Understanding the Iran Interim Deal in Seven Points

As negotiations closed last weekend in Geneva, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told reporters that he hoped this deal would “remove any doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.” John Kerry painted the negotiations in a different light, saying that the deal “impedes (Iran’s nuclear) progress in a very dramatic way.” Some have called the deal a tectonic shift in the region, while others have scoffed and written it off as just another cog in a machine that won’t work. So what’s really going on? I’ve broken down the implications of the deal into seven key points.

Why does Iran want nukes so badly?

Nuclear weapons make countries relevant. Nations enrich uranium and seek nuclear capability so that they can attain a certain level of both national security and prestige among world powers. For an Islamic country in the Middle East, that sort national security would signal a permanence amid severe volatility and an ongoing upheaval of the status quo. As the centrifuges spin, and Iran hurtles closer to that dreaded 90 percent enrichment mark, it becomes more of a viable force and louder voice on the global stage. As one White House official said this week, it’s a matter of national pride.

(Additionally, a majority of Iranians believe that the nation should have a nuclear power program as an alternative form of energy.)

Obviously, that’s a deeply flawed mentality given the realities of Iran’s current predicament. The problem, of course, is that no one else wants Iran to have that “security” – at least for now.

Why are all these countries – many of whom have nuclear weapons themselves – so devoted to stopping Iran from having them?

The argument goes something like this: nukes aren’t the coveted bargaining chip that Iran thinks they are, nor are their attainment the threshold Iran needs to cross to be taken seriously. Iranians celebrated in the streets Sunday as the first round of negotiations closed and officials announced an interim agreement that would relieve up to $7 billion in sanctions. There’s a sense that the waters of Iran’s economy will begin to flow after years of self- and externally-imposed drought.

Economically robust countries with a clear future, strong infrastructure, and room for growth (and, yes, with the money to build a strong military) get a voice. Iranians are poor. Oil revenues have been cut back by half as crippling sanctions have taken effect in the last half-decade. And because of past choices and priorities, Iran is stuck. That’s the goal of sanctions: to force hostile nations to decide between continuing to implement its antagonistic policies and allowing the well-being of its own economic sectors.

Would Iran really bomb Israel?

Beyond smoke and mirrors and rhetoric to inflame the radicals, Iran has no real rationale to bomb Israel. In a region with no shortage of problematic countries, Iran is far and away the most ostracized in the international community. With a 20 percent global approval rating, it is more politically isolated than Syria and treated as a greater threat than are its neighbors. Statements by government officials, state-employed scientists, and others in positions of authority brim with rhetoric that scare Israelis and supporters of the Jewish state and disturb those with a stake in the region’s stability. But Iran wants a bomb for the same reason the United States, Russia, Pakistan, and India wanted one: to have a bomb. Organizations like United Against a Nuclear Iran and the diplomats who met in Geneva last weekend know that Iran very likely has no intention of bombing Israel.

What should I know about this deal?

  1. The UN’s premier nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), now gets to inspect the assembly of centrifuges and uranium mines through surveillance cameras and on-the-ground visits at Iranian nuclear facilities. These inspections will be daily at Natanz and Fordow and more sporadic at Arak.
  2. All uranium that Iran has been enriched to 20 percent must now be either diluted to a lower percentage or converted to oxide form.
  3. Iran can keep the centrifuges that exist, but can’t install new ones. In other words, the centrifuges that have been set up, but are not operating, can’t start operating.
  4. Iran can’t enrich any new uranium beyond 5 percent.

Cool bullet-points, but what do they mean?

They mean that in a perfect hypothetical, Iran is deciding through this deal that the health and prosperity of its people are more important than its production of nuclear weapons. The costs of sanctions outweigh the benefits of highly-enriched uranium.

Okay, but do you really buy that?

No, not really. Many – including Israel, Saudi Arabia, any many top American lawmakers – are skeptical of the suddenly-cooperative Islamic Republic, which has a history of wanting it both ways and refusing to compromise. Yossi Klein-Halevi wrote Monday of Israel’s belief that Iranian officials “will persist in doing what they’ve done all along: lie and cheat, but this time under the cover of a deal.”

In truth, the eased sanctions are only a small fraction of the billions in frozen assets and halted contracts that have piled up in recent years. But Bibi Netanyahu sees this deal as the world’s way of giving Iran a few months of carte blanche. Michael Doran, a Brookings Institution fellow who once ran the National Security Council, agreed on Sunday, writing that the agreement signals America’s implicit willingness to channel money to Iran’s terrorist proxies in the Middle East – Hezbollah and the henchmen of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Some commentators have also noted that the emergence of an Iran deal could very well be the point to the death of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the Obama administration. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, said publicly that the American decision to facilitate the agreement in spite of Israel’s strong opposition sent “an important message to Israel” on the United States’ priorities.

There’s plenty of justification for being suspicious of Iran’s intentions. In October 2003, representatives of France, Germany, Britain, the European Union, and Iran met in Paris and struck a deal that temporarily suspended Iran’s production of enriched uranium. This was intended to be something of an interim agreement, like the one announced Sunday – a liminal process that would eventually lead to the real accord.

There was no real accord. In early 2005, Iran’s parliament voted to resume the nation’s uranium enrichment program “for peaceful use” only. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president later that year, and nuclear facilities like Isfahan ratcheted up their production. That September, the IAEA condemned Iran and talks with the Paris group broke down.

In 2006, the UN Security Council’s permanent members and Germany (the so-called “P5+1”) reached out to Iran, offering to open new trade routes and allow for several light water reactors in exchange for the suspension, again, of reprocessing and enrichment. Iran turned down the offer and opened its heavy water facility at Arak later that year.

The P5+1 went through similar processes in 2009, 2011, and again earlier this year. Each time, talks broke down because Iran either failed to comply or reneged on a promise.

What’s different now?

Just the president of Iran, really. The only tangible difference I perceive is a newly open, non-hostile relationship between the Iranian leader – President Hassan Rouhani – and the leaders of the P5+1. Rouhani was involved in Iran’s earlier suspensions of enrichment and has generally been more of a mollifier and an appeaser of global interests than his direct predecessor, who advocated and embodied an outwardly antagonistic approach to the Western world.

One Week Later: Israel’s Right and its Responsibility

Written for the Emory Wheel:

Consider a hypothetical situation.

About a year ago, someone took a hammer to my kitchen window, leaving shattered glass strewn about the floor.

My family and I aren’t of retaliatory blood, so we swept up, replaced the panel, and put the incident behind us.

A few days later, we awoke to another mess. Our front lawn had been dug up, spilling dirt into the driveway and leaving the carcasses of daisies to shrivel in the sun. Again, we cleaned up quietly and went about our lives.

But it wasn’t long before my family couldn’t keep up with the damage.

We awoke each day to a new sordid surprise: paint scraped off of the side of our house; rain seeping through where roof panels had once sat; sewage pipes uprooted; damage with such consistency and such severity that the very foundation of our house began to rot away. Each time, we swept up the mess. Each time, we kept quiet.

You’re wondering: You allowed all this? You didn’t take legal action? You didn’t seek out the people who’d been carrying out an unprovoked assault on your home? It sounds, to you, absurd. Because it is absurd.

None of this happened to my family, nor to my home. My telling is diluted. In reality, the narrative was much worse.

Instead of a hammer, it was a rocket. Instead of a shovel, it was a rocket. Instead of a scraping tool, or an axe, or a jackhammer, it was a barrage of rockets. And instead of my family’s home, it was the schools and streets, playgrounds and homes of Israel’s southern region.

For anyone to live in constant fear that they may die by rocket fire seems a way of life unbefitting of the civilized.

It’s now been more than a week since Operation Pillar of Defense ended. We’ve had time to reflect. The regional conflict remains hazy and oft times complex – even impenetrable. But one thing is clear: Last week, Israel rightly defended itself against those who sought to bring its citizens into that shadow of constant fear.

Israel is not without profound, sometimes devastating flaws. It is a society whose legal statutes often pull from the norms of biblical antiquity; one which is deeply and continually invested in an occupation of the West Bank that poses threats to its own democratic principles and to its Jewish underpinnings; one with a system of government that proves inefficient time and again.

Because the Israeli government’s constituency extends far beyond the borders of the Jewish state, it has already begun to face criticism on these issues.

The era of a subservient global Jewish community has passed. These issues are difficult and important.

But the action that Israel took last week doesn’t fall under that umbrella of flaw. The sobering truth is that Israel’s use of force was warranted. Consider a concise sequence of events – a far cry, I hope, from the convolution of the news cycle:

Yielding to international pressure, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. The withdrawal granted Palestinians living in Gaza full power to assemble (by whatever means) its own governing body, its own internal legal systems, its own investments. A few months later, the people – whether by coercion or by choice – elected Hamas, who vowed to bring years of prosperity to Gaza.

Hamas is a terrorist organization. In its founding charter, it calls for the destruction of the Jewish people in the Jewish state.

Not a century ago, someone carried out a similar vision – a memory seared vividly into the collective psyche of the Jewish people. By absolutely no means is the Holocaust the basis for Jewish self-determination, but by all means is it a reason to shudder and recoil at Hamas’ words.

Since its ascent, Hamas has opted away from substantial investments in infrastructure or medicine. It hasn’t moved toward opening a robust competitive market. Instead, it has prioritized weaponry supplied in large part by its allies in the Iranian regime. Those weapons are katyusha and qassam rockets.

Hamas launches them from schools, mosques, and hospitals. The rockets land in Sderot, Ashdod, Be’er Sheva, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi – Israeli towns where Israeli kids play on playgrounds and rush to shelter when their afternoons are pierced by warning sirens.

It’s easy to fall victim to certain western conceptions that compel us to view Hamas as a political opponent or ideological dissenter of Israel’s. But Hamas is not a righteous army of freedom fighters. Its militants are not “activists.” They are terrorists. Hamas does not protect its citizens. It plants fear in the hearts of both Israelis and Palestinians and dispatches the cursed and capable hands of death upon them.

Had my family taken action against simply the first act of aggression (the mere broken window) we would have been justified beyond doubt.

Israel has seen an average of three rockets per day over the last 11 years; more than 22 thousand pieces of burning metal crashing into small towns over the last year alone. Can you imagine even one rocket landing in your neighborhood – even one time?

I mourn for the infant whose only crime was serving involuntarily as a terrorist’s shield.

I thirst for a partner for peace who will cease to cloak itself in smoke and bullets. I pray that combatants in Gaza and in Israel will lay down their arms and labor for their own safety, their neighbors’ safety. But we aren’t there yet.

Last week, Israel carried out its obligation to unshackle Israelis from the chains of existential fear. In a heap of shattered glass, a hammer is not a valid partner for peace.

When Jews Criticize Israel – Why Cautious Rebuke is a Mechanism of Defense

Earlier this month, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles ran an article entitled “Wolpe vs. Beinart.” The piece was Rabbi David Wolpe’s passionate and compelling response to an email Peter Beinart recently sent to supporters of J-Street.

Beinart’s e-mail scolds the American Jewish community for failing to develop a link with West Bank Palestinians similar to that which it maintained with the freedom fighters of the 1960s. In the email, Beinart asserts that “the great Jewish question of our age is whether a people who for millennia lived as strangers—and spun visions of justice that inspired the world—will act justly now that we wield power.” Rabbi Wolpe denounces and questions the categorical nature of Beinart’s words, painting them as arrogant and presumptuous. Feigning the knowledge of the steps Israel must take toward peace, he writes, displays “a strutting lack of humility.”

The following is my response to that exchange:

There may, in fact, be no single “great Jewish question of our age.” Many observers of the Jewish state argue that the preeminent “question” is that of a nuclear Iran. Others assert that Jewish survival depends on a peoples’ capacity to renew its tradition and re-contextualize it in the modern era. Still others view remedying the Israeli government’s relationship with its ultra-orthodox population as a burning necessity. A claim like Beinart’s, which labels one challenge as “the great Jewish question,” and offers definitive answers to any of these questions, is irresponsible and does, as Rabbi Wolpe suggests, reflect a degree of arrogance.

Beinart’s comments, however, propagate another important question, or line of them: Is it acceptable for Jews not to glorify the core tenets of Israeli society? Can one be a Zionist – learn about, teach about, or love Israel – through a non-idealistic and sobering lens? Does “criticism” carry an unconditionally detrimental connotation?

I find few moments more fulfilling than standing atop Mount Arbel as the sun peaks over the Sea of Galilee. My Jewish soul overflows with pride when Israel is the first to respond to a natural disaster in a country who condemns its very existence. I feel profound spiritual connection among the ancient, towering walls of the Old City. I am an ohev tzion – a lover of Israel.

Even so, Israel is a political entity, and, like all other political entities, its government makes mistakes – militarily, economically, religiously, and politically. Rabbi Wolpe, in his admonition of Beinart, writes that “honest dissent” is necessary, and acknowledges that “Israel has sometimes done bad, misguided, even terrible things.” Challenges pervade the contemporary  discussion: Israel may have the right to build settlements, but does that make the settlements unequivocally moral? Is every military maneuver in the state’s best interest? Should the Haredi population always have such an overwhelming say in decisions of governance?

It was at a pro-Israel conference last Spring that I brought up some of these questions with the Jewish father of a friend.

His response was vitriolic. “You think your views are valid?” he yelled, with more rebuke than wonder. “You’re just a naïve kid who’s read a few articles. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I was taken aback, but hardly surprised. It wasn’t the first time that a conversation of this sort had taken a turn for the worse. In many circles within the American Jewish community, much that verges on criticism of Israel is considered taboo. Those who call Netanyahu or Lieberman policies into question are often scolded with a vengeance.

There is a distinct and often forgotten line between self-loathing and self-serving.

Henry Kissinger may fall under the former category, while Israel supporters who dare to point out, with prudence, the state’s ill-considered decisions qualify as the latter. If Zionism is engrained in our collective identity, we carry a weighty responsibility to be our own watchdogs.

When we chide the Obama administration for one of its policies that we perceive as being contrary to American interest, we aren’t renouncing our American citizenship. Rather, we are exercising our democratic prerogative. Yet, for whatever reason, when the conversation moves to the Middle East, constructive criticism becomes synonymous with betrayal.

In truth, the American Jewish community’s criticism of Israel is not fully comparable to that of most other groups in most other countries. Examine Israel’s disparate function within the community of nations: The constituency of the United States or France, for most practical purposes, ends at the borders of Canada and Mexico. The constituency of a state founded on religious doctrine extends far beyond any geographical border.

But Israel is often labeled the only “true democracy” in its very unstable region. Democracy functions through constituent response; if constituents support the policies, they support the candidates. If they don’t, they do the reverse. Israeli citizens take advantage of democracy by voting. We make the best of a free and open Israel by voicing our opinions of which policies Netanyahu should keep, and which ones he should change. The American Jewish community, collectively, is a constituent of the State of Israel.

Peter Beinart’s public anxiety that ours may be “the generation that watches the dream of a democratic Jewish state die” seems not to be – at least linguistically – the sort of cautious rebuke that can elicit any sort of tangible response.

Daniel Gordis, the prominent commentator on Israel, compares Jews closed to criticizing Israel to parents who never critique their children: They’re in an unproductive covenant. Loving Israel, he recently wrote, “means loving unconditionally but knowing that love does not mean overlooking serious flaws.” Like effective parenting, our criticism needs to be present, but it must also be constructive and intentional.

Followers of the American Jewish relationship with Israel often argue that criticism of the Israeli government’s decisions should, for the most part, take place behind closed doors – outside the eye of public scrutiny. I agree; the Jewish State has no shortage of bad luck with the media. Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been called “Israel’s single most visible defender,” has written that this criticism must be proportional and contextual, asserting that “what is missing (from the equation of diplomatic criticism) is the comparable criticism of equal or greater violations by other countries and other groups.” The American Jewish community is safe in deciding to publicize its positive interactions with Israel and shroud its denunciations of the state. But the quiet steps we do take toward improving Israel (by way of expressions of dissatisfaction) must be real and palpable.

There is, as Rabbi Wolpe contends, “room for honest dissent.” When the Israeli government is wrong, we have a holy imperative to criticize it. Our criticism must be deliberate, constructive, specific, and concise, not categorical, nor arrogant, nor presumptuous; it must provide a foundation from which to build stronger policy, not tools with which to dismantle a nation. Our Jewish responsibility is to defend our only homeland. To criticize is to clarify, and clarification is – without doubt – a mechanism of defense.

Wet and Quickly Drying – An Explanation of the Year’s Changes, A Proposal for Next Steps

As featured on the Huffington Post:

The life we know hasn’t changed much since December 27 of 2010. Murky smog still poisons the air I breathe in Los Angeles. A snapshot of the New York skyline taken today will match that taken last year. The streets of Vegas remain depraved and Capitol Hill remains democratic. This year, in this country, things have changed; but they have done so incrementally.

If the previous paragraph leaves you unconvinced, I ask that you put on a lens not of objectivity, but of relativity. Our country has changed only marginally. In Libya, a year’s change is far from marginal – it’s palpable: its cities look physically different than they did a year ago and its society has pushed through an iron grip – and feels more free. People who live in Egypt can feel the change just as forcefully: new rules govern individuals – but even those rules are actively shifting and evolving. The Tunisians and the Yemenis drove away their longtime presidents. The Syrians Bahrainis were unsuccessful in ousting their leaders, but brought to the forefront issues of rights for women and for Shia – issues that had been buried. Beyond the Western World, change is immense.

This was the year of shattered norms; of shifting variables; of fractured precedents. This was the year in which we – Americans – watched as they – million of others – decided to swiftly and continually forget everything they had been taught. This was the year the world collapsed into itself.

TIME magazine columnist Joel Stein dubbed 2011 “The Year of the Meltdown,” asserting that we’ve had no choice but to “idly watch things completely fall apart.” Indeed, we’ve borne witness to changes that have seemed unnatural and arbitrary: massive readjustments of economic structures, sociological organizations, and individual and communal systems of thought. They have appeared often to be precipitated by anomalies, like a merchant who set himself ablaze, a reporter kidnapped, or an Egyptian woman beaten unjustifiably. The shifts we’ve seen this year make us question the basis on which they have happened; they have seemed somewhat random and erratic. Why now? Why these changes? Why these people?

But the language of change is a universal one. From all angles, in all perspectives, there is an explanation for this year of global collapse and far-reaching transformation.

Those who speak the language of faith – who seek answers to the unanswerable through mechanisms of religion and belief – need look no further than the Book of Job, in which the author elucidates that idea of random destruction and seemingly groundless change in the first chapter. “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return,” explains the book’s narrator. Cycles are a critical component of a pious life – and with them comes the faithful acknowledgement that, even ostensibly randomly, “the Lord gives and the Lord (takes) away.”

For many, an explanation that is based in religious doctrine equates to no explanation at all. Those who speak the language of science or “reason” – who understand the world as a series of systems and rules – will identify with a pervasive biological concept. In wildlife, a cataclysmic event causes destruction of biotic factors in a given area, leaving only a bare substrate. In layman’s terms, it literally wipes away all of the life somewhere and leaves a blank slate. Nature, too, works in cycles. The earth gives and takes. Change is built into the natural world.

A third, more simple and demonstrable explanation comes from my great-grandmother, who, by my father’s account, was a content woman. She repeated and repeated one particular adage. “If you don’t like the weather,”she would say, “just wait a minute.”

Change, we understand, just happens. It is destructive by nature; it has to be, in order to make way for something new or better. But what – I pose to the faithful, the academic, and the elderly – happens next?

When the Lord takes away, the Lord gives again; when a cataclysm leaves a bare substrate, pioneer species begin to settle and grow; when clouds finish raining, they make way for the sun.

Norms can be constructive; precedents are neutral. A process that been tested does, indeed, have a place in this world. There are good politicians just as there are helpful and useful laws. But right now, we have a few fleeting, precarious, and promising moments in which our era is nothing more than wet, quickly-drying concrete.

Let us usher out the year that crushed the world’s conventions; let us welcome the year in which we rebuild them. Let this be the year in which we – American observers of the sweeping changes – embrace our responsibility within our country, to ensure that we can do the work of reinvigorating outside of our country.

We, too, are at a crossroads: let this be the year in which we elect leaders who are interested not in gridlock, but in governing; interested not in exercising vicious imperialism, but in lending a voice to the Shia of Bahrain, the women of Yemen, and still-silent people across the ocean.

Let us elect leaders who will fund programs that send American volunteers to rebuild Tripoli; who will send diplomatic workers to negotiate for the rights whose absence brought on the Arab Spring; who will create domestic dialogue programs so that young Americans of varying faiths learn to understand one another.

The moment is volatile and we are still free. After this year of meltdown, let this be the one of responsibility.

To Criticize, To Clarify – The Simultaneity of Hitchens’ Death and the War’s End

Last Thursday night, as I was studying at my desk for a few final midterms, my dad cracked open my bedroom door and told me to check the news: Christopher Hitchens had died.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, still groggy and half-asleep, I grabbed my BlackBerry from my nightstand. I had one new e-mail, from the Obama campaign. “Friend – “ it read, as most of the notes from the DNC begin. “Early this morning, the last of our troops left Iraq.”

There are occasions on which it seems that the universe has a biting wit. This weekend was one of them.

In one fell swoop, we lost the world’s preeminent heretic and brought an end to an almost decade-long war that began primarily as a result of a marked lack of outspoken heretics.

Hitchens would have called it nonsense; I call it a cosmic hint.

Pundits still argue that had the war not been the primary campaign issue in 2008, Barack Obama may have secured neither the Democratic nomination, nor the presidency. A Pew poll conducted just three days before the election illustrated that half of American voters considered an Iraq invasion to have been the “wrong decision,” while the remaining voters split between varying other responses.

Obama used his early criticism of the Iraq decision as one of his strongest campaign talking points. His push for more regulation and more debate over the justifications of war toppled Hillary Clinton’s default vote in favor of the war, and John McCain’s fervent support of its prolongation.

In early May of 2003, President Bush conveyed a message similar to the DNC’s e-mail. “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” he said. Eight years, eight-hundred billion dollars, and nearly five thousand American lives later, it seems that a little Hitchens-esque heresy from within the political arena couldn’t have hurt.

One religious leader – someone who debated Christopher Hitchens – wrote last week that in losing Hitchens, we also lost a watchdog to “scour our less-careful pronouncements.” God is Not Great forced us to debate whether, in fact, God was great. His incessant declarations that “religion is man-made” compelled even the most confident believer to clarify or justify his or her own faith.

A sink that has been checked has fewer leaks, a book that has been proofread has fewer typos, and a war whose truths have been exposed – whose devastating economic implications and more devastating death toll have come to light – can end. There were leaks and there were holes. Few checked the war, few proofread its precipitating argument. More than three quarters of the senate voted to approve a resolution built on faulty evidence and unsound extrapolation.

Iconoclasm has its faults. Critique does not make way invariably for improvement; the type of criticism that pervades today’s vitriolic political scene certainly does not. An attack for the sake of attack leaves us with little more than hostility. Sweeping generalizations about movements or groups (the subtitle of Hitchens’ most recent book was “how religion poisons everything”) evade the necessity of nuance. Thunderous radical pronouncements often put their pronouncers on the defensive and trap them in categorical boxes which they would rarely find themselves in otherwise. Heresy is an imperfect art.

But I think back to my elementary school years: in each class, on each day, the same bushy-haired kid would raise his hand and ask “what’s the point of all this?” or “when am I ever going to use long division?” That raw dissidence – the roots of which can be found no further than a fourth grade math classroom – is a driving force of enlightenment. To ask questions is to clarify intent; to be a heretic is to seek the truth – or another truth. Irony lies in the reality: Hitchens himself was an early supporter of the war. But the Hitchens approach – the notion of criticism for the sake of betterment – remains sound.

The cosmic hint that I take from the simultaneity of these two events is simple: had we a Congress full of lawmakers with a Hitchens mentality, not only would our country have been the beneficiary of eloquent prose and a finer taste in whiskey; without doubt, the war in Iraq would have ended as briskly as it began.

Restraint – Gilad Shalit’s Return to Israel

As featured on the Huffington Post:

After five years in the custody of his Hamas captors, it seems that Gilad Shalit’s painful and much publicized saga is finally winding down. The Israeli government has struck a deal with Hamas: Israel will release upwards of a thousand terrorists (most of whom were serving life sentences for murderous crimes) in exchange for one honest young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On a trip to Israel in August 2010, I had the opportunity to spend a few fascinating moments with Gilad’s father, Noam Shalit. We exchanged pleasantries. He asked what my tour group was doing in Israel. I explained. He nodded. Then I asked him what people like me could do to help his son’s situation.

He shook his head, and almost in a whisper: “Nothing.”

Slightly over a year later, I, indeed, haven’t done anything to help his son’s situation. With the exception of keeping informed and posting sporadic “Gilad” Facebook status updates, I’ve done nothing particularly profound to help bring about Gilad Shalit’s homecoming. Few have. In the end, as Noam Shalit foresaw and foretold, it has had everything to do with political negotiation tactics and diplomatic deals that surpass the powers of ordinary Israelis – let alone high schoolers in California.

Nevertheless, in the days following the announcement of the deal, the emotional investment of Jews internationally is visibly coming through. Some advocates of the exchange – certainly many in the global Jewish community – see Shalit’s return as a form of justice. Many see it as an inevitability that completes an era and finishes a story.

But to approach the deal as a justice implies some sort of return to equilibrium; an evenness, a moral balance between loss and gain. In truth, no such balance exists, nor will one.

Yesterday I heard Sharon Brous, a prominent Los Angeles rabbi, frame the Shalit exchange by describing the extraordinary nature of a country who is “letting love dictate policy.”

Indeed, Israel is that country. The trade is a present-day embodiment of the pervasive Talmudic adage, “to save one life is to save the whole world.” It restores confidence in the hearts of soldiers that regardless of circumstance, they will come home. Indeed, this trade, in all its controversy, seeming paradox, and ardent instability, is a consequence of a deep and overwhelming love of life.

But among those being released is a woman who – over the internet – lured a heartbroken Israeli teenager to a Palestinian city, where he was promptly murdered; a man who planted explosives in a Tel Aviv nightclub and killed twenty-one young partygoers; a woman who escorted a suicide bomber into a jam-packed pizza parlor where he blew up sixteen people; a man who orchestrated a hotel bombing that killed thirty people who were celebrating the Passover holiday; a man who bombed a bus in Haifa that killed seventeen travelers; the men who founded Hamas’ armed wing; a man who, along with several others, pulled an Israeli man out of his car in Ramallah and – because he was Israeli – lynched him.

The Shalit exchange is hardly justice. The songwriter David Ford puts it more eloquently: When victory comes at too heavy a price, there’s honor in choosing defeat. Undoubtedly, the world needs Gilad Shalit to fall into his mother’s arms; but it doesn’t take a skeptic to wonder if the price of that reunion is exorbitant.

I urge the global Jewish community to exercise delicate restraint in its recognition of Gilad Shalit’s return to Israel. Jews and Israelis and champions of peace worldwide have attained a goal, though not a victory. It is a time for joy, though not a time for celebration. We have seen a deal, but we have certainly not seen justice. “Nothing” is not a response we want to have to hear again.

A Rickety House – Why a Science Museum in Oregon Matters in Tomorrow’s UN Vote

On the east bank of Portland, Oregon’s Willamette River sits an expansive complex of buildings. The mostly-brick complex, which welcomes about a million visitors each year, is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or “OMSI.” As a child, I made many a trip to OMSI, spending hours exploring the cracks and crevices of center every time I visited my family in Portland. I have vivid memories of ducking my head to gain entry into the submarine exhibit and sending foam balls flying into the air in a giant room full of experimental wind turbines. To an inquisitive youngster, the place seemed like playground with something new around each corner.

One exhibit in particular always caught my attention. On the second floor there was a display that covered the natural sciences. But being little and easily distracted, I would often abandon the tiny writing on the information panels and instead turn quickly to the earthquake simulator. (Now they were speaking my language.)

My brothers and I would hop up onto the platform and underneath the wooden house frame that also rested on it. We would click the red button and a radio would being to omit static, we would hear the sound of shattered glass, and the platform would start shaking vehemently. Just sixty seconds on the platform, and my brothers and I would learn the basic consequence of building a structure on quivering ground: things fall apart.

Perhaps UN delegates never visited OMSI.

Tomorrow, if it so chooses, the United Nations will ignore the basic principle represented by the simulator: a rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

Any basis for political communication or – for that matter – national existence is lacking. There are no guidelines in place for economic interaction between Israel and a Palestinian state. There are no guidelines in place for trade between the two nations. There are no diplomatic agreements. There are no military agreements. There are no parliamentary rules. There are no conditions, no concessions. The Palestinian Authority has agreed to nothing, nor has the Israeli government. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

The Palestinian Authority has continually received substantive and effectual aid packages from the United States. President Obama has remained staunch in his approach to the Middle Eastern conflict. Just yesterday, he told the General Assembly that “a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves,” and that he will not grant the Palestinians the United States’ support on this latest undertaking. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

Settlement issues remain wholly unresolved. Israelis have built lives throughout the West Bank in regions that have been in question for years, but that still technically lie within the lines of the Jewish State. Violence, even only in past months, is an innate, knee-jerk impulse. Last March, politically motivated Palestinian terrorists broke into the home of a family in Itamar, a West Bank settlement. The terrorists stabbed to death the mother, the father, two children who were asleep, and one who was reading with a lamp on. Whether the land belongs to the Israelis or the Palestinians is inconsequential. If the Palestinians are granted a state tomorrow, it will become debilitatingly harder to make this incident an isolated one. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

The world has been touched by an upswing of the human spirit that has caused millions to escape the tight grip of oppression. The Israeli government – while it has indeed pondered, if not grazed unjust policy – holds no such grip. A Palestinian state tomorrow runs the risk of both appearing to equate to other upstarts of the Arab Spring and, on the flip side, itself waging a ‘revolution’ against that which it has just been relinquished from. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

Yes, this is an issue of Zionist significance: in Israel (and in the Diaspora) there exists a religious contingent who believes that Palestinians should not have a sovereign state – ever – because of an age-old doctrine. It is also an issue of diplomatic imperative: many others would contend that Palestinians don’t deserve a state; they have, the argument goes, been offered deal after deal by the Israeli government, but have always failed to bite on comprehensive, workable peace agreements.

They do deserve a state.

In truth, Palestinians need a state. Bibi Netanyahu has said it, just as AIPAC has said it, just as Abbas has insisted upon it. They have the right to declare themselves sovereign. Israel needs Palestinians to have a state. But Palestinians cannot have a unilaterally declared state at the risk or expense of Israel, the United States, or general international accord. Not without concessions, not without agreements, not without Israeli assent, and not in the midst of an earthquake.

Israelis need Palestinians to have a state. But a rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.