Pope Francis visiting Ramallah – now that would be a step in the right direction, and a far more promising development for Palestine than any number of farcical peace talks.
The reality is that the Israeli government is entirely comfortable with the status quo. Netanyahu has no reason to seriously consider any state for the Palestinian people. Keeping up appearances as a peace maker is important of course, but nothing substantial is going to happen until real pressure is placed on the Israeli government from outside of Israel’s borders, and the Pope is in precisely the right position to exert the necessary leverage!
Of course the Vatican has a very poor history when it comes to siding with the oppressed and the vulnerable. Even so, all he early indicators suggest that this new Pope may be the change that the church has been waiting for!
Who knows? If Pope Francis can get as far as Ramallah, perhaps he’ll venture into Gaza?!
Palestinian president hopes to use pen from pope to sign peace treaty
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a fancy pen as a gift, and Abbas told the pope, “I hope to sign the peace agreement with Israel with this pen.”
Pope Francis responded with his hope that the agreement would be reached “soon, soon.”
The exchange took place Oct. 17 in the papal library after the pope and Palestinian president had spent almost half an hour meeting privately.
Abbas had given the pope a Bible and a framed scene of Bethlehem, West Bank. The pope gave Abbas a framed scene of the Vatican along with the pen, “because you obviously have many things to sign,” which is when Abbas spoke about his hopes to sign a peace treaty.
A Vatican statement about Abbas’ meeting with the pope and a later meeting with the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, said, “The reinstatement of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” was a topic in both conversations.
“The parties expressed their hope that this process may bear fruit and enable a just and lasting solution to be found to the conflict,” it said. “Hope was expressed that the parties to the conflict will make courageous and determined decisions in order to promote peace” and that the international community would support their efforts. The U.S.-mediated talks began in July.
The Vatican statement did not mention Pope Francis’ possible trip to the Holy Land, although when Abbas greeted Archbishop Mamberti he told him that he had invited the pope to visit. Abbas’ delegation also included the mayor of Bethlehem, which likely would be on the itinerary of a papal trip.
In April, Israeli President Shimon Peres also invited the pope, and Israeli media have been reporting that a papal visit is expected in the spring. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Oct. 16 that the prime minister would meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome Oct. 23 and meet the pope during the same trip.
The Vatican statement on Abbas’ meetings said the pope and Palestinian leader also discussed the ongoing war in Syria and expressed their hopes that “dialogue and reconciliation may supplant the logic of violence as soon as possible.”
The two also discussed the work underway on a Vatican-Palestinian agreement regulating “several essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” as well as the situation of Christian communities in the Palestinian territories and the contributions Christians make to society throughout the Middle East.
if you can’t view this video, click here.
Sharmine Narwani is no fool and if she says that Israel will be the target of a Syrian retaliatory strike, I believe her.
It makes me sick to the stomach. That’s not because I consider Israel an innocent party in the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, the ‘rock solid evidence’ that the US claims to have of Assad’s culpability in the chemical weapons attack probably comes from Israel, and the Israeli government has provoked Syria repeatedly this year with acts of aggression. It sickens me simply because this will inevitably lead to massive escalation of the conflict – to a third world war and untold human suffering.
As someone who is considering going to Damascus as a human shield, I appreciate that my chances of surviving the American assault are not great, but my chances of surviving an Israeli assault are close to zero.
Yes, Syria and Hezbollah Will Hit Israel if US Strikes
By Sharmine Narwani
Informed insiders have confirmed that Syria and Hezbollah plan to retaliate against Israel in the event of an American-led military attack on Syria. Says one: “if even one US missile hits Syria, we will take this battle to Israel.”
An official who spoke to me on the condition that neither his name or affiliation is published, says the decision to retaliate against Israel “has been taken at the highest levels within the Syrian state and Hezbollah.”
Why attack Israel after a US strike?
“Israel has been itching for a fight since their 2006 defeat by Hezbollah,” explains an observer close to the Lebanese resistance group. “They have led this campaign to draw the US into a confrontation with Syria because they are worried about being left alone in the region to face Iran. This has become an existential issue for them and they are now ‘leading’ from behind America’s skirts.”
The “Resistance Axis” which consists of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and a smattering of other groups, has long viewed attacks on one of their members as an effort to target them all.
And Israeli aggression against this axis reached a new high in 2013, with missile strikes and airstrikes unseen for many years in the Levant.
Israel has reportedly conducted at least three separate, high profile missile strikes against Syria this year, effectively ending a 40-year ceasefire between the neighboring states. The last overt violation of this uneasy truce was in 2007 when the Jewish state destroyed an alleged nuclear site inside Syria.
Then two weeks ago, Israel launched its first airstrike in Lebanon since the 2006 war, bombing a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC) target in an entirely unprovoked attack. Earlier, four rockets had been launched into Israel from Lebanese territory, but an unrelated Al Qaeda-linked group took credit for that incident.
When asked whether Syrian allies Russia and Iran would participate in retaliatory strikes against Israel or other targets, the official indicated that both countries would back these efforts, but provided no information on whether this support would include direct military engagement.
The Russians have stated on several occasions that they will not participate in a military confrontation over Syrian strikes. Iran has not offered up any specifics, but various statements from key officials appear to confirm that strikes against Syria will result in a larger regional battle.
On Tuesday during an official visit to Lebanon, Iranian parliamentarian and Chairman of the (Majlis) Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi told reporters: “The first party that will be most affected by an aggression on Syria is the Zionist entity.”
His comments follow a steady stream of warnings by senior Iranian officials, which have escalated in tenor as western threats to attack Syria have intensified.
“The US imagination about limited military intervention in Syria is merely an illusion, as reactions will be coming from beyond Syria’s borders,” said the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari last Saturday.
Even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stepped into the fray, warning the US and its allies: “starting this fire will be like a spark in a large store of gunpowder, with unclear and unspecified outcomes and consequences”.
Concurrent with these warnings, both Iran and Russia have been urging the West to avoid further confrontation and return to the negotiating table to resolve Syria’s 29-month conflict. But instead, western officials and diplomats in the Mideast have spent the past few weeks hitting up their regional sources for information on how Syria’s allies will react to a strike.
An unusual visit to Tehran by UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman (a former senior US State Department official) was one such “feeler.”
According to several media outlets, the Iranians had a singular response to Feltman’s efforts to gauge their reaction to a US strike: if you are serious about resolving the Syrian crisis, you must first go to Damascus, and follow that by launching negotiations in Geneva.
Gunning for a fight
While Israel plays heavily in the background, by turns provoking and encouraging western military intervention in Syria, it publically denies any role in this business.
Just this week, Israeli President Shimon Peres attempted to distance the Jewish state from events in Syria by insisting: “It is not for Israel to decide on Syria, we are in a unique position, for varying reasons there is a consensus against Israeli involvement. We did not create the Syrian situation.”
He’s right about one thing. Any visible Israeli military intervention in Syria will likely raise the collective ire of Arabs throughout the region. But Peres is being disingenuous in suggesting that Israel hasn’t played a pivotal role in dragging the region to the brink of a dangerous confrontation.
In fact, since its establishment as a state, Israel has possibly never been more motivated to force a military confrontation in the Mideast:
The Arab uprisings, a shift in the global balance of power, increased isolation and the waning influence of Israel’s superpower US ally have all served to remind Israel that it stands increasingly alone in the Mideast in confronting its longtime adversaries – Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and various Palestinian resistance groups.
Before a US exit from the region becomes patently clear to one and all, Israel needs to disarm its foes – and it needs the Americans to do that. For years, the Israeli establishment has regularly threatened military strikes against Iran, in most part attempting to inextricably embroil Washington in this military venture.
Forcing ‘red line’ narratives into western political discourse – whether it be the use of chemical weapons in Syria or a civilian nuclear program in Iran – has become a clever way to commit allies to an Israeli military agenda.
When US President Barack Obama last week appeared to suddenly revise his plans to launch a strike on Syria by deferring the decision to Congress, Israel went into overdrive:
Two Israeli missiles were launched off the Syrian coast in the Mediterranean Sea to raise temperatures again. Whether this was meant to be veiled threat, a provocation, or an attempt to pin the deed on Syrians is unclear. What is certain is this: Russian early radar systems caught the activity and publicized it quickly to ward off misunderstandings that might trigger counter-strikes.
This quick reaction forced Israel – under US cover – to acknowledge it had participated in unannounced ballistic missile tests. The Iranians reacted very skeptically. Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, said the missiles were “a provocative incident” conveniently executed as western nations withdrew from plans to attack Syria, and called Israel “the region’s warmonger.” He further charged: “If the Russians had not traced the missiles and their origin, a Zionist liar would have alleged that they belonged to Syria in a bid to pave the way for breaking out a war in the region.
On an entirely different front, Israel has been amassing its considerable army of US supporters and lobbyists to ensure a compliant Congressional vote on strikes against Syria.
All its heavy hitters have now stepped up to push US lawmakers into backing military intervention, even though polls continue to show the majority of Americans rejecting strikes.
The Israeli lobbying effort has been particularly critical to ensure there is bipartisan consensus and that Obama’s Republican opponents join the bandwagon. To ensure this, the scope of the “surgical strikes” had to be expanded for GOP members opposed to a cursory punitive strike against Syrian government interests.
Key Republicans have since piled on, and already there are soundings of ‘mission creep.’ Obama told lawmakers on Tuesday that his plan “also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region.”
This suddenly sounds remarkably like President George W. Bush’s plans to remake the Middle East. And it is everything Syria and its allies have both feared and suspected from the start.
Existential for you, existential for me
If ever there was a real ‘red line’ in the region, this is it. Any “limited” or “broad” military intervention in Syria is simply unacceptable to Syria, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, China and a whole host of other nations that want to turn the page on US hegemonic aspirations in the region and beyond.
Washington has miscalculated in thinking that an attack in any shape or form would be palatable to its quite incredulous adversaries. They are all intimately familiar with the slippery slope of American interventionism and its myriad unintended consequences.
Israel, in particular, appears to be victim to a false sense of security. Analysts and commentators there seem to think that the lack of a Syrian military response to recent Israeli missile strikes is a trend likely to continue. Or that Hezbollah and Iran would have no ‘grounds’ to climb aboard a counterattack if Syria were attacked.
But the fact is that, to date, no member of the Resistance Axis has faced a collective western-Israeli-GCC effort to strike a blow at their core. This promised US-plus-allies strike against Syria makes their calculation aneasy one: there is nowhere to go but headfirst into the fracas.
As Israel warplanes pounded Lebanon during the 2006 war, then-US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice got one thing right. Refusing to call for a ceasefire, Rice explained that battle was sometimes necessary to break free of the status quo and emerge with a new regional order. The carnage, in short, was simply “the birth pangs of a New Middle East” – something to endure in order to reach a desired outcome.
But in 2006, conditions were not yet ripe for an all-out confrontation on multiple fronts. Today’s confrontation, however, has all the ingredients to fundamentally shift the region in a clear new direction, depending on which side emerges victorious.
What Rice did not anticipate seven years ago was that a few thousand Hezbollah fighters could shake the region beyond Lebanon’s small borders in a mere 33 days – simply by emerging from battle with Israel, leadership and capabilities intact.
The US has never predicted outcomes successfully in the Middle East and is unlikely to do so this time given that its strategic and military objectives seem even more muddled than usual. What we do know is that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has promised that the “next battle” will take place inside Israel’s borders and that he will fight proportionately this time – striking Israeli cities when Israel hits Lebanese ones.
On the Syrian front, Israel imagines a war-weary adversary. But the Syrian armed forces have the kinds of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles that can level a town in short shrift – that is not an outcome Israel has the capacity to endure.
In yet another corner is Iran, boasting a rare combination of military manpower, hardware, technology and tactical skills that Israel has never faced in any adversary on the battlefield. Russia looms large too – it may provide military intelligence to its allies or it may just use its clout in the UN Security Council to intervene at opportune moments in the fight. Either way, Moscow is a huge asset for the Resistance Axis – and will be joined by China to coach and calibrate responses to the fighting from the ‘international community.’
Meanwhile, as if unable to stop a ‘war trajectory’ once it starts, the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has just voted to widen and deepen the scope of a US attack on Syria. The new goal? To “reverse the momentum on the battlefield” against the Syrian army and “hasten Assad’s departure.”
This is no different than Libya, Afghanistan or Iraq. Israelis and Americans need to understand that language and behavior threatening ‘regime-change’ gives their adversaries only one choice: to retaliate withall their capabilities and assets on all fronts. Washington just made this existential. No more games, no more rhetoric. Any strike on Syria will be ‘war on.’ In US military parlance: a ‘full-spectrum operation’ will be heading your way. And you can call it Operation “Tip of the Iceberg” out of sheer accuracy, for a change.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter@snarwani
Noam Chomsky has to be one of the most brilliant minds of this generation, and his commitment to justice for the Palestinian people is beyond question. Even so, I must confess that I find his pessimism debilitating at times!
Perhaps Chomsky is just a realist and it is me who lives in unrealistic hope for a Palestinian state. Certainly, as he points out in this article, there is nothing going on at present that would suggest that any viable ‘two-state solution’ is around the corner. Even so, I am a man of faith, and believe, to quote Martin Luther King Jr., that while the arc of history is long, “it bends towards justice!”
Israel’s West Bank Plans Will Leave Palestinians Very Little
By Noam Chomsky
August 17, 2013 “Information Clearing House – The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks beginning in Jerusalem proceed within a framework of assumptions that merit careful thought.
One prevailing assumption is that there are two options: either a two-state settlement will be reached, or there will be a “shift to a nearly inevitable outcome of the one remaining reality — a state ‘from the sea to the river’,” an outcome posing “an immediate existential threat of the erasure of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” because of what is termed “the demographic problem,” a future Palestinian majority in the single state.
This particular formulation is by former Israeli Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin, but the basic assumptions are near universal in political commentary and scholarship. They are, however, crucially incomplete. There is a third option, the most realistic one: Israel will carry forward its current policies with full U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support, sprinkled with some mild phrases of disapproval.
The policies are quite clear. Their roots go back to the 1967 war and they have been pursued with particular dedication since the Oslo Accords of September 1993.
The Accords determined that Gaza and the West Bank are an indivisible territorial entity. Israel and the U.S. moved at once to separate them, which means that any autonomy Palestinians might gain in the West Bank will have no direct access to the outside world.
A second step was to carry forward the creation of a vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem, incorporating it within Israel, as its capital. This is in direct violation of Security Council orders and is a serious blow to any hope for a viable Palestinian entity. A corridor to the east of the new Greater Jerusalem incorporates the settler town of Ma’aleh Adumim, established in the 1970s but built primarily after the Oslo Accords, virtually bisecting the West Bank.
Corridors to the north including other settler towns divide what is to remain under some degree of Palestinian control — “Bantustans,” as they were called by one of the main architects of the policy, Ariel Sharon, in a reference to the territory set aside for black South Africans during the apartheid era.
Included are the settlement blocs that “will remain part of Israel in any possible future peace agreement,” as stated by Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev as the current negotiations were announced.
The International Court of Justice ruled that all of this is illegal, and the Security Council had already ruled that all of the settlements are illegal. The U.S. joined the world in accepting that conclusion in the early years of the occupation. But under Ronald Reagan, the position was changed to “harmful to peace,” and Barack Obama has weakened it further to “not helpful to peace.”
Israel has also been clearing the Jordan Valley of Palestinians while establishing Jewish settlements, sinking wells, and otherwise preparing for eventual integration of the region within Israel.
That will complete the isolation of any West Bank Palestinian entity. Meanwhile huge infrastructure projects throughout the West Bank, from which Palestinians are barred, carry forward the integration to Israel, and presumably eventual annexation.
The areas that Israel is taking over will be virtually free of Arabs. There will be no new “demographic problem” or civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle, contrary to what many advocates of Palestinian rights anticipate in a single state.
There remain open questions. Notably, pre-Obama, U.S. presidents have prevented Israel from building settlements on the E1 site — a controversial area in the West Bank that Israel hopes to develop — which would complete the separation of Greater Jerusalem from Palestinian-controlled area. What will happen here is uncertain.
As the negotiations opened, Israel made its intentions clear by announcing new construction in East Jerusalem and scattered settlements, while also extending its “national priority list” of settlements that receive special subsidies to encourage building and inducements for Jewish settlers.
Obama made his intentions clear by appointing as chief negotiator Martin Indyk, whose background is in the Israeli lobby, a close associate of negotiator and presidential adviser Dennis Ross, whose guiding principle has been that Israel has “needs,” which plainly overcome mere Palestinian wants.
These developments bring to the fore a second common assumption: that Palestinians have been hindering the peace process by imposing preconditions. In reality, the U.S. and Israel impose crucial preconditions. One is that the process must be in the hands of the United States, which is an active participant in the conflict on Israel’s side, not an “honest broker.” A second is that the illegal Israel settlement activities must be allowed to continue.
There is an overwhelming international consensus in support of a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border, perhaps with “minor and mutual adjustments” of this 1949 cease-fire line, in the wording of much earlier U.S. policy. The consensus includes the Arab states and the Organization of Islamic States (including Iran). It has been blocked by the U.S. and Israel since 1976, when the U.S. vetoed a resolution to this effect brought by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
The rejectionist record continues to the present. Washington’s most recent veto of a Security Council resolution on Palestinian territory was in February 2011, a resolution calling for implementation of official U.S. policy — an end to expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements. And the rejectionist record goes far beyond the Security Council.
Also misleading is the question whether the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would accept a “Palestinian state.” In fact, his administration was the first to countenance this possibility when it came into office in 1996, following Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who rejected this outcome. Netanyahu’s associate David bar-Illan explained that some areas would be left to Palestinians, and if they wanted to call them “a state,” Israel would not object — or they could call them “fried chicken.”
His response reflects the operative attitude of the U.S.-Israel coalition to Palestinian rights.
In the region, there is great skepticism about Washington’s current revival of the “peace process.” It is not hard to see why.
More wisdom from brother Uri.
In Avnery’s analysis, Netanyahu is an almost comical character, but it’s not possible to laugh when the lives of millions of people are affected by this clown’s antics.
A new Guinness Record
by Uri Avnery
I DON’T know if the Guinness Book of World Records has a special section for Chutzpah.
If it does not, it should. That’s the one competition where we might take home a few gold medals.
The first one would surely go to Binyamin Netanyahu
THIS WEEK, on the eve of the first round of serious negotiations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu did two interesting things: he announced plans for several large new settlement projects and he accused the Palestinians of grievous incitement against Israel.
Let’s take the settlements first. As explained by Israeli diplomats to their American colleagues, and repeated by all the Israeli media, poor Netanyahu had no choice. John Kerry compelled him to release 104 Palestinian prisoners as a “confidence building measure”. After such a momentous concession, he had to pacify his extremist colleagues in the Likud and in the cabinet. A thousand new housing units in the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) was the very minimum.
The agreement to release prisoners let loose a veritable Witches’ Sabbath. All the newspapers and TV news programs were awash with blood – the blood on the hands of the Palestinian murderers. “Murderers” was the de rigeur appellation. Not “fighters”, not “militants”, not even “terrorists”. Just plain “murderers”.
All the prisoners to be released were convicted before the Oslo agreement was signed, meaning that they have been in prison for at least 20 years. The probability that they would take part in future bloody activity must be minimal.
Some of the victims’ families carried out staged stormy protests, with bloody hands and blood-smeared flags. The media vied with each other in publishing pictures of weeping mothers (TV loves weeping women) waving photos of their killed sons and blood-curdling descriptions of the attacks in which they died. (Some of which were indeed atrocious.)
However, not so long ago, Netanyahu had agreed to release more than a thousand prisoners in return for one captured Israeli soldier. This means that one single soldier is ten times more precious than the chances of peace.
The actual release bordered on the grotesque. In order to avoid photos in the morning papers of the rapturous reception of the prisoners by their families, the actual release of the first 26 prisoners took place after midnight, in a shroud of mystery. Which reminds one of the Biblical passage, in which David mourned for Saul, slain in battle with the Philistines: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon (both Philistine towns), lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.” (II Samuel 1)
Does all this testify to an atmosphere of peace on the eve of peacemaking? Wait, there is more to come.
THE DAY the new settlement projects were announced, Netanyahu fired off to John Kerry a furious protest against the ongoing Palestinian “incitement” against Israel. This missive could interest the adjudicators of the Guinness record for Chutzpah.
The main evidence for Mahmoud Abbas’ perfidy, in Netanyahu’s letter, is a text in which a minor Palestinian official called for a Palestinian state “from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat.” Rosh Hanikra (Ras Naqura in Arabic) is on the Lebanese border, so this state would include all of Israel. Also, during a soccer event in Ramallah, anti-Israeli shouts were heard.
Awful, just awful. Kerry should spring from his seat in fury. Were it not for the fact that almost all leading Likud members proclaim that the whole of historical Palestine belongs to Israel, and Naftali Bennett, a pillar of Netanyahu’s government coalition, just announced that the Palestinians “can forget about” a Palestinian state.
Not to mention a certain Daniel Seaman, the former director of the Ministry of Explaining (that’s its real name. I didn’t make it up. Israelis don’t do propaganda, God forbid. Seaman has just been appointed to Netanyahu’s own office, in charge of “explaining” on the internet. This week he posted a message on facebook addressed to Saeb Erekat, the chief of he Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, telling him to “go and f**k himself”. To the theological declaration by the Church of Scotland that the Jews have no special claim to Palestine he posted the reply: “We don’t give a [obscenity] for what you say.”
This genius of public relations is now setting up a clandestine group of Israeli university students, who will be paid to flood the international social media with government “explaining” material.
As for soccer fans, the Betar stadium, which is linked to the Likud, resounds at every match with shouts of “Death to the Arabs!”’
So, for what the bell tolls? Nor for peace, it seems
ONE OF the problems is that absolutely nobody knows what Netanyahu really wants. Perhaps not even he.
The Prime Minister is now the loneliest person in Israel. He has no friends. He trusts nobody, and nobody around him trusts him.
His colleagues in the Likud leadership quite openly despise him, regarding him as a man of no principles, without a backbone, giving in to every pressure. This seems to have been the opinion of his late father, who once declared that Binyamin would make a good foreign minister, but certainly not a prime minister.
In the government he is quite alone. Previous prime ministers had a close group of ministers to consult with. Golda Meir had a “kitchen cabinet”. Netanyahu has no one. He does not consult with anyone. He announces his decisions, and that’s that.
In his previous terms he had at least a group of confidants in his office. These officials have been driven out one by one by Sarah, his wife.
So, as one commentator this week reminded us, this lonely man, unaided by any group of trusted advisors, experts or confidants, is called upon to decide, quite by himself, the fate of Israel for generations to come.
THIS WOULD not have been so dangerous if Netanyahu had been a Charles de Gaulle. Unfortunately, he isn’t.
De Gaulle was one of the towering figures of the 20th century. Cold, aloof, overbearing, intensely disliked by the rest of the world’s leaders, this extreme right-wing general took the historic decision to give up the huge country of Algeria, four times as big as metropolitan France.
Algeria, it must be remembered, was officially not a colony, not an occupied territory, but a part of France proper. It had been under French rule for more than a century. More than a million settlers saw it as their homeland. Yet de Gaulle made the lonely decision to give it up, putting his own life in grave danger.
Since then, Israeli leftists have yearned for “an Israeli de Gaulle”, who would do their job for them, according to the old Hebrew adage that “the work of the righteous is done by others” – others meaning, one assumes, people who are not quite so righteous.
There is, of course, one important difference. De Gaulle was supported by his conservative allies, the tycoons of the French economy. These sober-minded capitalists saw how the Germans were taking over the economy of Europe, which was in the process of uniting, while France was wasting its resources on an expensive, totally useless colonial war in North Africa. They wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible, and de Gaulle was their man.
Netanyahu is as close to the Israeli tycoons as de Gaulle was to his, but our tycoons don’t give a damn about peace. This attitude may change, if ever the de-legitimization of Israel becomes a serious economic burden.
In this context; the boycott imposed by the European Union against the products of the settlements may be a harbinger of things to come.
By the way, the petition submitted by me and Gush Shalom in the Supreme Court, against the new law to penalize advocates of a boycott of the settlements, will be heard only next February. The court is obviously shrinking back from handling this hot potato. But it paid us a unique compliment: “Avnery v. the Knesset” will be heard by nine supreme judges, almost the full membership of the court.
SO IS this “peace process” serious? What does Netanyahu want?
Does he want to enter the history books as the “Israeli de Gaulle”, the wise Zionist leader who put an end to 120 years of conflict?
Or is he just another smart guy who is making a tactical move to avoid a tussle with the US and stop the de-legitimization process at least for a while?
As it looks now, de Gaulle in his heaven can relax. No competitor in sight.
There is not the slightest indication of any peace orientation. Quite the contrary. Our government is using the new “peace process” as a smoke screen behind which the settlement bulldozer is working full time.
The government condemns the EU boycott resolution because it “harms the peace process”. It rejects all demands for freezing the settlements because this would “obstruct the peace process”. Investing hundreds of millions in settlements which under any imaginable peace agreement will have to be evacuated is, it seems, favorable for peace.
So is there hope? Time to quote again the Yiddish saying: “If God wills, even a broomstick can shoot!”
read more of Uri Avnery’s wisdom on the Gush Shalom website
Jonathon Cook always rights with insight, and I agree entirely that these peace talks are an exercise in futility. Even so, I’m not entirely convinced that he’s accounted for the enthusiasm of the Palestinians in the process.
If, as Cook suggests, both sides know full well that the whole exercise is ultimately futile (at least in terms of any peace process) why are the Palestinians involved? I can appreciate that it’s a politically opportune move for Netanyahu but does Abbas really think he is going to enhance his reputation by participating in another round of fruitless talks? There are still some missing pieces in this puzzle!
The flawed logic of Israel-Palestine talks
By Jonathan Cook
It may not have reached the level of fevered expectation unleashed by that famous handshake between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the White House lawn in 1993, but the sense of hope inspired by the long-awaited revival of peace talks is both tangible and deeply misplaced.The talks, which it was agreed this week will begin in earnest in the region in mid-August, are taking place not because either Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the Palestnian president, Mahmoud Abbas, believe a deal is in reach. The two sides are talking each to avoid being blamed for embarrassing John Kerry, the US secretary of state.
The mistaken mood of “change is in the air” was illustrated last week by a much-touted poll showing that 55 per cent of Israelis would vote for an agreement if presented with it, with 25 per cent opposed. Overlooked was the fact that many more Israelis – 70 per cent – believe an agreement cannot be reached, while 60 per cent say the reason is that Netanyahu will never partition the land.
Palestinians are no more sanguine. A recent poll revealed a measly 8 per cent had any degree of trust in the US as mediator.
But if ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are either despondent or uninterested, their leaders and many observers are talking up the chances of a breakthrough.
In part, this optimism is underpinned by the European Union’s unexpected and largely symbolic decision recently to penalise the settlements. From next year, the EU is supposed to deny funding to Israeli institutions in the occupied territories.
This is a bitter pill for Israel to swallow, and it is already seeking to punish Europe. Last weekend it emerged that the Israeli military was denying EU staff access to Gaza, and blocking European projects in Area C, the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank exclusively controlled by Israel.
But while Europe’s move has infuriated Israel, it looks suspiciously like it paved Netanyahu’s way to the negotiating table.
Israel and its supporters have long cultivated the idea that strong-arm tactics, such as boycotts and sanctions, only serve to push the Israeli public and politicians further to the right. This has been the US and Europe’s rationale for treating Israel with kid gloves since the Oslo process began two decades ago.
And yet the EU’s anti-settlement initiative suggests the opposite to be true. Both Netanyahu and Abbas hurried into the talks in the wake of the EU announcement – and for much the same reason.
For Netanyahu, Europe’s move was a stick he wielded to frighten into compliance those to his right in the government. He could argue persuasively that continuing Israeli intransigence on talks would only intensify the country’s isolation – the substance of his opaque references to “Israel’s strategic interests”.
Israel has much more to fear from the Palestinians outside the confines of a bogus peace process. There is the threat of the Palestinians building the momentum for further sanctions from bodies like the EU, or of their again taking their case for statehood to the United Nations, or of their referral of Israel to the International Criminal Court at the Hague for war crimes.
For Abbas, the same EU decision was a carrot used to disarm critics who have been warning that the revival of futile negotiations will damage the Palestinian national cause. Claiming the Europeans had forced Israel on to the backfoot, Abbas could argue that the moment had finally arrived to negotiate.
Uncharacteristically, the US has not appeared overly troubled by Israel’s patent displeasure at the sudden stiffening of EU resolve. Or as a senior US official told the Israeli media: “The Europeans are giving us the time and allowing us to try and get the talks going.”
But while the US, Europe, Netanyahu and even Abbas will gain some breathing space from months of empty talk about peace, there is no sign that the pressure bringing Israel to the table will continue once it is seated.
The most worrying indication that the US is heading down the same failed path is the announcement of Martin Indyk’s return as mediator. Indyk, a long-time Israel lobbyist, has been intimately tied to previous diplomatic failures.
In addition, the negotiators themselves are the same compromised figures who have been down this route before. The Palestine Papers, leaked by Al-Jazeera in 2011, revealed that in earlier talks Palestinian negotiatior Saeb Erekat had dared to give away far more than observers had ever imagined possible, while even these generous concessions had failed to satisfy Israel’s Tzipi Livni.
There is also something puzzling about a peace process driven by a nine-month timetable rather than the logic of the negotiations. A possible motivation for the White House’s desire to drag out the talks was suggested by an official on Wednesday: the US desperately wants to avoid the “train wreck” of the Palestinians returning to the UN.
Another barometer for judging the chances of a breakthrough are the relaxed smiles of Netanyahu’s far-right ministers, who are clearly undisturbed by thoughts that the settlements are in imminent jeopardy.
In fact, quite the reverse. Israel has announced it will build 1,000 settler homes over the coming months, in addition to continuing private construction. A train line linking the settlements to Israeli towns, making them even more accessible and attractive, has also been unveiled.
Regarding the peace process, Kerry has previously warned that there is “a year, a year-and-a-half, or two years and it’s over”. But what would “over” actually entail?
For one thing, someone will have to be blamed and all past evidence suggests that the someone in question will be the Palestinians. For another, Netanyahu will be able to argue that, just as Kerry feared, the peace process is dead. No Palestinian leadership, he will claim, will ever be capable of making peace.
That may prove a tempting moment for Israel to carry out the much-longed-for annexation of Area C, the bulk of the West Bank and the site of the settlements. With as few as 100,000 Palestinians left in Area C after decades of ethnic cleansing, Israel can offer them citizenship without threatening the state’s hallowed Jewishness.
Not only would such a move satisfy Netanyahu’s hunger for more Palestinian land, but it would solve another problem, this time for Europe and the US. They would no longer have to fret about boycotting the settlements; annexation would mean there were no more settlements to oppose.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net…