Sunday, April 6, 2008

Calling a Spade a Spade

We have to be honest with ourselves here and let go of all the hyperbole that seems to be enmeshed when we talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It's difficult to separate our emotional ties to the region whether you are Jewish or an Arab because we have been told over and over that the bitter battle between Israel and Palestine is what drives many of enmities towards the Western nations and the attitudes that fuels the terrorism and "fundamentalism" that get bracketed into the absurd "clash of civilisations" that we find ourselves struggling with in our post-Soviet Union stateground. But in order for us to try to move ahead into anything meaningful, sometimes we do have to detach what we feel is so important because it may hinder what is so appallingly obvious to one who is less tied to the two parties to the conflict. We have so many casting a huge role in the US who have very strong affiliations with the Israeli front that it is very hard to picture them ever having a pragmatic approach as relates to what could benefit both the Israelis and the Palestinians: because if we believe that we can finally put an end to this, both sides have to feel that justice has prevailed in any negotiated solution, and that also means talking about the topics that matter to the Palestinians (East Jerusalem, settlements, the wall, checkpoints, water, etc.) because whether Israelis and its supporters like it or not, their security is intertwined with the security of the Palestinians.

Now where we are at, we are currently a third of a year of post-Annapolis, and still we are not only stuck at another impasse, we are seeing two steps backwards every time we think that we are going forward. It's a terrible affliction that we are inured with as we have come to expect this sort of backdrop of failed solutions and talks when these two parties come to the table to speak to one another (with the US as the mediator). And unfortunately, each time we rerun this episode, more violence and more deaths are inevitable, and the aftermath could prove more disastrous than the last intifada that saw Sharon take an iron fist approach to the security situation. Only over a month ago, we saw some horrific images coming from the Gaza Strip as Israel attempted to strong-arm their way to finally put an end to rockets being fired into Israeli proper, only to see more fatalities and more Israelis dead. During the same week of escalation, we witnessed a shooting spree from a Palestinian who was a citizen of Israel. The reprisal from the fanatics have been very elementary as they raided the offender's family's house and took their rage out on them. We have read reports in Bethlehem that took out four Palestinians in "execution style" can be viewed as symptoms that lead to a bigger backlash against each other, with more and more dead proving even more catastrophic for the Palestinians considering the disparity we have seen in the numbers over the decades.

But what I'd like to revert back to is that this is all nothing new. We have been through this road before and we have had warnings from the intellectuals, the negotiators and the academics that this is the path that we are taking when we do not pressure the bigger party to concede something tangible so they can show they are serious about their security and peace. Yes, I'm talking about pressuring Israel, and to be frank, we all know that if they wanted a concrete peace proposal to work out that they would have done so already. They have all the power here and it is they who needs to show that they are willing to work with the weaker opposition who have been trying to show the world that they have the right to self-determination also. Autonomy has been dealt around rather passively with total disregard for international law and yet we are still at the same stumbling bloc when it comes to the Palestinians affirmation for their right to determine their own fate. Naturally I will hear the typical response that the PA has done little to nothing to curb terrorism from the West Bank and Gaza. But let's not be myopic here: it is quite difficult to effectively curtail every terrorist attack. Washington and Tel Aviv, will all their might and intelligence at their disposal are still struggling with it. Iraq is a haven of terrorism; Afghanistan is run by warlords and yet the US can not "pacify" the insurgencies. Colombia is equipped with an exorbitant military to fight the FARC and yet they do not make any ground in silencing the guerrillas. Now, you have these nations who trade mightily with their beefed up military budget and they are unable to quell terrorism in Iraq, the West Bank and Colombia; you expect the Palestinians who have little to nothing in their police force to police their own people and tell them that they have no reason to fight back and stop this nonsense of martyrdom because it only digs a deeper hole for the Palestinians? I highly doubt that. Let's be sensible about this: Jimmy Carter stated it in his book Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid that you can never guarantee total security. Crimes will happen and under an occupation, it is practically mandatory that a resistance will occur. What haven't we learned from the past in places like Algeria, India, Northern Ireland and Iraq?

Right now, Israel has no incentive to strive for a peace with the Palestinians. We know that they do not want to give up any part of Jerusalem, so why cave in and lose East Jerusalem so more Palestinians can inhabit the capital? Ehud Olmert has not changed his spots today from when he was the mayor of Jerusalem: he continues to approve more and more construction around the settlements in "Greater Jerusalem" and plans to never negotiate over the ancient city. We also know that they do not want to give up any part of the West Bank that they deem worthy, hence why they continue to litter it with more Israeli settlers and surround Hebron with more zealouts to crowd out the Palestinians. There is no reason why they should concede anything when they can just populate the hills with more Jews and don't give a shit about international law or UN Resolutions. They are seeing a maximalist dream here that not even Ben-Gurion was willing to undertake when Israel won the Six-Day War: they are realising the Eretz Israel on Judea and Sumaria. There is no West Bank for these people. There is no Palestinian for these people. There is no Palestine. As far as they are concerned, it is only meant for the Jews and without any state to oppose this, what is going to stop them from doing what they feel is God's plan?

It's tough to separate what you feel is your rightful duty to your religion and to what the law says you must obey: there is no separation for most of these believers and they have no desire to ever give up the Golan and Judea and Sumaria. They already comprised on Jordan and the Gaza Strip (well, some of them about Gaza anyways) so they have already comprised on their part, why aren't the Palestinians doing their part by just going to Jordan which is their "Palestinian" state? What could make them see it this way? Sure, they were the indigenous people but why can't they just leave for the greater good of the cosmpolitan state in the Middle East? They had no ties to the land and were only savages and nomads; Israelites cultivated the desert and made it into the paradise we now see.

Of course it is preposterous to make a Palestinian believe that they have no right to the land and the only future they have to look forward to is the only that sees them removed from their homes for a Jew to live in. We go back and forth on this and there are many books that have dealt with these issues about who has the right to live here and which truth trumps the other: but that misses the point entirely as both have seen themselves are the rightful owner of this historic piece of land. Both will have to live with each other or else face oblivion as they will surely attempt to destroy one another in order to gain total control of the land. Tony Karon said it earlier that the Israelis "ignored the elephant in the room: the Palestinians." And yes, the Palestinians to lesser extent ignore the Israelis' desire to live on their biblical land. Both were very guilty of ignoring the case of the other and now we are stuck on rivaling nationalisms. It's important for everyone to realise that we have come sixty years since the birth of Israel, and since then there has been a rise in Palestinian nationalism. Calling them a non-entity only figures in colonialism and ignorance of pragmatism. Whether or not Arabs called themselves Palestinian previous to Israel's existence is a non-starter: they call themselves that now just as Israelis are now Israelis and not Sephardic or Ashkenazi Jews. It's time to accept that they want to live in this part of the world and not a neighbouring state or in a refugee camp.

But why haven't they accepted it? Some simply choose to believe that they are the chosen ones and it is hard to remove the ideology that motors so many in the region. But luckily they are on the fringes; most do want to see some kind of peace and settlement over the whole land issue. So why still nothing after Annapolis?

Because Israel has no real consequence for doing what they do best: disregard international law and rule with impugnity. The occupation may be costly, but it is a cost they are willing to pay for their constituents who want the whole of the land. Israel has no constitution for the sole purpose of discriminating against non-Jews in their country. It has no final borders so which Israel is Hamas or the Palestinians meant to recognise? It is unwilling to do anything under the Road Map or Annapolis or Oslo in the past or Camp David or any of these bogus peace talks that have an industry of their own. There's alot of money to be had over all of this and there is plenty of time for Israel to sit tight and do nothing over Condoleezza's minor threats over their "roadblocks" and "checkpoints". We get 50 roadblocks removed when there is over 550 checkpoints in the West Bank: some concession. We get more approved housing in occupied land that is owned by Palestinians and this is how you act when you are serious about having a peace with your neighbour? You bulldoze their houses and build your own over its ruins and steal their water for your swimming pools. That's great relations between two parties negotiating a peace, no? You release prisoners who were at the end of their term and yet you continue to imprison 11000 Palestinians who go without trial and who have been documented to have been tortured. Wow, some concession. What else can you show that you are serious about peace? Bomb them? Shoot them in the back of their heads? Arrest your own citizens when they protest against your violations of the Geneva Convention? You do all of this for the love of the land, correct?

Now you do not want to get cynical but nothing motivates Israel to ever concede anything that they do not want to. Militarism is a good lark these days and without an occupation to take care of, what else would you spend all those tax dollars at (American tax dollars)? It would be hard to find a reason for existence when your whole bane of existence has been aggression and deterrence against your neighbours attacking you. It would be hard to justify that nuclear arsenal and that hearty budget of your's when all you do is police your own citizens (which might be needed if you read Bernard Avishai's warning of an internal intifada).

Without a strong nation to stop Israel, they will only do what they have done in their sixty years of existence: whatever they want. They know they have strong backing in the US. What is that joke again:

"Why doesn't Israel want to be the 51st state of the US? Then it will only have 2 senators to speak for them."

The senate is stuffed with money from the Lobby and they know who pays their salaries. You might think it is our citizens but they know who has the power to fund their campaign. Obama knows how badly it can feel when you say things that they do not agree with. And the list of those who have fallen because they said something of a nature that might not be so pro-Israel is long, one that even took the scalp of Bush's father. The EU has the power to turn the tide but two of their leaders have expressed so much concern for Israel's security that it is hard to see where this leverage for the Palestinians will be. Costa Rica? Ecuador? Not exactly the powerhouses that can shape foreign policy. Israel can do what it pleases: thumb its nose over the UN, abuse US aid whenever it feels the need to do so and act like a rogue state. What country can bomb a US ship and get away with it? What country can have supporters of the 9/11 attack and have no investigation over it? What country can have two high profile AIPAC members be indicted over espionage against an ally and be buried in the back pages of the press and independent websites? What country can continue to occupy a people, subjugate it with walls, checkpoints, barriers, blockades, separate road systems, torture them, kill their children, demonise them as terrorists and gets international sanction for it?

You betcha: it's Israel. And who is going to try to stop them from doing all of this to the Palestinians, to the Syrians, to the Lebanese? Right now we are still unready for any change because no Western nation is going to stand up against Israel who has very powerful supporters in most Western states. In Canada, the investigation over the death of a Canadian military personnel during the Lebanon War in 06 is still inconclusive. Yet the Prime Minister still does not want anything to do with it and even asks why Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener was even in the area when he was there for UNIFIL, part of a peacekeeper unit. Harper had no concern for his own citizen and wanted to exonerate Israel from the blame of Hess-von Kruedener's death. How backward do we have it when Israel kills your own citizens and you want to askew the truth into something that would avoid Israel being a bad guy?

Tony Blair has been quoted that 70 percent of the violence towards the West can be attributed to the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict. With such a huge stake in the matter, you would think that most Western nations have a genuine reason to back a proposal that would be acceptable to all parties (as close as we can get to one anyway) but yet we do not have that. You would think that they have no desire for a safer world at all. We know that that is not true: they just want a world where they can have their cake and eat it too. Most statesman are like that, no? Israel is no different. They want what they believe is rightfully their's and they want it with security too. They are willing to compromise the latter in order to achieve the former and they have seen no real price to pay for such an ideology. The Palestinians have their resistance movements that aims to make Israel pay for the occupation but that is merely a nuisance that they just can't put down. It's been forty one years of occupation, they can wait another forty one until the world realises that this policy is bankrupt and it's detrimental to Israel's democracy and security.

We do learn from history and this occupation will not last. It would be better for everyone to remove their ties to the region and take a look at the bigger picture here and say that enough is enough and make both parties sit down and be serious about a solution. That means bringing Israel in and making them concede something as well as making the Palestinians concede something too. If not then the bloodening will widen and we may see more horrific episodes that sees not only Israelis and Palestinians dying but other internationals who want to see peace happen within their lifetime. But this can only happen if Israel is being made to pay a price for their continued oppression. Without it, they will be free to obtain a maximalist view of the conflict.

Note: I cited an article by Henry Siegman published in the London Review of Books. It is a very informative piece that is based on three books regarding the strive for settlements and making fait accompli on the West Bank. Siegman has no qualms about who to blame on the accelerating drive for settlements even if both the books he reviews seem to exculpate Israel's elite from the policy of colonising Palestinian land. Siegman writes:

"These books give the lie to the carefully cultivated narrative that has sustained the occupation. According to that narrative, the government of Israel offered peace to the Palestinians and to its Arab neighbours in the aftermath of the war of 1967 if they would agree to recognise the Jewish state... the Arab world responded with ‘the three “no”s of Khartoum’... Israel no choice but to continue to occupy Palestinian lands [for security reasons (JA)].

The story is a lie. Israel’s military and political leaders never had any intention of returning the West Bank and Gaza to their Arab residents. The cabinet’s offer to withdraw from Arab land was addressed specifically to Egypt and Syria, not to Jordan or the Palestinians in the territories. The cabinet’s formal resolution to return the Sinai and the Golan in June 1967 said nothing about the West Bank, and referred to Gaza as ‘fully within the territory of the state of Israel’.

The decision to retain control of the territories was taken days after the end of the 1967 war, and was not a response to Palestinian terrorism, or even to Palestinian rejection of Israel’s legitimacy. Zertal and Eldar cite a report by Mossad officials, prepared at the request of the IDF’s intelligence division and presented to the IDF on 14 June 1967, which found that ‘the vast majority of West Bank leaders, including the most extreme among them, are prepared at this time to reach a permanent peace agreement’ on the basis of ‘an independent existence of Palestine’ without an army. The report was marked top secret, and buried."

I do not wish to see the great work of Gorenberg and Eldar to be diminished as they have been priceless in their journalism about Israel's settlement program but I have read Gorenberg's book and found that it did little to blame the policy on Israel's leaders and basically said it was an anarchist movement that moved these settlers into doing what they do. That is preposterous as they have had state approval since the beginning and even some of Gorenberg's writing state it so. Siegman also sees this and writes it as straightforward as he sees it, calling a spade a spade.

There is no security reason for the settlements:

"[The] overwhelming majority of them actually created new security problems, if only because vast military and intelligence resources had to be diverted to their defence. The settlements have also enraged the Palestinians, whose land has been stolen to make room for them – this, too, has done nothing to increase Israel’s security."

In fact, coupled with a nice post by Dan Fleshler at his blog, that even checkpoints are unnecessary from a security point of view. As Fleshler says,

"the VAST MAJORITY OF [checkpoints] WHICH ARE THERE TO MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR ISRAELI SETTLERS, and have nothing to do with protecting anyone in Israel proper."

This is how worthy these settlements are to Israel: they want to pay the price to keep this enterprise alive and kicking and even screaming and killing. Siegman quotes a member of Ta'ayush from his book Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine David Shulman, who wrote:

"many destructive individuals have found a haven, complete with ideological legitimation, within the settlement enterprise. Here, in places like Chavat Maon, Itamar, Tapuach and Hebron, they have, in effect, unfettered freedom to terrorise the local Palestinian population; to attack, shoot, injure, sometimes kill – all in the name of the alleged sanctity of the land and of the Jews’ exclusive right to it."

Without any pressure from its main backer the US, or even any economic consequence from its main trader the EU, we are left with this cycle of non-starters and more land theft by these "hilltop youths" that steal more Palestinian land. They want to be seen as pioneers when they are really helping erase another people from this world.

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