"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Friday, October 29, 2010

Israel Gets Away With Murder...Again

This morning the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli foreign ministry has successfully thwarted an attempted meeting between the signatories of the Geneva Convention which would have convened in Switzerland.

According to the article, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman was motivated to block the meeting because it “could have resulted in a public statement that Israel has violated the charter during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip during 2009.” The article also credits Lieberman with “preventing the establishment of the victim's compensation fund of those injured in Cast Lead, which was decided by the UN Human Rights Council.” (What a fantastic human being)

Such a development should come as no surprise, as it speaks to the culture of impunity the international community affords Israel with respect to its military operations (among other things). It is almost as if the more egregious Israel is in its violations of international law, the more the country’s leaders are able to shield it from criticism. With each new operation, this list of violations grows longer. According to the Goldstone Report, apart from the Geneva Conventions, Israel has acted in direct contravention of numerous articles of the following international agreements (in no particular order):

  • The Hague Regulations; (394)
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (395)
  • The Convention Against Torture; (395)
  • The Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials; (398)
  • The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials; (398)
  • The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders; (421)
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (407)
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; (421)
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (434)
  • And the 1995 Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information among others(493)

Even more frightening, apart from simply breaching these agreements, Israel has so gravely violated international standards as to be accused by Goldstone, the United Nations, and countless reputable human rights organizations of the following war crimes with respect to its three most recent military operations:

War Crimes Committed During Operation Defensive Shield (Palestinian Territories; 2002)

According to a United Nations report:

  • Willful killing
  • Inhuman treatment
  • Unlawful confinement of protected persons
  • Extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly and destructively
  • State and settler terrorism

  • Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population and infrastructure
  • Violating the principle of proportionality
  • Using methods of indiscriminate attack

War Crimes Committed During the July War (Lebanon; 2006)

According to a United Nations report:

  • Willful killing of protected persons
  • Violating the principle of proportionality
  • Violating the principle of distinction
  • Violating the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks

War Crimes Committed During Operation Cast Lead (Gaza; 2008-2009)

According to the Goldstone report:

  • Unlawful, wanton destruction which is not justified by military necessity (259)
  • The use of human shields (299)
  • Acts amounting to perfidy resulting in death or serious personal injury (300)
  • The rounding-up of large civilians [which is] a collective penalty on those persons, [amounting] to measures of intimidation and terrorism (323)
  • Outrages on personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment…and inhumane treatment (323)
  • Forcing women to endure especially distressing circumstances during their unlawful detention (323)
  • Illegal treatment of unlawful detainees including shackling, severe beatings during detention and interrogation, being held in foul conditions and solitary confinement -actions which violate prohibitions against physical or moral coercion of protected persons (324)
  • Torture (324)

Goldstone also found evidence for crimes against humanity as a result of a “series of acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country,” (371) as well as the “systematic discrimination, both in law and in practice, against Palestinians, in legislation…and in practice during detention, trial and sentence compared with Israeli citizens.” (422)

A well-documented pattern of eviscerating civilian infrastructure, killing a disproportionately large number of protected persons including women and children, barring medical aid, human rights monitors and journalists from entry to military zones, and utilizing extremely destructive weapons such as cluster bombs and white phosphorus in densely populated areas is also evident in all three operations. (None of these remarks should be construed to obfuscate the reality of acts committed by Hezbollah, various resistance movements or Hamas respectively in each operation. However it must be noted that in scope, such abuses pale in comparison, nor do they make Israel any less guilty).  
In light of the magnitude and breadth of these violations, the foreign ministry’s ability to disrupt even a possible condemnation is a slap in the face to international standards of justice. Yet once again, through political maneuvering, Israel has managed to shield itself from criticism.

In the face of such repugnant arrogance, is it any wonder that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement “singles out” Israel? No other country with such a despicable human rights record has managed to maintain such flourishing relationships with world super-powers.

Imagine, with all the attention Israel’s continued settlement expansion has received in the past few months (in direct and flagrant contravention of the united international consensus on the program’s inadmissibility)  Lieberman still has the ability to disband a potential meeting of the signatories for the very agreement that makes Israel’s actions illegal. It is absolutely ludicrous.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

West Bank Olive Groves Become Battleground

(The Guardian) Eighty-year-old Rasmia Awase had left the best olive trees until last. She and her family had already harvested most of their crop when they went to a small plot near their home in Luban a-Sharqiya on Saturday morning.

Here were 40 trees that Awase had planted and tended herself, and they were now, two decades later, at their peak – the most productive of all the trees, which support 37 members of the extended family. But Awase found that someone had got there before them and had chopped down the trees, leaving stumps in the ground and branches scattered about the plot. The family blame hardline Jewish settlers from the nearby Eli settlement.

"I was in shock, I lost my mind," she said. "I planted these trees with my bare hands, I gave them 20 years of hard work – and they are all gone." Each day of her long life was worse than the one before, she said with her eyes watering.

The Awase family are not alone in their experience. Among the tactics used by Jewish settlers this harvesting season are cutting down and torching trees, stealing fruit and attacking farmers trying to pick their crops, according to human rights organisations.

"It has reached a crescendo," said a spokeswoman for Yesh Din, one Israeli group monitoring incidents in the West Bank. "What might look like ad hoc violence is actually a tool the settlers are using to push back Palestinian farmers from their own land."

The upsurge in violence this year is attributed to a rise in settler militancy following the 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank and uncertainty about the outcome of the current, although stalled, peace negotiations.

According to Oxfam, which is trying to help Palestinian olive farmers realise the economic potential of their crops, some families are too frightened to pick the fruit. "We have seen a lot of olive groves burning and trees which have been chopped down," said the charity's Catherine Weibel. "People are clearly very stressed and worried, always afraid the settlers are coming."

Olives have been cultivated in the rocky hills of what is now the West Bank for thousands of years. Around 95% of the harvest is used to make olive oil, worth up to 364m shekels (£64m) a year to the Palestinian economy. Most farmers are small scale, growing trees on land that has been in the families for generations.

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of trees being stripped of their fruit overnight. Rabbis for Human Rights claimed that the olives from about 600 trees near the settlement of Havat Gilad were stolen before their Palestinian owners could harvest them. Police confirmed they were investigating the alleged theft.

The police had received 27 official complaints about sabotage since the beginning of this year's harvest, said a spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld. Sixteen Israelis had been questioned. "There are a number of ongoing investigations into damage caused in the past few weeks," he said. "We are working to prevent incidents on the ground. This is an ongoing problem that we have to deal with."

Damage had also been caused to Israeli property, added Rosenfeld.

Akram Awase, Rasmia's son, was sceptical about the protection offered by the Israeli police and military. "In the old days the resistance used to stop them [settlers]," he said. "Now there is no resistance, all of them are in jail. You can't do anything. Who do you complain to? The soldiers protect the settlers. They have raped our land and they will never leave it."

Related Posts:
Settler Violence in the Occupied West Bank 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Territories Occupied? What San Remo Really Says

In light of the newly intensified focus on settlement construction in the West Bank, many Zionists pressed to find justification for this internationally condemned activity have resorted to the oft-heard argument that the occupied territories are not in fact occupied at all.

A common iteration of the argument goes something like this: San Remo gave all of Palestine to the Jews. The British Mandate violated San Remo illegally. Nothing can invalidate San Remo. Thus Jews are exclusively entitled to the occupied territories and settlement activity is legitimate.

In combating this…interesting…justification for the legality of settlements, as well as corollary arguments for “better title” and legal acquisition of territory gained by “defensive occupation” I will attempt to explain exactly what the relevant agreements, treaties, and international laws actually reveal in a series entitled Territories Occupied? The first part of this series will focus on San Remo:

A discussion of occupation as relating to the agreement reached by four Allied powers at the San Remo Conference of 1920 must first be placed in historical context in order to determine if it, or any other relevant agreement of the time, did in fact give the Jews exclusive rights to Palestine. Because San Remo relies on the express language of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, this is where we will start.

What the Balfour Declaration Does and Does Not Say

The Balfour declaration, considered the authoritative statement of British policy toward Zionism, and related from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Walter Rothschild states in part:
His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. [1]
The caveat of preserving the “civil and religious rights” of native Palestinians would in the eyes of most disinterested observers deal a fatal blow to the Zionist claim of exclusive rights to Palestine. However, most observers are not in fact disinterested. Many modern Zionists have interpreted this line to mean that while Jews must allow the presence of Arabs within what is now Israel without instituting a policy of apartheid or discrimination (a principle Israel arguably violates), the political rights of the indigenous population were not recognized. Yet this claim falls apart upon further inspection.

The original draft of the declaration stated “that Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people,” however this language was replaced before the declaration could be adopted. [2] There exists stark contrast between the implications of the latter statement and the former. One implies that the whole of Palestine be designated the Jewish homeland, whereas the other clearly leaves room for indigenous national aspirations. The fact that one was preferred over the other speaks volumes as to the intent of the declaration.

What’s more, in 1919 the General Secretary of the World Zionist Organization made this assertion:
It has been said and is still being obstinately repeated by anti-Zionists again and again, that Zionism aims at the creation of an independent "Jewish State." But this is wholly fallacious. [3]
But regardless of what Zionism claimed to be or entail, Winston Churchill elucidated in unequivocal terms exactly what was at the heart of the British government’s policy in the White Paper of 1922. According to Churchill:
Unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine. Phrases have been used such as that Palestine is to become "as Jewish as England is English." His Majesty's Government regard any such expectation as impracticable and have no such aim in view. Nor have they at any time contemplated, as appears to be feared by the Arab delegation, the disappearance or the subordination of the Arabic population, language, or culture in Palestine. They would draw attention to the fact that the terms of the Declaration referred to do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded `in Palestine.' … It is also necessary to point out that the Zionist Commission in Palestine, now termed the Palestine Zionist Executive, has not desired to possess, and does not possess, any share in the general administration of the country… Further, it is contemplated that the status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status. [emphasis added]
This seems quite clear-cut. To go even further, in elucidating the government’s intentions to the Sharif of Mecca, British Dispatch Commander David Hogarth related, “Political and economic freedom of the Palestinian population was not in question,” nor was the possibility of an independent Jewish state in Palestine. [4]

The Hussein-McMahon Correspondence: A Different Story?

There is, however, one glaring issue with Churchill’s white paper, namely his misinterpretation of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence of 1915-1916, which deserves attention. The declaration states: 
It is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty's Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty's High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty's Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir. Henry McMahon's pledge. 
Current consensus does not agree with Churchill’s analysis of the territories excluded. There are myriad issues, as explained below:
  • (i) the fact that the word " district" is applied not only to Damascus, &etc, where the reading of vilayet is at least arguable, but also immediately previously to Mersina and Alexandretta. No vilayets of these names exist. It would be difficult to argue that the word " districts " can have two completely different meanings in the space of a few lines.
  • (ii) the fact that Horns and Hama were not the capitals of vilayets, but were both within the Vilayet of Syria.
  • (iii) the fact that the real title of the " Vilayet of Damascus " was " Vilayet of Syria."
  • (iv) the fact that there is no land lying west of the Vilayet of Aleppo.
In a crushing blow to Churchill, the Eastern Committee of the Cabinet held a meeting in which declassified documents relate this statement: 
The Palestine position is this. If we deal with our commitments, there is first the general pledge to Hussein in October 1915, under which Palestine was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future…[5]
An interesting picture thus emerges, despite the fact that McMahon’s promises were invalidated by the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 (in which the Allies carved up the Ottoman empire into spheres of influence, an idea that would serve as the basis for San Remo) as well as Balfour’s declaration, one in which all of Palestine was offered to the Sharif of Mecca and not the Jews.

Faisal-Weizmann: More Bad News for Jewish Exclusivity

Sykes-Picot also eviscerated, though not single-handedly, the nascent Faisal-Weizmann agreement of 1919, reached by Hussein’s son Emir Faisal and Chaim Weizmann, who would later become president of the World Zionist Organization. Endorsing the Balfour declaration, and thus implicitly recognizing the political rights of the indigenous population of what would become Israel, the agreement contained the following:
  • Article 1: Understanding between Arabs and Jews
  • Article 2: Borders between an Arab and Palestinian state to be determined by a commission
  • Article 3: Endorsement of the Balfour declaration and the establishment of the Constitution and Administration of Palestine
  • Article 4: Settlement of Jews to the land of Palestine provided thatin taking such measures the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights [in this case meaning Palestinian Arabs, considering other Arabs would not be living in Palestine] and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.”
  • Article 5: Protections of religious exercises and the guarantee that “no religious test shall ever be required for the exercise of civil or political rights
  • Article 6: Muslim holy places put under Muslim control
  • 3 other articles not relevant to the discussion at hand.
It is interesting to see that a man arguing on behalf of the WZO and happily satisfied with this arrangement would agree that the indigenous population would be protected so ardently, with religious, economic and political rights specifically fortified, even when Arabs would be getting their own sovereign state. It’s almost a shame this agreement didn’t stand the test of time.

San Remo: What Does it Really Mean?

The agreement reached at the San Remo conference embodied a lot of the basic principles of Sykes-Picot, e.g. a mandate system. Article 22 of the League of Nations provides the legal basis for such a division in which mandate holders, to be determined at a later date, would hold trusteeship over territories to facilitate their emerging national identities. San Remo also incorporated the Balfour declaration, in identical language calling for:
…the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.
It was also stated in similar terms that the agreement was reached:
… on the understanding that there was inserted in the process-verbal an undertaking by the Mandatory Power that this would not involve the surrender of the rights hitherto enjoyed by the non-Jewish communities in Palestine…
If we are to accept the above statements concerning the intentions of the British government with the Balfour Declaration, we must accept that these same principles are at the heart of San Remo. Further, every other (now defunct) agreement of the time continued to provide for the political rights and incorporation of the indigenous population of Palestine and did not call for the creation of an independent Jewish state. In this vein, where do modern Zionists come up with the idea that they were ever granted exclusive political rights in all of Palestine? How does that make any sense at all?

[1] Yapp, M.E. (1987). The Making of the Modern Near East 1792-1923. Harlow,  England: Longman. p. 290
[2] Stein, Leonard (1961). The Balfour Declaration. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 470.
[3] History of Zionism (1600-1918), Volume I, Nahum Sokolow, 1919 Longmans, Green, and Company, London, pages xxiv-xxv
[4] Khouri, Fred John (1985). The Arab-Israeli Dilemma. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815623403, pp. 8-10.
[5] Palestine Papers 1917-1922, Doreen Ingrams, page 48 and UK Archives PRO. CAB 27/24

(Resource citations taken from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama: Israel's Lawyer

Just yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for Israeli compliance with international law. Shortly after, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley illuminated  the United State's official position on the proposal, explaining, "We recognize the special nature of the Israeli State. It is a state for the Jewish people." While President Obama's views on the institutionalization of Israel's ethnic character are of no surprise, such an outright endorsement of Netanyahu's insult to the PA stands in stark contrast with the vision of the United States as impartial mediator the American public has been spoon-fed over the past few months.

If the admission of offering military, financial and political concessions in exchange for a partial extension of the so-called settlement "freeze" hadn't done enough to destroy the Obama Administration's credibility in the peace process, this was surely the final blow. How could any casual observer continue to believe Obama had the interests of both parties at heart while simultaneously lauding Netanyahu's inanity as even remotely legitimate?

Israel's settlement construction is illegal under international law. The United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Security Council and International Court of Justice all concur: Settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem must immediately halt and reverse, along with construction of the partition wall. Just as chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, Israel's Jewish character has no bearing the illegal status of Israel's settlements. Netanyahu's condition is a wanton distraction.

The proposal also has nothing to do with Israel's right to exist as a nation. Far from being existentially threatened, Israel has enjoyed full recognition of its sovereignty by Fatah and the PA for the past 17 years. The issue lies in Israel's insistence that its statehood be defined on ethno-religious terms. Yet somehow the implications of this definition are utterly lost on Obama. Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah illustrates the point well in two of his recent tweets:

Would Obama align himself with the moral argument underpinning either of these assertions? One would hope not. Then why is it somehow permissible to endorse the same position when it comes to Israel? And how can his administration support linking the PA's acceptance of such assertions to Israel's admittedly partial and temporary compliance with standards of international law?

What's more, who could defend Obama as a worthy proponent of peace while he cheers Netanyahu on in his quest to force Abbas into selling out Israel's Arabs, further codifying their second-class status, while at the same time attempting to settle the question of Palestinian refugees' Right of Return prima facie?

To summarize, if the PA were to accept such a deal, Israel would have achieved the following:

  • Further military, financial and political support from the United States;
  • Formal permission from the PA to continue subjugating Israeli Arabs;
  • And nullification of the Right of Return for Palestinian Refugees of the Nakba
    The PA would achieve the following:

    • A temporary "freeze"of settlement construction on what is to become a Palestinian state if talks succeed, one that would presumably not include freezing construction in East Jerusalem (in contravention of international law), nor the construction of current projects including the thousands that began just a few weeks ago, nor  suspending the confiscation of Palestinian property to make room for further construction, just as the last "freeze"did not include these things
    The United State's endorsement of such an insulting proposal makes clear Obama's complete disregard for Palestinian interests, and his commitment to repeating the mistakes of his predecessors. The authors of The Israel Lobby explain, "As Aaron David Miller, an adviser to six different secretaries of state on Middle East and Arab-Israeli affairs and another key player in the Clinton administration's peace effort, put it during a 2005 postmortem on the failed negotiations: 'Far too often, we functioned...as Israel's lawyer'" (Mearsheimer and Walt 48). How exactly has Obama done anything to improve upon this characterization?

    Netanyahu's Seemingly Limitless Arrogance

    In the newest development concerning peace negotiations between Israel and the PA, Netanyahu has offered to partially extend the fake settlement freeze in exchange for recognition of Israel's Jewish character. In a startling spectacle of rationality, the PA has rejected the offer in kind. BBC reports:
    The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Mr. Netanyahu was "playing games" with his offer, and that there was no connection between settlements and the national character of Israel.
    "I don't see a relevance between his obligations under international law and him trying to define the nature of Israel," he added. "I hope he will stop playing these games and will start the peace process by stopping settlements."
    He's right. Settlement activity in the West Bank is illegal under international law regardless of Israel's "Jewishness". Perhaps Bibi Netanyahu forgot this:
    Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development [... and] have been established in breach of international law. -International Court of Justice Ruling, July 9, 2004
    Or operative paragraph one of UNSC Resolution 242, in which the Security Council unanimously:
    ...Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of...the following principles:
    (i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict...
    Or UNSC Resolution 446, which affirmed in explicit terms the conclusions of UNSC Resolution 242 (three abstentions) as did UNSC Resolution 452 (one abstention) UNSC Resolution 465 (unanimous), and UNSC Resolution 471 (one abstention)?

    Or the portion of UNSC Resolution 252, passed with two abstentions, in which the Security Council:
    ...Considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status; [and] Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem...
    Or UNSC Resolution 267, unanimously adopted, which affirmed the conclusions of UNSC Resolution 252, as did UNSC Resolution 298 (one abstention), UNSC Resoluition 476 (one abstention) and UNSC Resolution 478 (one abstention)?

    Maybe Bibi forgot that, unlike the General Assembly, resolutions passed by the Security Council are indeed binding?

    Maybe he forgot that in 1993 the UNSC approved a report by the Secretary General which concluded beyond doubt that the law applicable in armed conflict as embodied in the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the Hague Convention (IV) of 18 October 1907 had become part of international customary law, and thus applied even if the other party was not a High Contracting Party (as is the case in Palestine)?

    Did he simply imagine that at the end of each of these resolutions is the caveat "if and only if Israel is recognized as a Jewish state," thus exempting Israel from its legal obligations?

    Or perhaps Erekat is right, and Bibi really is just playing games. Setting aside the composition of Israel's demand of recognition as a Jewish state (which is ridiculous in and of itself), the mere act of setting preconditions for compliance with international law attests to Netanyahu's seemingly limitless arrogance. He honestly thinks he can shift the blame for the disintegration of peace talks by throwing bones to the PA, which already affirmed Israel's right to exist (sans the racist classification) in 1993. He clearly believes that through slight of hand he can simultaneously eviscerate the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and strengthen the codification of Arab subjugation in Israel all in exchange for what exactly? "An additional suspension of building for a limited period of time," says Bibi. Will this be the same kind of "suspension" that still allowed for unhindered construction in East Jerusalem, for the razing of Palestinian villages and confiscation of private Palestinian property, and for continued work on current projects which would most likely include the 3,000 that began as soon as the last "suspension" ended?

    Let's just hope this doesn't constitute the kind of gesture Obama promised to prostitute US taxpayers in order to coax out of the Israeli government.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    What Obama Hasn't Changed About the Mid East Peace Process

    Forgive my cynicism, but you will not see me holding my breath in anticipation of a comprehensive and just conclusion to the Arab-Israeli conflict, not this time around, not even with Mr. Change himself at the helm of negotiations. To illustrate my point, and for the benefit of all of you following along at home, let me recap what hasn’t changed with the most recent incarnation of peace talks:

    The Past: Israel has done its best to extort the United States government in exchange for participation in or acceptance of peace initiatives.

    For example, in exchange for Israel’s participation at the 1991 Madrid Conference, the United States was forced to instrument the revocation of UN Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism (the ideological foundation of which presumes that Jews as a distinct ethnic group have exclusive and special rights in contrast with other ethnic groups) with racism (the ideological foundation of which presumes that a distinct ethnic group has exclusive and special rights in contrast with other ethnic groups).

    In another instance, President Nixon was only able to persuade the Knesset to formally accept UN Resolution 242, which called for withdrawal from the territories Israel captured in 1967 (and to this day still occupies in part, in contravention of international law) by giving “private assurances that Israel would receive additional US aircraft,” according to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. Similarly, “[Israel’s] acceptance of the cease-fire that ended the so-called War of Attrition with Egypt…was bought by a US pledge to accelerate aircraft deliveries to Israel, to provide advanced electronic countermeasures against Egypt’s Soviet-supplied anti-aircraft missiles, and, more generally, to maintain the balance of power.”

    In fact, as Mearsheimer and Walt point out:
    This pattern continued though the 1970’s, with Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter pledging ever-larger sums of aid in the course of the disengagement talks with Egypt and during the negotiations that lead to the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1979 Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty…In much the same way, , the Clinton administration gave Israel increased assistance as part of the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994, and Clinton’s efforts to advance the Oslo peace process led him to pledge an additional $1.2 billion in military ai to Israel to win Israel’s acceptance of the 1998 Wye Agreement [which Netanyahu promptly suspended].
    Before being supplanted by Iraq in 2005, Israel was the number one annual recipient of US foreign aid, followed by Egypt and Jordan respectively. It is common knowledge that Egypt and Jordan receive these US funds with the precondition that they maintain peaceful relations with Israel. In this way, the US essentially picks up the tab for Israeli aggression.

    The Present: According to Ynetnews among other sources, Israel’s leading Likud party has demanded concessions and guarantees from the Obama Administration in exchange for extending its settlement “freeze,” despite the fact that the entire international community including the United States regards these settlements as completely illegal. Apparently Obama is taking the bait, though the specifics of his pay-off to the Israeli mob are disputed.  The Guardian reports that Obama sent Netanyahu a letter which requests a “60-day renewal of the freeze. In return, Obama guarantees to demand no further extensions, to ensure that the future of Jewish settlements would become part of final status negotiations, and to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the next year, while talks continue. He pledges to support a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after the establishment of a Palestinian state. The letter also acknowledges Israel’s security needs and the need to upgrade its defense capabilities, and promises to consult Israel and the Arab states on US policy on Iran.” 

    The Past: When carrots don’t work, the US has with increasing rarity attempted to use sticks to incentivize Israeli compliance with US policy objectives. In the past 30 years, Israel has come to understand such threats as purely symbolic gestures, as no president has made good on their harsh words.

    Case in point: Mearsheimer and Walt point out, “In 1991, the first Bush administration pressured the Shamir government to stop building settlements and to attend  a planned peace conference by withholding the $10 billion loan guarantee, but the suspension lasted only a few months and the guarantees were approved once Yitzhak Rabin replaced Shamir as prime minister.” While Israel agreed to halt construction of new settlements, it continued to expand the existing blocs and the settlements grew at a rate almost 10 times faster than the natural growth of Israel Proper’s population.

    The Present: In the first week of January, under the direction of Obama, Middle East Envoy George Mitchell had stern words for the Israeli government, threatening to withhold aid if the country did not make decisive moves toward peace, including making good on its promise to halt settlement construction. However, just as before, Israel called Mitchell’s bluff, holding the moratorium in word more than deed, as new settlement construction only decreased by 50%, existing blocs grew, and Israel continued to seize Palestinian land. Even as the moratorium has expired, directly resulting in the cessation of negotiations, aid to Israel is not in jeopardy.

    The Past: In 1975 President Reagan and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were becoming impatient with Israel’s “intransigence to disengage with Egypt” as Mearsheimer put it. Both called for a reassessment of US aid to Israel, but were stymied by an AIPAC-sponsored letter penned by 76 senators concerned with maintaining current levels of military and economic support. Reagan and Kissenger were then forced to pursue other methods of negotiation.

    The Present: 87 senators have written a letter to President Obama, whole-heartedly supported by AIPAC, urging him to make sure Abbas does not leave the negotiating table regardless of the resumption of Israeli settlement construction. In response Israel News reports the administration is pressuring Abbas “not to quit the talks regardless of whether Israel extends the moratorium or not.”

    The Past: Undermining the US’s stated policy objective of achieving nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East, Israel is currently the only power in the region known to have nuclear and chemical weapons. President Kennedy eventually relegated on his efforts to have IAEA officials properly appraise Israel’s nuclear ambitions, while President Johnson, confronted with the knowledge that the country had in fact acquired WMD, chose to ignore this reality.

    The Present: Last month the IAEA failed to pass a resolution aimed at Israel’s WMD program, with 51 mostly Western countries (spearheaded by the United States) voting against it, citing the possibility that the resolution would undermine peace negotiations. Before the incident, Obama explained his strong opposition to singling out Israel on the issue of non-proliferation. The irony is clearly lost on him.

    The Past: In December 1982, during a lame-duck session, Congress attempted to provide a $250 million increase in military aid to Israel in the wake of the invasion of Lebanon, the use of cluster bombs, the illegal use of US weapons for offensive purposes, as well as the IDF’s complicity in the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Following this move, President Reagan and his new Secretary of State George Shultz reinstituted a 1981 Memorandum of Understanding on strategic cooperation in 1983.

    The Present: In the midst of Operation Cast Lead, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and from which Israel was later found to have committed war crimes as well as crimes against humanity (per the Goldstone Report), on January 16th, 2009, Congressed signed a Memorandum of Understanding essentially endorsing the operation  and pledging unconditional support for the State of Israel. While vocal on a number of policy issues before his inauguration, Obama said nothing of this development, and has yet to negatively address the MOU.

    For those of us concerned with history, it has become increasingly evident that there is nothing new to discuss. Palestinians are still not represented by a competent, unified and truly legitimate leadership. Israel is still employing the same tired tactics. But what’s most disheartening about the latest spectacle is Obama’s handling of the situation. Far from being the beacon of hope and progress he claimed himself to be in Cairo (does anyone remember, “It’s time for these settlements to stop,” or was I just hearing things?), Obama has shown he is no different from his predecessors.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Israel Attempts to Extort US Government

    Just a few hours ago, Ynetnews published the following story

    Senior Likud officials have told Ynet that they would support a two-month extension of the settlement construction freeze in exchange for guarantees from the United States.
    Likud sources noted that a "significant" incentive package would help the prime minister receive the approval of the cabinet or any other forum. (Attila Somfalvi)

    Could Israeli thuggery be any more evident? "We will stop breaking international law, undermining Palestinian statehood and violating human rights, temporarily, IF and only if the United States makes it worth our while."

    This stands in the face of the fact that according to a 2010 congressional report, "Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. From 1976-2004, Israel was the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, having been supplanted by Iraq. Since 1985, the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel."

    The same report indicates:
    "In August 2007, the Bush Administration announced that it would increase U.S. military assistance to Israel by $6 billion over the next decade. The agreement calls for incremental annual increases in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Israel, reaching $3 billion a year by FY2012. For FY2010, the Obama Administration requested $2.775 billion in FMF to Israel. Congress provided $555 million of Israel's total FY2010 FMF appropriation in P.L. 111-32, the FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act."
    What's more:
    Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance. In the past, Israel also had received significant economic assistance. Strong congressional support for Israel has resulted in Israel’s receiving benefits not available to other countries. For example, Israel can use some U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers. In addition, all U.S. foreign assistance earmarked for Israel is delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year. Most other recipients normally receive aid in installments. Congress also appropriates funds for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs.
    Really, Israel? REALLY? You want to extort my wallet to pay for your brutalization of Palestinians, on top of the mountains of aid and arms I and my fellow taxpayers are forced to hand you so promptly? Government-subsidized donations to your settlement projects aren't good enough? No, you'd like to play mob boss now?

    The Israeli government is nothing but a gang of ungrateful, petulant brats. Clearly, the spoiling has gone to their heads and rotted their brains. The most frightening thing is, I don't think any American has the confidence to assert that Obama will reject this idea wholesale.

    Settler Violence in the Occupied West Bank

    Settlements are illegal under international law. This is an indisputable fact. But the  act of settlement itself, confiscating Palestinian land and transferring Israeli citizens onto it, is not the only problem. In reality, settlement of the West Bank brings along with it an axis of control over Palestinian livelihood, hindering construction in Palestinian villages to accommodate their natural growth, monopolizing resources, poisoning the environment and strangling the economy with limits on movement and access to farmland among other injustices.

    Most disturbing, yet hardly reported in the mainstream media, is the horrendous phenomenon of settler violence against the indigenous Palestinian population. Worse yet, settlers who attack Palestinians and their property act with utter impunity, rarely if ever being punished. When settlers are held accountable for their actions, punishments are usually laughable at best.

    In a lecture (slideshow available here) given by the Executive Director of the Palestine Center, Yousef Munayyer on September 15th, he revealed that between 2009 and 2010 settlers committed at least 1,000 separate acts of violence against individuals or their property. This destruction originated in at least two-thirds of settlements, the majority of which coming from the most religious, and predominantly in the form of stone throwing, trespassing, assault, destruction of property and arson.  90% of these attacks took place in areas where Israel has security jurisdiction under the Oslo Accords.

    As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem explains in “The Nature of the Violence:” 
    From the beginning of the [Al Aqsa] Intifada, in late September 2000, to the end of 2004, Israeli civilians have killed thirty-four Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. In some of these cases, the Israelis acted in life-threatening situations, such as when armed Palestinians infiltrated Israeli settlements. In many cases, however, the Israeli civilians did not act in self-defense. This occurred, for example, in those instance in which Israelis chased stone-throwers and fired at them as a form of “punishment.” Acts of this kind violate the penal law and the open-fire regulations applying to civilians. 

    Israelis, individually or in organized groups, carry out the attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian property to frighten, deter, or punish them, using weapons and ammunition they received from the IDF. The settlers sometimes act in retaliation for violence committed by Palestinians, and sometimes not.

    The actions against Palestinians include blocking roadways, so as to impede Palestinian life and commerce. The settlers also shoot solar panels on roofs of buildings, torch automobiles, shatter windowpanes and windshields, destroy crops, uproot trees, abuse merchants and owners of stalls in the market. Some of these actions are intended to force Palestinians to leave their homes and farmland, and thereby enable the settlers to gain control of them.

    During the olive-picking season, when many Palestinians are at work in the orchards, settler violence increases. The violence takes the form of gunfire, which sometimes results in casualties among the Palestinian olive-pickers, destruction of trees, and theft of Palestinian crops.
    A study conducted by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din on offenses between 2005 and 2006 indicates that of those reported to the Judea and Samaria (Israel’s renaming of the West Bank) District of the Israel Police:
    • More than 90% of the complaints and files in which the investigation was completed here closed without indictments being submitted.
    • 96% of the files on trespassing (including all the cases of harming trees) in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.
    • 100% of the property offenses in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.
    • 79% of the assault files in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.
    • About 5% of the complaints filed were lost and apparently were never investigated.
    B’Tselem elucidates:
    This policy is in total contrast to the rigid policy of law enforcement and punishment where Palestinians harm Israelis. Towns and villages in the area of the incident are routinely placed under curfew, which has at times lasted for many days, and intensive searches and arrests are made. In many cases, Israel demolished or sealed the suspect's home. Palestinians who are tried and convicted for offenses against Israelis are given maximum punishment.
    The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights does its best to document all incidents of settler violence, which can be found in its weekly reports on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    Since the “moratorium” on settlement construction has ended, even more will be built and expanded to accommodate the ever-growing settler population, at least 40% of which will be from Jewish immigrants from abroad rather than natural growth, and one can expect the violence to only escalate. As recently as Tuesday, two new incidents were reported to the International Middle East Media Center. In the village of Qaryut, south of Nablus, settlers broke the home of Najla'a Abdelfattah and threatened to kill her. They were only forced to leave when a group of youths came to her defense. The report goes on to say, “Near the northern city of Nablus, another group of settlers trespassed into the olive orchards in the village of Awarta, and stole olives. The villagers told media the settlers came form the nearby settlement of Yitzahar, adding that this is not the first time they invade the fields and steal the olives.”

    These are the consequences of the policy the European Union subsidizes, the consequences of the policy countless US citizens endorse with the government’s help, that the US Senate has deemed immaterial to peace negotiations and that the international community has done nothing to stop (excluding the occasional hollow condemnation, followed up by...nothing). Who will hold Israel, its army and its settlers accountable? Who will come to the aid of the defenseless population of the Occupied West Bank? If Abbas doesn’t walk away from peace negotiations after consulting with the Arab League this week, the unfortunate answer will most likely be no one.