Henry Siegman writes: The greetings President Obama extended last week to Israel’s new government may have sounded conciliatory, but Mr. Obama no longer entertains any illusions about Israel’s leaders.
In the wake of last month’s election, the longtime peace activists and diplomats who have devoted much of their professional lives to achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more depressed and demoralized than ever before.
Well before Mr. Netanyahu declared during the recent election campaign that Palestinians would remain under Israeli military occupation as long as he is Israel’s prime minister, Mr. Obama understood that the Israeli government’s enthusiasm for continued peace talks with the Palestinians served no purpose other than to provide cover for Israel’s continued expansion of Jewish settlements and to preclude the emergence of anything resembling a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
Faced with this grim reality, some observers naïvely rooted for the center-left Zionist Union during the campaign. But the notion that a government led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni might have produced a two-state accord with the Palestinians was also a delusion. An agreement based on the 1967 lines never appeared in the Zionist Union’s platform or crossed Mr. Herzog’s lips.
Indeed, it was clear to anyone familiar with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that what little hope remained for a two-state solution would depend on the emergence of an Israeli government entirely under the control of Israel’s far right. Only a far-right government that so deeply offends American democratic sensibilities — as this one surely will — could provide the political opening necessary for a change in America’s Middle East policy. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: A high-profile group of former European political leaders and diplomats has called for the urgent reassessment of EU policy on the question of a Palestinian state and has insisted Israel must be held to account for its actions in the occupied territories.
In a hard-hitting letter to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, the group – which includes former prime ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors also expresses serious doubts about the ability of the US to lead substantive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
It charges that EU political and financial aid has achieved nothing but the “preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza”.
The group, known as the European Eminent Persons Group, argues that the re-election of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the head of a narrow rightwing coalition has made the issue even more pressing. [Continue reading…]
Mark LeVine writes: With the coalition government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily the most ultranationalist and conservative government in Israel’s history, even the most cockeyed optimist would shrink from imagining that Oslo can still be revived, if only the right treatment were concocted.
The problem today is not that anyone but the most self-interested Israeli, Palestinian or US officials still pretends that the peace process is functioning. Rather, it’s that hardly anyone in a position of power can explain precisely when, how and especially why it died. To do so requires moving far more deeply into the dynamics of the endlessly troubled peace process than most policy-makers or commentators are willing to delve, into what I term the “quantum mechanics” underlying Oslo’s fatally flawed structures.
Israel has long claimed uniquely democratic credentials in a region besot with authoritarian regimes.
The unending occupation, the sheer chutzpah with which the Israeli government continues to expand its presence in the West Bank while sieging Gaza, the escalating protests by minorities inside the country’s 1967 borders, and the composition of the new government, all put the lie to such claims today. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: College activists favoring divestment have cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a powerful force’s oppression of a displaced group, and have formed alliances with black, Latino, Asian, Native American, feminist and gay rights organizations on campus. The coalitions — which explicitly link the Palestinian cause to issues like police brutality, immigration and gay rights — have caught many longtime Jewish leaders off guard, particularly because they belonged to such progressive coalitions less than a generation ago.
At Northwestern University this year, for example, the student government debated a divestment resolution for more than five hours, as students with clashing views sat on opposite sides of the room. Some of the talk was openly hostile, with charges of racism and colonialism.
“Discomfort is felt by every person of color on this campus,” said an Egyptian-American senior, Hagar Gomaa. “To those who say this divestment bill makes you uncomfortable, I say: Check your privilege.”
A speaker who identified herself only as a Chicana student said she was there to support Palestinians on campus.
“We have seen the racism of people who get mad that so many empowered minorities are recognizing how their struggles are tied to the Palestinian struggle,” she said. “Students have accused us of conflating many cases of oppression. To these students, I have a couple of words for you: What you call conflation, we call solidarity.” [Continue reading…]
Here’s a punchline the Obama administration could affix to the Middle East right now: With allies like these, who needs enemies?
If you happen to be in that administration, that region must seem like an increasingly phantasmagorical place. America’s closest allies, Israel and the Saudis, have been expressing something close to loathing for President Obama and his policies. In fact, you could think of the Saudi rulers as the John McCains of the Arabian Peninsula. Appalled to find Washington in something approaching a tacit alliance with their Iranian enemies in Iraq and actively negotiating a no-sanctions-for-nuclear-restrictions deal with that country, the Saudis launched a war of their own in Yemen and essentially forced the Obama administration into supporting it. Then they visibly ignored Washington’s pressure to end their bombing campaign — or rather claimed they were cutting back on it without evidently doing so — which has been devastating to Yemeni civilians and ineffective in stopping the advances of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Though there’s been relatively little in-depth media coverage of this curious moment in Riyadh-Washington relations, when the inside story does come out, it will undoubtedly prove to be a spectacle.
On the other hand, coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hijinks vis-à-vis Washington and the president’s Iran policy has been unending, involving open hostility played out on a global stage as well as in front of the American Congress. No wonder that, at the recent White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner, the president joked, “I look so old, John Boehner has already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”
While Secretary of State John Kerry publicly expresses a kind of fealty to the Saudi war effort in Yemen that a worried administration clearly doesn’t feel, its officials are now holding their noses, gagging a bit, and — to smooth the way for a possible future Iran nuclear deal — trying to tamp down the ongoing controversy with Netanyahu and the much-publicized rift with Israel.
Watching the Obama administration handle these strange new animosities and alliances is like seeing a contortionist tie himself in knots, while across the Middle East the chaos only increases on the principle of: every state a failed state. In such chaos, with its closest allies playing fast and loose with Washington, with terror groups rising and animosities swirling, it’s easy to lose sight of what might be considered the ur-struggle of our era in the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So today, TomDispatch turns back to that never-ending struggle, offering a report from Sandy Tolan on the aspect we in the U.S. hear least about: the increasing hemming in of Palestinians in what no longer looks like a future state, but a sliced and diced occupied land. Tolan’s new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music In a Hard Land, is a moving account of one Palestinian’s efforts to create a little breathing space in a landscape that otherwise couldn’t be more claustrophobic by founding a music school amid all the dissonance. Tom Engelhardt
The flute at the checkpoint
The everyday politics of confinement in Palestine
By Sandy Tolan
The SUV slows as it approaches a military kiosk at a break in a dull gray wall. Inside, Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician, prepares his documents for the Israeli soldier standing guard. On the other side of this West Bank military checkpoint lies the young man’s destination, the ancient Palestinian town of Sebastia. Fellow musicians are gathering there that afternoon to perform in the ruins of an amphitheater built during Roman times. In the back seat, his wife, Celine, tends their one-year-old son, Hussein, his blond locks curling over the collar of his soccer jersey.
Ramzi is in a hurry to set up for the concert, but it doesn’t matter. The soldier promptly informs him that he cannot pass. “Those are the orders,” he adds without further explanation, directing him to another entrance 45 minutes away. Turning the car around, Ramzi then drives beneath Shavei Shomron, a red-roofed Israeli settlement perched high on a hill, and then an “outpost” of hilltop trailers planted by a new wave of settlers. Finally, he passes through a series of barriers and looping barbed wire, reaching the designated entrance, where another soldier waves him through. He arrives in time for the concert.
Israel declared its independence in 1948. Less than twenty years later it expanded its territorial control across the West Bank and Gaza (and Sinai).
What has subsequently come to be referred to as “The Occupation” has referred to the status quo which (with a few modifications) has endured for the overwhelming majority of Israel’s existence.
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, and the so-called “peace process” which followed, have merely provided political cover for the relentless expansion of Jewish settlement and Palestinian dispossession across the West Bank.
What right-wing Zionists refer to as Judea and Samaria is not an aspiration — it is the political reality of a state in which full democratic rights are granted to Jews but not Palestinians.
While the mantras of ending the occupation and dismantling the settlements have tirelessly been repeated, year after year, the settlements have grown.
Both the terms settlement and occupation, mask with seeming impermanence a reality that has been set in reinforced concrete.
Given that over the course of more than twenty years, no progress whatsoever has been made towards the implementation of a two-state solution, the fact that it has now been rejected by Benjamin Netanyahu is a non-event. Yet this is a non-event that is deeply upsetting to many American Jews.
It’s not that they believed that peace was just around the corner. On the contrary, the value of the two-state solution has never derived from expectations about the future. Instead, its value is based very much in the present.
For liberal Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — the two-state solution ideologically sanitized Israel by ostensibly embodying the desire that the political aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians could be recognized. If this promise is taken away, liberals are deprived of a fiction that allowed them to avoid confronting the illiberal nature of the Jewish state.
Americans want to be able to say they support Israel and democracy and Israel is forcing them to choose between the two.
Noam Sheizaf provided a reality check for participants at the J Street conference in Washington DC this week, when he said:
In Israel, we’ve got to the point where arguing for a state for all its citizens — equal rights for everyone — is a form of ‘Arab nationalism’ that should be made illegal. While arguing for an ethnic state that gives privileges to one group over the other is ‘democracy’…
I am 40 and I only know one Israel — and that’s from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea. And in which there live Palestinians and Jews, roughly the same size of populations — they’re totally mixed with each other. They’re mixed in the Galilee, they’re mixed along the coast, they’re mixed in the West Bank by now, they’re mixed in the Negev — everywhere Jews living next to Palestinians.
One group has everything — all the rights — the other one has privileges given to it according to a complicated system of citizenship and where they happen to live and where their grandparents were in ’48…
I think we need to start looking at this in civil rights issues, if that’s what we believe in — and that’s the kind of activism I’m looking for. Not redrawing maps in a way that will keep some people in and some people out so that we can call themself [a] democracy.
Sheizaf also took J Street to task for its failure to talk about Gaza:
David Shulman writes: Benjamin Netanyahu has won again. He will have no difficulty putting together a solid right-wing coalition. But the naked numbers may be deceptive. What really counts is the fact that the Israeli electorate is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases proto-fascist, figures. It is in no way inclined to make peace. It has given a clear mandate for policies that preclude any possibility of moving toward a settlement with the Palestinians and that will further deepen Israel’s colonial venture in the Palestinian territories, probably irreversibly.
Netanyahu’s shrill public statements during the last two or three days before the vote may account in part for Likud’s startling margin of victory. For the first time since his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, he explicitly renounced a two-state solution and swore that no Palestinian state would come into existence on his watch. He promised vast new building projects in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. He made it clear that Israel would make no further territorial concessions, anywhere, since any land that would be relinquished would, in his view, immediately be taken over by Muslim terrorists.
And then there was his truly astonishing, by now notorious statement on election day itself, in which he urged Jewish voters to rush to the polls because “the Arabs are voting in droves.” One might have thought that those Arab voters were members of the body politic he headed as prime minister. Imagine a white American president calling on whites to vote because “blacks are voting in large numbers.” If there’s a choice to be made between democratic values and fierce Jewish tribalism, there’s no doubt what the present and future prime minister of Israel would choose. [Continue reading…]
In a recent speech, Chas W. Freeman said: I want to speak with you today about the Middle East. This is the region where Africa, Asia, and Europe come together. It is also the part of the world where we have been most compellingly reminded that some struggles cannot be won, but there are no struggles that cannot be lost.
It is often said that human beings learn little useful from success but can learn a great deal from defeat. If so, the Middle East now offers a remarkably rich menu of foreign-policy failures for Americans to study.
• Our four-decade-long diplomatic effort to bring peace to the Holy Land sputtered to an ignominious conclusion a year ago.
• Our unconditional political, economic, and military backing of Israel has earned us the enmity of Israel’s enemies even as it has enabled egregiously contemptuous expressions of ingratitude and disrespect for us from Israel itself.
• Our attempts to contain the Iranian revolution have instead empowered it.
• Our military campaigns to pacify the region have destabilized it, dismantled its states, and ignited ferocious wars of religion among its peoples.
• Our efforts to democratize Arab societies have helped to produce anarchy, terrorism, dictatorship, or an indecisive juxtaposition of all three.
• In Iraq, Libya, and Syria we have shown that war does not decide who’s right so much as determine who’s left.
• Our campaign against terrorism with global reach has multiplied our enemies and continuously expanded their areas of operation.
• Our opposition to nuclear proliferation did not prevent Israel from clandestinely developing nuclear weapons and related delivery systems and may not preclude Iran and others from following suit.
• At the global level, our policies in the Middle East have damaged our prestige, weakened our alliances, and gained us a reputation for militaristic fecklessness in the conduct of our foreign affairs. They have also distracted us from challenges elsewhere of equal or greater importance to our national interests.
That’s quite a record.
One can only measure success or failure by reference to what one is trying achieve. So, in practice, what have U.S. objectives been? Are these objectives still valid? If we’ve failed to advance them, what went wrong? What must we do now to have a better chance of success? [Continue reading…]
Dimi Reider writes: Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday announced that his commitment to a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel was no longer relevant.
The statement was released by the prime minister’s Likud party following the circulation of a synagogue newsletter, which catalogued the different parties’ stances on a Palestinian state. The newsletter claimed the prime minister announced that his 2009 Bar Ilan speech, where he made the commitment, was “null and void,” and emphasized that Netanyahu’s entire political biography was “opposition to the Palestinian state.”
After initially attributing the comment to MK Tzipi Hotovely and denying she represented anyone’s position but her own, the Likud changed tack Sunday evening. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in the present situation in the Middle East, any vacated territory will be immediately overtaken by radical Islam and terrorist organizations sponsored by Iran,” a party statement read. “For this reason, there will be no withdrawals and no concessions, this is simply irrelevant.” [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: A group claiming to be former agents of Israel’s Mossad threatened to unleash a devastating cyber attack on South Africa unless its government cracked down on the growing campaign to boycott Israel, according to intelligence documents leaked to Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.
According to the reports, then-Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan received a note from “unknown sources” on June 28, 2012, threatening a cyber attack “against South Africa’s banking and financial sectors.” The hand-delivered letter gave the government just 30 days to achieve the “discontinuation of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and the removal and prosecution of some unidentified individuals linked to BDS”.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has historically aligned itself with the Palestinian national struggle, and the BDS campaign there involves some high profile anti-apartheid struggle figures such as Nelson Mandela’s close friend and fellow Robben Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada. [Continue reading…]
Reuters: Israel set a 10-year record last year for the number of tenders it issued for construction in settlements on occupied land in the Palestinian territories, the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now said on Monday.
In a report published as Benjamin Netanyahu is running a close race for re-election on March 17, Peace Now blamed Israel’s settlement housing plans for scuttling U.S.-brokered peace talks that collapsed in April.
The report said the invitations to bid for building contracts in the settlements had tripled since 2013 on average compared to the 2009-2013 period of Netanyahu’s previous administration.
Gideon Levy writes: Only one scenario is worse than the reelection on March 17 of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, and that’s the election of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (and his political partner Tzipi Livni). Another term for Netanyahu would be a disaster, but a victory for Zionist Camp could be a worse disaster.
Yes, it’s true there’s no comparison between Herzog and Netanyahu — or between their parties. Herzog is a moderate, modest, fair person who’s much more liked than Netanyahu; the same can be said for Livni.
And Zionist Camp’s Knesset slate is of much higher quality than Likud’s. Not only does Zionist Camp not have thugs like Likud, it doesn’t have people with nationalist and racist views inciting and agitating. The CVs of most Zionist Camp candidates are much more impressive.
Now let’s assume Zionist Camp wins. Jubilation; Netanyahu will be ousted and a new day will dawn in Israel with a Herzog-Livni government. Actually, the first and most dramatic change will come from abroad — a global sigh of relief. [Continue reading…]
Reuters: The International Criminal Court has launched an inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, opening a path to possible charges against Israelis or Palestinians.
In a statement on Friday, prosecutors said they would examine “in full independence and impartiality” crimes that may have occurred since June 13 last year. This allows the court to delve into the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza in July-August 2014 during which more than 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed.
The U.S. State Department said it strongly disagreed with the move. The United States has argued that Palestine is not a state and therefore not eligible to join the ICC.
Roger Cohen writes: Uneasiness inhabits Israel, a shadow beneath the polished surface. In a violent Middle Eastern neighborhood of fracturing states, that is perhaps inevitable, but Israelis are questioning their nation and its future with a particular insistence. As the campaign for March elections begins, this disquiet looks like the precursor of political change. The status quo, with its bloody and inconclusive interludes, has become less bearable. More of the same has a name: Benjamin Netanyahu, now in his third term as prime minister. The alternative, although less clear, is no longer unthinkable.
“There is a growing uneasiness, social, political, economic,” Amos Oz, the novelist, told me in an interview. “There is a growing sense that Israel is becoming an isolated ghetto, which is exactly what the founding fathers and mothers hoped to leave behind them forever when they created the state of Israel.” The author, widely viewed as the conscience of a liberal and anti-Messianic Israel, continued, “Unless there are two states — Israel next door to Palestine — and soon, there will be one state. If there will be one state, it will be an Arab state. The other option is an Israeli dictatorship, probably a religious nationalist dictatorship, suppressing the Palestinians and suppressing its Jewish opponents.”
If that sounds stark, it is because choices are narrowing. Every day, it seems, another European government or parliament expresses support for recognition of a Palestinian state. A Palestinian-backed initiative at the United Nations, opposed in its current form by the United States, is aimed at pushing Israel to withdraw from the West Bank by 2017. The last Gaza eruption, with its heavy toll and messy outcome, changed nothing. Hamas, its annihilationist hatred newly stoked, is still there parading its weapons. Tension is high in Jerusalem after a spate of violent incidents. Life is expensive. Netanyahu’s credibility on both the domestic and international fronts has dwindled. [Continue reading…]