Thursday, November 29, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #84 - Part 3

Israel's refusal to make peace with US support

There are, as I record this show on November 28, negotiations going on in Cairo to settle specific details of the ceasefire agreement reached last week that ended the latest cycle of death in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Egypt is acting as a go-between for the two sides because Israel and Hamas refuse to deal with each other directly.

During the fighting, 167 Palestinians were killed, most all of them civilians, a good number of them children. That was as against six Israelis, four of them civilians - three of who Israeli authorities say died because they ignored warnings and failed to take shelter. That is a kill ratio of 28 to 1.

In fact, that has been the story for years. In the period September 29, 2000 to September 30, 2012, that is, over the past 12 years, 1097 Israelis, soldiers and civilians together, were killed by Palestinians. In that same time, 6622 Palestinians - over six times as many - were killed by Israelis. More Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli military in that time than the total of Israelis killed by Palestinians.

That's a bit of history, a bit of context, I bet you don't hear on the evening news. Here's another:

Start with the fact that there are two major political alignments among Palestinians: Fatah, which was Yassir Arafat's organization, and Hamas. In 2005 and 2006, the Palestinian Authority held a series of elections in the West Bank and Gaza for offices from local council to the presidency. Israel and the US had been demanding such elections as a precondition to continued negotiations because they believed that Fatah, which they regard as having become sufficiently malleable, would win. But when they happened, the results from the US-Israeli point of view were wholly unexpected: Hamas did quite well, even winning a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

In March 2007, after months of difficult negotiations, Hamas and Fatah announced the formation of a coalition government. The US and Israel flatly refused to deal with or even recognize that government; they had even declared that before the government was formed, demanding instead that Hamas be kicked out of it. Remember, this is a government that came into being as the result of elections with the US and Israel demanded. They didn't care: Their plan failed, their side didn't win, so elections no longer mattered.

In the face of that refusal, the coalition government broke down and a civil war broke out, the end result of which was that Hamas got forced out of the West Bank and Fatah got forced out of Gaza. That is why Hamas is in control in Gaza. Remember what I said last time about the Clock of History? This is the point when the US and Israel want the Clock of History to start with regard to Gaza. The fact that Hamas coming into control was the result of a civil war that broke out with the collapse of a government that occurred at least in significant part because the US and Israel would not accept the results of elections which they themselves demanded is to be shoved down the memory hole, forgotten, ignored. Well, Hamas's position was confirmed by elections that took place this past May and if the US and Israel don't like it, they should recall it was their own narrow-minded, pig-headed stupidity that caused it.

On the other hand, maybe it wasn't so pig-headed and maybe it wasn't so stupid: I'm certainly not the first to suggest that maybe Israel doesn't want peace. Nine years ago I said on my blog that it appeared that every time it looked like some real step toward peace might be taken, Israel undertook some action sure to provoke a response that could be used to justify a bigger Israeli counter and so undermine the chance of change. In that particular case the potential step was that an assembly of the most radical Palestinian groups was considering some form of recognition of Israel, something Fatah had already given. What was the step this time? Something else your mainstream news won't tell you unless you happened to see an op-ed in the New York Times.

It was by Gershon Baskin, co-chair of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post who had previously successfully opened a back channel for negotiations with Hamas that lead to the release of a captured Israeli soldier.

If you saw last week's show you know that I blame Israel for this most recent cycle of retaliation, counter-retaliation, and counter-counter retaliation because Israel clearly broke a ceasefire that had been arranged by assassinating Ahmad al-Jabari, the head of Hamas' military, in a rocket attack.

Shortly before his murder, Baskin says, he (that is, Baskin) and Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, had worked out a draft agreement for a long-term ceasefire, one that included mechanisms to verify intentions and ensure compliance. It even included a dramatic understanding that if Israel had a genuine ticking bomb - clear evidence of people imminently preparing to launch a rocket - a strike on that target would not be considered a breach of the ceasefire.

As Baskin describes it, what had usually happened is this:
The Israeli Army takes pre-emptive action with an airstrike against the suspected terror cells, which are often made up of fighters from groups like Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees or Salafi groups not under Hamas’s control but functioning within its territory. These cells launch rockets into Israeli towns near Gaza, and they often miss their targets. The Israeli Air Force responds swiftly. The typical result is between 10 and 25 casualties in Gaza, zero casualties in Israel and huge amounts of property damage on both sides.
Jabari was not willing to give up resistance to Israel, but he - along with other leaders of Hamas - had come to realize the futility of rocket attacks that left no damage in Israel but dozens of casualties in Gaza. Not only was Jabari aware of the negotiations between Baskin and Hamad, he had told Hamad that he was interested in a long-term ceasefire and he would have been the one to enforce it.

On November 14, Jabari was presented with the draft agreement. A few hours later, he was dead. The highest levels of the Israeli government, aware of these contacts, aware of these negotiations, aware of the draft, faced the dire possibility that the military leader of Hamas might agree to a long-term, enforceable ceasefire - and they preferred to kill him.

As Robert Dreyfuss said in The Nation recently,
Israel’s far right, and much of the center, has long acted as if moderate Palestinians were the enemy. To the extent that Israel says it can’t negotiate with the Palestinians, killing their moderate and pro-peace leaders makes it a self-fulfilling policy. Israel thrives on radical Palestinians.
In fact, he adds, Israel helped create Hamas in the 1970s and 1980s as a counterweight to the PLO and Fatah and pulled out of Gaza in 2006 knowing Hamas would come to power there.

And that is the really big thing that you won't hear from your mainstream press, the thing they - along with our political leaders - are effectively forbidden to say: Israel, at least Israeli governments going back decades have not wanted peace; the Israeli government today does not want peace. For years, for decades following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, it was the Arab states and then the radical Palestinians who were the obstacle to peace. That is no longer true and has not been true for years. Peace - not tranquility, not horizon to horizon quietude, but peace, recognized borders, trade, commerce, cultural exchanges, reasonable security, peace, is there to be had but Israel, for its own reasons, will not take it.

Its people have become as hard as its government. According to a poll of Israelis published just this week, 59% of Israeli Jews want preference in public jobs for Jews over Arabs. Nearly half - 49% - want the state to treat Jews better than Arabs. Fully a third object to Israeli Arabs having the right to vote even though they are citizens living within the proper bounds of Israel and make up 20% of the population. Some 69% object to giving Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank. Vitrually three-quarters - 74% - support separate roads for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. And 42% object to their children going to the same schools as Arabs. Imagine the outcry if a poll of some other country had reported that 42% of the population objected to their children going to the same school as Jews.

American correspondents in Israel covering the most recent fighting found people offering genocidal statements unprompted. "Push delete on Gaza." "Make it disappear." "Kill them all." In that context, the recent comments of Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that Israel should "flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza" seems moderate by comparison.

But yes, Gaza. What of Gaza? What's it like there? We have heard much of Israelis in the southern part of Israel living under the threat of rocket fire - what of Palestinians in Gaza living under the threat of Israeli bombs?

For several years now, Gaza has been a huge, outdoor concentration camp. Not like a concentration camp, a concentration camp. Israel imposed a blockade on the area in 2007, essentially imprisoning the people there, and has been choking it ever since. Except for one small border crossing with Egypt, which Israel monitors, Israel controls the whole border of Gaza, including who and what goes in or out. The area is surrounded by an Israeli security perimeter. Palestinians who come with a couple of hundred yards of that perimeter can be - and have been - shot and killed. Israel controls the airspace and maintains a naval blockade. Israel is in control of Gaza's natural resources, power supply, and telecommunications. Israel strictly controls and limits what goods can go in; exports are virtually banned entirely.

Despite some recent economic growth fueled almost entirely by smuggling from Egypt, the UN says that the people of Gaza are worse off than they were in the 1990s and what's more, that recent growth is "unsustainable." Unemployment was at 29% in 2011 and rising, particularly among women and the young. Three in four residents rely on UN food aid to get by. The UN also reports that the coastal aquifer, the territory's only natural source of fresh water, may become unusable by 2016.

According to the UN, the Gaza Strip will not be "a liveable place" by 2020 unless action is taken to improve conditions and basic services there.

Gaza is a society that has been deliberately and consciously reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive people turned into aid-dependent paupers. And Israel's intention is to make it worse: Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the goal is to "send Gaza back to the middle ages." All this is what's known as "collective punishment" and in addition to being manifestly cruel and unjust it is clearly illegal under international law.

Despite all that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can look straight into a camera and tell the bold-faced lie that there "is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza" and accuse human rights activists and relief workers of trying "to provoke and slander Israel's name."

And what is our own government's response to this? The same as always: fawning, groveling endorsement of every lie the Israeli government tells and every crime it commits in support and pursuit of those lies.

Just consider the actions of the US as the latest round of violence in Gaza escalated. The US vetoed a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution on the ground, in essence, that it was too balanced: that is, it didn't put all the blame on Hamas. The State Department publicly attacked a NATO ally, Turkey, for condemning Israeli aggression. The Senate and House unanimously passed resolutions offering full-throated support for whatever Israel was doing and increased military aid is sure to follow. (To be precise, it was not quite unanimous: The House resolution was passed by voice vote and Dennis Kucinich said he would have objected but it came up and was done so fast he wasn't in the chamber at the time.)

And what of our Nobel Peace Prize winner?

The US is "fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself," Obama declared. "No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down." Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, echoed that "Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long."

The hypocrisy is hard to grasp, it is so large. Israelis have the right to defend themselves? Okay - why don't Palestinians? Speaking of that, why don't the people of Pakistan, of Afghanistan, of Somalia, of Yemen, of anywhere else that US rockets and drones have "rained down" have that right of self-defense? No, the right of self-defense belongs only to those we support and here that means only to Israel.

In our government and in our media, Israel - with the world's fourth largest military - is never the aggressor. It can't be the aggressor. It is defined as "not the aggressor," defined as the target, as the innocent victim of fanatics, as always "responding," as always and only "defending itself."

It gets even worse. Obama called on Egypt and Turkey to intervene on Israel's behalf. He said he told them that if there is
a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future.
Whether that was meant as advice or - I think more likely - as a threat, it is in fact a hideous joke. A two-state solution has been talked about for decades - I first heard about the idea somewhere around 1970. It has supposedly been the goal of negotiations for 20 years now and is still no closer because Israel doesn't want it. So when was a Palestinian state not "way off in the future?" Raising that now, especially at a time when more and more analysts are calling a two-state solution no longer possible in light of the decades of illegal Israeli land seizures and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank is not even a joke. It's asinine except to the extent it's being a ventriloquist's dummy for Israeli talking points.

Obama also said that peace in the region must begin with "no missiles being fired into Israel's territory." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reinforced that, declaring that the US’s position that “all rocket attacks must end.” This right after she got Egypt to remove any mention of the siege of Gaza from Egypt's ceasefire proposal, even as something to be discussed later.

Worse than worse? Try this: Something else absent from the final proposal was a requirement that as a part of a ceasefire that Israel halt assassinations of Hamas leaders. In other words, Israel's position, backed by the US, is to say to Hamas "We can continue to murder your officials, to blow them to pieces along with anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity and besides, that's their own fault because they should have known better than to be wherever it was they were at the time, we can murder your officials and you can't do anything about it because if you try to retaliate, that's breaking the ceasefire and then we can attack you."

Meanwhile, the White House said it would “use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.” Obama will also seek ”additional funding for Iron Dome and other US-Israel missile defense programs,” apparently on top of the $100 million already requested for just that purpose - itself just part of the over $3 billion in military aid the US will send to Israel in Fiscal 2013.

In short, the Israeli - and the US - position is that Israel can murder leaders of Hamas with impunity and continue to degrade the people and destroy the land of Gaza while Palestinians must stand by and do nothing. They must simply allow it to happen because to resist, to defend themselves, to strike back in any way, is to "attack" Israel which will then "defend itself."

And the US will make damn sure Israel has the capability to do it.

You want solutions? I don't have them. There are no easy solutions here. But I'll tell you what should happen in the short term: A long-term ceasefire, a lifting of the siege of Gaza, US support for the Palestinians’ bid for nonmember observer status at the UN, an explicit recognition by Israel of the Palestinians' right to nationhood, and most importantly, a suspension of US military aid to Israel until these things happen.

In the longer run, Israel must face the question: Is it to be a Jewish state or a democratic one? As events and facts such as the poll I cited earlier are showing, it cannot long continue to claim to be both.


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