December 4, 2012

EDITOR: An odd mood is now spreading across Europe!

In the last few days more mention is made of the Two State solution as in the last few years! The dead and buried ‘solution’ is virtually and ceremoniously revived, as it has been so many times before, on the occasion of Israel dealing it yet another ‘almost fatal blow’ as expressed by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General. How many ‘almost fatal blows’ will become fatal in the minds of those mouthing the mindless mantra of the Two State solution? This has become the perfect cover for Israel’s continued aggression and increasing colonisation of the West Bank. Instead of facing the fact that they have assisted Israeli crimes, people like Ban Ki Moon are redoubling their efforts of reviving the corpse of the ‘solution’ which is blocking any real and just solution in Palestine. Calling in the Israeli ambassadors to ‘slap their hands’ as reported below, is a useless formalistic theatrical act, making sure Israel can continue with immunity, rather than acting politically against the occupation. Old habits die hard – the EU has been acting in this empty ritualistic manner since 1967, and 45 years are a long time. As far as the EU is concerned, Israel is total immune of international law, and it is European protection which makes it so.

Europe, Israel’s mainstay after the US, and its largest trading partner, has continued to pretend it is intent on a solution, while supporting Israel to the rafters, having just accorded to it almost full membership only months ago, despite the clear evidence – the EU buys 15 times more from the Israeli Illegal settlements than it does from Palestine – the EU continues to argue in public against the settlements.  In the wake of the UN GA vote on Palestine, and the Israeli retribution through building even more illegal settlements in the West Bank, totally cutting of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, as well as cutting it in two, a number of EU prominent political figures have argued (The Guardian, ‘A Message to Israel’, December 4th) for the urgent need for EU wide legislation to clearly mark Products from the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. While this of clarity is most welcome, and will help consumers to make intelligent and informed decisions, I would like to point out the basic and deep contradiction which lies at the heart of the argument made by Mary Robinson and Martti Ahtisaari. The need for such legislation arises, in the first place, from Israel’s long-term policy of denying the facts of the occupation and obfuscation the differences between Israel and its settlements in the occupied territories, either those illegally annexed, such as around Jerusalem, or those annexed de facto, elsewhere in the West Bank.

By separating out for boycott only the products of the settlements, such an initiative acts against the people in these settlements, but allows the political leadership of Israel, which initiates and finances each of the settlements to get off unscathed! It is the government of Israel, and its Jewish population, who willingly and openly support the occupation with their taxes, their reserve service, and their effective silence over the many iniquities involved, who are responsible for the illegal settlements, not just the settlers themselves. In order to act effectively and morally against the Israeli occupation, of which the settlements are but one of the many illegal aspects, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions should be really applied to ALL Israeli products, as was the case during the struggle against the Apartheid regime in South Africa; Any other position is just pandering to and supporting Israeli continuing aggression, and assists in making a just solution ever so remote a possibility.

UN tells Israel to let in nuclear inspectors: Guardian

As nuclear peace talks are cancelled, overwhelming vote by general assembly calls for Israel to join nonproliferation treaty

A vote by the United Nations has called on Israel to open its nuclear programme to inspectors

A vote by the United Nations general assembly has called on Israel to open its nuclear programme to weapons inspectors. Photograph: Chip East/Reuters

The UN general assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on Israel to open its nuclear programme for inspection.

The resolution, approved by a vote of 174 to six with six abstentions, calls on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without further delay” and open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Those voting against were Israel, the US, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.

Resolutions adopted by the 193-member general assembly are not legally binding but they do reflect world opinion and carry moral and political weight. And the resolution adds to pressure on Israel as it facescriticism over plans to increase settlement in the West Bank, a move seen as retaliation for the assembly recognising Palestinian statehood.

Israel refuses to confirm or deny possessing nuclear bombs though it is widely believed to have them. It has refused to join the non-proliferation treaty along with three nuclear weapon states: India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Israel insists there must first be a Middle East peace agreement before the establishment of a proposed regional zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Its rivals in the region argue that Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal presents the greatest threat to peace in the region.

While the US voted against the resolution, it voted in favour of two paragraphs in it that were put to separate votes. Both support universal adherence to the NPT and call on those countries that aren’t parties to ratify it “at the earliest date”. The only no votes on those paragraphs were Israel and India.

The vote came as a sequel to the cancellation of a high-level conference aimed at banning nuclear weapons from the Middle East. All the Arab nations and Iran had planned to attend the summit in mid-December in Helsinki, Finland, but the US announced on 23 November that it would not take place, citing political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant stance on non-proliferation. Iran and some Arab nations countered that the real reason for the cancellation was Israel’s refusal to attend.

Just before Monday’s vote, the Iranian diplomat Khodadad Seifi told the assembly “the truth is that the Israeli regime is the only party which rejected to conditions for a conference”. He called for “strong pressure on that regime to participate in the conference without any preconditions”.

Israeli diplomat Isi Yanouka told the general assembly his country had continuously pointed to the danger of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, singling out Iran and Syria by name. “All these cases challenge Israel’s security and cast a dark shadow at the prospect of embarking on a meaningful regional security process,” he said.

“The fact that the sponsors include in this anti-Israeli resolution language referring to the 2012 conference proves above all the ill intent of the Arab states with regard to this conference.”

The Syrian diplomat Abdullah Hallak told the assembly his government was angry the conference was not going to take place because of “the whim of just one party, a party with nuclear warheads”.

“We call on the international community to put pressure on Israel to accept the NPT, get rid of its arsenal and delivery systems, in order to allow for peace and stability in our region,” he said.

The conference’s main sponsors are the US, Russia and Britain. The British foreign office minister Alistair Burt has said it is being postponed, not cancelled.

Middle East conflict: it’s time for Europe to suggest its own path to peace: Guardian

Israel’s behaviour is seen as retaliation for the UN vote recognising Palestine as a member state. But it is more than that

Jewish settlement

The West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

Israel‘s ambassadors to Britain and France must have spent an uncomfortable few minutes on Monday as they were called in to hear of official displeasure in London and Paris at their government’s decision to expand settlements in a key area of the occupied West Bank.

Sweden, Denmark and Spain also summoned Israeli envoys for a slap on the wrist. Even Germany, often cautious about criticism of Israel, issued a public protest.

Israel’s behaviour is seen as retaliation for last week’s landmark UN vote recognising Palestine as a member state. But it is more than that: authorising illegal settlements in the area known as E1 is plainly provocative. It is, as the UN’s Ban ki-Moon put it, a near-fatal blow to the fading hopes for a two-state solution. Britain’s foreign secretary, Wiliam Hague, made the same point starkly.

Swift and concerted diplomatic protests across Europe were certainly headline-grabbing. But what counts is whether they will be followed by more united and robust action. Even more important, what will be the response of the US, the only member of the security council to vote no to Palestine last week? And what effect will all this have on the Palestinians, divided between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and between the PLO and the Islamists of Hamas after the latest blood-letting in the border enclave?

Protests by Britain, France and Germany represented an effectively coordinated position by Europe’s big three powers. But the EU as a whole has spent years aspiring to be a bigger player on the world stage.

Its 27 member states comprise 400 million people. Even so, 14 of them backed UN membership while 12 others, including Britain, abstained. The Czech Republic opposed the decision.

It should be no surprise then that what the EU says about the world’s most intractable conflict has so little effect. Israelis tend to sneer at the collective power of Brussels. If the EU is united it is usually by saying what it will not do — for example shunning Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

“The feeling in Israel is that Europe will never act against it for historical reasons,” argues Yossi Mekelberg, a fellow at Chatham House in London. “The argument is that Europeans were either perpetrators in the Holocaust or failed to do enough to stop it. The Israeli government is always quick to press that button.”

But, 67 years after the end of the second world war, things could be different. The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner and the largest provider of development assistance to the Palestinians. It is often criticised for being a “payer but not a player” especially after millions of euros worth of aid have gone up in smoke in Israeli attacks.

Europe was ahead of the curve in 1980 when the Venice declaration recognised the Palestinians’ right to self-determination at a time when the PLO was beyond the pale.

But occasional talk of punishing Israel – for example by suspending its valued 1995 association agreement with the EU or other co-operation programmes – has remained that, just talk.

Chris Patten, EU external relations commissioner when Israel reoccupied the West Bank after suicide bombings in 2002, used to attack the US as the “Washington branch of the Likud”. Still, European divisions have had a persistent life of their own. Change has been patchy. Individual member states have required that consumer produce from Israeli settlements, which all regard as illegal, be clearly labelled. But overall the EU still imports 15 times more from them than from Palestinians — an obvious inconsistency.

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator who now works for the European Council for Foreign Relations, said that an EU rethink is required urgently but does not expect it to happen quickly. “When you are so deep in a policy that essentially accords impunity to Israeli actions you can’t spin on a dime,” he argued. “It requires a whole different approach that isn’t going to happen overnight.”

It was in 2001 that the then French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, defined the challenge. “The EU should make the US recognise that it is legitimate for Europe to take its own approach to peace,” he said.

“If the union really wishes to play a role, it must escape from the situation where defining a common position comes down to seeking the lowest common denominator in platitudinous declarations or ritualised diplomatic tours.”

That advice remains relevant to this day.

Israel-Palestine: concreting over the solution: Guardian Editorial

If this is punishment for the crime of going to the UN, how does Netanyahu hope to persuade Palestinians back to talks?

Supporting a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict feels increasingly like clinging onto a cliff edge while someone with heavy boots stamps on your fingers. The boots were Israeli on Monday. Having spun the line that European governments had misunderstood Israel‘s plan to create a settlement that would cut the West Bank in two and separate it from East Jerusalem, the prime minister’s office vowed that nothing would alter their decision. The European diplomatic protest was, by its meek standards, unprecedented. Israeli ambassadors were summoned in Britain, France, Sweden and Spain but none of the four threatened any concrete measures to punish Israel. They should have.

From their inception, the West Bank settlements have been a cumulative study in opportunism. It matters not whether the horrified US secretary of state is a Republican or a Democrat. Condoleezza Rice said in 2007 that Har Homa should not be built. Five years later it is a fact on the ground, “the last brick in the wall of Jerusalem”, and never be surrendered. The same is about to happen to an area of land called E1, which lies between another egregious act of occupation, Ma’aleh Adumim, and Jerusalem.

The Israeli NGO B’Tselem says the plan dates back to 1999. Every US administration since has condemned it, because it would sever the Palestinian state from its capital in East Jerusalem. Although European diplomats call it a red line, it should have surprised no one that it is now to be crossed. Each piece in the jigsaw of settlement planning had been laid by previous Israeli administrations. Sealing the West Bank off from Jerusalem had been their purpose from the start.

The decision was intended as a punishment for Palestinians having the temerity to seek observer status from the same body, the United Nations of which Israel is already a full member. Israel hoped to rally between 20 and 30 countries to oppose the Palestinian request. In the event only eight countries, among them four tiny Pacific island nations, complied. Instead of isolating Palestinians, the UN vote showed how much support Israel lost in the place it values most – Europe. Only Czech Republic supported them.

If this decision is the punishment for the crime of going to the UN, how does Binyamin Netanyahu hope to persuade the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, now that he has just blocked their route off physically? Unless of course he, too, believes a two-state solution is a convenient fiction. One thing is clear. He continues to act with impunity. Until the US callibrates its relationship with Israel, until its leaders feel there is a price to pay for settlements, the plan for a two-state solution will remain a pipedream.

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