Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Burning Issue

In amongst the hoopla, there have been more than one key instances indicating how important the Israel/Palestine issue is to today's Western society, and more appropriately and acurately, to the Presidential elections that is set to begin shortly after all the candidacy races that is hotly contested all through the major swing states in the US. Annapolis is receding as a relevant summit, and its importance is being severly undermined as time progresses in the occupied territories, and the West Bank is being further corroded into a tiny slivet of a contiguous region. But that has not stopped all the vibrant rhetoric from being regurgitated between the party players, ie, President George W Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Quite a remarkable achievement is that Bush has went out of his way to (attempt) pressure Israel into compliance of the former Road Map and the revised version called Annapolis.

"Bush, when asked about the outposts, said simply and directly, "The outposts, yeah, they ought to go. Look, we've been talking about it for four years. The agreement was get rid of outposts, illegal outposts, and they ought to go."

What was also remarkable was the fact that Bush himself acknowledged that the Palestinian refugee issue had to be addressed (for once), but his solution has been far from the consensus that has been agreed upon by the international powers outlined in UN Resolution 242. Bush declared that "Palestinian refugee families should be compensated, rather than returning to former homes in what is now Israel". This is defiance of Resolution 242, which charges that only the refugees can decide on gaining compensation for lost land. In crude terms, Bush has asserted that there is no relief for the refugees languishing in huts and camps except for the fact that they will gain money for their loss. They take their land, deny their existence, and pay them off as if they will go away with a hefty bribe; and this is Bush's magical solution to solve the refugee problem, even though it is more than evident that most of them want to return to their past homeland. Although the statement does indeed bear responsibility on Israel for creating the refugee status, it falls far short of direct recognition of the catastrophe, even bypassing the justice that the Palestinians are entitled to after their extirpation.

"On the Israeli side, that includes ending settlement expansion and removing unauthorised outposts."

But the US is the main funder of those pesky settlements. It would be funny if the consequences were not so serious. And then Bush went his way to another Mideast nation to talk about democracy there too.

Not to be outdone was our very good friend Ehud Olmert, parroting the dovish-line whenever the big bad Bush comes around to criticise Israel. Even though Olmert seems to have gone through some changes as of late (maybe a little too coincidental as the timing of the Winograd report and Bush's lameduck status), many of his policies are reflecting his very brutish style when he was mayor of Jerusalem. Olmert says good things, but it's not being represented where it counts. "Olmert told the cabinet earlier Sunday that it is a disgrace that Israel hasn't taken action to remove unauthorized outposts", juxtaposed with what a Peace Now spokesperon told Israel Radio that "since Olmert took office, not a single outpost has been dismantled. Olmert should stop acting like a commentator and start taking action against illegal outposts."

Olmert is doing a courageous job trying to balance a lopsided scale (the right being the heavyweight). He is pushing his coalition to the brink with his insolence, with Barak breathing down his neck and now Lieberman quitting the Knesset over Olmert's attempts at negotiation. What a silly gesture indeed, but somewhat alarming since any negotiation with the Palestinians is deemed a threat. This is the attitude that prevails in the Israeli sector. There is a right (Olmert), and then their is right of the right (Barak). Then you have Lieberman, who's only difference is the fact that he openly states what the main objection is: removal of the Palestinians. But Olmert need not worry if he is in need of support: Gideon Levy outlined what would be a peace coalition that could help swing Olmert's words into Olmert's deeds. That is, if he truly is serious about all of this.

Because we've been through this track before. And it is a lesson that is learned the hard way when you are a Palestinian. Looking ahead, it's hard not to be skeptical. The facts are showing that Bush really is inept, as he is in his final year, and now powerless to be any kind of effectual. Olmert can give lip-service (and he's doing it well) and sit idly by until the new President is elected, and then we can go through this motion for another four years. Because back in 2004, you would not have seen Bush say such things against Israel; it would have jeorpardised his chances for re-election. And now there's no reason for him to toe the line, so he does what he thinks might give him a better reputation than the one he is carrying as of right now. Too little, too late? Perhaps, but if any progress is borne from this, then maybe it's more than welcome. I certainly enjoy seeing Presidents and politicians excoriate the occupation, even though their words mean nothing without action.

So why no action? Former President Jimmy Carter was the most outspoken proponent of the Palestinian cause (still to date, and that was almost thirty years ago), which cost him dearly. Bush's dad tried to mediate a more balanced approached (even though it was less than balanced), and he was removed. Reagan was Israel's greatest ally, and he took two terms. Clinton kept quiet on the issue until his final year. Bush junior is doing the same. Do we have a problem here?

We're recycling images of past peace processes. Just like Oslo, we're seeing more violence and building of houses under Annapolis, when we're meant to be seeing the exact opposite to help "build confidence".

"Dr [Mustapha] Barghouthi presented data showing that Israeli militarykillings of, and attacks against, Palestinians have soared by 100% since Annapolis, confirming an intensification of Israeli military violence against the Palestinian people even after the meeting on 27 November 2007.He highlighted that the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed in 2007 had risen to 40:1, up from 30:1 in 2006 and 4:1 from 2000-2005.

Barghouthi also focused on Israeli settlement expansion and their refusal to dismantle any existing settlements... maintains 133 settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) which have population of 447,500, and which are equally illegal under international law. Moreover, Israel continues to build in 88 of the sesettlements.

Barghouthi stressed that settlement expansion is being facilitated by Israel's 'Roads and Tunnels' Plan."

All the while Gaza is crushed daily, Hamas is derided, and we're getting numbers that Israel slaughters children, whom are viewed as "terrorists". We get "firm opposition" from settlement blocs in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and yet Israel continues with its new construction.

"The neighborhood's [of Maaleh Hazeitim] initial construction provoked an international storm in September 1997, and the United States pressured Israel not to go ahead with the plan. The pressure was rebuffed by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and backed by Jerusalem's mayor at the time, Ehud Olmert."

Who else could stand up against the US and defy their criticism? We should not forget here that this is in direct violation of international law. We should also not forget that the US has the power to stop all of this construction. We should also never forget that actions like these should be accounted for. We should never ever forget that the Palestinians have a right to self-determination, and new settlements around East Jerusalem will destroy their right that any other person (rightfully) demands. Israel has to be stopped; Bush has already said so, Olmert says so, past politicians and Presidents say so; why has this not been solved?

As we near apartheid with Jewish only roads, the burning issue that is preventing any progress here is because of the Israel Factor, or the Lobby. Yes, it's contested from the left, right and the centre. But it exists, and it is far from any normal lobby here. It has a great deal of clout, and it has plenty of supporters in where it counts. It is in many combinations, such as sympathy and allegiance, as well as just plain cowardice, but the Israel Factor is what is halting any US politician from castigating Israel. They openly admit it also.

No other country could brazenly pride themselves with such bravado of power over another government. Also, no other country really has so much at stake at the Presidential race than Israel. In the most liberal newspaper in Israel, they have a section called "the Israel Factor". Here they table out who is best for Israel's interests. Not surprisingly, Guiliani is number one with Clinton a close second. Obama is ranking a 5 (while it was much lower about two weeks ago), and one of my favourites from the past Chuck Hagel got a lowly 3.5. It's easy to see how the rankings is determined: Hagel's description is "The Senator for Nebraska believes that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to bringing about Middle East peace." That ranks low. The high flyers are very pro-Israel, ie hawkish. So we get more of the same. No big changes here.

These are our best candidates to control the Israel-Palestinian issue. Clinton, Obama, McCain, Romney, Huckabee. Arrgh. They do not differ much. It's more or less the same. For instance, here's Obama's recent track record on Israel/Palestine:

"During the past two years, however, Obama has largely taken positions in support of the hard-line Israeli government, making statements virtually indistinguishable from that of the Bush administration...

Obama has insisted “we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests” and that no Israeli prime minister should ever feel “dragged” to the negotiating table...

Obama acknowledged the reality that that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people,” as a result of the stalled peace process he has since placed the blame for the impasse not on the Israeli occupation but on the Palestinians themselves...

Obama rushed to Israel’s defense [during the Lebanon War], co-sponsoring a Senate resolution defending the operation. Rather than assign any responsibility to Israel for the deaths of over 800 Lebanese civilians, Obama claimed that Hezbollah was actually responsible for having used “innocent people as shields.”

The senator’s press spokesman did not respond to my subsequent requests for more credible sources. This raises concerns that an Obama administration, like the current administration, may be prone to taking the word of ideologically driven right-wing think tanks above those of empirical research or principled human rights groups and other nonpartisan NGOs.) Indeed, Obama’s rhetoric as a senator has betrayed what some might view as a degree of anti-Arab racism. He has routinely condemned attacks against Israeli civilians by Arabs but has never condemned attacks against Arab civilians by Israelis."

Stephen Zunes also indicates that the Lobby is responsible for Obama's shift that "it’s quite reasonable to suspect that pressure from well-funded right-wing American Zionist constituencies has influenced what Obama believes he can and cannot say." This is the best we can expect from all the Presidential hopefuls?

How about another one? Huckabee? The Israel Factor ranking has him at 6, and a reletive unknown with his policies on Israel-Palestine. Well, look no further as he is now getting in bed with the rest of the cronies for Israel. Philip Weiss shows an exchange he had with Wolf Blitzer "in which he calls for an Israeli state in all of Mandatory Palestine, from the Jordan to the sea, and there's enough room for the Arabs in Arab lands." Sounds more like the resigned Lieberman rather than a Presidential hopeful.

What about Clinton? She supports the embassy being moved to Jerusalem. That's a no-brainer.

This, my friend, is the major indicator of how things will be in the future. It is "the issue that dare not speaks its name". Here is Justin Elliott on Mother Jones:

"In nine of the 11 debates, the terms Israel, Palestinians, and Gaza were either never uttered or were mentioned once or twice peripherally. For instance, Joe Biden said at the October 30 NBC debate that Pakistan has missiles that can reach Israel. The two exceptions were the November 15 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, where Bill Richardson, unprompted, briefly outlined his ideas for a two-state solution, and the December 4 Democratic radio debate on NPR, in which moderator Robert Siegel posed the single question about Israel of the past 11 debates. Unfortunately, the query was effectively avoided. Excerpt of Edwards and Obama dodging, after the jump.

"When we do things that policymakers in
Washington may think are rational, like very strong support of Israel, that also
upsets a lot of those 1 billion Muslims you've described. How would you, Senator
Edwards ... answer the complaint that the U.S., in its support of Israel, is so
pro-Israeli, it can't be an evenhanded, honest broker of matters and is

Edwards proceeds to ignore the question, makes a point about Ahmadinejad and says to improve relations with Muslims we must "help make education available to fight global poverty." He makes no mention of Israel/Palestine. Siegel then turns to Obama. The senator says we need to close Guantanamo and talk not just to our friends but to our enemies. He, like Edwards, doesn't touch the Israel issue. To their credit, Dodd and Kucinich do a much better job at engaging.

So in the past 11 debates the grand total of references to the Gaza Strip is zero. Considering that Israel is our biggest ally in the Middle East and the biggest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, isn't it about time the candidates were asked what they think of our ally's destructive policies in Gaza? Will any moderator have the courage to pose the question?"

Effectively removed has been Gaza, and it's slowly being that apartheid of the West Bank is the normalisation of relations. The Palestinian state is the one determined by Israel, not by both countries. Deal with it. The big talk is just alot of bark; the politicians have no bite. And because of the stranglehold that percepetions of Israel/Palestine and its pro-Israel henchman has on Washington's balls, we're doomed to see more recycled images for another four years. How much longer can we suffer such horrific stories of occupation? How much longer can the Palestinians live as refugees with no home and no country? How much longer can we tolerate those who fund settlements and give support to what is a major bloc towards justice? How long are we going to stay silent while Palestinians are being pushed over the edge of destitution? How many more lives will it take until we say enough is enough?

This is the burning issue: the Israel Factor is one that determines policies, and one who determines a candidate's job or status. They can differ on so many issues domestically, or even on Iraq, but we can always count on one thing: they will always play favourites to the Jewish state. The lessons of the past cannot be forgotten. Take them on at your own perile.

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