Opponents of Palestinian state push for Greater Israel and advocate ethnic cleansing

The Washington Post reports: As Secretary of State John F. Kerry resumes talks here Wednesday in the quest to create “two states for two people,” a vocal faction in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is, more openly than ever, opposing the very idea of a Palestinian state — and putting forward its own plans to take, rather than give away, territory.

Ministers in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition and leaders of his party, the Likud, are in revolt against the international community’s long-held consensus that there should be two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In the process, they are seeking to overturn the commitments of every U.S. president since Bill Clinton and at least four Israeli prime ministers, including the current one.

While once content to simply voice their opposition to giving up what they see as Jewish land or rights in the West Bank, these two-state opponents have gone beyond shouting “no” and are preparing details of their own vision for how Israel should proceed unilaterally after the current round of peace talks fails — which they say is inevitable.

“The day after peace talks fail, we need to have Plan B,” said Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely, a rising star in the Likud party and deputy minister of transportation in Netanyahu’s government.

Instead of a sovereign Palestinian nation arising in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital — which has been the focus of on-again, off-again peace negotiations since the Oslo Accords in 1993 — the two-state opponents envision Israel annexing large swaths of the West Bank. [Continue reading...]

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Mr. President, don’t forget the Nakba

The Road to Nowhere by Ismail Shammout

Yousef Munayyer writes: Tomorrow, Air Force One will land in my hometown. Lydda, a historic Palestinian city, is where the airport is (not Tel Aviv). Just like the Palestinians, the airport was there before the state of Israel. It was only named after Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, in 1973.

Unbeknownst to most observers, President Barack Obama is actually traveling to the region on the anniversary of a pivotal day in the history of Palestine. Sixty-five years ago, in a township called Lake Success, NY, a chain of events would be set into motion that would lead to disaster for Palestinians.

Lake Success, a township on Long Island, was home to the United Nations long before it moved to its iconic eastside headquarters. There, on March 19, 1948, ambassadors and delegates were gathered to discuss the implementation of the 1947 Partition plan for Palestine. The British mandate was drawing to a close within weeks. Many people know that the U.N. passed a general assembly resolution in favor of partitioning Palestine in November 1947. Few people know, however, that on this day, the United States — which had originally voted for partition — withdrew its support for the plan and favored instead something closer to a one-state outcome.

For the Zionists, this was a blow to their political scheme. They had worked on their colonial project for decades, and now after a partition plan had been announced and just as the British Mandatory forces were beginning to withdraw, the United States, the most important player on the international scene after WWII, was backing out. The Zionists were so close to establishing their goal only to see it stymied by diplomats in New York.

There was another plan, of course. It was called Plan Dalet. The military plan for the conquest of Palestine was adopted by the Zionists days earlier. Ben Gurion, in response to America’s withdrawal of support for partition, was defiant. He declared that “the tactical establishment of the Jewish state depends on Jewish strength. It is by our power, mobilized to the utmost, that the state will arise.”

If the international community wasn’t going to give the Zionists a state of their own in Palestine at the expense of the natives, the Zionists were determined to take it by force. [Continue reading...]

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Opening the Gate of the Sun

Adam Shatz writes: At 2.30 on Sunday morning, the Israeli army removed 250 Palestinians from Bab al-Shams, a village in the so-called E1 corridor: 13 square kilometres of undeveloped Palestinian land between East Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank with a population of 40,000. Israel has had designs on E1 for more than a decade: colonising it would realise the vision of a ‘Greater Jerusalem’, and eliminate the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. After the UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would build 4000 new settler homes in E1. The high court issued a six-day injunction against his order to ‘evacuate’ Bab al-Shams, but Netanyahu was in no mood to wait. Once the Palestinians had been driven out, the land was declared a closed ‘military zone’.

It was another bleak day in the story of Palestinians trying to hold onto their land in the face of Israeli expansionism. But it was also something else. Bab al-Shams was no ordinary village, but a tent encampment set up by Palestinian activists, a number of them veterans of the Popular Resistance Committees who have been organising weekly demonstrations against the ‘separation fence’ in the villages of Bil’in and Nil’in. Several journalists noted that the residents of Bab al-Shams used the same tactics as Israeli settlers: pitching their tents, laying claim to the land, establishing ‘facts on the ground’. But the differences were more significant than the resemblances. The pioneers of Bab al-Shams were Palestinians, not foreigners. When settlers establish wildcat outposts, they know that the authorities may chastise them for it but will nonetheless soon supply them with electricity and water, and even build roads and access routes on their behalf. The people of Bab al-Shams knew that an IDF demolition crew would appear in due course: less than three days, as it turned out.

Bab al-Shams took its name from Elias Khoury’s epic novel, published in 1998. In the book, Bab al-Shams (‘the gate of the sun’) is a secret cave where a Palestinian fighter, Yunis, and his wife, Nahilah, meet to make love. They turn it into ‘a house, a village, a country’. Nahilah calls it the only liberated part of Palestine. Khoury gave his blessing to the village of Bab al-Shams. ‘What these guys did in three days,’ he told me, ‘was they opened the Gate of the Sun and liberated a small part of Palestine.’ [Continue reading...]

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Palestine governed by the status quo

Joseph Dana writes: Amid a sea of green Hamas flags in the centre of Nablus, Abdul Rahim Rabaiya expressed satisfaction that Hamas had returned to the West Bank after a five-year absence. A modest schoolteacher, Rabaiya passionately argued that the Palestinian street needs Hamas to force change on the West Bank. Hamas, forced underground by the Palestinian Authority, sweeps over the past years of political division. The rally marked what some see as an olive branch from Fatah to Hamas in order to kick-start reconciliation efforts.

But despite the passionate chants ringing through the narrow and ancient streets of Nablus, Hamas’s first West Bank rally in more than five years failed to attract more than 4,000 people. One shopkeeper dismissed the entire event outright. “We are the products that these politicians sell,” he said. “If there is unity, it will be bad for us. The United Nations should run Palestine.”

Undoubtedly, the final months of 2012 saw dramatic events unfold in Israel and Palestine. Hamas, long isolated diplomatically, staged a veritable diplomatic coup with unprecedented visits from Arab leaders like the Emir of Qatar, who pledged more than $400 million (Dh1.46 billion) to the Islamic movement in Gaza. A quick but brutal conflict erupted between Israel and Hamas with all of the trimmings of the last conflict, back in 2009, which turned the Gaza Strip into a battleground.

Demonstrating the changing contours of the Middle East since the Arab revolutions, Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi asserted his country’s new position as a regional broker and negotiated a fragile ceasefire between the two sides, which, surprisingly, has held. In a major boast to Hamas – and evidence of Egypt’s changing role in the region – Morsi has even pledged to ease border restrictions at the Rafah border crossing, the only crossing into Gaza not controlled by Israel.

The West Bank has not been immune to changes as well. Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chairman Mahmoud Abbas continued his quixotic statehood campaign at the UN and delivered the Palestinians de facto state recognition. More than mere symbolism, the Palestinians may now have access to institutions such as the International Criminal Court, which could be used to prosecute Israel for rights violations and murder.

Yet, these efforts seem to be lost on the Palestinian people.

The ferocious manner in which Fatah and Hamas are fighting for the approval of the Palestinian street is all the more breathtaking given the general sense of apathy that hangs over Palestine.

Exhausted from the Second Intifada and life under military occupation, Palestinians generally seem more interested in making ends meet than political revolution. [Continue reading...]

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Israel raids Palestinian NGO offices

Reuters reports: Israeli soldiers raided the offices of three civil society organizations on Tuesday in the heart of Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Entering before dawn, troops wrenched open the doors of the Women’s Union, the Palestinian NGO Network and Addameer, an advocate for Palestinians in Israeli jails, confiscating five computers from the latter group.

The sweeps were the first of their kind in a Palestinian city since the West Bank government won an initiative at the United Nations General Assembly on November 29 which recognized a de facto Palestinian state, stoking tensions with Israel.

“This comes in the context of the U.N.’s decision,” Allam Jarrar of the Palestinian NGO Network told reporters on Tuesday morning, “boycott Israel” leaflets strewn on the floor of the raided office.

“This a message by the Israelis to the Palestinians, saying that when they take decisions or form patriotic organizations to seek their freedom, the occupation will use aggression to try and stop us,” he said.

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Palestinians skeptical about significance of U.N. vote

The Economist: With the triumphant arrival of Khalid Meshal, the leader of Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, on December 7th, President Mahmoud Abbas could be forgiven for wondering who will remember his return from the United Nations armed with international recognition of Palestine as a non-member state.

“Jubilant Palestinians celebrate UN vote,” trumpeted Fox News, an American cable news channel. “Abbas returns to hero’s welcome,” cried Al Jazeera. But for all the international fanfare accompanying the overwhelming international support for Mr Abbas, at home the Palestinian public failed to rally with the exuberance Mr Abbas’s spokesmen and the international media claimed. Only a few hundred people—mostly civil servants, journalists and plain-clothes police in their tell-tale fur-lined jackets—filled the small space in front of a stage of Ramallah’s small central square where the Palestinian Authority relayed President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech. Elsewhere the streets seemed eerily quiet.

For Mr Abbas’s international backers, who hoped that the UN vote might bolster his domestic standing, the turnout was disappointing. Hours before the vote on November 29th, European diplomats predicted that tens of thousands would attend. While 138 countries voted for Mr Abbas’s resolution, his own population appeared agnostic at best. Orjwan, a raucous bar favoured by Ramallah’s moneyed elite had more clientele than PA-sponsored rallies in some Palestinian cities. Although two television screens relayed the UN vote in the packed bar, the volume was muted. Mr Abbas “epitomises the decades devoted to a fruitless peace process and trust in the international community,” says a Palestinian businesswoman, who stayed away from the rallies. “It doesn’t convince anyone.”

Many Palestinians are dubious that the vote will prompt outsiders to do anything to end Israel’s 45-year-long occupation. Twenty years of international grand-standing from the White House lawns to the UN podium have left Israel’s hold on the West Bank increasingly entrenched with three times more Jewish settlers occupying the territory than when the Oslo process began in 1993. Ironically, the strongest show of support for Mr Abbas’s UN bid took place in Hamas’s enclave of Gaza, where an estimated 7,000 took to the streets. Based in the Highlands of the West Bank, Mr Abbas has not visited Gaza since 2007, and has no control on the ground. [Continue reading...]

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Video: Palestine — state of play

Peter Beinart, Ethan Bronner, Tony Karon, and Rashid Khalidi, in discussion with Marwan Bishara.

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Obama’s cynicism on Israel and Palestine

M.J. Rosenberg writes: The U.S. vote against raising the status of Palestine at the United Nations was a deeply cynical move. It was cynical because there is not a chance that President Obama believes that he did the right thing. It is also cynical because, in the name of friendship for Israel, Obama led Israel closer to the cliff.

The last thing a true friend of Israel would have done would be to stand by as Israel demonstrated its almost complete international isolation. Just eight countries backed the Israeli position – the US, Panama, Palau, Canada, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Czech Republic and Micronesia – while 138 voted with the Palestinians. Was this display helpful to Israel?

But Obama was not trying to be helpful. The administration enabled this “disaster” (from Israel’s point of view) because Obama seems to truly not care about Israelis or Palestinians.

Take the two most recent examples. The first was his absolute refusal to express a word of sympathy for the Palestinians killed in the Gaza war. Under previous administrations, certainly under every Democratic administration, sympathy was expressed for the dead and injured on both sides along with a call for an end to the fighting. But Obama would not do that. Even when asked directly his spokesperson at the State Department would only speak of Israel’s pain. (To her credit, Secretary of State Clinton did say that she felt for both sides.)

But not Obama. He is determined not only to demonstrate that there is “no daylight” separating the two countries but that no amount of darkness separates us either.

The argument that he has to behave this way because of the power of the lobby doesn’t hold up. I would be the last person in the world to deny that the lobby is a powerful force in the making of U.S. Middle East policy. But, unless there is some mysterious element to the lobby’s power that I am missing, its ability to intimidate ends when a president is re-elected. [Continue reading...]

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The heart of Israel leaves no room for Palestine

Just hours before the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of granting Palestine the status of a non-member state, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “As prime minister, I will not allow the growth of another Iranian terror base in Judea and Samaria – the heart of the country – just a kilometer outside of central Jerusalem.”

The Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor repeated the same talking point in his speech before the General Assembly: “Israel remains committed to peace, but we will not establish another Iranian terror base in the heart of our country.”

The “heart of the country” both referred to is the West Bank — or Judea and Samaria as Zionists prefer to call it.

Netanyahu may claim to support a two-state solution, but even after what was billed as an historic declaration in his speech in 2009, Israel’s settlements have continued to expand “in the heart of the country” and that country is Greater Israel, not Palestine.

As the world — with the exception of a handful of countries bound by servile ties to Israel — spoke with one voice in support of the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel stuck up its middle finger in defiance and approved yet more settlements.

The New York Times reports: As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

The prime minister’s office refused to comment on whether the settlement expansion — first reported on Twitter by a reporter for the Israeli daily Haaretz — was punishment for the Palestinians’ success in upgrading its status from nonmember observer entity to nonmember observer state at the United Nations, but it was widely seen as such. The United States, one of only eight countries that stood with Israel in voting against the Palestinians’ upgrade, has for two decades vigorously opposed construction in E1, a 3,000-acre expanse of hilly parkland where a police station was opened in 2008.

In Washington, a State Department official criticized the move. “We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction,” he said. “We believe it is counterproductive and makes it harder to resume direct negotiations and achieve a two-state outcome.”

Hagit Ofran, who runs the Settlement Watch project of Peace Now, called E1 a “deal breaker for the two-state solution” and denounced the decision as “disastrous.” [Continue reading...]

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U.S., Israel isolated in condemning Palestine vote

AFP reports: The United States and Israel downplayed Thursday the Palestinians’ new upgraded status at the UN, saying it changed nothing in actual practice and even made peace with the Jewish state a remoter prospect.

Palestinians rejoiced at the historic albeit largely symbolic vote at the UN General Assembly in New York, firing guns into the air in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, shooting off fireworks and embracing each other with glee.

In between the two ends of the spectrum were major powers like Britain, which said it respected the vote but abstained on the grounds that the Palestinians had not unconditionally agreed to negotiations on a lasting two-state deal with Israel.

Britain pledged support for efforts to reach an elusive peace accord, as did France, which voted for the resolution but called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks without conditions and as soon as possible.

The Vatican welcomed the 138-9 vote, saying it reflected the majority sentiment of the international community and the Holy See had long encouraged more global involvement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Peace needs courageous decisions,” it said in a statement.

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Video: Remembering when Jerusalem was a peaceful Arab city

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Britain must atone for its sins in Palestine

Nabeel Shaath writes: Over the past few weeks, British diplomats have stated that they are doing all they can to discourage Palestine’s bid for “observer state” status in the UN General Assembly. If this is an official British position, then it is reprehensible, yet not all that surprising.

Ninety-five years ago tomorrow, on November 2, 1917, British imperialism in Palestine began when Lord Balfour, the then British foreign secretary and former prime minister, sent a letter to Baron Rothschild, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement. This letter became known as the “Balfour Declaration”.

In that letter, Balfour promised British support for the Zionist programme of establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This pledge of support was made without consulting the indigenous Christian and Muslim inhabitants of Palestine, the Palestinian people. And it was made before British troops had even conquered the land.

Balfour, on behalf of Britain, promised Palestine – over which Britain had no legal right – to a people who did not even live there (of the very small community of Palestinian Jews in Palestine in 1917, very few were Zionists). And he did so with the worst of intentions: to discourage Jewish immigration to Britain. No wonder Lord Montagu, the only Jewish member of the Cabinet, opposed the declaration.

And yet, just two years earlier, Britain had committed herself to assisting the Arab nations in achieving their independence from the Ottoman Empire. Arab fighters all over the region, including thousands of Palestinians, fought for their freedom, allowing Britain to establish her mandate in Palestine.

From that moment, Palestine became the victim of colonial conspiracies. The Balfour Declaration helped to encourage Zionist immigration into Palestine and away from America and Western Europe. Concomitantly, Britain repressed Palestinian nationalism, which was exemplified by its crushing of the Arab revolt of 1936-1939 and the denial of the right of the Palestinian people to express their will through their own representation. In fact, Britain suppressed Palestinian political representation through a policy of systematic denial of Palestinian political rights.

The dying days of Britain’s rule in Palestine were marked by destruction, blood, and the start of the Palestinian exile, meaning the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people against the backdrop of Zionist terrorism. It was not the Palestinians who blew up the King David Hotel, who blew up the British Embassy in Rome, who tried to assassinate Ernest Bevin, Britain’s foreign secretary, and who succeeded in assassinating Lord Moyne, British minister of state in the Middle East. That was the Irgun, an ideological Right-wing group – and the predecessor to Israel’s ruling Likud Party. [Continue reading...]

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Israelis recognizing the Nakba

Rooftop view of Lydda and the Church of St George in the background, circa 1920.

Ruins of Lydda, 1948.

Raja Shehadeh writes: Last Friday, some 40 Israeli Jews and Arabs gathered in Lydda, a small mixed Arab-Israeli city less than 10 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, for “a study tour” featuring “Zionist testimonies from 1948.” It was part of the project Towards a Common Archive, sponsored by Zochrot (Hebrew for remembering), an Israeli organization that hopes to bring “awareness and recognition of the Nakba” to Jewish Israelis so that they can take “responsibility for this tragedy.”

The Nakba refers to the expulsion of the Palestinians from the newly minted state of Israel. On no issue do Israelis and Palestinians differ more. Israelis celebrate May 15, 1948, as their day of independence; for Palestinians, it marks the “catastrophe.” That an Israeli group like Zochrot should organize a trip to a city where some of the Nakba’s worst atrocities occurred is an important and necessary attempt to bridge this nagging gap in perceptions.

During three and a half hours we got a description — in both Arabic and Hebrew — of the Arab city as it existed before 1948. We visited the old town, the church and the mosque where some Arab inhabitants hid in July 1948 to avoid expulsion. We also visited the site of the ghetto where 5,000 of the town’s 50,000 residents (including refugees from neighboring villages) were confined for one year after the Nakba, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by Israeli soldiers. (They eventually became Israeli citizens and were allowed to stay in Israel.)

The group listened in respectful silence as the Palestinian guide, Ziad Abu Hamad, a descendant of Lydda’s few remaining original residents, described what his parents had told him about their hardships. A woman in her late 60s and other Arab residents approached us, pointing to the buildings that had been their family homes and which they have had to rent or buy back from those who took them away.

Wherever we stopped, members of Zochrot put up commemorative signs describing in Arabic and Hebrew what had happened at the sites. When I asked how long the posts would remain, I was told: until nightfall at best, or until some Israeli right-winger destroys them.

Present-day Lydda (which Israelis call Lod) is known for being one of the most violent cities in Israel and a center of drug addiction, and I expected our group to be stopped or heckled. But we made it through the dark history of the city in the clear midday sun without a hitch.

At the end we wound up in the hall of an old stone building where we were shown videos of two Israeli fighters from the elite Jewish force, the Palmach, testifying about their role in the Nakba.

Yerachmiel Kahanovich described how he had dug a hole in the wall of the Dahmash Mosque in the center of Lydda, where more than 150 Palestinians had taken shelter, and shot an anti-tank shell through it. Asked what had happened to the Palestinians, he said they were all crushed against the walls by the pressure from the blast. [Continue reading...]

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Video: Sheikh Jarrah, my neighbourhood

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Debate: The UN should admit Palestine as a full member state

An edited version of this debate can be heard on this NPR page.

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The inexorable advance towards a Greater Israel

Patrick Seale writes: This past year has dealt a heavy blow — perhaps even a terminal one — to the project, long supported by the international community, of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of two states. When the United States itself proved unable to halt Israel’s relentless land grab, it seemed that nothing and nobody could rein in Israel’s iron-willed ambition to expand its borders towards a “Greater Israel.”

What will the immediate future bring? In the continued absence of firm international intervention, the likeliest scenario is that Israel will seek to consolidate its hold over 40 percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, either by settlement expansion or outright annexation. The main centres of Arab population, such as Nablus, Jericho and Ramallah, would be fenced off, although Israel might allow them corridors to Jordan. This first stage of the project would, of course, be portrayed by Israel as a painful concession.

If Israel managed to get away with it, the next stage could be a good deal more radical, and could possibly involve the expulsion of large numbers of Palestinians, probably under the cover of war as occurred in 1948 and 1967, so as to complete the creation of a Greater Israel between the sea and the river.

After the experience of the past two years, no one should have the slightest doubt that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition is utterly determined to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Bantustans, for a while perhaps, but a Palestinian state, never! Netanyahu is known to be profoundly influenced by his father, the historian Benzion Natanyahu, now 101 years old, who was once the secretary of Ze’ev Jabotinsky – “the father of Revisionist Zionism” — and who remains a life-long passionate believer in a Greater Israel. He petitioned against the UN Partition Plan for Palestine of 29 November 1947 because he, and others like him, wanted the whole of Palestine for the Jews. That remains his dream.

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