Sunday, December 3, 2006

Did anyone see the superpower?

By Zvi Bar'el

One can imagine Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, nervously scratching his head on his way back from Amman to hemorrhaging Baghdad, with an expression of great amazement on his face: What, in fact, did he say to me? Are they withdrawing or staying? Am I a good prime minister or a Shi'ite weakling? Are they talking with Iran, or do they want us to stop the dialogue? And, in general, what was so urgent to trouble me to come from Baghdad?

Al-Maliki is not alone. The world's greatest superpower is stuck in the murderous alleys of Baghdad, shooting in all directions and not hitting anything. The U.S. administration's long-term strategy in the region is going to be defined by two pensioners, James Baker and Lee Hamilton, who have become the Urim and Thummim of the administration, which operates the largest intelligence service in the world. The relationship between George W. Bush and the prime minister of Iraq is formulated in a leaked document composed by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. It relies primarily on the assessment of the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who detests al-Maliki.

The meeting with al-Maliki in Amman is only a symptom. Who still remembers the previous meeting with Bush in Jordan, with Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon, in June 2003? What has Washington contributed since then to advancing the decisions made there, to promoting its own policies, which support a solution of two states for two peoples? Where was the superpower in all of the violent dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and what was its contribution to the cease-fire or to bolstering Abu Mazen? What is it doing to strengthen the government of Lebanon? And what is it doing to strengthen the government in Iraq? Or was the slap in the face that al-Maliki received from Washington meant to show affection?

This is not a diagnosis of the great superpower's methods of action, but rather a search for its hiding place. Because despite the enormous power it is deploying in Iraq, and despite the deep crises in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, and despite Iran's nuclear threat, the superpower is absent. Apparently there is not a single policy or joint strategy indicating that Washington is capable of not only getting into a deep crisis, but also capable of knowing how to rescue and extricate itself from it.

Washington under Bush is a superpower searching for its tail. It initiates two wars based on an illusion of building a better world, and has not learned to contribute where it really could create a better reality. It regards Syria as a state that supports terrorism, and Iran as an existential threat, but does not enable turning these two states into part of the family of nations. It is satisfied with the long boycott imposed on the Palestinian Authority of Hamas, but is not lifting a finger to advance a diplomatic horizon.

But this complaint is about as valuable as howling at the moon. It seems that the focus needs to return to the internal front and to realize that Washington will fall in line with anything the sides themselves agree upon in Iraq, Lebanon or Palestine. Just as it fell in line with reality and stated it is no longer realistic to return to the 1967 borders, it would also adopt any agreement Israel reaches with Syria or Hamas, and any agreement that al-Maliki reaches in Iraq or Fouad Siniora attains in Lebanon. As James Baker once said: The United States cannot want peace more than the sides themselves. This is the same Baker who left us his phone number in the event that we seek American assistance in advancing negotiations, the same Baker who is now proposing a gradual withdrawal from Iraq and dialogue with Iran and Syria.

Bush is no more to blame than the sides themselves. Ehud Olmert, Siniora, al-Maliki and Hosni Mubarak are more familiar with their problems than he is. When Bush is seeking only to get out of the situations he has landed himself in, any logical solution would be welcomed. America can no longer serve as an excuse. It is absent.

Dutch bank divests holdings in J'lem light rail, cites settlements

By Meron Rapoport

A Dutch bank has decided to divest itself of its holdings in a French company that is participating in building Jerusalem's light rail system, on the grounds that the project "is not in line with the United Nation's demand to stop all support for Israel's settlement activities."

Work recently began on the railway's first line, which will run from Neveh Ya'akov to Mount Herzl, passing through parts of the city that Israel annexed in 1967 on its way.

ASN, the Dutch bank, holds shares in the French firm, Veolia, whose subsidiary Connex Israel holds about 5 percent of the CityPass consortium. CityPass won the NIS 2 billion tender to build the line.

ASN is a medium-sized bank, with 250,000 customers, deposits totaling two billion euros and investments totaling 900 million euros in 2005. It also considers itself an "ethical bank," and is therefore committed to investing only in projects that do not infringe on human or animal rights or harm the environment.

In May 2006, human rights organizations wrote to ASN claiming that Veolia's work on the light rail project violated international law, because part of the railway will pass through "occupied territory" in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority also wrote to ASN, claiming that the railway's construction would have "devastating effects" on Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, as it would connect the "illegal settlements" of Pisgat Ze'ev and Neveh Ya'akov (two Jerusalem neighborhoods) with downtown Jerusalem, and thereby sever East Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Both the bank and the human rights groups therefore urged Veolia to end its involvement in the project, and the organizations claim that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also raised the matter with French President Jacques Chirac. Veolia replied that it is looking into the matter, "but meanwhile, ASN Bank's criteria are not met by that answer," the bank said. As a result, it decided last week to sell its shares in Veolia.

Bank officials told Haaretz that UN resolutions on Jerusalem were the reason for this decision.

The human rights groups are now urging the bank to divest from an Irish construction company that has partnered with an Israeli firm to make concrete used in building the separation fence. ASN told Haaretz it is examining all investments involving Israel and the territories, "as we do for every other region in the world continuously."

Micha Avisar, CEO of Connex Israel, said he could neither confirm nor deny the report. The Light Rail Administration, which is jointly run by the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality, said that this was an internal CityPass affair, but stressed the project is meant to serve all the city's residents, Jewish and Arab alike.

Babylon is burning

December 3, 2006

French President Jacques Chirac’s warnings in 2003 that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would set the Mideast on fire, encourage terrorism, and produce a disaster have been tragically born out by events.

Iraq is falling ever deeper into chaos and sectarian conflict. Lebanon teeters on the brink of civil war. The agonies of Palestine continue without relent. Iran’s power and influence are surging.

For the latter, thank Washington, which overthrew two of Iran’s bitterest enemies, Taliban and Saddam Hussein, then stuck U.S. ground forces in the $250 million per day Iraq quagmire.

As Iraq turns into a nightmare of carnage and hate, President George Bush and mentor Dick Cheney rushed to the Mideast last week to urge their local allies to pull America’s bacon out of the fire. But Iraq’s hapless “president,” Nuri al-Maliki, presides only over Baghdad’s U.S.-protected Green Zone.

The U.S. controls what passes for Iraq’s police and armed forces. How can Bush expect a powerless figurehead to do what the mighty U.S. cannot? At least Maliki had the pluck to make a symbolic protest after humiliating reports leaked in Washington that the U.S. intended to dump him.

So much for Iraq “democracy.” Washington may be headed towards installing a ruthless Saddam clone, either some brutal CIA “asset” or iron-fisted general.

Iraq has no real government or army.

What western reporters and Pentagon spinners term the Iraqi Army is really a collection of Shia militias, death squads and mercenaries, many former convicts.

The U.S. occupation’s extensive use of Shia death squads to fight the Sunni resistance has played a key role in igniting Iraq’s current sectarian bloodbath. This little-known story is a major scandal.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Jordan warn they may send troops into Iraq to protect its Sunni minority from ethnic cleansing by the Shia majority. Such a move could provoke the powerful Turkish Army to invade independence-seeking Kurdish regions of northern Iraq.

Iran would be quickly drawn into the melee.

Chaos could spread

Iraq’s neighbours deeply fear its chaos will spread across their borders, with dangerous, unpredictable consequences for all concerned, particularly Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The long-awaited Iraq Study Group’s report comes out this week. It is expected to call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, and retention of some “intervention units” in neighbouring countries.

France ruled its West African empire for a half a century this way: Installing compliant puppet rulers kept in power by strategically located French Foreign Legion and Air Force units ready to interveneat signs of unrest.

The Iraq Study Group will also likely call for direct talks with Iran and Syria.

Their cooperation is essential to stabilizing Iraq.

But a furious, behind-the-scenes battle is raging in Washington between advocates of diplomatic engagement with Damascus and Tehran, and the pro-Israel lobby who have successfully blocked for decades all attempts to open such badly needed dialogue.

Israel and many of its American supporters are pushing for a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

If Washington announces “phased withdrawals” of U.S. forces from Iraq, the already shaky morale of American troops there will plummet.

Who wants to risk life or limb for a phased withdrawal?

This is exactly what we saw happen to U.S. forces in Vietnam after President Lyndon Johnson announced military victory was no longer his goal. No GI wanted to be the last soldier killed in a lost war by bungling politicians.

Once Washington utters the dreaded “w” word — withdrawal — Iraqis working for the U.S occupation will decamp to the Sunni or Shia opposition. Iran’s influence in Iraq will soar. America’s Arab allies — will panic.

But President Bush keeps insisting “no retreat.” He still seems unable to see the writing on the wall in Babylon.

Bush in triple trouble

Triple trouble

By Shmuel Rosner

WASHINGTON - The incriminating memorandum was published in The New York Times on Wednesday morning. U.S. President George W. Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley - so the report went - said he doubts whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki can control the sectarian violence in his country. A few hours later, Bush was scheduled to meet with Al-Maliki in Jordan. The Iraqi prime minister was insulted, and canceled the planned dinner with Bush and Jordan's King Abdullah.

The leak of the classified memo to The New York Times is liable to be seen as an exercise meant to embarrass the Bush administration, but it can also be depicted as a move engineered by the White House to pressure Al-Maliki with the message: If you don't improve your performance, the American president will be forced to consider other alternatives. Hadley says steps will need to be taken to strengthen the prime minister - steps that would be worth taking only if the Iraqi leader proves that he is up to the task of running the country.

Here, similarities can be drawn between the three fronts with which Bush is contending in his visits around the world this week - those same fronts which King Abdullah said this week, in an interview on a U.S. television station, are approaching civil war: Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The U.S. president is trying to strengthen Al-Maliki, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. But how will the battered and bruised Bush summon the resources to help them?

The three leaders are similar, but there are also substantial differences between them. The Bush administration sees Al-Maliki as being insufficiently resolute to act in accordance with the interests that will calm his country. The White House is concerned that he is sometimes motivated by impulses that do not correspond with the objective. "He impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong, but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so," Hadley wrote to Bush in the leaked memo.

The American position is different regarding Siniora: The Bush administration doesn't have a shadow of a doubt regarding his motives and intentions, but they understand full well that the weakness of his government doesn't allow him to do more. In other words, Siniora is the right person in the right place.

As for Abbas, the Americans are not worried about the purity of his intentions, but they think he too has difficulty understanding how to carry them out. And unlike with Siniora, they are not convinced that he will ever reach this understanding, even when he is handed the means and the resources. Perhaps, as a Bush administration official put it a few months ago, he has the will, but not the personality.

Yesterday in Jericho, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was supposed to give Abbas renewed support, but also to warn him that in light of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Sde Boker speech, it would be better if this time the Palestinians were to abandon the tradition of not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. [This article was written before Rice met with Abbas.]

Carter's legacy

The previous record was set in 1976, when seven Democratic senators competed for the right to represent their party in the presidential elections following the Nixon-Ford era. It is an impressive record, which is now in serious danger of being broken. This time, ahead of the 2008 presidential elections, nine senators are likely to run in the Democratic primaries. And who knows? Maybe they will manage to escape the sad fate of their predecessors, the senator of 1976: None of whom won. That honor went to Jimmy Carter, the relatively unknown governor of Georgia, who bypassed them all and sprinted to the White House, where he served a single term, and not a particularly successful one. His presidential legacy for future generations will be this: Even a retired president has the ability to be of some benefit and to cause not inconsiderable damage.

Carter's new and much talked-about book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," compares Israel's actions vis-a-vis the land of Palestine to those of South Africa in the days of apartheid. A quick and superficial scan of the book turns up no new or inflammatory disclosures, but it does contain some particularly harsh criticism. Carter, who has gone on an intensive tour to promote the book, has certainly noticed that the people interviewing him were less interested in Palestine this week and more interested in Iraq, as was Bush these past few days. When the arm of the powerful country is under threat of amputation, it doesn't think about the comprehensive treatment of an abscess elsewhere on the body, even if it has posed trouble for many years and will continue to do so after the stump heals. And indeed, this is one of the basic criticisms in Carter's book: There is not enough vigorous debate in the United States regarding the Palestinian problem. And this week, once again, it was not easy to find people interested in paying attention to this problem.

Carter attacked Bush on the Iraq issue, too: This war, he predicted, will be remembered as "one of the greatest blunders that American presidents have ever made." Although Carter didn't say so, he presumably meant that the Iraq war is far worse than his own failure to stop the Khomeini revolution in Iran and to rescue the American hostages in Tehran.

Then came the required comparisons to Vietnam, but nonetheless Carter managed, for a moment, to surprise. The public seems to have decided some time ago that a civil war is under way in Iraq, but the Bush administration has persistently denied it. However, the former president actually sided with Bush, saying, "I think civil war is a more serious circumstance than exists in Iraq." And Carter, who has been appointed by himself and others as peace envoy to every conflict and conflagration around the world, has seen a civil war or two in his life.

Hagel's shortcut

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska is one of those nine Senate wonders who look into a mirror and think that the image of the next president is peering out at them. Hagel jumped to the top twice this week, with the generous assistance of The Washington Post editorial page. The first time, he published a sober and profound op-ed piece about the war, and the second time, he starred in a column by David Ignatius, headlined "Hagel's Moment?"

If Bush is trying to assign greater responsibility to Al-Maliki, Hagel takes a shortcut and assigns the responsibility to all Iraqis. It's not America that will win or lose in the war, he said, since it's the Iraqis' future that's on the line. "Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost," the senator wrote. And the time to send military reinforcements, he added, is long past.

Hagel's op-ed aroused great interest. He wrote that the renewal of diplomatic ties between Iraq and Syria has generated much hope, since it proves that only "regional powers will fill regional vacuums." Hagel thinks it will take time and that blood will certainly be spilled - in part due to the United States' inability to generate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - but that ultimately, the Middle East will reorganize on its own. Hagel does not accept former secretary of defense Colin Powell's "you break it, you buy it" concept - i.e., that since the United States broke Iraq, it has to rebuild it. Hagel is prepared to leave Iraq, and let the Iraqis "break their heads" over it.

On Monday, three experts discussed the future of U.S.-Syria relations at the United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan institution established by Congress to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts. They too spoke, briefly, about the importance of Hagel's op-ed. But the discussion focused on James Baker, the secretary of state under George Bush, Sr., who was called on to save the administration of Bush, Jr. from the mire of Iraq and who will submit his recommendations next Wednesday.

Rumor, and leaked information, has it that Baker plans to recommend a dialogue with Syria. But this week the administration signaled that it is not interested in such a recommendation. Well, not the entire administration. Hadley told reporters that Ehud Olmert's refusal to respond to Syrian President Bashar Assad's public calls for negotiations over the Golan Heights is reasonable. On the other hand, Bush's candidate for secretary of defense, Robert Gates, supports a dialogue with Syria. In written testimony he submitted to the Senate this week, ahead of the confirmation hearing he faces, Gates said he does not necessarily support a bilateral framework for the dialogue with Syria, suggesting it could take place within the framework of a "regional conference" - one of the options that Baker is expected to recommend.

Baker's conferences

Regional conferences - in the spirit of the Madrid conference he convened at the beginning of the 1990s and whose success is debatable - are Baker's favored formula for solving problems in the Middle East.

Baker has a routine shtick for meeting guests from Israel. He always mentions his memories of his difficult encounters with former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, ending with what is meant to be a kind of happy surprise: Of all the Israeli leaders, Baker liked meeting with Shamir best, because he know that he was as good as his word.

The more time elapses since the establishment of the committee Baker heads, the greater the suspicion that this smart and experienced politician does not have much in the way of new suggestions - only the same old formulas that sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, and that aren't necessarily suitable right now. "Political realism is dead," an Israeli observer who shall remain unnamed said two weeks ago. There are quite a few Americans who agree with him: It's impossible to fit the solutions of the 20th century to the problems of the 21st.

Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said at the conference on Syria that domino theories don't work well in the Middle East. He noted that angry predictions that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could spread to neighboring states or that the entire region could erupt in violence have never panned out. Comments made by Hadley this week reflect a similar attitude: Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is important and worthy of the effort, but it is not remotely related to the violent situation in Iraq or to other, no less severe, problems in the Middle East.

Satloff said Syria doesn't have anything to offer the United States at the moment. It won't help solve the problems in Iraq, and there is only a slim chance that it will agree to cut ties with Iran or Hezbollah. The other two members of the panel - Robert Malley, who was a member of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, and Scott Lasensky from the United States Institute of Peace - agreed with Satloff. Malley said it wasn't clear to him what America is trying to do in Syria, and predicted a glum and volatile future for Lebanon. For that reason, he suggested precisely what the Bush administration is trying to avoid: taking Syria into account in efforts to stabilize Lebanon.

Mideast allies near a state of panic after Bush disasters

Mideast allies near a state of panic

U.S. leaders' visits to the region reap only warnings and worry.
By Paul Richter
Times Staff Writer

December 3, 2006

WASHINGTON — President Bush and his top advisors fanned out across the troubled Middle East over the last week to showcase their diplomatic initiatives to restore strained relationships with traditional allies and forge new ones with leaders in Iraq.

But instead of flaunting stronger ties and steadfast American influence, the president's journey found friends both old and new near a state of panic. Mideast leaders expressed soaring concern over upheavals across the region that the United States helped ignite through its invasion of Iraq and push for democracy — and fear that the Bush administration may make things worse.

President Bush's summit in Jordan with the Iraqi prime minister proved an awkward encounter that deepened doubts about the relationship. Vice President Dick Cheney's stop in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, yielded a blunt warning from the kingdom's leaders. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's swing through the West Bank and Israel, intended to build Arab support by showing a new U.S. push for peace, found little to work with.

In all, visits designed to show the American team in charge ended instead in diplomatic embarrassment and disappointment, with U.S. leaders rebuked and lectured by Arab counterparts. The trips demonstrated that U.S. allies in the region were struggling to understand what to make of the difficult relationship, and to figure whether, with a new Democratic majority taking over Congress, Bush even had control over his nation's Mideast policy.

Arabs are "trying to figure out what the Americans are going to do, and trying develop their own plans," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of his party's point men on Iraq. "They're trying to figure out their Plan B."

The allies' predicament was described by Jordan's King Abdullah II last week, before Bush arrived in Amman, the capital. Abdullah, one of America's steadiest friends in the region, warned that the Mideast faced the threat of three simultaneous civil wars — in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. And he made clear that the burden of dealing with it rested largely with the United States.

"Something dramatic" needed to come out of Bush's meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to defuse the three-way threat, Abdullah said, because "I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and visit the problem in early 2007."

The only regional leader to voice unqualified support for the Bush administration has been Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has gone so far as to say that the Iraq invasion contributed to regional stability.

To Middle East observers, Bush can no longer speak for the United States as he did before because of the domestic pressure for a change of course in Iraq, said Nathan Brown, a specialist on Arab politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"He can talk all he wants about 'staying until the job is done,' but these leaders can read about the American political scene and see that he may not be able to deliver that," Brown said.

The Bush-Maliki meeting Thursday, closely watched around the world in anticipation of a possible change in U.S. strategy, produced no shift in declared aims. Rather, it resulted in diplomatic stumbles that seemed to belie the leaders' claims that their relationship was intact.

On the eve of the summit, a leaked memo written by Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, showed that U.S. officials questioned Maliki's abilities. But the memo also was a reminder of dwindling U.S. influence over Iraq. Some of the steps that Hadley said the Iraqis should take, such as providing public services to Sunni Arabs as well as Shiites, were moves that the Americans had demanded for many months, without success.

The leak of the memo cast a shadow over the summit, and Maliki abruptly canceled the first scheduled meeting, a conversation among Bush, Maliki and Abdullah. White House aides insisted that the cancellation was not a snub.

One Middle East diplomat said later in an interview that Maliki had canceled the meeting to put distance between him and Bush at a time when Iraq's Shiite lawmakers and Cabinet ministers with ties to militant cleric Muqtada Sadr had halted their participation in the government to protest the summit.

On Saturday, in his regular radio address, Bush said that his relationship with Maliki was, in fact, improving.

"With each meeting, I'm coming to know him better, and I'm becoming more impressed by his desire to make the difficult choices that will put his country on a better path," Bush said.

During the trip, Bush was unable to distance himself from the fierce debate about Iraq policy back home. The president felt the need to respond to news accounts saying that an advisory panel on Iraq would urge a gradual withdrawal of combat troops from the region. He insisted that suggestions for such a "graceful exit" were not realistic.

Despite this, Bush repeated in his radio address that he intended to look for a bipartisan solution to the war, and would listen to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which is scheduled to present its findings Wednesday.

He also said that his own internal review, coming from Pentagon and White House officials, among others, was near completion, suggesting that he may be discussing the options before him over the next several days.

"I want to hear all advice before I make any decisions about adjustments to our strategy in Iraq," Bush said.

Cheney's trip to talk to Saudi King Abdullah was far less visible than Bush's mission, but helped to make painfully clear the gap between U.S. goals and those of its Arab allies.

U.S. officials said Cheney initiated the trip. But foreign diplomats said that Saudi leaders sought the visit to express their concern about the region, including fears of a U.S. departure and what they see as excessive American support for the Shiite faction in Iraq.

After the meeting with Cheney, Saudi officials released an unusual statement pointedly highlighting American responsibility for deterioration of stability in the region.

The Saudi officials cited "the direct influence of … the United States on the issues of the region" and said it was important for U.S. influence "to be in accord with the region's actual condition and its historical equilibrium," an apparent reference to the Sunni-Shiite balance.

The Saudi statement also said the U.S. in the Middle East should "pursue equitable means that contribute to ending its conflicts," pointing to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

The statement "came pretty close to a rebuke, by Saudi standards," said Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. "It said, in effect, that the United States needs to behave responsibly."

There have been other signals of Saudi anxiety recently.

On Wednesday, an advisor to the Saudi government wrote in the Washington Post that if the United States pulled out of Iraq, "massive Saudi intervention" would ensue to protect Sunnis from Shiite militias.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al Faisal, warned in a speech in October against an American withdrawal, saying that "since the United States came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited."

Rice encountered the limits of U.S. influence when she visited Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Jericho last week, trying to entice Arab confidence by displaying a renewed interest in Israeli-Palestinian peace.

But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was gloomy about the prospects for a deal between his Fatah party and the militant group Hamas that would allow formation of a nonsectarian government and open the way for increased aid and, potentially, peace talks with Israel.

Rice said afterward that the administration "cannot create the circumstances" for peace.

"This is the kind of thing that takes time," she said. "You don't expect great leaps forward."

Expressing deeper unhappiness with the United States, leaders from Jordan, Egypt and Persian Gulf countries told Rice during her trip to an economic development conference in Jordan on Friday that the U.S. had a responsibility to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which they and many analysts viewed as the key to regional stability.

Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, urged greater U.S. action, warning that the Middle East was becoming "an abyss…. The region is facing real failure."

Times staff writers Doyle McManus and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.

Israeli Arabs seek right to return to villages forcibly abandoned in 1948

Last update - 14:01 03/12/2006

Israeli Arabs seek right to return to villages abandoned in 1948

By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent

According to a position paper written by Mossawa - the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel and presented in a conference in Nazareth on Friday, Israeli Arabs want the right to return to villages abandoned in 1948, educational autonomy and changes to the Israeli flag and national anthem.

The paper, written in close coordination with the Israel Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, was presented as part of the week-long Second Annual Days of Mossawa Festival and Nazareth Film Festival, which ended Saturday.

"Our goal is to achieve a historic compromise with the Jewish community in Israel," Mossawa Center director Jafar Farah told the conference. "The move by refugees of 1948 to their villages will not change the demographic balance or endanger the Jews. Unlike the refugees in Arab states, we are [already] here," Farah said. "The internal refugees [residents forced to leave their villages in 1948 who moved to other Arab communities within Israel] represent about one-fourth of the Arab population in Israel today."

Farah said the paper was spurred by a sense among many Israeli Arabs that they must have their say at a time when many Israeli organizations are working to frame a national constitution.

"We found ourselves in an absurd situation, in which Jews are deciding what is good for the Arabs because the Arab elites are not involved in the discussions. Now the decision makers will have to take our opinion into account," Farah said.

The 10-point position paper emphasizes the need to grant communal rights to the Arab public, including the increased use of the Arabic language; equality and fairness in immigration policy; the correct allotment of national resources; and fair representation. With regard to national symbols, the paper says: "The state's symbols, its flag and its national anthem are emotionally charged, public resources ... the state must give appropriate expression to the presence of Arab citizens in Israel and its historical relationship to the place."

Among the many jurists participating in the conference was Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran, who said the existing Basic Right on Citizenship law must be amended to complete the constitutional protection of minority groups. He repeated his opposition to the Citizenship Law, which restricts the rights of Israeli Arabs to marry Palestinians.

Another participant, Dr. Raef Zreik, said the position paper does not refer to the Israeli Arabs' position regarding the Jewish majority in the country. He said the Israeli Arabs can officially recognize the right of the Jewish public to a state only as part of an overall peace agreement with the Palestinian people.

Carter urges oil independence

Saturday, December 02, 2006
News staff writer

Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday the nation must reverse its growing dependence on imported oil from nations that aren't always friendly to U.S. interests.

"That's a big problem that we face and I think that's a big opportunity for progress," said the 82-year-old Carter, who was in Homewood to promote his latest book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."

The former Georgia governor and peanut farmer, who was president from 1977 to 1981, said the nation was heavily dependent on foreign oil when he took office, importing 9 million barrels a day.

Carter said he made energy conservation a major priority, got Congress to pass some "tremendous legislation" and that the nation's oil imports were down to 5 million barrels a day five years later.

"Now we're importing 12 million barrels a day," Carter said, "and that makes us heavily dependent on the approval and cooperation of nations that are sometimes not completely compatible with our own foreign policy." Those nations, he said, include Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela.

The problem, Carter said, is that oil company interests, not "the people's interests," have set U.S. energy policy for the past six years. He said he hopes the newly elected Democratic Congress will change that.

A big issue that produced the Democratic Congress was the U.S. war in Iraq, which Carter has called "one of the greatest blunders" ever made by an American president.

"We had almost unanimous agreement to support us after 9/11," said Carter, whose presidency is remembered partly for the efforts he led to make peace.

Professor William Fletcher on Apartheid in South Africa and Israel

William Fletcher on Apartheid in South Africa and Israel


William Fletcher discusses Apartheid-era South Africa and compares it with Apartheid-like conditons in Israel today. He is a Visiting Professor at Brooklyn College, in NYC, an ex-CEO of the TransAfrica Forum, and a former assistant to the AFL-CIO's John Sweeney. Professor Fletcher spoke at "The Palestine Center," located in our nation's capital.

The Problem with Israel

Jeff Halper
Thursday, November 23, 2006

Let’s be honest (for once): The problem in the Middle East is not the Palestinian people, not Hamas, not the Arabs, not Hezbollah or the Iranians or the entire Muslim world. It’s us, the Israelis. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the single greatest cause of instability, extremism and violence in our region, is perhaps the simplest conflict in the world to resolve. For almost 20 years, since the PLO’s recognition of Israel within the 1949 Armistice Lines (the “Green Line” separating Israel from the West Bank and Gaza), every Palestinian leader, backed by large majorities of the Palestinian population, has presented Israel with a most generous offer: A Jewish state on 78% of Israel/Palestine in return for a Palestinian state on just 22% – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. In fact, this is a proposition supported by a large majority of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. As reported in Ha’aretz (January 18, 2005):

Some 63 percent of the Palestinians support the proposal that after the establishment of the state of Palestine and a solution to all the outstanding issues - including the refugees and Jerusalem - a declaration will be issued recognizing the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and the Palestinian state as the state of the Palestinian people...On the Israeli side, 70 percent supported the proposal for mutual recognition.

And if Taba and the Geneva Initiative are indicators, the Palestinians are even willing to “swap” some of the richest and most strategic land around Jerusalem and up through Modi’in for barren tracts of the Negev.

And what about the refugees, supposedly the hardest issue of all to tackle? It’s true that the Palestinians want their right of return acknowledged. After all, it is their right under international law. They also want Israel to acknowledge its role in driving the refugees from the country in order that a healing process may begin (I don’t have to remind anyone how important it is for us Jews that our suffering be acknowledged). But they have said repeatedly that when it comes to addressing the actual issue, a package of resettlement in Israel and the Palestinian state, plus compensation for those wishing to remain in the Arab countries, plus the possibility of resettlement in Canada, Australia and other countries would create solutions acceptable to all parties. Khalil Shkaki, a Palestinian sociologist who conducted an extensive survey among the refugees, estimates that only about 10%, mainly the aged, would choose to settle in Israel, a number (about 400,000) Israel could easily digest.

With an end to the Occupation and a win-win political arrangement that would satisfy the fundamental needs of both peoples, the Palestinians could make what would be perhaps the most significant contribution of all to peace and stability in the Middle East. Weak as they are, the Palestinians possess one source of tremendous power, one critical trump card: They are the gatekeepers to the Middle East. For the Palestinian conflict is emblematic in the Muslim world. It encapsulates the “clash of civilizations” from the Muslim point of view. Once the Palestinians signal the wider Arab and Muslim worlds that a political accommodation has been achieved that is acceptable to them, and that now is the time to normalize relations with Israel, it will significantly undercut the forces of fundamentalism, militarism and reaction, giving breathing space to those progressive voices that cannot be heard today – including those in Israel. Israel, of course, would also have to resolve the issue of the Golan Heights, which Syria has been asking it to do for years. Despite the neocon rhetoric to the contrary, anyone familiar with the Middle East knows that such a dynamic is not only possible but would progress at a surprisingly rapid pace.

The problem is Israel in both its pre- and post-state forms, which for the past 100 years has steadfastly refused to recognize the national existence and rights of self-determination of the Palestinian people. Time and again it has said “no” to any possibility of genuine peace making, and in the clearest of terms. The latest example is the Convergence Plan (or Realignment) of Ehud Olmert, which seeks to end the conflict forever by imposing Israeli control over a “sovereign” Palestinian pseudo-state. “Israel will maintain control over the security zones, the Jewish settlement blocs, and those places which have supreme national importance to the Jewish people, first and foremost a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty,” Olmert declared at the January 2006 Herzliya Conference. “We will not allow the entry of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel.” Olmert’s plan, which he had promised to implement just as soon as Hamas and Hezbollah were dispensed with, would have perpetuated Israeli control over the Occupied Territories. It could not possibly have given rise to a viable Palestinian state. While the “Separation Barrier,” Israel’s demographic border to the east, takes only 10-15% of the West Bank, it incorporates into Israel the major settlement blocs, carves the West Bank into small, disconnected, impoverished “cantons” (Sharon’s word), removes from the Palestinians their richest agricultural land and one of the major sources of water. It also creates a “greater” Israeli Jerusalem over the entire central portion of the West Bank, thereby cutting the economic, cultural, religious and historic heart out of any Palestinian state. It then sandwiches the Palestinians between the Wall/border and yet another “security” border, the Jordan Valley, giving Israel two eastern borders. Israel would retain control of all the resources necessary for a viable Palestinian state, and for good measure Israel would appropriate the Palestinians’ airspace, their communications sphere and even the right of a Palestinian state to conduct its own foreign policy.

This plan is obviously unacceptable to the Palestinians – a fact Olmert knows full well – so it must be imposed unilaterally, with American assistance. But who cares? We refused to talk genuinely with Arafat, refused to speak at all with Abu Mazen and currently boycott entirely the elected Hamas government, arresting or assassinating those associated with it. And if “Convergence” doesn’t fly this time around, well, maintaining the status quo while building settlements has been an effective policy for the past four decades and can be extended indefinitely. True, Israel has descended into blind, pointless violence – the Lebanon War of 2006 and, as this is being written, an increasingly violent assault on Gaza. But the Israeli public has accepted Barak’s line that there is no “partner for peace.” So if there is any discontent among the voters, they are more likely to throw out the “bleeding heart” liberal left and bring in the right with its failed doctrine of military-based security.

Why? If Israelis truly crave peace and security – “the right to be normal,” as Olmert put it recently – then why haven’t they grabbed, or at least explored, each and every opportunity for resolving the conflict? Why do they continually elect governments that aggressively pursue settlement expansion and military confrontation with the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors even though they want to get the albatross of occupation off their necks? Why, if most Israelis truly yearn to “separate” from the Palestinians, do they offer the Palestinians so little that separation is simply not an option, even if the Palestinians are willing to make major concessions? “The files of the Israeli Foreign Ministry,” writes the Israeli-British historian Avi Shlaim in The Iron Wall (2001:49), “burst at the seams with evidence of Arab peace feelers and Arab readiness to negotiate with Israel from September 1948 on.” To take just a few examples of opportunities deliberately rejected:

• In the spring and summer of 1949, Israel and the Arab states met under the auspices of the UN’s Palestine Conciliation Committee (PCC) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Israel did not want to make any territorial concessions or take back 100,000 of the 700,000 refugees demanded by the Arabs. As much as anything else, however, was Ben Gurion’s observation in a cabinet meeting that the Israeli public was “drunk with victory” and in no mood for concessions, “maximal or minimal,” according to Israeli negotiator Elias Sasson.

• In 1949 Syria’s leader Husni Zaim openly declared his readiness to be the first Arab leader to conclude a peace treaty with Israel – as well as to resettle half the Palestinian refugees in Syria. He repeatedly offered to meet with Ben Gurion, who steadfastly refused. In the end only an armistice agreement was signed.

• King Abdullah of Jordan engaged in two years of negotiations with Israel but was never able to make a meaningful breakthrough on any major matter before his assassination. His offer to meet with Ben Gurion was also refused. Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett commented tellingly: “Transjordan said – we are ready for peace immediately. We said – of course, we too want peace, but we cannot run, we have to walk.” Three weeks before his assassination, King Abdullah said: “I could justify a peace by pointing to concessions made by the Jews. But without any concessions from them, I am defeated before I even start.”

• In 1952-53 extensive negotiations were held with the Syrian government of Adib Shishakli, a pro-American leader who was eager for accommodation with Israel. Those talks failed because Israel insisted on exclusive control of the Sea of Galilee, Lake Huleh and the Jordan River.

• Nasser’s repeated offers to talk peace with Ben Gurion, beginning soon after the 1952 Revolution, finally ended with the refusal of Ben Gurion’s successor, Moshe Sharett, to continue the process and a devastating Israeli attack (led by Ariel Sharon) on an Egyptian military base in Gaza.

• In general, Israel’s post-war inflexibility was due to its success in negotiating the armistice agreements, which left it in a politically, territorially and militarily superior position. “The renewed threat of war had been pushed back,” writes Israeli historian Benny Morris in his book Righteous Victims. “So why strain to make a peace involving major territorial concessions?” In a cable to Sharett, Ben Gurion stated flatly what would become Israel’s long-term policy, essentially valid until today: “Israel will not discuss a peace involving the concession of any piece of territory. The neighboring states do not deserve an inch of Israel’s land…We are ready for peace in exchange for peace.” ln July, 1949, he told a visiting American journalist, “I am not in a hurry and I can wait ten years. We are under no pressure whatsoever.” Nonetheless, this period saw the emergence of the image of the Arab leaders as intractable enemies, curried so carefully by Israel and representing such a powerful part of the Israeli framing. Morris (1999: 268) summarizes it succinctly and bluntly:

For decades Ben-Gurion, and successive administrations after his, lied to the Israeli public about the post-1948 peace overtures and about Arab interest in a deal. The Arab leaders (with the possible exception of Abdullah) were presented, one and all, as a recalcitrant collection of warmongers, hell-bent on Israel’s destruction. The recent opening of the Israeli archive offers a far more complex picture.

• In late 1965 Abdel Hakim Amer, the vice-president and deputy commander of the Egyptian army invited the head of the Mossad, Meir Amit, to come to Cairo. The visit was vetoed after stiff opposition from Isser Harel, Eshkol’s intelligence advisor. Could the 1967 war have been avoided? We’ll never know.

• Immediately after the 1967 war, Israel sent out feelers for an accommodation with both the Palestinians of the West Bank and with Jordan. The Palestinians were willing to enter into discussion over peace, but only if that meant an independent Palestinian state, an option Israel never even entertained. The Jordanians were also ready, but only if they received full control over the West Bank and, in particular, East Jerusalem and its holy places. King Hussein even held meetings with Israeli officials but Israel’s refusal to contemplate a full return of the territories scuttled the process. The annexation of a “greater” Jerusalem area and immediate program of settlement construction foreclosed any chance for a full peace.

• In 1971 Sadat sent a letter to the UN Jarring Commission expressing Egypt’s willingness to enter into a peace agreement with Israel. Israeli acceptance could have prevented the 1973 war. After the war Golda Meir summarily dismissed Sadat’s renewed overtures of peace talks.

• Israel ignored numerous feelers put out by Arafat and other Palestinian leaders in the early 1970s expressing a readiness to discuss peace with Israel.

• Sadat’s attempts in 1978 to resolve the Palestine issue as a part of the Israel-Egypt peace process that were rebuffed by Begin who refused to consider anything beyond Palestinian “autonomy.”

• In 1988 in Algiers, as part of its declaration of Palestinian independence, the PLO recognized Israel within the Green Line and expressed a willingness to enter into discussions.

• In 1993, at the start of the Oslo process, Arafat and the PLO reiterated in writing their recognition of Israel within the 1967 borders (again, on 78% of historic Palestine). Although they recognized Israel as a “legitimate” state in the Middle East, Israel did not reciprocate. The Rabin government did not recognize the Palestinians’ national right of self-determination, but was only willing to recognize the Palestinians as a negotiating partner. Not in Oslo nor subsequently has Israel ever agreed to relinquish the territory it conquered in 1967 in favor of a Palestinian state despite this being the position of the UN (Resolution 242), the international community (including, until Bush, the Americans), and since 1988, the Palestinians.

• Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of all was the undermining by successive Labor and Likud governments of any viable Palestinian state by doubling Israel’s settler population during the seven years of the Oslo “peace process” (1993-2000), thus effectively eliminating the two-state solution.

• In late 1995, Yossi Beilin, a key member of the Oslo negotiating team, presented Rabin with the “Stockholm document” (negotiated with Abu Mazen’s team) for resolving the conflict. So promising was this agreements that Abu Mazen had tears in his eyes when he signed off on it. Rabin was assassinated a few days later and his successor, Shimon Peres, turned it down flat.

• Israel’s dismissal of Syrian readiness to negotiate peace, repeated frequently until this day, if Israel will make concessions on the occupied Golan Heights.

• Sharon’s complete disregard for the Arab League’s 2002 offer of recognition, peace and regional integration in return for relinquishing the Occupation.

• Sharon’s disqualification of Arafat, by far the most congenial and cooperative partner Israel ever had, and the last Palestinian leader who could “deliver,” and his subsequent boycott of Abu Mazen.

• Olmert declared “irrelevant” the Prisoners’ Document in which all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, agreed on a political program seeking a two-state solution – followed by attempts to destroy the democratically-elected government of Hamas by force; and on until this day when

• In September and October 2006 Bashar Assad made repeated overtures for peace with Israel, declaring in public: “I am ready for an immediate peace with Israel, with which we want to live in peace.” On the day of Assad’s first statement to that regard, Prime Minister Olmert declared, “We will never leave the Golan Heights,” accused Syria of “harboring terrorists” and, together with his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, announced that “conditions are not ripe for peace with Syria.”

To all this we can add the unnecessary wars, more limited conflicts and the bloody attacks that served mainly to bolster Israel’s position, directly or indirectly, in its attempt to extend its control over the entire land west of the Jordan: The systematic killing between 1948-1956 of 3000-5000 “infiltrators,” Palestinian refugees, mainly unarmed, who sought mainly to return to their homes, to till their fields or to recover lost property; the 1956 war with Egypt, fought partly in order to prevent the reemergence onto the international agenda of the “Palestine Problem,” as well as to strengthen Israel militarily, territorially and diplomatically; military operations against Palestinian civilians beginning with the infamous killings in Sharafat, Beit Jala and most notoriously Qibia, led by Sharon’s Unit 101. These operations continue in the Occupied Territories and Lebanon until this day, mainly for purposes of collective punishment and “pacification.” Others include the campaign, decades old, of systematically liquidating any effective Palestinian leader; the three wars in Lebanon (Operation Litani in 1978, Operation Peace for the Galilee in 1982 and the war of 2006); and more.

Lurking behind all these military actions, be they major wars or “targeted assassinations,” is the consistent and steadfast Israeli refusal (in fact extending back to the pre-Zionist days of the 1880s) to deal directly and seriously with the Palestinians. Israel’s strategy until today is to bypass and encircle them, making deals with governments that isolate and, unsuccessfully so far, neutralize the Palestinians as players. This was most tellingly shown in the Madrid peace talks, when Israel only allowed Palestinian participation as part of the Jordanian delegation. But it includes the Oslo “peace process” as well. While Israel insisted on a letter from Arafat explicitly recognizing Israel as a “legitimate construct” in the Middle East, and later demanded a specific statement recognizing Israel as a Jewish state (both of which it got), no Israeli government ever recognized the collective rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Rabin was forthright as to the reason: If Israel recognizes the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, it means that a Palestinian state must by definition emerge – and Israel did not want to promise that (Savir 1998:47). So except for vague pronouncements about not wanting to rule over another people and “our hand outstretched in peace,” Israel has never allowed the framework for genuine negotiations. The Palestinians must be taken into account, they may be asked to react to one or another of our proposals, but they are certainly not equal partners with claims to the country rivaling ours. Israel’s fierce response to the eruption of the second Intifada, when it shot more than a million rounds, including missiles, into civilian centers in the West Bank and Gaza despite the complete lack of shooting from the Palestinian side during the Intifada’s first five days, can only be explained as punishing them for rejecting what Barak tried to impose on them at Camp David, disabusing them of the notion that are equals in deciding the future of “our” country. We will beat them, Sharon used to say frequently, “until they get ‘the message’.” And what is the “message”? That this is our country and only we Israeli Jews have the prerogative of deciding whether and how we wish to divide it.

Non-Constraining Conflict Management

The irrelevance of the Palestinians to Israeli policy-makers is merely a localized expression of an overall assumption that has determined Israeli policy towards the Arabs since the founding of the state. Israel, Prime Ministers from Ben Gurion to Olmert have asserted, is simply too strong for the Arabs to ignore. We therefore cannot make peace too soon. Once we get everything we want, the Arabs will still be willing to sue for peace with us. The answer, then, to the apparent contradiction of why Israel claims it desires peace and security and yet pursues policies of conflict and expansion has four parts.

(1) Territory and hegemony trump peace. As Ben Gurion disclosed years ago, Israel’s geo-political goals take precedence over peace with any Arab country. Since a state of non-conflict is even better than peace (Israel has such a relationship with Syria, with whom it hasn’t fought for 34 years, and is thereby able to avoid the compromises associated with peace that might threaten its occupation of the Golan Heights), Israel makes “peace” only with countries that acquiescence to its expansionist agenda. Jordan gave up all claims to the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has even ceased to actively advocate for Palestinian rights. Peace with Egypt, it is true, cost Israel the Sinai Peninsula, but it left its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank intact. Differentiating between those parts of the Arab world with which it wants an actual peace agreement, those with which it needs merely a state of non-conflict and those which it believes it can control, isolate and defeat creates a situation of great flexibility, allows Israel to employ the carrot or the stick according to its particular agenda at any particular time.

Israel can pursue this strategy today only because of the umbrella, political, military and financial, provided by the United States. This is rooted in many different sources including the influence of the organized Jewish community and the Christian fundamentalists on domestic politics and the Congress most obviously. Bipartisan and unassailable support for Israel, however, arises from Israel’s place in the American arms industry and the US’ defense diplomacy. Since the mid-1990s Israel has specialized in developing hi-tech components for weapons systems, and in this way it has also gained a central place in the world’s arms and security industries. One could look at Israel’s suppression of the Intifadas, its attempted pacification of the Occupied Territories and occasional combat with the likes of Hezbollah as valuable opportunities in almost laboratory-like conditions to develop useful weaponry and tactics. This has made it extremely valuable to the West. In fact, Israel is among the five largest exporters of arms in the world, and is poised to overtake Russia as #2 in just a few years (based on Jane’s assessment, May 2, 2006). The fact that it has discrete military ties with many Muslim countries, including Iran, adds another layer of rationality to its guiding assumption that a separate peace with Arab states is achievable without major concessions to the Palestinians. If any state significantly challenges Israeli positions, Israel can pull rank as the gatekeeper to American military programs, including to some degree the US defense industry, and thus to major sources of hi-tech research and development, a formidable position indeed.

(2) A militarily defined security doctrine. Israel’s concept of “security” has always been so exaggerated that it leaves no breathing space whatsoever for the Palestinians, thus eliminating any viable resolution of the conflict. This reflects, of course, its traditional reliance on overwhelming military superiority (the “qualitative edge”) over the Arabs. So overwhelming is it perceived – despite its near-disaster in the 1973 war, its failure to pacify the Occupied Territories and, most recently, its failure against Hezbollah in Lebanon – that it precludes any need for accommodation or genuine negotiations, let alone meaningful concessions to the Palestinians. Several Israel scholars, including ex-military officials, have written on the preponderance of the military in formulating government policy. Ben Gurion’s linking the concept of nation building with that of a nation-in-arms, writes Yigal Levy (reviewing Yoram Peri’s recent book Generals in the Cabinet Room: How the Military Shapes Israeli Policy), made the army an instrument for maintaining a social order that rested on keeping war a permanent fixture.

The centrality of the army depends on the centrality of war…But the moment the political leadership opted to create a ‘mobilized,’ disciplined and inequitable society by turning the army into the ‘nation builder’ and making war a constant, the politicians became dependent on the army. It was not just dependence on the army as an organization, but on military thinking. The military view of political reality has become the main anchor of Israeli statesmanship, from the victory of Ben Gurion and his allies over Moshe Sharett’s more conciliatory policies in the 1950s, through the occupation as a fact of life from the 1960s, to the current preference for another war in Lebanon over the political option (Ha’aretz August 25, 2006).

Ze’ev Maoz, in an article entitled “Israel’s Nonstrategy of Peace,” argues that

Israel has a well-developed security doctrine [but] does not have a peace policy…Israel’s history of peacemaking has been largely reactive, demonstrating a pattern of hesitancy, risk-avoidance, and gradualism that stands in stark contrast to its proactive, audacious, and trigger-happy strategic doctrine…The military is essentially the only government organization that offers policy options – typically military plans – at times of crisis. Israel’s foreign ministry and diplomatic community are reduced to public relations functions, explaining why Israel is using force instead of diplomacy to deal with crisis situations (Tikkun 21(5), September 2006: 49-50).

Again, this approach to dealing with the Arabs is not recent: It is found throughout the entire history of Zionism and has been dominant in the Yishuv/Israeli leadership from the time of the Arab “riots” and the recommendations for partition from the Peel commission in 1937 until this day, with a few very brief interruptions: Sharett (1954-55), Levi Eshkol (1963-69) and, perhaps, Rabin in his Oslo phase (1992-95). Sharett labeled it the camp of the military “activists,” and in 1957 described it as follows:

The activists believe that the Arabs understand only the language of force...The State of Israel must, from time to time, prove clearly that is it strong, and able and willing to use force, in a devastating and highly effective way. If it does not prove this, it will be swallowed up, and perhaps wiped off the face of the earth. As to peace – this approach states – it is in any case doubtful; in any case very remote. If peace comes, it will come only if [the Arabs] are convinced that this country cannot be beaten….If [retaliatory] operations…rekindle the fires of hatred, that is no cause for fear for the fires will be fueled in any event (Morris, 1999: 280).

Feeling that its security is guaranteed by its military power and that a separate peace (or state of non-conflict) with each Arab state is sufficient, Israel allows itself an expanded concept of “security” that eliminates a negotiated settlement. Thus Israel defines the conflict with the Palestinians just as the US defines its War on Terror: As an us-or-them equation where “they” are fundamentally, irretrievably and permanently our enemies. It is no longer a political conflict, and thus it has no solution. Israel’s security, in this view, can be guaranteed only in military terms, or until each and every one of “them” [the Palestinians] is either dead, in prison, driven out of the country or confined to a sealed enclave. This is why rational attempts to resolve the conflict based on mutual interests, identifying the sources of the conflict and negotiating solutions has proven futile all these years. Israel’s guiding agenda and principles have nothing whatsoever to do with either the Palestinians or actual peace. They are rooted instead in an uncompromising project of creating a purely Jewish space in the entire Land of Israel, with closed islands of Palestinians. Even Israel’s most ardent supporters – organized American Jewry, for instance – do not grasp this (Christian fundamentalists and neocons do, and its just fine with them). The claim made by these “pro-Israel” supporters and, indeed, by Israel itself, that Israel has always sought peace and has been rebuffed by Arab intransigence, is actually the opposite of the case. Again, Israel is seeking a proprietorship and regional hegemony that can only be achieved unilaterally, rendering negotiations superfluous and irrelevant. Like the Zionist ideology itself, Israel’s security doctrine is self-contained, a closed circuit. That’s why peace-making efforts over the years, Israeli as well as foreign, have failed miserably. If the assumption – encouraged by Israel – is that the conflict can be resolved through diplomatic means, then Israel can justly be accused of acting in bad faith. Israel and its interlocutors are essentially talking past each other.

The prominence (one is tempted to say “monopoly”) of the military in political policy-making explains the mystery of why Labor in the post-Ben Gurion era chose territorial expansion over peace. Uri Savir, the head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry under Rabin and Peres and a chief negotiator in the Oslo process, provides a glimpse into this dynamic in his book The Process (1998:81, 99, 207-208). After the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestinians was signed on the White House lawn in September 1993

Rabin chose a new team of negotiators. Led by Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Amnon Shahak, it was composed mostly of military officers. When the military grumbled bitterly at having been shut out of the Oslo talks, Rabin…did not reject the criticism...That Israel’s approach should be dictated by the army invariably made immediate security considerations the dominant one, so that the fundamentally political process had been subordinated to short-term military needs.

In Grenada, Peres had painstakingly explained to Arafat Israel’s stand on security, especially external security and the border passages. “Mr. Chairman, I’m going to give you the straight truth, without embellishment,” he said…We will not compromise on the operational side of controlling the border passages [to Jordan and Egypt]. We’re concerned about the smuggling of weapons. Ten pistols can make for many victims,” he stressed. “This is absolutely vital to our security.”

Arafat, who translated this straight talk into a vision of Palestinians caged in on all sides, replied: “I cannot go for a Bantustan….”

In the end, Israel’s security doctrine generally prevailed. Would compliance with Arafat’s demand for more power and responsibility have improved Israel’s security? The truth is, we will never know….

Now the bureaucrats and the officers who ruled the Palestinians had been asked to pass on their powers to their “wards”…Some of these administrators found it almost unbearable to sit down in Eilat with representatives of their “subjects.” We had been engaged in dehumanization for so long that we really thought ourselves “more equal” – and at the same time the threatened side, therefore justifiably hesitant. The group negotiating the transfer of civil powers did not rebel against their mandate, but whenever we offered a concession or a compromise, our people tended to begin by saying” “We have decided to allow you…”

“Security” became ever more constrictive as right-wing soldiers and security advisors began moving into the highest echelons of the military and political establishments during the years of Likud rule. Fourteen of the first fifteen Chiefs of Staff were associated with the Labor Party; the last three – Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Halutz – are associated with the right wing of the Likud, a mix of ideology and militarism that reinforces a concept of security that, even if sincerely held, cannot create the space needed for a viable Palestinian state.

(3) Israel as a self-defined bastion of the West in the Middle East. Israel’s European orientation, including a view of the Arab world as a mere hinterland offering Israel little of value, explains why Israel does not place more importance pursuing peace with its neighbors. Israel does not consider itself a part of the Middle East and has no desire whatsoever to integrate into it. If anything, it sees itself as a Middle Eastern variation of Singapore. Like Singapore, it seeks a correct relationship with its hinterland, but views itself as a service center for the West, to which its economy and political affiliations are tied. (Israel, we might note, has built the Singaporean army into what it is today, the strongest military force in Southeast Asia.) That means it lacks the fundamental motivation to achieve any form of regional integration, as evidenced by its off-hand dismissal of the Saudi Initiative of 2002 that, with the backing of the Arab League, offered Israel recognition, peace and regional integration in return for relinquishing the Occupation. And finally,

(4) The immaterial Palestinians. Israel believes that it can achieve a separate peace with countries of the Arab and Muslim worlds (and maintain its overall strong international position) without reference to the Palestinians. Not with the peoples, it is true; that would require a degree of concession to the Palestinians “on the ground” beyond which Israel is willing to go. Knowing this yet having little interest in either the Palestinian people or the Muslim masses, Israel is willing to limit its state of peace/non-conflict with governments – Egypt, Jordan, an emerging Iraq (although Israel is arming the Kurds), the Gulf states, the countries of North Africa (Libya included), Pakistan, Indonesia and some Muslim African countries. In the view of Israeli leaders surveying with satisfaction the political landscape, the notion that Israel is too strong to ignore seems to hold true.

Though it has sustained some serious hits in Lebanon, at the moment Israel is flying high with its central place in the American neocon agenda of consolidating American Empire, its key role in what the Pentagon calls “The Long War” to ensure American hegemony, remains, despite growing doubts over Israel’s ability to “deliver.” Whether or not US policy has been “Israelized” or the “strategic alliance” between the two countries merely rests on perceived common interests and services Israel can offer the US, the Bush Administration has provided Israel with a window of opportunity it is exploiting to the hilt. Despite the Lebanese setback, Israeli leaders still believe they can “win,” they can beat the Palestinians, engineer Israel’s permanent control over the Occupied Territories and achieve enough peace with enough of the Arab and Muslim worlds. That is what Olmert’s “Convergence Plan” (now temporarily shelved) is all about, and why he has resolved to implement it while Bush is still in office. Israel’s security, then, rests in that broad sphere defined by military might, services provided to the US military, the uncritical support of the American Congress, its military diplomacy including arms sales, Israel’s central role in the neocon agenda, its ability to parley European guilt over the Holocaust into political support, its ability to manipulate Arab and Muslim governments and its ability to suppress Palestinian resistance.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, unless one truly wants peace, security and “the right to be normal” – and unless considerations such as justice and human rights enter into the equation. From a purely utilitarian perspective, Israel is a tremendous success. Perhaps the most hopeful sign of Israel’s “normalization” is its acceptance by most of the Arab and Muslim world, best illustrated by the very Saudi Initiative Israel so summarily ignored. But this also pinpoints the problem. The Saudi/Arab League offer was contingent upon Israel’s relinquishing the Occupation, something it is not prepared to do. True to form, Israel responded to the offer “on the ground” rather than through diplomatic channels. Sharon carried out his plan of “disengagement” from Gaza explicitly to ensure Israel’s permanent and unassailable rule over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while his successor Olmert vigorously pushed a plan under which the Occupation would be transformed into a permanent state of Israeli control. All this conforms to Israeli policy going back to Ben Gurion which asserts that if Israel limits its aim to achieving a modus vivendi with the Arab and Muslim worlds rather than full-fledged peace, it can ensure its security while retaining control over the land west of the Jordan River. To be sure, occasional spats will erupt such as those in Gaza or with the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel might even be called upon to do America’s dirty work in Iran, as it played its role (limited as it was) in Iraq. But those (or at least this was the thinking before the Lebanese debacle) are easily contained, American co-opting of Egypt and Jordan providing the necessary cushion.

This Israeli realpolitik rests on an extremely pragmatic approach to the conflict akin to what the British termed “muddling through.” If Israel’s goal was to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians and seek genuine peace and regional integration, it could easily have adopted policies that would have achieved that, probably long ago. The goal, however, is conflict management, maintaining the “status quo” in perpetuity, and not conflict resolution. Muddling through well suits Israel’s attempt to balance the unbalance-able: expanding territorially at the expense of the Palestinians while still maintaining an acceptable level of security and “quiet.” It enables Israel to meet each challenge as it arises rather than to lock itself into a strategy or set of policies that fail to take into account unexpected developments. Yesterday we tried Oslo; today we’ll hit Gaza and Lebanon, tomorrow “convergence.”

It may not look rational or neat, but conflict management means going with the flow; staying on top of things, knowing where you are going and having contingency plans always at the ready to take advantage of any opening, and dealing with events as they happen. Not long-term strategies but a vision implemented in many often imperceptible stages over time, under the radar so as to attract as little attention or opposition as possible, realized through short-term initiatives like the Convergence Plan which progressively nail down gains “on the ground.”

If this analysis is correct, Israel is willing to settle for peace-and-quiet rather than genuine peace, for management of the conflict rather than closure, for territorial gains that may perpetuate tensions and occasional conflicts in the region, but do not jeopardize Israel’s essential security. Declaring “the right to be normal” becomes a PR move designed to blame the other side and cast Israel as the victim; it is not something that Israeli leaders sincerely expect. Indeed, their very policies are based on the assumption that functional normality – an acceptable level of “quiet,” the economy doing well, a fairly normal existence for an insulated Israeli public most of the time – is a preferred status to the concessions required for a genuine, and attainable, peace.

What About the Battered And Exhausted Israeli Public?

The Jewish Israeli public only partially buys into all this. It would prefer actual peace and normalization to territorial gains in the Occupied Territories, though it definitely prefers separation from the Arab world to regional integration. If Israelis prefer peace to continued conflict with the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors, why, then, do they vote for governments that pursue the exact opposite, that prefer conflict management and territory to peace? Mystification of the conflict on the part of Israeli leaders plays a large role, just as it does in the “clash of civilizations” discourse in other Western countries. Since Israel’s strategy of enduring a certain level of conflict as an acceptable price for territorial expansion would not be tolerated if it was stated in those terms, successive Israel governments from Ben Gurion to Olmert instead convinced the public that there is simply no political solution. The Arabs are our intransigent and permanent enemies; we Israeli Jews, the victims, have sought only peace and a normal existence, but in vain. And that’s just the way it is. As Yitzhak Shamir put it so colorfully: "The Arabs are the same Arabs, the Jews are the same Jews and the sea [into which the former seek to throw the latter] is the same sea." Israel effectively adopted the clash of civilizations notion years before Samuel Huntington.
This manipulative framing of the conflict also fashions discourse in a way that prevents the public from “getting it.” Israel’s official national narrative supplies a coherent, compelling justification for doing whatever we like without being held accountable – indeed, it renders all criticism of us as “anti-Semitism.” The self-evident framing which determines the parameters of all political, media and public discussion goes something like this:

The Land of Israel belongs exclusively to the Jewish people; Arabs (the term “Palestinian” is seldom used) reside there by sufferance and not by right. Since the problem is implacable Arab hatred and terrorism and the Palestinians are our permanent enemies, the conflict has no political solution. Israel’s policies are based on concerns for security. The Arabs have rejected all our many peace offers; we are the victim fighting for our existence. Israel therefore is exempt from accountability for its actions under international law and covenants of human rights.

Any solution, then, must leave Israel in control of the entire country. Any Palestinian state will have to be truncated, non-viable and semi-sovereign. The conflict is a win-lose proposition: either we “win” or “they” do. The answer to Israel’s security concerns is a militarily strong Israel aligned with the United States.

One of this framing’s most glaring omissions is the very term “occupation.” Without that, debate is reduced solely to what “they” are doing to us, in other words, to seemingly self-evident issues of terrorism and security. There are no “Occupied Territories” (in fact, Israel officially denies it even has an occupation), only Judea and Samaria, the heart of our historic homeland, or strangely disembodied but certainly hostile “territories.” Quite deliberately, then, Israelis are studiously ignorant of what is going on in the Occupied Territories, whether in terms of settlement expansion and other “facts” on the ground or in terms of government policies. One can listen to the endless political talk shows and commentaries in the Israeli media without ever hearing a reference to the Occupation. Pieces of it yes: Settlements, perhaps; the Separation Barrier (called a “fence” in Israel) occasionally; almost never house demolitions or references to the massive system of Israel-only highways that have incorporated the West Bank irreversibly into Israel proper, never the Big Picture. Although Olmert’s Convergence Plan, which is of fundamental importance to the future of Israelis, is based upon the annexation of Israel’s major settlement blocs, the public has never been shown a map of those blocs and therefore has no clear idea of what is actually being proposed or its significance for any eventual peace. But that is considered irrelevant anyway. When, very occasionally, Israelis are confronted by the massive “facts of the ground,” they invoke the mechanism of minimization: OK, they say, we know all that, but nothing is irreversible, the fence and the settlements can be dismantled, all options continue to be open. In this way they do not have to deal with the enormity of what they have created, one system for two peoples, which, if the status quo cannot be maintained forever, can only lead to a single bi-national state or to apartheid, confining the Palestinians to a truncated Bantustan. While the official narrative deflects public attention from the sources of the conflict, minimization relieves Israelis of responsibility for either perpetuating or resolving it.

Framing, then, becomes much more than a PR exercise. It becomes an essential element of defense in insulating the core of the conflict – the Occupation itself, the pro-active policies of settlement that belie the claims of “security,” and Israel’s responsibility as the occupying power – from both public scrutiny and public discussion. Defending that framing is therefore tantamount to defending Israel’s very claim to the country, the very “moral basis” of Zionism we Israelis constantly invoke. No wonder it is impossible to engage even liberal “pro-Israeli” individuals and organizations in a substantive and genuine discussion of the issues at hand.

One result of such discursive processes is the disempowerment of the Israeli public. If, in fact, there is no solution, then all that’s left is to hunker down and carve out as much normality as possible. For Israelis the entire conflict with the Arabs has been reduced to one technical issue: How do we ensure our personal security? Since conflict management assumes a certain level of violence, the public has entered into a kind of deal with the government: You reduce terrorism to “acceptable” levels, and we won’t ask how you do it. In a sense the public extends to the government a line of credit. We don’t care how you guarantee our personal security. Establish a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories if you think that will work; load the Arabs on trucks and transfer them out of the country; build a wall so high that, as someone said, even birds can’t fly over it. We, the Israeli Jewish public, don’t care how you do it. Just do it if you want to be re-elected.

This is what accounts for the apparent contradiction between the public will and the policies of the governments it elects. That explains how in 1999 Barak was elected with a clear mandate to end the conflict, and when he failed and the Intifada broke out, that same public, in early 2001, elected his mirror opposite, Ariel Sharon, the architect of Israel’s settlement policies who eschewed any negotiations at all. Israelis are willing to sacrifice peace for security – and do not see the contradiction – because true “peace” is considered unattainable. In fact, “peace” carries a negative political connotation amongst most Israelis. It denotes concessions, weakness, increased vulnerability. Israel’s unique electoral system, in which voters cast their ballots for parties rather than candidates and end up either with unwieldy coalition governments incapable of formulating and pursuing a coherent policy, only adds to the public’s disempowerment and its unwillingness to entrust any government with a mandate to arrive at a final settlement with the Arabs.

Because the “situation,” as we call it, has been reduced to a technical problem of personal security without political solution, Israelis have become passive, bordering on irresponsible. They have been removed from the political equation altogether. Any attempt to actually resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict (and its corollaries) will have to come from the outside; the Israeli public will simply not make a proactive move in that direction. While the government will obviously oppose such intervention, the Israeli public may actually welcome it – if it is announced by a friend (the US), pronounced authoritatively with little space for haggling (as Reagan did over the sale of AWACs surveillance aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s), and couched as originating out of concern for Israel’s security. Israeli Jews may be likened to the whites of South Africa during the last phase of apartheid. The latter had grown accustomed to apartheid and would not themselves have risen up to abolish it. But when international and domestic pressures became unbearable and de Klerk finally said, “It’s over,” there was no uprising, even among the Afrikaners who constructed the regime. I sincerely believe that if cowboy Bush would get up one morning and say to Israel: “We love you, we will guarantee your security, but the Occupation has to end. Period,” that you would hear the sigh of relief from Israelis all the way in Washington.

As it stands, the Israeli leadership thinks we are winning, the people are not so sure but are too disinformed and cowed by security threats (bogus and real) to act, and the peace movement has been reduced to a pariah few crying out in the wilderness. Given the support Israel receives from the US in return for services rendered to the Empire, Europe’s quiescent complicity and Palestinian isolation, the question remains whether Israel’s strategy of conflict management has not in fact succeeded – again, considerations of justice, genuine peace and human rights aside. Say what you will, the realists can point to almost sixty years during which Israel has emerged as a regional, if not global superpower in firm control of the greater Land of Israel. If Olmert succeeds in implementing his Convergence Plan, the conflict with the Palestinians is over from Israel’s point of view – and we’ve won.

Yet so overwhelming is our military might, so massive and permanent have we made our controlling presence in the Occupied Territories, that we have fatally overplayed our hand. Ben Gurion’s formula worked. We now have everything we want – the entire Land of Israel west of the Jordan River – and the Arab governments have sued for peace. But four elements of the equation that Ben Gurion (or Meir or Peres, or Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, Olmert and all the rest) did not take into account have arisen to fundamentally challenge the paradigm of power:

(1) Demographics. Israel does not have enough Jews to sustain its control over the greater Land of Israel. (Indeed, whether Israel proper can remain “Jewish” is a question, with the Jewish majority down just under 75%, factoring in the Arab population, the non-Jewish Russians and emigration.) Zionism created a strong state, but it did not succeed in convincing Jews to settle it. The Jewish population of Israel represents less than a third of world Jewry; only 1% of American Jews made aliyah. In fact, whenever Jews had a choice – in North Africa, the former Soviet Union, Iraq, Iran, South Africa and Argentina, not to mention all the countries of Europe and North America – they chose not to come to Israel. And it is demographics that is driving Olmert’s Convergence Plan. “It's only a matter of time before the Palestinians demand 'one man, one vote' - and then, what will we do?", he asked plaintively at the 2004 Herzilya conference. Olmert’s scheme retains control of Israel and the Occupied Territories (in his terms Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem) while doing the only thing possible with the Palestinians who make up half the population – locking them into a truncated Bantustan on a sterile 15-20% of the country.

(2) Palestinians. Israel’s historical policy of ignoring and bypassing the Palestinians can no longer work. Palestinians comprise about half the population of the land west of the Jordan River, all of which Israel seeks to control, and will be a clear majority if significant numbers of refugees are repatriated to the Palestinian Bantustan. Keeping that population under control means that Israel must adopt ever more repressive policies, whether prohibiting Israeli Arab citizens from bringing their spouses and children from the Occupied Territories to live with them in Israel, as recent legislation has decreed, or imprisoning an entire people behind 26-foot concrete walls. Despite Olmert’s assertion that Israelis have a right to live a normal life, normalcy cannot be achieved unilaterally. Neither an Occupation nor a Bantustan nor any other form of oppression can be normalized or routinized; it will always be resisted by the oppressed. Strong as Israel is militarily, it has not succeeded in pacifying the Palestinians over the last 40 years of occupation, 60 years since the Naqba or century since the Zionist movement claimed exclusive patrimony over Palestine and begin to systematically dispossess the indigenous population. The Palestinians today possess one weapon that Israel cannot defeat, that it must one day deal with, and that is their position as gatekeepers. Until the Palestinians signal the wider Arab, Muslim and international communities that they have reached a satisfactory political accommodation with Israel, the conflict will continue and Israel will fail to achieve either closure or normalcy.

(3) The Arab/Muslim peoples. The role of Palestinians as gatekeepers reflects the rise in importance of civil society as a player in political affairs. Israel’s lack of concern over the Arab and Muslim “streets,” its reliance solely on peace-making with governments, indicates a major failure in Israel’s strategic approach to the conflict: Its underestimation of the power of the people. Sentiments such as “We don’t care about making peace with the Arab peoples; correct relations with their governments are enough,” ignore the fragile state of Arab governments created by the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, which in turn has been fueled in large part (though not exclusively, of course) by the Occupation. If Hezbollah has the power to create the instability is has, imagine what will happen if the Muslim Brotherhood seizes power in Egypt. The disproportionate bias towards Israel in American and European policies only fuels and sharpens the “clash of civilizations,” while Israel’s Occupation effectively prevents progressive elements from emerging in the Arab and Muslim worlds. The strategic role played by Palestinians as gatekeepers has a significant effect upon the stability of the entire global system. The Israel-Palestine conflict is no longer a localized one.

(4) International civil society. As we have seen, Israeli leaders, surveying the international political landscape as elected officials do, take great comfort. They believe that, with uncritical and unlimited American support, their country is “winning” its conflict over the Palestinians (and Israel’s other enemies, real and imagined). Like political leaders everywhere, they don’t seriously take “the people” into account. Yet, The People – what is known as international civil society – have some achievements under their belt when it comes to defeating injustice. They forced the American government to enforce the civil rights of black people in the US and to abandon the war in Vietnam. They played major roles in the collapse of South African apartheid, of the Soviet Union and of the Shah’s regime, among many others. Since governments will almost never do the right thing on their own, it was civil society, through the newly established UN, that forced them to accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions and a whole corpus of human rights and international law. With the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court at our disposal, as well as other instruments, and as civil society organizes into Social Forums and other forms of action coalitions, major cases of injustice, such as Israel’s Occupation, are becoming less and less sustainable. As the Occupation assumes the proportions of an injustice on the scale of apartheid – a conflict with global implications – Olmert may convince Bush and Blair to support his plan, but the conflict will not be over until two gatekeepers say it is, the Palestinians and the people worldwide.

The Only Way Out: Forcing Israel To Take Responsibility

Israel has only one way out: It must take responsibility for its actions. No more blaming Arafat and Hamas and the Arabs in general. No more playing the victim. No more denying Occupation or the human rights of a people just as lodged into this land as the Jews, if not more so. No more using the military to ensure “our” security. No more unilateralism. Instead, Israel must work with the Palestinians to create a genuine two-state solution. No Geneva Initiative whereby the Palestinians get a non-viable 22% of the country; nor convergence nor realignment nor apartheid. Simply an end of Occupation and a return to the 1967 borders (in which Israel still retains 78% of the country) – or, if a just and viable two-state solution is in fact buried forever under massive Israeli settlement blocs and highways, then another solution. And a just solution to the refugee issue. Over time, the Palestinians – who are greater friends of Israel than any Israeli realizes – might even use their good offices to eventually enter into a regional confederation with the neighboring states (see my article in Tikkun 20[1)]17-21: “Israel in a Middle East Union: A ‘Two-stage’ Approach to the Conflict.”).

This is a tall order, and it will not happen soon. The military’s mobilization of Jewish Israelis has created a remarkably high consensus (85% support the construction of the Wall; 93% supported the recent war in Lebanon), making it impossible for truly divergent views to penetrate. Some of this has to do with overpowering feelings of self-righteousness, combined with the perception of Israel as the victim (and hence having no responsibility for what happens, a party that cannot be held accountable). Disdain towards Arabs also allows Israel to harm Palestinian (and again Lebanese) civilian populations with impunity and no sense of guilt or wrongdoing.

Although Israel has a small but vital peace movement and dissident voices are heard among intellectuals and in the press, the combination of mystification (“there is no partner for peace”), disdain, vilification and dehumanization of the Palestinians, a self-perception of Israelis-as-victims, the supremacy of all-encompassing “security” concerns, and a compelling but closed meta-narrative means that little if any space exists for a public debate that could actually change policy. Because the Israel public has effectively removed itself as a player – except in granting passive support to its political leaders who pursue a program of territorial expansion and conflict management – a genuine, just and sustainable peace will not come to the region without massive international pressure. This is starting to happen as the Occupation assumes global proportions and churches, together with other civil society groups, weigh campaigns of divestment and economic sanctions against Israel – forms of the very nonviolent resistance that the world has been demanding. The Israeli Jewish public, unfortunately, has abrogated its responsibility. Zionism, which began as a movement of Jews to take charge of their lives, to determine their own fate, has ironically become a skein of pretexts serving only to prevent Israelis from taking their fate in their own hands. The “deal” with the political parties has turned Israeli government policies into mere pretexts for oppression, for “winning” over another people, for colluding with American Empire.

The problem with Israel is that, for all the reasons given in this paper, it has made itself impervious to normal political processes. Negotiations do not work because Israeli policy is based on “bad faith.” If Israel’s actual agenda is territorial expansion, retaining control of the entire country west of the Jordan and foreclosing any viable Palestinian state, then any negotiations that might threaten that agenda are put off, delayed or avoided. All Israeli officials and their surrogates – local religious figures, representatives of organized Jewish communities abroad, liberal Zionist peace organizations, intellectuals and journalists defining themselves as “Zionist,” “pro-Israel” public figures in any given country and others – become gatekeepers. In effect – deliberately or not - their essential role is not to engage but to deflect engagement, to “build a fence” around the core Israeli agenda so as to appear to be forthcoming but to actually avert any negotiations or pressures that might threaten Israel’s unilateral agenda.

It’s a win-lose equation. If Ben Gurion’s principle that the Arabs will sue for peace even after we get everything we want, then why compromise? True, Israel could have had peace, security and normalization years ago, but not a “unified” Jerusalem, Judea or Samaria. If the price is continued hostility of the Arab and Muslim masses and no integration into the region, well, that’s certainly something we can live with. In the meantime, we can rely on our military to handle any challenges to either our Occupation or our hegemony that might arise.

This logic carried us through almost to the end, to Olmert’s Convergence Plan that was intended to “end” the Occupation and establish a permanent regime of Israeli dominance. And then Israel hit the wall, a dead-end: The rise of Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority and the traumatic “non-victory” over Hezbollah. Both those events exposed the fatal flaw of the non-conflict peace policy. The Palestinians are indeed the gatekeepers, and the Arab governments in whom Israel placed all its hopes are in danger of being swept away by a wave of fundamentalism fueled, in large part, by the Occupation and Israel’s open alignment with American Empire. Peace, even a minimally stable non-peace, cannot be achieved without dealing, once and for all, with the Palestinians. The war in Lebanon has left Israel staring into the abyss. The Oslo peace process died six years ago, the Road Map initiative was stillborn and, in the wake of the war, Olmert has announced that his convergence plan, the only political plan the government had, was being shelved for the time being. Ha’aretz commentator Aluf Benn spoke for many Israelis when he reflected:

Cancellation of the convergence plan raises two main questions: What is happening in the territories and what is the point of continuing Olmert's government? Olmert has no answers. The response to calls to dismiss him is the threat of Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm. But what, exactly, is the difference? Both now propose preservation of the status quo in the territories, rehabilitation of the North and grappling with Iran. At this point, what advantage does the head of state have over the head of the opposition? (Ha’aretz, August 25, 2006)

Without the ability to end or even manage its regional conflicts unilaterally, faced with the limitations of military power, increasingly isolated in a world for whom human rights does matter, yet saddled with a political system that prevents governments from taking political initiative and a public that can only hunker down, Israel finds itself not in a status quo but in a downward spiral of violence leading absolutely nowhere. Even worse, it finds itself strapped to a superpower that itself is discovering the futility of unilateralism in its own Middle East adventures even while encouraging Israel to join in. Still, knowing that governments will not do the right thing without being prodded by the people, the Israeli peace camp welcomes the active intervention of the progressive international civil society. In the end we can only hope that the Israeli mainstream will join us.

The door to peace is still wide open. The Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian and Syrian governments have said that war raises new possibilities for peace. Even Peretz said as much, but was forced to backtrack when Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister, declared the “time was not ripe” for talks with Syria. Instead the Olmert government appointed the chief of the air force to be its “campaign coordinator” in any possible war with Iran, and then named Avigdor Lieberman, the extremist right-winger who is on record as favoring a attacks on Iran as well as a nuclear strike on Egypt’s Aswan Dam, as Deputy Prime Minister and “Minister of Strategy.”

Israel will simply not walk through that door, period. There is no indication that one of the lessons learned from the Lebanese disaster will be the futility of imposing a military solution on the region. On the contrary, the chorus of protest in Israel in the wake of the war is: Why didn’t the government let the army win? Demands for the heads of Olmert, Peretz and Halutz come from their military failure, not from a failure of their military policy. But instead of demanding a government inquiry as to why Israel lost the war, the sensible Ha’aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein suggests a government inquiry on why Israel has not achieved peace with its neighbors over the past sixty years.

The question then is, will the international community, the only force capable of putting an end to the superfluous destabilization of the global system caused by Israel’s Occupation, step in and finally impose a settlement agreeable to all the parties? So far, the answer appears to be “no,” constrained in large part by America’s view that Israel is still a valuable ally in its faltering “war on terror.” Only when the international community – led probably by Europe rather than the US, which appears to be hopeless in this regard – decides that the price is too high and adopts a more assertive policy towards the Occupation will Israel’s ability to manipulate end. Civil society’s active intervention is crucial. We – Israelis, Palestinians and internationals – can formulate precisely what the large majority of Israelis and Palestinians crave: a win-win alternative to Israel’s self-serving and failed “security” framing based on irreducible human rights. Such a campaign would contribute measurably to yet another critical project: A meta-campaign in which progressive forces throughout the world articulate a truly new world order founded on inclusiveness, justice, peace and reconciliation. If, in the end, Israel sparks such a reframing, if it generates a movement of global inclusiveness and dialogue, then it might, in spite of itself, yet be the “light unto the nations” it has always aspired to be.

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(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at