Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Elders' visit to Bilin

Jody McIntyre writing from Bilin, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 11 September 2009

A delegation of prominent former statespersons and business leaders known as the Elders meets with appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (third from right) in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, 26 April 2009. (Mustafa Abu Dayeh/POOL/MaanImages)
Thursday, 27 August was a special day in Bilin. Dozens of blacked-out SUVs approached the village, disturbing the quiet of a usually peaceful morning. However, unlike the Israeli occupation forces who come at night to arrest boys from the village, this arrival was extremely welcome.

The SUV passengers were a truly respected group of international diplomats, known as the Elders. Among the delegation were Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter, both outspoken critics of the form of apartheid being imposed upon the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Also present were former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, Indian "gentle revolutionary" Ela Bhatt, the first woman president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and former Director-General of the World Health Organization, Gro Brundtland. They were joined by Jeff Skoll, founding president of eBay and Richard Branson, Virgin multi-millionaire and co-founder of the Elders.

As part of their four-day trip to the Middle East, the Elders came to Bilin to see the daily impact of Israel's occupation and its apartheid wall on the daily lives of Palestinians. They were also very interested to hear how residents are responding to the oppression they face through a campaign of nonviolent resistance.

After stopping at the Village Council to pick up selected members of the Bilin Popular Committee, the Elders made their way toward the wall and the site of Bilin's weekly nonviolent demonstrations. With Israeli soldiers looking on, they laid stones at the grave of Bassem Abu Rahme, the Palestinian man killed at one such demonstration in April of this year, when he was shot in the chest with a high-velocity tear gas projectile fired from close range.

At the request of gathered reporters, Desmond Tutu made an impromptu statement: "Mahatma Gandhi, as a simple man, led his people to freedom through nonviolent methods. Rosa Parks followed in his footsteps, and now the people of Bilin will do the same!"

Former US President Jimmy Carter added that "We are standing here on Palestinian land and on the other side of the wall is also Palestinian land! This occupation must end."

Next was the short drive back to the village council, where the Elders were to have a meeting with members of the local popular committee. Security was extremely tight, and only eight persons, selected in advance, were allowed to attend. But thanks to my wheelchair and some quick thinking, I managed to enter.

In the meeting, Abdullah Abu Rahme, coordinator of the popular committee, introduced his fellow attendees and thanked the Elders for their visit, before handing the meeting over to village activist Mohammed Khatib.

Khatib explained the origins of Bilin's popular nonviolent struggle against the wall:

A few years ago, the Israeli army set up a checkpoint at the entrance of Bilin, which you had to pass through on foot. The soldiers had stretched a thin line of tape [over the entrance], one meter from the ground -- anyone could cut it, of course, but because of the soldiers you didn't dare. So, instead, we had to crawl under the tape as if we were praying. This was done deliberately to humiliate us.

But there was one young man from the Abu Salim family, someone we knew, who refused to crawl under it. He cut the tape and they shot him in the leg. He sat there bleeding, in front of our eyes, for two hours, and no one was allowed to help or give him treatment. We called an ambulance but the soldiers stopped it. There is nothing more painful than being powerless in this kind of situation.

The Israeli media reported that the soldier had shot the Palestinian in self-defense. That was a lie, of course, but it was published as factual.

When the story about Abu Salim got out, the al-Aqsa [Martyrs' Brigade] decided to carry out a response operation. We later heard seven soldiers at the checkpoint were killed.

Our first reaction in Bilin was "good for al-Aqsa." But later we realized that these were not the same soldiers who had killed our friend two weeks before. A new unit had taken over the checkpoint, so these soldiers had taken the punishment for what the old soldiers had done. It made us wonder -- this cycle of death, of action and reaction, how can we break it?

Next to speak was Rajaa Abu Rahme, a young student from the village. On 10 July, Rajaa's father, Adeeb Abu Rahme, was arrested while participating in the weekly nonviolent demonstration against the wall. Adeeb was charged with "incitement to violence," based on the supposed "confessions" of two 16-year-old boys the Israeli military had previously taken from the village, and sentenced to 101 days in prison, renewable for an indefinite period.

"I am not talking to you as politicians," Rajaa told the Elders, "I am talking to you as mothers and fathers."

As she told her story, I could see tears forming in Branson's eyes.

"My sister is getting married soon, I will be graduating," Rajaa continued, "and our father will not be able to share our joy. I just want to see my father free."

Also present in the meeting was Shai Pollak, an Israeli activist and long-time supporter of the people of Bilin -- "a member of the family" as Mohammed Khatib described him.

"Twenty years ago, I did my military service," Shai explained, "but if I knew then what I know now, I never would have served in the Israeli army."

"Israeli society today is becoming increasingly closed off," Shai continued, "making pressure from outside even more important. After the second intifada, I went and met with literally thousands of Palestinians. While my friends in Tel Aviv were telling me they would stab me with a knife, the opposite was true. Everyone I met welcomed me with open arms, because the Palestinian people want a peaceful solution."

The visit of these world leaders to Bilin was a clear message to the Israeli government, that they are opposed to the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people. Now, it is time for the leaders currently in power to follow suit.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled "Life on Wheels," which can be found at He can be reached at jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com. A version of this article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Victims' families tell their stories following Nato airstrike in Afghanistan


'I took some flesh home and called it my son.' The Guardian interviews 11 villagers

Fazel Muhamad

Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

At first light last Friday, in the Chardarah district of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, the villagers gathered around the twisted wreckage of two fuel tankers that had been hit by a Nato airstrike. They picked their way through a heap of almost a hundred charred bodies and mangled limbs which were mixed with ash, mud and the melted plastic of jerry cans, looking for their brothers, sons and cousins. They called out their names but received no answers. By this time, everyone was dead.

What followed is one of the more macabre scenes of this or any war. The grief-stricken relatives began to argue and fight over the remains of the men and boys who a few hours earlier had greedily sought the tanker's fuel. Poor people in one of the world's poorest countries, they had been trying to hoard as much as they could for the coming winter.

"We didn't recognise any of the dead when we arrived," said Omar Khan, the turbaned village chief of Eissa Khail. "It was like a chemical bomb had gone off, everything was burned. The bodies were like this," he brought his two hands together, his fingers curling like claws. "There were like burned tree logs, like charcoal.

"The villagers were fighting over the corpses. People were saying this is my brother, this is my cousin, and no one could identify anyone."

So the elders stepped in. They collected all the bodies they could and asked the people to tell them how many relatives each family had lost.

A queue formed. One by one the bereaved gave the names of missing brothers, cousins, sons and nephews, and each in turn received their quota of corpses. It didn't matter who was who, everyone was mangled beyond recognition anyway. All that mattered was that they had a body to bury and perform prayers upon.

"A man comes and says, 'I lost my brother and cousin', so we gave him two bodies," said Omar Khan. "Another says I lost five relatives, so we gave him five bodies to take home and bury. When we had run out of bodies we started giving them limbs, legs, arms, torsos." In the end only five families went away without anything. "Their sons are still missing."

Omar Khan's small eyes narrowed and his mouth formed a disgusted circle. "The smell was so bad. For three days I smelled of burned meat and fuel."

Omar Khan was one of 11 villagers the Guardian interviewed about the airstrike. We arrived in the region early this week with the intention of visiting the site of the attack, but the kidnapping of a New York Times journalist and the firefight that preceded his rescue, leaving four people dead, meant the journey there was too difficult. Instead the villagers came into the city to tell us their stories.

We sat around a table in the basement of a hotel, and one by one their accounts of the airstrike – which killed 70-100 people, making it one of the most devastating of the war – spilled out. The villagers said the Taliban had hijacked the fuel tankers at 7pm on Thursday evening and driven them off the main road to Kabul, through Ali Abad district, into their stronghold of Chardarah, to the south-west of Kunduz.

To reach Chardarah they had to ford a shallow river to avoid a bridge garrisoned by the Afghan army. But when they drove the trucks into the water they became stuck, so the Taliban summoned the people in the nearby villages to help.

Jamaludin, a 45-year-old farmer, had been praying in the mosque when he heard the sound of a tractor. "I went home and found that three of my brothers and my nephew had left with my tractor," he said. "I called my brother to ask him where they had gone. He said the Taliban had asked him to bring the tractor and help them pull a tanker." Jamaluddin was alarmed. "I asked him what tanker? It wasn't our business, let the Taliban bring their own tractors. I called him back an hour later. He said they couldn't get the trucks out and the Taiban wouldn't let him leave, so I went back to sleep."

Realising the tankers were stuck, the Taliban decided to siphon off the fuel and asked people to come and help themselves to the ghanima, the spoils of war. There would be free fuel for everyone.

Assadullah, a thin 19-year-old with a wisp of black hair falling on his forehead, got a call from a friend who said the Taliban were distributing free fuel.

"I took two fuel cans with me, I called my brother and a friend and we went. There was a full moon and we could see very clearly. There were a lot of people already there. They were pushing and shoving, trying to reach the tap to fill their jerry cans. We are poor people, and we all wanted to get some fuel for the winter.

"I filled my cans and moved away while my brother was pushing to fill his. I walked for a hundred, maybe two hundred metres."

It was about 1am on Friday that the aircraft attacked and incinerated the stolen fuel tankers. "There was a big light in the sky and then an explosion," Assadullah said. "I fell on my face. When I came to, there was thick smoke and I couldn't see anything. I called, I shouted for my brother but he didn't answer. I couldn't see him. There was fire everywhere and silence and bodies were burning."

He pulled up his long shirt to show me four small shrapnel bruises and two burns on his neck.

Jamaludin woke up at about 1am to start making food. It was Ramadan, and he had to prepare Sehur, the last meal before sunrise. "I called my brother again and told him I could hear lots of aeroplanes in the sky, why wasn't he back? He said he was bringing some fuel and would be home soon. I hung up and went into the courtyard, and then there was a big fire, like a big lamp in the middle of the sky. I called my brother again and his phone was off. I left home and ran towards the river. The smell of smoke was coming from there.

"When I got there I couldn't see my brother.I shouted for him. I saw some people carrying injured on their shoulders, then I went back home to pray and wait for the light."

Jan Mohammad, an old man with a white beard and green eyes, said angrily: "I ran, I ran to find my son because nobody would give me a lift. I couldn't find him."

He dropped his head on his palm that was resting on the table, and started banging his head against his white mottled hand. When he raised his head his eyes were red and tears were rolling down his cheek: "I couldn't find my son, so I took a piece of flesh with me home and I called it my son. I told my wife we had him, but I didn't let his children or anyone see. We buried the flesh as it if was my son."

He broke off, then shouted at the young Assadullah, who had knocked at the old man's house and told his son to come with them there was free fuel for everyone, "You destroyed my home", Assadu-llah turned his head and looked at the wall. "You destroyed my home," he shouted again. Jan Mohammad dropped his head again on his palm and rolled it left and right, his big gray turban moving like a huge pendulum, "Taouba [forgiveness]," he hissed. "People lost their fathers and sons for a little bit of fuel. Forgiveness."

Omar Khan, the village chief, was crying now and looking at the ceiling.

Fazel Muhamad a 48-year-old farmer with seven deep lines creasing his forehead and a white prayers cap, threw two colour passport pictures in front of me, one of a thickly bearded man and the other a young boy. "My cousin and his son," he said. "Around 10pm, my cousin told me the Taliban were distributing fuel to the people and he was going to get some for the winter. I asked him to stay and not go, there were planes and it was dangerous at night, but he went anyway.

"At one or two in the morning we heard a big explosion and I saw fire coming form the sky. My cousin's wife came running, she said go look for your cousin, but I waited until I had finished my dawn prayers, no one could eat anything.

"I arrived there and I saw dead bodies, some were in the middle of the river, I walked around looking for him and his son but I couldn't find him. I went back home and his wife asked me did you see him, is he dead, where is he? I said I couldn't find him. She was wailing and crying.

"I went again looking for him. There was light now, I picked through the bodies, the Arbabs [village elders] were distributing the flesh, but I didn't go there. I looked through the ground and I could only see his two feet and his son's feet. I recognised them because he and his son had henna on their toes."

Islamu-ldin, a 20-year-old from Issa khail village with tufts of hair sprouting from his cheek, took his turn to speak. He said he ran for three hours to get to the riverbed to look for his brother.

"Our village is far from the river, I searched a lot through the dead, and I found my brother. I recognized him from his clothes. But we only found his upper body, maybe someone took the legs, maybe it just burned to ashes."

Omar Khan was weeping openly now. A few other men resisted, but their eyes were as red as those of Jan Muhamad, who was babbling and shouting at the young Assadullah again and again.

Saleh Muhamad, a 25-year-old man with thick beard, wanted to get some fuel but no one would give him a lift. His brother and brother-in-law went and he went to sleep, then he heard the explosion. "I waited till darkness ended, then went there. I didn't find anyone I knew, so I waited for the elders. They gave me two bodies, they looked like my relatives and I came back with them."

Another village elder said that at least a dozen of the dead were from the Taliban. Although most of them had already left when the explosion happened, the rest stayed trying to keep some order while the villagers shoved and pushed.

"At midnight my brother and nephew went to get fuel. I also wanted to go but I didn't have a car," said Saleh Muhamad.

"At one in the morning I went to bed. When I heard the explosion I called my brother but his phone was off … when I arrived at 3am there were dead everywhereI was searching for my brother and nephew but I couldn't find anyone.

"I had a torch with me and I could see well, but I still couldn't recognise anyone." His eyes looked straight through me as he said: "I found one body and took it home and we buried it. It was a full body, with arms and legs. We buried it well."

MAOR & ETKES: An infrastructure of Jewish terror


September 13, 2009

Israeli terror

by Roi Maor and Dror Etkes - Haaretz - 11 September 2009

The settlement issue has been at the top of the public agenda for the past several months, with the Israeli political scene abuzz in the face of talks between the Israeli government and envoys of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration on a “freeze” of construction work in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the same time, Knesset members have been touring West Bank outposts and settlements, and commenting about the legality or illegality of the places they visit.

In view of the intense discussion underway, both locally and internationally, it is important to remember that the question of a settlement’s “legality” is not merely a fluid technicality that can be resolved with a stroke of the pen. For one, according to international law all settlements and outposts in the West Bank are illegal. But even Israeli law, in its most basic understanding, prohibits some of the actions that are taken to “legalize” these communities. The seizure of Palestinian lands is a crucial issue, one that reflects poorly on Israel’s claims to be a state that operates according to the rule of law, respects individual rights and protects the weak from violent exploitation.

Since the very beginning of the settlement enterprise, more than four decades ago, Israel has seized West Bank lands via an orchestrated, systematic and violent system. The victims of this process lose their agricultural fields, and thus their ability to lead a normal life. Their source of income is impaired, often leading to the spread of poverty and hardship.

For example, ongoing operations over the past decade, by which the settlers of Eli, north of Ramallah, have taken possession of a number of hills around the original settlement nucleus, have seriously impaired the ability of Palestinians from the nearby villages of Qaryut, Luban al-Sharqiyah and Al-Sawiyah to reach thousands of dunams that they own and depend on for their livelihoods. Even where they still have some minimal access (usually for two or three days a year, during the olive harvest), their produce is damaged and farmers are physically attacked and are simply unable to tend to their crops properly.

Contrary to the impression created by media reports in Israel, these are not isolated, unrelated incidents that happen only around settlements with particularly radical or extremist reputations. Rather, this is a well-coordinated campaign that is unfolding simultaneously throughout the West Bank, from Hebron in the south to Nablus in the north. If one looks at a map of all the locations where such incidents have taken place, the overall strategy emerges: removing the remaining Palestinians from Area C (as defined by the Oslo Accords), which constitutes the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under Israel’s full responsibility.

In recent years, Yesh Din volunteers have collected testimony from dozens of Palestinians who have been prevented from reaching their plots near various settlements and outposts by means other than just the separation barrier. Their reports show that on many occasions Palestinian farmers are driven away by force. In other cases they may manage to reach their plots unharmed, only to discover that their crops have been burned, uprooted or otherwise damaged by settlers.

This harassment may not be Israel’s official policy, but the state does little to prevent it. In the vast majority of cases in which victims of violence have filed complaints, the police – who, after all, are in most cases Jewish Israelis who are themselves sometimes residents of settlements – close the cases without issuing indictments and, in many cases, without even conducting thorough and comprehensive investigations. This leads to an obvious conclusion: The systematic land seizures and violations of the law happen because the legal authorities look the other way and allow such incidents to take place.

The problem begins with soldiers in the field, who do not detain violent offenders, and ends with the failure of the police and the state prosecution to bring the full force of the law to bear against the offenders.

An infrastructure of Jewish terror is being created in the West Bank. Through a policy they have dubbed “Price Tag,” the settlers have the declared aim of attacking innocent Palestinians in response to any perceived threat to a settlement or outpost, verbal or physical. This is merely the anecdotal and the blunt, extreme end of this infrastructure. Through intimidation and systematic violations of the law, the supreme goal of the settlers who exercise this policy is to seize more and more land. This, in turn, causes harm to the livelihood, property and welfare of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Those defenders of the settlement movement who argue that in a democracy it should be possible for Jews to live anywhere in the Land of Israel fail to acknowledge that the state is allowing basic tenets of democracy to crumble at the hands of violent extremists. Defense of individual property should be implemented as an absolute and not a relative standard, without bending it to accommodate land seizure by gangsters.

Roi Maor is general manager of Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights, and Dror Etkes is director of its Lands Project.


Palestine’s Peaceful Struggle


By: Mohammed Khatib

11 September 2009

A few weeks ago, in the dead of night, dozens of Israeli soldiers with painted faces burst violently into my home. If only they had knocked, I would have opened the door. They arrested me. My wife, Lamia, was left alone with our four children. My youngest, 3-year-old Khaled, woke up to the image of Israeli soldiers with painted faces who were taking his father away. He has not stopped crying since. A few nights ago he woke up in terror, sobbing: “Daddy, why did you let the soldiers take me?” That’s the way our children sleep–in a constant state of fear.

Many Americans know that the Obama administration has been pushing the Israeli government to accept a freeze on settlement construction. What is not commonly known is that even as Israel negotiates with the United States, it has been taking steps, including my arrest, to crush the growing Palestinian nonviolent movement opposing Israel’s construction of settlements and the wall on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

For over five years the residents of Bil’in and other villages have been protesting against Israel’s separation wall, which cuts off our village’s land for the sake of Israeli settlement expansion. We have even taken the struggle to the courts. The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled in July 2004 that the wall, where it has been built inside the West Bank, is illegal under international law, as are all Israeli settlements. In September 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the wall in Bil’in, which separates us from 50 percent of our land, is illegal according to Israeli law. The wall has yet to have moved.

The Israeli army is using more-lethal weapons and greater violence against protesters, and arresting many people, including many protest organizers. In Bil’in alone, twenty-nine residents have been arrested in the past three months. Twelve of them are children. Almost all were arrested during military raids in the middle of the night. Their detention has been extended repeatedly.

But the charges against them are baseless. As one example, I have been charged with stone throwing. I was released on bail with draconian terms only after my lawyers showed the court passport stamps proving that I was abroad at the time of the alleged offense. My friend, Adeeb
Abu-Rahme, 37 years old and the father of nine, has been imprisoned for more than six weeks, though the charges against him are just as absurd.

Every Friday in Bil’in, we march to the wall in peaceful protest, along with our Israeli and international partners. Once a year we hold an international conference about the popular nonviolent struggle. Together we learn and gain inspiration. We struggle together to bring down the many walls between people that the occupation is creating. We’ve repeatedly addressed the Israeli soldiers here, telling them we are not against them as people, but that we oppose their actions as an occupying military force.

Still, nineteen demonstrators have been killed by the Israeli army in these nonviolent demonstrations against the wall. Many have been injured, including Israeli and international activists protesting with us. Here in Bil’in we recently lost our friend Bassem Abu Rahme, who was fatally shot by soldiers in April while he was imploring them to stop shooting at demonstrators.

Several months ago we were warned by Israel’s occupation forces that they intended to crush the popular struggle.

Why has the Israeli government decided now to increase the suppression of demonstrations and to break the spirit of protest leaders? Maybe because they realize that the nonviolent struggle is spreading, that more and more villages have created popular committees that are organizing demonstrations. Perhaps the crackdown is a result of their concern and the growing international movement for the boycott of companies and businessmen such as Lev Leviev who are involved in Israel’s land grab. Or maybe they fear that the new American government could learn through our demonstrations that Israel’s wall is a means to annex land for the growing settlements, and that nonviolent Palestinian protests are being brutally suppressed.

Israel’s actions suggest that it is intimidated by people struggling for their rights in a nonviolent manner. The Israeli government seems to believe that Palestinians who struggle while partnering with Israeli activists endanger Israel’s occupation and that tearing down human walls is a dangerous act. Perhaps what the state of Israel fears most of all is the hope that people can live together based on justice and equality for all.

Source: The Nation

About Mohammed Khatib

Mohammed Khatib in Montreal

Mohammed Khatib in Montreal

Mohammed Khatib is the secretary of Bil’in’s Village Council and a leading member of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements. more…

September 12, 2009 Posted by Elias

"Maliki's anti-Syrian blasts earned him respect from .. Saudi Arabia"


Ignatius in the WaPo, here

"How can America help a fragile Iraq as U.S. troops and influence there decline? The Obama administration should revisit one of the good ideas proposed by the 2006 Baker-Hamilton commission -- namely an "international support group" that can draw together the neighboring countries to keep Iraq from blowing apart.

The Baker-Hamilton recommendations are mostly forgotten, swept away by President George W. Bush's 2007 surge of U.S. troops. That certainly improved security, but the recent bombings in Iraq are a reminder that the surge didn't usher in a new era of peace and love. Political reconciliation is still more slogan than reality -- and the neighbors are more a lurking menace than Baghdad's partners.

This is where America still has the leverage to help, by drawing together all the volatile powers on Iraq's borders -- Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and, yes, Iran. A regional security framework will aid Baghdad, but it can also reduce tensions in an area that resembles a ticking time bomb.

In the "be careful what you wish for" department is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. For several years, the United States has wanted him to be a strong leader who could assert Iraqi sovereignty. But Maliki's erratic behavior in recent weeks has complicated the regional dynamic. Rather than working to solve problems with his neighbors, he's making new ones -- despite U.S. efforts to mediate....

Not so fast, protested Maliki. He warned Chris Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, that policing Iraq's border was an issue for Iraq, not America.......The Maliki-Assad summit meeting "was a failure," says one Arab official.

Then things exploded, quite literally. ........

But several senior U.S. officials say that the evidence doesn't support Maliki's charges. Instead, they say, the Aug. 19 bombings were most likely the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq. "Given everything that we know, it seems very unlikely the plot was hatched in Syria," says one U.S. official.

Why is Maliki picking a fight with Damascus? The most likely answer is Iraqi domestic politics. With parliamentary elections scheduled for January, Maliki wants to show that he's a tough guy -- and it's easier for him to stand up to Syria (and Washington) than, say, to Iran. His anti-Syrian blasts are also said to have earned him grudging respect from other regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia.

U.S.-Syrian bilateral relations are still moving forward........the two countries are discussing a gradual relaxation of existing sanctions against Damascus.

What's missing is a regional security framework that would allow postwar Iraq gradually to regain its place with Syria, Iran and the rest as a power player. It's the last big thing that America can do for Iraqi security as the United States withdraws, and, mercifully, it doesn't involve any troops. Henry Kissinger would be on the plane already. Any takers in the Obama national security team?"

Posted by G, Z, & or B at 10:45 AM

Freeze the Settlements Freezes


By: Daoud Kuttab

Illegal settlements construction: Photo: Courtesy of Peace Now

Illegal settlements construction: Photo: Courtesy of Peace Now

This cycle has become so bizarre and confusing that Palestinians are not sure whether they should hope for continued tensions with Israel (which usually means no new settlements) or for continued negotiations (which usually provide cover for building settlements)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to approve new Jewish settlements on the eve of a possible settlement freeze is the latest round in a cycle that has been repeated so many times over the past 40 years that it would seem mundane if it were not so dangerous.

The cycle goes something like this: American or international pressure mounts on Israel to stop settlement activities in the occupied territories. Israeli settlers and their supporters then gather even more energy to expand onto more Palestinian land, build more exclusively Jewish settlements, and destroy more Arab homes before the so-called “freeze” comes into effect.

The peace process, not surprisingly, becomes a joke while this happens. Eventually, world pressure subsides and the freeze fails to materialize. In the end, more Jewish settlements appear. Indeed, the great paradox of this cycle is that more settlements are built during times of negotiations than during times of conflict.

This pattern can be traced to 1967. Israelis understand that the only reality in politics is the reality on the ground. So long as Israeli soldiers control the occupied territories, the idea of a settlement freeze will not take root.

In fact, the demand for a settlement freeze is nothing more than a call to arms to a wide group of Israelis and their supporters to go and build on stolen Palestinian land.

When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was preparing for his historic visit to Jerusalem, a group of settlers created the settlement of Elon Moreh near Nablus, the most populated West Bank city.

When former United States Secretary of State James Baker began his shuttle diplomacy for peace, his ultimately unsuccessful efforts actually resulted in more settlements, with a new one started just hours before he was due to arrive for talks.

Baker postponed his visit and later vented his frustrations to the US Senate Committee on Appropriations. He resented “being greeted” every time he came to the Middle East with yet “another settlement.”

Baker’s efforts eventually led to the Madrid peace conference in 1991, but that, too, failed to resolve the conflict. And, while Palestinians and Israelis did reach a secret agreement a few years later that was publicly declared at a White House ceremony, construction of Jewish settlements didn’t stop. In fact, since the 1993 Oslo Accords the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories has doubled.

The creation of new settlements has often been accompanied by hostile media reporting – even within Israel – as well as international condemnation, yet the settlement train has not stopped. It continued to race ahead even during the days when Israel’s government rotated between Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres between 1984 and 1990.

The Shamir government would be defeated at the polls, and the incoming Labour government would declare a freeze on all settlement construction, even on buildings that had already been started. But, despite the decrees, ways were found to continue building, to absorb new residents, and to increase the settler population.

For the US, the settlements have proven to be an equal-opportunity obstacle, obstructing both Republican and Democratic diplomacy. The Clinton administration attempted to put brakes on the then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to construct a new settlement near Bethlehem. After a short hiatus, construction resumed.

The Bush-Cheney Administration, the most pro-Israeli in memory, fared no better. Today, Har Homa, built on Jabal Abu Ghnaim with the aim of cutting off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, is home to 19,000 settlers.

This cycle has become so bizarre and confusing that Palestinians are not sure whether they should hope for continued tensions with Israel (which usually means no new settlements) or for continued negotiations (which usually provide cover for building settlements).

On January 5, 2007, the day Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss a new round of talks, the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry issued a tender for the construction of more units in Ma’ale Adumim, an exclusively Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Of course, whenever the Israelis defy the world over the settlements, as is now once again happening, US and other officials “denounce” and “regret” the decision. But, at the end of the day, despite these few statements and perhaps even a UN resolution of opposition, the pattern established over the past 40 years is clear: the decision stands.

Jeff Aronson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, concludes that Israeli leaders will continue to be able to fool their American counterparts on this issue.

Some Israeli right-wing leaders like Menachem Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu trumpet their settlement achievements.

Others, including Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert “talked left and built right.” Palestinians are caught in a Catch-22: if they insist on a settlement freeze, Israel preemptively begins to build new settlements. Unless and until Israel pays a heavy price for its illegal activities in the occupied territories, it is hard to imagine a successful peace process taking shape.


Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist.. He is considered to be a moderate voice among the Palestinians. He is General Manager of the Community Media Network © Project Syndicate

September 12, 2009 Posted by Elias

Calling Syria's 'bluff': "Hariri & his backers in Washington and Riyadh show that they can play the confrontation game too..."


ALB in TIME, here

" ....the unity government never materialized. ..... Given the petty nature of the dispute, it's tempting to see the breakdown as a result of a regional game of brinkmanship. Syria has been slowly working its way back ....... Still, Syria appears wary of giving away too much and is especially wary of U.S. demands that it give up its strategic alliances with Iran, Hizballah and Hamas. Syria's fears that breaking from its allies in search of a separate peace deal will cost it leverage needed to achieve its primary goals of recovering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and reintegrating into the international community. An ongoing Lebanese political crisis is certainly a reminder of Syria's ability to help — or hinder — the achievement of U.S. goals in the region.

Hariri's resignation, in fact, may be an attempt to call that bluff by demonstrating that he and his backers in Washington and Riyadh can play the confrontation game too. ....

Neither side is likely to go all the way in this game of chicken, however. Not only are the Lebanese people sick of internecine warfare, but engagement remains the order of the day — at least officially — in the Middle East, and no party in the region seems inclined to return to the confrontational politics of the Bush era...."

Posted by G, Z, & or B at 11:08 AM


By:Dr. James Zogby

"Palestinian Authority Only" Stamp

It is more than ironic that at the very moment when the US is pressing Arab States to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel (including measures like: opening airspace to Israeli overflights, exchange of commercial offices, and issuing visas for business and cultural exchange), the government of Israel has taken new measures to further restrict the rights of American citizens visiting Israel and the Occupied Palestinian lands.

According to an August, 14 2009 Department of State “Travel Warning”, “In June 2009, the Israeli government began selectively limiting certain travelers to either the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, or to Israel and Jerusalem.”As described by an advocacy group working on these issues, here’s how the new policy works. “Israeli border officials have begun using a new entry permit stamped with the words “Palestinian Authority only.” In addition, some foreign nationals have been issued ‘Israel only’ permits or have been required to sign a statement which commits them not to enter the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled areas of the West Bank under penalty of legal action.”In response to questioning about these Israeli practices at State Department briefings, official spokespersons have responded that “we have let the Government of Israel know that these restrictions unfairly impact Palestinian and Arab American travelers and are not acceptable”, and have added, on other occasions, that the U.S. “regrets” and “disagrees” with these measures.Having worked on issues relating to Israel’s treatment of Arab Americans for over three decades now, I must say “not good enough.”I have received harrowing accounts of the impact of these Israeli policies:
  • an American family with four children trapped in Gaza and unable to leave;
  • other Americans who are in the West Bank, having entered through the Allenby Bridge, but because they hold non-refundable airline tickets departing from Ben Gurion Airport (purchased before this Israeli practice was put into place), are, therefore, unable to make their flights;

  • a group of American women (not of Arab descent), whose husbands were attending a business conference in Amman, were detained, by Israeli border officials, for seven hours and subjected to rude and humiliating questioning when they attempted to cross the Allenby Bridge to see the Holy Sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem;

  • American-born Palestinians have been forced to surrender their US passports, on entry, and receive, against their will, a Palestinian ID document;
numerous reports from American-born US citizens of Palestinian and other Arab descent are being singled out for prolonged questioning on entry and departure; and
  • onerous and discriminatory visa requirements imposed upon Palestinian Americans which have severely impacted their families and businesses.
As I have long noted in my complaints to U.S. officials, by engaging in such practices, Israel appears to have defined, for itself, three categories of U.S. citizenship: American Jews, whom they see as having “birthright advantages”; most other U.S. citizens, as long as they have no know identification with Palestinians, who are respected and protected; and then, finally, Arab Americans whose rights as U.S. citizens Israel does not fully recognize.In behaving thusly, and given the U.S. failure to act decisively to put an end to this behavior, both Israel and the U.S. are in violation of their obligations.The U.S. passport, the prized possession of any U.S. traveler, says quite clearly on the opening page: “The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”There is also the 1951 Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, signed by the U.S. and Israel, in which Israel agrees that U.S. citizens traveling there be permitted “to travel therein freely, to reside at places of their choice; to enjoy liberty of conscience… and to bury their dead according to their customs.” The Treaty also prohibits “unlawful molestations of every kind,” and guarantees U.S. citizens “the most constant protection and security.”Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the U.S. Administration calling for a settlement freeze and encouraging Arab States to elaborate on their peace initiative in an effort to advance the peace process. I’ve made the case advocating such steps (and been criticized, by some, for doing so). But, I believe the first obligation of any government is to defend the rights of its citizens.Put aside for a moment, if you can, both the fact that these Israeli measures only further contribute to the cantonization of Palestinian lands and also the ongoing humiliation, and worse, endured by Palestinians under occupation—this matter of Israel’s discriminatory treatment of U.S. citizens stands out for special consideration. I can only imagine what the US reaction would be if any other government in the world targeted any other group of American citizens with the same contempt Israel consistently displays toward Arab Americans.

That’s why I say, “regrets are not enough.” It is time for the U.S. to act decisively and make clear that the rights of its citizens come first and must be guaranteed. Enough is enough.

Background Reading:

“U.S. blasts Israel’s limits on U.S. visitors to W. Bank,” Barak Ravid, Amira Hass and Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz, August 21, 2009

“Daily Press Briefing,” Ian Kelly, United States Department of State, August 19, 2009

“Arab Americans complain to Clinton about Israeli ‘discrimination’,” Agence France-Presse, September 3, 2009

James J. Zogby (born 19

Dr. James Zogby

Dr. James Zogby

45) is an American academic, political consultant and founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Arab American Institute. In 2001, Zogby was elected to the Executive Committee of the United States Democratic National Committee (DNC). He is a senior analyst with the polling firm Zogby International, founded and managed by his brother John Zogby, and is a lecturer and scholar on Middle East issues.

For more of Dr. Zogby’s viewpoint go to: Washington WatchSeptember 12, 2009

Posted by Elias



September 12, 2009 at 6:31 am (Associate Post, Corrupt Politics, Israel, Occupation, Palestine)

By Khalid Amayreh in occupied Palestine

There is no doubt that any form of Arab normalization with Israel, especially under current circumstances, constitutes a brazen betrayal of the Palestinian people and their enduring just cause for justice and freedom from the cruel Israeli occupation.

In recent weeks, there have been consistent reports indicating that a number of Arab regimes are voicing a willingness to normalize relations with the extremist Israeli government of Benyamin Netanyahu.

According to these reports, some unspecified Arab regimes signaled to the Obama administration that they would be willing to take a number of “gestures” and “overtures” toward Israel, including allowing Israeli planes to fly over their territories, land and refuel at their airports as well as issue entry visas for Israeli officials, business people and ordinary citizens.

The “gestures” and “overtures” are supposedly meant to encourage the apartheid state to walk in the path of peace and give American-led efforts a chance to succeed.

The latest development in this unethical morass has been a secret visit by Netanyahu to an unspecified Arab state, probably in the Gulf region. Some of these former British protectorates, now American satellite princedoms, have informed the Obama administration of their readiness to take daring steps toward normalizing with the Jewish state.

However, it has been amply clear that all Arab “goodwill efforts” are having the opposite effect on Israeli government behaviors, especially with regard to Jewish settlement expansion and land theft in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Indeed, in the past few days, the Israeli government has issued tenders for building hundreds of settler units all over the occupied territories, further corroding any chances for the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

The decision is viewed not only as a flagrant defiance of the Obama administration but also as a naked contempt for Arab normalization “gestures and overtures.”

Well, the normalizing Arabs seem to deserve all the scorn they are getting from Israel. After all, people who don’t respect themselves and their peoples don’t deserve to be respected.

None the less, it seems that the slave-minded Arab regimes wouldn’t alter their scandalously disgraceful behavior vis-à-vis Zionist insolence no matter how much scorn and indignity is smacked onto their shameless faces.

This is because these decadent self-worshipers relate to the US government, irrespective of the political color of the incumbent administration, as the ultimate pimp whose instructions and directions must be heeded without the slightest deviation.

What else can be said of Arab leaders who claim to be followers of the Prophet Muhammed but rewards Israel generously every time the Nazi-like entity steps up its oppression and persecution of the Palestinian people.

Even whores are mindful of their interests, which shows that those Arab despots harrowing to normalize with the Judeo-Nazi state don’t even have the morality of a whore.

I don’t have the slightest doubt that these Kings, princes and presidents-for-life realize well that whatever they do to appease and please Israel will not make the criminal entity opt for peace and therefore put an end to decades of its Nazi-like occupation of Palestine.

But, if so, why do they still blindly heed American orders to cheapen themselves and their respective countries and peoples when they know quite well that Israel will ignore them with utter contempt.

The answer is clear. These ignorant Arab tyrants are unelected by their people, don’t feel answerable or even responsible to the masses and, therefore, feel they can behave according to their wild whims without having to worry about the consequences of their misrule and abuse of power, even including treason.

Besides, we all know that “normalization with Israel,” which itself is skewed term lacking logical consistency, had been thoroughly tried during the Clinton administration’s reign when Arab states from the Maghreb to Sheikdoms of the Gulf were herded like meek sheep to normalize with Israel. And what was the outcome of this silly game?

Did Israel stop killing the Palestinians? Did Israel stop building colonies on stolen Arab land? Did Israel stop demolishing Arab homes? Did Israel stop narrowing Palestinian horizons?

We know too well the answers to these questions. Israel actually stepped up its oppression and repression of the Palestinian people, which culminated in the genocidal blitz in Gaza earlier this year, destroying the coastal enclave and mercilessly slaughtering, incinerating and maiming thousands of innocent people whose only crime was their “helplessness” and the non-existence of a powerful state that would shield them from the savagery of the Nazis of our time.

Another point. We all know that Israel views the entire issue of normalization with the Arab world as a diversionary tactic to divert attention from and have ample time for effecting more settlement expansion.

Hence, it is just pointless that Arabs must always harrow aimlessly after Zionist illusions.

Indeed, one wouldn’t exaggerate much by stating that even if the 300 million Arabs were to become willing weavers of skullcaps for religious Jews, Israel would continue to reject peace and look down on them as scum, vermin and dirty animals that ought to be exterminated.

We, who have been living under the Israeli occupation rule for decades, know Israel like no other people do. Hence it would be a futile exercise in stupidity and vacuity for these late-day descendants of Omar Ibn al Khattab and Salahuddin to try that which has been tried ad nauseam, but to no avail.

Israel is a combination of Nazi brutality and Zionist racism and, as such, respects only power and force. Hence, it is imperative that these so-called leaders realize that their stupid “gestures” and “overtures” won’t take them anywhere and that they will continue to be viewed by Israel as stupid imbeciles who have no will of their own and who are bereft of human dignity.

Well, I don’t blame Israel for viewing you this way.

When we went to elementary school, we learned that a wolf shouldn’t be blamed for attacking the sheep if the shepherd is the flock’s enemy.



September 12, 2009 at 8:16 am (Associate Post, Cartoons, Conspiracy Theories)

Image ‘Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff



September 12, 2009 at 11:46 am (Civil Rights, Ethnic Cleansing, Illegal Evictions, Israel, Occupation, Palestine, Photography, Status of Jerusalem, zionist harassment)

A month after having been ILLEGALLY evicted from THEIR home in Occupied East Jerusalem, the Hanoun and Ghawi families celebrate Ramadan on the STREET where they have been living since….

Taken my last night in Jerusalem: A settler guard watches the Ramadan celebration through the gate from what used to be Sheikh Nasser al-Ghawi’s home, before he and nearly 50 others were evicted. Now the house is inhabited by Jewish settlers, while the al-Ghawi’s sleep on the sidewalk across the street.

Thanks TO for posting these.

Al Quds-Jerusalem: Ethnic Cleansing


Al Quds Jerusalem: Ethnic cleansing and denial of the Palestinian identity.

Al Quds, Jerusalem is the main target of the ethnic cleansing: Palestinian families evicted, house demolitions, Arab neighbourhoods totally besieged by Jewish settlements, construction of the tramway of Apartheid, excavations under the Al Aqsa mosque...

Video: 10 min, produced in support of the BDS campaign (boycott, disinvestment, sanctions)

Production: Mireille Court and Chris Den Hond

Filmed in April 2009.

Posted by JNOUBIYEH at 11:30 PM

Labels: ,

HALPER: Dismantling the Matrix of Control


September 12, 2009

Document4 copy
by Jeff Halper - Middle East Report - 11 September 2009

Almost a decade ago I wrote an article describing Israel’s “matrix of control” over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It consisted then of three interlocking systems: military administration of much of the West Bank and incessant army and air force intrusions elsewhere; a skein of “facts on the ground,” notably settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but also bypass roads connecting the settlements to Israel proper; and administrative measures like house demolitions and deportations. I argued in 2000 that unless this matrix was dismantled, the occupation would not be ended and a two-state solution could not be achieved.

Since then the occupation has grown immeasurably stronger and more entrenched.

The first decade of the twenty-first century has so far seen the steady constricting and fragmentation of Palestinian territory through still more wholesale expropriation of Palestinian land, checkpoints and other physical restrictions on freedom of movement, settlement construction, more and more massive highways intended for Israeli settlers, control over natural resources and, most visibly of all, the erection of the separation barrier in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since December 2000, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, the settler population of the West Bank has grown by 86,000 and that of East Jerusalem by 50,000. Gaza was evacuated of settlers and soldiers in 2005, but Israel retains near complete control over egress and exit of people and goods to and from the coastal strip, regularly cuts supplies of fuel and other necessities to punish the residents and mounts military incursions at will. All the Palestinian territories are subject, to one degree or another, to the measures of house demolitions, “closures” that halt economic activity, administrative restrictions on movement, deportation, induced out-migration and much more.

Indeed, the matrix has reconfigured the country to such an extent that today it seems impossible to detach a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state from an Israel that has expanded all the way to the Jordan River. Anyone familiar with Israel’s “facts on the ground,” perhaps first and foremost the settlers, would reach the conclusion that, in fact, the matrix cannot be taken apart in a piecemeal fashion, leaving a few settlements here, a road there and an Israel “greater” Jerusalem in the middle. The matrix has become far too intricate. Dismantling it piece by piece, with Israel stalling by arguing for the security function of each “fact on the ground,” would be a frustrating series of confrontations that would eventually exhaust itself. The only way to a genuine two-state solution and not a cosmetic form of apartheid is to cut the Gordian knot. The international community, led by the United States, must tell Israel that the occupation must be ended entirely. Israel must leave every inch of the Occupied Territories. Period.

And now, at this critical juncture, as the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse disappears under the weight of Israeli settlements, there is a great imponderable: Is President Barack Obama genuinely serious about reaching such a solution or is he merely going through the motions familiar from previous administrations?

The Tea Leaves

Many Palestinian, Israeli and international proponents of a just peace took heart in Obama’s early gestures. Beginning with the appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell as special envoy and continuing through the president’s June 4 speech in Cairo, these proponents allowed themselves, after years of disappointment and struggle, a cautious hopefulness. Some of the speech’s formulations, like the nods to the “pain of dislocation” felt by Palestinians and the “daily humiliations” of occupation, had been heard before. But one sentence had not been: Obama said that a two-state solution “is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest and the world’s interest.” Obama seemed to “get it,” that is, he seemed to understand that the US is isolated politically by its unquestioning backing of Israel, which is seen as obstructing a solution to the conflict. And, for the first time, a US president actually said that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the vital national interest, not just a nice thing to do. These words significantly raise the bar. Framing the conflict in this way makes it easier for the administration to win Congressional support for tougher demands upon Israel while undermining the ability of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to mount an effective resistance, given American Jewish sensibilities about suspicions of dual loyalty.

Since the Cairo speech, however, fundamental doubts about US efforts have resurfaced. The only demand made by Obama upon Israel has been for a settlement “freeze,” a welcome symbolic gesture, to be sure, yet irrelevant to any peace process. Israel has enough settlement-cities in strategic “blocs” that it could in fact freeze all construction without compromising its control over the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem, the Arab areas to the north, south and east of the city where Israel has planted its flag. Focusing on this one issue — which, months later, is still being haggled over — has provided Israel with a smokescreen behind which it can actively and freely pursue more significant and urgent construction that, when completed, will truly render the occupation irreversible. It is rushing to complete the separation barrier, which is already being presented as the new border, replacing the “Green Line,” the pre-June 1967 boundary to which Israel is supposed to withdraw, by the terms of UN Security Council resolutions, but on which even the most ardent two-staters have long since given up. Israel is demolishing homes, expelling Palestinian residents and permitting Jewish settlement throughout East Jerusalem, measurably advancing the “judaization” of the city. It is confiscating vast tracts of land in the West Bank and “greater” Jerusalem and pouring bypass road asphalt at a feverish pace so as to permanently redraw the map. It is laying track on Palestinian land for a light-rail line connecting the West Bank settlement-city of Pisgat Ze’ev to Israel. It is drying up the main agricultural areas of the West Bank, forcing thousands of people off their lands, while instituting visa restrictions that either keep visiting Palestinians and internationals out of the country altogether, or limit their movement to the truncated Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank.

“Quiet,” behind-the-scenes diplomacy is surely taking place, but the few details that have emerged are far from reassuring. The State Department has mocked as “fiction” a ten-point document given to the Arab press by Fatah figure Hasan Khreisheh that promises an “international presence” in parts of the West Bank and US backing for a Palestinian state by 2011. The component of this alleged plan that seems more likely is that the US wants a partial freeze on settlement activity from Israel in exchange for a pledge from Washington to push for more stringent sanctions upon Iran for its nuclear research. On August 25, the Guardian quoted “an official close to the negotiations” saying: “The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not.” By all indications, if the Obama administration does present a regional peace plan, which it is expected by many to do around the time of the UN General Assembly meeting on September 20, it will be nothing more than a “rough draft.” It is no exaggeration to say a two-state solution will rise or fall on the outlines of this draft — and may perhaps fall forever if no concrete plan is presented at all, which is also possible. Although the two-state solution has been eulogized many times in the past, Obama represents a best-case scenario. If he presents, in the end, a disappointing peace plan that offers no genuine breakthrough, then the shift to a one-state solution on the part of the Palestinian people and their international supporters will be inescapable.

Sovereignty and Viability

So how can Obama’s plan be judged if and when it is unveiled? Its chance of success can be predicted by how well it addresses the fundamental needs, grievances and aspirations of the peoples involved. An effective approach to ending the conflict, as opposed to shopworn posturing, rests on at least six elements: national expression for both peoples; economic viability for Palestine; a genuine addressing of the refugee issue; a regional approach; security guarantees; and conformity with human rights norms, international law and UN resolutions.

Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are not simply ethnic groups, like, for example, American Jews or Arab-Americans. They are two peoples who, like national groups everywhere, demand self-determination. This reality actually lends credence to a two-state solution, but only if the Palestinian state is truly sovereign and economically viable. One should not forget that, in the days of apartheid, South Africa established ten “bantustans,” small and impoverished “homelands” on 11 percent of South African land, seemingly to address the demand of the black population for self-determination but actually to ensure a “democracy” for the white population on 89 percent of the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s notion that the Palestinians should get “autonomy with certain characteristics of a state” on about 15 percent of historic Palestine — “autonomy plus-independence minus,” as he called it — is reminiscent of apartheid.

If the Obama administration’s plan does not cut the Gordian knot that is Israel’s matrix of control — something no plan or initiative has yet succeeded in doing — it will simply fail to achieve an equitable two-state solution. Only a complete withdrawal of Israel from all the Occupied Territories and the sharing of Jerusalem with no restrictions on movement can avert a Palestinian bantustan.

Obama’s plan, like its predecessors, seems destined to leave the major Israeli settlement blocs intact, including those in Palestinian East and “greater” Jerusalem. Even with so-called territorial “swaps,” this measure would significantly compromise the sovereignty and economic viability of a Palestinian state. The area designated on Israeli maps for future expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement reaches to the outskirts of Jericho in the Jordan Valley, while the Ariel bloc already extends between the northern West Bank town of Nablus and points south. Taken together, settlements and the highways that interlink them displace Palestinian passenger and commercial vehicles onto a few narrow routes, while the checkpoints intended to protect the settlers snarl traffic on a predictably unpredictable schedule. And then there is the towering wall. It is not a landscape made for easy economic integration.
Why, then, leave these massive settlements intact? The argument is that their residents would object to the point of a civil war in Israel. This is patent nonsense. True, these settlement blocs contain 85 percent of Israelis living in the Occupied Territories, but these are not the ideological settlers who claim the entire Land of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Instead, they are “normal” Israelis who have been attracted to the settlements by high-quality, affordable housing. They would have no objection to resettling inside Israel on the condition that their living standards do not fall, while the Israeli economy, assisted by international donors, would have no problem footing the bill for this population, about 200,000 in number. Settlements in “greater” Jerusalem, housing another 190,000 Israeli Jews, present no problem whatsoever. Residents are free to stay where they are in a shared and integrated Jerusalem.

As for the “ideological” settlers of the West Bank, only about 40,000 in number (out of almost six million Jews altogether), they can easily be relocated inside Israel, just as were their counterparts in Gaza. Their relocation will be a test of international assertiveness, of course, because the settlers are able to mobilize the support of the right-wing parties in Israel. Since Israel can make no cogent argument as to the security necessity of these tiny settlements, however, internal opposition will simply have to be overruled; the international community cannot allow such frivolous ideological matters to destabilize the entire global system. If the legitimate concerns of the Israeli public over its security are addressed by the international community, which they can be, there is no compelling reason why Israel should not return to the pre-June 1967 border. In fact, if the Gaza episode indicates anything, it is that the Israeli public is willing to remove settlements if it is convinced that doing so will enhance its security. Reminding Israelis that leaving every inch of the Occupied Territories will still leave them sovereign over a full 78 percent of the country — not a bad deal for what will soon become a minority Jewish population — should seal the deal.


The Obama platform, should it see the light of day, will probably also adopt the Israeli position that Palestinian refugees can only be repatriated to the Palestinian state itself, not to their former homes inside Israel. This plank would place a weighty economic burden on that tiny prospective state, since the refugees are, by and large, a traumatized and impoverished population with minimal education and professional skills. Add to that another significant fact: Some 60 percent of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18. A Palestinian state without the ability to employ its people and offer a future to its youth is simply a prison-state.

Now the need for a viable Palestinian state is recognized and embodied in the “road map,” the peace initiative propagated by President George W. Bush in 2003, and will probably be acknowledged in a plan from Obama as well. Despite its limited size, a RAND Corporation study concluded that such a state is possible, but only if it controls its territory, borders, resources and movement of people and goods. Israel must be made to understand that while it will remain the hegemonic power in the region, its own long-term security depends upon the economic wellbeing of its Palestinian neighbors.
Eighty percent of the Palestinians are refugees, and half of the Palestinians still live in refugee camps within and around their homeland. Any sustainable peace is dependent upon the just resolution of the refugee issue. Technically, resolving the refugee issue is not especially difficult. The Palestinian negotiators, backed up by the Arab League, have agreed to a “package,” to be mutually agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians, involving a combination of repatriation in Israel and the Palestinian state, resettlement elsewhere and compensation.

The “package” must contain, however, two other elements, without which the issue will not be resolved and reconciliation cannot take place. First, Israel must acknowledge the refugees’ right of return; a resolution of the issue cannot depend solely on humanitarian gestures. And Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for driving the refugees from their country. Just as Jews expected Germany to accept responsibility for what it did in the Holocaust (and Israelis criticized the Pope during his summer 2009 visit for not apologizing enough), just as China and South Korea will not close the book on World War II until Japan acknowledges its war crimes, so, too, will the refugee issue continue to fester and frustrate attempts to bring peace to the region until Israel admits its role and asks forgiveness. Genuine peacemaking cannot be confined to technical solutions alone; it must also deal with the wounds caused by the conflict.

Regional Approach, Security and International Law

Obama’s edge over his predecessors lies in his understanding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of — and in some ways the symbolic epicenter of — a wider regional problem that extends from the neighboring countries to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, indeed, throughout the entire Muslim world and beyond. This understanding lies behind his framing of the conflict’s persistence as being antithetical to vital US interests, and behind his chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel’s statements making a solution for the conflict a virtual precondition for addressing the Iran issue. It is precisely this linkage, long denied by Israel, which insists that the Palestinian issue be handled separately, that the Obama administration seems finally to have embraced. Indeed, even in the confines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself, the key issues – refugees, security, water, economic development and others — are regional in scope. A perfect peace between Israel and Palestine, in which both countries flourish, is not a viable solution for either if they exist as prosperous islands in an impoverished, unstable region.
Israel, of course, has fundamental and legitimate security needs, as do the Palestinians and the other peoples of the region. Unlike Israeli governments, the Israeli peace camp believes that security cannot be addressed in isolation, that Israel will not find peace and security unless it enters into a lasting peace with the Palestinians and achieves a measure of integration into the Middle East region. It certainly rejects the notion that security can be achieved through military means. Israel’s assertion that the security issue be resolved before any political progress can be made is as illogical as it is self-serving. Everyone, the Israeli political establishment and the military together with the peace movement and the Palestinians themselves, knows that terrorism is a symptom that can only be addressed as part of a broader approach to the grievances underlying the conflict. Israel, which also must be held accountable for its use of state terror, cannot be allowed to exploit legitimate security concerns to advance a political agenda of permanent control.

To the degree that negotiations are entered into, they must have as their terms of reference international law and UN resolutions if the Palestinians are to enjoy even minimal parity with their Israeli interlocutors. The lack of grounding in such principles was the fatal shortcoming of all the preceding attempts to reach an agreement. Once negotiations are based solely on power, the Palestinians lose, the differential being so heavily weighted on the Israeli side, which totally controls Palestinian life and territory. Indeed, a peace agreement rooted in international law and human rights — in short, a just peace — would offer the best prospect of working.

Trump Cards

Put simply, any plan, proposal or initiative for peace in Israel-Palestine must be filtered through the following set of critical questions: Will this plan really end the occupation, or is it merely a subtle cover for control? Does this plan offer a just and sustainable peace or merely an imposed and false quiet? Does this plan offer a Palestinian state that is territorially, politically and economically viable, or merely a prison-state? Does this plan genuinely and justly address the refugee issue? And does this plan offer regional security and development?

While one may glean optimism from the fact that a US president finally comprehends the need for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, even if solely for the sake of US interests, it is difficult to be optimistic over the prospects of such a peace. No matter what the plan, Israel will neither cooperate nor negotiate in good faith. A solution will have to be imposed, if not overtly, then in ways that make Israel’s continued hold on the Occupied Territories too costly to sustain. Simply withholding Israel’s privileged access to American military technology and markets, for example, would have that effect.
Any attempt to pressure Israel, however, will run into a familiar obstacle: Congress, Israel’s trump card in its encounters with the administration. In the case of Obama, Israeli leaders know well that his own party has always been far more “pro-Israel” than the Republicans. Already his loss of momentum after the Cairo address (perhaps related to his difficulties over his health care plan) has emboldened the temporarily cowed AIPAC. In early August, the vaunted lobby produced a letter signed by 71 senators from both parties — led by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Jim Risch (R-ID) — telling the president to lay off Israel and place more pressures on the Arab states to “normalize” relations with Israel. Obama had already, in his comments introducing Mitchell as special envoy and subsequently, called for “normalization” simultaneous with Israeli moves to lessen the burdens of occupation, in contravention of the 2002 Arab League peace plan, which proposed that the Arab states establish ties with Israel after withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Now AIPAC and its backers in Congress want the administration to push for “normalization” before any Israeli overtures whatsoever. The Netanyahu government has played its part, as well. In August, its ministers, standing on the strategically crucial site of “E-1” between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, vowed that Israel would continue building settlements anywhere it pleases. On September 7, Israel announced it was beginning work on 500 new apartments in Pisgat Ze’ev and 455 in other West Bank locales. These actions essentially tell Obama to go to hell mere weeks before he is projected to launch his peace initiative. The US replied with an expression of “regret.”

Any plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace that has a hope of succeeding requires both an effective marketing strategy and a level of assertiveness as yet unseen in a US president, excepting, perhaps, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter. Obama’s only hope of breaking through the wall of Israeli and Democratic Party resistance is to articulate an approach to peace based on clear and accepted principles anchored in human rights and justice and then framed in terms of US interests. A cold, calculating assessment of US interests would certainly push Obama in this direction. Time will tell, though the limp response to the new settlement construction does not bode well.

In the meantime, growing opposition to the occupation on the part of the international grassroots is making it increasingly difficult for governments to support Israeli policies. The movement targeting Israel for boycott, divestment and sanctions gains strength by the day, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begins to assume the dimensions of the anti-apartheid struggle. But the Palestinians, exhausted and suffering as they may be, possess a trump card of their own. They are the gatekeepers. Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over. Until most Palestinians believe it is time to normalize relations with Israel, there will be no normalization. Israel cannot “win” — though it believes it can, which is why it presses ahead to complete the matrix and foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. The failure of yet another peace initiative will only galvanize international efforts to achieve justice for the Palestinians. Only this time the demand is likely to be for a single binational state, the only alternative that fits the single-state, binational reality that Israel itself has forged in its futile attempt to impose an apartheid regime.

Jeff Halper is a professor of anthropology, author, lecturer, political activist, and co-founder and Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).