Israel-Palestine from both sides of the mirror

Roger Cohen
The New York Times, June 16, 2017

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli victory in the 1967 war and of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. The jubilation of military victory, quicker and more comprehensive than seemed possible, has long since subsided into a grinding status quo: the oppression of 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, the confrontation with 1.8 million in encircled Hamas-run Gaza, and the corrosion of Israeli democracy that accompanies this extended exercise in dominion. Often called unsustainable, the occupation has proved altogether sustainable.

Jews need no instruction in the agony of exile. Yet their modern statehood, achieved after the millennia of diaspora existence and persecution, has come to involve the statelessness of another people. I asked four friends — two Israelis and two Palestinians — to write briefly of their thoughts on this anniversary.

Salam Fayyad, former Palestinian Authority prime minister:

At 50, the occupation remains highly oppressive to us and corrosive to Israel. Yet it lingers on. Arresting this highly adverse dynamic requires that we Palestinians genuinely seek to empower ourselves and take full agency in our own liberation. This entails unifying the Palestinian polity and mobilizing grass roots support around the central objective of projecting the reality of Palestinian statehood on the territory Israel occupied in 1967, in spite of the occupation.

Some would say that the pursuit of empowerment in the face of a capricious occupation regime designed to disempower the occupied is doomed to failure, or that even if we manage to attain some progress toward building our state, we merely succeed in normalizing the occupation. This dangerous combination of defeatism and self-doubt is a perfect prescription for paralysis and entrapment.

We must break away from this inaction trap. We must, under all conditions, persist and persevere in our pursuit of empowerment. That said, it should be realized that the political viability of this endeavor would be highly questionable in a context in which our national rights remain unrecognized and settlement activity, military raids, land confiscation and home demolitions continue.

This is the way forward. After all, Palestinian empower-ment and ending the Israeli occupation are two sides of the same coin.

Itamar Rabinovich, Yitzhak Rabin’s ambassador to Washington and author of a biography of him:

“The Cursed Blessing” was the perceptive title that the Israeli historian Shabtai Teveth gave to his book about the impact of the Six-Day War on Israel. A blessing it was; it released Israel from a dangerous crisis, consolidated its standing vis-Ó-vis the Arab world, turned it into a regional power, and transformed its relationship with the United States. Most important, it provided Israel with the bargaining chips for peacemaking with its Arab enemies.

Another decade was needed to convert the abstract principle of “territories for peace” into peace with Egypt and another 15 years for the peace process to be renewed and to produce peace with Jordan and the Oslo compromise with Palestinian nationalism. But the Oslo process, an attempt to resolve peacefully two peoples’ claim to the same land, was only implemented in part and suspended. An Israeli zealot assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Fifty years after June 1967, Israel is still encumbered with the occupation of the West Bank and with the perception of lingering control of Gaza.

Both Israelis and Palestinians pay dearly for the impasse. Keeping the settlement project in the West Bank saps Israel’s resources, compromises its international legitimacy and injects negative norms into Israel proper. It is time to seek a final status agreement that will separate the two peoples or at least stop the current drift into one-statehood.

We all know what the shape of a final status agreement should and would look like. Realistically we may not be able to achieve it now. The state of Israeli and Palestinian politics, the upheaval in the region and the question marks regarding the Trump administration could prove insurmountable. But there is a way to stop the gradual sliding into the abyss through an interim agreement that would give Palestinians a provisional state in a large part of the West Bank territory. This is anathema to both the Israeli right and the Palestinian leadership, but is the only realistic option today for those who seek to salvage a two-state solution.

Joyce Aljouny, director of the Ramallah Friends School:

I was barely 2 years old when my mother clutched me close to her chest when we saw the Israeli soldiers taking control of our street in Ramallah; it was June 1967. Fifty years of a life tarnished by injustice, subjugation and daily anxieties ensued.

Living under military occupation meant coping with the shooting of my best friend in high school, turning a fearful blind eye when seeing soldiers beating a Palestinian boy with a baton, rescuing my husband from the grip of soldiers on a cold winter night, contending with my 10-year-old son’s night terrors after weeks of relentless bombardment, not being allowed to enter the city of my birth, Jerusalem, and living in daily anguish knowing that my people remain refugees after more than 70 years and have lived under siege for decades.

Myriad human rights abuses by brutal Israeli occupation forces have not been sufficient to amplify solidarity with Palestinians to a level that would fundamentally change American foreign policy. The double standard, complacency and failure of the international community to acknowledge the authenticity and morality of my people’s struggle are disheartening. The Palestinian plight, grounded in decades of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and apartheid, is brushed off with baseless counterarguments — claims that there is no partner for peace, that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews, that Israel’s excessive force is retaliatory, that settlements are a legal right.

As is the case for many Palestinians, it seems that despite my belief in nonviolence and coexistence in one democratic state, I have been dehumanized and deemed an anti-Semite — a non-partner — even before I utter a word.

Dan Meridor, former Likud Israeli deputy prime minister:

Until 1967, the Arab goal was to wipe Israel off the map. Given the dramatic asymmetry between Israel and the Arab states in territory, population and natural resources, the Arabs were not irrational in assuming that in the long run they may succeed. The united Arab position was: No recognition, no negotiation and no peace. The Arab means included diplomacy, terrorism and economic boycott.

On the eve of the Six-Day War, when Egypt marched its forces into the Sinai Peninsula, blocked Israel’s southern port, created a united Arab military command with Syria and Jordan and declared it wanted to destroy us, Israel faced an immediate existential threat.

The decisive Israeli victory against all its enemies within six days changed the Middle East dramatically.

Not only was Israel victorious, but also it was understood to be a strong nation that cannot be defeated. Arab rulers who earlier had attacked Israel began to understand the need to find a way to accept Israel. Some eventually chose the road to peace.

President Sadat met Prime Minister Begin. Both showed remarkable leadership and signed the first Arab peace treaty with Israel. King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin followed in signing the second peace treaty.

The Oslo accord was signed with the P.L.O., negotiations for peace have been held with Syria, other Arab states developed informal economic and touristic relations with Israel. There is Israeli-Arab cooperation in intelligence and security areas.

This process of relinquishing the aim to defeat Israel and of accepting Israel in the Middle East is a direct result of the strong Israel that emerged from the Six-Day War. Present turmoil in the Arab world offers a unique opportunity to further enhance this trend with more Arab states.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. Occupation is damaging to Israel, but even a dovish Israeli government proved unable to find agreement with the Palestinians. The “creeping status quo” is hurting both sides. It moves in a dangerous direction. It urgently calls for courageous leadership on both sides to resolve it.

– PeaceMeal, July/August & Sept./October 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israel imposes ‘apartheid regime’ on Palestinians, United Nations agency says

A United Nations agency has accused Israel in a report of imposing an “apartheid regime” of racial discrimination on Palestinians. The report, published March 15 by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), concludes that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” The accusation is often directed at Israel by its critics and fiercely rejected by Israel.

Rima Khalaf, U.N. Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary, said the report was the “first of its type” from a U.N. body that “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people.” ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social develop-ment in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of the 18 member Arab states that comprise the agency.

The report says the “strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people” was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through “distinct laws, policies and practices.” It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile. It adds, “However, only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York that the report was published without any prior consultation with the U.N. secretariat. “The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general (Antonio Guterres),” said Mr. Dujarric.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement, “The attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie.”

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement that the Trump administration was outraged by the report.

The report was authored by Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and former U.N. human rights investigator for the Palestinian territories, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University. Before leaving his post as U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories in 2014, Falk — who is Jewish — said Israeli policies bore unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. The United States accused him of being biased against Israel.

– edited from Reuters, March 16, 2017
PeaceMeal,March/April 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The real Israel/German submarine scandal

Victor Gilinsky

Israel is absorbed with a “submarine scandal” that centers on improprieties in the award of a billion-dollar contract under which Israel would acquire three new advanced German submarines. (Germany has already delivered five of the subs, on a previous contract for six.) It came to light that the prime minister’s personal lawyer was on the payroll of the submarine builder, Thyssen-Krupp. Then it turned out that Iran, which figures heavily in the motive for getting the submarines, owns 4.5 percent of Thyssen-Krupp and so would gain a profit from their sale. On top of that, there is also a Lebanese connection to the German builder. But the real scandal is that Germany supplies the submarines at all, and does so through a loophole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The submarines are built to carry long-range Israeli cruise missiles armed with nuclear weapons. The missiles’ range is about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles), which brings Tehran within reach from the Mediterranean. In greeting the arrival of the latest submarine, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it would be equipped with “advanced” Israeli systems that would be “used first and foremost to deter our enemies who strive to extinguish us.” German government claims that they know nothing about the submarines’ nuclear role are more than a little ridiculous.

While the Non-Proliferation Treaty prohibits five nuclear weapon states — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, and France — from aiding any other state in obtaining nuclear weapons, and it prohibits the treaty’s non-nuclear weapon state members from receiving such aid, it does not specifically prohibit those other members from providing nuclear weapon-related assistance, including aid to non-members India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan, all of which now have nuclear weapons.

The loophole reflects two unrealistic assumptions of the 1968 treaty. The first: That member countries outside of the five authorized to have nuclear weapons would not have any nuclear weapons-related technology to pass along to other countries, so an explicit prohibition was unnecessary. The second: That an effective protective system against proliferation could be limited to “safeguarding,” or keeping track of, the transfer of nuclear materials from which nuclear warheads could be fashioned. Thus, the treaty ignores the trade in delivery vehicles, even those, such as some missiles and strategic submarines, that are entirely devoted to launching nuclear warheads.

But the existence of loopholes in the NPT does not diminish the obligation of the parties to act in accordance with the treaty’s fundamental objectives. The obligation to restrain nuclear weapons programs of non-NPT states does not end when those states obtain nuclear weapons. By providing Israel with strategic submarines, Germany has given that non-NPT member an essentially invulnerable capacity to strike anywhere in Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East with nuclear weapons. That surely is at odds with German (and U.S.) insistence that the NPT is the “cornerstone” of their proliferation policy.

Closing the loophole that allows NPT member states to assist non-member states with their nuclear weapon programs doesn’t seem to be in the cards realistically because it would impact Israel. But if the loophole isn’t closed, the United States and the other principal NPT members should understand that winking at evasions of the principles of the treaty by friendly countries is a recipe for the spread of nuclear weapons.

Victor Gilinsky is a consultant on nuclear issues. who has served two terms on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He also was a department head at the RAND Corp. His article is edited from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 4, 2017, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2017.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

In leaked emails, Colin Powell says Israel has 200 nukes

Former U.S. secretary of state and four-star general Colin Powell alleged that Israel possesses some 200 nuclear weapons, in an email apparently leaked by Russian hackers the third week of September. Discussing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to Congress about the dangers posed by the Iranian nuclear deal, Powell wrote that he doubted the Iranian regime would use an atomic bomb even if it could get one, since “the boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we have thousands.”

Powell’s email, sent on March 3, 2015, to his business partner and Democratic party donor Jeffrey Leeds, more than doubled the 2014 estimate of 80 weapons made by the Federation of American Scientists. As a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Powell’s figure of 200 would appear to carry more weight.

A trove of Powell’s emails was posted on the website and first reported by Buzzfeed News. Powell did not deny the emails’ authenticity when asked by Buzzfeed. has been alleged to be an outlet for hackers tied to the Russian intelligence groups. The website, which says it intends to expose the misuse of political power, has previously released emails from other Washington political figures.

The Powell emails, which run from March 2015 through August 2016, offer rare insight into the unvarnished opinions of the respected, retired U.S. Army general, who was secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

In challenging some of the assertions made by Netanyahu in his speech to Congress, Powell referred to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying, “What would we do with one [a nuclear bomb], polish it?”

Powell also cast doubt on the amount of time that Netanyahu and others estimated it would take Iran to develop a nuclear bomb. “Bibi [Netanyahu] likes to say ‘a year away,’ as do our intel guys. They say it every years (sic),” Powell wrote.

– edited from an article by Judah Ari Gross in The Times of Israel, September 15, 2016
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israel’s sea-based nukes pose risks

Victor Gilinsky

Israel has acquired a fleet of advanced German submarines that, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled, carry nuclear weapons pointed at Iran. The Obama administration’s pretense that it knows nothing about any nuclear weapons in Israel makes intelligent discussion about the dangers of nuclear weapons in the Middle East all but impossible. It has also vastly diminished respect for America’s broader worldwide effort to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

On January 12 of this year, the fifth of six German-built submarines scheduled for delivery, the Rahav, arrived at its base in Haifa. It’s an advanced diesel-electric boat that is equipped with air-independent propulsion, that is, it has its own oxygen supply so it can stay beneath the surface for weeks and do so more quietly than a nuclear-powered submarine. Its four extra-large torpedo tubes are sized to fire Israeli long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The strategic submarine procurement process started in the early 1990s, around the time of the first Gulf war. Germany’s position vis-Ó-vis Israel became especially awkward when it came to light that German firms had helped Saddam Hussein with his poison gas and missiles, some of which landed in Israel. Germany quickly agreed to pay for the first two submarines, a contribution that was cast as continued reparation for the World War II murder of millions of Jews.

Once the submarines took up their stations, the Israelis did not hide their mission. A 2011 Israeli Ynetnews story described an interview with the submarine fleet’s commander under the headline “Doomsday weapon: Israel’s submarines.” A related story stated: “Foreign reports suggest that the German subs serve as Israel’s ‘second strike’ power and aim to retain its nuclear capabilities, even in cases of an attack on the country.”

Any shred of doubt about Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, and about the presence of long-range nuclear missiles on the German-supplied submarines, got erased at the cere-mony celebrating the Rahav’s arrival. The official speeches showed that Israel’s nuclear weapons are no longer weapons of last resort to be used only in extremis: they are now integrated into its overall military strategy.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the “submarine fleet is used first and foremost to deter our enemies who strive to extinguish us....” There is little doubt who “they” are. The Israeli leader-ship’s fixation with the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands has filled the news for years.

But the U.S. government has remained silent. The United States has consistently shielded Israel’s nuclear force from criticism in international arenas, squelching any effort to raise the subject. While it proclaims the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the “cornerstone” of its nonproliferation policy and claims “unwavering” support for a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone, America’s real policy is entirely different in practice: It aims to protect Israel’s monopoly on nuclear force in the Middle East. That hypocrisy is not lost on the rest of the world, most of which takes a cynical view of U.S. motives in pursuing nonproliferation.

This U.S. policy carries a very real risk: As one of the four NPT holdouts (the others being India, North Korea and Pakistan), Israel is also one of the countries most likely to use nuclear weapons against an adversary. All four of these non-signatories to the treaty are involved in bitter disputes. While they all speak of using their weapons for deterrence, they do not rule out their use in response to non-nuclear provocation.

The essential first step in dealing with this danger is for the Obama administration to acknowledge the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Ending the pretense would lance the hypocrisy that so gravely undermines U.S. efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery.

Physicist Victor Gilinsky is an independent consultant whose expertise spans a broad range of energy issues. From 1975 to 1984, he served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commis-sion and, earlier in his career, was an assistant director for policy and program review at the AEC. His article is edited from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 8, 2016, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, March/April 2016.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Netanyahu ends fence-mending U.S. visit with little to show

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed home on November 11 with little to show for his attempt to mend a rift with the White House over his efforts to block a nuclear agreement with Iran. Afterward, Netanyahu said his first private meeting with President Barack Obama in a year was one of the best he has had. But to observers the meeting was a minimalist diplomatic exercise, a business-like reaffirmation of the two countries’ close bonds but with no warmth shown by either leader.

Months of bad blood hit a low in March when Netanyahu bypassed Obama to deliver a speech to the Republican-controlled Congress, denouncing the nuclear accord with Iran as it was being negotiated. Though embarrassed and angry, Obama brushed off the speech and joined with five other powers in striking the landmark deal with Tehran in July.

Just days before Netanyahu set off for his meeting with Obama, when it seemed there was no way to further aggravate the foul relationship between the two, the name of Ran Baratz popped up. Baratz, a conservative Israeli journalist, was appointed to head Israel’s public diplomacy campaign in the prime minister’s office, a position that effectively makes him Israel’s national spokesman. It took just seconds for a collection of Baratz’s learned opinions on the issues of the day to begin making the rounds of the Israeli media. He likened Obama to the “modern face of anti-Semitism” and suggested that Secretary of State John Kerry take up a career as a standup comedian.

As could only be expected, the appointment set off a scandal, which reached its climax in a blunt statement by Vice President Joe Biden to the Union for Reform Judaism meeting in Florida on November 8. He said, “There is no excuse, there should be no tolerance for any member or employee of the Israeli administration referring to the president of the United States in derogatory terms. Period. Period. Period.”

As the meeting of the two heads of state approached, an alleged Israeli request to increase U.S. military aid from $3 billion a year to $5 billion was leaked to The New York Times. Another leaked assessment predicted that the compensation package Israel would receive from the United States would not be as big as it would have been if Netanyahu had not fought the nuclear agreement with Iran to the bitter end.

Another very clear signal sent by the administration was that, while Netanyahu’s visit was described as “official,” the Israeli delegation was not invited to stay in Blair House, the president’s official guesthouse. They had to make do with a Washington hotel instead.

During his three-day visit to Washington, Netanyahu opened negotiations on U.S. military aid to Israel over the coming decade. But for now he left empty-handed, hoping that the Americans share Israel’s assessment of its security requirements in light of what is happening in the region.

The Israeli prime minister also stepped up contacts with Democrats as well as Republicans, hammering a message of “unity” at all his encounters. In a show of his willingness to improve relations, if not with the present administration then with the next, Netanyahu agreed to a debate at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

“I came here... because I think it is vital to understand how important it is for me that Israel remain an issue of bipartisan consensus. It’s crucial,” he said. But he went on to lay out a particularly pessimistic vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressing his view that the current stalemate would remain unchanged, to the disappointment of his audience.

Earlier in the day, he addressed an annual meeting of 4,000 representatives of American Jewish federations, who are traditionally close to the Democrats and have been affected by the controversy over the Iran agreement. Some representatives of the American Jewish community, the largest in the world with between 4.5 and 5.7 million people, have been accused by their detractors of betraying Israel for having supported the agreement with Iran. The divisions have revealed, however, that there are limits to American Jewish support for an Israel led by Netanyahu.

Before his departure, Netanyahu met with Secretary of State John Kerry. A Kerry advisor, Frank Lowenstein, subsequently traveled to Israel to continue talks. Netanyahu told the Israeli press that a U.S. delegation was also expected in Jerusalem in December.

– edited from Agence-France Presse and Al-Monitor
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Damning conclusions for both sides in 2014 Gaza war report

The Guardian (U.K.), June 22, 2015

In the report released June 22 by the United Nations commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza war, one passage stands out: “Palestinian and Israeli children were savagely affected by the events. Children on both sides suffered from bed-wetting, shaking at night, clinging to parents, nightmares and increased levels of aggressiveness.”

Those words are a reminder that, in all the positioning and spinning that follows a report of this kind, the heart of the matter is the human cost, usually paid by the most vulnerable.

Israel lost no time in condemning the document, arguing that it was politically motivated from the start. But that instant verdict is a mistake. For one thing, as the passage above suggests, the inquiry clearly worked hard to be even-handed. It blames both the Israeli military and armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, for “serious violations” of international humanitarian law that “may amount to war crimes”. The death toll of last summer’s violence was lopsided — with more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis killed — but the U.N. report strains to understand the Israeli as well as Palestinian narrative behind those numbers. It speaks, for example, of the “immense distress” suffered by Israelis facing continual rocket fire from Gaza.

It’s also the case that, even if the inquiry was initiated by the tainted U.N. Human Rights Council, it was completed by a staunchly independent investigator, New York judge Mary McGowan Davis. Israel may have had a case in pushing for the resignation of her predecessor William Schabas as chair, whose neutrality became in doubt when it emerged that he had advised the Palestinian Authority in the past. But Israel had little cause to withhold cooperation once he had gone. Indeed the country may now regret that decision, recognizing that it surely damaged its own self-interest by failing to present its side of the story.

Not that there was much that could have been done to avert the report’s damning conclusions. It describes how Israeli planes conducted more than 6,000 air strikes, “many of which hit residential buildings.” The investigators were not impressed that Israel warned of imminent assaults via phone call or text messages, because those warnings were often received by people who had too little time to run and nowhere to run to. Yet Israel regarded anyone who remained in a targeted neighborhood as a combatant. Israel persisted in these tactics despite the rising civilian death toll, a fact that points to a policy “at least tacitly approved at the highest level of government.”

The Palestinian side is strongly criticized for the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. The majority of the 4,881 rockets shot by Hamas and its affiliates at Israeli civilian areas carried no degree whatsoever of precision. The report also mentions 21 cases of extrajudicial killings of alleged Palestinian collaborators.

The U.N. team finds both sides lamentable in their failure to demonstrate even modest accountability. It says that among Israeli forces “impunity” prevails for those guilty of violations. One remedy would be the international criminal court, a route Israel has always rejected. If Israel wants to maintain that position, then it surely has to deal with these war crime allegations through its own legal system. Both sides like to claim the moral advantage, even while locked in a vicious conflict. If they really believe that, then they must bring those accused of grave crimes to justice.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects Palestinian state

After years of paying lip service to the formation of a Palestinian state to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli Prime Minister´ Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected that solution outright. Bowing to his hard-right base on March 16, the eve of Israel’s parliamentary elections, Netanyahu vowed that he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state as long as he was prime minister. Netanyahu also promised that during his watch there would be “no withdrawals” from the Palestinians’ West Bank territory, which Israel occupies militarily.

His announcement convinced many Netanyahu skeptics that this has been his true position all along and that he has wasted American time by pretending to endorse a two-state solution. The creation of a Palestinian state was the focus of nine months of negotiations last year led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

On election day itself in a Facebook video, Netanyahu posed in front of a map of the Middle East and used the idiom of mili-tary conflict to warn that “Arab voters are advancing in large numbers towards voting places” and that this was “a call-up order” for his supporters to head to the polls. The enemy against whom Netanyahu was seeking to rally his troops was not Islamic State or massed foreign armies, or even the Palestinians of the West Bank or Gaza. He was speaking of the 20 percent of the Israeli electorate that is Palestinian: Arabs who were born in, live in and are citizens of Israel. The prime minister was describing the democratic participation of one-fifth of the country he governs in the language of a military assault to be beaten back.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the United States and a major leader of American Jewry, condemned Netanyahu’s last-ditch re-election tactics as “a naked appeal to his hard-right bases’ fears rather than their hopes.”

Reacting to Netanyahu’s win in the elections, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah promised to go to the International Criminal Court at The Hague on April 1 to press war crimes charges against Israeli soldiers and leaders, focusing on the many civilian deaths during last summer’s 50-day war in Gaza and the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In 2013, even as Netanyahu was calling for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, he authorized the construction of 3,500 more housing units in their West Bank territory. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the settlement activity as “contrary to international law and constitutes an obstacle to peace.”

Two days after the elections, Netanyahu attempted to backtrack from his hard-line statements in the wake of an international diplomatic backlash. With his statements undermin-ing a cornerstone of White House Middle East policy, President Obama responded in a March 20 interview with The Huffington Post, “Well, we take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”

Though he pledged to keep working with the Israeli govern-ment on military and intelligence operations, Obama declined to say whether the United States would continue to block Palestinian efforts to secure statehood through the United Nations. In a phone conversation the two had the previous day, he said he indicated to Netanyahu that “it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”

Obama’s deepest discomfort was due to Netanyahu’s election day warning about Arab Israeli voters going to the polls in droves. “We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions,” Obama said, “that although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly. ... If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also, I think, starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.”

The stalemate in peace talks means that American action or inaction is a variable for the first time in decades. The United States could stand aside as a framework for Palestinian statehood passes through the United Nations, for instance, or decline to intervene in international attempts to press Israel on the issue.

With ties between the United States and Israel strained to their weakest point in decades, Republicans flocked to Netanyahu’s defense. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have threatened to withhold U.S. funds to the U.N. should the White House not intervene on the issue of Palestinian statehood. The Republican-controlled Congress will also likely freeze U.S. aid to Palestine if charges of war crimes against Israel reach the International Criminal Court.

European leaders, frustrated by more than four decades of military occupation in the West Bank and the repeated failures of peace talks, have begun to openly debate employing sanctions against Israel to apply pressure for a sovereign Palestinian state. British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was direct. He said if Netanyahu rejects a two-state solution and expands West Bank settlements, “the world, including the British parliament, would have no option but to recognize a Palestinian state.”

Only the na´ve could look at Netanyahu’s nine years in office (spread over three decades) and conclude he was ever serious about either equality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel or the pursuit of a two-state solution. But now we have his explicit word, confirming that everything his harshest critics said of him was true.

– compiled and edited from The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Guardian (U.K.) and Haaretz (Israel)
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

New report cites alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza war

Israeli conduct during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip increased the number of civilian casualties, an independent report has said, by failing to differentiate between military targets and civilian populations. Despite claims to the contrary, the Israeli military did not give sufficient warning for civilians to evacuate residential areas before striking them, according to the report partly commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights and carried out by eight independent medical experts. The report also cited potential violations of humanitarian law and indiscriminate strikes that led to the deaths of medical workers, and called for a full inquiry into the 50-day war.The report said Israel’s “early warning” procedures — including phone calls, text messages and dropping preliminary non-explosive missiles on buildings before striking them — were inconsistent and often did not provide enough time for evacuation.

“Attacks were characterized by heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighborhoods,” the report said. “In numerous cases, double or multiple consecutive strikes on a single location led to multiple civilian casualties and to injuries and deaths among rescuers.”

The 237-page report published January 20 was based on visits during and after the war, using interviews with 68 people wounded during the fighting, autopsies on 370 people killed, and review of dozens of medical files. Only seven percent of interviewees reported receiving early warnings.

The Israel Defense Forces said the report was “based on one-sided and incorrect data assumed from biased sources.”

The war between Israel and Islamist movement Hamas killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and has caused growing instability in Gaza, where 100,000 people whose homes were destroyed or damaged remain displaced. On the Israeli side, 73 died, mostly soldiers.

In a move to hold Israel accountable for alleged war crimes, the Palestinians on January 2 delivered to United Nations head-quarters documents to join the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and 16 other international treaties. The ICC move paves the way for the court to take jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestinian lands and investigate the conduct of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders over more than a decade of bloody conflict.

The chief Palestinian observer at the U.N., Riyad Mansour, told reporters, “This is a very significant step. It is an option that we are seeking in order to seek justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.”

In retaliation for the move, Israel halted transfers of the tax revenue it collects for the Palestinians under the current interim peace accords and transfers each month to the Palestinian Authority. December’s tax transfer is about $127 million. Withholding the funds is just one of several actions Israel could take, including expanding its illegal settlement construction in the Palestinians’ West Bank territory.

United States officials said the ICC move was of deep concern and that some $400 million in annual aid to Palestine could be in jeopardy. Regarding the threat of possible U.S. sanctions or cuts in aid for joining the ICC, Mansour said, “It is really puzzling when you seek justice through a legal approach to be punished for doing so.”

Neither Israel nor the United States belongs to the ICC.

– edited from Agence France-Presse, Reuters & Associated Press
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israeli-Palestinian conflict shifts toward religious war

JERUSALEM – Guarded by a phalanx of riot police, the knot of young Jewish men, long sidelocks blowing in the breeze, strode across the paved esplanade of Jerusalem’s most sensitive religious site. A group of veiled and black-robed Muslim women leaped up to confront them, rhythmically chanting, “Allahu akbar!” — “God is great!”

Scenes like this one, playing out recently on a windy hilltop in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, illustrate the antagonism that has long colored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, though, the overtly religious elements of what had long been primarily a national and territorial struggle appear to be coming to the fore.

Recently, figures from Pope Francis to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have voiced alarm over the explicitly religious character of recent violence in Jerusalem and its environs. That was crystallized by the gruesome slaying of four Jewish worshipers — three Americans and a Briton — in a Jerusalem synagogue and the killing of an Israeli police officer trying to defend them.

Many commentators have noted the large potential for a conflict now primed to draw in Muslims not only from the Palestinian territories, but across the region and the Islamic world. Even before the synagogue carnage in Jerusalem, there were growing signs that places of worship were becoming battlegrounds, including the torching in November of a mosque outside the West Bank city of Ramallah and a firebomb attack on a historic synagogue in northern Israel.

At the conflict’s heart, though, is the iconic Old City plateau, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. In recent weeks, it has served as the principal rallying cry for Palestinian attackers. Many other factors have influenced the mutual acrimony of recent months: the June killings of three young Jewish seminary students in the West Bank, followed by the reprisal torture and killing of a Palestinian teen; the destructive summer war in the Gaza Strip; heavy-handed Israeli police tactics used to quell street unrest in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem. But no other single grievance has galvanized such passions as the contested holy site.

The biblical Mt. Moriah — site of the ancient Jewish temples and of Islam’s third-holiest venue, Al Aqsa mosque — has for the last half-century been governed by an arrangement known as the “status quo,” under which only Muslims are allowed to pray on the plateau. Jews, largely adhering to mainstream rabbinical injunctions against ascending the mount and perhaps inadvertently treading on the Holy of Holies — the inner sanctum of the Old Testament temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept — prayed instead at the adjoining Western Wall.

For several months, though, a movement spearheaded by Jewish activists has surged to greater prominence, staging more frequent visits to the hilltop site, which at certain times is open to tourists. Followers were sometimes counseled on how to circumvent the prayer ban with tactics such as “accidentally” falling down in order to ritually prostrate oneself, or reciting prayer fragments as part of tourist-style observations about the site’s historic structures.

In the view of Palestinians and of neighboring Jordan, the formal custodian of the site, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated pledges to retain the status quo were dubious, because some of those actively seeking to scrap the status quo were members of his own government or of the Israeli parliament. On the Palestinian side, a concerted campaign of extremist rhetoric dismissed Jewish ties to the site, further galvanizing Jewish activists’ calls for greater access.

As Muslim fear of a physical division of the site intensified, punctuated by episodes of violent unrest on the plateau itself, Israel imposed age restrictions for Muslim men for Friday prayers. Young Palestinian men seethed — and prayed in the streets outside barricades guarded by Israeli riot police.

Against this backdrop, a Palestinian assailant in late October made a brazen bid to assassinate Israeli American activist Yehuda Glick, one of the most vocal advocates for expanded Jewish rights to the site. Though seriously wounded, Glick survived. Amid the ensuing turmoil, Israel closed the hilltop to all visitors for the first time in years, a step Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called tantamount to a “declaration of war.”

Though the closure was brief, Jordan withdrew its ambassador in protest and warned that Israeli actions jeopardized their 2-decade-old peace treaty and a host of related accords. Secretary of State John Kerry made an urgent visit to Jordan for separate talks with Abbas and Netanyahu, winning promises of calming measures, including the lifting of the age restrictions for Friday prayers.

Rock-throwing clashes, which have become the near-daily norm in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, broke out later, and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Hebron set an Israeli army post ablaze.

To many, the tilt toward a religion-centered conflict bodes ill for any revival of the peace process, which most recently broke down in April. “So long as the conflict remains on a secular, territorial track, there remains hope of a solution. Not so with religion,” analyst Uzi Rabi told Israel Radio. “This should be a wake-up call not only to Israel, but to world players.”

Despite a flurry of conciliatory interfaith gestures after the synagogue attack, including solidarity visits to the neighborhood by Muslim, Christian and other religious leaders, the dispute over the holy site appears on track to intensify, not ease. A Tel Aviv University survey indicated that while a relatively slender majority of Israeli Jews — 56 percent — supported retaining the status quo, more than one-third wanted the prayer ban lifted, even if it resulted in bloodshed.

Columnist Nahum Barnea observed in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that the shift from a national conflict to a religious one could unleash forces neither side could control. “A thousand firefighters,” he wrote, “will not be able to extinguish a fire that has God as the fuse.”

– edited from the Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2014
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israel’s grab of West Bank land for settlement use draws U.S. rebuke

JERUSALEM – Israel announced on August 31 a large land appropriation in the occupied West Bank, drawing Palestinian condemnation and a U.S. rebuke. Nearly 1,000 acres in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem were declared “state land” by the military-run Civil Administration.

Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens by Hamas militants in the area in June. Tensions stoked by the incident quickly spread to Israel’s border with Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and the two sides engaged in a seven-week war that ended on August 26 with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” a U.S. State Department official said in Washington, calling the move “counterproductive” to efforts to achieve a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Peace Now, a non-governmental activist organization in Israel that promotes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and opposes Israeli settlement activities, said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s and that anyone with ownership claims had 45 days to appeal. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel came under an barrage of criticism for its move that included the European Union and United Nations. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decried Israel’s decision. He said the United Nations had reiterated on many occasions that Israel’s seizure of Palestinian land is illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution.

Some 500,000 Israelis already live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability and inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rdainah said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off U.S.-brokered peace talks with Abbas in April after the Palestinian leader reached a reconciliation deal with Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates the Gaza Strip. In a series of remarks after an open-ended ceasefire halted the Gaza war, Netanyahu repeated his position that Abbas would have to sever his alliance with Hamas for a peace process with Israel to resume.

President Barack Obama has been at odds with Netanyahu over settlements since taking office in 2009 and pushed back against the land decision. It was the latest point of contention between Washington and its top Middle East ally Israel, who also differ over Iran nuclear talks.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” said the unidentified State Department official. “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

After the collapse of the last round of U.S.-brokered peace talks, U.S. officials cited settlement construction as one of the main reasons for the breakdown, while also faulting the Palestinians for signing a series of international treaties and conventions.

– edited from Reuters, August 31, 2014
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)