ISRAELI BANALITY: Looting the Holy Land

In historic Palestine archeology is at the centre of a power struggle in which every stone has meaning.

Since 1967 countless artifacts have been unearthed and removed from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many are displayed in Israeli museums and private collections, while others are sold to tourists.

For Israel, archeology has been a key tool in buttressing its territorial claims to historic Palestine. Archeological findings are used to assert ownership and to rename the territories they occupy.

Palestinians see the cultural heritage of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza as a central part of their ancestral birthright and ownership is key to building an economy based on pilgrimage and tourism.

Is the removal of historic treasures from the occupied territories a case of cultural preservation or stealing a heritage? What role has the science of archeology played in the Arab-Israeli dispute?

Al Jazeera searches through the evidence, unearthing the facts and exposing a power struggle in which every stone has meaning.

More than just property, the control of a cultural legacy is at stake.

An Evaporating Palestine – Negotiating One’s Demise

“For 17 years they [Palestinians] negotiated with the Israeli government during settlement construction … ”

 

– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 1 October 2010

The United States-brokered peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas are in suspended animation.

Abbas is deciding whether to continue to partake in them despite the expiration of a 10-month moratorium on new Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Although his inclination appears not to do so, he also believes the opinion of Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Libya this Friday is first worth taking.

It is remarkable that those representing the Palestinian people would waiver in the slightest about quitting the talks in the face of ongoing land seizure. If this is not a red line, what is? It suggests a leadership which has not only failed to stand for the basic rights of its people, but a further reminder of Abbas’ illegitimacy as a spokesperson for those rights.

Two incontrovertible, overlooked facts:

The presence of even a single Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem is illegal. Articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention, reaffirmed by numerous United Nations resolutions and the principles of the U.N. Charter, prohibit an occupying power from transferring its population into forcibly acquired territory.

Second, Abbas’ presidential term ended on Jan. 9, 2009. In the absence of elections, the Palestine Liberation Organization—of which Abbas’ Fatah faction is the largest party—extended his tenure indefinitely (a move not recognized by Hamas, the decisive winner of the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections). His authority as PA president is therefore in question.

But could Israel find a better “partner” with whom to conduct peace talks than Abbas? His protestations against Israel’s December 2008 onslaught of Gaza were noticeably muted. The PA also endorsed a recent vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council postponing action on the Goldstone Report which alleged Israeli war crimes in the conflict.

Maysa Zorob of the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq characterized the resolution as “a betrayal of victims’ rights” and the PA’s support of shelving it reflective of “a lack of genuine commitment to justice.”

The price of clinging to power and remaining in the good graces of the U.S. State Department has been forsaking Gaza. The Israeli government seized on this, bolstering Abbas’ stature by pretending they had found a trusted negotiating partner—all while the quiet annexation of land continued.

But it is hard to solely blame Abbas. As Netanyahu stated, Israel has mastered the art of entering empty dialogue with Palestinians as new East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements are built.

As the map shows, Palestine is evaporating. It is now just a tangle of checkpoints, roadblocks, barriers and military zones.

Five hundred thousand settlers in 120 West Bank settlements and counting; the expropriation of territory and expulsion of Palestinians is rendering a one-state, two-state or any-state solution moot.

“Everyone knows that measured and restrained building in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank and Jerusalem] in the coming year will have no influence on the peace map,” Netanyahu said.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, when no map remains. The “measured” and “restrained” qualifiers used to describe robust, relentless settlement activity are typical of the doublespeak employed by Israeli prime ministers.

As Abbas seeks outside opinion, consults Arab foreign ministers and holds cabinet sessions to decide the wisdom of pulling out of talks, Palestine is being whittled away … as the PA whittles away time.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.

 

Ref: Counterpunch

 

NEW WORLD ORDER: US loses global credibility (while Israel get´s more zionistic)

Israel’s open and deliberate refusal to do as the US demands over settlements in East Jerusalem reflects Netanyahu’s fundamental opposition to a two-state solution

Uncomfortable at the spectacle of the Obama administration in an open confrontation with the Israeli government, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman – who represents the interests of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party on Capitol Hill as faithfully as he does those of the health insurance industry – called for a halt. “Let’s cut the family fighting, the family feud,” he said. “It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the US and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies’.”

The idea that the US and Israel are “family” with identical national interests is a convenient fiction that Lieberman and his fellow Israel partisans have worked relentlessly to promote – and enforce – in Washington over the past two decades. If the bonds are indeed familial, however, the recent showdown between Washington and the Netanyahu government may be counted as one of those feuds in which truths are uttered in the heat of the moment that call into question the fundamental terms of the relationship. Such truths are never easily swept under the rug once the dispute is settled. The immediate rupture, that is, precludes a simple return to the status quo ante; instead, a renegotiation of the terms of the relationship somehow ends up on the agenda.

Sure, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government are now working feverishly to find a formula that will allow them to move on from a contretemps that began when the Israelis ambushed Vice-President Joe Biden, announcing plans to build 1,600 new housing units for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. He was, of course, in Israel to promote the Obama administration’s failing efforts to rehabilitate negotiations toward a two-state peace agreement, a goal regularly spurned by Israel’s continued construction on land occupied in 1967.

Once again, as when Obama demanded a complete settlement freeze from the Netanyahu government in 2009, the Israelis will fend off any demand that they completely reverse their latest construction plans. Instead, they will shamelessly offer to continue their settlement activity on a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” basis, professing rhetorical support for a two-state solution to placate the Americans, even as they systematically erode its prospects on the ground.

There is, as former Secretary of State James Baker has noted, no shortage of chutzpah in this Israeli government. “United States taxpayers are giving Israel roughly $3bn each year, which amounts to something like $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, at a time when our own economy is in bad shape and a lot of Americans would appreciate that kind of helping hand from their own government,” Baker said in a recent interview. “Given that fact, it is not unreasonable to ask the Israeli leadership to respect US policy on settlements” (1).

Sooner or later, the present imbroglio is likely to be fudged over, but make no mistake, it opened Washington up to a renewed discussion of the conventional wisdom of unconditional support for Israel. It also brought into the public arena the way US administrations over the past two decades have enabled that country’s ever-expanding occupation regime and whether such a policy is compatible with US national interests in the Middle East.

Back in 2006, the foreign policy thinkers John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt provoked a firestorm of ridicule and ad hominem abuse for suggesting in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2), that the goals pursued by the two sides were, in fact, far from identical and often at odds – and that partisans motivated by Israel’s interests lobbied aggressively to skew US foreign policy in their favour. Israel partisans also heaped derision on the suggestion by the Iraq Study Group commissioned by President George W Bush that the US would not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East without first settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Petraeus weighs in

Response to the reiteration of the idea that Israel’s behaviour might be jeopardising US interests has been strikingly muted by comparison. That’s because it came from General David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees America’s two wars of the moment. He is the most celebrated US military officer of his generation, and a favourite of those most ferocious of Israel partisans, the neocons.

Petraeus told Senators: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in [Centcom’s] AOR [Area of Responsibility].” He added, “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.” He also stressed that “progress toward resolving the political disputes in the Levant, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, is a major concern for Centcom.”

Normally, any linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a wave of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is pooh-poohed by neocons and other Israel partisans. Typically, they will derisively suggest that those who argue for the linkage made by Petraeus are naïve in their belief that al-Qaida would give up its jihad if only Israel and the Palestinians made peace. That, by the way, is a straw-man argument of the first order: the US has done plenty on its own to antagonise the Muslim world, and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not in itself resolve that antagonism. The point is simply that a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for repairing relations between the US and the citizenry of many Muslim countries.

Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, who has made a profession of trying to negate the difference between anti-Semitism and criticism of (or hostility to) Israel, gamely ventured that “Gen Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the US and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived US favouritism for Israel”. His conclusion: “This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive” (3).

You can hear the pain in Foxman’s admission that “it is that much more of a concern to hear this coming from such a great American patriot and hero”. That Petraeus chose to make his concerns public at the height of a public showdown between Israel and the US, and to do so on Capitol Hill, where legislators seemed uncertain how to respond, signalled the seriousness of the uniformed military in pressing the issue.
The most powerful lobby

Longtime Washington military and intelligence affairs analyst Mark Perry caught the special significance of this at Foreign Policy’s website: “There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers – and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the US military” (4). He noted as well that, in a January Centcom briefing of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, Petraeus had evidently suggested the Palestinian territories – over which Israel continues to exercise sovereign military control – be included under Centcom’s area of responsibility, a prospect that would make Israel’s leadership apoplectic.

It’s not that, as far as we know, Petraeus harbours any particular animus, or affection, for the Jewish state. It’s that, in his institutional role as the commander of hundreds of thousands of US troops stationed across what Washington strategists like to call the “arc of instability”, he is concerned about aggravating hostility towards the United States.

The idea that Washington needs to rein in Israeli expansionism and force a political solution to its conflict with the Palestinians is hardly novel for America’s unsentimental men in uniform. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former US Mideast envoy General Anthony Zinni, both of whom had their formative experiences of the region in the course of massive US military deployments there, were on the same page as Petraeus is today.

Lieutenant General Keith Dayton is the US officer responsible for creating and training the Palestinian Authority security force that has cracked down on West Bank militants and restrained them from attacking Israel over the past few years. He was no less blunt than Petraeus in a speech in Washington last year. He emphasised the premise on which the force was built, and withstood charges from within its own community that it was simply a gendarmerie for Israel: its soldiers believed themselves to be the nucleus of the army of a future Palestinian state. The loyalty of his men, he warned, should not be taken for granted: “There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not.”

Vice-President Biden, too, was quoted in the Israeli press as having berated Netanyahu – behind closed doors – over his plans for settlement expansion, warning that it would put at risk the lives of American personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tough-love solution

In public, of course, Biden offered familiar pablum direct from Joe Lieberman’s “family” album: “From my experience, the one precondition for progress [in the Middle East] is that the rest of the world knows this – there is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to security, none. That’s the only time that progress has been made.”

In fact, the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggests that the reverse is true. The origins of the peace process the Obama administration is now trying so desperately to resuscitate do not lie in the unconditional American support for Israel that has become a third rail in national politics over the past two decades. They lie in the national interest based tough love of the administration of President George HW Bush.

Grounded in a realist reading of American national interests across the Middle East – at a moment when a military campaign to eject Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait had put hundreds of thousands of US troops on the ground there – the first Bush administration recognised the need to balance Israel’s reasonable interests with those of its Arab neighbours. That’s why, in 1991, it dragged Israel’s hawkish Likud government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid conference, and so broke Israel’s “security” taboo on direct engagement with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The Bush administration also made it clear that there would be immediate and painful consequences for Israel if it continued building settlements on land conquered in the war of 1967, construction which the US was then willing to term not only “unhelpful” – the preferred euphemism of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and now Barack Obama – but illegal. Under the direction of Bush family consigliere and Secretary of State Jim Baker, Washington threatened to withdraw $10bn in loan guarantees if Israeli colonisation of Palestinian territory continued. In the resulting political crisis, Israelis – mindful of their dependency on US support – voted Shamir out of office and chose Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister.

Rabin has been rightly lionised as a leader who took a courageous decision to change course in the face of bitter domestic opposition. To understand how Israel started down the path of peace, however, it’s necessary to clean the Vaseline off the lens of history and quiet the string section.

Only three years earlier, Rabin had ordered Israeli troops to use baseball bats to break the limbs of stone-throwing teenagers in hopes of stopping the Palestinian intifada. He certainly did not embrace the Oslo peace process with the PLO out of some moral epiphany. He changed course thanks to a cold-blooded assessment of Israel’s strategic position at the time.

The United States then had a growing stake in creating a regional Pax Americana that required Arab support. Given the end of the cold war, Israel’s value as an ally was diminishing, while its expansionist policies, antagonising Arab public opinion and making it more difficult for vulnerable regional governments to ally with Israel’s enabler, were increasingly a liability for Washington.

Rabin had reason to believe that US support for Israel at the expense of its neighbours would prove neither unconditional nor eternal. At the same time, the PLO had been weakened by years of Israeli military attacks and by a disastrous diplomatic blunder – it had aligned itself with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war. It was a fortuitous moment, he concluded, to press for a political solution with the Palestinians on favourable terms, by trading the West Bank and Gaza for peace.
Where are the consequences?

Rabin acted because the consequences of maintaining the status quo seemed increasingly unpleasant, which takes nothing away from his courage in doing so. The same could be said for South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk. He opted to negotiate an end to apartheid with Nelson Mandela’s ANC because the collapse of the Soviet Union had removed the most persuasive rationale the US and other western powers had for backing his white-rule regime. Similarly, it’s unlikely that the Soviet political system would have put Mikhail Gorbachev in power if the KGB hadn’t determined that far-reaching changes were necessary to prevent Moscow from being eclipsed as a superpower, thanks to western economic and technological advances.

If US pressure and the spectre of isolation and opprobrium pushed Israel onto the path of a two-state solution, the easing of that pressure and the creation of the “familial” notion of US-Israel ties have coincided with a steady movement away from completing the peace process. Even at the height of the Oslo era, coddled by Clinton, the Israelis kept on expanding the settlements that jeopardised geographic prospects for Palestinian statehood.

The Israeli opposition, led by Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu, sought to prove Rabin wrong. They were convinced that American support could be maintained without conceding Palestinian statehood – by making constant end runs around the Oval Office and appealing directly to Capitol Hill and US public opinion.

Sharon and Netanyahu were vindicated in spades when the suicide-terror strategy taken up by the second Palestinian intifada and the attacks of 9/11 led George W Bush’s administration to re-conceptualise the world on the basis of its Global War on Terror. This, in turn, led Washington’s political class to accept Israel not as just another ally in that war, but as a model for how to conduct it.

In the Bush years, the peace process and the two-state solution became a hollow catechism that could be mouthed by Israeli leaders (and their supporters in Washington), while getting on with the task of smashing the Palestinian national movement and expanding settlements. In real terms, the peace process – the series of reciprocal moves designed to build confidence for concluding final status talks and implementing a two-state solution – died when Ariel Sharon came to power in February 2001.
Grand guignol

Even his 2005 withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza was never conceived in terms of a peace process; it wasn’t even negotiated or coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Sharon, in fact, imagined his unilateral withdrawal as a substitute for a peace agreement. It was designed, as Sharon’s top aide Dov Weissglass so memorably explained, as a dose of “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.

Despite mounting Arab exasperation, the Bush administration put no pressure on Israel to bring the peace process to a conclusion, limiting itself to the Grand Guignol of the “Annapolis process”. With all external compulsion to conclude a peace agreement removed, domestic political pressure in Israel not surprisingly collapsed as well. The Palestinians were now largely locked behind the vast separation wall that winds through the West Bank and the siege lines of Gaza. Their plight is once again invisible to Israelis, only 40% of whom, when asked by pollsters, even express an interest in seeing the peace process restarted. Only around 20% believe that such a move would bring any results.

“Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights,” wrote Israeli political commentator Gideon Levy in Haaretz on 18 March. “Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn’t just endanger Israel’s future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel’s most dangerous enemies. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today.”

The Obama administration can’t be under any illusions on this score. And they are being forced to confront it by another kind of pressure. The bills are coming due for Bush’s War-on-Terror adventurism. Those responsible for maintaining the US imperium in the Muslim world are now raising warning flags that the price to be paid for continuing to indulge Israel in evading its obligation to offer a fair settlement to the Palestinians could be high – and, worse than that, unnecessary.

Israel’s leaders, and its voters, have amply demonstrated that they will not voluntarily relinquish control of the Palestinian territories as long as there are no real consequences for maintaining the status quo. Sure, you can tell them that the status quo is untenable, but the whole history of Israel from the 1920s onward has been about transforming the impossible into the inevitable by changing the facts on the ground. Building settlements on occupied territory in violation of international law after 1967 seemed untenable at the time; today, the US government says Israel will keep most of those major settlement blocs in any two-state solution. It is precisely in line with this sort of improvisational logic that Sharon calculated he could hold on to the settlements of the West Bank if he gave up the settlements of Gaza; the same logic allows Netanyahu to say the words “two states for two peoples” while always winking at his base that he has no intention of allowing it to happen.

A peace process that requires Israel and the Palestinians to reach a bilateral consensus on the distribution of land and power under the prodding of US matchmakers is a non-starter – and therefore unlikely to lead to a goal which is of increasing urgency in America’s national interest. Arguably, it’s increasingly important even for the Israelis, since the status quo has already eroded prospects for a two-state solution to the point where both sides may be consigned to an even longer and more bitter conflict.

Hence the necessity of correcting Vice-President Biden: progress in the Middle East will not come until the US changes Israel’s cost-benefit analysis for maintaining the status quo. The only Israeli leader capable of accepting the parameters of a two-state peace with the Palestinians, which are already widely known, is one who can convincingly demonstrate to his electorate that the alternatives are worse. Right now, without real pressure, without real cost, with nothing but words, there is simply no downside to the status quo for Israel. Until there is, things are unlikely to change, no matter the peril to US troops throughout the Middle East.

Ref: Le Monde

UPRISING: Expecting a third Intifada

The next Intifada could see the Palestinian people in struggle not only against Israel but also against the Palestinian Authority, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

Observers in occupied Palestine are increasingly of the opinion that a fresh Intifada or uprising is in the offing as the Israeli authorities keep provoking Palestinians, including stepping up efforts to gain Jewish prayer rights at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has warned that provocative Israeli actions at Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) could trigger a religious war between Jews and Muslims. The organisation called on the world community to stop Israeli aggression before it was too late.

The warning came after Israeli security forces attacked Muslim worshipers during Friday’s congregational prayers on 5 March. Israeli paramilitary police fired tear gas and stun grenades, injuring as many 50 Palestinians, many of them elderly. Some of the injured were transferred to the two main hospitals in East Jerusalem, but many had to be treated on site as Israeli troops impeded emergency medical efforts.

The Israeli police said it “intervened” in reaction to stone throwing towards the nearby Al-Buraq Wall, which Jews call the “Western Wall plaza”. Palestinians have been protesting a series of Israeli provocations, including efforts by Jewish religious groups to gain a foothold at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Last week, Israeli troops escorted a number of Jewish fanatics into the Haram Al-Sharif esplanade where they started holding religious rituals. Muslim worshipers in the area hurled stones towards them, prompting soldiers to attack the Muslims.

The overall atmosphere was further galvanised by a recent decision by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to add two Islamic sites — the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, which Jews call the Cave of the Patriarch, and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem, known to the Jews as Rachel’s Tomb — to a newly-founded list of Jewish heritage sites.

Another source of tension has been a decision by the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to destroy an entire Arab neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city in order to build tourist facilities. Deemed an “act of rape” and “ethnic cleansing”, Palestinians argue that the demolition of dozens of homes in the Silwan neighbourhood is but a further attempt to judaise Arab East Jerusalem.

Some conscientious Jewish figures acknowledge the malicious intent of the Israeli authorities and Mayor Barkat. Abraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, has accused Barkat of allowing oppression and injustice to run wild in a city where “justice once dwelt”.

Writing in Haaretz on 7 March, Burg pointed out that “the Israeli-Jewish and Arab-capital” is “becoming the capital of the hallucinatory, dangerous fanatics. This is not the city of all its residents. It is a sad city that belongs to its settlers, its ultra orthodox, its violent residents and its messiahs… the Israeli spirit of justice is being run roughshod by politicians, settlers and judges. The national soul is being slain with red tape and bureaucratic indifference.”

In fact, government-backed Jewish organisations, mostly funded by wealthy Jews from the United States, have been creating a foothold in the Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah where Palestinian families have been forcibly evicted from their homes in coordination with the police apparatus. Settlers claim that some homes belonged to Jews prior to 1948 while others were purchased in secret deals. When aggrieved Palestinians go to Israeli courts for redress, the Israeli judge routinely sides with the settler squatters.

Settler lawyers often claim that homes in such towns as Hebron and Jerusalem belonged to Jews during the British Mandate era. The same lawyers overlook the fact that tens of thousands of homes in what is now Israel belonged to Palestinian families whose members were either massacred, as in Deir Yassin, or ethnically cleansed and forced into exile, as happened in Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods of Lifta, Ain Karm, Talbiyeh and Al-Malha, to name a few.

When this writer asked an Israeli lawyer involved in efforts to arrogate Arab real estate in East Jerusalem why it was legal for Jews to reclaim their presumed property in the West Bank while it was not for Palestinians relative to property in what is now Israel, the lawyer said, “because we are strong and you are weak”.

Standing up to oppression, several thousand pro-peace Palestinians and Israelis gathered in Jerusalem Saturday night, 6 March, to protest against the growing evictions of Arab families by police-backed Jewish settlers. It is unlikely, however, that demonstrations will force the Israeli government to rethink its drive to judaise Arab East Jerusalem.

Actually, far from showing the slightest consideration for Palestinian concerns, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak this week approved the construction of 112 new settler units in the West Bank. The decision makes a mockery of the Israeli government decision earlier this year to freeze settlement expansion for eight months. It also reveals that promises and undertakings by the Netanyahu government have little credibility.

With a conspicuously helpless Palestinian Authority (PA) doing next to nothing — and arguably capable of nothing — in the face of Israel’s arrogance of power, frustration among ordinary Palestinians is building. It is not unlikely that the seeds are being sown of a full-fledged Intifada if the present trend continues. However, a fresh Intifada would confront the Western-backed PA with a real dilemma that could put into question not only its legitimacy — such as it is — but also its very survival.

This week, Israel delivered a stern warning to the PA: “Stop the stone throwers, or we will.” The problem, however, is that a crackdown by PA security forces on Palestinians reacting to Israeli provocations and aggression would be very unpopular, as it would show PA security forces repressing their own people on Israel’s behalf. On the other hand, should the PA decide to side with the masses against Israel it would risk its own survival, as the Israeli army would be forced to retake Palestinian population centres as happened in 2001 and 2002.

Ref: Al Ahram

http://www.intifada.com/

ISRAELI BANALITY: Biden and the Settlements – Wiping the Spit Off His Face

Some weeks the news is dominated by a single word. This week’s word was “timing”.

It’s all a matter of timing. The Government of Israel has insulted the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, one of the greatest “friends” of Israel (meaning: somebody totally subservient to AIPAC) and spat in the face of President Barack Obama. So what? It’s all a matter of timing.

If the government had announced the building of 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem a day earlier, it would have been OK. If it had announced it three days later, it would have been wonderful. But doing it exactly when Joe Biden was about to have dinner with Bibi and Sarah’le – that was really bad timing.

The matter itself is not important. Another thousand housing units in East Jerusalem, or 10 thousand, or 100 thousand – what different does it make? The only thing that matters is the timing.

As the Frenchman said: It’s worse than criminal, it’s stupid.

* * *

THE WORD “stupid” also figured prominently this week, second only to “timing”.

Stupidity is an accepted phenomenon in politics. I would almost say: to succeed in politics, one needs a measure of stupidity. Voters don’t like politicians who are too intelligent. They make them feel inferior. A foolish politician, on the other hand, appears to be “one of the folks”.

History is full of acts of folly by politicians. Many books have been written about this. To my mind, the epitome of foolishness was achieved by the events that led to World War I, with its millions of victims, which broke out because of the accumulated stupidity of (in ascending order) Austrian, Russian, German, French and British politicians.

But even stupidity in politics has its limits. I have pondered this question for decades, and who knows, one day, when I grow up, I might write a doctoral thesis about it.

My thesis goes like this: In politics (as in other fields) foolish things happen regularly. But some of them are stopped in time, before they can lead to disaster, while others are not. It this accidental, or is there a rule?

My answer is: there certainly is a rule. It works like this: when somebody sets in motion an act of folly that runs counter to the spirit of the regime, it is stopped in its tracks. While it moves from one bureaucrat to another, somebody starts to wonder. Just a moment, this cannot be right! It is referred to higher authority, and soon enough somebody decides that it is a mistake.

On the other hand, when the act of folly is in line with the spirit of the regime, there are no brakes. When it moves from one bureaucrat to the next, it looks quite natural to both. No red light. No alarm bell. And so the folly rolls on to the bitter end.

I remember how this rule came to my mind the first time. In 1965, Habib Bourguiba, the president of Tunisia, took a bold step: he made a speech in the biggest refugee camp in Jericho, then under Jordanian rule, and called upon the Arabs to recognize Israel. This caused a huge scandal all over the Arab world.

Some time later, the correspondent of an Israeli paper reported that in a press conference at the UN headquarters, Bourguiba had called for the destruction of Israel. This sounded strange to me. I made inquiries, checked the protocol and found out that the opposite was true: the reporter had mistakenly turned a no into a yes.

How did this happen? If the journalist had erred in the opposite direction and reported, for example, that Gamal Abd-el-Nasser had called for the acceptance of Israel into the Arab League, the news would have been stopped at once. Every red light would have lit up. Someone would have called out: Hey, something strange here! Check again! But in the Bourguiba case nobody noticed the mistake, for what is more natural than an Arab leader calling for the destruction of Israel? No verification needed.

That’s what happened this week in Jerusalem. Every government official knows that the nationalist Prime Minister is pushing for the Judaization of East Jerusalem, that the extreme nationalist Minister of the Interior is even more eager, and that the super-nationalist Mayor of Jerusalem practically salivates when he imagines a Jewish quarter on the Temple Mount. So why should a bureaucrat postpone the confirmation of a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem? Just because of the visit of some American windbag?

Therefore, the timing is not important. It’s the matter itself that’s important.

* * *

DURING HIS last days in office, President Bill Clinton published a peace plan, in which he tried to make up for eight years of failure in this region and kowtowing to successive Israeli governments. The plan was comparatively reasonable, but included a ticking bomb.

About East Jerusalem, Clinton proposed that what is Jewish should be joined to the State of Israel and what is Arab should be joined to the state of Palestine. He assumed (rightly, I believe) that Yasser Arafat was ready for such a compromise, which would have joined some new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to Israel. But Clinton was not wise enough to foresee the consequences of his proposal.

In practice, it was an open invitation to the Israeli government to speed up the establishment of new settlements in East Jerusalem, expecting them to become part of Israel. And indeed, since then successive Israeli governments have invested all available resources in this endeavor. Since money has no smell, every Jewish casino-owner in America and every Jewish brothel-keeper in Europe was invited to join the effort. The Biblical injunction – “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God, for any vow; for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 23:18) – was suspended for this holy cause.

Now the pace is speeded up even more. Because there is no more effective means of obstructing peace than building new settlements in East Jerusalem.

* * *

THAT IS clear to anyone who has dealings with this region. No peace without an independent Palestinian state, no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem. About this there is total unanimity among all Palestinians, from Fatah to Hamas, and between all Arabs, from Morocco to Iraq, and between all Muslims, from Nigeria to Iran.

There will be no peace without the Palestinian flag waving above the Haram al-Sharif, the holy shrines of Islam which we call the Temple Mount. That is an iron-clad rule. Arabs can compromise about the refugee problem, painful as it may be, and about the borders, also with much pain, and about security matters. But they cannot compromise about East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine. All national and religious passions converge here.

Anyone who wants to wreck any chance for peace – it is here that he has to act. The settlers and their supporters, who know that any peace agreement would include the elimination of (at least) most settlements, have planned in the past (and probably are planning now) to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, hoping that this would cause a worldwide conflagration which would reduce to ashes the chances of peace once and for all.

Less extreme people dream about the creeping ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem by administrative chicanery, demolition of houses, denying means of livelihood and just making life in general miserable for Arabs.  Moderate rightists just want to cover every empty square inch in East Jerusalem with Jewish neighborhoods. The aim is always the same.

* * *

THIS REALITY is, of course, well known to Obama and his advisors. In the beginning they believed, in their innocence, that they could sweet talk Netanyahu and Co. into stopping the building activity to facilitate the start of negotiations for the two-state solution. Very soon they learned that this was impossible without exerting massive pressure – and they were not prepared to do that.

After putting up a short and pitiful struggle, Obama gave in. He agreed to the deception of a “settlement freeze” in the West Bank. Now building is going on there with great enthusiasm, and the settlers are satisfied. They have completely stopped their demonstrations.

In Jerusalem there was not even a farcical attempt – Netanyahu just told Obama that he would go on building there (“as in Tel Aviv”), and Obama bowed his head. When Israeli officials announced a grandiose plan for building in “Ramat Shlomo” this week, they did not violate any undertaking. Only the matter of “timing” remained.

* * *

FOR JOE BIDEN, it was a matter of honor. For Mahmoud Abbas, it is a matter of survival.

Under intense pressure from the Americans and their agents, the rulers of the Arab countries, Abbas was obliged to agree to negotiations with the Netanyahu government – though only “proximity talks”, a euphemism for “distance talks”.

Clearly, nothing will come out of these talks except more humiliation for the Palestinians. Quite simply: anyone building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is announcing in advance that there is no chance for an agreement. After all, no sane Israeli would invest billions in a territory he intends to turn over to the Palestinian state. A person who is eating a pizza is not negotiating about it in good faith.

Even at this late stage, Abbas and his people still hope that something good will come out of all this: the US will acknowledge that they are right and exert, at long last, real pressure on Israel to implement the two-state solution.

But Biden and Obama did not give much cause for hope. They wiped the spit off their faces and smiled politely.

As the saying goes: when you spit in the face of a weakling, he pretends that it is raining. Does this apply to the president of the most powerful country in the world?

Ref: Counterpunch

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

VIDEO: What future for ‘Greater Israel’?

What future for the “Greater Land of Israel”?

Six decades after its founding, Israel has grown into one of the world’s top 20 industrial states, with GNP (General National Product) superior to all its neighbours combined.


With an estimated 200 nuclear warheads, and one of the most advanced air forces in the world, Israel promotes itself as the Middle East’s most powerful military and one of the world’s five leading arms exporters.

Priding itself on being a Western-type democracy; Israel has always sought close relations with empires and superpowers, underlining its estrangement within its own region.

Thanks to decades of preferential treatment by Western superpowers, Israel has had its cake and eaten it too. It has occupied, annexed and exploited Palestinian and Arab lands with impunity, and at the same time received over $100bn as the West’s foremost ally in the Middle East. Israel’s control over the Occupied Territories has radicalised its own society and identity as much as it has deformed that of the Palestinians. And yet, despite all, Israel’s borders remain undrawn, its capital unrecognised, its Jewishness unaccepted, and its security in question.

Part II

Today, after two failed wars in Lebanon and Gaza and a deadlocked peace process, Israel’s moment of truth has come …

A radical right-wing coalition government in Israel is determined to press ahead with the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

Palestinians refuse to accept anything less than a total freeze on all settlements but they are divided on the best way forward – diplomacy or resistance.

The all-powerful US is powerless. Since the election of Barack Obama, the US president, and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, relations have become stifled.

Is Israel still a strategic asset? Was it ever? Or is it a strategic burden? Obama staked his presidency on a breakthrough, but his efforts have stumbled at the first hurdle.

The United Nations continue to issue toothless resolutions with no impact on the ground. Is it left to the European Union to make the running with yet another vague overture?

The diplomatic vacuum leads to more unilateral policies and a radicalisation of both sides that could escalate the conflict even further. So how can the international community end an illegal occupation that has lasted for four decades? Is a two state solution still possible, or one state or no state!

This episode of Empire airs from Wednesday, December 23, at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 1900; Thursday: 0300, 1400; Friday: 0600.

Jewish Settlers: We’ll Burn You All!

While Jewish settlers were burning the mosque of the village of Yasuf near the city of Nablus in the West Bank and writing on the walls of the village “We’ll burn you all”, which is the phrase German Nazis used to write on Jewish homes in the 1930s, EU member states backed down from a resolution proposed by Sweden to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state after the interference – as a result of Israeli pressure – of France and Germany, two countries involved in building the Israeli nuclear arsenal.

Despite the fact that the draft resolution was better than the resolution taken, they both fell short of meeting the requirements of international legitimacy. The draft resolution stated that the EU Council “urges” Israel to stop all settlement activity immediately, including those in East Jerusalem, and dismantling those built since “March 2001”. It stresses that the settlements, the segregation wall built on the occupied territories, and house demolition were all “illegal practices” according to international law and constitute a barrier to peace.” When the Council expressed “extreme concern” for the situation in East Jerusalem, it “called on all parties”, i.e. nuclear-armed Israel and the unarmed Palestinians to refrain from “provocative practices.” In this way, the settlers who burned the mosque of the village of Yasuf and the unarmed Palestinian civilians besieged in Gaza are considered the same.

The Council also called on “those detaining the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him immediately, while it completely ignored the fate of tens of thousands of Palestinian prisoners [held by Israel] kidnapped years ago, including women, children and elected members of the Palestinian parliament. This timid language does not condemn Israeli crimes like expelling the native people of the land and burning their homes. It considers the whole policy of ethnic cleansing and collective punishment mere “illegal practices” which do not (according to the draft resolution) require deterrent punishments for the Israeli rulers committing them in the same way Hamas should be punished and Iran should be punished for its nuclear policies.

In order to avoid showing the ugliness of Israeli crimes, it calls “all parties to refrain from provocative practices.” Thus the EU considers the Palestinian toddler whose home was demolished by Israel in the Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, and who is sleeping in a tent with his family like hundreds of other Palestinian families in Gaza, as “a party” that should not provoke Israel!

All this European generous tolerance to Israeli crimes and all this timidity in standing up to them, even verbally, was faced by a ferocious Israeli campaign which was able to prevent the draft of a mere modest statement like this to be published. It succeeded in replacing the shy language which “urges,” “applauds” and “encourages” in an abstract, vague and unbinding language that does not have any force to stop the crimes or deter those who commit them.

Such a complacent European stance will not have a lasting political influence in favour of the cause of freedom and democracy in Palestine. That is why, and since the Zionist government realizes that blackmailing Europeans is an effective policy, prevented a European parliamentary delegation from visiting Gaza without fearing any firm European reaction. The Europeans found it sufficient to say “it was strange for the visit to be cancelled a few hours after the EU Council statement which is supported by a strong European position in relation to the creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967, and stopping settlement in the West Bank, including “East Jerusalem.’”

But the fact is that the EU did not express a “strong position” in relation to Jerusalem and the two-state solution. It rather bowed to Israeli blackmail and turned a blind eye to Israeli crimes against humanity. That is why it had to accept more Israeli blackmail when its MEPs were prevented from entering Gaza, and had their permission cancelled three hours after it was given. This official humiliation of the MEPs would not have been accepted by the smallest country in the world. So, how could it be accepted by the largest parliament Europe has ever known?

If the EU Council continues to succumb to Israeli pressures made by an extremist government, Israeli crimes against civilians will continue. International statistics show that between last year’s anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration and this year’s, Israel killed 1,460 Palestinians with Europe watching. Nevertheless, the EU Council equates “the parties”, the Israeli killer and the Palestinian victim.

Nevertheless, some people believe that for Sweden, which holds the current EU presidency, merely to dare propose a draft resolution considering Jerusalem the capital of two states, this means a positive shift and an act of breaking the barrier of fear which haunted Europe for decades as a result of the Holocaust-related guilt complex. I do not understand why the past continues to haunt those who were born after the Holocaust: the current generation of Europeans is not responsible for the Holocaust committed by the Nazis against German Jews. And the Israeli Jews of today are not victims of German anti-Semitism. They are those who kill Palestinian people and deprive them of freedom, democracy and human rights.

The only thing Western papers were interested in, as far as this important issue is concerned, is that Europe finally gave in to Israeli pressure which succeeded in curbing this European move. Articles in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, and the CNN report were all based on an Israeli source saying that Europe backed down from its call for considering East Jerusalem as capital of Palestine, and that this backing down was in the interest of Israel which is planning to Judaize Jerusalem, i.e. ethnically cleansing it by demolishing Palestinian homes and expelling Palestinians. What they are doing is actually leaving future European generations with a guilt complex greater than the one felt by the current generation’s guilt as a result of the Holocaust.

Their children and grandchildren will find it difficult to understand how their ancestors chose not to see facts because they feared Israeli blackmail, because of their greed for Jewish money or in order to get a political position.

In the wake of this shameful European submission to Israeli blackmail, events have shown that this has only boosted Israeli arrogance. There is no difference in this regard between the government and the settlers: while the Israeli government decided to prevent MEPs from entering Gaza so that they do not see the atrocities perpetrated against the Palestinian people, Israeli settlers, as usual, attacked the villages of Nablus this time where they burned a new big mosque in the village of Yasuf in the northern part of the West Bank, including its furniture and library, destroyed the electricity network and left Hebrew graffiti saying: “we’ll burn you all”, “prepare to pay the price.” With all this happening, the EU and others are merely asking for clarifications for the cancellation, clarifications for demolition, clarifications for killing, clarifications for expulsion, clarifications for humiliation. The only reasonable and logical clarification is that the Zionist entity is a racist entity based on the destruction of the native people, destroying their culture and institutions, depriving them of a free and dignified life and accusing them of threatening Israel’s security. But the racist Israeli entity is no longer a danger to the Palestinian people alone; it is endangering the relationship between Muslims and the West and peace and security in our region and the world. It is not the Palestinians alone who should confront this horrendous racism. Europe and the West should shoulder their responsibility in this regard. Hence, Israeli promotion in the West of ideas like banning minarets and veils and putting more restraints on Muslims all lead to aggravating conflicts between peoples.

Fortunately, however, the cowardice of western governments is countered by the courage of conscientious people and opinion leaders of the Western world. This is a transitional phase before the civilized world realizes the danger of the Zionist model not to the Arabs alone, but to international peace and security. Hence, taking a firm European decision against ethnic cleansing, settlement and killing is the Europeans’ duty not only towards Palestinians but towards Europeans themselves.

Ref: asharq-e.