Posts Tagged ‘George Mitchell’

Obama’s peace effort has failed but our struggle continues

September 25, 2009

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 24 September 2009

US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas in a kitschy reprise of the famous 1993 White House lawn handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. (MaanImages)

There is the old joke about a man who is endlessly searching on the ground beneath a street light. Finally, a neighbor who has been watching him asks the man what he is looking for. The man replies that he lost his keys. The neighbor asks him if he lost them under the streetlight. “No,” the man replies, pointing into the darkness, “I lost them over there, but I am looking over here because here there is light!”

The intense focus on the “peace process” is a similarly futile search. Just because politicians and the media shine a constant light on it, does not mean that is where the answers are to be found.

The meeting hosted by US President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel on 22 September signaled the complete and terminal failure of Obama’s much vaunted push to bring about a two-state solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict.

To be sure, all the traditional activities associated with the “peace process” — shuttle diplomacy, meetings, ritual invocations of “two states living side by side,” and even “negotiations” — will continue, perhaps for the rest of Obama’s time in office. But this sterile charade will not determine the future of Palestine/Israel. That is already being decided by other means.

Continues >>

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Obama’s America Is Not Delivering The Goods

August 15, 2009
Gideon Levy, Haaretz Correspondent | Haaretz/Israel, Aug 14, 2009

With great sorrow and deep consternation, we hereby declare the death of the latest hope. Perhaps rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase the famous quote by Mark Twain, but the fears are being validated day after day. Barack Obama’s America is not delivering the goods. Sharing a glass of beer with a racist cop and a pat on the back of Hugo Chavez are not what we hoped for; wholesale negotiations on freezing settlement construction are also not what we expected. Just over six months after the most promising president of all began his term, perhaps hope has a last breath left, but it is on its deathbed.

He came into office amid much hoopla. The Cairo speech ignited half the globe. Making settlements the top priority gave rise to the hope that, finally, a statesman is sitting in the White House who understands that the root of all evil is the occupation, and that the root of the occupation’s evil is the settlements. From Cairo, it seemed possible to take off. The sky was the limit.

Then the administration fell into the trap set by Israel and is showing no signs of recovery.

A settlement freeze, something that should have been understood by a prime minister who speaks with such bluster about two states – a peripheral matter that Israel committed to in the road map – has suddenly turned into a central issue. Special envoy George Mitchell is wasting his time and prestige with petty haggling. A half-year freeze or a full year? What about the 2,500 apartment units already under construction? And what about natural growth? And kindergartens?

Perhaps they will reach a compromise and agree on nine months, not including natural growth though allowing completion of apartments already under construction. A grand accomplishment.

Jerusalem has imposed its will on Washington. Once again we are at the starting point – dealing with trifles from which it is impossible to make the big leap over the great divide.

We expected more from Obama. Menachem Begin promised less, and he made peace within the same amount of time after he took office. When the main issue is dismantling the settlements, the pulsating momentum that came with Obama is petering out. Instead, we are paddling in shallow water. Mitchell Schmitchel. What’s in it for peace? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will once again meet him in London at the end of the month. A “magic formula” for a settlement freeze may be found there, but the momentum is gone.

Not in Israel, though. Here people quickly sensed that there is nothing to fear from Obama, and the fetters were taken off. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quick to declare that there is no Palestinian partner, even after the Fatah conference elected the most moderate leadership that has ever been assembled in Palestine. Afterward, in a blatant act of provocation, he brought a Torah scroll into the heart of the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, in full view of television cameras, just so America can see who’s boss around here.

Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, another two politicians who smell American weakness, were quick to declare during a visit to Ma’aleh Adumim that Israel will not freeze any construction. To hell with Obama. The settlers continue to move into more homes in East Jerusalem, Netanyahu is silent and Israelis sense that the “danger” has passed. Israel is once again permitted to do as it pleases. The landlord has once again gone insane. Except that the landlord has gone insane because the real landlord is showing signs of weakness, signs of folding, signs of losing interest in events in the region that most endangers world peace.

Nothing remains from the speeches in Cairo and Bar-Ilan University. Obama is silent, and Yishai speaks. Even “Israel’s friends” in Washington, friends of the occupation, are once again rearing their heads.

One source familiar with Obama’s inner circle likened him this week to a man who inflates a number of balloons every day in the hope that one of them will rise. He will reach his goal. The source compared him to Shimon Peres, an analogy that should insult Obama. The trial balloons the U.S. president sends our way have yet to take off. One can, of course, wait for the next balloon, the Obama peace plan, but time is running out. And Israel is not sitting idly by.

The minute Jerusalem detected a lack of American determination, it returned to its evil ways and excuses. “There is no partner,” “Abu Mazen is weak,” “Hamas is strong.” And there are demands to recognize a Jewish state and for the right to fly over Saudi Arabia – anything in order to do nothing.

An America that will not pressure Israel is an America that will not bring peace. True, one cannot expect the U.S. president to want to make peace more than the Palestinians and Israelis, but he is the world’s responsible adult, its great hope. Those of us who are here, Mr. President, are sinking in the wretched mud, in “injury time.”

Chomsky: No change coming with Obama

February 18, 2009
By Shahram Vahdany | Press TV

The following is a Press TV interview with respected American author, political analyst and world-renowned linguist, Professor Noam Chomsky.

Press TV: Professor Chomsky, we better start with Pakistan. The White House not commenting on the killings of people [in cross-border drone attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistan]. Richard Holbrooke, someone whom you’ve written about in the context of Yugoslavia, is the man [President Barack] Obama has chosen to solve the situation.

Chomsky: Well, it was pretty clear that Obama would accept the Bush doctrine that the United States can bomb Pakistan freely, and there have been many case which are quite serious.

There has been for example a great deal of chaos and fighting in Bajaur province, which is a adjacent to Afghanistan and tribal leaders- others there- have traced it to the bombing of a madrassa school which killed 80 to 95 people, which I don’t think was even reported in the United states, it was reported in the Pakistani press of course.

The author of the article reporting it, a well-known nuclear physicist, Pervez Hoodbhoy pointed out at the time that this kind of massacre will of course engender terror and reactions, which will even threaten the state of Pakistan. And that has been what is happening. We are now seeing more of it.

The first message of the Pakistani government to General [David] Petraeus, the American General when he took command of the region was that they did not want any more bombings in Pakistan.

Actually, the first message to the new Obama administration by President [Hamid] Karzai of Afghanistan was the same, that he wanted no more bombings. He also said that he wants a timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign troops, US and other troops, from Afghanistan. That was of course just ignored.

Press TV: And these three foreign envoys, well the third one has not been announced yet perhaps, but some people are expressing optimism about George Mitchell’s position as Middle East envoy.

Richard Holbrooke, which have looked at. We have talked to the former Bosnian foreign minister here, who seemed to imply that he may even have had a role in the say so for the Srebrenica massacre, and of course, Dennis Ross is being talked about as an envoy for Iran.

Chomsky: well Holbrooke has a pretty awful record, not so much Yugoslavia, but earlier. For example, In the Indonesian atrocities in eastern Timor, where he was the official in charge, and evaded to stop the US support for them, and all together it’s a very spotty record.

George Mitchell is, of the various appointments that have been made, he is the most decent let’s say. He has a pretty decent record. He achieved something in Northern Ireland, but of course, in that case there was an objective.

The objective was that the British would put an end to the resort to violence in response to IRA terror and would attend to the legitimate grievances that were the source of the terror. He did manage that, Britain did pay attention to the grievances, and the terror stopped- so that was successful.

But there is no such outcome sketched in the Middle East, specially the Israel-Palestine problem. I mean, there is a solution, a straightforward solution very similar to the British one. Israel could stop its US-backed crimes in the occupied territories and then presumably the reaction to them would stop. But that’s not on the agenda.

In fact, President Obama just had a press conference, which was quite interesting in that respect. He praised the parabolic peace initiative, the Saudi initiative endorsed by the Arab League, and said it had constructive elements. It called for the normalization of relation with Israel, and he called on the Arab states to proceed with those “constructive elements,” namely the normalization of relations.

But that is a gross falsification of the Arab League initiative. The Arab League initiative called for accepting a two-state settlement on the international border, which has been a long-standing international consensus and said if that can be achieved then Arab states can normalize relations with Israel.

Well, Obama skipped the first part, the crucial part, the core of the resolution, because that imposes an obligation on the United States. The United States has stood alone for over thirty years in blocking this international consensus, by now it has totally isolated the US and Israel.

Europe and now a lot of other countries have accepted it. Hamas has accepted it for years, the Palestinian Authority of course, the Arab League now for many years [have accepted it]. The US and Israel block it, not just in words, but they are blocking it in actions constantly, (this is) happening every day in the occupied territories and also in the siege of Gaza and other atrocities.

So when he skips that it is purposeful. That entails that the US is not going to join the world in seeking to implement a diplomatic settlement, and if that is the case, Mitchell’s mission is vacuous.

Press TV: Is there a contradiction in that George Mitchell of course did speak to members of the Sinn Féin, their military wing of course of the IRA.

At the same time, well on this channel [Press TV] we have been covering the Gaza conflict, its headquarters were bombed, and now we are being told that Israeli soldiers will not give their names, and the names of people are not being released for fear of prosecution.

And yet, some were saying that Obama did say that the border should be opened. Should we see any change in policy there?

Chomsky: He did say that, but he did not mention the fact that it was in the context of a lot other demands. And Israel will also say, sure the borders should be opened but he still refuses to speak to the elected government (i.e. Hamas), quite different from Mitchell in Northern Ireland.

It means Palestinians will have to be punished for voting in a free election, the way the US did not want them to, and he endorsed the Condoleezza Rice-Tzipi Livni agreement to close the Egyptian-Gaza order, which is quite an act of imperial arrogance.

It is not their border, and in fact, Egypt strongly objected to that. But Obama continued. He says we have to make sure that no arms are smuggled through the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. But he said nothing about the vast dispatch of far more lethal arms to Israel.

In fact, right in the middle of the Gaza attack, December 31, the Pentagon announced that it was commissioning a German ship to send 3,000 tons of war material to Israel. That did not work out, because the government of Greece prevented it but it was supposed to go through Greece but it could all go through somewhere else. This is right in the middle of the attack on Gaza.

Actually there were very little reporting, very few inquiries. The Pentagon responded in an interesting way. They said, well this material won’t be used for the attack on Gaza, in fact they knew that Israel had plans to stop the attack right before the inauguration, so that Obama would not have to say anything about it.

But the Pentagon said that this material is being used for pre-positioning for US forces. In other words, this has been going for a long time, but this is extending and reinforcing the role of Israel as a US military base on the edge of the major oil producing regions of the world. If they are ever asked why they are doing it, they will say for defense or stability, but it is just a base for further aggressive action.

Press TV: Robert Gates and Admiral [Mike] Mullen have been talking about the 16-month timeline for withdrawal from Iraq is just one of the options, a slight difference from what Obama has been saying in the campaign. And, Hillary Clinton famously said she was prepared to obliterate all of Iran and kill 70 million citizens. On Iraq and Iran what do you see as changes?

Chomsky: What happened in Iraq is extremely interesting and important. The few correspondents with real experience any whom know something have understood it. Patrick Cockburn, Jonathan Steele and one or two others.

What has happened is that there was a remarkable campaign of non-violent resistance in Iraq, which compelled the United States, step-by-step, to back away from its programs and its goals. They compelled the US occupying forces to allow an election, which the US did not want and tried to evade in all sorts of ways.

Then they went on from there to force the United States to accept at least formally a status of forces agreement, which if the Obama administration lives up to it, will abandon most of the US war aims. It will eliminate the huge permanent military bases that the US has built in Iraq. It will mean the US will not control decisions over how the oil resources will be accessed and used. And in fact just every war aim is gone.

Of course there is a question of whether the US will live up to it and what you are reporting is among the serious indications that they are trying to evade living up to it. But what happened there is really significant, and a real credit to the people of Iraq, who have suffered miserably. I mean, the country has been absolutely destroyed, but they did manage to get the US to back away formally from its major war aims.

In the case of Iran, Obama’s statements have not been as inflammatory as Clinton’s, but they amount to pretty much the same thing. He said all options are open. Well, what does all options mean? Presumably that includes nuclear war, you know, that is an option.

There is no indication that he is willing to take the steps, say, that the American population wants. An overwhelming majority of the American population for years has been in favor, has agreed with the Non-Aligned Movement, that Iran should have the rights granted to the signers of the non-proliferation treaty, in fact to develop nuclear energy.

It should not have the right to develop nuclear weapons, and more interestingly about the same percentages, about 75 to 80%, call for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the region, which would include Iran, Israel, and any US forces deployment there, within all kinds of verifications and so on.

That could eliminate probably one of the major sources of the conflict. There is no indication that the Obama administration has any thought of doing anything about this.

Press TV: Just finally Professor Chomsky, the US economy, of course where you are -that is dominating the news and the lives all Americans and arguably the people around the world- and this 825 billion dollar package. How do you think the Obama people are going to handle this?

Chomsky: Nobody really knows. I mean, what is happening with the economy is not well understood. It is based on extremely opaque financial manipulations, which are quite hard to decode. I mean, the general process is understood, but whether the $800 billion, or probably larger government stimulus, will overcome this crisis, is not known.

The first $350 billion have already been spent- that is the so-called part bailout but that went into the pockets of banks. They were supposed to start lending freely, but they just decided not to do it. They would rather enrich themselves, restore their own capital, and take over other banks- mergers and acquisition and so on.

Whether the next stimulus will have an effect depends very much on how it is handled, whether it is monitored, so that it is used for constructive purposes. [It relies] also on factors that are just not known, like how deep this crisis is going to be.

It is a worldwide crisis and it is very serious. It is suddenly striking that the ways that Western countries are approaching the crisis is exactly the same as the model that they enforce on the Third World when there is a crisis.

So when Indonesia has a crisis, Argentina and everyone else, they are supposed to raise interest rates very high and privatize the economy, and cut down on public spending, measures like that. In the West, it is the exact opposite: lower interest rates to zero, move towards nationalization if necessary, pour money into the economy, have huge debts.

That is exactly the opposite of how the Third World is supposed to pay off its debts, and that this seems to pass without comment is remarkable. These measures for the West are ones that might get the economy moving again, while it has been a disaster for others.

Obama, Mitchell and the Palestinians

February 7, 2009

By James Abourezk | Counterpunch, Feb 6 – 8, 2009

Abe Foxman, head of the “Anti-Defamation League”, claims that George Mitchell is too fair to be a broker between Israel and the Palestinians.  I guess that Foxman, in denouncing the choice of Mitchell for Middle East negotiator, shows that he is accustomed to such impartial mediators as Dennis Ross, who, when he left the Clinton Administration returned to the Israeli Lobby, whence he came.  Or he possibly could be making a comparison between George Mitchell and Alan Dershowitz, the notorious Israeli propagandist.  (I once called Dershowitz a “snake” on Al Manar TV, which prompted him to write a column in the Jerusalem Post calling me an anti-Semite.  My mistake was to forget to apologize to the snakes.)

I’m sorry to say that, as much as I admire George Mitchell for the public service he has provided over the years, being fair will not be enough to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the brutality that accompanies it.

The gyrations of various administrations over the years, all of whom have put on great shows of “settling” the conflict, has done nothing but waste a great deal of newspaper ink and television time reporting peace efforts, as though the media believed what snake oil salespeople, such as Condi Rice, were selling to the public.  What someone in our government should have realized by now is that Israel absolutely does not want to give up the West Bank for a Palestinian state, even though there are warnings that if a “two state solution” is not reached, the Palestinians will be forced into a state of apartheid for the rest of the century.  Certainly, the Israelis have no intention of allowing the Palestinians to outvote them in Israel, which leaves South African style apartheid as the only solution.

One can count all the reasons given by the Israelis for not achieving the “peace” that Israel claims it wants, reasons such as:

    1. We have no negotiating partner.
    2. The Palestinians have to recognize Israel’s right to exist first before we talk to them.
    3. They have to end terrorism first.
    4. We made the Palestinians the best offer they could ever have gotten, but they turned it down.

These are just some of the shopworn excuses trotted out to avoid cutting a deal.

It seems that very few people have caught on to this scam, even though it has been exposed for many years.  So, as the establishment continues to blather about achieving “peace,” Israel continues to swallow up Palestinian lands, beating up, imprisoning and massacring Palestinians on a daily basis.

It is very clear to me, as well as to anyone else who declines to see the conflict through an Israeli prism, that only when an American President flatly tells the Israelis that they must move the settlers out of the West Bank, there will be no peace, only more occupation, more brutality, more violations of international law, and more bloody slaughters of civilians such as the one we only recently witnessed in Gaza.  Anything short of that leaves the Israelis in complete control, and it will leave America with more and more enemies not only in the Middle East, but around the world.

President Obama mentioned recently that if he doesn’t get the economy turned around in his first term, he will most likely not have a second term. What he has not yet calculated is that the Israeli occupation results in angry terrorism against American interests all over the world.  He is faced with the choice of either angering the Likud Lobby by demanding that the Israeli settlers be kicked out of the West Bank, or of continuing the heavy spending required to maintain Israel’s occupation against the wishes of the people they are occupying.  What is your guess as to what he will do?

Surely we should have learned by now that America can no longer afford to listen to the Abe Foxmans and the Alan Dershowitzes of the world.  As a nation, we are out of money, bereft of ideas, and incapable of curbing the moral and financial corruption in Washington, D.C., which includes the corruption brought about by the Likud Lobby.

The result is that the rich get richer, the poor and the middle class become more and more desperate, searching for jobs that no longer exist, and for homes they can no longer afford.

The likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have brought the world down around our collective ears, and after having done so, they have ridden off into the sunset, happy in the knowledge that they’ve taken care of their rich friends, who have profited from the wars they have started.  The oil price surge, the conflicts in the Middle East, which have brought about the surge in military spending has created fortunes for their cronies, all paid for by the people of this country.  We are, unfortunately, not finished paying the price for Mr. Bush’s costly — in terms of human lives and of money — puerile adventures for the past eight years.  We will be reaping the hatred and the violence caused by their wars, in addition to suffering  the economic fallout resulting from their policies of greed and corruption.  And we have not yet counted the kinds of misery and poverty and corruption these two heroes have spawned as a result of the Iraq War.

The cowardice of our presidents and of our Congress keeps Israel in the driver’s seat so far as continuing the occupation.  Brutality is the natural product of an occupation that is necessary to keep the land they’ve stolen from the Palestinians.  We are in desperate need of “change,” and we hope and we pray that Mr. Obama will have the courage to put it in motion.

James G. Abourezk is a lawyer practicing in South Dakota. He is a former United States senator and the author of two books, Advise and Dissent, and a co-author of Through Different Eyes. This article also  runs in the current issue of Washington Report For Middle East Affairs.  Abourezk  can be reached at georgepatton45@gmail.com

Hamas Is Not Going Away

February 7, 2009

Analysis by Mel Frykberg | Inter Press Service

RAMALLAH, Feb 6 (IPS) – Despite intensive efforts by Israel, the international community and a number of Arab leaders to weaken and destroy Hamas through economic, punitive and military action, the Islamist organisation continues to be a force to reckon with.

Hamas won free and fair democratic elections in January 2006. The U.S. pushed for these elections, which were monitored by international observers including ex-U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and Israel permitted them to be held.

Hamas has since then been dominant, though it took effective control in June 2007, more than a year after its election victory. The Gaza Strip, which the resistance group controls, took a serious battering during Israel’s 22-day military assault, codenamed Operation Cast Lead.

The coastal territory has also been economically crippled by nearly two years of an Israeli embargo which has hermetically sealed Gaza off from the rest of the world, preventing the import of all but a tiny flow of humanitarian aid and goods.

Israel purportedly carried out the military operation to stop Palestinian rockets from hitting Israeli cities and towns bordering the Gaza Strip.

However, rocket fire on Israel had virtually ceased in the five months of ceasefire between Israel and Hamas which preceded an Israeli cross-border military operation into Gaza on Nov. 4. This operation provoked a barrage of retaliatory missiles on Israel.

Prior to Operation Cast Lead, a delegation of British parliamentarians met with Hamas leaders in Gaza. The parliamentarians were told that Hamas would be prepared to accept Israel’s existence, within the internationally recognised borders of 1967, provided the Jewish state legitimised the rights of Palestinians in return.

Despite the immense scale of death and destruction wrought by Operation Cast Lead, which left over 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians dead, rockets continue to be fired at Israel in spite of disproportionate responses from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Following the recent ceasefire most of Hamas’s leadership emerged from underground bunkers unscathed. The digging of smuggling tunnels for everyday necessities as well as arms has resumed.

Furthermore, there are also growing signs that the Europeans, some Israelis and previous Arab opponents are resigned to factoring Hamas into any political equation to address a resolution of the conflict.

Last week after several days of intensive diplomatic pressure, the Israeli government managed to stymie a French initiative to weaken the Jewish state’s stance on Hamas.

Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, France tried to change a pre-written closing statement released by the ministers regarding the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

Paris wanted the statement to say that the EU would be prepared to hold talks with a future Palestinian unity government which included Hamas as long as it agreed to honour the principles of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Additionally, the French delegation to Brussels proposed opening Israeli border crossings into Gaza immediately without any conditions. A previous agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2005 stipulated that the PA had to control the crossings.

However, following intervention by Israel, the Czech Republic – the current holder of the EU presidency – Germany, Italy and the Netherlands pushed the French initiative off the agenda.

Israel viewed the French move as an attempt to get the Quartet for Middle East peace – the UN, the U.S., Russia and the EU – to soften its conditions for international recognition of Hamas.

A senior Israeli official said that since the end of the Gaza operation, his country was concerned about a possible break in European support for the boycott of the Hamas government in Gaza.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, met French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris recently.

During the meeting the Gaza ceasefire was discussed and Kouchner stressed the need for inter-Palestinian dialogue and for the border crossings into Gaza to be reopened.

Kouchner again suggested France was open to the idea of a unity government if Hamas softened its stance.

Meanwhile, Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin told reporters in Damascus on Monday that some kind of engagement with Hamas may have to feature in future European Union policy.

Hamas’s erstwhile foe and bitter rival Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank, also discussed the issue with French President Nicholas Sarkozy in Paris on Monday.

Abbas too called for a unity Palestinian government and said Hamas’s inclusion was imperative as long as it recognised his supreme authority.

On Monday Sarkozy also met Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, whose Persian Gulf country has emerged as a regional mediator since helping to resolve a political crisis in Lebanon last year. Al-Thani insisted Hamas should not be sidelined from peace efforts.

“We must work for a government of national unity between the Palestinians. There should not be efforts to delete or distance one of the Palestinian parties present on the ground,” Al-Thani told reporters.

Israeli columnist and analyst Akiva Elder noted in the daily Haaretz that Israel’s continual denial of the reality of Hamas as a legitimate political entity was short-sighted.

For 20 years Israel has tried to destroy the movement using carrots and sticks alternately. The only difference between the ruling Kadima party’s leader and minister of foreign affairs, Tzipi Livni, and the more right-wing opposition Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu is the size of the clubs to be used, argued Eldar.

“Precisely because of the many children killed in Gaza, Cast Lead has been assured a place of honour in the ethos of the struggle of the Palestinian David, armed with primitive Qassams, and the Israeli Goliath, with his F-16s,” said Eldar.

“When they hear the proud declarations of Israel’s leaders, to the effect that deterrence has been restored, Hamas’s leaders certainly laugh themselves to death, and not just because of the rockets that continue to fall on the people of Ashkelon.

“The threat of a few more bombs on Gaza deters them like the death penalty deters a suicide bomber on the way to carry out an attack,” said Eldar.

Only a long-term ceasefire, it seems, accompanied by a real diplomatic context, can pull the rug of popular support out from under Hamas and restore it to its natural proportions.

Settlement Expansion Cutting Into Peace

February 6, 2009

By Daan Bauwens | Inter Press Service

TEL AVIV, Feb 6 (IPS) – A secret government database revealed last week the real extent of settlement construction on the West Bank. In violation of the Road Map to peace agreed with the U.S., Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, it turned out, agreed to the construction of another settlement on the West Bank. Many now question how devoted Israeli leaders really are to the idea of achieving peace.

A comprehensive official database on settler activity, compiled systematically by order of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, shows that in 75 percent of the West Bank settlements, construction has been carried out without the permits that were issued, or contrary to them. Furthermore, the database reveals that in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of roads, schools, synagogues and even police stations was carried out on private land belonging to Palestinian residents.

The data-gathering project began four years ago. Brigadier-General Baruch Spiegel, aide to former Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz, was put in charge. The idea was to have credible and readily accessible information to counter legal action by Palestinian residents, human rights organisations and leftist movements who challenge the legality of settlement construction in the West Bank.

The Ministry of Defence has always refused to publicise the data, arguing that it would endanger Israel’s national security, or harm its foreign relations. The report was recently obtained and published on the Internet by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The information on the database demonstrates that the state does not abide by its own rules. The website of the Foreign Ministry says: “Israel’s actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law – Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements.”

And yet, in many of the settlements it was the Ministry of Construction and Housing that was responsible for the construction. A large part of the newly built infrastructure involves roads, schools and police stations. Besides, the large extent of building violations demonstrates the poor functioning of the Israeli Civil Administration which is in charge of supervision of construction in the territories.

Earlier last week, Israel’s largest peace movement Peace Now published a report with the title ‘Settlers do not need to wait for Bibi’, referring to the right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and the fact that settlers do not necessarily need a right-wing government to carry on with their mission of occupying the Biblical promised land. Among other things, Peace Now’s Settlement Watch discovered that the construction of settlements increased almost 60 percent in 2008.

Freezing of all settlement construction is the cornerstone of the road map to peace. The road map was founded on the findings of the Sharm-el-Sheikh fact-finding committee on the second Intifadah (Palestinian uprising) chaired by George Mitchell, currently U.S. special envoy to the Middle East.

After the mission, Mitchell formulated the “settlement-terrorism equation” in 2001 that demanded an immediate stop to terror from the Palestinian side and halting of all settlement activity, including construction for natural growth from the Israeli side.

Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and former U.S. president George W. Bush adopted the Mitchell agenda, suppressing Palestinian terrorism by building a separation wall that left most of the settlements on the outside, and then by evacuating settlers from the Gaza Strip. Israel was allowed to keep on building within the settlements enclosed by the fence.

At the peace negotiations in 2007 in Annapolis (in Maryland in the U.S.), the centre-left Kadima-Labour government again pledged to freeze all construction in order to make a two-state solution to the conflict possible. In November 2008 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared he was cutting off funding for illegal outposts, thereby admitting that the state had until then financed the construction of these officially unrecognised, illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

“It is political weakness,” says Hagit Ofran, head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch. “Religious people, ideologists want to hold on to the West Bank and in order to achieve that, they build as much as possible. They threaten with violence if they will be evacuated, they swear to strike back against Israeli police and forces. That’s something the government prefers not to see happening, so they turn a blind eye.”

As far as government support by active aid is concerned, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has only recently approved the construction of a new settlement in the Binyamin region in return for settlers’ agreement to evacuate the illegal outpost of Migron. Binyamin is located to the northeast and northwest of Jerusalem. According to human rights lawyers Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zacharia, who already advocated the evacuation of Migron two years ago, Barak is expanding settlements and outposts under the guise of evacuation.

Currently there are approximately 290,000 Jews living in 120 official settlements and dozens of illegal outposts in the West Bank, most of them opposed to a two-state solution as they lay claim to the whole land. The alternative to a two-state solution is one state, which according to the demographic evolution would mean a secular and bi-national state with a Jewish minority, which is unacceptable to most Jewish Israelis.

In the meantime, the expansion of Jewish settlements is slowly occupying land Palestinians demand in any final agreement. “This lack of political courage is weakening our Palestinian peace activists,” says Hagit Ofran. “They don’t see the use of peace negotiations if Israel in the meantime keeps building and occupying their land. Some stop believing in peace or justice and become militants or terrorists. That’s the main problem.”

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is leading the polls for the coming elections of Feb. 10. He has opposed creation of new settlements, but said he would allow “natural growth”. Over the last decade, Israel has officially not built any new settlements, but termed all new settlement construction necessary to “natural growth”. Netanyahu has also promised the Yesha council, the umbrella organisation of Jewish municipal councils in the West Bank, not to be party to evacuation of any West Bank settlement. (END/2009)

Chomsky: Neither The US Nor Israel Is A “Genuine Party To Peace.”

January 31, 2009


By Noam Chomsky | Information Clearing House, Jan 28, 2009

Barack Obama is recognized to be a person of acute intelligence, a legal scholar, careful with his choice of words. He deserves to be taken seriously – both what he says, and what he omits. Particularly significant is his first substantive statement on foreign affairs, on January 22, at the State Department, when introducing George Mitchell to serve as his special envoy for Middle East peace.

Mitchell is to focus his attention on the Israel-Palestine problem, in the wake of the recent US-Israeli invasion of Gaza. During the murderous assault, Obama remained silent apart from a few platitudes, because, he said, there is only one president – a fact that did not silence him on many other issues. His campaign did, however, repeat his statement that “if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.” He was referring to Israeli children, not the hundreds of Palestinian children being butchered by US arms, about whom he could not speak, because there was only one president.

On January 22, however, the one president was Barack Obama, so he could speak freely about these matters – avoiding, however, the attack on Gaza, which had, conveniently, been called off just before the inauguration.

Obama’s talk emphasized his commitment to a peaceful settlement. He left its contours vague, apart from one specific proposal: “the Arab peace initiative,” Obama said, “contains constructive elements that could help advance these efforts. Now is the time for Arab states to act on the initiative’s promise by supporting the Palestinian government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, taking steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all.”

Obama is not directly falsifying the Arab League proposal, but the carefully framed deceit is instructive.

The Arab League peace proposal does indeed call for normalization of relations with Israel – in the context – repeat, in the context of a two-state settlement in terms of the longstanding international consensus, which the US and Israel have blocked for over 30 years, in international isolation, and still do. The core of the Arab League proposal, as Obama and his Mideast advisers know very well, is its call for a peaceful political settlement in these terms, which are well-known, and recognized to be the only basis for the peaceful settlement to which Obama professes to be committed. The omission of that crucial fact can hardly be accidental, and signals clearly that Obama envisions no departure from US rejectionism. His call for the Arab states to act on a corollary to their proposal, while the US ignores even the existence of its central content, which is the precondition for the corollary, surpasses cynicism.

The most significant acts to undermine a peaceful settlement are the daily US-backed actions in the occupied territories, all recognized to be criminal: taking over valuable land and resources and constructing what the leading architect of the plan, Ariel Sharon, called “Bantustans” for Palestinians – an unfair comparison because the Bantustans were far more viable than the fragments left to Palestinians under Sharon’s conception, now being realized. But the US and Israel even continue to oppose a political settlement in words, most recently in December 2008, when the US and Israel (and a few Pacific islands) voted against a UN resolution supporting “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” (passed 173 to 5, US-Israel opposed, with evasive pretexts).

Obama had not one word to say about the settlement and infrastructure developments in the West Bank, and the complex measures to control Palestinian existence, designed to undermine the prospects for a peaceful two-state settlement. His silence is a grim refutation of his oratorical flourishes about how “I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Also unmentioned is Israel’s use of US arms in Gaza, in violation not only of international but also US law. Or Washington’s shipment of new arms to Israel right at the peak of the US-Israeli attack, surely not unknown to Obama’s Middle East advisers.

Obama was firm, however, that smuggling of arms to Gaza must be stopped. He endorses the agreement of Condoleeza Rice and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni that the Egyptian-Gaza border must be closed – a remarkable exercise of imperial arrogance, as the Financial Times observed: “as they stood in Washington congratulating each other, both officials seemed oblivious to the fact that they were making a deal about an illegal trade on someone else’s border – Egypt in this case. The next day, an Egyptian official described the memorandum as `fictional’.” Egypt’s objections were ignored.

Returning to Obama’s reference to the “constructive” Arab League proposal, as the wording indicates, Obama persists in restricting support to the defeated party in the January 2006 election, the only free election in the Arab world, to which the US and Israel reacted, instantly and overtly, by severely punishing Palestinians for opposing the will of the masters. A minor technicality is that Abbas’s term ran out on January 9, and that Fayyad was appointed without confirmation by the Palestinian parliament (many of them kidnapped and in Israeli prisons). Ha’aretz describes Fayyad as “a strange bird in Palestinian politics. On the one hand, he is the Palestinian politician most esteemed by Israel and the West. However, on the other hand, he has no electoral power whatsoever in Gaza or the West Bank.” The report also notes Fayyad’s “close relationship with the Israeli establishment,” notably his friendship with Sharon’s extremist adviser Dov Weiglass. Though lacking popular support, he is regarded as competent and honest, not the norm in the US-backed political sectors.

Obama’s insistence that only Abbas and Fayyad exist conforms to the consistent Western contempt for democracy unless it is under control.

Obama provided the usual reasons for ignoring the elected government led by Hamas. “To be a genuine party to peace,” Obama declared, “the quartet [US, EU, Russia, UN] has made it clear that Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements.” Unmentioned, also as usual, is the inconvenient fact that the US and Israel firmly reject all three conditions. In international isolation, they bar a two-state settlement including a Palestinian state; they of course do not renounce violence; and they reject the quartet’s central proposal, the “road map.” Israel formally accepted it, but with 14 reservations that effectively eliminate its contents (tacitly backed by the US). It is the great merit of Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, to have brought these facts to public attention for the first time – and in the mainstream, the only time.

It follows, by elementary reasoning, that neither the US nor Israel is a “genuine party to peace.” But that cannot be. It is not even a phrase in the English language.

It is perhaps unfair to criticize Obama for this further exercise of cynicism, because it is close to universal, unlike his scrupulous evisceration of the core component of the Arab League proposal, which is his own novel contribution.

Also near universal are the standard references to Hamas: a terrorist organization, dedicated to the destruction of Israel (or maybe all Jews). Omitted are the inconvenient facts that the US-Israel are not only dedicated to the destruction of any viable Palestinian state, but are steadily implementing those policies. Or that unlike the two rejectionist states, Hamas has called for a two-state settlement in terms of the international consensus: publicly, repeatedly, explicitly.

Obama began his remarks by saying: “Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats.”

There was nothing about the right of Palestinians to defend themselves against far more extreme threats, such as those occurring daily, with US support, in the occupied territories. But that again is the norm.

Also normal is the enunciation of the principle that Israel has the right to defend itself. That is correct, but vacuous: so does everyone. But in the context the cliche is worse than vacuous: it is more cynical deceit.

The issue is not whether Israel has the right to defend itself, like everyone else, but whether it has the right to do so by force. No one, including Obama, believes that states enjoy a general right to defend themselves by force: it is first necessary to demonstrate that there are no peaceful alternatives that can be tried. In this case, there surely are.

A narrow alternative would be for Israel to abide by a cease-fire, for example, the cease-fire proposed by Hamas political leader Khaled Mishal a few days before Israel launched its attack on December 27. Mishal called for restoring the 2005 agreement. That agreement called for an end to violence and uninterrupted opening of the borders, along with an Israeli guarantee that goods and people could move freely between the two parts of occupied Palestine, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The agreement was rejected by the US and Israel a few months later, after the free election of January 2006 turned out “the wrong way.” There are many other highly relevant cases.

The broader and more significant alternative would be for the US and Israel to abandon their extreme rejectionism, and join the rest of the world – including the Arab states and Hamas – in supporting a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus. It should be noted that in the past 30 years there has been one departure from US-Israeli rejectionism: the negotiations at Taba in January 2001, which appeared to be close to a peaceful resolution when Israel prematurely called them off. It would not, then, be outlandish for Obama to agree to join the world, even within the framework of US policy, if he were interested in doing so.

In short, Obama’s forceful reiteration of Israel’s right to defend itself is another exercise of cynical deceit – though, it must be admitted, not unique to him, but virtually universal.

The deceit is particularly striking in this case because the occasion was the appointment of Mitchell as special envoy. Mitchell’s primary achievement was his leading role in the peaceful settlement in northern Ireland. It called for an end to IRA terror and British violence. Implicit is the recognition that while Britain had the right to defend itself from terror, it had no right to do so by force, because there was a peaceful alternative: recognition of the legitimate grievances of the Irish Catholic community that were the roots of IRA terror. When Britain adopted that sensible course, the terror ended. The implications for Mitchell’s mission with regard to Israel-Palestine are so obvious that they need not be spelled out. And omission of them is, again, a striking indication of the commitment of the Obama administration to traditional US rejectionism and opposition to peace, except on its extremist terms.

Obama also praised Jordan for its “constructive role in training Palestinian security forces and nurturing its relations with Israel” – which contrasts strikingly with US-Israeli refusal to deal with the freely elected government of Palestine, while savagely punishing Palestinians for electing it with pretexts which, as noted, do not withstand a moment’s scrutiny. It is true that Jordan joined the US in arming and training Palestinian security forces, so that they could violently suppress any manifestation of support for the miserable victims of US-Israeli assault in Gaza, also arresting supporters of Hamas and the prominent journalist Khaled Amayreh, while organizing their own demonstrations in support of Abbas and Fatah, in which most participants “were civil servants and school children who were instructed by the PA to attend the rally,” according to the Jerusalem Post. Our kind of democracy.

Obama made one further substantive comment: “As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime…” He did not, of course, mention that the US-Israel had rejected much the same agreement after the January 2006 election, and that Israel had never observed similar subsequent agreements on borders.

Also missing is any reaction to Israel’s announcement that it rejected the cease-fire agreement, so that the prospects for it to be “lasting” are not auspicious. As reported at once in the press, “Israeli Cabinet Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who takes part in security deliberations, told Army Radio on Thursday that Israel wouldn’t let border crossings with Gaza reopen without a deal to free [Gilad] Schalit” (AP, Jan 22); ‘Israel to keep Gaza crossings closed…An official said the government planned to use the issue to bargain for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by the Islamist group since 2006 (Financial Times, Jan. 23); “Earlier this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that progress on Corporal Shalit’s release would be a precondition to opening up the border crossings that have been mostly closed since Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in 2007” (Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 23); “an Israeli official said there would be tough conditions for any lifting of the blockade, which he linked with the release of Gilad Shalit” (FT, Jan. 23); among many others.

Shalit’s capture is a prominent issue in the West, another indication of Hamas’s criminality. Whatever one thinks about it, it is uncontroversial that capture of a soldier of an attacking army is far less of a crime than kidnapping of civilians, exactly what Israeli forces did the day before the capture of Shalit, invading Gaza city and kidnapping two brothers, then spiriting them across the border where they disappeared into Israel’s prison complex. Unlike the much lesser case of Shalit, that crime was virtually unreported and has been forgotten, along with Israel’s regular practice for decades of kidnapping civilians in Lebanon and on the high seas and dispatching them to Israeli prisons, often held for many years as hostages. But the capture of Shalit bars a cease-fire.

Obama’s State Department talk about the Middle East continued with “the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan… the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.” A few hours later, US planes attacked a remote village in Afghanistan, intending to kill a Taliban commander. “Village elders, though, told provincial officials there were no Taliban in the area, which they described as a hamlet populated mainly by shepherds. Women and children were among the 22 dead, they said, according to Hamididan Abdul Rahmzai, the head of the provincial council” (LA Times, Jan. 24).

Afghan president Karzai’s first message to Obama after he was elected in November was a plea to end the bombing of Afghan civilians, reiterated a few hours before Obama was sworn in. This was considered as significant as Karzai’s call for a timetable for departure of US and other foreign forces. The rich and powerful have their “responsibilities.” Among them, the New York Times reported, is to “provide security” in southern Afghanistan, where “the insurgency is homegrown and self-sustaining.” All familiar. From Pravda in the 1980s, for example.

Israel will back troops accused of war crimes

January 26, 2009

Reuters
The Independent, UK, Monday, 26 January 2009

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International calls to investigate Israel over alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip prompted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to promise military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution yesterday.

“The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza should know they are safe from various tribunals and Israel will assist them on this front and defend them, just as they protected us with their bodies during the Gaza operation,” Olmert said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said after meeting counterparts from the European Union, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan in Brussels that Olmert’s comments should not preclude action against Israeli military figures.

“It does not mean there is an immunity against legal actions…More of such efforts will be seen also in the near future.”

Last week, the military censor ordered local and foreign media in Israel not to publish names of army commanders in the Gaza war and to blur their faces in photos and video for fear they could be identified and arrested while travelling abroad.

Israeli media reports said the military had been advising its top brass to think twice about visiting Europe.

Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert said Israel’s justice minister would consult the country’s top legal experts and find “answers to possible questions relating to the Israeli military’s activities” during the 22-day war.

Some 1,300 Palestinians, including at least 700 civilians, were killed, medical officials said, in the offensive Israel launched in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks.

The civilian deaths sparked public outcry abroad and prompted senior UN officials to demand independent investigations into whether Israel committed war crimes.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians, hit by rocket salvoes, were killed in the conflict.

Israel said hundreds of militants were among the Palestinian dead and that it tried its best to avoid civilian casualties in densely populated areas where gunmen operated.

Rights group Amnesty International has said that Israel’s use of white phosphorus munitions — which can cause extreme burns — in built-up areas of the Gaza Strip was indiscriminate and therefore constituted a war crime.

Israel has said it used all weapons in Gaza within the limits of international law. Its military, however, has opened an investigation into white phosphorous use during the conflict.

US Envoy

In a quick start to efforts by US President Barack Obama’s new administration to shore up a shaky Gaza truce and revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, his envoy, former US Sen. George Mitchell, is expected in Israel on Wednesday.

He plans to visit the occupied West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. A Western diplomat said Syria was not currently on his schedule.

Palestinians have lobbied for a tougher international response to Israel’s military crackdowns. Yet legal frameworks are problematic.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has no jurisdiction to investigate in the Gaza Strip, as it is not a state. Though the Palestinian Authority has been functioning as an interim sovereign polity since 1993, it was forced out of Gaza last year by Hamas after the Islamists won an election.

And while Israel has not signed the Rome Statute that enshrined the ICC, it can still be investigated, but that would require a UN Security Council mandate. Any such proposal would probably be vetoed by Israel’s ally, the United States.

Some European nations allow for war crimes lawsuits to be filed privately against members of Israel’s security services.


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