The United States and Palestine

Rashid Khalidi writes: As with many other unresolved issues in the modern Middle East, it was Great Britain rather than the United States that initially created the problem of Palestine. But in Palestine, as elsewhere, it has been the lot of the United States, Britain’s successor as undisputed hegemon over the region, to contend with the complications engendered by British policy. And as elsewhere in the Middle East, in the end the United States significantly exacerbated the conflict over Palestine that it inherited from Britain. The outlines of the problem can be simply stated: with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, Great Britain threw the weight of the greatest power of the age, one which was at that moment in the process of conquering Palestine, behind the creation of a Jewish state in what was then an overwhelmingly Arab country, against the wishes of its inhabitants. Everything that has followed until this day in that conflict-riven land has flowed inevitably from this basic decision.

Woodrow Wilson was the first American president to support Zionism publicly, and his backing was crucial to the awarding of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine to Britain. This in turn led to the inclusion of the text of the Balfour Declaration in the terms of the Mandate, committing the entire international community of that era to the establishment of a “Jewish national home.” Wilson extended the United States’ support to Zionism in spite of the results of the American King-Crane Commission, which discovered the majority Arab population of Palestine to be overwhelmingly opposed to the establishment of a Jewish national home — which they rightly feared would inexorably develop into an exclusively Jewish state in their homeland and at their expense.

Although the United States withdrew from active involvement in the League of Nations and from many other aspects of international politics soon afterwards, the impact on Palestine of these key post-World War I decisions in which the United States played a crucial role was to be lasting. Under the protection of the British Mandate, and with its invaluable support, and with financing which largely came from contributions raised from American donors, by 1939 the Zionist movement had created the nucleus of a viable, independent Jewish state. This American financing, from private and later governmental sources in the form of economic and military assistance, has been crucial to the success of the Zionist project and the state of Israel from the very beginnings and until the present day. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s ‘no-Palestinian-state’ vow raises questions about security coordination

McClatchy reports: Khawla Zeitawi is pregnant with twins, and her husband is not at her side.

Instead, her husband, Jasser Abu Omar, is in an Israeli prison, accused of being part of a terrorist cell that crafted explosives in a Nablus apartment. Zeitawi asserts that her husband is innocent, jailed on bad information from Palestinian law enforcement as part of ongoing security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Security coordination is treason,” Zeitawi said in her home in Jamain, a village near Nablus in the West Bank. “The Palestinian Authority is giving Israel a service for free.”

Since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, its security organizations have worked closely with Israel to share intelligence, arrest suspected militants and limit demonstrations in the West Bank. That cooperation was suspended during a Palestinian uprising known as the second Intifada, but has been a robust part of life in the West Bank since 2007 – and a lightning rod for complaints among the Palestinian public for almost as long.

Earlier this month, the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council voted to suspend security coordination. That vote was to protest Israel’s withholding of tax revenues, an action Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered earlier this year to punish the Palestinians for applying for membership in the International Criminal Court.

On Friday, Netanyahu ordered the release of the tax revenues, which Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf at a rate of $127 million a month. But that’s unlikely to silence Palestinian doubts about the security agreement, especially after Netanyahu won reelection in part by vowing never to allow a Palestinian state to rise while he’s prime minister. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian statehood: a lost cause?

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How the U.S. blocked Palestine’s bid for statehood in the UN Security Council

Marwan Bishara writes: The US has defeated the PLO at the UN Security Council (UNSC) by a first-round knockout, without even using its veto power.

But the humiliation won’t go unnoticed in a region that has been seeking divine intervention when its repeated calls for international intervention had failed to stop aggression and bloodshed.

Behind the UN commotion is a leadership failure on the part of the three concerned parties.

Once again, Palestinian gullibility, American cynicism and Israeli bullying, have degraded the role of the UN in putting an end to the longest case of illegal occupation in memory. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. will veto Palestinian UN bid

Ben Caspit writes: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Rome on Dec. 15, in an effort to formulate a joint position in response to planned moves by the Palestinians at the United Nations in the coming weeks.

Following the meeting, the big question still lingered: Would the Americans cast a veto over a potential Palestinian request that the United Nations’ Security Council recognize Palestine as an independent state? Netanyahu did not divulge to reporters who accompanied him on the plane whether he received an American guarantee for the sought-after veto. White House officials said the issue was still being debated.

On the night of Dec. 16, however, it became known that the decision has been made. The Americans will indeed cast a veto over the Palestinian request. This veto will be welcomed with satisfaction in Jerusalem. Surprisingly enough, Ramallah will also receive it with understanding. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s frustration with Israel on peace talks tests U.S. diplomacy

The New York Times reports: The United States finds itself caught between growing European pressure to do more to advance Middle East peace and Washington’s traditional support for Israel, which is in a heated election campaign and reluctant to make unilateral concessions.

That dynamic was at the center of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Rome and Paris on Monday. Amid rising European frustration with the collapse of the peace process, the Palestinian Authority announced Sunday that it would press for a United Nations Security Council resolution this week setting a time frame for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and for recognition of Palestine as a state.

At the same time, France, Germany and Britain were busy drafting a resolution that would call for an immediate resumption of peace talks to lead to a sovereign Palestine, United Nations diplomats said.

Sweden has already recognized Palestine as a state, various European legislatures have urged their governments to do the same, and the European Parliament is expected to vote on a nonbinding resolution recognizing Palestine on Wednesday.

Hoping to find a way to redirect those efforts, Mr. Kerry spent Monday meeting Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and European foreign ministers. He is scheduled to visit London on Tuesday to see Palestinian negotiators and the leader of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, on what has been a hastily organized trip. Mr. Kerry may find help from the Jordanians, who would have to put forward a Security Council resolution for the Palestinians and have said they are not yet committed to doing so this week.

On Sunday evening, even before meeting Mr. Kerry, the Palestinians announced their plan to press for a vote on their resolution at the Security Council as early as Wednesday. The move seemed to be an effort to pressure the United States either to veto the resolution or to come up with language, in any French-sponsored resolution, that is closer to the Palestinian position.

But with the announcement, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was also responding to internal politics after the death last week at an anti-settlement demonstration in the West Bank of a Palestinian minister, Ziad Abu Ein, who was in an altercation with Israeli forces. The Palestinians have put the blame for his death on Israel, which says he died from a stress-related heart attack. [Continue reading…]

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EU foreign chief calls for statehood on Gaza visit

AFP reports: The European Union’s new foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini Saturday appealed for the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying the world “cannot afford” another war in Gaza.

“We need a Palestinian state – that is the ultimate goal and this is the position of all the European Union,” Mogherini said during a trip to Gaza, devastated by its third conflict in six years.

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The collapse of order in the Middle East

freemanIn a speech delivered in Washington DC today, Chas Freeman said: Da`ish [ISIS] and the 15,000 foreign jihadis it has attracted are an existential threat to Arab societies and a potential menace to Muslim societies everywhere. Da`ish poses no comparable threat to the United States. Some Americans argue therefore that Da`ish doesn’t matter. A few suggest that, because tight oil and shale gas production is making North America energy self-sufficient, what happens in the Middle East as a whole should also no longer matter much to Americans. But the Persian Gulf is where international oil prices are set. If you doubt this, ask an American tight oil producer what’s happening in today’s energy markets and why. Without stability in West Asia, the global economy is also unstable.

Da`ish aspires not only to destroy the states of the Mashriq – the Arab East – but to conquer their territories and use their resources to mount attacks on the United States, European countries, Russia, and China. It wants to get its hands on the world’s major energy reserves. Its depredations are a current threat only to stability in West Asia, but its recruitment efforts are as global as its aspirations. Quite aside from the responsibility the United States bears for creating the conditions in which this dangerous cult could be born and flourish, Da`ish threatens American interests abroad today. It promises to threaten American domestic tranquility tomorrow. It sees inflicting harm on the West as a central element of its mission.

For all these reasons, Da`ish cannot be ignored by the United States or other nations outside the Middle East. It requires a response from us. But Da`ish must be actively countered first and foremost by those it targets within the region, not by the United States and its Western allies. This means that our response must be measured, limited, and calculated to avoid relieving regional players of the primary responsibility for protecting themselves from the menace to them that Da`ish represents.

Muslims – whether Shiite or Sunni or Arab, Kurd, Persian, or Turk – now have an expanding piece of Hell in their part of the Earth, a growing foulness near the center of Islam. It is almost certainly a greater threat to all of them than they have ever posed to each other. Da`ish will not be contained and defeated unless the nations and sects on its regional target list – Shiite and Sunni alike – all do their part. We should not delude ourselves. The obstacles to this happening are formidable.

Virtually every group now fighting or being victimized in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon has engaged in or been accused of terrorism by the others. Sectarian violence continues to stoke hatred in the region. The religious animosities between Shi`ites and Sunnis are more intense than ever. The geopolitical rivalry between Iran and the Gulf Arabs remains acute. The political resentments between Turks, Kurds, and Arabs and between Arabs and Persians are entrenched. Each describes the other as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Unity of command, discipline, and morale are the keys to both military and political success. Da`ish has all three. Its opponents do not. Some are dedicated to the defense of Shiite privilege. Others assign priority to dislodging Shiite or secular authority. Some insist on regime change. Others seek to prevent it. A few support Islamist democratic movements. Others seek to suppress and eradicate them. Some fear terrorism from the victims and enemies of Da`ish more than they fear Da`ish itself. Most treat opposing Da`ish as a secondary strategic objective or a means of enlisting American and other foreign support in the achievement of other priorities, not as their primary aim.

With few exceptions, the states of the region have habitually looked to outside powers for leadership as well as firepower and manpower with which to respond to major security challenges. Despite vast imports of foreign weapons systems, confidence in outside backing has enabled the countries in the region to assume that they could avoid ultimate responsibility for their own defense, relying instead on their ability to summon their American and European security partners in times of crisis. But only a coalition with a strong Muslim identity can hope to contain and shrink Da`ish.

There is no such coalition at present. Every actor in the region has an agenda that is only partially congruent with the Da`ish-related agendas of others. And every actor focuses on the reasons it cannot abide or work with some or all of the others, not on exploring the points it has in common with them. [Continue reading…]

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The Balfour declaration ‘seems like a sick joke’ — the astonishing debate on Palestine in the British Parliament

Philip Weiss writes: Yesterday [October 13] the British Parliament voted overwhelmingly (274-12) to recognize a Palestinian state, and if you listened to the debate, one theme above all else explains the crushing victory: The British public has been horrified by Gaza and its opinion of Israel has shifted. Even Conservative members of Parliament cited pressure from the public. As Labour’s Andy Slaughter said, Britain has witnessed a new “barbarism”:

I think that the British people have been on the same sort of the journey as the right hon. Member for Croydon South [Conservative Sir Richard Ottaway] described — it is certainly true of the Labour movement — from being very sympathetic to Israel as a country that was trying to achieve democracy and was embattled, to seeing it now as a bully and a regional superpower. That is not something I say with any pleasure, but since the triumph of military Zionism and the Likud-run Governments we have seen a new barbarism in that country.

Slaughter and a fellow Labour member, Kate Green, said that just as the British Parliament sent a message to Obama a year ago in voting to oppose the Conservative Prime Minister on attacking Syria, a vote Obama heeded in reversing course on a Syria attack, today the British Parliament aims to influence U.S. policy on Palestine.

The Parliamentary debate was conducted in moral terms throughout, a fact that the parliamentarians described as historic. And the discussion was astonishing in its contrast to the stifled debate on these issues in the US Congress. [Continue reading…]

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In a symbolic vote, Britain recognizes a Palestinian state

The New York Times reports: Against a backdrop of growing impatience across Europe with Israeli policy, Britain’s Parliament overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Monday night to give diplomatic recognition to a Palestinian state. The vote was a symbolic but potent indication of how public opinion has shifted since the breakdown of American-sponsored peace negotiations and the conflict in Gaza this summer.

Though the outcome of the 274-to-12 parliamentary vote was not binding on the British government, the debate was the latest evidence of how support for Israeli policies, even among staunch allies of Israel, is giving way to more calibrated positions and in some cases frustrated expressions of opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance toward the Palestinians.

Opening the debate, Grahame Morris, the Labour Party lawmaker who promoted it, said Britain had a “historic opportunity” to take “this small but symbolically important step” of recognition.

“To make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel’s agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination,” said Mr. Morris, who leads a group called Labour Friends of Palestine.

Richard Ottaway, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said that he had “stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad,” but now realized “in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion.”

“Under normal circumstances,” he said, “I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behavior in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.” [Continue reading…]

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Sweden to recognize Palestinian state

The New York Times reports: Sweden’s new center-left government has decided to recognize the state of Palestine, the new prime minister, Stefan Lofven, said during his inaugural address to Parliament on Friday.

Sweden will be the first major state of the European Union to recognize Palestine, although some East European countries did so during the Cold War, before they joined the union.

The Swedish announcement comes at a time of new tension between Israel and many European nations over the recent fighting in Gaza, the civilian casualties there and other issues. Efforts to promote boycotts of Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank have gained momentum, and the conflict in Gaza has prompted a spike in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic episodes in Europe.

Mr. Lofven leads a minority government made up of his Social Democrats and the Greens that is quite likely to be a weak government; it commands only 138 seats in Parliament — 37 short of an outright majority. The Social Democrats emerged as the largest party in elections on Sept. 14, defeating a center-right coalition led by Mr. Lofven’s predecessor, Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Though Mr. Reinfeldt’s government had been critical of Israeli policies on settlements and the recent Gaza war, it refused to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, arguing that the government there did not satisfy a basic criterion of sovereignty: to have control over its territory.

Mr. Lofven told Parliament on Friday that “the conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law.” Such a solution, he said, “requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful coexistence,” and “Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.” He did not specify when that would happen. [Continue reading…]

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Global protests in solidarity with Palestinians — #GazaDayofRage

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Freedom for Palestine: #GazaNames Project

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#48KMarch to Jerusalem — start of the Third Intifada?

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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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