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Why Israel Should Not Exist May 27, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger: the title of this article is provocative; but it shouldn’t be taken in the sense of the “drive Israel into the sea” rhetoric of anti-Israeli extremists, such rhetoric used by the Israeli Apartheid regime to justify is aggression in the name of self-defense.  No this title signifies what is the only viable long term solution to the explosive situation in Palestine.  At first blush, the two-state solution seems logical, particularly from the point of view of giving status to the oppressed Palestinians.  And maybe a two-state solution is a necessary step, but in the final analysis, a single secular state that provides equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, is the only final goal that is worthy of anyone who is interested in justice and lasting peace.  This article puts the Israel/Palestine conundrum in its proper historical context.

An Illegitimate Consequence of Western Imperialism

by GARRY LEECH

By suggesting that the state of Israel should not exist, I am not being anti-Semitic. I am, however, being anti-Zionist. There is a distinct difference. An anti-Semite is someone who is prejudiced against Jews. An anti-Zionist, on the other hand, is opposed to that sector of the Jewish population who see it as their God-given right to establish a Jewish state in the Holy Land at the expense of the Palestinian people who have lived there for two thousand years.

The creation of a Jewish state in the middle of the Arab world not only represents the continuation of European colonialism in Palestine, it has also consisted of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the establishment of an apartheid system by a rogue nation that has repeatedly violated international law. Given this reality, and the fact that Palestine is the Holy Land of three religions, the only just solution to the Zionist project of the Israeli state and its Western backers is the establishment of a single country: a democratic secular state of Palestine in which Jews, Arabs and Christians all have equal rights.

The Rise of the Zionist Movement

The Zionist movement emerged in Europe in the late 19th century and encouraged European Jews to escape anti-Semitism by migrating to Palestine, which was ruled by the Ottoman Turks at the time, with the goal of creating a Jewish state in the Holy Land. This migration saw the Jewish population in Palestine increase from 4 percent in 1850 to 11 percent in 1917, the year that the British government’s Balfour Declaration stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One, the countries of the region were ruled by Britain and France under mandates from the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations). But World War Two brought about the downfall of the European empires as colonies throughout the world gained independence. Accordingly, Lebanon (1943) and Syria (1946) gained independence from France while Jordan (1946) was liberated from British rule. The exception was Palestine, which had been ruled by Britain since 1922.

By all rights, Palestine, like its neighbors, should have become an independent nation following World War Two, but the Western-backed Zionist project prevented this from happening. In accordance with the Balfour Declaration, Britain and the United States sought to ensure the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Under British rule, the Jewish population in Palestine had increased from 11 percent in 1922 to 32 percent in 1948, with many having arrived following the end of the war.

In 1947, the newly-established United Nations adopted the Partition Plan for Palestine without any consultation with the Palestinian people. The plan called for 56 percent of Palestine to become the Jewish state of Israel with 43 percent of the territory turned into a Palestinian state. Despite a large Arab majority in Palestine, Israel’s share of the territory was larger in order to accommodate the anticipated increased migration of European Jews. The remaining 1 percent of Palestine, consisting of the Holy City of Jerusalem, was to be an international territory administered by the United Nations.

Jewish groups supported the partition plan but Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states opposed it on the grounds that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter under which Palestinians should have the right to decide their own destiny. The plan was not implemented. Nevertheless, the Jewish population in Palestine unilaterally announced the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.

The New European Colonialism

By the end of 1949, according to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Israel had destroyed more than 400 Palestinian villages, massacred thousands of civilians and forcibly displaced almost a million Palestinians, who ended up in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries. In other words, with the Jewish people having just endured the horrors of the Holocaust, the Zionists were now carrying out, according to Pappe, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

This process of ethnic cleansing allowed Israel to expand and encompass 77 percent of Palestinian territory, all but East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Over the next three years, 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, mostly from Europe. This Jewish Leech_Capitalism_Cover-191x300colonization of Palestine represented a continuation of European colonialism as the wielding of power over the Palestinian people shifted from the British government to European Jews in the form of the new Israeli state.

Following the 1967 war with several Arab states (Syria, Jordan and Egypt), Israel militarily occupied the remaining 23 percent of Palestine (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza). The UN Security Council responded by passing Resolution 242 demanding the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The United States has since used its veto power in the Security Council on 41 occasions to ensure that the numerous UN resolutions condemning Israel’s illegal occupation have never been enforced.

It wasn’t until after the Palestinians were forced to exist under Israel’s illegal military occupation following the 1967 war that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) decided to make armed struggle the centerpiece of its campaign to achieve a Palestinian state. And it wasn’t until after 20 years of enduring an oppressive military occupation and the unwillingness of the international community to enforce UN resolutions that sectors of Palestinian society became increasingly radicalized and the Islamic group Hamas was formed. Hamas began using suicide bombing as a tactic in the early 1990s because it could not combat the vastly superior US-backed Israeli military through conventional warfare. Beginning in 2001, it also began launching primitive and inaccurate rockets into Israel from its Gaza strongholds.

Even though Israel withdrew its military from Gaza in 2005, it implemented a military blockade of the tiny territory the following year through which it strictly controls all access of people, food, medicines and other materials. Some analysts claim that Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants has created the world’s largest prison camp.

Meanwhile, Israel has not only continued its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has further violated international law by forcibly displacing Palestinian communities and encouraging Jews to move into the Occupied Territories. It is now estimated that almost half a million Jews live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem despite UN resolutions demanding that they be dismantled.

Israel has also constructed a giant wall known as the separation barrier throughout the West Bank in order to segregate the illegal settlements from Palestinian communities and to restrict the movement of Palestinians. Meanwhile, in addition to establishing the illegal settlements, Israel has also constructed industrial zones in the West Bank in which Palestinian laborers are forced to endure low wages and poor working conditions.

The flagrant discrepancy in rights afforded to the Jewish settlers in comparison to Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories constitutes a system of apartheid. In fact, as John Dugard, a South African human rights lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur, has noted, “I have no hesitation in saying that Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.”

In 1947, the year before Israel declared itself a sovereign state, Palestinians lived in 94 percent of Palestine. Today, they inhabit a mere 15 percent with some five million living in refugee camps in the West Bank and surrounding countries. The population densities in Palestinian refugee camps are among the highest of any place on earth. For example, more than 10,000 refugees live in the one square kilometer al-Amari camp in the West Bank, which amounts to five times the population density of New York City. As one third-generation refugee in the al-Amari camp told me, “We have a dream to return to our lands. How long it will take and what generation it will be, we don’t know.”

The disproportionate number of Palestinians killed in the long-running conflict is a reality hidden from many in the West. Over the past 15 years, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 8,701 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis compared to 1,138 Israelis killed by Palestinians. The disparity in the number of Palestinian children killed is even greater with a total of 1,772 killed during that period compared to 93 Israeli children.

Given this history, the repeated claim made by the United States and other Western nations that Israel’s military actions are merely acts of self-defense contradicts the reality on the ground. Surely it is the violence carried out by people forced to live under a violent illegal military occupation and blockade that should be considered an act of self-defense. After all, the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two is viewed as a heroic struggle for national liberation. In stark contrast, Palestinian resisters are labelled ‘terrorists.’

Despite the best efforts of the United States and other Western governments as well as the mainstream media to portray Israel as the victim in this conflict, the numbers make evident who is doing most of the killing and who is doing most of the dying. The fact that a people forced to live under an illegal foreign military occupation are portrayed as the aggressors constitutes a stunning example of Orwellian doublespeak.

Collaborating with the Colonizers

This violent expansion of Israeli control over all of Palestine fulfils the European Zionist dream initiated in the late 19th century. Sadly, over the past couple of decades, some Palestinian leaders have been complicit in the Zionist project. The Oslo peace process during the 1990s saw the PLO recognize the state of Israel and in return Israel permitted the Palestinians limited self-governance in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. However, the so-called peace process postponed addressing the crucial issue of ‘the right of return’ for Palestinian refugees.

The first Palestinian parliamentary elections under the Oslo Accords were held in 1996 and were won by Fatah, the PLO’s political party, which then headed the new Palestinian Authority government. The Palestinian Authority began receiving significant aid from Western governments. In return, the Palestinian Authority has policed the Palestinian population on Israel’s behalf in the areas of the Occupied Territories that it governs. In other words, in the same way that Indian administrators and police oversaw the day-to-day governing of colonial India on behalf of the British colonizers, the Palestinian Authority has served the Israeli colonizers of the Occupied Territories in return for Western aid and a reduced Israeli military presence.

The infusion of foreign aid, especially funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is intended to achieve ‘economic peace’ by allowing sectors of the Palestinian population to attain a certain material comfort without challenging the ongoing Israeli occupation and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which violate both the Oslo Accords and international law. In reference to the long-running, oft-stalled peace talks, former UN Special Rapporteur Dugard recently stated, “I think the strategy of Israel and also of the United States is simply to allow talks to go on forever and ever, while Israel annexes more land and takes over Palestinian territory.”

Meanwhile, the economic model emerging in the West Bank is not sustainable because it is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid and international NGOs. Furthermore, the benefits from the economic model are largely restricted to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority government, creating what is known in the West Bank as the ‘Ramallah bubble.’ As Dr. Hanan Chehata, a professor of law and former correspondent for the Middle East Monitor, explains,

… while those in Ramallah may currently travel throughout that small city relatively unimpeded, Palestinians in the rest of the region are subjected to daily humiliation at Israeli road blocks and military checkpoints; they also have to endure indiscriminate arrests and unjustified interrogations leading frequently to torture and sometimes to death. While the residents of Ramallah can go to work in the day reasonably secure in the knowledge that they will return home in the evening to a hot meal and well-rested family members, other Palestinians leave their homes not knowing if their houses will still be standing when they return or if they will have been demolished by Israeli Caterpillar bulldozers in order to make room for new Israeli settlements.

In other words, if the Palestinian Authority and its supporters cooperate with the Israeli colonizers they will receive economic rewards and be spared the excessive brutality wielded by the Israeli military. But those who insist on actively resisting the colonizers will bear the full force of Israeli aggression. Not surprisingly, in the eyes of many Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority has sold out to the colonizers by colluding with Israel and the United States to achieve ‘economic peace’ at the expense of national liberation.

The growing discontent with the Palestinian Authority became evident in the 2006 general elections when Fatah was handily defeated by Hamas. Following the election, Fatah refused to hand over power in the West Bank and, with the support of Israel and Western nations, has continued to rule for the past nine years as an un-elected government—while Hamas has governed Gaza.

The one place that elections have been allowed to take place is in universities and these are seen as a barometer that reflects the political views of the broader Palestinian population. In the student council elections at Birzeit University in Ramallah last month, the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafaa’ Bloc defeated Fatah’s student party, winning a majority of the seats. Nadine Suleiman, a fourth-year public administration student, explained why she voted for Hamas: “I detest the corruption of the PA [Palestinian Authority], their security coordination with Israel which involves arresting and killing Palestinians who are on Israel’s wanted list while Palestinians get nothing in return. The PA is only interested in keeping its wealth and privilege.”

The Palestinian Authority’s US-funded security forces quickly responded to the Birzeit University election results by arresting four students belonging to the winning party and then interrogating and beating them. In total, 25 students throughout the West Bank were arrested and scheduled elections in An-Najah National University and Hebron University were postponed. According to Human Rights Watch, “It is deeply worrying that students are being held by Palestinian forces for no apparent reason other than their connection to Hamas or their opinions.”

So while on the international front the Palestinian Authority has challenged Israel by gaining membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the ground in the West Bank it regularly arrests, interrogates, imprisons and tortures Palestinians who are viewed as sympathetic to Hamas or who aggressively challenge the Israeli occupation in their quest for liberation. As a result of its failure to call new elections, its corruption with regard to handling foreign aid and its collusion with the illegal Israeli occupation, many Palestinians no longer view the Palestinian Authority government as legitimate.

In contrast, Hamas is seen by many Palestinians as actively resisting Israel, and it is this perception—and its relative lack of corruption—that lies at the root of its popular support. This resistance has also led Israel to launch three large-scale military assaults against Gaza during the past seven years (2008, 2012 and 2014). According to the United Nations, the Israeli military’s seven-week invasion of Gaza last year resulted in the deaths of 2,025 Palestinians, including 1,483 civilians, of whom 521 were children. Meanwhile, 71 Israelis died, of which 66 were soldiers. Additionally, more than half a million Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes by the assault.

The One-State Solution

The Palestinian Authority has accepted the two-state solution proposed as part of the Oslo peace process. The basic idea being that the West Bank and Gaza would constitute a Palestinian state (only 23 percent of Palestine) with the remainder being Israel. But the Palestinian Authority’s support for a two-state solution is at odds with the wishes of the majority of Palestinians. In a poll conducted last year, 60 percent of Palestinians believed in a one-state solution while only 27 percent supported the two-state option.

The two-state solution constantly being touted by the United States and other Western nations, and backed by the Palestinian Authority, is completely out of touch with the reality in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to Tariq Dana, a professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, “A two-state solution is not possible. It is not viable given the reality on the ground.”

The reality that Dana is referring to is the constantly expanding illegal Jewish settlements that are now home to almost half a million Jews. The settlements now cover more than 40 percent of the West Bank, dominating the best agricultural land and access to the region’s principal water supply. As Daniella Weiss, a Zionist former mayor of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, admitted a few years ago, “I think the settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is the goal. And this is the reality.” Clearly, any two-state solution that creates a viable Palestinian state would require the dismantling of these settlements and removal of the settlers from what the Zionists consider to be their Holy Land.

Far from dismantling the settlements, Israel’s policies are further entrenching them. With its building of the separation barrier, the Israeli government is seeking to annex the settlements into the state of Israel, which would leave the Palestinians with three small, unconnected chunks of arid and rocky land that lack access to essential water supplies. Such an outcome would not constitute a viable Palestinian state.

Many Palestinians support the establishment of a single state of Palestine in which Arabs and Jews would have equal rights. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the second largest member of the PLO after Fatah and a terrorist group in the eyes of the United States, Canada and the European Union because it advocates armed struggle, is opposed both to the Palestinian Authority government and the two-state solution. According to the PFLP,

The Palestinian liberation movement is not a racial movement with aggressive intentions against the Jews. It is not directed against the Jews. … The aim of the Palestinian liberation movement is to establish a democratic national state in Palestine in which both Arabs and Jews will live as citizens with equal rights and obligations and which will constitute an integral part of the progressive democratic Arab national presence living peacefully with all forces of progress in the world.

Hamas also sees the one-state solution as the only answer, albeit an Islamic state in which the rights of Jews are protected. But creating an Islamic Palestine would simply replace one religious state (Israel) with another. Given that Palestine is the Holy Land of three religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) and the fact that a significant portion of the Palestinian population supports a secular state, the solution to this seemingly intractable conflict could be the replacement of a Zionist state with a secular democratic nation in which all citizens—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—have equal rights and responsibilities.

Conclusion

The establishment of a Zionist state in the middle of the Arab world for Jewish migrants from Europe was only possible due to the support of Western imperialist powers including the United States, Britain and Canada. And Israel’s existence and ongoing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitutes the continuation of European colonialism into the 21st century at the expense of the Palestinian people who have lived there for two thousand years.

Given this reality, the Jewish state of Israel should be viewed as both illegitimate and yet another catastrophic consequence of Western imperialism. The only just solution to this entrenched conflict is to finally allow Palestinians to establish the independent state they should have attained following World War Two and to allow for the return of all refugees. In other words, a single, secular Palestinian state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims all share equal rights. Such a one-state solution is not anti-Semitic, it is sensible.

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books, 2012); Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2009); and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books, 2006). ). He is also a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University in Canada.

 

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Two-State Solution or Illusion? An Analysis September 22, 2013

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ROGER’S NOTE: THE TWO STATE SOLUTION IS THE ORTHODOX POSITION FOR LIBERALS AND PROGRESSIVES, BUT FOR SOME TIME I HAVE DOUBTED THAT IT WOULD BE A TRUE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM.  THIS ARTICLE, WHILE REFLECTING A GREAT DEAL OF PESSIMISM, IN MY OPINION TAKES A REALISTIC LOOK AT THE SITUATION.

 

 

 (22 September 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
(about the author)

 

http://www.tothepointanalyses.com/

 

 

israel-takeover-jpg_79840_20130921-406 

 

Part I – The Two-State Solution

 

 

 

Peter Beinart is a “liberal Zionist” who has written a piece in the New York Review of Books of 26 September 2013 entitled “The American Jewish Cocoon.” In this essay he laments, “The organized Jewish community [is] a closed intellectual space.” By this he means that most American Zionist Jews (it is important to remember that not all Jews are Zionists) know little or nothing about those who oppose them, particularly Palestinians. They also seem to have no interest in changing this situation. For these Zionists the opposition has been reduced to an irredeemably anti-Semitic “them.”

 

 

 

Beinart goes on to tell us that such is the political clout of the organized Zionist community that this know-nothing attitude has come to characterize the “debate about Israel in Washington” and the opinions offered in the mass media as well. While Mr. Beinart does not say so, I can tell you that this has been the basic situation since the early 1920s. Beinart does note, however, that over time this situation has led Palestinians and those who support them to show less willingness to dialogue with Zionists, most of whom they consider irredeemably racist.   

 

 

 

Beinart thinks this prevailing ignorance is a disaster. Why so? Because he feels that Jews betray the lessons of their own past by failing to understand the meaning of the “dispersion and dispossession” of the Palestinians. They do not seem to care that this particular people has had its “families torn apart in war – [continue] to struggle to maintain [their] culture, [their] dignity, [their] faith in God in the face of forces over which [they] have no control.” This sort of situation, according to Beinart, is something “the Jews should instinctively understand.” 

 

 

 

Be this as it may, achieving such an understanding is, for Beinart, a means to an end. That end is realizing a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian struggle. For this to happen the Zionists have to essentially feel the pain of the Palestinians and the Palestinians have to understand their no-win situation so that everyone agrees to a Palestinian mini-state on “22 percent of British mandatory Palestine” along with “compensation and resettlement [for the] people whose original villages and homes have long ceased to exist.” 

 

 

 

Part II – The Two-State Illusion

 

 

 

An important question is whether Mr. Beinart’s two-state solution does not itself represent a goal whose practicality has “long ceased to exist”? That certainly is the opinion of Ian Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. In the Sunday Review section of the New York Times of 15 September 2013, he published an op-ed piece entitled “Two-State Illusion.”

 

 

 

According to Professor Lustick, the two-state idea has become something of a fraud behind which lies opportunistic political motives. For instance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) keeps this hope alive so that it can “get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidizes the lifestyle of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants.” The Israeli government keeps this hope alive because “it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.” Finally, the U.S. government maintains the hope of a two-state solution to “show that it is working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.”

 

 

 

Lustick believes the two-state solution is an impossible hope that has produced periodic negotiations which have always been “phony” and have prevented new ideas for positive change from being seriously entertained. This long-term stifling has also set the stage for possible “sudden and jagged” events that can send the conflict off in catastrophic directions. Oddly enough Lustick finds this prospect of heightened conflict a necessary one.   

 

 

 

He tells us that only when the “neat and palatable” two-state solution disappears – and with it the PA and its policies of collaboration – will we get the “mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel,” along with the subsequent withdrawal of unconditional U.S. support for the Zionist State. At that point 

 

 

 

“Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.” Then, finally, they will become reasonable, and something new and acceptable (a one-state solution?) will be possible. 

 

 

 

Lustick’s necessary scenario happens to be Peter Beinart’s nightmare and in the latter’s essay it is called “civil war.” Beinart’s call for greater mutual understanding is designed to prevent this violence. One can assume that, for Professor Lustick, things have gone too far for this understanding to suddenly prevail. “Peacemaking and democratic state building require blood and magic,” he tells us. Delaying the inevitable with false hopes will only make things worse.  

 

 

 

By the way, Lustick is not alone in his view that the two-state formula is a dead end. One of Israel’s very best historians, Ilan Pappe, who now is the director of the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Palestinian Studies, believes that this prospect has been dead for over a decade. What killed it, and what keeps it dead, are “Zionist greed for territory and the ideological conviction that much more of Palestine [beyond the 1967 borders] is needed in order to have a viable Jewish State.” It is worth noting that it is just this ideological conviction that renders Peter Beinart’s plea for more understanding of the Palestinian position by American Zionist Jews a nonstarter. Any ideology that can justify incessant ethnic cleansing has to make its adherents incapable feeling their victims’ pain.

 

 

 

Part III – Conclusion

 

 

 

If Beinart’s hope for mutual understanding is naive, Lustick’s hope that more “blood” will lead to the “magic” of a positive outcome is not at all assured.

 

 

 

One might ask just how much disaster is necessary before the hard-line Zionists who have long controlled Israel will compromise their ideological commitment. Keep in mind that the Israeli political elites, right and left, have always been expansionist. Even Peter Beinart is not pushing for a return to the 1967 Green Line and an evacuation of illegal settlements, as far as I can tell. In the past, the Israeli elites have judged their terror and brutality to be justified. They will do so in the future as well. Some of them will interpret any increase in Jewish emigration (a process already ongoing) as a weeding out of weak elements. Militarily the Israelis can probably maintain superiority over their neighbors even in the face of reduced American aid, and as far as world opinion is concerned, most of them care little about it. If this assessment has any validity, the Israelis could go on ethnically cleansing for a very long time. 

 

 

 

In my view, the only viable weapon against such vicious stubbornness is a worldwide comprehensive economic boycott on the South Africa model. However, even this may not be the last page in the drama. Such an economic boycott may prove strong enough to undermine the will of some Israeli ideologues, but not all of them. And then, unlike South Africa, you may need an intra-Israeli Jewish civil war to finally bring the curtain down on the tragedy of Zionism.

Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress Dashes Palestinian Hopes of a Just Mideast Peace Agreement May 25, 2011

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http://www.democracynow.org/2011/5/25/netanyahus_speech_to_congress_dashes_palestinian

The future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations remains in doubt after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address Tuesday before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Netanyahu insisted Jerusalem will not be divided and that Israel’s internationally recognized 1967 borders are “indefensible.” He also said Israel must “maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River” and  condemned the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal. Netanyahu’s speech came five days after President Obama called for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps. We speak with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative. “Netanyahu yesterday blocked every possibility for negotiations for a two-state solution,” Barghouti says. “Practically, he took away any possibility for peaceful resolution, because he wanted to impose unilaterally the outcome on every issue… He wants us to live as slaves in a system of apartheid and segregation.”

AMY GOODMAN: The future of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians remain in doubt following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address on Tuesday before a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu insisted Jerusalem will not be divided and that Israel’s internationally recognized 1967 borders are “indefensible.”

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. This compromise must reflect the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred since 1967. The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and greater Tel Aviv. Now these areas are densely populated, but they’re geographically quite small. And under any realistic peace agreement, these areas, as well as other places of critical, strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu also said Israel must, quote, “maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River,” and he condemned the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal. Netanyahu’s speech came five days after President Obama called for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps.

Joining us now in Washington, D.C., is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative. He’s the president of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Your response to Prime Minister Netanyahu in this joint address before the U.S. Congress, Dr. Barghouti?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, First of all, let me say that what Mr. Netanyahu did yesterday was a presentation of—or actually, misrepresentation of the facts, a lot of lies. Obviously he believes that if he lies a lot and continues to lie, the lies become facts. He was falsifying history and falsifying facts and misleading people in the United States. When he said that Israel is too small, all he needed to say is to compare it with Palestine. I mean, what we are calling for here in two-state solution is a situation where Israel will be four times the size of Palestine, and still he speaks about it as if it’s a small country, but—and then comparing it with the United States.

In my opinion, Netanyahu yesterday blocked every possibility for negotiations for a two-state solution. Practically, he took away any possibility for peaceful resolution, because he wanted to impose unilaterally—he wanted to impose unilaterally the outcome on every issue—on the issue of Jerusalem, on the issue of borders, on the issue of settlements. And practically, his plan is clear: he wants us to live as slaves in a system of apartheid and segregation, he wants to continue the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, and he wants to block any possibility for a Palestinian statehood or Palestinian freedom.

More than that, I think some of what he said sounded totally delusional. When he spoke about the fact that the only place where Arabs can enjoy freedom and democracy is when they are ruled by Israel, I think this is something like saying that the place where women’s rights are most respected is Afghanistan. It’s totally delusional. He fails to see the fact that his country is practicing apartheid and segregation against the Palestinian population. He failed to see the fact that they have taken away the homes, the lands of the people who live under Israeli control and that Israel is practicing the worst form of violence against peaceful, nonviolent resistance that Palestinians are adopting today in trying to defend their rights for freedom and for dignity.

What is most shameful, in my opinion, really, was the response of the Congress to what Mr. Netanyahu said. In my opinion, the fact that he got 29 standing ovations and so many applause by the Congress people reflects an act of irresponsibility by the Congress, because by supporting such extremists, like Netanyahu, in this manner, by supporting such extreme positions by this Israeli government, which is nothing but a government of settlers that is falsifying history and reality, by doing so, they are practically supporting an act that is aiming at killing any possibility of peace. And that is irresponsible, not only towards Palestinians, not only towards peace; it’s an act of irresponsibility towards even the future of Israelis themselves, because the plan that Netanyahu proposed is nothing but a plan to assassinate and kill any opportunity for peace based on two-state solution. It’s a plan of enslavement of Palestinians. And we, as Palestinians, will never be accepting to be slaves of occupation or apartheid or the system of occupation that Mr. Netanyahu wants to consolidate on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouti, I wanted to ask you about the comments that President Obama made last Thursday when he became the first U.S. president to explicitly call for Israelis and Palestinians to seek a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their full potential in a sovereign and contiguous state.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouti, your response to President Obama?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, unfortunately, I think Mr. Obama, President Obama, retreated from any of his comments in his speech in front of the AIPAC. And because he got criticized for identifying ’67 borders as the borders between Palestinian state, future state, and Israel, because of that criticism, he went further to describe what swaps mean. And according to him, swaps should take into consideration demographic realities, new demographic realities. But these demographic realities that he speaks about are about settlers, and these settlers are violating international law. And any presence of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory is in violation of international law, in violation of the International Court of Justice resolutions, and as such, could not be considered as facts that should be accepted.

The problem with the issue of swaps is that they could mean taking away any possibility for the viability of the Palestinian state, not only because of the size of these areas that would be swapped, but also because these areas include at least 85 percent of the water resources that Palestinians need in the West Bank. They take away water resources. These settlements blocs, if they are annexed to Israel, will definitely destroy the contiguity of territory in the Palestinian state, and they would destroy any possibility of the viability of the states. That’s why I think what President Obama said in his speech in the State Department is contradictive to what he said in front of the conference of AIPAC.

And when Mr. Netanyahu comes up with the plan he proposed, explaining that the Israeli army must remain on the borders, and then explaining that Jerusalem will never be divided again, and explaining that Israel will have to annex all these settlements, then practically we are not talking about a viable Palestinian contiguous state, but about a structure that would be nothing but clusters of bantustans, disconnected from each other and under a system of apartheid controlled by Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouti—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: The Israelis are calling it a state, but that means nothing because it has nothing that makes it a real state. It’s just clusters of bantustans. This is the plan that Netanyahu has, and the American president failed to pressure him to change this plan.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the significance of the Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, quitting?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I believe now, in retrospect, when we see what has happened after his resignation, I think he has resigned because he failed. And he realized that his opinion was not taken into consideration, obviously, especially on issues like settlements. And I feel sorry for him, because he had done a good job with Ireland. Unfortunately, in the case of Palestine, he failed to pressure Israel. Maybe he did not have the support from his own administration to exercise any form of pressure on Israel. Especially that now, when we see this conflict growing, nobody is telling Israel at least stop the building of settlements on the ground, at least stop the facts on the ground. And that’s why I consider that Mr. Mitchell’s resignation is just a reflection of the fact that his mission failed, and probably that his views were not taken into consideration, and that the Israeli lobby is practically imposing the American policy in the Middle East. And that is something very dangerous. Again, I say this is something irresponsible, irresponsible in terms of the future of both Palestinians and Israelis, and irresponsible policy in terms of the future of stability in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouti, you were in Cairo, with the coming together of Hamas and Fatah. The U.S. has criticized any group that would ally with Hamas. Your response to that, and the significance of this, how you see this fitting into the destiny of Palestine?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: It is totally un-understandable why they are criticizing the unity agreement between Palestinians. We’ve managed to convince Hamas to accept two-state solution, to accept the compromise of two-state solution. We’ve managed to convince Hamas to abstain from any form of violence and to abstain from any form of military actions and to stick totally with all of us to nonviolent form of resistance. We managed to convince Hamas to authorize President Abbas to represent all Palestinians. Isn’t that what they wanted? If we have managed to convince everybody to adopt nonviolence as a form of struggle for Palestinians, and if we managed to have a unified Palestinian camp that agrees and accepts two-state solution, then why this agreement is rejected?

Let me remind you that Mr. Netanyahu and his government has been saying that they cannot make a deal with President Abbas or move forward with negotiations, because President Abbas could not represent all Palestinians since he could not control Hamas or could not control Gaza. Now, President Abbas is allowed to represent all Palestinians, and Netanyahu is responding by saying, “You have to break up with Hamas, or we will not talk to you.” What does that mean? He’s playing games here. This man is an expert in lying. This man is an expert in falsification. This man, Netanyahu, is an expert in misrepresenting facts.

AMY GOODMAN: Prime Minister Netanyahu, he has—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: And I am so sorry that people don’t see that.

AMY GOODMAN: He has been interviewed repeatedly on the networks in the United States, and he has repeatedly said, “We accept a Palestinian state. They do not accept a Jewish state. That is the problem,” he said. “How do you negotiate with these people?” What is your response to that?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: That’s another big lie, because the problem with the Oslo agreement has been that the Palestinians, represented by the PLO, recognized Israel as a state. They recognized Israel. Israel did not recognize Palestine as a state. Up ’til now, Israel is not recognizing Palestine as a state, because what does it mean to say, “I accept you as a state, but I don’t accept that you have borders, and I don’t accept that you have a capital, and I don’t accept that you have free trade, and I don’t accept that you have free economy”? This is just a false representation of reality. In reality, Palestinians have accepted Israel and have recognized Israel, and in exchange, all Israel did was to recognize PLO as a representative of Palestinians rather than recognizing the Palestinian state as such. If Mr. Netanyahu wants really to recognize the state, he should declare tomorrow that he agrees with what President Obama said, which is that we will have two-state solution on the basis of ’67 borders.

AMY GOODMAN: He said—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: That, he negated.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu said—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: That, he is refusing.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu said, “It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish state.'”

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, Mr. Abbas has said repeatedly that he is recognizing Israel. And if we—if Israel is recognized as a Jewish state, then what happens to the one-and-a-half million Palestinians that Netanyahu is claiming have equal rights in Israel? They are not Jewish. This state should be democratic. A democratic state should fulfill the needs of all its people. Do you think—what would happen if somebody comes out and says the United States should be declared as a Catholic state or as a Protestant state? What will happen to the Jewish community in the United States then? In my opinion, each country should be recognized as a democratic state, which means all its citizens have equal rights. And that does not negate the needs of the Jewish population. That does not negate the history of the Jewish people and their suffering. On the contrary. If you want them to last in a good state, that state should be democratic and not based on discrimination and racist differentiation between people, as is the situation today in Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying that you accept—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: In Israel today, you have apartheid discrimination against Arabs in Israel who are citizens of Israel. You have another level of discrimination against Palestinians living in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem, where a Palestinian will not be allowed to marry a woman from a nearby city or village and live with her, because if he moves to live with her, he will lose his citizenship, and he would not be allowed to bring her into Jerusalem because he cannot give her citizenship. That’s a system of racial discrimination.

AMY GOODMAN: So—

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: And there is a third level of apartheid which exists in the West Bank and Gaza. Yes, please?

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dr. Barghouti, you’re saying you accept Israel as a state, but not as a Jewish state?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I am saying that pushing the issue of Jewishness of the state of Israel today is one way of putting the Palestinians again on the defense, while their state is not recognized. What is missing today is not Israel as a state. Israel is already a state. It is already a member of the United Nations. Israel now is the third largest military exporter in the world. It has the fifth largest army in the world. It has 400 nuclear weapons. It is not threatened. The people who are threatened are the Palestinians who are under occupation for 44 years, who have been dispossessed from their land since 63 years, and who don’t have freedom, don’t have democracy, and don’t have self-determination. The country that needs to be recognized today is Palestine. And Netanyahu is doing everything he can to obstruct us from going to the United Nations to ask for implementation of the same resolution that was taken in 1947 that gave Israel its legitimacy and said there should be a Palestinian, which never materialized. He is trying to block that. So, practically, the country, the state that needs to be recognized today is Palestine, because Israel is already recognized.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, I want to thank you for being with us. Dr. Barghouti, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

One big bust of a speech May 19, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011 13:31 ET

President Obama just finished what was sold as a major speech on the Middle East and the “Arab spring,” and here’s the takeaway: The president managed to use 5,400 words and spend a solid hour speaking without announcing any significant new policy initiatives.

This is the sort of soaring rhetoric that characterized the entire speech, which was being edited right up until he delivered it (starting a half hour late):

“That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this [Israel] conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.”

In terms of policy, here’s the bottom line from the speech: The Obama administration will continue to get tougher on the Assad regime in Syria, while not doing much (if anything) in response to Bahrain’s violent crackdown on protesters. It wants to see an Israel-Palestine settlement, but U.S. policy remains the same as ever, and there will be no new push for negotiations. The administration supports a set of universal values. But U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, one of the most persistent human rights violators in the region, was not mentioned in a single time in those 5,400 words.

In short, Obama felt he needed to play the role of world leader by delivering a big response to the popular Arab protests, but he doesn’t want to actually do much.

In one section early in the speech, Obama waxed poetic about those crying for freedom in the region:

A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”

What’s conspicuously missing from that list? Yup, Bahrain. The pass given on Bahrain’s continuing crackdown on protesters (the latest from the Gulf kingdom is the prosecution of newspaper editors) has been a consistent policy.

But later in the speech, Obama did swing back to Bahrain and address the situation head on:

Bahrain is a long-standing partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. Nevertheless, we have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

What about on Israel-Palestine, what Obama referred to as “another cornerstone of our approach to the region.” Here’s the key statement of policy:

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

The bolded line has been getting some attention, but it sounds a lot like the formulation President Bush used in 2005.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu is approving more Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line, and Jewish donors are reportedly pressuring Obama not to demand too much from Israel.

And it will certainly be interesting to compare Obama’s rhetoric today to his remarks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday.

  • Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin More: Justin Elliott

Israel-Palestine: One-State Supporters Make a Comeback April 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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by Helena Cobban

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has spoken out forcefully – including this week, in Ankara, Turkey – in favour of building an independent Palestinian state alongside a still robust Israel. However, many Palestinians have noted that President George W. Bush also, in recent years, expressed a commitment to Palestinian statehood. But, they note, Bush never took the actions necessary to achieve such a state – and neither, until now, has Obama.

 

[Many Palestinians and some important voices in what remains of Israel’s now-battered peace camp have concluded that it is now impossible to win the ‘two-state solution’ envisaged by Bush and Obama. This has led to the re-emergence in both communities of an old idea: that of a single bi- national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which both Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians would have equal rights as citizens, and find themselves equally at home.  (Fogelson-Lubliner)]Many Palestinians and some important voices in what remains of Israel’s now-battered peace camp have concluded that it is now impossible to win the ‘two-state solution’ envisaged by Bush and Obama. This has led to the re-emergence in both communities of an old idea: that of a single bi- national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which both Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians would have equal rights as citizens, and find themselves equally at home. (Fogelson-Lubliner)

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to give very generous support to Israel – where successive governments have built Jewish-only colonies in the occupied West Bank and taken other actions that make a viable Palestinian state increasingly hard to achieve. 

Many Palestinians and some important voices in what remains of Israel’s now-battered peace camp have concluded that it is now impossible to win the ‘two-state solution’ envisaged by Bush and Obama. This has led to the re-emergence in both communities of an old idea: that of a single bi- national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which both Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians would have equal rights as citizens, and find themselves equally at home.

That goal was advocated most eloquently in the 1930s and early 1940s by Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and other intellectuals at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However, most Israelis moved away from it after Israel was established as a specifically Jewish state in 1948.

Later, in 1968, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) articulated a somewhat similar goal: that of building a ‘secular democratic state’, which comprises both pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank and Gaza – which Israel brought under military occupation in 1967.

However, the PLO leaders could never agree on which of the numerous Jewish immigrants brought into Israel before and after 1948 to include in their project. A few years later, in 1974, most PLO supporters – but not all – moved decisively away from the ‘one-state’ model. They started working instead for the two-state model: an independent Palestinian state in just the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, alongside the Israel state.

For 26 years after 1974, Israel’s governments remained deeply opposed to an independent Palestinian state. All those governments made lavish investments in the project – illegal under international law – of implanting their own citizens as settlers in the occupied West Bank. They annexed East Jerusalem. When pressed on the Palestinians’ future, they said they hoped Palestinians could exercise their rights in Egypt or Jordan – just not inside historic Palestine. This idea has been making a comeback recently – including among advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 1993, Israel finally recognized the PLO, and concluded the Oslo Accord with it. Under Oslo, the two sides created a new body called the Palestinian Authority (PA), designed to administer some aspects of daily life in parts of the occupied territories – though not, crucially, in occupied East Jerusalem.

Even after Oslo, Israeli officials made clear that they had not promised the PLO a full Palestinian state. They also said, correctly, that their rights and responsibilities as a military occupying power would remain in place. The final disposition of the occupied areas would await conclusion of a final peace agreement.

Oslo specified that that agreement should be completed by 1999. Ten years later, that deadline has still not been met – a final peace treaty still seems fairly distant. Meanwhile, Israel has used the 16 years since Oslo to increase both the number of settlers it has in the West Bank and the degree of control it exercises over the economies of both Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian-American political scientist Leila Farsakh describes Israel’s policies toward the economies of both areas as “the engineering of pauperisation.” She notes that despite the large amounts of international aid poured into the West Bank, poverty rates there have risen. Most West Bank areas outside the territory’s glitzy ‘capital’, Ramallah, are poor and increasingly aid-dependent. Lavish new settlements housing 480,000 settlers crowd much of the West Bank’s best land, and guzzle its water, Farsakh explains.

In an Israeli population of just 7.2 million, those settlers now form a formidable voting bloc. Attempts to move them out look almost impossible. In the latest round of peace negotiations that Israel and the PA/PLO pursued from 2000 until recently, participants discussed ways to reduce the number of settlers required to move by annexing the big settlement areas to Israel in return for a land exchange. But those boundary modifications look complex, and quite possibly unworkable.

Meanwhile, the negotiation over a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has sidelined the concerns and rights of three important Palestinian constituencies. The 1.2 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel would remain as an embattled minority within an Israeli state still ideologically committed to the immigration of additional Jews. The 270,000 Palestinians of Jerusalem might also still be surrounded and vulnerable. And the five million Palestinians who still – 61 years after they and their forbearers fled homes in what became Israel in 1948 – would have their long-pursued right to return laid down forever.

From 1982 – the year the PLO’s leaders and guerrilla forces were expelled from Lebanon – until recently, the main dynamo of Palestinian nationalism has been located in the Palestinian communities of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But in recent years, those communities have been severely weakened. They are administratively atomised, politically divided, and live under a palpable sense of physical threat.

Many ‘occupied’ Palestinians are returning to the key defensive ideas of steadfastness and “just hanging on” to their land. But new energy for leadership is now emerging between two other key groups of Palestinians: those in the diaspora, and those who are citizens of Israel. The contribution those groups can make to nationwide organising has been considerably strengthened by new technologies – and crucially, neither of them has much interest in a two-state outcome.

Not surprisingly, therefore, discussions about the nature of a one-state outcome – and how to achieve it – have become more frequent, and much richer in intellectual content, in recent years.

Palestinian-Israeli professor Nadim Rouhanna, now teaching at Tufts University in Massachusetts, is a leader in the new thinking. “The challenge is how to achieve the liberation of both societies from being oppressed and being oppressors,” he told a recent conference in Washington, DC. “Palestinians have to… reassure the Israeli Jews that their culture and vitality will remain. We need to go further than seeing them only as ‘Jews-by- religion’ in a future Palestinian society.”

Like many advocates of the one-state outcome, Rouhanna referred enthusiastically to the exuberant multiculturalism and full political equality that have been embraced by post-apartheid South Africa.

Progressive Jewish Israelis like Ben Gurion University geographer Oren Yiftachel are also part of the new movement. Yiftachel’s most recent work has examined at the Israeli authorities’ decades-long campaign to expropriate the lands of the ethnically Palestinian Bedouin who live in southern Israel – and are citizens of Israel. “The expropriation continues – there and inside the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem,” Yiftachel said, explaining that he did not see the existence of “the Green Line” that supposedly separates Israel from the occupied territory as an analytically or politically relevant concept.

Change Gaza Can Believe In: Tearing Up Washington’s Middle East Playbook January 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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palestinian-child-in-pain1Palestinian Rawan Abu Taber, 4, wounded during the Israeli military operations, screams in pain as doctors change bandages to her severe burns.

22 January 2009,  www.truthout.org

by: Tony Karon, TomDispatch.com

Lest President Barack Obama’s opportunistic silence when Israel began the Gaza offensive that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (more than 400 of them children) be misinterpreted, his aides pointed reporters to comments made six months earlier in the Israeli town of Sderot. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Obama had said in reference to the missiles Hamas was firing from Gaza. “I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

    Residents of Gaza might have wondered what Obama would have done had he been unfortunate enough to be a resident of, say, Jabaliya refugee camp. What if, like the vast majority of Gazans, his grandfather had been driven from his home in what is now Israel, and barred by virtue of his ethnicity from ever returning? What if, like the majority of the residents of this refugee ghetto-by-the-sea, he had voted for Hamas, which had vowed to fight for his rights and was not corrupt like the Fatah strongmen with whom the Israelis and Americans liked to deal?

    And what if, as a result of that vote, he had found himself under an economic siege, whose explicit purpose was to inflict deprivation in order to force him to reverse his democratic choice? What might a Gazan Obama have made of the statement, soon after that election, by Dov Weissglass, a top aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that Israel’s blockade would put him and his family “on [a] diet”?

    “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner,” Weissglass had chortled, “but [they] won’t die.”

    Starting last June, the Sderot Obama would have noticed that, as a result of a truce brokered by Egypt, the rocket fire from Gaza had largely ceased. For the Jabaliya Obama, however, the “Weissglass Diet” remained in place. Even before Israel’s recent offensive, the Red Cross had reported that almost half the children under two in Gaza were anemic due to their parents’ inability to feed them properly.

    Who knows what the Jabaliya Obama would have made of the Hamas rockets that, in November, once again began flying overhead toward Israel, as Hamas sought to break the siege by creating a crisis that would lead to a new ceasefire under better terms. He might well have had misgivings, but he would also have had plenty of reason to hope for the success of the Hamas strategy.

    Ever committed to regime change in Gaza, Israel, however, showed no interest in a new ceasefire. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Fox News, “Expecting us to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like expecting you to have a ceasefire with al-Qaeda.” (Barak apparently assumed Americans would overlook the fact that he had, indeed, been party to just such a ceasefire since June 2008, and looks set to be party to another now that the Gaza operation is over.)

    A canny Sderot Obama would have been all too aware that Israel’s leaders need his vote in next month’s elections and hope to win it by showing how tough they can be on the Gazans. Then again, a Sderot Obama might not have been thinking much beyond his immediate anger and fear – and would certainly have been unlikely to try to see the regional picture through the eyes of the Jabaliya Obama.

    Nonetheless, not all Israelis were as sanguine about the Israeli offensive as the Sderot Obama appears to have been. “What luck my parents are dead,” wrote the Israeli journalist Amira Hass in Haaretz. Survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, her mother and father had long hated the Orwellian twists of language in which Israeli authorities couched their military actions against Palestinians.

“My parents despised all their everyday activities – stirring sugar into coffee, washing the dishes, standing at a crosswalk – when in their mind’s eye they saw, based on their personal experience, the terror in the eyes of children, the desperation of mothers who could not protect their young ones, the moment when a huge explosion dropped a house on top of its inhabitants and a smart bomb struck down entire families …

“Because of my parents’ history they knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area…. How lucky it is that they are not alive to see how these incarcerated people are bombarded with all the glorious military technology of Israel and the United States… My parents’ personal history led them to despise the relaxed way the news anchors reported on a curfew. How lucky they are not here and cannot hear the crowd roaring in the coliseum.”

    The passions of the crowd may have been satisfied. Or not. Certainly, Israel’s three-week-long military operation appears to have done little more than reestablish the country’s “deterrent” – quantified in the 100-1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths.

    Hamas remains intact, as does the bulk of its fighting force. And if, as appears likely, a new truce provides for a lifting, however partial, of the economic siege of Gaza, and also for the reintegration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority – which would be a blunt repudiation of three years of U.S. and Israeli efforts – the organization will claim victory, even if the Obamas of Jabaliya refugee camp, now possibly without homes, wonder at what cost.

    If President Barack Obama is to have any positive impact on this morbid cycle of destruction and death, he must be able to understand the experience of Jabaliya just as much as he does the experience of Sderot. Curiously enough, he might be helped in that endeavor by none other than the man who directed Israel’s latest operation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Asked by a journalist during his successful 1999 campaign for prime minister what he’d have done if he’d been born Palestinian, Barak answered simply and bluntly: “I’d have joined a terrorist organization.”

    Obama’s Gaza Opportunity

    The catastrophe in Gaza has, counterintuitively enough, presented President Barack Obama with an opportunity to restart the peace process – precisely because it has demonstrated the catastrophic failure of the approach adopted by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the raft of domestic and economic challenges facing the 44th President may tempt Obama to keep many Bush foreign policies on autopilot for now.

    The plan brokered by the Bush administration in its last months for an American withdrawal from Iraq will, for instance, probably remain largely in effect; Obama will actually double the troop commitment to Afghanistan; and on Iran, Obama’s idea of direct talks may not prove that radical a departure from the most recent version of the Bush approach – at least if the purpose of such talks is simply to have U.S. diplomats present a warmed over version of the carrot-and-stick ultimatums on uranium enrichment that have been on offer, via the Europeans, for the past three years.

    As Gaza has clearly demonstrated, however, continuing the Bush policy on Israel and the Palestinians is untenable. The Bush administration may have talked of a Palestinian state, but it had limited itself to orchestrating a series of cozy chats between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, aimed at creating the illusion of a “process.”

    There was no real process, not in the sense that the term is commonly understood, anyway – reciprocal steps by the combatant parties to disengage and move towards a settlement that changes political boundaries and power arrangements. But the illusion of progress was a necessary part of the administration’s policy of dividing the Middle East on Cold War-type lines in a supposedly epic struggle between “moderates” and “radicals.”

    The “moderates” included Israel, Abbas, and the regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf States. The radicals were Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah, intractable enemies of peace, democracy, and stability.

    Democracy?! Yes, the chutzpah of Bush and his people was legendary – after all, Hamas and Hizballah had been democratically elected, which is more than you could say for the Arab “moderates” they championed. Even Iran holds elections more competitive than any in Egypt.

    Adding to the irony, Abbas’s term of office as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has now expired, but you can bet your Obama inauguration souvenir program that he won’t be required by Washington to seek a new mandate from the voters; indeed, it’s doubtful that the Israelis would allow another Palestinian election in the West Bank, which they essentially control.

    Ongoing peace talks with Palestinian “moderates,” no matter how fruitless, provided important cover for Arab regimes who wanted to stand with the U.S. and Israel on the question of Iran’s growing power and influence. But there could, of course, be no talks with the “radicals,” even if those radicals were more representative than the “moderates.” (Sure, Egypt’s Mubarak stands with Israel against Hamas, but that’s because Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which might well trounce Mubarak if Egypt held free and fair elections.)

    Thus, Washington chose to ignore the opportunity that Hamas’s historic 2006 decision to contest the Palestinian Authority legislative election offered. The organization had previously boycotted the institutions of the PA as the illegitimate progeny of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which they had rejected. Caught off-guard when the Palestinian electorate then repudiated Washington’s chosen “moderate” regime, the U.S. responded by imposing sanctions on the new Palestinian government, while pressuring the Europeans and Arab regimes on whose funding the PA depended to do the same. These sanctions eventually grew into a siege of Gaza.

    The financial blockade would continue, the U.S. and its allies insisted, until Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel, and bound itself to previous agreements. Exactly the same three preconditions for engaging Hamas were recently reiterated by incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearings.

    A Failed Doctrine

    The Gaza debacle has made one thing perfectly clear: any peace process that seeks to marginalize, not integrate, Hamas is doomed to fail – and with catastrophic consequences. That’s why the position outlined by Obama’s Secretary of State-designate is dysfunctional at birth, because it repeats the mistake of trying to marginalize Hamas. For its part, Hamas officials have sent a number of signals in recent years indicating the organization’s willingness to move in a pragmatic direction. Its leaders wouldn’t bother to regularly explain their views in the op-ed pages of American newspapers if they did not believe a different relationship with the U.S. – and so Israel – was possible.

    For the new Obama administration reinforcing and, as they say in Washington, incentivizing the pragmatic track in Hamas is the key to reviving the region’s prospects for peace.

    Hamas has demonstrated beyond doubt that it speaks for at least half of the Palestinian electorate. Many observers believe that, were new elections to be held tomorrow, the Islamists would probably not only win Gaza again, but take the West Bank as well. Demanding what Hamas would deem a symbolic surrender before any diplomatic conversation even begins is not an approach that will yield positive results. Renouncing violence was never a precondition for talks between South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s ANC, or Britain and the Irish Republican Army. Indeed, Israel’s talks with the PLO began long before it had publicly renounced violence.

    “Recognizing” Israel is difficult for Palestinians because, in doing so, they are also being asked to renounce the claims of refugee families to the land and homes they were forced out of in 1948 and were barred from recovering by one of the founding acts of the State of Israel. For an organization such as Hamas, such recognition could never be a precondition to negotiations, only the result of them (and then with some reciprocal recognition of the rights of the refugees).

    Hamas’s decision to engage the election process created by Oslo was, in fact, a pragmatic decision opposed by hardliners in its own ranks. Doing so bound it to engage with the Israelis and also to observe agreements under which those electoral institutions were established (as Hamas mayors on the West Bank had already learned). In fact, Hamas made clear that it was committed to good governance and consensus, and recognized Abbas as president, which also meant explicitly recognizing his right to continue negotiating with the Israelis.

    Hamas agreed to abide by any accord approved by the Palestinians in a democratic referendum. By 2007, key leaders of the organization had even begun talking of accepting a Palestinian state based on a return to 1967 borders in a swap for a generational truce with Israel.

    Hamas’s move onto the electoral track had, in fact, presented a great opportunity for any American administration inclined towards grown-up diplomacy, rather than the infantile fantasy of reengineering the region’s politics in favor of chosen “moderates.” So, in 2006, the U.S. immediately slapped sanctions on the new government, seeking to reverse the results of the Palestinian election through collective punishment of the electorate. The U.S. also blocked Saudi efforts to broker a Palestinian government of national unity by warning that Abbas would be shunned by the U.S. and Israel if he opted for rapprochement with the majority party in his legislature. Washington appears to have even backed a coup attempt by U.S.-trained, Fatah-controlled militia in Gaza, which resulted in Fatah’s bloody expulsion from there in the summer of 2007.

    The failed U.S.-Israeli strategy of trying to depose Hamas reached its nadir in the pre-inauguration bloodbath in Gaza, which not only reinforced Hamas politically, but actually weakened those anointed as “moderates” as part of a counterinsurgency strategy against Hamas and its support base.

    It is in America’s interest, and Israel’s, and the Palestinians’ that Obama intervene quickly in the Middle East, but that he do so on a dramatically different basis than that of his two immediate predecessors.

    Peace is made between the combatants of any conflict; “peace” with only chosen “moderates” is an exercise in redundancy and pointlessness. The challenge in the region is to promote moderation and pragmatism among the political forces that speak for all sides, especially the representative radicals.

    And speaking of radicals and extremists, there’s palpable denial, bordering on amnesia, when it comes to Israel’s rejectionists. Ariel Sharon explicitly rejected the Oslo peace process, declaring it null and void shortly after assuming power. Instead, he negotiated only with Washington over unilateral Israeli moves.

    Ever since, Israeli politics has been moving steadily rightward, with the winner in next month’s elections expected to be the hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. If so, he will govern in a coalition with far-right rejectionists and advocates of “ethnic cleansing.” Netanyahu even rejected Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza pullout plan, and he has made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in sustaining the illusion of talks over a “final status” agreement, even with Washington’s chosen “moderates.”

    Israelis, by all accounts, have generally given up on the idea of pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time soon, and for the foreseeable future, no Israeli government will willingly undertake the large-scale evacuation of the West Bank settlers, essential to any two-state solution but likely to provoke an Israeli civil war.

    This political situation should serve as a warning to Obama and his people to avoid the pitfalls of the Clinton administration’s approach to brokering Middle East peace. Clinton’s basic guideline was that the pace and content of the peace process should be decided by Israel’s leaders, and that nothing should ever be put on the negotiating table that had not first been approved by them. Restricting the peace process to proposals that fall within the comfort zone only of the Israeli government is the diplomatic equivalent of allowing investment banks to regulate themselves – and we all know where that landed us.

    It is fanciful, today, to believe that, left to their own devices, Israel and the Palestinians will agree on where to set the border between them, on how to share Jerusalem, or on the fate of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements. A two-state solution, if one is to be achieved, will have to be imposed by the international community, based on a consensus that already exists in international law (UN Resolutions 242 and 338), the Arab League peace proposals, and the Taba non-paper that documented the last formal final-status talks between the two sides in January 2001.

    Had Barack Obama taken office in a moment of relative tranquility in the fraught Israeli-Palestinian relationship, he might have had the luxury of putting it on the backburner. Indeed, any move to change the Bush approach might have been challenged as unnecessarily risky and disruptive.

    In Gaza in the last few weeks, however, the Bush approach imploded, leaving Obama no choice but to initiate a new policy of his own. Hopefully, it will be one rooted in the pragmatism for which the new President is renowned.

    ——-

    Tony Karon is a senior editor at TIME.com where he analyzes the Middle East and other international conflicts. He also runs his own website, Rootless Cosmopolitan.

Leading Israeli Scholar Avi Shlaim: Israel Committing “State Terror” in Gaza Attack, Preventing Peace January 14, 2009

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Democracynow! January 14, 2009

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli assault on Gaza is entering its nineteenth day, with no end in sight. Israeli warplanes are continuing their bombardment, launching over sixty air strikes overnight. Meanwhile, Israeli troops have edged closer to the heart of the densely populated Gaza City and are engaged in street fighting with militants.

 

Since Israel’s offensive began on December 27th, nearly 1,000 Palestinians have been killed. More than 4,400 have been injured, and an estimated 90,000 have fled their homes. Thirteen Israelis have died over the same period, ten of them soldiers, including four by so-called “friendly” fire.

 

As the war continues, humanitarian concerns are mounting. The chief UN aid official for Gaza, John Ging, has appealed to the international community to protect Gaza’s civilians, calling it a “test of our humanity”.

 

Meanwhile, a UN watch group has accused Israel of showing a “manifest disrespect” for the protection of children in Gaza. According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, more than 40 percent of those killed in Gaza are women and children.

 

On Tuesday, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Gaza and said what he saw was shocking. ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger said, “It is unacceptable to see so many wounded people. Their lives must be spared and the security of those who care for them guaranteed.”

 

Despite a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the military operation will continue.

 

Our next guest is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on the Arab-Israel conflict. Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s. He is now a professor of international relations at Oxford University. In an article in The Guardian newspaper of London, he says he has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. But he says its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions. Professor Avi Shlaim is the author of a number of books, most notably The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. His latest book is Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace. Avi Shlaim joins us today from Oxford University in Britain.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!

AVI SHLAIM: Thank you. I’m happy to be on your program in these very sad times.

AMY GOODMAN: As you look at what’s happening in Gaza from your vantage point, well, many miles away in Britain, can you talk about the kind of trajectory your evaluation has taken, where you started in your thoughts about Israel and where you are now?

AVI SHLAIM: As you mentioned, I did national service in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s. And in those days, Israel was a small state surrounded by enemies, and the nation was united in face of the surrounding Arab states. We all felt total commitment to the state of Israel and to the defense of the state of Israel. The Israeli army is called the Israel Defense Forces, and it was true to its name.

But 1967, the war of June 1967, was a major turning point in the history of Israel and the history of the region. In the course of the war, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan and Sinai from Egypt. After the war, Israel started building civilian territories in the occupied territories in violation of international law. So Israel became a colonial power and an imperial power.

And I, for my part, have never questioned the legitimacy of the Zionist movement. I saw it as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Nor did I ever question the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I reject, what I reject totally, absolutely and uncompromisingly, is the Zionist colonial project beyond the 1967 borders. So we have to distinguish very clearly between Israel proper, within its pre-1967 borders, and Greater Israel, which began to emerge in the aftermath of the June ‘67 war and has completely derailed the Zionist project.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, specifically talk about Gaza, how it has developed and where it is today, right now under assault by the Israeli military.

AVI SHLAIM: In a long-term historical perspective, I would begin with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. I wrote a book, which you mentioned in your introduction, called The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. It is a history of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948. It’s a very long book, but I can summarize it for you in one sentence, that throughout its sixty years, Israel has been remarkably reluctant to engage in meaningful negotiations with its Arab opponents to resolve the dispute between them and only too ready to resort to military force in order to impose its will upon them. And the current vicious Israeli onslaught on the people of Gaza is the climax of this longstanding Israeli policy of shunning diplomacy and relying on brute military force.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to Professor Avi Shlaim. He is professor of international relations at Oxford University, served in the Israeli military. His latest book is called Lion of Jordan. He is one of the world’s leading scholars on the Arab-Israel conflict. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest right now is Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim. He teaches international relations at Oxford University. He’s speaking to us from Oxford right now, leading authority in the world on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We’ve had a number of debates here on Democracy Now!, Professor Shlaim, over the past weeks about what’s happening in Gaza and those who support the Israeli military continually say that in 2005, three years ago, Israel pulled out of Gaza entirely. You have a different picture of what happened under Ariel Sharon in August of 2005. Explain how you see the withdrawal of Israeli military at that time.

AVI SHLAIM: President Bush described Ariel Sharon as a man of peace. I’ve done a great deal of archival research on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and I can honestly tell you that I have never come across a single scintilla of evidence to support the view of Ariel Sharon as a man of peace. He was a man of war, a champion of violent solutions, a man who rejected totally any Palestinian right to self-determination. He was a proponent of Greater Israel, and it is in this context that I see his decision to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza in August of 2005.

The withdrawal was officially called the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. I would like to underline the word “unilateral.” Ariel Sharon was the unilateralist par excellence. The reason he decided to withdraw from Gaza was not out of any concern for the welfare of the people of Gaza or any sympathy for the Palestinians or their national aspirations, but because of the pressure exerted by Hamas, by the Islamic resistance, to the Israeli occupation of Gaza. In the end, Israel couldn’t sustain the political, diplomatic and psychological costs of maintaining its occupation in Gaza.

And let me add in parentheses that Gaza was a classic example of exploitation, of colonial exploitation in the postcolonial era. Gaza is a tiny strip of land with about one-and-a-half million Arabs, most of them—half of them refugees. It’s the most crowded piece of land on God’s earth. There were 8,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza, yet the 8,000 settlers controlled 25 percent of the territory, 40 percent of the arable land, and the largest share of the desperately scarce water resources.

Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza unilaterally, not as a contribution, as he claimed, to a two-state solution. The withdrawal from Gaza took place in the context of unilateral Israeli action in what was seen as Israeli national interest. There were no negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on an overall settlement. The withdrawal from Gaza was not a prelude to further withdrawals from the other occupied territories, but a prelude to further expansion, further consolidation of Israel’s control over the West Bank. In the year after the withdrawal from Gaza, 12,000 new settlers went to live on the West Bank. So I see the withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 as part of a unilateral Israeli attempt to redraw the borders of Greater Israel and to shun any negotiations and compromise with the Palestinian Authority.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, Israel says the reason it has attacked Gaza is because of the rocket fire, the rockets that Hamas is firing into southern Israel.

AVI SHLAIM: This is Israeli propaganda, and it is a pack of lies. The important thing to remember is that there was a ceasefire brokered by Egypt in July of last year, and that ceasefire succeeded. So, if Israel wanted to protect its citizens—and it had every right to protect its citizens—the way to go about it was not by launching this vicious military offensive, but by observing the ceasefire.

Now, let me give you some figures, which I think are the most crucial figures in understanding this conflict. Before the ceasefire came into effect in July of 2008, the monthly number of rockets fired—Kassam rockets, homemade Kassam rockets, fired from the Gaza Strip on Israeli settlements and towns in southern Israel was 179. In the first four months of the ceasefire, the number dropped dramatically to three rockets a month, almost zero. I would like to repeat these figures for the benefit of your listeners. Pre-ceasefire, 179 rockets were fired on Israel; post-ceasefire, three rockets a month. This is point number one, and it’s crucial.

And my figures are beyond dispute, because they come from the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. But after initiating this war, this particular table, neat table, which showed the success of the ceasefire, was withdrawn and replaced with another table of statistics, which is much more obscure and confusing. Israel—the Foreign Ministry withdrew these figures, because it didn’t suit the new story.

The new story said that Hamas broke the ceasefire. This is a lie. Hamas observed the ceasefire as best as it could and enforced it very effectively. The ceasefire was a stunning success for the first four months. It was broken not by Hamas, but by the IDF. It was broken by the IDF on the 4th of November, when it launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men.

And there is one other point that I would like to make about the ceasefire. Ever since the election of Hamas in January—I’m sorry, ever since Hamas captured power in Gaza in the summer of 2007, Israel had imposed a blockade of the Strip. Israel stopped food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. One of the terms of the ceasefire was that Israel would lift the blockade of Gaza, yet Israel failed to lift the blockade, and that is one issue that is also overlooked or ignored by official Israeli spokesmen. So Israel was doubly guilty of sabotaging the ceasefire, A, by launching a military attack, and B, by maintaining its very cruel siege of the people of Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel calls Hamas “terrorist.” What is your definition of “terror”?

AVI SHLAIM: My definition of “terror” is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. And by this definition, Hamas is a terrorist organization. But by the same token, Israel is practicing state terror, because it is using violence on a massive scale against Palestinian civilians for political purposes. I don’t hold a brief for Hamas. Hamas is not a paragon of virtue. Its leaders are not angels. They harm civilians indiscriminately. Killing civilians is wrong, period. That applies to Hamas, and it applies equally to the state of Israel.

But there are two points I would like to make about Hamas, and that is—the first point is that it was elected in a fair and free election in January 2006. It was an impeccable election, monitored by a number of international observers, including President Jimmy Carter. So it is not just a terrorist organization. It is a democratically elected government of the Palestinian people and the representative of the Palestinian people in Gaza, as well as the West Bank.

And the second point that I would like to make is that since coming to power, Gaza has moderated its political program. Its charter is extreme. Its charter denies the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The charter calls for an Islamic state over the whole of historic Palestine. The charter has not been revived, but since coming to power, the leadership of Hamas has been much more pragmatic and stated that it is willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the state of Israel for twenty, thirty, forty, maybe even fifty years.

Thirdly, Hamas joined with Fatah, the rival group, the mainstream group, on the West Bank in a national unity government in the summer of 2007. That national unity government lasted only three months. Israel, with American support, helped to sabotage and to bring down that national unity government. Israel refused to deal with a Palestinian government which included Hamas within it. And shamefully, both the United States and the European Union joined in Israel in this refusal to recognize a Hamas-dominated government, and Israel withdrew tax revenues, and European Union withdrew foreign aid, in a shameful attempt to bring down a democratically elected government.

So, I do not defend Hamas, but I think that it hasn’t received a fair hearing from the international community, and Israel has done everything to sabotage it all along.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Shlaim, you say it’s done everything to sabotage it, except at the beginning, when you say it supported Hamas to weaken Fatah, which it now supports.

AVI SHLAIM: Indeed. Israel has always played the game of divide and rule. This is a very good tactic in times of war, to divide your enemies and pick them off one by one. No one can complain about that. But divide and rule isn’t a good tactic in times of peace. If your aim is to achieve peace with the Arabs, then you should want unity among the Palestinians and unity in the Arab world. But Israel continued to play this game of divide and rule.

Hamas emerged in the course of the First Intifada in the late 1980s. It is the Islamic resistance movement. The mainstream movement, Fatah, was led by Yasser Arafat. And Israel gave tacit encouragement and support to the Islamic resistance in the hope of weakening the secular nationalists led by Yasser Arafat. It was a dangerous game to play, because the end result of this game was that Hamas emerged as the strongest Palestinian political party.

And Israel helped Hamas inadvertently in another way, because Fatah signed the Oslo Accord with Israel in 1993. It expected the Oslo Accord to lead to a two-state solution. And yet, Israel, after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, reneged on the Israeli side of the deal. So, the Oslo Accord, the Oslo peace process wasn’t doomed to failure from the start. It failed because Israel, under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the deal. So that left the Palestinians with nothing but misery and poverty and frustration and ever-growing Israeli settlements on the land. And it was this context that led to the success of Hamas at the last elections. So Israel has a lot to explain in the rise to power of the Hamas movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, we only have a minute, but I want to ask you where you see the solution at this point. Barack Obama will be president on Tuesday in just a few days. Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State.

AVI SHLAIM: The solution—this is a political conflict, and there is no military conflict to—there is no military solution to this conflict. The only solution lies in negotiations between Israel and Hamas about all the issues involved. President-elect Obama is a very impressive man and a very intelligent man and a very fair-minded man. He hasn’t demonstrated any courage in the course of this crisis. He hasn’t taken any position. He hasn’t called for an immediate ceasefire. So the first step is an immediate ceasefire, and the next step would be negotiations between all the sides about restoring the ceasefire and then moving on to stage two, which is a political settlement to this tragic hundred-year-old conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: And Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, who said in her confirmation hearing yesterday she wouldn’t negotiate with Hamas?

AVI SHLAIM: Yes, but there are other signs from the Obama campaign that they would be willing to consider low-level, indirect contacts with Hamas. And one has to be grateful for small mercies, so small, minor, low-level contacts with Hamas could lead to a proper dialog in due course. So I remain optimistic that sanity and rationality would take over in American foreign policy after the dreadful last eight years.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, thank you very much for being with us. Professor Avi Shlaim, professor of international relations at Oxford University, served in the Israeli military—among his books, Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace—known as one of the leading authorities in the world on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Arab-Israel conflict. Among his other books, The Iron Wall.

War on Two Fronts: A Somber Assessment January 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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(Roger’s note: if you are tired of reading about how badly Bush botched his presidency (an illegitimate one at that), skip to the middle of the article where it begins: “And yet 1948 provides one interpretive key to the whole mess.”  I think you will find this quite an insightful analysis of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.)
Why did Bush not do more for peace during his failed presidency? Because someone is always lobbing a rocket or detonating a bomb, and this invalidates any and every gesture toward peace, in his simple view.

The lackluster and mildly bizarre performance of President Bush in this, the last of his 47 presidential press conferences, puts the muted period to a failed presidency that began with constitutional fireworks and cultural exclamation-points. It was a strange show. His attempts to be gracious with the press fell flat, his professions of commitment to the ideals of liberty and free speech were scarcely plausible, his self-deprecating attempts at humor elicited not so much as a smile.

It was his simplistic assessment of the current situation in Gaza that was most striking, however, and worrisome. The situation is simple for Bush; it always has been. Israel’s battle is America’s battle, and vice versa. It is framed as a battle of Israeli democracy against the anti-democratic forces surrounding her, and it is thus another front in the War on Terror that has always had a theological echo in this president’s biblicist mind.

There can be no peace so long as Hamas is lobbing rockets into Israel, the President concluded. That is very true (though not absolutely so). The statement needs a supplement. There can be no peace so long as many things continue to be permitted—like the flow of illegal weapons into Gaza, like the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank, like a de facto Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip, etcetera. There are no heroes in this conflict, and that is what this president’s simplistic and one-sided reasoning always failed to comprehend. Why did he not do more? Because someone is always lobbing a rocket or detonating a bomb, and this invalidates any and every gesture toward peace, in his simple view.

Barack Obama famously noted that a president rarely has the luxury of dealing with one crisis at a time. The standard litany of current crises is well known: the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; two wars with staggering expense accounts; ongoing security concerns, etcetera. And well before being sworn in, the troubles of the President-elect have multiplied: Bill Richardson’s withdrawal of his nomination to a Cabinet post; controversy over seating certain Senators; debates about the economic stimulus package he proposes; debates about the appropriateness of inviting Rick Warren to the presidential podium.

Now two new battles are brewing, and we did not directly anticipate either one. But we need to find a way to think them together. Pakistani troops are massing on the Indian border, and Israel has mounted a punishing ground assault on Gaza. In fact, the Israelis have just brought up their reserves, indicating that they intend to be at this for some time.

There is something almost surreal, and supremely depressing, in hearing poignant phrases uttered for the hundredth time. The faces of the politicians change; the well-meaning professions of care do not. So we are told that they will apply themselves with new urgency to the Mid-east peace process. And yet the US president, when asked today why his attempts to move that process along never made any headway, noted rather lamely that “they’ve been fighting there for a long time.” It was clear from his subsequent remarks that he was thinking at least as much about biblical history as about the post-1948 era.

And yet 1948 provides one interpretive key to the whole mess.

Israel, India and Pakistan are all three creatures of the post-colonial break-up of the British Empire at the end of World War 2. And India provides a cautionary tale for Israel today. The terrifying moral they provide is that “two-state solutions” do not work, if we imagine working as the creation of stable borders and relatively peaceable neighbors.

When it was clear in 1946-7 that the British would leave the Indian subcontinent, then the great post-colonial question emerged: how many countries should be created out of what were previously vast colonial holdings? Gandhi, it may be recalled, was state solution (and he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist, not an Islamist). Gandhi envisioned a thriving multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy, one that laid claim to its proud history of productive Hindu-Muslim coexistence. His Islamic counterpart, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, disagreed, insisting that the Muslim minority on the subcontinent needed a country of its own. Hence the emergence of the two-state India-Pakistan solution.

Yet Pakistan was an almost surreal construction from the beginning. It was a bizarre non-contiguous territory: East and West Pakistan, separated by over one thousand miles of India. Unsurprisingly, the two halves of Pakistan fell to bickering, then fell apart, their quarrels supported by an Indian regime that was interested in maintaining a weak neighbor to its north, and the predictable civil war that began in 1971 resulted in the creation of an independent Bagladesh. Since then, India and (West) Pakistan have fought two major wars of territorial dispute (primarily over the status of Kashmir), one minor war, and have skirmished almost constantly.

The moral of this strange tale is two-fold. First, the arbitrary construction of a country composed of two non-contiguous parts is doomed from the start. The second lesson is even more troubling: “Two-state solutions” do not work. Built into the model at its inception is the premise that these potentially hostile groups cannot co-exist peacefully. What is taken off the table at the start is the possibility of peaceful coexistence and the creation of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, genuinely cosmopolitan society. If you assume at the start that you need two separate countries because the relative populations cannot coexist, then you should not be surprised if these two countries fight periodic wars from then on. Conflict, after all, was the very premise that named the problem for which two states allegedly provided a solution.

We have the makings of this same situation in Israel today. The nominal Palestinian “state” is an even more bizarre non-contiguous territory constituted by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since Hamas’s victory in the most recent elections (they won a plurality rather than a strict majority, but that is beside the current crisis), we have been moving toward an Israeli-sponsored civil war between the two parts of this quasi-Palestinian state (the two Palestinian parties involved, Fatah versus Hamas, have come to symbolize the conflict, and the stakes). Israel has invested heavily in assuring that this quasi-state cannot succeed. Traffic between the two halves of the quasi-country is well-nigh impossible, exacerbated now by the construction of the West Bank wall. New Israeli settlements in the not-so-sovereign West Bank are deliberate and constant provocations that further de-legitimate this quasi-state. The de facto blockade of Gaza makes the economic viability of the state suspect as well. And to be sure, the neighboring Arab countries have not done much to help either the situation or their Palestinian comrades. The parties on all sides of this conflict that do not want peace have found it very easy to play the current system to maintain a constant state of low-level violence that periodically breaks out into hotter moments, like the one we saw in south Lebanon, and the one we see now in Gaza.

Thus a proposed two-state solution results, in the best case, in the creation of three states, not two, as well as a state of constant conflict and continual alert. And the dirty little secret is that the truces, so often declared and so often violated, are never ironclad and never honored to the letter. The strange reality is that a truce almost always tolerates a certain low level of violence, violence that is voluntarily overlooked by both sides in the interest of accomplishing greater goals. Some peripheral attacks are overlooked. A stray rocket is not blamed on the government. Illegal new settlements are not blamed on the government, either, but assof foreign agitators (most of them from Brooklyn).

And on it goes, as casualties rise and anger festers. Why has there been no progress on the peace front? My increasingly desperate worry is that the initial conditions were set in such a way as virtually to guarantee continual conflict, a constant state of alert, mutual mistrust and antipathy, periodic escalations and explosions of almost theatrical violence.

There is nothing worse than commentary on the Middle East that goes this far, and then either throws up its hands in world-weary despair, or lays the blame squarely on one side, or else suggests a surprising new approach that everyone else has overlooked. I recognize that this commentary runs the very real risk of sounding the same. This is not what I wish to communicate, though my despair is real, and heartfelt.

I recognize that there is no turning back the clock, no possibility of revisiting the question of whether a two-state proposal really was a good solution. It is literally too late to go back to the beginning and to start over, in the Indian subcontinent or in the Middle East. But one change in strategy might accomplish symbolic things, most importantly a sense that the US intends to be not merely an honest broker but actually realistic about finding a way out of the current impasse.

Every peace proposal I have ever heard agrees that the question of the status of Jerusalem must be postponed. It will be the thorniest problem to solve, and every attempt to resolve other disputes will founder on the shoals of the Jerusalem Siren-song.

What if we have this precisely backwards? If no current peace proposal can imagine a peaceable solution in Jerusalem, then of what use are they? They all simply kick the can up the road, knowing full well than any potential breakthrough will be undone as soon as we turn to the long-postponed Big Question. Why, then, not try to do the hardest thing first? Indeed, were the various competing parties ever able to agree, however unhappily, to a political solution concerning the status of Jerusalem, it would almost invariably be a solution that did not permit Jerusalem to belong to any one group, and thus it would model the alternative possibility that two-state solutions normally erase: that of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, cosmopolitan alternative.

I see no real possibility that such an adjudication is possible, certainly not now. But in the long run, this seems a more realistic goal, ironically enough, than the endless hand-wringing that comes from people of good will who wonder aimlessly “why they hate each other so.”

 

Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. is William M. Suttles Chair of Religious Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The author of six books, his two most recent are: God Gardened East: A Gardener’s Meditation on the Dynamics of Genesis (Wipf and Stock, 2008) and This Tragic Gospel: How John Corrupted the Heart of Christianity (Jossey-Bass, 2008).