Monday, August 4. 2014
Running a day behind and coming up short as I try to sum up what's been happening around the world and how Israel/Gaza fits into it. The blog, by the way, has experienced intermittent failures, something the ISP (addr.com) has thus far been completely unhelpful at fixing. Sorry for the inconvenience. Music Week will also run a day late (assuming no further outages).
This week's links will once again focus mostly on Israel's continuing assault on Gaza. It is not the only significant war in the world at the moment -- the governments in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine are simultaneously engaged in brutal campaigns to bring their own people back under central state control -- but it is the one that most immediately concerns us in the US, partly because American partisanship in largely responsible for the conflict (i.e., the failure to resolve the conflict peacefully); partly because Israel's thinking and practice in power projection and counterterrorism is seen as an ideal model by many influential American foreign policy mandarins (the so-called "neocons," of course, but many of their precepts have infiltrated the brains of supposedly more liberal actors, notably the Clintons, Kerry, and Obama); and partly because Israel has managed to recapitulate the violence and racism of our own dimly remembered past, something they play on to elicit sympathy even though a more apt reaction would be horror.
I don't want to belittle the three other "civil wars": indeed, the US (almost entirely due to Obama) has actively sided with the governments of Iraq (the US has sent a small number of ground troops and large amounts of arms there) and Ukraine (the US has led the effort to sanction and vilify Russia). On the other hand, the US condemned and threatened to bomb Syria, and has sent (or at least promised) arms to "rebels" there, although they've also (at least threatened) to bomb the "rebels" too. But we also know relatively little about those conflicts, and probably understand less, not least because most of what has been reported has been selected for propaganda effect. For instance, when "separatists" in Ukraine tragically shot down a Malaysian airliner, that story led the nightly news for more than a week, but hardly anyone pointed out that Ukraine had been shelling and bombing separatist enclaves, and that anti-aircraft rockets had successfully shot down at least one Ukrainian military plane before the airliner. (The effective blackout of news of the conflict, including the use of anti-aircraft missiles in the region, should bear at least some measure of blame for the airliner tragedy.) Similarly, we hear much about extreme doctrines of the breakaway "Islamic State" in Iraq, but virtually nothing of the Maliki government practices that have managed to alienate nearly all of northwestern Iraq (as well as the Kurdish regions, which have all but declared their own breakaway state, one that the US is far more tolerant of -- perhaps since it doesn't serve to flame Islamophobic public opinion in the US).
Syria is a much messier problem, for the US anyhow. The state was taken over by the Ba'ath Party in 1963, and led by the Assad family since 1971. Syria fought against Israel in the 1948-49 war, and again in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan Heights, and again in 1973. At various times Syria made efforts to ally itself with the US (notably in the 1990 coalition against Iraq), but several factors prejudiced US opinion against the Assads: the border dispute with Israel and intermittent Syrian support for the PLO, Syria's resort to Russia (and later Iran) as its armaments supplier, the repressive police state and the brutality with which the Assads put down rebellions (e.g., they killed at least 10,000 people in the Hama massacre of 1982 -- a tactic much admired by Israeli military theoreticians like Martin Van Creveld). One might think that Syria's lack of democracy would be an issue, but the US has never objected to other tyrants that could be counted as more reliable allies, such as the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But when Assad fired on Arab Spring demonstrations, prejudice turned Obama against Assad, as the revolt became militarized he chipped in guns, as it became Islamicized he waffled. Obama set a "red line" at the use of chemical weapons, and when that appeared to have been violated, he felt it was his place to punish Syria with a round of gratuitous bombings, but Congress demurred, and Putin interceded with an offer by Syria to give up their chemical weapon stocks. Since then, Obama has promised more arms to Syrian "rebels" and also threatened to bomb those rebels connected with the revolt in Iraq, and he ruined his relationship with Putin -- the only real chance to mediate the conflict -- for recriminations over Ukraine. Meanwhile, Israel (always seen as a US ally even though usually acting independently) bombed Syria.
At this point there will be no easy resolution to Syria. One obvious problem is how many foreign countries have contributed to one side or the other (or in the case of the US to both, if not quite all). So the first step would be an international agreement to use whatever pressure they have to get to a ceasefire and some sort of power-sharing agreement, but obvious as that direction is, the other ongoing conflicts make it impossible. Just to take the most obvious example, the US (Obama) is by far more committed to marginalizing Russia in Ukraine than it is to peace anywhere in the Middle East, least of all Israel. Russia is likewise more focused on Ukraine than anywhere else, although it doesn't help that its main interest in Syria and Iraq appears to be selling arms (it supports both governments, making it a US ally in Iraq as well as an enemy in Syria, blowing the Manichaean minds in Washington). Saudi Arabia and Iran are far more invested against or for Syria and Iraq. One could go on and on, but absent any sort of enlightened world leader willing to step outside of the narrow confines of self-interest and link the solution to all of these conflicts, their asymmetries will continue to grind on, and leave bitter legacies in their paths. In Syria alone, over more than three years the estimated death toll is over 250,000. In Iraq estimated deaths since the US exit in 2011 are over 21,000, but much more if you go back to 2003 when the US invaded and stirred up much sectarian strife. (I couldn't say "started" there because US culpability goes back to 1991, when Bush urged Iraqi shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then allowed the Iraqi army to crush them mercilessly, then instigated "no fly" zones with periodic bombings, along with sanctions lasting until the 2003 invasion.)
As for Israel's latest assault on Gaza, in three weeks Israel has killed over 1,800 Palestinians -- I won't bother trying to separate out "civilians" and "militants" since Gaza has no organized military (like the IDF). That may seem like a small number compared to Syria above, but if you adjust for the relative populations (22.5 million in Syria, 1.8 million in Gaza) and length of war (171 weeks for Syria, 3 for Gaza) the kill rate is about five times greater in Gaza (333 per million per week vs. 65 per million per week in Syria). Moreover, the distribution of deaths is extremely skewed in Gaza, whereas in Syria and Iraq (I have no idea about Ukraine) they are close to even (to the extent that "sides" make sense there). The distinction between IDF and "civilians" makes more sense in Israel, especially as nearly all IDF casualties occurred on Gazan soil after Israel invaded. The ratio there is greater than 600-to-one (1800+ to 3), a number we'll have to come back to later. (The first Israeli killed was a settler who was voluntarily delivering goodies to the troops -- i.e., someone who would certainly qualify as a "militant"; another was a Thai migrant-worker, and some tallies of Israeli losses don't even count him.) The number of Israeli soldiers killed currently stands at 64, some of which were killed by Israeli ("friendly") fire. (The first IDF soldier killed was so attributed, but I haven't seen any later breakdowns. There have been at least two instances where an Israeli soldier was possibly captured and subsequently killed by Israeli fire -- IDF forces operate under what's called the Hannibal Directive, meant to prevent situations where Israeli soldiers are captured and used as bargaining chips for prisoner exchanges, as was Gilad Shalit.) Even if you counted those IDF deaths, the overkill ratio would be huge. But without them, it should be abundantly clear how little Israel was threatened by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. In 2013, no one in Israel was hurt by a rocket attack from Gaza. This year, in response to Israel and Egypt tightening Gaza borders, to Israel arresting 500+ people more or less associated with Hamas (many released in the Shalit deal) in the West Bank, and to Israel's intense bombardment now lasting three weeks, more than a thousand rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel, and the result of all this escalation was . . . 3 dead, a couple dozen (currently 23) wounded. Just think about it: Israel gave Gazans all this reason to be as vindictive as possible, and all it cost them was 3 civilian casualties (one of which they don't even count). In turn, they inflicted incalculable damage upon 1.8 million people. The trade off boggles the mind. Above all else, it makes you wonder what kind of people would do such a thing.
A little history here: Zionist Jews began emigrating from Russia to the future Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire, in the 1880s, following a breakout of pogroms (state-organized or -condoned attacks on Jews) following the assassination of Czar Alexander. Britain went to war against the Ottoman Empire in 1914, and made various promises to both Arabs and Jews of land they would seize from the Ottomans, including Palestine. In 1920 the British kept Palestine as a mandate. They took a census which showed the Jewish population at 10%. The British allowed Jewish immigration in fits and spurts, with the Jewish population ultimately rising to 30% in 1947. Britain's reign over Palestine was marked by sporadic violence, notably the Arab Revolt of 1937-39 which Britain brutally suppressed, using many techniques which Israel would ultimately adopt, notably collective punishment. Meanwhile, the British allowed the Zionist community to form a state-within-the-state, including its own militia, which aided the British in putting down the Arab Revolt. In 1947, Britain decided to wash its hands of Palestine and returned the mandate to the then-new United Nations. The leaders of the Jewish proto-state in Palestine lobbied the United Nations to partition Palestine into two parts -- one Jewish, the other Arab (Christian and Moslem) -- and the UN complied with a scheme that offered Jewish control of a slight majority of the land, Arab control of several remaining isolated pockets (West Bank, West Galilee, Gaza Strip, Jaffa), with Jerusalem a separate international zone. There were virtually no Jews living in the designated Arab areas, but Arabs were more than 40% of the population of the Jewish areas. The Arabs rejected the partition proposal, favoring a single unified state with a two-to-one Arab majority. The Zionist leadership accepted the partition they had lobbied for, but didn't content themselves with the UN-specified borders or with the international zone for Jerusalem. When the British abdicated, Israel declared independence and launched a war to expand its territory, swallowing West Galilee and Jaffa, capturing the west half of Jerusalem, and reducing the size of the Gaza Strip by half. Several neighboring Arab countries joined this war, notably Transjordan, which was able to secure east Jerusalem (including the Old City) and the West Bank (including the highly contested Latrun Salient), and Egypt, which wound up in control of the reduced Gaza Strip. During this war more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were uprooted and fled beyond Israeli control, to refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, leaving the land occupied by Israel as 85% Jewish.
Israel signed armistice agreements in 1949-50 with its neighbors. Jordan annexed its occupied Palestinian territories and gave their inhabitants Jordanian citizenship, not that that meant much in an monarchy with no democratic institutions. Egypt didn't annex Gaza; it styled itself as a caretaker for a fragment of a future independent Palestinian state, which left its inhabitants in limbo. Israel passed a series of laws which gave every Jew in the world the right to immigrate to Israel and enjoy citizenship there, and denied the right of every Palestinian who had fled the 1948-50 war to ever return, confiscating the lands of the refugees. Palestinians who stayed within Israel were granted nominal citizenship, but placed under military law. Gazan refugees who tried to return to Israel were shot, and Israel repeatedly punished border incidents by demolishing homes in Gaza and the West Bank. (Ariel Sharon first made his reputation by making sure that the homes he blew up in Qibya in 1953 were still occupied.) Israel was never happy with its 1950 armistice borders. After numerous border incidents, Israel launched a sneak attack on Egypt in 1967, seizing Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal, then quickly expanded the war into Jordan (grabbing East Jerusalem and the West Bank) and Syria (the Golan Heights).
The UN resolution following the 1967 war called for Israel to return all the lands seized during the war in exchange for peace with all of Israel's neighbors. The Arabs nations were slow to respond to this "land-for-peace" proposal, although this was the basis of the 1979 agreement that returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, and would be the basis of subsequent peace proposals backed by every nation in the Arab League -- the sole difference is that Jordan has since renounced its claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, so those as well as Gaza might form the basis of an independent Palestinian state, as originally envisioned by the UN. The PLO has agreed to this solution, and Hamas has announced tacit approval (they have what you may call a funny way of putting things, one that unfortunately allowed for a large measure of distortion by Israeli "explainers" [hasbara-ists]). So if Israel ever wanted peace, both with its neighbors and with its current and former Palestinian subjects, that simple deal is on the table (as well as several subsequent ones which allow Israel additional concessions, although those are less universally accepted).
The rub is that Israel has never wanted peace, and nowadays the political consensus in Israel is further than ever from willing to even consider the notion. This is a hard point for most people to grasp -- who doesn't want peace? -- but nothing Israel does makes any sense until you realize this. We can trace this back over history, or you can just look at the current fracas. Israel, after all, could have decided to handle the June 12 kidnapping-murder as a normal police matter. Despite everything they've done since, they haven't caught their two prime suspects, so they couldn't have done less as to solving the crime, and they would have gotten a lot more credit and sympathy. But rather than react as any normal country would, they went out and arrested 500 people who had nothing to do with the crime, and in the process of doing that they killed another nine Palestinians. The rockets, which in any case did no real damage, were primarily a response to the arrests, and more basically to Israel's blockade of Gaza, which is itself a deeper manifestation of Israel's belligerency. Even then, Israel could have ignored the rockets. The decision to start shelling/bombing Gaza was completely their own, as was the decision to send troops into Gaza to destroy tunnels that hadn't caused any actual harm to Israel. In short, all that destruction is the direct result of Israel reacting the way Israel always reacts to provocations: by escalating the level of violence. And that's simply not the way a nation that wants to live in peace behaves.
I can think of several reasons why Israel has chosen to be a state of perpetual war:
Those four points are all true, self-reinforcing in various combinations at various times. They help explain why David Ben-Gurion, for instance, sabotaged his successor for fear that Moshe Sharrett might normalize relations with Israel's Arab neighbors, turning Israel into an ordinary country. They help explain why Abba Eban was so disingenuous following 1967, giving lip service to "land-for-peace" while never allowing any negotiations to take place. They help explain why a long series of Israeli politicians -- Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon are the two that stand out in my mind -- tied up so much land by encouraging illegal settlements, and why today's West Bank settlers retrace the steps both of the Yishuv's original settlers and of even earlier Americans encroaching on Indian lands. They help explain why Israelis habitually label anyone who crosses them a terrorist (something John Kerry was accused of last week), and why Israel habitually refuses to negotiate with those it sees as enemies. They help explain why Israel places so little value on the life of others. (One irony is that a nation which has no capital punishment for its own citizens, even when one kills a Prime Minister, yet has casually engaged in hundreds of extrajudicial assassinations.)
I've gone on at some length here about Israel's innate tendencies because there seems to be little else directing Netanyahu's process. It used to be the case that the Zionist movement depended on forming at least temporary alliances with foreign powers to advance their goals. For instance, they got the UK to issue the Balfour Declaration and commit to creating a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine. Later, when the UK quit, the nascent Israel depended first on the Soviet Union then on France for arms. Eventually, they found their preferred ally in the US, but for a long time US presidents could limit Israel's worst instincts, as when Eisenhower in 1956-57 pressured Israel into withdrawing from Egypt's Sinai, or when Carter in 1978 reversed an Israeli effort to enter Lebanon's Civil War. (Neither of those limits proved long-lasting: Israel retook Sinai when a more accommodating LBJ was president, and moved recklessly into Lebanon in 1982 under Reagan's indifference.) As late as 1992, voters were sensitive enough to Israel's US relationship to replace obdurate Yitzhak Shamir with the much friendlier Yitzhak Rabin (a former Israeli ambassador to the US and initiator of the Oslo Peace Process -- ultimately a sham, but one that broke the ice with the US, and got him killed by a right-wing fanatic). But since then Bush II turned out to be putty in Ariel Sharon's grubby hands, and Obama has proven to be even more spineless viz. Netanyahu. So whatever limits America might have posed to Israeli excesses have gone by the wayside: Israeli cabinet ministers can accuse Kerry of terrorism just for proposing a ceasefire, confident that such rudeness won't even tempt Congress to hold back on an extra $225M in military aid.
Still, you have to ask, "why Gaza?" Two times -- in 1993 when Israel ceded virtually all of Gaza to the newly formed Palestinian Authority, and in 2005 when Israel dismantled its last settlements in Gaza -- Israel signaled to the world that it had no substantive desire to administer or keep Gaza itself. (It is still possible that Israel could annex all of the West Bank and Jerusalem and extend citizenship to Palestinian inhabitants there -- there are Israelis who advocate such a "one-state solution" there as an alternative to trying to separate out a Palestinian state given the scattering of Israeli settlements in the territory, but there is no way that Israel would entertain the possibility of giving citizenship to Palestinians in Gaza.) However, Israel has continued to insist on controlling Gaza's borders and airspace, and limited its offshore reach to a measly three kilometers. Then in 2006 Palestinians voted for the wrong party -- a slate affiliated with Hamas, which was still listed by the US and Israel as a "terrorist entity" (as was the PLO before it was rehabilitated by signing the Oslo Accords). The US then attempted to organize a coup against Hamas, which backfired in Gaza, leaving the Strip under Hamas control. From that point, Israel, with US and Egyptian backing, shut down the border traffic between Gaza and the outside world -- a blockade which has severely hampered Gaza ever since.
Hamas has since weaved back and forth, appealing for international help in breaking the blockade, and failing that getting the world's attention by launching small rockets into Israel. The rockets themselves cause Israel little damage, but whenever Israel feels challenged it responds with overwhelming violence -- in 2006, 2008, 2012, and now in 2014 that violence has reached the level of war. In between there have been long periods with virtually no rocket fire, with resumption usually triggered by one of Israel's "targeted assassinations." Between 2008-12 the blockade was partially relieved by brisk use of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. In 2013 Gaza benefited from relatively free above-ground trade with Egypt, but that came to an end with the US-backed military coup that ended Egypt's brief experiment with democracy (another case of the "wrong" people, as viewed by the US and Israel, getting elected). With Egypt as well as Israel tightening the blockade of Gaza, followed by the mass arrest of Hamas people in the West Bank, rocket fire resumed, only to be met by the recent widespread slaughter.
Hamas has thus far insisted that any ceasefire include an end to the blockade. As I've written before, that seems like a completely reasonable demand. Israel has mistreated Gaza ever since occupying it in 1967, and that treatment became even worse after 2005, becoming little short of sadistic. Hamas has even offered to turn its control of the Gaza administration back over to a "unified" PA, which would be backed but not controlled by Hamas. (In my view an even better solution would be to spin Gaza off as an independent West Palestine state, totally free of Israeli interference.) Israel's assertions regarding Gaza are inevitably confused: they claim they need to blockade Gaza for security against missiles that in fact are fired mostly to protest the blockade (the other cases are a weak response to Israel's far more powerful arsenal). On the other hand, Israeli control keeps Gaza from ever developing a normal economy, and Israel's tactics (like targeted assassinations) keep Gaza in a state of constant terror.
Throughout history, there have been two basic approaches to counterterrorism: one is to kill off all the terrorists one-by-one; the other is to negotiate with the terrorists and let them enter into responsible democratic political procedures. The former has worked on rare occasions, usually when the group was extremely small and short-lived (Che Guevara in Bolivia, Shining Path in Peru). The outer limit was probably the Algerian anti-Islamist war of 1991-94 where Algeria killed its way through more than ten generations of leaders before the movement self-destructed, but even there the conflict ended with negotiations and amnesty. Israel's practice of collective punishment pretty much guarantees an endless supply of future enemies. As long as you understand that Israel's intent and desire is to fight forever, such tactics make sense. And as long as Israel can maintain that 600-to-1 kill ratio, someone like Netanyahu's not going to lose any sleep.
Inside Israel military censorship keeps the gory details out of sight and out of mind, reinforcing the unity that makes this such a happy little war, but elsewhere it's all becoming increasingly clear: how flimsy Israel's excuses are, how much they destroy and how indifferent they are to the pain they inflict, indeed how callous and tone-deaf they have become. Moreover, this war shows what chumps the US (and Europe) have become in allying themselves with Israel. No matter how this war ends, more people than ever before are going to be shocked that we ever allowed it to happen. Even more so if they come to realize that there was never any good reason behind it.
Back in June, when all this crisis amounted to was three kidnapped Israeli settler teens and Israel's misdirected and hamfisted "Operation Brother's Keeper," I argued that someone with a good journalistic nose could write a whole book on the affair, one that would reveal everything distorted and rotten in Israel's occupation mindset, possibly delving even into the warped logic behind those kidnappings. Since then, I've been surprised by three things: the scale of human tragedy has become innumerable (at least in a mere book -- only dry statistics come close to measuring the destruction, and they still miss the terror, even for the few people who intuit what they measure); how virulent and unchecked the genocidal impulses of so many Israelis have become (the trend, of course, has been in that direction, and every recent war has seen some outbursts, but nothing like now); and how utterly incompetent and impotent the US and the international community has been (aside from Condoleezza Rice's "birthpangs of a new Middle East" speech during the 2006 Lebanon War, the US and UN have always urged a ceasefire, but this time they've been so in thrall to Netanyahu's talking points they've scarcely bothered to think much less developed any backbone to act). It's a tall order, but this may be Israel's most senseless and shameful war ever.
This week's scattered links:
Sunday, July 20. 2014
This week's scattered links, but for one reason or another most still focus on Israel (for one thing, this weekend has been much bloodier than the previous week). Having recently read Stephen F Cohen's Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (2011), I expected to have more to say about the civil war in Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines airliner, but in my short time I didn't run across much that improved upon speculation (one of the worst pieces was Bob Dreyfuss: Vladimir Putin Should Take Responsibility for the MH17 Shootdown.) As someone who is inclined to suspect that Putin was responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings that he used as a pretext to re-open the Chechen War, there's not much I would put past him, but neither evidence nor logic is yet compelling, and the unfounded charge is actively being used to further estrange relations with Russia, which quite frankly Obama needs to mend even if that means giving up ground in Ukraine. As I wrote below, Obama has made a colossal error in re-entering Iraq, on top of making an almost utter hash of Syria, and the only way out of the latter is some sort of understanding with Russia. Cohen's book, by the way, is very prophetic about Ukraine -- not necessarily about the country itself but about the massive level of cold war hangover America's foreign policy nabobs suffer from and their utter mindlessness in facing anything having to do with Russia. I've long said that the whole neocon vision was for America to behave all around the world with the same reckless dominance fetish that Israel exhibits in the Middle East. In the last two months that's pretty much what we've been seeing. The only real surprise here is how pathetic it makes the leaders look: Netanyahu, for instance, is wailing about how Hamas is forcing Israel to kill Palestinians, as if he, himself, has no control over his government. Nor does Obama seem to be any more in control of his policies. It's really quite shameful.
Nor am I the only one saying these things. Just looking at my recent twitter feed:
[Actually, the third since Obama was elected president, but Operation Cast Lead occurred before Obama took office. I like to refer to it as Israel's pre-emptive strike against the Obama administration.]
Also as Michael Poage noted, today's Kansans for Peace in Palestine demo today in Wichita drew about 500 people. It led on the KWCH News, ahead of a fairly even-handed report on Gaza that put more emphasis on dead Palestinians than on live Israelis whining about rockets.
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, July 19. 2014
Up-to-date information on Israel's latest major siege of Gaza -- dubbed Operation Protective Edge, at least in English (the Hebrew is closer to Solid Rock) -- is scarce and hard to sort out, especially since Israel sent ground troops into Gaza. The latest totals I have are that since July 8 Israeli forces have killed 303 Palestinians, while 1 Israeli soldier and 1 Israeli civilian have died. (The latter, by the way, would easily have met Israel's criterion for declaring a Palestinian a "militant" in the propaganda battles over who killed whom. The former was killed by an Israeli tank shell, "friendly fire." It's worth recalling that a third of the Israeli soldiers killed in 2008's Operation Cast Lead were killed by fellow Israelis.) [A later report now says 341 Palestinians have been killed, with 40,000 people "internally displaced" -- i.e., bombed out of their homes.] One of the more pointed stories I've read recently was reported here by Richard Silverstein:
Stories like that are going to be harder to come by since NBC pulled its correspondent from Gaza (who broke that story), Ayman Mohyeldin. CNN also pulled one of its reporters, Diana Magnay, after she reported on how Israelis camp out on hills near the Gaza border to watch and cheer the bombardment. That kind of damage control helps Israel avoid embarrassment, but only temporarily. [The uproar over Mohyeldin has since convinced NBC to send him back to Gaza.]
Past Israeli incursions (2006, 2008, 2012 -- the frequency is reflected in that choice Israeli phrase, "mowing the lawn") have always been met with appeals and pressure for ceasefire, but the Obama administration has been shockingly cavalier about the slaughter and destruction this time. Part of this may be the full court press of the Israel lobby, not least that Obama has been serially beat up by Israel for nearly six years now, but part may also be due to Obama's desire to escalate US involvement in the wars in Iraq and Syria, plus all the reckless hawkishness on Ukraine, plus the 15 people just killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. They say, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Evidently, Obama is way too busy making war to spare a few moments to plead for peace. And if the US doesn't step up to restrain Israel, who else can?
It's wholly predictable how Israel's current operation will end. Like all of its predecessors going back to 2006, it will end in a ceasefire with Hamas as firmly in charge of Gaza as ever, with Israel in possession of the keys to a ghetto containing 1.8 million trapped, terrorized people. Many buildings will be destroyed, including critical infrastructure -- electric power, sewage treatment, water treatment, hospitals, roads, food resources. A few hundred Palestinians will have been killed, and a few thousand injured -- some intended targets but most just unfortunately in the way, and some like the children on the beach just capriciously targeted by bored soldiers who know that no matter what they do they'll never be punished.
Israel will have destroyed a few tunnels, and the rocket stockpiles will have been more or less depleted -- not that they were ever a threat anyway. (Both sides seem to tacitly agree that the symbolism of Gazans defying Israel and shooting rockets over the walls matters much more than the scant damage they cause.) But in the end the cumulative weight of atrocities will embarrass Israel, as should the increasingly genocidal emotions the war is stirring up among Israelis. Israel is on the verge of losing whatever sympathy and support they had built up -- especially in Europe, but even in the US (with the exception of Congress) they are losing their grip. So they'll wind up about where they started. At least that's Israel's best-case scenario. They could hit some world opinion tipping point -- like they did with Turkey in 2008. Or they could give in to their hawks and crank the war machine up, moving from hundreds to thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinian deaths. Or they could ignite a sympathetic intifada in the West Bank, which could link up with ISIS. You can't predict what will happen once you go to war.
One thing that's lost in all the chatter about rockets and atrocities is that there is a very simple solution to the Gaza problem (and hence to all those rockets and atrocities): just cut Gaza loose from Israel and let the people there fend for themselves. For many years, debate over how to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been divided between a "1-state solution" and a "2-state solution." In the latter there are separate Israeli and Palestinian states alongside each other, dividing up the land of the former British mandate of Palestine. Most scenarios call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and a Palestinian state to be created in the remaining 22% of the land: the small Gaza Strip on the west and the larger West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in the east. Other variations are possible, including "mutual land swaps" (which the "Clinton parameters" and the "Geneva Accords" specified) or Israel just keeping more (the de facto result of Israel's "illegal settlements").
In the "1-state solution" Israel keeps all the land, but also has to grant full and equal rights to all the people living on that land. This has the great advantage of avoiding dismantling the settlements or transferring any additional people, but means that Israel, which prides itself as "the Jewish state," would wind up with a rather large percentage of non-Jews, perhaps even a majority. Most Israelis -- at least most Israeli politicians -- don't like either "solution": as Levi Eshkol described the conquests of the 1967 war, "we received a very nice dowry [the land], but we don't really like the bride [the people]." Since then, Israel has devised a sophisticated system for taking the land while excluding the people, denying the latter even basic human rights, corralling them into ever tighter ghettos, and hoping they'll just go away. The cost of this system is that the conflict grinds on forever: for Israel, this means paying for a huge military and police state, engaging in a propaganda war that eventually turns self-deluding, and suffering the corrosive morality of militarism and racism; for Palestinians it means living under a system of extreme regimentation and regulation, one that degrades their humanity and denies them opportunities all people expect as a human right.
Most Israelis, in short, want no solution. They accept their lot as a people that has been oppressed for millennia because they believe that their state (and only their state) can defend them, and must do so now and forever more. Anyone well acquainted with Jewish history can appreciate that position, but most of us recognizes that we are not doomed to endlessly replicate the past: that conflicts can be resolved fairly and equitably, and that when they are they disappear into the depths of the past. The prerequisite for any solution is to see it as possible. Unfortunately, that's been the undoing of both "1-state" and "2-state" solutions: many Israelis reject the former because they can't stand the idea of sharing their state with so many Palestinians, and they reject the latter because they feel that would mean the end of the Zionist project of reclaiming their "promised land."
For some time, Palestinians have indicated they would be happy with any solution. Political elites may tend toward "2-state" because that would carve out a state they could control, while the less ambitious may just welcome the opportunity to participate in Israel's prosperous economy without the present discrimination and conflict. But either way they have been at the mercy of Israel's rejection of any sort of solution, at best hoping that some higher power (like the US) will weigh in to support their aspirations. They problem there is that at the US becomes ever more inequitable internally, it becomes ever less sensitive to the human rights of people elsewhere, and that leads to this current hideous stalemate.
On the other hand, there is no reason for stalemate on Gaza. In 2005, Israel (under Ariel Sharon) withdrew from and dismantled every one of its settlements in the Gaza Strip, and since then there has been no effort on Israel's part to recolonize Gaza. It should be clear to everyone that Israel has no interest in Gaza -- at least, other than the "security threat" an independent Gaza might create. The West Bank and Jerusalem are complicated places where it is hard (if not impossible) to resolve the conflict, but Gaza is simple: Israel doesn't want it, and any interest Gazans have in uniting with a Palestinian state in the West Bank is something that can be dealt with if/when such a state is created. Why not solve the one piece that can be solved now, and cut Gaza free of Israel?
This seems to obvious to me that I'm astonished that no one is pushing the idea. The closest I've seen to a discussion along these lines is the Hamas ceasefire proposal, which promises a 10-year truce in exchange for the following ten provisions:
Most of these points are completely reasonable, things that Israel should agree to in any case. They highlight that the basic problem that Gaza has faced since 2005 has been the stranglehold that Israel (and to some extent Egypt) have had over Gaza, and how that's been used to keep Gaza from developing a normal economy and everyday life. In exchange for a more normal life, Hamas is offering a truce -- which is to say, no rockets or mortar shells launched over the wall, and no tunneling under the wall. The demands fall short of sovereignty for Gaza, but they do try to substitute UN for Israeli supervision, and as such they offer some hints as to where Hamas would be willing to limit Gazan sovereignty. One can easily build an independence proposal on top of this ceasefire proposal, and reasonably expect that it would be agreeable to Hamas, the current de facto governor of Gaza.
This is a quick first draft, but this is what I'm thinking of:
I think this covers six or seven of Hamas' ten points. It allows Gaza to develop a normal economy and civil society. There should be no cases where Israelis continue to hold power over residents of Gaza. Israel's security concerns are satisfied in several ways: by limiting the military power of the West Palestinian state; by outlawing a wide range of military hardware; and by imposing a substantial cost to the state for any acts by Gaza residents which actually harm Israeli life and/or property. On the other hand, Israel is similarly penalized for any hostilities against Gazan life and/or property. If these schemes prove insufficient, it's always possible that Israel could withdraw from the treaty and declare war on West Palestine -- the agreement does not in any way limit Israel's warmaking capability, nor for that matter does it reduce whatever deterrence Israel enjoys from its overwhelming firepower advantage. I didn't include anything about Hamas' demand that Israel back its tanks away from the border because I thought that level of regulation unnecessary -- all that is really necessary is that Israel not fire tank shells, or any kind of ordnance, into Gaza. As long as they are not used, where Israel parks its tanks is of little practical concern.
The imposed constitution is something Gazans may not appreciate, but it greatly expedites the transition to self-rule, and it provides reassurance in many ways that the resulting government will remain democratic and will respect individual rights of all its citizens. The constitution should be broadly open to a mix of capitalist and socialist approaches, to be determined by the legislature. (I suspect this will actually prove to be a bigger sticking point with American ideologists than the lack of a sharia foundation will be with Muslims, although the latter will likely get more print.) The constitution should eventually be amendable, although perhaps not for 10-20 years (subject to UN approval) to give it a chance to work.
The matter of donor money is also critically important, both because it is urgently needed and because it provides an elegant insurance system to reinforce the peace. Personally, I think a lot of that should come from Israel, which I regard as solely responsible for the destruction and degradation of life in Gaza especially in the last decade (although really going back to 1948), but fat chance of that, so the world needs to step up. Eventually, of course, the money will run out and West Palestine will need to stand on its own economy. It is important, therefore, that the government build an efficient tax system. I haven't said anything about currency, figuring that's a detail other people are more competent in. The other especially important thing I've left out is water. I wanted to minimize the burdens imposed on Israel, but some fair allocation of the miniscule Gaza watershed is essential.
There will no doubt be other technical issues to work out. Some may be best worked out bilaterally between Israel and West Palestine. Questions like permits to pray at Al-Aqsa certainly fall in that category. While that may be something Gazans care deeply about, it doesn't strike me as a war-or-peace issue. To gain any agreement, the international community (not least the US) is going to have to put pressure on a very recalcitrant Israeli government, and that's easier to do if the demands are minimal and separable. Israel's security policy regarding Gaza is both malicious and demonstrably ineffective, so that has to change. But while it would be a nice thing to allow more personal travel between countries, that isn't a necessary condition for peace. The only necessary conditions for peace are to stop the bombing, the shooting, the blockade, and to allow all people on all sides to live a normal life. That's what this proposal does.
The decision to disband Hamas in Gaza is largely cosmetic: it will simply make everyone more comfortable to bury past terrorism with the agreement. It also allows Hamas to go on in the West Bank, doing whatever it is they are doing. I thought about adding more strictures separating West Palestine groups from any sort of work in the West Bank. The fact is that after agreement the conditions will be very different and incomparable. The question of refugees is one that may need more thought, as it is one thing that remains a common problem for a free Gaza and an occupied West Bank, but it is a thorny problem, here at least best swept under the rug.
One reason no one talks about a Gaza-only solution is that at least some people on both sides have been seduced by the notion that it is possible to come up with a "final status" resolution. Arguing against this is the fact that no one has come close, but also the more general point that nothing is ever really final. So I think one of the basic principles of resolving this conflict is that we should always do what we can when we can do it, then take stock and consider problems remain and what else can be done about them. I have no doubt that a Gaza-only solution will help move all sides closer to an eventual West Bank solution.
Wednesday, July 16. 2014
In 2010 Norman Finkelstein wrote a book about Israel's 2008 war on Gaza. His title was "This Time We Went Too Far": Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. Like Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon, their so-called Operation Cast Lead ended having accomplished nothing so much as the revelation of Israel as a serial committer of atrocities, of crimes against humanity -- acts they tried to cover up with a thin propaganda at once asserting their victimhood and threatening ever graver results should anyone defy or deny their omnipotence. The problem was not just that Israel far exceeded the provocation. The problem was that it was hard to discern any reason for Israel's actions other than to further poison the well. The only thing Israel's leaders fear is peace, so they stir up the pot every few years, hoping to reinforce the "no partner for peace" canard.
They're at it again, and again they've gone way too far -- at least for anyone paying the least attention. Their current operation's pretext dates to June 12, when three Israeli teenaged settlers of the West Bank were kidnapped and killed -- a crime certain to arouse sympathy for Israel even though that involves overlooking the much greater violence committed by Israel in 1967 when they invaded the Jordanian-held West Bank and the 57 subsequent years of military occupation. The best you can say for the "boys" is that they were unwitting pawns in Israel's effort to permanently secure the lands of the West Bank by settling their "chosen" people and privileging them over the people who lived and worked there before they were overrun by war and overwhelmed by police force. That does not mean they deserved to be kidnapped and killed, but neither have thousands of Palestinians who have met similar fates since 1967.
On July 6, I wrote a piece that reviewed what turned out to be the first of two stages (so far) in the current escalation: A Case of Kidnapping and Murder. In short, Israel's response to the crime was not to focus on the killers -- they identified as suspects two members of a Hebron clan that is well known for acting on its own to sabotage relatively peaceful periods in the conflict -- but to use the crime as a pretext for a systematic attack on nearly everyone affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank. Moreover, it should be obvious that Hamas' real offense was that they had agreed to form a unity government with Fatah. That should have been good news for anyone with the least desire for peace, as it meant that for the first time since the failed 2006 coup to overthrow Hamas in Gaza there would be a unified, broadly popular Palestinian representation. But since Israel (above all Netanyahu) hates peace, it became imperative to break the unity government up by showing that Hamas is still committed to terrorism, something which pinning the murders on Hamas would aid. So Israel proceded to arrest hundreds of Hamas members -- the distinction between arrest and kidnapping here is no more than a thin legal veneer -- and soon had killed more than a dozen Palestinians, and soon enough Israeli racism was riled up so much that a group of Israeli settlers bent on revenge kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager.
That's about where my previous post ended. Most of this had been limited to the West Bank (although the revenge kidnapping took place in Jerusalem), but Israel was also making menacing gestures toward Gaza, which is still nominally controlled by Hamas. Since then, Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza, and as a result have faced some measure of rocket fire from groups in Gaza (evidently including Hamas). While I've been on the road, this situation has continued to deteriorate. The following links are my attempt to catch up.
Finally, I want to cite one more piece: John Feffer: Mowing the Lawn in Gaza, which goes back to 2006, to the specific wrong turn that lead to today's seemingly intractable conflict. (Of course, it doesn't explain the entire conflict, which goes back much further, most critically to 1948, but the die was cast even earlier.):
Israel's political leadership -- the PM at the time was Ariel Sharon -- took this position because it wants to sustain a state of military occupation and it dreads any resolution to the conflict. The US political leadership -- that was G.W. Bush -- acceded to Israel because it was stupid (and because the Israel desk was run by foreign agents like Elliott Abrams). Hamas offered a fresh opportunity to work on resolving the conflict, especially if we had been willing to negotiate short-term accommodations (like truces for economic freedom) instead of focusing on "final status" issues, which had proved so difficult for both sides. Moreover, Hamas had credibility from not having been involved in the Arafat deals and decisions, and they offered the prospect of bringing a far greater degree of Palestinian unity to the table than Abbas could ever achieve on his own. However, by rejecting Hamas, the US allowed Sharon and his successors to ignore every US-backed peace proposal.
We should be clear here: while Israel has no desire for peace, the US has no future in the Middle East without it. In its efforts to form a unity government with Fatah, Hamas has offered the US a present, but in order to use it the US now has to stand up to Israel in favor of the sort of ceasefire that Hamas has offered. That's a tall order for Obama and Kerry, one that requires them to rise above their basic political cowardice.
Sunday, July 6. 2014
On June 12 this year three Israeli teenagers -- Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), residents and yeshiva students in Israel's occupied territories -- were kidnapped while hitchhiking from Gush Etzion, an illegal settlement in Area C, the section still under full Israeli military control. One of the three was eventually reported to have been able to call authorities to alert them of the kidnapping, but that was initially treated as a prank call. The three dead bodies were found on June 30, in a field northwest of Hebron. Details are sketchy: I gather that then were shot and killed shortly after their abduction. Piecing information together from news sources is very difficult, but there is a good overview at Wikipedia.
If this was an isolated, atomic event, it would be treated as it should be, as a heinous crime, with the public waiting passively -- aside from the usual media sensationalism -- while authorities sifted through evidence, tracked down, apprehended, and tried and punished the perpetrators. But the crime could not be isolated from its context, and it set off a series of subsequent events -- many of them criminal as well -- that continue to this day and into the future. Someone with a clear vantage and access to all the data could write a book showing the myriad ways the crimes and the conflicts reflect and refract each other, creating a cage which traps anyone and everyone committed to the conflict. The only way out of this cage is to see each crime in its own light, and never justify a new crime on the basis of an old one.
Of course, everyone behaved predictably. In Israel there are two kinds of kidnapping. One is very common, on the order of 1,000 or more instances per year: this is when any of Israel's various security outfits "arrests" Palestinian "suspects." They can be held without charge or legal cause pretty much indefinitely, although in practice they tend to be held a few months then released. As such, the total number of Israeli-held "prisoners" is limited -- in 2008, Adallah put the number at 11,000 -- but many more Palestinian men have been cycled through the system. In the weeks immediately following the kidnappings, Israelis "arrested" another 400 Palestinians, as if they were stocking up for an eventual exchange to ransom the three Israeli teens.
Much rarer are Palestinian kidnappings of Israelis: by far the most famous the kidnapping of an IDF soldier on the Gaza border in 2006, Gilad Shalit. He was held for five years by Hamas operatives and eventually repatriated in a deal that that involved release by Israel of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. With many thousands of more Palestinians locked away in Israeli prisons, there was some sentiment among Palestinians in favor of kidnapping more Israelis, but in fact there have been very few such cases, especially leading to successful hostage exchanges. Still, given the costs of getting Shalit back, it's easy to understand why Israel would overreact to a new kidnapping.
And overreact is precisely what Israel did. Aside from snatching up more than 400 prisoners, Israelis have thus far killed at least 10 Palestinians. Much of this was initially done by the IDF in what they called Operation Brother's Keeper, as they went through various Palestinian villages and refugee camps, searching and damaging over 1,000 buildings. Early on, the Netanyahu government decided to blame Hamas for the kidnappings. They quickly identified two Hebron residents as suspects, and claimed that they had been Hamas operatives. While there is no doubt that Hamas was responsible for the Shalit abduction, Hamas has recently agreed with Fatah to form a "unity government" in the Palestinian Authority, something the Netanyahu government rejects and is very keen on breaking up.
It's very important to understand that Netanyahu in particular (and for that matter nearly all prominent Israeli politicians today and in the past going back to Ben Gurion) has absolutely no desire to negotiate any sort of conflict resolution with the Palestinians. They have at present pretty much what they want: all of Jerusalem and the ancient land of Samaria and Judea, the Golan Heights, a system which keeps Palestinian and Arab violence to a low level despite subjecting the Palestinians to grossly unequal treatment, an absence of credible threats from regional powers, a generous subsidy of their military by the US, friendly alliances with the US and most nations in Europe, and a high standard of living. They may on occasion give lip service to negotiations, but in fact they give up nothing as they continue building on Palestinian land and tightening up their matrix of control. They see negotiation as a losing proposition: to resolve the conflict, they'd have to give up land and money, they'd have to give equitable rights, and for little improvement in security they'd obsolete a military system that defines so much of what Israelis live for -- that is in fact the main path to personal success, in business as well as politics.
Of course, that's a rather myopic view of Israeli success, but one they work very hard at propagandizing. They try to push two contradictory messages simultaneously: to the Palestinians, they emphasize their overwhelming power, trying to drive home the futility of resistance; to Israeli Jews, they reinforce a culture of victimhood, where their only protection is the state; and to the world, they play up every act of violence against them while playing down the much greater violence they perpetrate.
So Israel's security forces react to the kidnapping in several ways: they use the incident to reinforce their propaganda messages, and they use it as an excuse to pursue their political goals. The biggest threat to Israel's propaganda line is Hamas seeking to gain international legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinians, so Israel has used this incident to track down and pick up everyone they know of with Hamas connections. But the IDF also used this as an excuse to raid Mustafa Barghouti's Palestinial National Initiative (BDS) organization and confiscate its computers. And they subjected hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to curfews, and shut down various checkpoints.
By June 20 Israel's operations generated more resistance, which they answered with more violence. Wikipedia:
Until June 26, when the bodies were found, Israeli censorship had prevented publication of suspicions that the three teenagers had been killed. Among other things, this gave a cover of urgency for Israel's widespread military operations. After the bodies were found, Israeli politicians started talking more about collective punishment. On July 1, Israeli jets and helicopters struck 34 locations in Gaza. These were answered by small rockets launched from Gaza, so Israel bombed Gaza again, and again. Collective punishment is nothing new to Israel. The British practiced it to suppress the Arab Revolt in 1937-39, and Israel has made an art of it, from Ariel Sharon's Qibya massacre in 1953 to the sonic boom flyovers of Gaza after Israel dismantled their settlements there in 2005. Israel is reportedly massing troops along the Gaza border again, for a possible attack on Hamas like they did in 2006 after Shalit was abducted, and again in 2008's Operation Cast Lead.
One thing the Wikipedia article doesn't go into much is the widespread eruption of hatred against Palestinians within Israeli civil society, at least occasionally turning to violence. (One 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohamed Abu Khdai, was killed by being burning alive.) For a sense of this, see this Haaretz piece by Chemi Shalev:
For an example, Allison Deger (The Aftermath: Home demolitions and dead Palestinian teen follow Netanyahu call for revenge) interviews an 18-year-old Israeli settler, Mier Sh'aribi, at the same hitchhiking spot where the three teens were abducted, then continues:
Anyone who's read Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel will not be surprised by these reactions. The roots of this loathing run deep: the most striking thing about Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East is the extreme contrast between Israel's supremely confident military leaders and its intentionally terrified citizenry. That the military was proven justified in the Six-Day War gave them a free hand for subsequent adventurism, always be bolstered by panicking a public that grew up on holocaust stories. More often than not, those ventures -- Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 are prime examples -- had to be ended early because they had turned into public embarrassments.
Israel's heavy-handed response to the kidnapping and murder of the three teens will also eventually be seen as a public embarrassment, but thus far the hasbara machine has milked the deaths for maximum sympathy while keeping most of everything else under wraps -- most reports of hostilities along the Gaza border focus on toy rockets (invariably attributed to Hamas) as if they are equivalent to F-16 sorties. (Of course, in some moral sense they are, but as a practical matter they are as far apart as any other measurement of relative violence in the conflict: e.g., abductions, house demolitions.) Similarly, the media routinely accepts the legitimacy of Israel's security forces, even when they operate in occupied territories, where they are allowed to invent laws on whim, selectively enforce them, all in support of illegal settlements. No one wants to point out that the three teens were illegal settlers, pawns in a political drama that's meant to dispossess and degrade the Palestinians who have lived on the land for many centuries. That's because no one wants to besmirch the innocence of the victims, but you don't need to deny facts -- that the occupation is illegal and immoral, and that the teens are, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, are part of that occupation -- to see the killings as despicable. All one needs to understand is that no crime in the series justifies the next.
Where the story threatens to get out of hand is with the hate mobs and their revenge killings -- as opposed to the casual deaths that inevitably follow IDF operations in Palestinian villages. Israel did finally manage to arrest six Israelis for kidnapping and torturing (burning) Mohamed Abu Khdai to death -- here "arrest" is the right word: they are charged with specific crimes and entitled to the legal rights including a fair trial (although "fair" for whom is open to debate, as the Israeli legal system has been notoriously lax when it comes to crimes committed by Jews against Arabs. One of the first things I noted in reading about the kidnappings was that the two 16-year-olds (and for that matter the bloodthirsty 17-year-old quoted above) are considered to be juveniles under Israeli law, but 16-year-old Palestinians are tried (when they are tried at all) as adults.
A system is racist when it divides the population into two (or more) groups and makes legal distinctions among them, such as the law that treats Palestinian teens as adults while at the same time treating Jewish teens as juveniles. That's just one of dozens or hundreds of cases of legal discrimination practiced by Israel. Another is that Israel has no death penalty for its citizens, but Israeli security forces have assassinated hundreds of Palestinians with no judicial review whatsoever -- some with F-16s resulting in dozens of collateral deaths. One might still debate whether Zionism is intrinsically racist -- certainly some Zionists are not -- but the actual State of Israel clearly is, as is a substantial portion of its citizens (especially concentrated in the settlements in the occupied territories -- for the history of which, see Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settleements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007, with Blumenthal, op. cit., a useful update).
There is much more one can mention here. (One of the suspects Israel named belongs to the Kawasmeh clan in Hebron, which has some Hamas connections but also has a long history of freelance operations counter to Hamas truces. The guilt of the suspects is presumed because they recently disappeared. Israel went ahead and demolished the suspects' houses rather than stake them out.) As I said, someone should write a book, because the whole conflict is woven into this story, provided you look at it comprehensively enough.
Sunday, January 12. 2014
Charles Krauthammer wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last week which was picked up by the Wichita Eagle. His title was New generation must confront anti-Semitism, but it had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It was just a knee-jerk neocon reaction to a minor victory for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement against Israel's continuing occupation over and debasement of more than five millions Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This bugs apologists for Israel like Krauthammer because it shows that their propaganda is beginning to lose its grip in America and Europe. Krauthammer doubles down with this amazing paragraph:
Israel has no constitution, nor any fundamental guarantee of free speech or freedom of religion, and its courts, far from being "fiercely independent," rarely act to restrain the most extreme abuses of state power. Israel classifies its citizens, granting many exclusive privileges to those who are Jewish, and dividing up its Palestinian subjects into various classes based on where they live. Most of the latter have little freedom of movement, have limited economic opportunity, and are subject to arbitrary arrest without charges or due process. Worse still, they are constantly subjected to the threat of violence, and often, almost randomly, to its actuality, and not just from the various armed forces of the state but from ad hoc groups of Jewish citizens, who are rarely restrained and almost never punished for their transgressions.
Krauthammer tries to defend Israel by pointing to crimes of other countries, such as Syria's recent use of "'barrel bombs' filled with nails, shrapnel and other instruments of terror." Hard to see how that in any way exculpates Israel's air force for using white phosphorus munitions during its 2008 attack against Gaza. But Israel's affront to human rights goes far deeper than the inevitable atrocities of its numerous avoidable wars. In 1948 Israeli forces obtained a substantial Jewish majority population in its territory by driving over 700,000 Palestinians into refugee camps, and secured that majority by refusing to allow any Palestinian refugees to return to their prewar homes.
In 1951 Israel extended citizenship to those Palestinians who remained as a minority in Israel, making Israel in principle a nation of its residents, but in reality non-Jewish "citizens" of Israel were second-class, subject to military rule (until 1967) and discriminated against in numerous ways ever since. However, in 1967 Israel attacked Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and seized substantial territories from each. Contrary to international law, Israel moved to settle and in some cases to annex the occupied territories, but in no case has Israel offered even nominal citizenship to its new subjects. As such, Israel ceased to be a nation belonging to its residents and became a state allowing one ethnographic class (Jews), with a semblance of internal democracy, to dominate, control, restrict, denigrate, and oppress its larger population.
Europe and America have long been sympathetic to Israel. They have provided vast support, especially military, which has helped Israel to persevere and to emerge as the preëminent power in the region. It's easy enough to understand why Americans, in particular, have been so enamored with Israel, but it's gradually dawning on many Americans that the regime in Israel has become deeply inimical to the principles and ideals our country was founded on and has long, publicly at least, aspired to. (In practice, America's treatment of its own native people and the long-term persistence of a racial caste system, is one thing we have in common but would prefer to think we've overcome.) Israel's propagandists get so agitated when their system of control over Palestinians is likened to South African Apartheid because they realize that history isn't on their side. Same thing with BDS, which most people associate with the struggle for equality in South Africa.
There's no doubt that sanctions can go too far. Japan, for instance, only attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 (and invaded Indonesia) after the US shut off oil supplies. Israel's own attempt to impose "a diet" on Gaza led Hamas to launch its toy rockets into Israel. Some people, like Noam Chomsky, have opposed BDS not because they don't understand how inimical Israel has become to human rights but because they fear driving Israel to some sort of violent paranoid fit. Readers of Max Blumenthal's new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which focuses on the extreme right in Israel and the inroads they've made on mainstream Zionist thought, will be all the more nervous in this account.
But I see two reasons why I think BDS will have a positive effect. The first is that it sends a message, or actually two: one is that the propaganda isn't working and we can see through the unfair behavior. The other is that continuing that behavior has tangible, even if not especially damaging, consequences. One big reason the right wing in Israel has gained power over the last decade is that they've managed to convince voters that no one in the west would ever push back when Israel imposed its will on the Palestinians, and left-center parties have pretty much acquiesced to that argument. BDS shows both sides that there are tangible costs now and potentially greater costs in the future, and that will help the center-left to counter against the self-destructiveness so well described in Blumenthal's book.
The other reason for pushing BDS now is that it's something small groups can do well short of gaining political power. We're a long ways from being able to turn the US government around, but the ASA -- the American Studies Association, the group Krauthammer is railing against ("an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism") -- is a much more practical forum, yet still one that sends the message.
Is supporting BDS anti-Semitism? The only people who see it so are those who equate the state of Israel with the Jewish people, and even then they're hard pressed to find any evidence of anti-Semitism other than a critique of the abuses of power by the armed state of Israel and its chosen people. If such people really had any concern about anti-Semitism, they wouldn't insist on equating Jews with Israel, let alone with Israel's involvement with occupation, domination, and wanton violence. But true believers in Zionism have always depended on anti-Semitism: it is the force that drives Jews to flee to Israel, the force that justifies the need to live apart from the world, the force that fuels their revenge fantasies. And if often seems like the only way they can carry on is to invent more of it.
One irony here is that Jews in the diaspora have been in the forefront of local and international movements for liberalism and socialism, for personal freedom and for social justice -- a stance which drives them increasingly to question the behavior of the Israeli state and people. The few Americans who are aware of how distorted and dehumanizing life has become in Israel, especially in its settlements and occupied territories, and who still insist on championing Israeli militarism to the hilt are on the far right here -- fascists like Krauthammer, and highly disingenuous ones at that.
Ariel Sharon, né Scheinermann, died yesterday, at age 85, although he had been incapacitated by a stroke and coma since 2006, making his earthly departure something of a non-event. Possibly the single dumbest thing that George W. Bush ever said was when he described Sharon as a "man of peace." Sharon's own autobiography, which came out about that time, was titled Warrior. He was intimately involved in every Israeli war and nearly every border skirmish and retaliatory atrocity since 1948. In 1951 he led an Israeli commando force that demolished the village of Qibya, setting a standard for flagrant abuse of power that continued unchecked until he embarrassed the IDF during the Sabra and Shatila massacres in his 1982 Lebanon War and was removed from his post as Defense Minister. After that, he worked to rehabilitate himself by promoting illegal settlements, finally became Likud party leader in 2000, wrecked the Oslo "peace process" and provoked the "Al-Aqsa Intifada," the excuse he used to viciously crush the Palestinian Authority. He was a showboating general, a flamboyant politician, a ruthless opportunist, and most likely deeply corrupt. Even when he made a step that might have led toward peace, such as his 2004 withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, he did it in such a way as to ensure that the conflict would continue. That Israel should forever be at war with everyone, not least with its own people, is his enduring legacy. It's not clear whether he would have been proud of that, but that was the only way of life he ever knew, and the only one he could stand living. He was far from the only one to have created that world -- in his youth he was devoted to David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan and benefited much from their favoritism -- but by the end he had come to personify and embody the wretched fruits of war.
Saturday, November 16. 2013
It isn't exactly surprising that Israel should want to sabotage the new round of talks between Iran, the U.S., and other major powers. Nor that they would employ their vast lobbying networks in the U.S., nor that this would bring out their most obsequious media flacks to the forefront. Still, it is downright shocking the extremes to which Cal Thomas went in his column Iran agreement shouldn't stab Israel in the back. He starts with a story about a 1994 promise North Korea made to ex-president Jimmy Carter to "close a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for food and humanitarian aid." He notes then that North Korea reopened the reactor, concluding that "Tyrants lie" -- without mentioning that the US failed to fulfill its end of the agreement, or that the US maintained a blockade and crippling sanctions, or that Bush dubbed North Korea a member of "the Axis of Evil."
Thomas goes on:
Thomas' argument here is not just a "big lie" -- it's based on a total fabrication. No such fatwa has ever existed, nor is any such "religious duty" consistent with any official Iranian position. Iran, like most nations -- judging from UN resolution votes virtually every nation except for the US and Micronesia -- disapproves of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars to return to their homes, and Israel's frequent aggression against neighboring countries. But Iran has also taken the position that it is up to the Palestinians to decide how to deal with Israel. Iran has gone beyond other nations in that they provide substantial military aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but thus far at least Hezbollah has only used Iranian rockets in response to Israeli bombing of Lebanon. (Nor have those rockets been very effective.) That is a far cry from a plan to "annihilate" Israel.
The revolutionary Islamic government in Iran has had many reasons over the years to be critical of the US, starting with the CIA-directed coup against Iran's democracy in 1953, the US alliance with the Shah and US training of the Shah's secret police, the US harboring the Shah after he was deposed, the US freeze of Iranian assets, the US role in supporting Iraq in its 1981-88 war against Iran, as well as various acts of American terrorism against Iran, such as shooting down a civilian airliner and attacking an offshore oil platform. The Iranian government hasn't always acted honorably, but since the Iraq war ended and Ayatollah Khomeini, who came up with that "Great Satan" rhetoric, died, it's been the US that has repeatedly rebuffed efforts by Iran to put relations on a less confrontational level.
On the other hand, Israel has frequently threatened to attack Iran. Israel supports the anti-Iranian terrorist group MEK. Israeli agents have murdered Iranian scientists. Israel has used cyberwarfare against Iran (evidently with US help). Israeli security experts openly talk about their hopes for "regime change" in Iran. And since the early 1990s, Israel has lobbied the US heavily to isolate and undermine the Iranian regime. The interesting thing about that last sentence is that Israeli-Iranian enmity didn't start with the revolution in 1979, with the ascension to power of Ayatollah Khomeini and his "Great Satan" rhetoric. Throughout the 1980s, Israel maintained a close alliance with Iran, shipping it arms, and actually intervening in the Iraq-Iran war in 1982 when Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor project site. Perhaps Israel's interest in Iran was cynical -- the hope that by supporting Iran they could weaken their closer enemy, Iraq.
However, after the US-led coalition defeated Iraq in the 1990 Gulf War Israel began to cast about for a new "existential" enemy -- a role that could no longer be plausibly imagined for any Arab state. Iran fit the bill for several reasons: first, the US still harbored resentment against Iran for holding its embassy staff hostage from 1980-82, so it was relatively easy to push American hot buttons; second, Iran's government explicitly identified itself as Islamic, which also raised some hot buttons with America's Christian right, even when none of the latter had any clue about the differences between sunni and shiite; and third, Iran had been fascinated with nuclear power starting with the Shah before ther revolution, and thanks to self-isolation and sanctions, they could only pursue nuclear energy by developing their own capabilities so it was easy to characterize Iran's program as intending to develop nuclear weapons. And, of course, the prospect of a nuclear-armed nation hostile or even merely opposed to the Israel -- populated by the residual victims of genocide -- and/or the US excited all sorts of paranoid fears. And recall that for the post-9/11 Bush administration, those fears were very useful for advancing their ambitions against Iraq, which was supposedly all about "weapons of mass destruction" -- e.g., Condoleezza Rice's taunt that "the smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud."
Problem was, in order to convince people that their fears were based on solid intelligence, Israel had to project a time frame for Iran's "nuclear programme" to come to fruition. In the mid-1990s, they cautiously projected that Iran was five years away from having the bomb. At various points after that, they even projected shorter time spans, but the fact is that 15 years after the Iranian bomb was due, it still hasn't been built. And when the CIA assessed its own intelligence, they concluded that Iran didn't have actual plans to build a bomb. Which, coincidentally, is what Iran's leaders have said all along.
Thomas' next ploy is to cite an anonymous item from "ynetnews.com" -- the website run by Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot. If he had a non-Israeli source, don't you think he'd use it? Conservatives love to quote the Wall Street Journal or New York Times not because they revere those papers as because they realize their reports usually look less fishy than "Rush Limbaugh says . . ." or "according to an anonymous tip reported by Drudgenet . . ."
Thomas ends up with a dubious historical analogy, concluding, "Roosevelt and Churchill were wrong about Stalin, and the Obama administration is wrong about Iran." Given that Obama's "go to" guy on Iran for most of his time in office has been Dennis Ross, the Obama administration has usually been wrong about Iran. But even if they're wrong now, you have to ask yourself what are they trying to do, and how does that compare to all the alternatives. If the goal is to keep Iranian maniacs from using nuclear weapons against Israel and/or the United States (or any other enemy they have, something Saudi Arabia is especially keen on being), then first of all you have the time-tested standard approach: Israel and the US have enough nuclear weapons to deter any Iranian plot by making it suicidal. (That approach, after all, deterred the Soviet Union, who as Thomas no doubt said dozens of times were a bunch of godless fanatics convinced that capitalism must die and that history was on their side.) It also wouldn't hurt if the Iranian people were given a better stake in the future, which is a reason for relaxing sanctions, normalizing relations, increasing trade and investment, and so forth. It's worth noting that the only communist nations that didn't democratize were the ones the US fought hot wars against and have nurtured grudges against: China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. Ill will only begets ill tidings.
Realistically, that should be enough, but given how wholeheartedly Israeli and American officials have swallowed their own propaganda, the concerned countries should work to establish greater transparency and more open review of Iran's nuclear power efforts. Iran is a member of the NPT, which commits them not to build nuclear weapons and not to aid in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. (Israel, by the way, is not, so if you want to look at renegade states bearing weapons of mass destruction, start there.) Under the NPT, countries such as Iran are still entitled to develop nuclear power, and some countries have done just that without ever considering a weapons program -- most notably, Germany and Japan. Iran is unusual in this regard solely because they are so isolated -- especially due to UN-supported sanctions -- and that produces unique dangers. One thing that we should worry about is whether Iran has access to the latest methods and equipment needed to make sure that their nuclear power plants are safe -- and that won't happen if we keep Iran isolated and force it to be self-sufficient. Again, the way forward here is through more openness and less hostility -- exactly the opposite of what Thomas is arguing for.
It is, therefore, easy to see that the path opened up in this new round of negotiations with Iran can lead to allaying Israel's (and America's) fears, and indeed of defusing one of the world's most dangerous hostile fronts. On the other hand, you need to look at Israel's approach -- which aside from sanctions, espionage, and acts of terror within Iran, might add military strikes to destroy Iran's physical plant -- and what its prospects really are. Bombs may do some damage, but they're most likely to drive the nuclear project ever deeper underground, into deeper security. Moreover, they'll drive more Iranians into believing that nuclear weapons are necessary to defend Iran against outside aggressors. Espionage and terrorism will only make Iran's government more closed and more paranoid, and they will invite Iran to do the same in turn. And sanctions again will impoverish Iran, encourage autarky, and a stubborn resolve to fight back.
It should be understood that Israel has its own reasons for making and maintaining enemies: the idea of external threats helps politically unite the Jewish population and keeps the military-industrial complex humming along, and the security issue distracts from the fundamental problems caused by the occupation and treatment of Palestinians. On the other hand, as Americans we have to ask ourselves whether fondness for Israel is really a good reason for the United States to let Israel decide who our enemies are and how we should deal with them. Certain elements of the US right-wing like the idea of letting Israel lead us around by the nose because they wish us to have the same degree of militarism and war-lust Israel has, but most people think that our "enemies" selected us, not the other way around. And so when a nation like Iran comes to us seeking peace and understanding, why should we reject them?
If you believe everything Cal Thomas says here, and buy into all the bogus historical analogies and suppositions, all he's really saying is that we can't trust Iran, so we should go to war with them now instead of waiting until they, like Hitler and Stalin, inevitably go to war against us. (Ignoring the fact that Stalin and his successors never did start that inevitable war.) Fortunately for us, Thomas is as wrong on his facts as he is ghastly in terms of morality. An agreement with Iran wouldn't "stab Israel in the back"; it would save Israel from making the worst mistake a nation could make.
Tuesday, October 29. 2013
From the start of hostilities in 1947 through the declaration of a borderless Israel's independence in mid-1948 and the subsequent war between Israeli militias and various Arab armies up to the signing of the armistices which established Israel's unhappy "green line" borders in early 1950, over 700,000 Palestinians fled their ancestral homes and/or were driven into an exile. Following the armistices, Israel's Knesset passed a series of laws determined to make the exile permanent: Palestinians who escaped the expulsions were granted what turned out to be second-class citizenship -- they lived under military law until 1967, and even today are denied opportunities afforded to Israel's Jewish citizens -- while those who left had their property expropriated and were denied any chance of returning to their homeland. Sixty-five years later millions of their descendants still wait in refugee camps, a stubborn obstacle to ending the conflict.
Many years later, Serbian military commanders in Bosnia coined an euphemism for genocide which has turned out to be a fair description of many historical events: ethnic cleansing. One way to effect ethnic cleansing was to kill everyone you wanted to get rid of. That was, for instance, Germany's response to the Herero rebellion in its Southwest Africa territory (1904-07, in what is now Namibia), and there have been many more examples, most famously the mass slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during WWI and of Jews by Nazi Germany in WWII. But the words "ethnic cleansing" also describe a case just short of genocide -- as a norm, not that murder is not a substantial part of the story -- namely, the forced exile of one ethnic group leaving a piece of territory more completely in control of some other group.
A classic example came out of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22), which resulted in a "population exchange" as Greeks fled Asia Minor and Turks repatriated from Greece. Some examples were notoriously bloody, such as the British partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 (especially but not limited to Punjab and Bengal). Some were more efficiently managed, such as the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after WWII, but they've never been done without bloodshed and great hardship. An example from American history, the forced transfer of Cherokee and other Indian tribes to Oklahoma Territory in the 1830s, is remembered as Trail of Tears.
For a long time Israel denied responsibility for and evaded discussion of the expulsions. Benny Morris, in his 1988 book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, was the first Israeli historian to systematically document what happened, including more than a hundred massacres which set up a pattern of orchestrated terror. (Morris, by the way, has lamented that Israel didn't drive out even more Palestinians. For a more recent summary, see Ilan Pappé: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.) Morris took pains to deny that the Israeli leadership had any "centralized expulsion policy as such," but there were at least two cases where David Ben-Gurion personally directed mass expulsions: the centrally located towns of Ramle and Lydda (population 50,000 or more in 1948).
Lydda and Ramle were Arab towns on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the main airport in Israel-Palestine was adjacent to Lydda. After Ben-Gurion lobbied for UN approval of a plan to partition Palestine in November 1947, he began plotting how to expand Israel's allotment of the territory. In particular, the UN had kept Jerusalem as an internationally administered region rather than attempt to split it up, but he plotted to seize at least the western half of the city, and that meant he had to capture the corridor between his partition area and Jerusalem. (Israeli forces were only partly successful in this: they captured the cities in the valley but failed to claim the Latrun heights, which like their inability to capture the Old City in Jerusalem remained as a spur to future expansionist wars, an itch not satisfied until 1967, when Israel immediately annexed its most coveted territories.)
The reason I'm dredging up all this history is because I was struck by a passage in a new article on "Lydda, 1948" by Ari Shavitt in The New Yorker (behind their paywall). The article covers the Israeli military campaign to take Lydda -- Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin were leading officers there -- and the expulsion, with some background suggesting that Jewish-Arab relations in and around Lydda were relatively benign before the war. No real news there, but after noting that: "By evening, approximately thirty-five thousand Palestinian Arabs had left Lydda in a long column, marching past the Ben Shemen youth village and disappearing into the east," Shavit adds:
This whole paragraph is sort of a black box about Zionism -- what you get out of it is a reflection of what you put into it. It's easy enough to understand Ben-Gurion's tactical thinking in emptying Lydda and Ramle. He was in the midst of a war where the survival of the Israeli state was at great risk. He had to claim at least half of Jerusalem, and therefore he had to secure the path connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. On that path were close to 70,000 Arabs, and in the hills above that path was the British-led army of Transjordan, his most formidable adversary. Expulsion was an alternative to occupation, and a relatively cheap one under the circumstances -- assuming, of course, that one doesn't have moral qualms about such things.
Ben-Gurion certainly didn't have any such qualms. When Britain's Peel Commission, in 1937, first proposed partitioning Palestine, they also proposed forced transfer of a small number of Jews and a much larger number of Arabs to create two ethnically cleansed states, Ben-Gurion was among the first to stand up and applaud. (The Arabs staged a revolt for independence from Britain and majority rule. When they were finally suppressed in 1939, the British tore up the Peel proposal and never brought it up again. It was Ben-Gurion pushing for partition in 1947, then going to war to secure and to expand his territories, and while no one spoke much of transfer, at least in public, it was deep in their minds -- and I might add it was all too common in fact, as can be seen by the mass violence in partitioning India and Pakistan, by the eviction of Germans from Eastern Europe, by the shift westward of the Polish border, by the massive displacements of the recently ended WWII.
But while it's easy to see the tactical value of emptying Lydda in 1948, and in retrospect it does look like Israel got away both with ethnic cleansing and with its persistent resistance against any return of its refugees -- a combination that shows that justice doesn't always prevail. Still, it's a rather deep and dark statement to see Lydda as something intrinsic to Zionism -- especially looking back from now, when the Jewish State has never been more secure. It's worth recalling that in the 1940s Zionism comprised a range of opinion, ranging from Jabotinsky's "revisionism" on the right -- Netanyahu's father was Jabotinsky's secretary, in case you've ever wondered about his bona fides -- to "cultural" Zionists like Martin Buber and Joseph Magnes whose vision for Israel included an accommodation that would allow Jews and Arabs to live within one state together. The idea that Zionism excludes the possibility of Arab-majority towns like Lydda and Ramle reflects the fact that cultural Zionists have been systematically excluded from popular memory in Israel. That forgetting is ultimately as poisonous as the insistence on drumming into every schoolkid a legacy of fatalistic Jewish heroes from Masada to the Warsaw Ghetto.
Ben-Gurion wasn't a moderate on this scale. He differed from Jabotinsky in his commitment to building the social institutions of the Yishuv, using them as his power base and recognizing that they provided a form for Jewish solidarity before a Jewish state became possible. But his commitment to "Jewish labor" was every bit as exclusionarily racist as Jabotinsky's terrorist militias. Ben-Gurion's great claim to fame was his pragmatism, which let him act ruthlessly while appearing to be reasonable -- in large part due to his remarkable insight into other folks' prejudices. Those skills helped him to use the British colonial administration to destroy his Arab enemies while undermining British rule. They helped him negotiate emigration from Nazi Germany. They helped him gained arms support at critical times from the USSR, France, and the US. They helped him negotiate reparations from Germany. But his compromises with the religious parties precluded development of a broader secular society, and his obsession with maintaining Israel's warrior spirit prevented him (and especially his successor, Moshe Sharrett) from gaining Israel legitimacy as a normal country.
So the view that Israel depends on an Arab-free Lydda (or Lod, as they call it now) should be viewed as a consequence of endless struggle, defined now (as ever) around ethnic cleansing. And if Lydda is key, what's to stop the call for an Arab-free Bersheba, Nazareth, or even Jerusalem? And Shavit, by celebrating Lydda as an essential event in the founding of his beloved Jewish state, leaves himself little defense against even more ethnic cleansing, ever more strife and struggle. It may be pointless to condemn past atrocities, but consecrating them is even worse: it's just a way of surrendering the future to a fate as dismal as the past.
Let me reiterate a bit. Shavit writes:
Or one can search for a different flavor of Zionism that would allow different peoples to live together in peace, or one could shift the import of Zionism into the past (the "post-Zionism" approach), or one could recognize that the mainstream of Zionism was profoundly racist and, given sufficient power, unjust, and try to chuck its dead weight off. By not doing any of these things, Shavit dooms himself to repeat history even though he is aware enough to know better.
Thursday, June 6. 2013
Back in 2005, I wrote a modest proposal for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. I mailed it out to a bunch of people -- an example of "running it up the flagpole to see who salutes it" -- and it was uniformly ignored. The distinct feature of my piece was a mechanism that would allow Israel to keep all of the East Jerusalem environs they annexed in 1967. My argument was that if a majority of the Palestinians in the new territory voted to approve joining Israel, and annexation could be separated from the UN's 1967 assertion of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."
Jerusalem was one of the major sticking points in the "final status" negotiations under Barak in 2000. Even though there was at the time substantial support within Israel for a "two-state solution" that would give up settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, every opinion poll of Israelis that I was aware of showed more than 90% refusing to return East Jerusalem. The equation on annexation for Israel has always been the trade-off between land, which Israel coveted, and people, which Israel feared and loathed. The alternative to the "two-state solution" would be for Israel to extend citizenship and equal rights to all of the people in the Occupied Territories -- a scheme that has become increasingly attractive as expanding Israeli settlements (those "facts on the ground") have made it ever harder, both politically and practically, to disentangle two states. However, Israel has always rejected such a "one-state solution" out of hand, for fear that its demography would tip against a Jewish majority.
However, I figured that the relatively small number of non-Jews in Greater Jerusalem, balanced against Israel's intense desire to keep the land, would be a trade-off that Israel might accept. I also figured that requiring approval of that non-Jewish population would do two things: it would justify annexation under self-determination, grounds that no one could reasonably object to; and it would urge Israel to campaign for the allegiance of a block of Palestinians. Given Israel's past treatment, one would initially expect the latter to reject such an offer, but Israel could offer much in the way of inducements to win the vote, including reforms that would help make Palestinians more welcome as Israeli citizens -- reforms that in general would help to lessen the conflict.
Like I said, my proposal went nowhere. By that time, the Arab League was floating a proposal that called for a full return to the 1967 borders (per UN SCR 242 and 338), albeit with no serious repatriation of pre-1948 refugees. The US was pushing a non-plan called "The Road Map for Peace," which was rejected by Israel, as was every other initiative. There have been proposals by ad hoc groups of Israelis (e.g., the Geneva Accords, the Israeli Peace Initiative of 2011), the coalitions running Israel, both under Kadima and Likud prime ministers, appear to have no interest whatsoever in ever solving anything. The problem isn't even that they have a proposal that Palestinians can never accept. It's that they prefer the status quo, where they face just enough danger to keep their security state sharp, where the settlement project continues to fire their pioneer spirit, and where their low standing in world opinion reinforces the Zionist conceit that the whole world is out to get them -- a unifying narrative with little downside risk, least of all to their standard of living.
I bring this up because I see now that John Kerry is trying to restart some sort of "peace process." Stephen M. Walt writes:
Walt is unsure why Kerry is even bothering, but the US has long had interests in the Middle East beyond Israel, and they demand a certain facade of balance. On the other hand, the Saudis (in particular) don't seem to be very demanding of results, much like they buy sophisticated American aircraft then never really learn to use it. Rashid Khalidi's Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East details how the US initiated three major attempts at "peace process" in Israel-Palestine, then bowed to Israeli pressure (or in some cases just anticipated it) to get nothing accomplished. Kerry is most likely to just add another chapter of failure.
Khalidi has a good description of how this works (pp. 119-120):
Israel has not only worked tirelessly to create "facts on the ground" that dim the prospects of peace. Israelis have also created a mental clutter of catch phrases and jargon that make peace impossible to talk about.
I'll break this post here, and put a first draft of my thinking about how to resolve the conflict after the break . . .
Continue reading "Thinking Around the Israeli-American Impasse"
Sunday, November 18. 2012
In 1947, when the UN attempted to partition Palestine, it allocated the Gaza Strip and adjacent land extending up the Mediterranean coast more than half way to Tel Aviv to the Arab part, simply because none of the people living in that section were Jewish. In 1948, the Zionist leadership in Palestine declared independence and founded the state of Israel, but even though they had lobbied heavily for passage of the UN partition plan, they did not accept its borders. Among their expansion campaigns, they pushed down the coast, compressing the Gaza Strip to half of its original size, and more than doubling its population with refugees.
When the 1949 armistice agreement was signed, the compressed Gaza was ceded to Egypt, but unlike Jordan (which claimed the West Bank and East Jerusalem) Egypt made no effort to annex Gaza. It was kept as a trust, preserving its makeshift refugee camps as a continuing marker of the injustice of Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their native country. Israel invaded Egypt in 1967, seizing Gaza and Sinai up to the Suez Canal. In 1979, Egypt signed a treaty with Israel which Sinai to Egypt, making it whole again, but Israel kept Gaza, placing it under military occupation. In 1993, under the Oslo Accords, Israel subcontracted its occupation to Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority while keeping Gaza sealed off from the rest of the world. In 2005, Ariel Sharon dismantled the few settlements that Israelis had established in Gaza, reducing its on-ground presence to zero, while still controlling the air space, the sea, and borders, with the entire land border surrounded by high security fences. The net effect was to turn Gaza into a 365 square mile open air prison, holding 1.7 million people.
Conditions in Gaza have been dire since 1948, but they deteriorated markedly after 2007. In 2006, the Palestinian Authority held parliamentary elections, which were won by Hamas. Israel, supported strongly by the US, attempted to overturn the elections, most dramatically by staging a coup to seize power in Gaza. That coup failed, resulting in Hamas seizing control in Gaza. Israel responded by tightening its economic stranglehold. Gazans sought relief by digging tunnels to smuggle goods in from Egypt -- under Mubarak, Egypt was tightly complicit with Israel in isolating Gaza (a relationship that is changing as Egypt becomes more democratic). Outsiders have attempted to deliver supplies by boat into Gaza -- Israel continues to prevent them, sometimes violently.
The Palestinian in Gaza are not part of a monolithic mindset, any more than Israelis or Americans are, but they all start out with the shared experience of Israeli containment. (Occupation may no longer be the right word as it implies boots on the ground and on your neck, but Israel controls the flow of goods and people, and always threatens death from the sky, a situation that often amounts to a siege.) Faced with Israeli oppression, some people will inevitably try to fight back, some will resist non-violently, some will capitulate, some will attempt to profit, some will be confused, and many will vacillate between these strategies, especially since none have been proven to work. (Israel, as a government, has its own options and policies, but mostly they act from strength which they underscore by frequent violence -- a lesson that no Palestinian is unaware of.)
Israel's current "Operation Pillar of Defense" started on Nov. 14 with an Israeli airstrike that assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, reportedly the head of the military wing of Hamas, also killing his son and others. The stated reason for the operation was to clamp down on rockets fired by Gazan "militants" into southern Israel, so the assassination was followed up by Israel bombing hundreds of sites in Gaza. The response, of course, was that those "militants" shot off more rockets in three days than they had in the past six months. (Here is a list; I haven't found a corresponding list of Israeli bombings and shellings of Gaza, but a timeline should show that they match up, with Israeli attacks most often provoking the rocket barrages.)
I don't in any way approve of shooting rockets from Gaza into Israel, but it is easy to understand the attraction. For starters, there is Israel's blockade meant to damage, demean, control, and sometimes just punish 1.7 million people, and the most visible symbol of that blockade is the wall that makes Israel impenetrable from Gaza. The main thing a rocket can do is what no Gazan can do: leap over the wall. The tiny, primitive Qassam rockets can't do much more than that: they have no guidance system, they rarely hit anyone or anything, and they don't do much damage when they do, but Israel likes to play the victim and the rocket attacks make for good publicity, so they play them up, harp on the fear they stoke, constantly reminding anyone who'll listen about the Palestinian commitment to killing Jews. (Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, recently described the rockets as "more than a crude attempt to kill and terrorize civilians -- they were expressions of a genocidal intent.") Of course, good publicity for Israel is bad for the Palestinians, but those who shoot off the rockets at least can take some satisfaction in how much they are getting under their enemies' thin skins. For your basic Gazan "militant," shooting off a rocket is a way to get noticed, to stand up to the oppressor, and make them recognize you.
Gaza has been under Israel's control since 1967, but this week's level of hostilities is unusual -- much greater than a similar clash in March, probably more deadly than any time since January 2009, when Israel's Operation Cast Lead actually invaded Gaza, killing 1,417 Palestinians (IDF figures: 1,166; Israel lost 13, 10 of those soldiers, 4 of those due to "friendly fire"; the operation actually started Dec. 27, 2008, and ended Jan. 18, 2009). It seems far from coincidental that both operations started soon after US presidential elections and shortly before Israeli elections. In 2008 it seemed likely that Israel wanted to get her kicks in before Obama took office in case he was inclined to caution -- the net effect was that Bush let Israel go on long enough to embarrass themselves with their brutality while Obama was held speechless, the first of many humiliations America's dearest ally inflicted on him. This time the US election probably didn't matter. (What may matter is that the "militants" were able to fire some new, larger Iranian rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, previously well out of range -- not much of a threat, but it does play into Netanyahu's desire for starting a war between the US and Iran.)
Israel's prime ministers changed between the two operations, but the Defense Minister remained the same: Ehud Barak, the former PM who was elected in 1998 to finish up the Oslo Accords and who wound up destroying the last (at least the latest) good chance we had of resolving the conflict. When Barak was defeated in 2001, George Bush's view was that, "Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things," and Ariel Sharon indulged him, plunging the conflict into the murk of endless reprisals and posturing, where it remains today. In 1967 it seemed quite simple to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict: Israel would give up its newly conquered territories in exchange for peace treaties, a solution that was codified in two UN resolutions, backed by the US and even (with some weasel wording) Israel. Eventually all of the Arab nations, including the Palestinians, came around to that view, but by then Israel and the US (Sharon and Bush) had moved on, thinking they could solve all their problems with a resolute show of force.
That commitment to force is why Israel is fighting its third Gaza War since 2006 (not counting hundreds of skirmishes in a neverending war of attrition). One popular definition of insanity is the belief that repeating a strategy will somehow produce a different result. By that criteria, Netanyahu and Barak clearly are insane -- their sole out is to realize that they are in fact getting the result they want: that by periodically shaking the hornet's nest they get to keep the conflict's definition tied to relative strength, and away from basic human rights.
There is a simple solution here, one so simple it's amazing that no one talks about it. Due to Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, it's become very difficult for Israel and the Palestinians to sort out a fair and equitable division of lands there, and indeed they may never be able to clean up the mess that Israel's illegal settlement program has made. But relative interests in Gaza are totally clear: Israel has no settlements within Gaza, and no desire to ever extent Israeli citizenship to Gaza's residents. Therefore, why not hand Gaza over to the UN to organize elections and secure its status as an independent nation?
I don't want to have to rehash all of Israel's security issues about an independent Gaza (or Palestinian) state: they are easily dismissed on many grounds. And other than security, what is there? Water, I suppose. A very trivial bit of economic advantage Israel enjoys. And it would involve "agreeing to disagree" on unresolved issues, like the "right of return" and the relationship between Gaza and Palestinian enclaves in the Occupied Territories, but independence would eliminate more than 90% of the reason Gazans have to be "militant" -- some may still bear grudges over not being able to return to their ancestors' homes and land, but that is fading, and will fade faster without the constant reminder of Israel's military dominance.
I've been trying to think of "out of the box" solutions to the broader conflict here. Some basic ideas: do what you can when you can, and don't let it prejudice the future; try to convert issues into things that can be solved with money, and apply lots of money to them; forget about who was at fault in the past; kick the stuff you can't agree on far down the road; but keep your eye on the one fundamental goal, which is that in the end everyone should wind up with full and equal rights in a secure state. Gaza, which Israel has no real interest in, is the simplest case: break it loose, open it up, rebuild, legitimize its government, and expect it to live in peace, minding its own business. The other problems are messier, and will take time and fresh thinking. But Gaza is easy.
Conversely, Israel's habitual practice of attempting to beat the Gazans into submission only leads to more war, more ill feeling, more injustice. Israel's militarist elite have deluded themselves into believing that disproportionate force works (see this useful "fact sheet" on their Dahiya Doctrine, which only goes back to 1987, but bear in mind that Ariel Sharon first became a popular public figure in Israel by leading the 1951 Qibya attack, a classic case of overkill excused as retribution). Israelis view their carpet bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut as the key victory in their 2006 war against Hezbollah -- the explanation as to why Hezbollah hasn't attacked Israel in the years since. The 2006 war was at the time regarded as a huge fiasco: Hezbollah's rockets (far more numerous and powerful than anything Gaza possesses) were ineffective, but Hezbollah was very successful at repelling Israeli efforts to invade southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah was more effective than the government at providing relief for those neighborhoods leveled by Israel's air barrage, so the consensus opinion at the time was that Hezbollah came out of the war stronger. The more likely reason why the Israel-Lebanon border has remained quiet is that Israel hasn't provoked another war there.
It is true that Hezbollah hasn't provoked Israel into another war either. But the reason isn't fear of Israel so much as the fact that Lebanon is an independent country, with a democratic political system that Hezbollah participates in but doesn't dominate, and a functioning economy connected to the rest of the world. Hezbollah doesn't have to fire rockets to remind the world that Israel has locked them up in a cage, because Israel hasn't. (That Israel has cast a pallor of terror over the nation is another story, but lately in remission. It may still inspire some "militants," but they are kept in check by an organization that has a stake in the system, and in keeping the peace.)
Gaza could be peaceful too, but only if Israel leaves it alone (or works with it constructively). What Israel should be worried about is that it's going to happen anyway. Egyptian complicity in sealing off and strangling Gaza is no longer automatic: that border has started to open up, and will become more so -- among other things, that makes it easier to smuggle more deadly weapons in (something Iran has little motivation not to indulge). Foreign investment money has started to trickle into Gaza. Before long, the Strip will be a de facto independent state, recognized by many countries, perhaps even by the UN. By then this Operation will look like a last, futile attempt to stem the path to freedom. And unless they stop real soon, this will be another chapter in Israel's senseless brutality toward its neighbors and, indeed, toward its own people. The problem with violence is not just what it does to its victims, but the monsters it makes of its perpetrators.
 Quoted by Paul Woodward. He also quotes Phan Nguyen calculating how many rockets it would take, given their general ineffectiveness, to kill off the Jewish population of Israel: nearly 4.5 billion rockets. Woodward's statistic is that Gaza rockets have killed an average of 2 Israelis per year over the last 12 years. The latest figure I have for the current operation is that 3 Israelis have been killed by more than 740 rockets and mortar shells. During the same time, 46 Palestinians were killed (including 22 "militants").
By the way, the Phan Nguyen piece, Dissecting IDF Propaganda: The Numbers Behind the Rocket Attacks, goes way beyond the calculations cited above, providing a list of Israelis killed by rockets and mortar fire from Gaza, looking into the timing of the launches, and picking over IDF propaganda on the attacks.
 Quoted in Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine.
I used Saturday's Wikipedia figures on Operation Pillar of Defense. Finishing this up on Sunday, so the current tragic numbers keep climbing.
On Nov. 16, Paul Woodward noted that:
Stephen Walt quotes larger figures from B'tselem: "Israel has killed 319 Palestinians since Cast Lead in 2009, while Palestinians have killed 20 Israelis."
For whatever it's worth, the "stone age" experiment has already been tried, in Afghanistan, and guess what? You can destroy every shred of civilization, wipe out the economy, put people into the dark, keep them ignorant and unaware, and the only things they'll still be able to do are shoot rockets and improvise bombs.
However, the other thing about the "stone age" is that at that level of technology and social organization it is impossible to keep 1.7 million people alive in 365 square miles: reducing Gaza to a "stone age" place would either directly or indirectly amount to genocide. Is that what Israelis really want? Rabbi Yaakov Yosef would rather get it done with faster. Follow the links there for more, including Eli Yishal, Israel's Interior Minister -- inside the government, presumably someone in the know -- saying, "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."
A few more links consulted:
Quote from the Levy article, cited above:
Quote from the Walt article, cited above:
Thursday, September 13. 2012
On September 10, a US airstrike in Yemen killed seven people, including Saeed al-Shihri, alleged to be "al-Qaida's No. 2 leader in Yemen." This follows numerous other US airstrikes in Yemen, including one that killed US-born Anwar al-Awlaki.
On September 11, a demonstration at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, turned violent, and the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed. Most likely the demonstration was incidental, providing cover for an independent attack force (see the Quilliam report, which describes a video released by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a call "to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al-Qaeda's second in command killed a few months ago"). The US responded by sending a small detachment of Marines to Libya -- not enough for an occupation, but quacks like one, and will be taken as such by those so inclined.
What this shows is that after eight years of Bush and nearly four of Obama virtually nothing has changed. The US still throws its weight around the Arab world, siding with tyrants it finds conveniently corrupt, helping them kill and imprison their own people, getting trapped in blood feuds, and blamed for the dearth of progress that keeps these nations poor. Sensible persons back away from tactics that don't work; US politicians stumble forward, convinced that losing credibility would be far worse than throwing away lives and treasure.
Oil gets blamed for this, and indeed there are lots of things one can pin on the oil companies, but they prefer to work quietly, and were doing nicely in places like Saudi Arabia until external politics got in their way. The rub there is Israel, ever more a warrior state, which has spent the last four years goading Obama into a pointless and potentially tragic showdown with Iran. That may seem nothing more than good sport for Israel, much like their dabblings in US domestic politics, like smacking down uppity presidents with congressional resolutions and radio flak.
For Israel, hostilities are a win-win proposition: either they kick ass, or they burnish up their victimhood cult, renewing their claim to the moral high ground. (And while they whine about their losses, they're never so severe they disturb the warrior ethos.) On the other hand, for the US war is lose-lose: like Todd Snider's bully, what kicking ass winds up meaning is you got to do it again tomorrow, and again and again and again, all the while exposing your inner wretchedness. Israel, behind its Iron Wall, can fancy that it's better to be feared than liked, but the US needs good will to do business, so with every misstep risks losing it all. That's why the two days both wind up in the loss column.
In the wake of the embassy incident, Obama promised to bring the killers "to justice": the first thing that flashed through my mind was Pershing chasing all over Mexico after Pancho Villa, nothing but a wild goose chase. But even nominal success most often rings hollow, as Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden have proven. (Ultimately, both happened after killing more people than the evildoers had themselves, making one wonder what a higher power should do with Bush and Obama.)
Meanwhile, Romney accused Obama of "apologizing for America" when the State Department tried to disclaim and disown the video that triggered (or served as the pretext for) the demonstrations. Presumably, Romney thought that Obama should have stood up for gross slander of a religion with one trillion followers -- presuming that Romney was thinking, as he's likely to disavow the video himself by week's end. Still, even if he walks back the particulars, you've seen his basic instinct: to plunge headlong, chin up, into every conflict that comes his way, as if, like Israel, he's convinced that every fight is win-win.
That last point is the secret behind the Neocons' slavish idolatry of Israel: envy. They want to fight, and they want to win. They want to thumb their noses at the world, and have the world cower before them. They see that on a small scale with Israel, and even there they don't actually see very well, but they're convinced that if only our leaders had the vision and the guts we could scale Israel's formula up and leave the world awestruck. Romney, of course, is as committed to Neoconnery as McCain and Bush -- see John Judis: never apologize, never negotiate, never think, just act. After all, you're America: always right, invincible (except when led by cowards like Obama, Clinton, and Carter).
Update: Minor edit above, changing "Israeli movie" to "video." Initial reports were that the demonstrations were against a movie produced by a California-based Israeli named Sam Bacile. WarInContext has a post that suggests that it was in fact produced by an Egyptian Christian living in California. As I understand it, the title is Innocence of Muslims, and at present it is only distributed as a 14-minute excerpt on YouTube, so it is not clear to me whether words like "film" and "movie" are appropriate. These details don't have any real bearing on the argument above. The video may be a convenient pretext for a demonstration, but the real issue is US interference in the region, including support for regimes that do real violence to people, especially Israel's occupation.
Speaking of which, I see now that Obama has dispatched several Navy ships to the Libyan coast, and has started flying drones over Libyan air space "to search for the perpetrators of the attack" -- once again the instinct of US leaders is to make it all worse. Romney, clueless as ever, argued: "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." What he means is that the government should stand up in solidarity with every bigot identified as American because failure to do so could be construed as "apologizing for America," and the World's Greatest Nation should never apologize for anything.
Further Update (Sept. 15): Two items from Washington Monthly's Lunch Buffet:
It's easy to see how such great minds can get confused. The nominal purpose of America's "Oil Wars" -- the long string of US operations in the Middle East (and Afghanistan) since Carter declared the oil in and around the Persian Gulf a "national interest" in 1979 -- has always been to help our good Muslims against those bad Muslims (the definitions sometimes changing, e.g., in Afghanistan), so the US has always had to be careful not to make offense against Islam. But it's always been easier to sell those wars to the American people with a dollop of racial and religious bigotry -- you could even call it "Crusader zeal" -- and as the wars have unfolded, most of what you actually see is Americans killing Muslims, the "good" inevitably mixed in with the "bad" -- and this results in a polarization that undermines the original premise. For someone like Bachmann, the enemy winds up being all of Islam. Romney is more of a neocon, so he has to keep the notion that we're helping "good Muslims" in play, even though he doesn't always remember that before he speaks.
Saturday, February 4. 2012
The news has been overrun with stories about the grave threat of Iran's nuclear program, or at least the grave threat of Israel's well publicized desire to pre-emptively bomb sites in Iran on the theory that doing so would slow Iran's development program down. Israel's treat has some credibility give that Israel launched similar bombing runs on nuclear power sites in Iraq and Syria, but those sites were smaller and closer, and Israel's plans weren't anywhere near as broadly advertised. Iran's sites are numerous, widely scattered, many in deep underground bunkers, presumably defended with anti-aircraft weapons.
It's not clear that Israel has the capability of launching an effective attack. Israel's case for attacking is uncritically examined in a long article by Ronen Bergman in The New York Times, Will Israel Attack Iran? Indeed, one thing that is clear from the article is that Israel is already attacking Iran. Israel has long backed anti-Iranian terror groups like the MEK. Israel has reportedly launched cyberattacks against Iran. And Israel has already managed to assassinate a number of Iranian scientists. Israel has been successful at goading the US and Europe into adopting crippling economic sanctions against Iran, and many of these have been adopted explicitly in hopes that by appeasing Israel they will forestall even larger and more deadly acts of war.
Tony Karon explains how this works:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Israel's strategy is nuts. For starters, they assume that a nuclear-armed Iran would behave differently from every other state that has nuclear arms: namely, that it would use those weapons, perhaps even clandestinely, to preëmptively destroy another state. All other states keep their weapons in reserve to deter an attack through the threat of retaliation and mutual destruction. The US is a partial exception to this: during its monopoly period the US became the first and last nation to ever drop atomic bombs on an enemy. Since then, some US officials have threatened to use nuclear weapons on enemies with no nuclear weapons, as in Korea and Vietnam, but there were never any concrete operations to do so. The US did perpetrate the only instance of "nuclear blackmail" when Kennedy threatened the Soviet Union over Cuba, and Nixon later bluffed an attack on Russia -- something he dubbed his "madman theory." Even now, when US presidents like Bush and Obama boast of keeping "all options on the table," the world is well aware that one of those options is nuclear.
Israel's fear of annihilation has deep psychological roots, most specifically in the Holocaust, but that paranoia also depends on the assumed identity between the Jewish people and the Israeli state -- an assumption that many who are troubled by the latter do not share. For Israel to see a potentially nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat requires a whole chain of assumptions that are more or less dubious: that Iran would develop nuclear weapons expressly to attack Israel, and that Iran would be indifferent to nuclear retalliation by Israel. It would be far simpler, and far more logical, to think that Iran's sole interest in nuclear weapons would be to deter attack from hostile neighbors -- as, for instance, the examples of India and Pakistan show, or for that matter as was the case with Israel's own program. (I cautiously use the past tense here, as Israel too brags about keeping "all options on the table"; Israel's options include nuclear weapons, and indeed it's hard to see how Israel could manage to destroy Iran's bunkers without using nuclear weapons -- so to a large extent, Israel's perception of an Iranian nuclear threat is a reflection of Israel's own willingness to use nuclear weapons against Iran.)
One of the big points in the Bergman article is this idea that Ehud Barak has that there is only a limited time window in which Israel can act to stop Iran (presumably with acceptable consequences for Israel, if not necessarily for its allies), and beyond that window Iran will be immune from Israeli threats. That sounds like a very big incentive for Iran to push ahead: in essence, Israel is saying that as long as Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons Israel will feel free to attack it, but once Iran has nuclear weapons, Israel will have to treat Iran with more respect.
But stop for a moment and think what this means. Israel likes to be able to bully its neighbors. If Israel's security honchos think that Syria is doing something it doesn't like, Israel just swoops over and bombs it -- no questions asked, no risk. Syria doesn't dare strike back against Israel. And when Syria complains to the UN, the US is there to veto any resolution. Same with Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, you name it: Israel can act with impunity, because no one else can stand up to it. But a nuclear-armed Iran would cramp their style, forcing them to think twice before blowing something up or killing a scientist or political figure or whatever.
Another thing that's nuts about Israel's ploy: why should the world be willing to support, or humor, or appease, Israel's desire to do something insane? When Sarkozy, for instance, came out in support of sanctions, he sounded like Chamberlain in Munich, reluctantly doing so only to buy "peace for our time" -- the clear implication there was that the threat to peace he was appeasing was Israel, not Iran. The fact is that Israel has behaved criminally ever since its founding, when its first move was to overrun the UN partition boundaries to seize Jerusalem, and when the UN sent a mediator in Israelis promptly killed him. Israel then drove over 700,000 Palestinians into exile, stripped them of their citizenship and confiscated their property, in violation of UN resolutions. From 1949-67 Israel repeatedly violated the armistice borders, and in 1967 they more than doubled their territory, again ignoring UN resolutions to return the land in exchange for peace treaties. Instead, they set up hundreds of illegal settlements and outposts while stripping the occupied population of all rights. They promoted a civil war in Lebanon, and occupied the country for 18 years, then six years later came back and bombed it again, just out of spite. They've sent agents out into dozens of countries to commit murder. They've committed "false flag" acts of terrorism like the Lavon bombings of British offices in Egypt. They've developed nuclear weapons. And as Gershom Gorenberg shows in his recent book, The Unmaking of Israel, Israel's contempt for law has lapped over into their daily life.
The nations of the world should be working to rein in Israel's insanity -- not flattering it, or catering to it. One might, for instance, couple sanctions against Iran with a promise that the same (or stiffer) sanctions will be applied against Israel if the latter attacks Iran, or if Israel doesn't desist from activities to sabotage and destabilize Iran. (As the Bergman article explains, Israel's endgame viz. Iran is "regime change" -- how they would do this, let alone why the Iranian people would acquiesce in yet another foreign country picking its leaders, isn't explained at all plausibly.) One might, after all, reasonably suspect that Iran's desire to obtain nuclear weapons is conditioned by fear of attack by a nuclear-armed adversary like Israel (or, for that matter, the US). Since sanctions are seen as a route toward some sort of negotiated agreement with Iran, wouldn't they be even more effective if combined with an effort to make Iran more secure, as opposed to threats which only make nuclear weapons seem more desirable?
All this assumes that the charge that Iran desires to build a nuclear arsenal is correct, and not just a hallucination conjured from the paranoid psyches of Israel's security establishment. There is in fact much reason to doubt this. Iran is a member of the NPT, and as such has officially forsworn nuclear weapons development, and everything verified about Iran's nuclear power program conforms to NPT strictures. Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei has declared nuclear weapons to be inimical to Islam -- an unequivocal statement which will be awkward, to say the least, to amend in the future. Iran's desire to build nuclear power plants isn't unreasonable (although, given the inherent risks of nuclear power may not be wise -- the US continues to promote nuclear power plants around the world but there haven't been any concrete efforts to build new ones here in a couple decades). And Iran's long isolation from world trade -- part its own fault and part not -- has made it all the more critical to Iran to be self-sufficient. (Iran has already gone through the experience of inheriting an Air Force full of American F-15s that it is unable to buy parts for. The Bushehr reactor, started under the Shah, has long been at the mercy of foreign suppliers. On the other hand, one suspects that much of the opposition from France, Germany, and Russia is fear that Iran will succeed and wind up competing for sales of nuclear technology.) Moreover, history has shown that nuclear weapons are expensive and useless; however, having the materials, technology, and expertise may be enough to deter foreign attack. As Karon points out, a number of nations have "threshold capacity" -- everything they need to build a bomb but no finished bombs (he cites "Japan, Brazil, Argentina and others"). There is also a fair amount of ego at stake for Iran: they want to be seen as an advanced nation, one credential for which is mastery of nuclear technology.
Unless you think that Iran's leaders enjoy some death wish where the path to heaven passes through Jerusalem -- a strange perversion of Mohammed's "midnight flight" -- it's hard to think of any reason Iran would want nuclear weapons other than to put an end to Israel's persistent goading. Israel has been predicting that Iran will develop nuclear weapons in 3-5 years ever since 1995. The only thing different now is that they've finally shortened the time frame -- which oddly makes one think they must know something even though they have a two decade track record of knowing nothing.
I've made vague reference to "the world" above, which may or may not include the US, but I'm thinking more of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, and a few others -- India and Brazil especially hate to be excluded. The World doesn't have a lot of commitment one way or the other, but generally dislikes nuclear proliferation -- even if the risk is small, who wants more? -- and worries about an oil price spike, which is likely to happen if Iran's oil is taken off the world market, and certain if oil stops flowing through the Straits of Hormuz -- the main place where Iran's military could fight back (where, in effect, Iran could apply economic sanctions on the rest of the world, not that it would be so neat). (You'd also like to think that the World would put a high value on peace and justice, but their focus on Iran and not Israel here isn't encouraging.) World interests need to find a way to mediate the crisis, but for the most part they've assumed their risks are so minimal that they've just let Israel and the US steer their options.
The US is part of the World, but is also very peculiar -- at least where Israel is concerned. The US should share the World's concerns, and even more acutely. The US economy is exceptionally sensitive to oil price spikes, partly because oil is such a large part of the US trade deficit, partly because the US has kept gas taxes low so price spikes are relatively large. And the US has extensive business interests, not to mention troops, all around Iran, so if war broke out the US would feel the destruction as much as any country other than Iran. But even as Obama has backed out of the war in Iraq and is starting to back away from Afghanistan, his administration has turned aggressively against Iran. The reason is plainly that for domestic political reasons Obama has lost his command of US foreign policy toward Iran: he has subcontracted it out to Israel. (Of course, we should have recognized this the moment Obama appointed long-time Israel flack Dennis Ross as his "Iran advisor.")
There are lots of ways to understand why this worked out this way, but one as good as any is explained by David Bromwich in a review of Newt Gingrich's campaign tome (To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine), a piece called The Republican Nightmare.
You can see how this works: Obama's basic sense of strategy is to take whatever the Republicans say as his normative guideline, then dial it back 10-15% toward sanity, confident that that's all the difference he needs to promise to keep his base and enough of the middle. This approach is bad enough on issues where the parties differ only in degree, but 85% of totally fucking nuts is way too far gone. Presidents normally have a lot of leeway in foreign policy, but here the AIPAC-whipped Congress insists on tying Obama's hands, preventing his administration from even talking to anyone in Iran, lest they figure out how to derail imminent war.
The funny thing is this is a situation that could be resolved if only both sides took some responsibility. All sanctions against Iran should be dropped as long as Iran's program is open to and approved by NPT inspectors. This means that Iran can have its nuclear power industry, including its own enrichment facilities, but cannot divert fuel for weapons development. On the other hand, Israel, the US, and any other party will be prohibited from any efforts to sabotage or destabilize Iran or to influence Iranian politics, under threat of severe sanctions. In effect, the World would guarantee that Iran cannot be be attacked or threatened, as has been the case almost constantly since the Shah was deposed in 1979. In turn, Iran would ensure that the Straits of Hormuz will remain open to shipping, and Iran would agree not to interfere in other nations except as agreed by those nations. This would also be a good time to solve the issue of Hezbollah in Lebanon: if Israel would return its last sliver of Lebanese soil and the several thousand Lebanese it has kept jailed since 2000, and agree not to ever attack Lebanon again or interfere in Lebanon's politics, Iran would agree to stop shipping arms to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah would in time disband its militia. (I don't see a need for them to do so until they can trust that Israel would keep up its end of the bargain. Iranian support of Hamas is another issue, but doesn't really amount to much. It would, of course, be good to resolve that too, that that is a much thornier problem from the Israeli side.) As these agreement go into place, the US would open diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran. In particular, Iran could (if it wishes) draw on US expertise to improve the safety and reliability of its nuclear power plants, since it's in everyone's interest that the damn things not blow up or melt down.
This is hardly utopian: pretty much everything I just described was offered for negotiation by Iran a decade ago, when Iran had a relatively reformist prime minister and proved helpful in getting international agreement on how to run Afghanistan. Bush not only rebuffed such efforts, he assigned Iran to his "axis of evil" -- a phrase that came out of the efforts of Israel-worshipping neocons who saw invading Iraq as a stepping stone to toppling Iran (they liked to say, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men go to Tehran"). Obama was in large part elected because the American people was sick and tired of Bush's warmongering and the quagmires it led to, but since taking office he has never been able to muster the guts to face down the forces of militarism (of which the Israel lobby looms large). The Republican hawks are giving him another chance to campaign against senseless, fruitless wars. Maybe at last he can find himself, if only he doesn't embarrass himself too badly in the meantime.
Thursday, May 26. 2011
Chernus also has some useful paragraphs on why most Israelis prefer to keep the conflict unresolved -- the common enemy unites the Jewish people, and patriotic unity (militaristic and racist as it is) is the sole grounds for keeping a right-wing government in power, although the nominal left in Israel is every bit as desperate to cling to that sense of unity. What Chernus doesn't say is how much depends on the conflict and its resolution.
The core fact is that Israel is the last unresolved white settler colony. In all previous cases, white settler colonies succeeded or failed based on demographics. Basically, where the white settlers had the numbers they won (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, many parts of Latin America from Argentina and Chile to Cuba although some parts were eased with integration, where the natives submitted to the colonizer's religion). Where they didn't, they lost (South Africa and Algeria were the closest and hardest fought). Israel is smack in the middle on that scale, a point Israel's founders were all too conscious of. From the early days of British sponsorship, they grasped that success or failure depended on how many Jews they could convince to immigrate, and how many Palestinians they could get to leave. After WWII nearly everyone came to think that seizing land by force, transplanting your settlers to secure that land, and building an occupier/occupied caste system were crimes of a bygone age, but that's what Israelis did -- most emphatically but by no means exclusively in 1947-49 -- and their entire history has been spent in securing those gains, in making them irreversible even as more and more people see them as unjust and unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the lessons we learned from WWII weren't learned as quickly or as completely as we tend to remember them. The Nazis fatally discredited racism and anti-Semitism, but the US Jim Crow system remained intact another twenty years, South African Apartheid much longer, and in 1946 there were anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland. The rules against moving settlers into occupied territory came in reaction to Germany moving its nationals into eastern Europe, but the Soviet Union both moved borders and whole peoples after the war, sliding Poland well to the west, and ejecting both the new Germans and ones that had lived in the east for many centuries. WWII fatally disrupted the colonial system, but France and Great Britain clung to parts of their prewar empires for another twenty years, fighting especially hard to support their white minorities in Algeria and Kenya. Britain callously split its India colony into two camps, instigating genocidal slaughter that killed over a million and sent many more millions fleeing across new borders -- less than a year before Britain callously abanoned Palestine to civil war. And of course the founders of Israel were shocked and reacting to the Nazi genocide of six million Jews, an event that they viewed as proof of the necessity of the Zionist project -- proof that anti-Semitism was eternal, proof that they had no home in Europe they could return to, a prism which inflated the Arab resistence they faced locally to existential peril.
So it's easy to understand how this came about, and why so many Israelis cling to deep-seated myths of diminishing utility. For sixty years they've kept up the fight, motivating themselves with lessons from their victimhood and a neverending litany of wrongs against them. The Palestinians were a bit slow on the uptake at first, although even in the 1930s many could see the same fateful struggle over demography: a fear that proved more than justified, although it came at the most unfortunate of times, just as Hitler was organizing his genocide. The Palestinians went through every stage of resistance, from thinking they could take back their land to thinking they could throw off their occupiers to negotiation to abjectly pleading to the world for the basic dignity of human and civil rights. They are, in short, a beaten people, yet even that doesn't quiet the Israelis, for by their very success they've impaled themselves on the horns of a dilemma: they still want all of the land, and they still want none of the people on that land, and nothing less will satisfy their sense of themselves as the victors, or fully justify their long and bloody struggle.
For anyone with a modicum of rationality, there are two easy solutions at this point: Israel can keep the land and adopt the people, giving them citizenship and diluting the Jewish majority, threatening their sense of owning a Jewish State; or Israel can divide the land, giving up control over the parts that are mostly non-Jewish so that Palestinians can enjoy citizenship and rights in a state that is not Israel. One problem with the latter is that Israel has deliberately created a gulag of settlements in the West Bank that are virtually impossible to disentangle. Another is that Israeli have overwhelmed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians insist should be the capitol of their free nation. Another is what to do about millions of Palestinian refugees, especially those born and raised in countries like Lebanon that do not recognize their citizenship. And there are lots of smaller problems, some real like the vast number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, most rather silly (like the security concerns of Israelis who insist that a Palestinian state have no rights to its own air space or coastal waters). But all of those things could be negotiated if both sides were to show mutual respect and a desire to give up the struggle and live in each other's company.
It wasn't always like this, but more and more it's just the Israelis who are obstructing peace. The Palestinians, as I've said, have been utterly defeated, but whereas in earlier times that may have meant they would slaughtered, sold into slavery, and/or forced into exile, today they can still insist on the right to be treated like anyone else. More and more, Israel's failure to recognize this is turning them into an international pariah, much like happened to South Africa during the last days of Apartheid. But this far Israel has escaped the practical consequences of their obtuseness because they've been able to bully and cajole the US into providing them with moral cover (and billions of dollars). The US has gone along for lots of not very good reasons, from the fact that we used to be a white settler colony ourselves to the various interest groups, like the military-industrial complex, that benefit from friendship with Israel, to AIPAC, to Israel's bizarre cultivation of born again Christians (especially those pining for the apocalypse). On the other hand, that support has its downsides, not least the utter moral confusion of having to exempt Israel (and therefore the Palestinians) from everything we say about the rest of the world.
So watching Obama flounder here is doubly unfortunate. On the one hand, he is isn't saying what needs to be said: something that finally shakes Israel out of its stupor. On the other hand, what he is saying isn't taken seriously, because he doesn't have the authority and political clout to back it up. I've long understood how intransigent Israel's politicians are on this issue, in large part because I appreciate how central it is to their identity, but I've also long suspected that Israeli public opinion is more flexible. The one time an American president actually showed his displeasure with Israeli intransigence the Israelis voted Shamir out and Rabin in, leading to the Oslo Accords. So what I've been waiting for ever since Obama took office was the sort of signals that would undermine Netanyahu's extremely fragile coalition. Just as Netanyahu successfully sabotaged Oslo, there has never been any doubt that he would keep any new peace initiatives from taking effect -- as indeed he has. But his command of Israel has always been very tentative; nudge him out of office and the climate could change markedly. But as long as Netanyahu can push Obama around, this is certainly the lesson of last week, why should Israelis doubt him? They are relatively comfortable with the persistence of a conflict which costs them very little and makes them feel like God's Chosen People. And as long as the US kowtows to them, they pretty much are, despite the fact that what they are doing is offensive to everyone else -- most of all to people who realize that we'd be much better off with more mutual respect and a lot less violence.
Wednesday, January 26. 2011
Several War in Context links on "the Palestine papers" -- a mass of documents leaked to Al Jazeera. Even more so than Wikileaks these leaks are proving embarrassing to all parties, most pointedly to Palestinian Authority officials like Saeb Erekat who have been desperately and futilely trying to figure out how much surrender it takes to appease an Israeli government that would much rather fight than switch. None of this is news to people who have been paying attention, but most haven't, and may be in for some shocks. Of course, those content with the status quo have already started blaming the leaks for making their lives more difficult, but as Paul Woodward explains, "you can't slow down a stationary peace process."
Many more links are embedded in these pieces, with much of the best analysis at Al Jazeera itself, partly because they've sought out world class experts; e.g.:
I haven't spent anywhere near enough time to sort all this out, and doubt that I will. But I'm glad to see these details emerging into public light.
Saturday, January 1. 2011
Laura Tillem: What do you do/if you are a Jew: Laura wrote this for a Wichita Peace Center event held in September at Poetic Justice, a local cafe that features poetry slam events. Seemed like a good opportunity to roll up and reiterate a set of points she's been making for years. Rhymes too. Also seemed like a good fit for the Mondo Awards, where the poem is entry 29.
I haven't had much to say about Israel recently. The evils of its current government and indeed of the whole culture that lets them rule have become so commonplace it's become tiresome to keep pointing them out. For just a taste, consider these headlines from War in Context:
Not sure who said this, but someone referred to the racist rabbis in Israel as the "auto-defamation league" -- a label that applies to more and more Israeli politicians. It's possible to trace the Zionist movement's fascination with ethnic cleansing -- their term, borrowed from the British, was "transfer" -- back to the 1930s, but Israel's leaders were usually careful to wrap up their intents with loftier prose, which helped Israel's liberal sympathizers and supporters do their best to keep American public opinion in line. But recently, headlines such as those above have started to erode deep-seated trust and commitment. Two pieces point this out: America's leading liberal Zionists are losing faith in Israel, and the typically snarky Israeli riposte: New York Times sick of Israel.
Also of note:
That's just one source among many -- too many to monitor let alone act on. So, indeed, what do you do?