October 22, 2012

EDITOR: On the eve of elections, Obama proves his weakness

It is clear that Romney’s election for president may bring about a global crisis within a short time, where political, military and financial fault lines will come to play in the open. But thinking about the last four years one is less than impressed with Obama’s performance. Thus the voting for Obama becomes a voting against Romney – a vote against danger rather than a vote f0or hope, as was the original vote for Obama in 2007.

Obama entered his presidency with the Cairo speech, and he may leave it with a picture of weakness and confusion – he supported Mubarak to the end, as well as the rump of Libyan rebels who have killed Ghaddafi, but are unable to build a government which is democratic or genuine. He supported the Gulf governments against their citizens, and is completely confused by events in Syria. More than ever, the US position vis Palestine is compromised by Israeli interests – Obama can take credit for establishing support for the settlements, even more than could Dubya – this is the record he takes to the election and to history – the president who started his renure with a Nobel Peace prize, and ended with more conflict than ever before.

Israel’s cranes reprove Barack Obama’s failure to pursue two-state solution: Guardian

In the West Bank’s Jewish settlements, ‘facts on the ground’ entrench divisions between Israel and the Palestinians

A construction site in the Jewish settlement of Gilo, in East Jerusalem

A construction site in the Jewish settlement of Gilo, in East Jerusalem, where expansion will increase separation of Palestinian areas of the city from the West Bank. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

At the eastern tip of the Israeli settlement of Ariel, cranes and earth-movers are at work on the college campus, which stretches across a hill overlooking the villages and valleys of the West Bank. Eleven miles from the internationally recognised Green Line separating Israel from thePalestinian Territories, construction is under way of buildings to accommodate a projected growth from 13,000 to 20,000 students over the next 10 years.

In September, the college passed a significant milestone when the Israeli cabinet voted to upgrade the college to a university as a matter of “national importance”. Backing the move, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that Ariel was “an inseparable part of Israel” and would remain so in the future.

The decision, concerning a settlement which is illegal under international law and whose future is a key determinant of a viable Palestinian state and the peaceful resolution of a decades-old conflict, was not universally acclaimed. Urging Israel to reconsider, British foreign secretary William Hague said it would “deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace”.

Deeper inside the West Bank, a few miles east of Ariel, construction workers are also busy. Earlier this year, Israel approved plans for 600 homes in the settlement of Shiloh and its outpost, Shvut Rachel. “This community has doubled in size in 20 years, and there is no question that there will be further growth. The demand for homes is much greater than supply,” said Shiloh’s former mayor, David Rubin.

Further south, Israel a year ago announced plans for a settlement across the Green Line close to Jerusalem. The 2,600 homes of Givat Hamatos, plus expansion of neighbouring Gilo and Har Homa, will increase the separation of Palestinian areas of the city from the West Bank, reducing the likelihood of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state.

These three places illustrate a pattern of settlement growth that mocksBarack Obama‘s demand, issued early in his presidency, that Israel should halt expansion as an impediment to peace.

Entrenchment of “facts on the ground” has led a growing number of people, on both sides of the conflict, to declare that creating a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state to resolve the conflict is now impossible. The “two-state solution”, they say, is dead.

In June 2009, less than six months into his presidency, Obama addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his keynote speech on the Middle East in Cairo. Restating US commitment to a two-state model, he said the Palestinians must abandon violence, and develop their capacity to govern. By most reckoning, the Ramallah leadership has ticked both boxes.

On the Israeli side, Obama said the US did not accept the legitimacy of Jewish settlements. “It is time for these settlements to stop,” he said bluntly.

There followed protracted negotiations between the US and Israeli governments which resulted, in November 2009, in Netanyahu reluctantly acceding to a temporary construction freeze in West Bank settlements. East Jerusalem was exempt, with the completion of any buildings whose foundations were already laid. In anticipation of the moratorium, the number of construction starts rose significantly in the run-up to November.

Critics denounced the freeze as a farce, but the settlers were incensed and relations between Netanyahu and Obama nosedived. Relations between the two allies were “in the state of a tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart,” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, memorably said in mid-2010. The freeze ended in September 2010, despite US efforts to secure an extension. Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians swiftly broke down as settlement construction resumed, since when the “peace process” has been in a catatonic state.

Obama was heavily criticised for his early focus on settlements. But, according to one observer, “the problem was not Obama’s identification of the settlement issue as a critical obstacle to the resumption of talks and, beyond that, to the two-state model itself – it was his failure to stick with it in the face of Netanyahu’s intransigence”.

In the past two years, US officials have issued routine condemnation of settlement expansion plans but real pressure from Washington has eased.n June, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank had risen by 15,000 over the previous 12 months, to a record 350,000. Most of the growth was in small hardline settlements deep inside the West Bank. An additional 200,000 Jews live in settlements in East Jerusalem. In the New York Times, s ettlers’ leader Dani Dayon pronounced the Jewish presence across the Green Line “an irreversible fact”. Predicting the numbers in Jewish colonies in the West Bank would top 400,000 by 2014, he wrote: “Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile.” The international community should relinquish its “vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution”.

He said: “Our presence here has now passed a point of non-return. It’s irrevocable, a fait accompli.” The status quo, while not ideal, was “immeasurably better than any feasible alternative”.

In the face of the “facts on the ground”, others are proposing alternative courses of action. Some on the Israeli right have called for annexation of the West Bank. The Palestinian population can either accept living under Israeli rule with limited rights or leave, they say. Critics say this would be akin to apartheid and make Israel a pariah state.

Others have called for a more modest, but unilateral, annexation of the 9.4% of the West Bank which will lie between the Green Line and Israel’s separation barrier when it is complete. Defence minister Ehud Barak recently proposed that settlers outside the three main blocs – Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel – should be evacuated or choose to live under Palestinian rule. The barrier would become what its critics have always charged – Israel’s new border. “It would be best to reach agreement with the Palestinians but, barring that, practical steps must be taken to begin the separation,” he said in a newspaper interview.

Blue White Future, a relatively new organisation, also argues for “constructive unilateralism”, by which it means Israel withdrawing to the security barrier, with voluntary evacuation and compensation for those in settlements beyond. “Once Israel announces it has no sovereignty claims east of the fence, most [settlers] will move westwards,” said Orni Petruschka, co-chairman.

Some have even suggested the “cantonisation” of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would be given autonomy in five cantons around the main West Bank cities of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron, with Israeli sovereignty over the rest of the territory.

There are also growing Palestinian voices declaring the end of the two-state model. “The two-state solution died long ago, with Israel’s refusal to confront the settlement movement,” said Palestinian analyst Diana Butto. “Unless this colonial project is addressed completely, there cannot be two states, only apartheid.” The battle now, she said, was for universal rights within the one state that is in de facto existence.

Among those still fighting for a two-state model are European diplomats in Jerusalem who have identified a handful of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements as “game changers”. Significant growth in these places would signal crossing a red line, they say. “There’s a year, or 18 months maximum, before it’s over,” said one.

Molad, a young leftist Israeli thinktank, says it is fighting an “irreversibility thesis”. According to director Avner Inbar, “talk of the end of the two-state solution is irresponsible. The two-state solution is not only the best framework, it’s the only one that will work. None of the advocates of one state talk of the likely consequences. It would result in dramatic and possibly catastrophic violence.”

Barring the unexpected, the most likely course is continuation of the status quo – Netanyahu’s preferred option and so, it seems, Republican candidate Mitt Romney‘s, judging by a recently leaked video. But as many analysts and diplomats point out, the “status quo” in practice means the entrenchment and growth of settlements.

A reinvigorated second-term Obama presidency could change that. In an interview with ABC in July, the president was asked if there was anything he believed he had failed at, that “has you desperate to get that second term to atone for?” There were “a bunch of things that we didn’t get done that I think were important,” replied Obama. On foreign policy, he said, “I have not been able to move the peace process forwards in the Middle East in the way I wanted”.

Faith, as well as time, has been lost. “Obama has learned this is not an issue that will win him any votes. I am not someone who believes a second-term president will act any differently that he did in his first term,” said Butto.

According to Dayon, “Obama has learned the limitation of his powers to make change here. President Obama of 2012 will not be the same as President Obama of 2008 because he now realises he cannot deliver.”

Back in Ariel, students are hurrying between classes at the start of term. At the Moskowitz School of Communications, named after the US bingo magnate Irving Moskowitz, who has spent millions of dollars funding the settlement enterprise in the West Bank, 24-year-old Adi said she was thrilled at the institution’s new university classification. “It will give graduates better status and better job prospects. Yes, of course, we are situated in the middle of a conflict, but a city like Ariel is very valuable to Israel. We cannot give it up.”

Down the road in Shiloh, David Rubin dismissed the idea of evacuating any settlements. “We’re supposed to hand over our heartland? This is my country, where my roots are, where my history is, where my destiny is, where the Jewish people were born, exiled from and returned to. This community will never be destroyed. There will never be a deal with the Palestinians.”

Editor: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli peace nationalist, is barking again against the single state, which he sees as the iceberg in the course of the Israeli titanic… So the saving grace for the Jewish apartheid state is the Two State Solution. At least we know where he stands on apartheid…

A rebellion on the Titanic: Haaretz

If we want to avoid the looming iceberg of destruction, we must change the way we perceive the problem of our existence. The word “peace” has become a four-letter word.
By Uri Avnery     | Oct.22, 2012

The next elections will determine who rules Israel for the next four years, until 2017.

Those will be crucial years – perhaps the most crucial in the country’s history. If things stay as they are until then, change may no longer be possible by 2018. The prediction of Israeli political scientist Meron Benvenisti, that the situation is irreversible, will be realized.

We know that The Conflict, or as we call it, The Situation, is not a situation at all. It is a dynamic process of annexing the West Bank by means of settlements. It inevitably leads to a nightmare known as “the one-state solution.” That single state, between the sea and the river, will be an Apartheid state. The Jews (who will soon be a minority in that single state) will rule over the Arabs (who will soon be the majority there). Life in that state will be hell for rulers and ruled alike.

Sooner or later, the Jews will have no choice but to give the Arabs citizenship rights. The State of Israel will become the State of Palestine. The Jews will be a minority in an Arab country. Many of them will emigrate and scatter throughout the world. One way or another, 130 years of the Zionist enterprise will turn into a historical episode like its predecessor, the Crusader state, which lasted for 200 years. All this is obvious. You don’t need any special intelligence to see it.

There is only one way to prevent this scenario from unfolding: the scorned solution of “two states for two peoples.” In short: peace. This is the major subject – almost the only subject – of our national existence. And not one of the big political parties is talking about it. Heaven forbid they should utter its name.

The State of Israel is like the Titanic, that splendid vessel that was called unsinkable. Even when the iceberg has been spotted on the horizon, there are heated arguments unfolding on deck. And what are they about? The crew wants to hold democratic elections for a new captain. The incumbent captain says he is the only one who can steer the ship safely to port. To prove his point, he reminds those on deck that he has never once run the ship aground.

The mechanics are griping about the difficulties of their work environment and demanding higher pay. Some of the passengers chime in and say their cabins are not comfortable enough and call for immediate renovations. Others demand social justice, noting that the gap in conditions between first class and steerage is just too wide.

There is a story of an aristocratic Englishwoman, drunk as a skunk, who stood of the deck with a glass of whiskey in her hand, muttering, “I asked for some ice, but this is ridiculous!”

Now for the moral. To save the State of Israel – literally – a change of government is not enough. We must change the way we perceive the problem of our existence.

The word “peace” has become a four-letter word. All the large and medium-size parties, on the right and on the left, are running away from it as they would run from a fire. It is simply never mentioned. True, there is the Meretz party, but it is small and isolated. There is Hadash, but it is boycotted. And it never occurs to anyone that the “Arab parties” could ever be part of any coalition.

Last year’s social-justice protest, which was a blessing, bears a great deal of influence on the character of the elections. But the demand for social justice closed all the doors and windows to a discussion of the state’s most fundamental problem.

This shifts the blessing into a curse.

The right wing found a suitable Zionist solution to the problem by simply ignoring it. The right wing rules the country and will keep on ruling it as long as no firm demand from the public compels it to talk about a clear solution. This camp (the Likud, the Haredi and religious factions, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party, the settlers and fascists of various sorts) sings the praises of the Jewish state even as it steers us forward toward destruction.

But the factions running around on the “center-left,” with or without What’s-his-name, with or without new factions, with or without unity, are not challenging the right wing on the matter that will determine our existence. For all practical purposes, they have joined the right wing’s march toward the abyss.

If this ship does not change course, it will hit the iceberg. And then we all know what will happen next.

EU support for Israeli crimes makes it unworthy of Nobel Peace Prize: The Electronic Intifada

15 October 2012

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman at an EU press conference

(Ye Pingfan / Xinhua/Zumapress)

The European Union is not “merely hypocritical” in its relationship with Israel, it is “complicit in crimes against the Palestinian people.” This is one of the main conclusions of David Cronin’s compellingly-argued book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation.

In fact, the European Union is steadily upgrading its relations with Israel while overwhelming, and growing, public majorities across Europe’s largest nations view Israel “mostly negatively.” According to a recent BBC GlobeScan poll, Israel is on a par with North Korea as the third worst perceived country in the world (“Views of Europe slide sharply in global poll, while views of China improve,” GlobeScan, 10 May).

With the entrenchment of its occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinians, its fanatic-right government’s hubristic and bellicose policies, and the impressive growth of the non-violent Palestinian-led, global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, Israel is gradually losing hearts and minds across the world and becoming the world pariah, as South Africa once was, during apartheid.

Desmond Tutu, the South African archbishop, is particularly eloquent in accusing Israel of the crime of apartheid (“Tutu condemns Israeli ‘apartheid’,” BBC News, 29 April 2002). The Russell Tribunal on Palestine — at its 2011 Cape Town session — determined that Israel is practicing apartheid against the entire Palestinian people, according to the definition of apartheid adopted by the UN in 1973 (“Findings of the South African session,” Russell Tribunal on Palestine, 5-7 November 2011 [PDF]).

Worse than South Africa

South African Christian leaders who played a decisive role in fighting apartheid have condemned Israel’s apartheid as “even worse than South African apartheid” (“An Easter message from South Africa to Palestine,” Oikumene, 31 March 2010). And the publisher of Haaretz, an influential Israeli daily, has recently described a fanatic Israeli ideology of “territorial seizure and apartheid” (“The necessary elimination of Israeli democracy,” 25 November 2011).

Increasingly, international jurists, human rights organizations and activists, as well as international public opinion are recognizing Israel’s unique regime of oppression against the Palestinians as encompassing the crime of apartheid, in addition to occupation, ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism.

With its continued siege of Gaza; its untamed construction of illegal colonies and anapartheid wall in the occupied West Bank, especially in and around Jerusalem; its “strategy of Judaization” in Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev); its adoption of new racist laws and its denial of the UN-stipulated right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba, Israel has embarked on a more belligerent and violent phase in its attempt to extinguish the question of Palestine through literally “disappearing” the Palestinians, as Edward Said would say.

Prison camp

The most criminal and pressing aspect of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is without doubt its Western and Egyptian-backed hermetic siege of the occupied Gaza Strip, which even British Prime Minister David Cameron has described as a “prison camp” (“David Cameron: Israeli blockade has turned Gaza Strip into a ‘prison camp’,”The Guardian, 27 July 2010). The systematic Israeli targeting of Gaza’s water and sanitation facilities has compounded an already “severe and protracted denial of human dignity,” according to Maxwell Gaylard, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, causing “a steep decline in standards of living for the [Palestinians] of Gaza, characterized by erosion of livelihoods, destruction and degradation of basic structure, and a marked downturn in the delivery and quality of vital services in health, water and sanitation” (“Humanitarian organizations deeply concerned about the ongoing water and sanitation crisis in Gaza,” Association of International Development Agencies, 3 September 2009).

A 2009 report by Amnesty International affirmed that, “90–95 percent of the water supply [in Gaza] is contaminated and unfit for human consumption” (“Troubled waters: Palestinians denied fair access to water,” October 2009 [PDF]).

The report cites an earlier study by the UN Environmental Programme which correlates the widespread contamination of Gaza’s water resources to the rise in nitrate levels in the groundwater “far above the WHO [World Health Organization] accepted guideline,” inducing a potentially lethal blood disorder in young children and newborns called methemoglobinaemia, or the “blue babies” phenomenon.

Some of the detected symptoms of this disease in Gaza infants include “blueness around the mouth, hands and feet,” “episodes of diarrhea and vomiting,” and “loss of consciousness.” “Convulsions and death can occur” at higher levels of nitrate contamination, the report concludes (“Environmental assessment of the Gaza Strip following the escalation of hostilities in December 2008-January 2009,” September 2009 [PDF].)

At the conclusion of Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, which led to more than 1,400 deaths, mostly civilians, EU leaders dashed to occupied Jerusalem to celebrate with Israel’s then prime minister Ehud Olmert, promising to support Israel in fighting “terror” (“World leaders push for lasting truce in Gaza,” The New York Times, 18 January 2009).

So, when the European Union, which is still actively colluding to maintain the Gaza siege, launches a relatively expensive public relations campaign all over Gaza — and the West Bank — with its main slogan, “Your Priorities are ours,” without a hint of sarcasm, it seems to be sending the Palestinians under occupation two blunt messages: first, we could not care less about your loss of human lives, freedoms and dignity, and second, “We set the priorities, you adopt them as yours, or else we cut funding” (“The priorities of the European Union are not ours,” MWC News, 18 July 2011).

Atoning for the Holocaust?

This leads most sober Palestinians to conclude that the Holocaust-guilt-ridden European establishment wishes to wash its hands of its genocide against European Jews, among others, by imposing on the Palestinian people an unjust “peaceful” settlement of this essentially colonial conflict that would leave Israel with almost full control over the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and over the Palestinians’ economy, most fertile lands, water aquifers, borders and their very destiny.

Most crucially, such a funder-driven, unjust political settlement would perpetuate Israel’s denial of the basic rights of the great majority of the Palestinian people, those in exile as well as in Israel. Foremost among those rights is the inalienable right to participate in exercising self determination. It has been declared by the UN as a prerequisite for any nation under colonial rule to enjoy the full set of rights, political, cultural, economic and other fundamental rights.

Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular were effectively forced to pay the price for a genocidal crime that they had no role in, and are now being bribed to accept injustice as fate, so that this dark chapter in Western history can finally reach closure.

But Europe’s collusion with Israel is too intricate to reduce to sheer Holocaust guilt. Economic interest, US influence, Islamophobia, the prevalence of a security mentality and the corresponding growth of the military-security industry, are all very relevant factors, too, in understanding this relationship.

Ever coveting artificially low-priced energy resources and open access to a large, under-developed, structurally dependent market, various Western powers, after all, were the ones who played the most important role in establishing and nourishing Israel as a colonial outpost in the region. Today, the EU’s governments and institutions continue to support Israel economically, diplomatically, academically and politically to maintain its domination and their interests.

A translated version of this article will be published as a preface to the forthcoming French-language edition of David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation.

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian human rights activist. He is a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (PACBI).

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