international affairs, middle east, obama, politics

Amid the Cease-Fires, a Broken Peace Process

Published by the American Conservative Magazine on August 5th, 2014

Following yet another ill-fated push at a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the latest Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip has been marked by the making and breaking of cease-fires, the latest reportedly starting this morning. The human toll has been devastating—overwhelmingly so for the Palestinians. Over 1,700 Palestinians and 60 Israelis have died (so far) in the 28-day operation, overtaking the death toll of “Operation Cast Lead” (2008-09), which lasted 22 days. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for yet another inquiry into what it sees as “possible war crimes,” just like it did for “Operation Cast Lead” (2008-09), which produced the Goldstone Report. Israel’s global image is suffering as the Palestinian dead mount.

Whatever the long-term consequences of this latest episode in the most protracted military occupation in modern history, many Israelis may very well come to see Netanyahu’s rejection of the latest peace plan, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as a missed opportunity.

Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s leading correspondents, spoke to numerous senior U.S. officials who were involved in the latest Kerry-led push. Barnea’s conversations with these officials provide a rather clear picture of what Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was willing to concede to his Israeli counterparts:

He [Abbas] agreed to a demilitarized state; he agreed to the border outline so 80 percent of settlers would continue living in Israeli territory; he agreed for Israel to keep security sensitive areas (mostly in the Jordan Valley – NB) for five years, and then the United States would take over. He accepted the fact that in the Israeli perception, the Palestinians would never be trustworthy.

He also agreed that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and agreed that the return of Palestinians to Israel would depend on Israeli willingness. ‘Israel won’t be flooded with refugees,’ he promised.

In other words, Abbas and the P.A. gave away the house. They conceded key settlement blocs, the Jewish parts of East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian right of return. A two-state solution based on U.N. Resolution 242, 338, and 194 would not have included such concessions to Israel.

Still, Netanyahu said no, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and that Israel maintain “complete control over the territories.” Then, Israel’s Housing and Construction Ministry, headed by Uri Ariel (“an extremist who opposes any agreement with the Palestinians,” according to Barnea), announced the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem by 700 housing units. The entire Kerry process fell apart, and Abbas began to focus on forming a unity government with Hamas.

This act of national reconciliation, by which Hamas essentially adopted Abbas’ program for dealing with Israel, was what ultimately provoked the latest punishment of Gaza. Hamas provided no repudiation of Mahmoud Abbas’ concessions after moving into reconciliation. Despite its awful charter, Hamas has, according to a 2009 report by the United States Institute of Peace, sent Israel “repeated signals” that it is willing to accept peaceful co-existence in a two-state resolution of the conflict based on international law.

None of this was good enough for the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu’s administration then used the deaths of three Israeli teenagers this past June as a pretext to raid the West Bank, killing five Palestinians and arresting hundreds. This resulted in a barrage of rockets from Hamas about a month after the West Bank raid began, precipitating the current Israeli operation.

Noted U.S. scholar Norman Finkelstein has pointed out in his authoritative account of Operation Cast Lead that, according to Israeli political strategist Avner Yaniv, Israel is reacting violently to what he calls the Palestinians’ “peace offensive.” Yaniv used the phrase in his book Dilemmas of Security (1987) to characterize the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 1982. According to Yaniv, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at that time, led by Yasser Arafat, was contemplating a two-state solution with the Israelis. The problem was that nobody in Israel wanted to allow for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. So, in September 1981, Israel made plans to invade Lebanon, where the PLO was based at the time. The war that ensued put a stop to any possibilities for serious negotiations.

As history continues to repeat itself in the 21st century, Israel’s track record of bad timing calls into question its willingness to negotiate in good faith. The Kerry process, insofar as the Barnea piece (among other “leaks”) reveals, already favored the Israeli desire to permanently swallow up crucial parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The occupation and the planned, permanent annexation of Palestinian land both constitute crimes under international law. According to “Article 49” of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Moreover, the Palestinians were essentially leaving the refugees’ right to return (as per U.N.S.C. Resolution 194) up to Israel’s “willingness.” With Abbas and the P.A. making substantial concessions, and Hamas being backed into a corner financially and politically, the Israelis could have accepted the Kerry-brokered deal. It was an offer that clearly favored Israel. Instead, the world witnessed yet another incursion into Gaza.

If Israel is given the chance to permanently annex parts of the West Bank and push the ever-growing Palestinian population into cantons, then it can expect a much more desperate, perhaps violent, Palestinian response. If that moment arrives, then Israelis may very well regret not taking the Kerry deal when it was on the table. It won’t just have to deal with rudimentary Hamas rockets then, but also with the roughly two million Palestinians currently living in the West Bank who will be forced into an even more desperate situation.

So why didn’t Netanyahu and the Israelis simply say “yes” to such a complimentary deal? The answer, according to the American negotiators, can be found in Israel’s desire to expand settlements. Israel approved plans for nearly 14,000 new settler homes during the nine months it was involved in peace talks with the Palestinians. The entire military occupation, including all settlements, covers about 40 percent of the West Bank. Evidently, Israel’s broader ambition includes the permanent seizure of the land that it currently occupies.

Once Israel implements even more “facts on the ground,” it may very well go back to the negotiating table, and, along with a weak Palestinian Authority, accept a U.S.-brokered deal that includes all the original concessions. At that point, any Palestinian movement for self-determination will be hampered by the Palestinian Authority’s acceptance of a deal that clearly overlooks it.

[http://www.theamericanconservative.com/amid-the-cease-fires-a-broken-peace-process/]

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middle east, politics

The Palestine Papers and the End of the “Peace Process”

Al Jazeera English, from January 23rd– 26th, 2011, released the details of over 1,700 leaked confidential documents regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. The manner in which AJE received this largest-ever leak is undisclosed. The documents include meeting minutes, memos, presentations, strategic papers, etc.  Dubbed “The Palestine Papers”, the documents are supposed to shed light on the following, as presented on the AJE website:

  • the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be “creative” about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount;
  • the compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return;
  • details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel;
  • and private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.

AJE has perused through these documents, redacted overtly sensitive content, and will not be naming their sources.

Perhaps the most explosive of the revelations that have come out is the fact that, according to the leaked meeting minutes of a [pdf] trilateral meeting in 2008, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to concede illegal settlements in Jerusalem to Israel. Saeb Erekat was the chief Palestinian negotiator at the time, and Ahmed Qurei was prime minister. The meeting also involved Tzipi Livni on the Israeli side, as well as then American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Erekat stated that the PA was willing to give up the illegally occupied Israeli settlements of French Hill, Ramat Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, and Talpiot, as well as the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s old city. Those areas contain around 120,000 Jewish settlers, and it seems that Erekat was willing to prolong the list. The proposed concession was unprecedented, given the deeply contentious nature of East Jerusalem.

The offered concessions were rejected by the Israeli side, mainly because the PA was not willing to give up other significantly sized settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel.

Furthermore, in an [pdf] October 2009 meeting with the US Middle East Envoy headed by George Mitchell, Erekat proposed a geographical division of Jerusalem’s Old City, with control of the Jewish Quarter and “part of the Armenian Quarter” going to the Israelis. This would mean that Israeli would control a significant part of East Jerusalem. Furthermore, Erekat was willing to give control of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) to oversight of an international committee:

Erekat: “It’s solved. You have the Clinton Parameters formula. For the Old City sovereignty for Palestine, except the Jewish quarter and part of the Armenian quarter … the Haram can be left to be discussed – there are creative ways, having a body or a committee, having undertakings for example not to dig [excavations under the Al Aqsa mosque]. The only thing I cannot do is convert to Zionism.”

Schwartz: To confirm to Sen. Mitchell, [this is] your private idea …

Erekat: This conversation is in my private capacity.

Schwartz: We’ve heard the idea from others. So you’re not the first to raise it.

Erekat: Others are not the chief negotiator of the PLO.

Saeb Erekat then went on to sum up nature of the PA’s propositions:

“Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim [Jerusalem] in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state…what more can I give?”

Given the highly charged emotions toward the Haram al-Sharif, it is utterly shocking for many to see that the PA, specifically Erekat, was willing to concede its status to non-Palestinian parties. It should not be forgotten that according to UN Resolution 242, the whole of East Jerusalem is to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. In other words, international law and the 1967 borders clearly show that the Haram al-Sharif is within the occupied Palestinian territories.

This is just a sliver of the huge trove of documents that Al Jazeera has publicized regarding the conflict. Key documents have been released subsequently in the last week or so, which have revealed equally explosive facts. The complete archive of documents can be found at the newly launched Al Jazeera Transparency Unit, which seems to be a Wikileaks-inspired web function that allows for the uploading of content by willing sources.

It is now clear that the Israelis have no legitimacy when they say that no Palestinian counterparts can be found in “negotiations for peace”. The Palestine Papers reveal clearly that the Palestinian Authority leadership is absolutely desperate for some sort of settlement, and will offer extreme concessions to achieve “peace”. In return, the PA repeatedly get their offers brushed aside by Israel, with very little objection from the United States.

In other words, the so called “Oslo peace process” needs an official funeral service. The Palestinian people will not accept anything less than a full state with recognition and execution regarding the right of return issue. Israel will not be venturing into that type of territory whatsoever. Furthermore, the United States simply cannot play the role of an honest broker, and will not allow a serious discussion on final status issues (refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements).

In short, given the present circumstances in the Middle East, it seems that the American hegemon is losing its footing in the region. The U.S. is mired in a serious quagmire in Afghanistan. Iraq, which is still suffering serious violence (although not at the 2006-2007 levels), will be deferring to Iran for the next few years at least. Iran, on the other hand, is now a regional superpower. Israel, for obvious reasons, is a liability to long-term U.S. goals in the region. Finally, the recent uprisings throughout the Middle East (especially in Tunisia and Egypt) threaten to oust decade-long U.S. supported puppet regimes.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Gideon Levy at UTM

Published on:
The Medium, September 27th, 2010 [http://mediumonline.ca/2010/09/27/gideon-levy-visits-utm/]

Around 250 to 300 people gathered at the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) for a lecture by the award-winning Israeli journalist Gideon Levy on September 22nd, 2010. Primarily based on the content of his new book The Punishment of Gaza, the lecture consisted mainly of Levy’s lamentations regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and his thoughts on how “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” will play out in the future.

Writing for Israel’s most famous daily newspaper, Haaretz, since 1982, Levy coupled his critique of Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians with a pessimistic vision of the future. Having been on the receiving end of constant hate mail from his fellow Israelis for his consistent critique of Israeli policies, Levy stated rather assuredly that “there has never been an occupation where the occupier felt so good about himself, and there has never been an occupation where the occupier presented himself as a victim.”

Referring to Israel’s occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as the “real drama of Israel in its dark backyard,” Levy went on to condemn the “so-called peace process” as a sham. He criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not willing to do even the “minimum of the minimum” for peace, which is to freeze all settlement building/expansion in the OPT, in lieu of negotiations. Regarding the United States’ long-time patronage of Israel, Levy expressed “disappointment” with the policies of President Barack Obama, policies that did not deviate much from previous administrations. And while describing Hamas, the Islamic Movement party currently in control of the Gaza Strip (elected in 2006 and pushed out of the West Bank by rival party Fateh), as “not my cup of tea,” Levy felt that any successful, realistic, and meaningful negotiations would have to include the choice party of the Palestinians.

It has been such views that have made Gideon Levy a deeply unpopular figure in most of Israel, a country which he describes as “fiercely nationalistic.” Having himself served in the IDF in his youth, it was not until the late 1980s when Levy began to travel into the OPT, something that “most Israelis never do,” and something that has ever since shown him the brutality of Israel’s occupation. Levy believes that it is necessary to “tell the story” of those who live under Israeli occupation, a conviction that has forced him to live with “absolute exclusivity” within Israel.

During the Q&A session which followed the lecture, some audience members expressed that they wished Levy had talked more about possible solutions in terms of resolving this protracted occupation. It seems that their disappointment is related to the fact that even Levy himself sees no real way out, and no concrete solutions—at least not from within Israeli civil society.

“Writing is all I know in this life,” Levy stated in a post-event interview, “and we all must do what we feel is right and just.”

Pointing to the disbanding of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of South African apartheid as positive examples, Levy did not seem completely hopeless. He expressed genuine surprise and joy regarding what he described as “high enthusiasm” among Canadians in support of justice for the Palestinians.

The lecture was organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), and partially funded by the University of Toronto at Mississauga Student Union (UTMSU).

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Israel at a Crossroads: the Iranian Threat

Published on:
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26003.htm
http://rebelnews.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=326421
http://mycatbirdseat.com/2010/07/israel-hiding-behind-the-iranian-threat/
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=513

With the recent formation of “The Emergency Committee for Israel”, the neoconservative and Likudnik characters on the American right have yet again stepped up their lobbying efforts. The usual characters from the Christian hard-right like Gary Bauer have again joined forces with neoconservatives Bill Kristol, Noah Pollack, Michael Goldfarb, etc. to stand up for Israel. Among other things, they have yet again brought up the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran, and how such a nation will tear the region apart with its fanaticism.

Israel’s obsession with Iran is real. While some genuinely perceive a nuclear Iran as a major threat, others on Israel’s far right recognize the much more pragmatic, if not cynical reasons for Israel’s rancid rhetoric. With the occupation of Gaza (and blockade) and the West Bank continuing to destabilize the region, Netanyahu’s administration is undoubtedly trying to use the Iranian threat to create a climate of fear. Such a climate will not only pull the world’s attention away from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also reiterate Israel’s “scared bond” with the United States in a war against “Islamic Terrorism”.

Considering that Israel’s American-backed arsenal of nuclear weapons do not receive nearly as much attention in the corporate media as compared to Iran’s alleged attempt to acquire nuclear capabilities (still short of actual nuclear weapons), one should look at things form Iran’s perspective. Both Israel and the US have been talking nonstop about containing or attacking Iran. Iran has some rather weak (but still damaging) sanctions implemented on it by the US, and a genuine nuclear power in Israel constantly shouting about attacking it. Recently, the US navy just shipped missiles and over 300 “bunker busters” onto the African island of Diego Garcia, within striking distance of Iran. Furthermore, several of the countries that share borders with Iran have US troops in them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, etc.).

Considering these factors, along with the threats from Israel and the United States (Israel is also not a signee of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty), even hawkish analysts within the Israeli establishment have noted the need for Iran to at least have the option of a nuclear deterrent. Israeli strategist Martin Van Creveld, for example, has noted that Iran’s president is “Not crazy at all,” and that he would essentially do what Ahmedinejad is doing right now if he were in his position. On the other hand, UN Resolution 1887 states that threats of force are illegal when settling nuclear disputes. Also, it goes without saying that a war with Iran would cause the entire region to destabilize.

For the United States, Iran’s Islamic Revolution ushered in regimes that did not conform with its imperial designs in the region. Both Russia and China do business with Iran, which has emerged as the true beneficiary of the Iraq War, and backs both Hizbullah and Hamas. None of this is in the US’s interest, let alone in Israel’s. However, these “threats” are still rather hollow, given the military and economic capacities of both the US and Israel. Although Hizbullah has on occasions embarrassed a stronger Israel, its threats (along with those of Hamas) are far from existential.

Therefore, Israel’s paranoia with Iran mirrors Iran’s rhetorical backlash. By making the Islamic regime look crazy, Israel draws attention away from the Palestinian question. By now, after the Gaza Massacre and the Flotilla incident, it has become clear that Israel is becoming a strategic liability to the United States. The Israel Lobby in the US is trying (with great success) to conceal this fact, but Israel is very much at a crossroads. It seeks to reinvigorate the US-Israeli alliance by exaggerating the Iranian threat, while not answering for its own nuclear arsenal. But Israel has very little choice. Although its only chance of preserving a Jewish state is through a two-state solution with the Palestinians, settlement-building throughout the years have pretty much destroyed that option. It has effectively dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is so protracted that it inevitably shakes up the whole region, precipitating hatred aimed at both the US and Israel. Given the US’s need for oil in the future, a lack of allies in the Middle East would prove disastrous. But Israel’s unpopular presence in the region is costing the US all kinds of strategic leverage. Confronted with the reality of having no friends in the world, the Israeli regime is desperately trying to use the Iranian threat to illustrate to the US its “strategic worth”.

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