January 2013 Archives

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Australia is hardly a key player in the struggle for Palestinian freedom and dignity, and yet the battle to silence proponents of the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ campaign against the government of Israel (BDS) is as virulent here as anywhere in the world!

As Dr Lynch of Sydney University discovered, invoking the BDS opens a Pandora’s box of media fury, and images of the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism are invoked in order to demonize BDS proponents! It will be a happy day when the BDS campaign is assessed on its own merits but I don’t see that happening any time soon!

Father Dave

Dr Jake Lynch

Dr Jake Lynch

source: www.onlineopinion.com…

BDS campaign questions academics’ courage

By Stuart Rees

At the end of last year, The Australian newspaper spent days deriding Dr. Jake Lynch, Director of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies whose governing Council supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the government of Israel. Consistent with his colleagues’ stance, Lynch refused to host an Israeli Professor, Don Avnon from Hebrew University, in his efforts to spend time at Sydney University examining civics teaching. Lynch’s principled refusal was positive about Avnon’s search but explained why he could not support the Israeli academic’s request.

This controversy raises two issues concerning professionals’ standards and responsibilities. The first concerns what passes for journalism. The second highlights the responsibilities of all academics in regard to human rights.

In attacking Dr. Lynch, journalists for The Australian demonised supporters of BDS and described the opponents of the campaign as full of sweetness and light. Such polarisation encouraged attacks from the blogosphere and from conservative politicians, such as Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop, whom the newspaper knew they could rely on to endorse any view that defended Israeli policies.

Instead of the attack technique, the journalists could have analysed the BDS campaign and the extent of its support across Europe, North America and Africa. They could have explained that the rationale behind the boycott of academic institutions involves the complicity of a nation in the occupation of Palestine, in the continued siege of Gaza, the stealing by settlers of Palestinian lands and the decades of containment in camps of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.

Complicity also involves privileged institutions, such as universities. However meritorious certain individual academics might be, the non-cooperation policy makes for no exceptions and some Israeli academics fully understand and accept that principle. To do otherwise is to pretend that Israel remains a normal country despite policies towards Palestinians . The BDS challenges claims about such normality.

That allegedly progressive Israeli academics are penalised by this boycott is part of the controversy. But the literature suggests that most Israeli academics are concerned with their own careers and turn a blind eye to the cruel policies of their State.

A more important point is that scholars such as Professor Avnon, work in privileged organisations, are free to travel and can enhance their prestige by attending other universities around the globe. By contrast, Palestinian academics and students have few resources, experience only containment and few chances to study overseas. The Israel High Court has even forbidden Gaza students from studying in West Bank universities.

In addition to the ‘ we always know’, ‘ we like to vilify’ techniques of some journalists from The Australian, questions also need to be raised about the responsibilities of Australian academics. It is misleading to perceive the controversy concerning Sydney University’s Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies as only about the supposed Lynch/ Avnon affair.

Many academics are interested in human rights, teach such a subject and even obtain human rights oriented research funds. But unless they make the link between theory and practice, they are, in the prophetic words of the American social scientist Robert Lynd, ‘Lecturing on navigation while the ship is going down.’

In the face of continuous human rights abuses affecting Palestinians, the time comes for citizens to find other ways to address these issues. The BDS movement provides one of the hopeful ‘other ways’.

For the rest of this article: www.onlineopinion.com…

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This is a startling article that just appeared in the New York Times!

I have nothing but respect for Sam Bahour (one of the authors) and so I take what he says seriously. It seemed to me that Mr Netanyahu’s plans for more settlements in the crucial ‘E1’ area between Gaza and the West Bank were the final nail in the coffin for the ‘two-state solution’, but if Sam and his co-author still hold out hope, who am I to question their wisdom? Further, they still believe that America has a role to play in re-starting negotiations!

The authors suggest that the sort of disillusionment people like myself feel is based on four assumptions:

In my words, these are:

  1. That the ideological differences between the two sides are irreconcilable.
  2. That demographic realities will force negotiations anyway, without need for foreign interference.
  3. That Abbas’ government is penniless and useless.
  4. That Obama’s hands are tied by the powerful US Zionist lobby.

The article responds to each of these assumptions but I confess that I remain unconvinced. Bahour and Avishai argue that the fervent ideology of Hamas is fueled by the frustration experienced by years of failed peace negotiations but this obviously doesn’t apply to the ideology of the settlers. And do either of the two sides trust America any more as a broker? I get the feeling that, for the Palestinians, they are looking more to their Arab neighbours now as potential intermediaries.

Father Dave

source: www.nytimes.com…

U.S. Inaction, Mideast Cataclysm? 

By BERNARD AVISHAI and SAM BAHOUR 

ISRAELIS go to the polls today in an election that will likely give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a third term; like the current one, Israel’s next governing coaltion will probably be heavily reliant on right-wingers and religious parties.

Even so, Mr. Obama’s second term could offer a pivotal opportunity to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In his first term, he backed away from the process, figuring that America could mediate only if the parties themselves wanted to make peace — and that new talks were unlikely to be productive.

This is a mistake. The greatest enemy to a two-state solution is the sheer pessimism on both sides. Unless President Obama uses his new mandate to show leadership, the region will have no place for moderates — or for America either.

The rationale for inaction rests on four related assumptions: that strident forces dominate because their ideologies do; that the status quo — demographic trends that would lead to the enfranchisement of occupied Palestinians, a “one-state solution” and the end of Israel as a Jewish democracy — will eventually force Israel to its senses; that the observer-state status secured by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations is empty because his West Bank government is broke, dysfunctional and lacking in broad support; and that given the strength of the Israeli lobby, Mr. Obama’s hands are tied.

These assumptions seem daunting, but they are misguided. First, while Hamas, the militant Islamists who control Gaza, and Israel’s ultra-rightists, who drive the settlement enterprise, are rising in popularity, the reason is not their ideologies, but young people’s despair over the occupation’s grinding violence.

Last month, a poll by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, based in Washington, found that two-thirds of Israelis would support a two-state deal, but that more than half of even left-of-center Israelis said Mr. Abbas could not reach binding decisions to end the conflict. The same month, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, in Ramallah, found that 52 percent of Palestinians favored a two-state resolution (a drop from three-quarters in 2006, before two Israeli clashes over Gaza). But two-thirds judged the chance of a fully functional Palestinian state in the next five years to be low or nonexistent. In short, moderates on both sides still want peace, but first they need hope.

Second, the status quo is not a path to a one-state solution, but to Bosnian-style ethnic cleansing, which could erupt as quickly as the Gaza fighting did last year and spread to Israeli Arab cities. Right-wing Israelis and Hamas leaders alike are pushing for a cataclysmic fight. Mr. Abbas, whose Fatah party controls the West Bank, has renounced violence, but without signs of a viable diplomatic path he cannot unify his people to support new talks. If his government falls apart, or if the more Palestinian territory is annexed (as right-wing Israeli want), or if the standoff in Gaza leads to an Israeli ground invasion, bloodshed and protests across the Arab world will be inevitable. Such chaos might also provoke missiles from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group based in Lebanon.

Third, the Palestinian state is not a Fatah-imposed fiction, but a path toward economic development, backed by international diplomacy and donations, that most Palestinians want to succeed. It has a $4 billion economy; an expanding network of entrepreneurs and professionals; and a banking system with about $8 billion in deposits. A robust private sector can develop if given a chance.

Fourth, American support need not only mean direct talks. The administration could promote investments in Palestinian education and civil society that do not undermine Israeli security. Mr. Obama could demand that Israel allow Palestinian businesses freer access to talent, suppliers and customers. He could also demand a West Bank-Gaza transportation corridor, to which Israel committed in the 1993 Oslo accords.

America is as much a player as a facilitator. The signal it sends helps determine whether the parties move toward war or peace. The White House, despite its frosty relationship with Mr. Netanyahu, hasn’t set itself up as a worthy mediator by opposing Palestinian membership in the United Nations and vetoing condemnations of settlements.

In nominating Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon, Mr. Obama rightly ignored attacks by “pro-Israel” (really pro-Netanyahu) groups. He should appoint a Middle East negotiator trusted by all sides — say, Bill Clinton or Colin L. Powell. He should lead, not thwart, European attempts to make a deal. He has stated that the settlements will lead to Israel’s global isolation; he should make clear that they endanger American interests, too.

Washington has crucial leverage, though this won’t last forever. When it weighs in, it becomes a preoccupying political fact for both sides. If it continues to stand back, hopelessness will win.

Bernard Avishai is an Israeli-American writer in Jerusalem. Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, the West Bank

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This article from Ha’aretz doesn’t tell us much.  The two concluding sentences are vague.  The Hagel confirmation hearings are scheduled for January 31.  

Father Roy

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel

 source: www.haaretz.com…

Hagel meets with top Jewish American leaders

A statement issued by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations described the meeting as ‘an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion.’

Top Jewish organizational leaders met with Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s defense secretary nominee, and Vice President Joe Biden.

A four-sentence statement Monday issued by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations described the Jan. 18 meeting in Washington as “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion of key issues of importance to all of us.”

The statement, which also noted the presence at the meeting of the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, did not further elaborate.

The meeting came days after Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, conferred with top Jewish Democrats and apologized for a 2006 comment in which he described the “Jewish lobby” as “intimidating” and reassured them that despite his past skepticism of some sanctions on Iran and wariness of a military strike to keep it from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he was now on board with President Obama’s postures on those issues.

Hagel, in those conversations with Jewish Democrats, also said he was a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship although he did not withdraw past criticisms of Israel.

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America, it seems, is ever more frequently taking the back-seat in Middle-East peace negotiations. The Arab League are taking things in hand, and now the Patriarch of Moscow has entered the fray!

Certainly Russia has been playing a key role in the Syrian crisis – preventing the West from formally sending in troops to topple Assad. Perhaps the Russian church can play a role in helping to mitigate further human-rights abuses?

Father Dave

P.S. It is worth noting from the report below that it has been since the West ‘liberated’ Iraq that 300,000 Christians have had to flee persecution there.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

source: www.globalresearch.ca/patriarch-kirill-worried-by-plight-of-christians-from-libya-and-egypt-to-syria/5319956…

Sectarian Violence and the Plight of Christians in Libya, Palestine, Egypt and Syria: Moscow Patriarch

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill said he was concerned by the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East during a meeting with the Lebanese President Michel Sulayman on Monday.

“We see Christians fleeing Middle Eastern countries, and we consider it a threat to peace and security, especially a threat to inter-religious peace in Lebanon and other states,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said.

Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians among all Middle Eastern nations, though no official figures have been available since the last census in 1926. Many Syrian Christians, who fled the ongoing civil conflict in the country, have settled in Lebanese border towns.

“I would like to assure you that the Russian Orthodox Church is ready to assist in solving the complicated issues that we have just discussed,” the patriarch said.

In the early 20th century, about 20 percent of the Middle East population were Christians, but the figure has now dwindled to around five percent.

According to Terry Waite, a Church of England envoy and a hostage negotiator in Lebanon, many Christians were forced to flee their homes after the Arab Spring, including in Syria, Egypt and Libya. The Christian population is also dwindling in the Palestinian Territories, while in Iraq over 300,000 Christians have fled persecution since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

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What follows is an excerpt from a speech made by Chas Freeman given at the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) forum on U.S. Grand Strategy.

Freeman is an American diplomat with a remarkably varied career. Amongst other things he was the United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992, where he dealt with issues related to the Persian Gulf War. He is also a past president of the Middle East Policy Council.

The speech was reprinted in full on the Lobe Log.

Charles W. Freeman

Charles W. Freeman

source: www.lobelog.com…

Grand Waffle in the Middle East — By Chas Freeman

Over the past half century or so the United States has pursued two main but disconnected objectives in West Asia and North Africa: on the one hand, Americans have sought strategic and economic advantage in the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, and Egypt; on the other, support for the consolidation of the Jewish settler state in Palestine.  These two objectives of U.S. policy in the Middle East have consistently taken precedence over the frequently professed American preference for democracy.

These objectives are politically contradictory.  They also draw their rationales from distinct moral universes.  U.S. relations with the Arab countries and Iran have been grounded almost entirely in unsentimental calculations of interest.  The American relationship with Israel, by contrast, has rested almost entirely on religious and emotional bonds.  This disconnect has precluded any grand strategy.

Rather than seek an integrated policy framework, America has balanced the contradictions between the imperatives of its domestic politics and its interests.  For many years, Washington succeeded in having its waffle in the Middle East and eating it too – avoiding having to choose between competing objectives.  With wiser U.S. policies and more judicious responses to them by Arabs and Israelis, Arab-Israeli reconciliation might by now have obviated the ultimate necessity for America to prioritize its purposes in the region.  But the situation has evolved to the point that choice is becoming almost impossible to avoid.The Middle East matters.  It is where Africa, Asia, and Europe converge.  In addition to harboring the greater part of the world’s conventionally recoverable energy supplies, it is a key passageway between Asia and Europe.  No nation can hope to project its power throughout the globe without access to and through the Middle East.  Nor can any ignore the role of the Persian Gulf countries in fueling the world’s armed forces, powering its economies, and setting its energy prices.  This is why the United States has acted consistently to maintain a position of preeminent influence in the Middle East and to deny to any strategically hostile nation or coalition of nations the opportunity to contest its politico-military dominance of the region.The American pursuit of access, transit, and strategic denial has made the building of strategic partnerships with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt a major focus of U.S.  policy.  The partnership with Iran broke down over three decades ago.  It has been succeeded by antagonism, low-intensity conflict, and the near constant threat of war.  The U.S. relationships with Egypt and Saudi Arabia are now evolving in uncertain directions.  Arab governments have learned the hard way that they must defer to public opinion.  This opinion is increasingly Islamist.  Meanwhile, popular antipathies to the widening American war on Islamism are deepening.  These factors alone make it unlikely that relations with the United States can retain their centrality for Cairo and Riyadh much longer.

The definitive failure of the decades-long American-sponsored “peace process” between Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs adds greatly to the uncertainty.  Whether it yielded peace or not, the “peace process” made the United States the apparently indispensable partner for both Israel and the Arabs.  It served dual political purposes.  It enabled Arab governments to persuade their publics that maintaining good relations with the United States did not imply selling out Arab or Islamic  interests in Palestine, and it supported the U.S. strategic objective of achieving acceptance for a Jewish state by the other states and peoples of the Middle East.  Washington’s abandonment of this diplomacy was a boon to Israeli territorial expansion but a disaster for American influence in the region, including in Israel.

Over the years, America protected Israel from international rebuke and punishment.  Its stated purpose was the preservation of prospects for a negotiated “two-state solution” that could bring security and peace to Israelis and Palestinians alike.  A decade ago, every member of both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation endorsed this objective and pledged normalization with Israel if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations succeeded.  In response, Israel spun out its talks with the Palestinians while working hard to preclude their self-determination.  It has now succeeded in doing so.

There has been no American-led peace process worthy of the name for nearly two decades.  There is no prospect of such a process resuming.  No one in the international community now accepts the pretense of a “peace process” as an excuse for American protection of Israel.  Eleven years on, the Arab and Islamic peace offer has exceeded its shelf life.  On the Israel-Palestine issue, American diplomacy has been running on fumes for some time.  It is now totally out of gas and universally perceived to be going nowhere.

Sadly, barring fundamental changes in Israeli politics, policies, and behavior, the longstanding American strategic objective of achieving acceptance for the state of Israel to stabilize the region where British colonialism and Jewish nationalism implanted it is now infeasible.  In practice, the United States has abandoned the effort.  U.S. policy currently consists of ad hoc actions to fortify Israel against Palestinian resistance and military threats from its neighbors, while shielding it from increasingly adverse international reaction to its worsening deportment.  In essence, the United States now has no objective with respect to Israel beyond sheltering it from the need to deal with the unpalatable realities its own choices have created.

The key to regional acknowledgment of Israel as a legitimate part of the Middle East was the “two-state solution.”  The Camp David accords laid out a program for Palestinian self-determination and Israeli withdrawal from the territories it had seized and occupied in 1967.  Israel has had more than forty-five years to trade land for peace, implementing its Camp David commitments and complying with international law.  It has consistently demonstrated that it craves land more than peace, international reputation, good will, or legitimacy.  As a result, Israel remains isolated from its neighbors, with no prospect of reversing this.  It is now rapidly forfeiting international acceptability.  There is nothing the United States can do to cure either situation despite the adverse consequences of both for American standing in the region and the world.

Read the rest of Freeman’s speech here: www.lobelog.com…