Archive | Bibi Netanyahu RSS feed for this section

Tormenting Gaza

15 Jul

(Prefatory Note: the Israeli military operation, code name Operation Protective Edge by Israel, being carried out in the Gaza Strip continues, and seems poised to mount a ground attack that will further intensify the suffering of the Palestinian people, and lend additional credibility to the accusation of ‘collective punishment,’ both a grave breach of international humanitarian law and a crime against humanity. The post below is a somewhat edited republication of an opinion piece published in AlJazeera English several days ago at the start of Operation Protective Edge.]

 

For the third time in the last six years Israel has cruelly unleashed the full fury of its military machine against the defenseless 1.7 million people of Gaza, inflicting heavy civilian casualties and further devastation on the long besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip. With cynical disregard of the realities of this latest one-sided confrontation between Israel and Palestine, instead of condemning such recourse to massive violence as ‘aggression’ that violates the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles, the reaction of Western diplomats and mainstream media has so far perversely sided with Israel, citing the bland rationalization repeatedly stressed by Netanyahu that ‘every nation has the right to defend itself.’ And so it does, but not by way of aggression! From the UN Secretary General to the President of the United States, the main insistence has been that Hamas stop must all rocket attacks while Israel is requested ever so politely to show “maximum restraint.”

 

Up to now, the Israeli attacks have caused some two hundred deaths (more than half of whom are women and children; 80% civilians) and more than a thousand physical injuries (plus countless more injuries to mental health). In this period hundreds of rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, but have yet to cause a single death. The only reported serious injury to Israelis has been suffered by a person on his way to a shelter, making one aware that there are no shelters for Gazans subjected to much more lethal forms of firepower. Granted that such rocket attacks, indiscriminate in nature, are unlawful forms of resistance, to single out this lesser type of violence out and overlook the greater violence distorts the context in biased and unacceptable ways, and helps explain the distorted discourse in Western diplomacy. Surely, the greater occasion of terror is that being inflicted on the hapless Gazans as disclosed by comparing the casualty disparity, and surely the political condemnation by responsible governments and even more so by the UN should be directed at the aggressor, who also happens to be the only political actor with the means to end the escalating violence, yet defiantly lacks the will. This international reaction to this latest crisis confirms for all with eyes to see that geopolitical alignments, not law or justice, dominates the diplomacy of leading Western states and the UN, when it comes to the Middle East, and especially if it concerns Israel-Palestine, and never more so than in relation to Gaza.

 

After several days of the Israel attack, self-servingly code-named Protective Edge by Israel, President Obama made a low profile offer to mediate a return to the 2012 ceasefire that had been arranged through the good offices of Egypt after this earlier onslaught on Gaza. Whether the U.S. Government, the undisguised patron and unconditional supporter of Israel, has the credibility to play such a mediating role rather doubtful, but in any event, Israel showed no interest. It is possible that Hamas, weakened by developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, and facing the desperation of a terrorized and totally vulnerable people entrapped in the Gaza Strip, with a health system on the verge of collapse, might accept such a move even if excluded from participating directly in the negotiations, which would mean depending on the Palestinian Authority to represent Gaza’s interests. After all, Hamas, although prevailing in fair elections back in 2006, remains ‘a terrorist organization’ according to the Western diplomatic establishment, even though it has been in recent years mostly on the receiving end of Israeli state terrorism, and should be allowed to act diplomatically on behalf of Gaza and enhance its credentials as a political actor. At present, the issue may be moot as Netanyahu belligerently insists that no amount of international pressure will lead Israel to stop its attack until the ambitious political goals of the military operation have been attained. These goals include as a priority the elimination of Hamas influence in the West Bank, which is the prize that the current Israeli leadership covets in its quest to complete the Likud maximalist version of the Zionist Project.

 

An aspect of the distorted approach to responsibility for the violence in Gaza is the refusal of the West to take note of the connection between Protective Edge and the June 12th kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli settler teenage children and the surge of public and private sector revenge violence culminating in the grisly murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 17 year old Arab boy a few days later in the Shuafat neighborhood of Jerusalem. Without ever disclosing evidence linking Hamas to such an atrocious crime the Netanyahu government and Israeli media reacted hysterically, immediately inciting a vicious campaign against suspected Hamas militants throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including air strikes in Gaza. In this atmosphere many Israeli officials and media stalwarts were provocatively calling upon the Israeli citizenry to strike back at the Palestinians. It was in this inflamed atmosphere that the Israeli government undertook a massive campaign of collective punishment, itself a war crime: hundreds of Palestinians thought to be associated with Hamas were arrested and detained; house demolitions of the homes of suspects; killings of at least six Palestinians; lockdowns of entire cities; air strikes against Gaza.

 

All this was done despite the mounting belief of independent observers that the crime against the Israeli youths was carried out by two Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas, perhaps with an initial plan to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners in an exchange. Never has it been asserted in high profile diplomatic circles of the West that the horrible crime provided Netanyahu with a pretext for unleashing an anti-Hamas campaign to complete the process of de facto annexation of most of the West Bank. This campaign seems far less motivated by a response to the kidnapping/murder than by the political objective of punishing the Palestinians leadership for defying the Netanyahu government for recently achieving a measure of reconciliation as between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Further in the background, but part of the context, is the Israeli interest in shifting responsibility away from themselves for the failure of the Kerry direct negotiations that collapsed at the end of April. And in the foreground, are the settlers and the settlements with their avowed intention of incorporating Samaria and Judea into the state of Israel once and for all, whatever the consequences.

 

So far, Israel has met calls for restraint and a ceasefire with contempt. Rumors of Hamas’s receptivity to a ceasefire have not been tested. Israel’s leaders have responded defiantly, suggesting that Protective Edge will not cease until the Hamas’ infrastructure is destroyed, whatever it takes, supposedly to ensure that no rockets will ever again be fired from Gaza, which would imply that Gaza was totally subjugated and completely helpless. When Palestinian civilians are killed and terrorized in the process of pursuing such an elusive goal, this is rationalized by Israeli officials as a regrettable side effect of what Israeli leaders are claiming to be a legitimate military undertaking. In a characteristic warped statement Netanyahu declared: “We are not eager for battle, but the security of our citizens and children takes precedence over all else.” Some Israeli top officials were clearer about Israel’s objectives than was the prime minister. The Defense Minister, Moshe Yalon, called for the total destruction of Hamas, which is tantamount to seeking a genocidal hunting license in relation to the entrapped people of Gaza and the oppressed population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Deputy Minister of Defense, Danny Dayon, publically urged Israel to cut off fuel and electricity to Gaza. If such a policy is implemented it would virtually guaranty a grotesque humanitarian crisis; he was later dismissed by Netanyahu for publicly declaring that Israel was humiliated because it allowed Hamas to set the terms for a ceasefire, an allegation that is obviously false as Hamas, so far as we know was excluded from the negotiations that led to the announcement that Israel had accepted a ceasefire. As it turned out, this unilateral ceasefire, rejected by Hamas, only lasted for six hours, and has been followed by intensified Israeli attacks on Gaza, especially targeting the residences of Hamas leaders. 

 

While Gaza burns, the fiddlers at the UN content themselves by worrying about the text of a proposed Security Council resolution, which never materialized. Israel and the United States were reported to be using all the leverage at their disposal to avoid condemnations of the Israeli air strikes on civilian targets in Gaza and even hoping that the final text of a resolution, if any, will include their preferred language about every sovereign state having a right to protect itself. It now seems that there will be no resolution as the United States is refusing to accept the language of the drafters, and only a rather innocuous non-binding Security Council ‘statement.’

 

On the basis of this disillusioning global response to Israeli aggression, it should become clear that the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and justice needs to be waged worldwide primarily at the grassroots level. It has never seemed more reasonable and morally necessary for persons of good will to lend maximum support to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign that has been in any event growing rapidly. It is also time to demand that governments adopt sanctions seeking Israeli withdrawal from the occupation of Palestine. An appropriate furtheresponse would be for the UN General Assembly to recommend imposing an arms embargo on Israel, as well as a boycott on Israel’s arms exports. This would be, at first, a largely symbolic gesture as Israel has become a major weapons maker, exporting arms to many countries with a tasteless sales pitch that stress the benefits of Israeli weaponry because it is ‘field-tested.’ There is a special challenge to American governmental institutions and its taxpaying citizenry that have been providing more than $3 billion of military assistance aid, coupled with special arrangements beneficial to Israel, for many years.

 

It is painfully evident that state-to-state diplomacy and the UN have failed to produce a just peace despite decades of fruitless talks. It is time acknowledge that these talks have been carried on in bad faith: while the diplomats sat around the table, Israeli settlements relentlessly expanded, apartheid structures deepened their hold on the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Gaza was cordoned off as a hostage enclave to be attacked by Israel at will whenever a bloody sacrifice seemed useful from the perspective of national interests.

 

At least, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil ElAraby, condemned the “dangerous Israeli escalation,” urged the Security Council to “adopt measures to stop Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip,” and warned of the humanitarian consequences. Turkish and Iranian issued official statements along similar lines. There is so much regional turbulence at present that it is unlikely to hope for anything more than scattered verbal denunciations from authorities in the region preoccupied with other concerns, but given the gravity of the situation, attention needs to be refocused on the Palestinian ordeal. Pressure on Israel is urgently needed to protect the Palestinian people from further tragedy, and the Arab neighbors of Israel and the European states that long held sway in the region, are challenged as never before to do the right thing, but it is doubtful that any constructive action will be taken unless regional and global public opinion becomes sufficiently enraged to exert real pressure on these governments, and hence on Israel itself. To pursue this goal now should be made a top priority of the Palestinian global solidarity movement.

 

Pope Francis Visit to Palestine

26 May

 

 

            Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land raises one overwhelming question: ‘what is the nature of religious power in our world of the 21st century?’ ‘can it have transformative effects’?

 

            Media pundits and most liberal voices from the secular realm approve of this effort by Francis to seek peace through the encouragement of reconciliation, while dutifully reminding us that his impact is only ‘ceremonial’ and ‘symbolic’ and will not, and presumably should not, have any political consequences beyond a temporary cleansing of the political atmosphere.

 

            The June 6th prospect of Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres praying together in the Vatican as a step toward a peaceful end of the long struggle is, I fear, an ambiguous sideshow. For one thing, Peres as President of Israel is about to leave the office, and in any event, his position exerts no discernible influence on the head of state, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the approach taken by Israel in addressing Palestinian concerns. It has long been appreciated that Peres is less than he seems, and beneath his velvet globe is a steel fist. Also, Abbas, although the formal leader of the Palestinian Authority and Chair of the PLO, is a weak and controversial leader who has yet to establish a unity government that includes Hamas, and finally provides political representation for the long suffering population of the Gaza Strip within global venues.

 

            Yet it would be a mistake to ignore the significance, symbolically and materially, of what Pope Francis’ visit to Palestine heralds. To begin with, just below the surface of what is avowed by words and style, is the contrast between the humility and sincerity of this religiously oriented initiative and the recently acknowledged breakdown of direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel that was the ill-advised and contrived initiative of the U.S. Government, and became the personal project of the American Secretary of State John Kerry. In effect, the Pope epitomizes the moral and spiritual dimensions of the unresolved situation in Palestine while Kerry’s muscular diplomacy called partisan Alpha attention to the political dimensions.

 

            Undoubtedly more relevant is the degree to which Francis lent his weight to fundamental Palestinian grievances. By referring to the territory under occupation since 1967 as ‘Palestine,’ Francis affirmed the status conferred by the UN General Assembly in 2012, and since then angrily rejected by Tel Aviv and Washington. In doing so, Palestinian statehood was affirmed as a moral reality that should be endorsed by people and governments of good will everywhere, thereby strengthening the call of global solidarity.

 

            Most dramatically of all, by praying at the apartheid wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and bowing his head prayer while touching with his hand that hated metaphor of Israeli cruelty, illegality, and oppressiveness, Pope Francis has made an indelible contribution to the Legitimacy War of nonviolent resistance and emancipation that the Palestinian National Movement has waged with increasing militancy, and is being embraced throughout the world.

 

            Such moments of moral epiphany are rare in our experience of the torments afflicting the world. We need to remind ourselves that this pope has imparted a spirit of justice and spirituality. We are responding to his call because of who he is as well as what he is: his warmth, sympathy for the poor and oppressed, and identification with those brutally victimized by war. We are responding to the concreteness of his commitments and the actualities of his performances whether he points to the atrocities of war in Syria or the ordeal that has so long confronted the Palestinian people.

 

            The Pope challenges all of us to act as citizen pilgrims, having a personal responsibility to act as best we can against bastions of flagrant injustice. The Pope, the most universally acclaimed moral and spiritual authority figure on the planet has spoken by word and deed, and now it becomes our privilege to act responsively. By this means alone can we discover the ecumenical nature of religious authority in our times.

Why the Peace Talks Collapsed—and Should Not be Resumed

2 May

 

           A week ago Israel suspended participation in the peace talks in response to news that the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah had for a third time concluded a unity agreement with the Hamas leadership of Gaza. Such a move toward intra-Palestinian reconciliation should have been welcomed by Israel as a tentative step in the right direction. Instead it was immediately denounced by Netanyahu as the end of the diplomatic road, contending that Israel will never be part of any political process that includes a terrorist organization pledged to its destruction. Without Hamas’ participation any diplomatic results of negotiations would likely have been of questionable value, and besides, Hamas deserves inclusion. It has behaved as a political actor since it took part in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, and has repeatedly indicated its willingness to reach a long-term normalizing agreement with Israel if and when Israel is ready to withdraw fully to the 1967 borders and respect Palestinian sovereign rights. The contention that Hamas is pledged to Israel’s destruction is pure hasbara, a cynical means to manipulate the fear factor in Israeli domestic politics, as well as ensuring the persistence of the conflict. This approach has become Israel’s way of choosing expansion over peace, and seemingly ignoring its own citizens’ mandate to secure a stable peace agreement.

 

            Israel had days earlier complained about an initiative taken by the PA to become a party to 15 international treaties. Again, a step that would be viewed as constructive if seeking an end to the conflict was anywhere to be found in Israel’s playbook. Such an initiative should have been interpreted in a positive direction as indicating the Palestinian intention to be a responsible member of the international community. Israel’s contrary lame allegation that by acting independently the PA departed from the agreed roadmap of negotiations prematurely assuming the prerogatives of a state rather than waiting Godot-like for such a status to be granted via the bilateral diplomatic route.

 

            To remove any doubt about the priorities of the Netanyahu-led government, Israel during the nine months set aside for reaching an agreement, authorized no less than 13,851 new housing units in the settlements, added significant amounts of available land for further settlement expansion, and demolished 312 Palestinian homes. These acts were not only unlawful, but actually accelerated earlier settlement trends, and were obviously provocative from a Palestinian perspective. As Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy, observed in a TV interview, if Israeli authorizes even one additional housing unit during negotiations it is sending a clear signal to the Palestinian people and their leaders that it has no interest in reaching a sustainable peace agreement.

 

            The revival of direct negotiations last August between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority was mainly a strong arm initiative of the U.S. Government, energized by John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, who has put relentless pressure on both sides to start talking despite the manifest futility of such a process from its outset. Such resolve raises the still unanswered question, ‘why?’ Kerry melodramatically proclaimed that these negotiations were the last chance to save the two-state solution as the means to end the conflict, in effect, declaring this new round of U.S. sponsored negotiations to be an all or nothing moment of decision for the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Kerry has reinforced this appeal by warning that Israel risks isolation and boycott if no agreement is reached, and in the last several days, declared behind closed doors that Israel was taking a path that could lead Israel to becoming an apartheid state by this apparent refusal to seek a diplomatic solution.

 

            It is probably beside the point that no one at the State Department informed Kerry before he started to walk this tightrope that the two-state goal that he so unconditionally endorsed was already dead and buried as a realistic option. Further, that Israel had established an apartheid regime on the West Bank decades ago, making his supposedly controversial statement better understood to be ‘old news.’ In other words, Kerry showed himself awkwardly out of touch by issuing future warnings about matters that were already in a past tense. With respect to apartheid he discredited himself further by apologizing for using the a-word in response to objections by Israeli supporters in the United States, however descriptive ‘apartheid’ has become of the discriminatory nature of the occupation. American leaders present themselves as craven in relation to Israeli sensibilities when they retreat in this manner from reality without showing the slightest sign of embarrassment.

 

            The agreement of Israel and the PA to sit together and negotiate formally expired on April 29th, yet the indefatigable Kerry rather remarkably pushed the parties to agree on an extension by a flurry of meetings in recent weeks disclosing a mood hovering uneasily between exasperation and desperation. Even if the talks were to resume, as still might happen, it should not be interpreted as a hopeful development. There is utterly no reason to think that a diplomatic process in the current political climate is capable of producing a just and sustainable peace. To think differently embraces an illusion, and more meaningfully, gives Israel additional time to consolidate its expansionist plans to a point that makes it absurd to imagine the creation of a truly viable and independent sovereign parallel Palestinian state. So long as the political preconditions for fruitful inter-governmental diplomacy do not exist, calls for direct negotiations should be abandoned. Both sides must approach negotiations with a genuine incentive to strike a deal that is fair to the other side, which implies a willingness to respect Palestinian rights under international law. For reasons suggested, those preconditions do not exist on the Israeli side. This makes it deeply misleading to put the blame for the breakdown of the talks on both sides, or sometimes even to point the finger at the Palestinians, as has been the practice in the mainstream Western media whenever negotiations hit a stone wall.

 

            It has been painfully obvious ever since Oslo (1993), that there is something fundamentally deficient about the double role played by the United States Government in relation to such negotiations. How can it be trusted when American officials declare over and over again that the country will forever remain the unconditional ally of Israel, and yet at the same time give even minimal confidence to the Palestinians that it a neutral third party seeking to promote a just peace? The short answer is that ‘it can’t’ and ‘will not.’ From the very outset of the recent diplomatic initiative this contradiction in roles was resolved in Israel’s favor by the Obama appointment of Martin Indyk as Special Envoy entrusted with the delicate symbolic role of overseeing the negotiations. Indyk has a long public career of involvements supportive of Israel, including past employment with the notorious AIPAC lobby that exerts its disproportionate pro-Israeli influence over the entire American political scene. Only the weakness of the Palestinian Authority can explain a willingness to entrust its diplomatic fate to such a framework already strongly tilted in favor of Israel due to Israel’s skills and strengths as an experienced political actor on the global stage.

 

            Against this background we have to ask what is gained and lost by such fruitless negotiations. What is gained by Israel and the United States is some hope that while negotiations proceed the conflict will not escalate by taking an unwelcome turn toward a Third Intifada that forcibly challenges Israel’s occupation policies associated with the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. There is also the sense that so long as the U.S. Government is seen as backing a two-state solution it satisfies regional expectations, and provide a rationale for supporting even a futile diplomatic effort because it is the only game in town, and it seems perverse to challenge its utility without presenting an alternative. The Arab world itself endorsed and recently reaffirmed its 2002 regional peace initiative calling for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Palestine and formal acceptance of Palestinian state within 1967 green line borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Such a vision of peace derives from unanimous Security Council Resolution 242 that was premised on Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied in the course of the 1967 War, but additionally on a just solution of the refugee problem. And there is near universal appreciation expressed for Kerry’s dedication to resolving the conflict, and so it is a kind of public relations success story despite the serious drawbacks mentioned.

 

            In effect, there has existed a global consensus since 1967 on establishing peace between Israel and Palestine, reinforced by the apparent absence of alternatives, that is, the only possibilities are widely believed to be either two-states or the persistence of the conflict. It should be appreciated that way back in 1988 the Palestinian Liberation Organization, then speaking for all Palestinians under the leadership of Yasir Arafat, gave up its maximalist goals, and formally indicated its willingness to make peace with Israel based on these 1967 borders, with an implied readiness to compromise on the refugee issue. Such an approach allowed Israel to possess secure borders based on 78% of historic Palestine, and limited the Palestinian state to the other 22%, which is less than half of what the UN had offered the Palestinians its partition proposal of 1947, which at the time seemed unreasonable from a Palestinian perspective. In appraisals of the conflict this historic Palestinian concession, perhaps imprudently made by the PLO, has never been acknowledged, much less reciprocated, by either Israel or the United States. In my view, this absence of response exhibited all along a fundamental lack of political will on the Israeli side to reach a solution through inter-governmental negotiations, although some would interpret the Camp David initiative in 2000 as the last time that Israeli leadership seemed somewhat inclined to resolve the conflict diplomatically. The Palestinian Authority depends on Israel to transfer tax revenues upon which its governing capacity rests, and it can usually be brought into line if it acts in defiance of Tel Aviv and Washington. Also, collaboration on security arrangements with Israel creates both co-dependency and give a measure of stability to the otherwise frozen situation. Occasionally, seemingly with quixotic intent, the PA and Abbas challenge this image by suggesting their option to quit the political stage and return the responsibilities of administering the West Bank to Israel.

 

            The two-state consensus has been increasingly challenged over the years by influential Palestinians, including Edward Said, who toward the end of his life argued that in view of intervening developments subsequent to 1988, only a one-state solution could reconcile the two peoples in an acceptable manner based on mutual respect for rights, democracy, and equality. The advocacy of a single secular democratic state draws on two sets of arguments—a pragmatic contention that the settlement process and the changed demographic of East Jerusalem are essentially irreversible, and thus there is no feasible means at this time to create a viable Palestinian state, and this becomes more apparent with each passing day; and a principled contention that it makes no political or ethical sense in the twenty-first century to encourage the formation of ethnic states, especially as in this case, 20% of the Israeli population is Palestinian, and subject to an array of discriminatory legislative measures. In some respects, the essence of the Palestinian predicament is to acknowledge that it is too late for the two-state solution and seemingly too early for a one-state solution.

 

            Assuming that the diplomatic route is blocked, is the situation hopeless for the Palestinians? I believe that Palestinian hopes for a just peace should never have rested on the outcome of formal diplomacy for the reasons given above. Put succinctly, given the Israel failure to heed the call for withdrawal in SC Res. 242, its non-response to the 1988 PLO acceptance of Israel within the 1967 borders, and its consistent commitment to settlement expansion, no sane person should have put much faith in an Israeli readiness to make a peace respectful of Palestinian rights under international law. Currently, the best prospect for realizing Palestinian self-determination is by way of pressures exerted through the mobilization of a movement from below, combining popular resistance with global solidarity. Such a process, what I have called ‘legitimacy war,’ exemplified by Gandhi’s nonviolent victory over the British Empire and more recently by the success of the global anti-apartheid movement against racist South Africa, represents the latest strategic turn in the Palestinian national movement, and seems even compatible with the recent outlook of Hamas as expressed by its leaders and confirmed by its behavior.

 

            It is time to appreciate that the current approach of the Palestinian national movement rests on two broad undertakings: the adoption of nonviolent resistance tactics and an increasingly strengthened global solidarity movement, centered on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) initiative, which is gaining momentum throughout the world, especially in Europe. These developments are reinforced by UN calls to Member States to remind corporate and financial actors under their national control that it is problematic under international law to continue engaging in business dealings with Israeli settlements. In effect, there are horizons of hope for Palestinians with respect to seeking a just and sustainable peace between these two ethnic communities that is gaining most of its impact and influence from the actions of people rather than the maneuvers of governments. Of course, if the political climate changes in response to legitimacy war pressures, governments could have a crucial future role to play, taking advantage of a new balance of forces that could enable diplomacy to move towards solutions. Constructive diplomacy would contrast with what has recently transpired, which seemed to combine deflection from Israeli expansionism followed by participation in a childish blame game. It is important that world public opinion reject as meaningless the diplomatic charade of peace talks while the fate of a people continues to be daily sacrificed on the altar of geopolitics.