they aren’t going anywhere regardless.
  4. 1967 borders with land swaps and an immediate withdrawal.

I’m not entirely convinced that their model is viable at this point in time. They have kind of glossed over a huge amount of conflict between all of the sides here. I don’t think that the Arab public would accept a US-led force such as they propose, or working with Israel on a level high enough that the Israelis would be satisfied that their security was guaranteed.

Hell, I’m not even convinced that Jordan and Turkey could work closely together without fireworks. The Middle-East is not a friendly place, I’m very skeptical about anyone ever working towards the “common good”.

That said, the idea of a regional solution may not be too far off. Abbas definitely knows that he can’t make any major moves without the involvement of the Arab League. Dajani and Fisher may be a little too ambitious, but it could definitely be a good idea to involve the Arab League in the peace process more formally, if they would agree to it of course.

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