A dirty but effective way to start ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Trump’s deal is dead, Biden is busy, the far right dreams of annexation and the far left of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The peace process industry is engrossed in its fantasies. But there’s a practical, unglamorous way to make life better for two million Israelis and Palestinians.

We can all breathe. Four weeks after his inauguration as President of the United States, Joe Biden finally gave Benjamin Netanyahu a call, and all is fine with the extra-special relationship.

And now that the long wait is over, we can finally get down to more relevant question of what plans, if any, does the new U.S. administration have for us.

One thing seems pretty clear by now. Biden’s team are on a collision course with the Netanyahu government over their intention to rejoin the nuclear agreement with Iran, pretty much on the same lines as the original deal signed by the Obama administration. What’s less clear is their plans on the other potential minefield: the Israel-Palestine conflict.

For now at least, it looks like the administration doesn’t have any plan. For now, they seem content to stick with Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there, while balancing that somewhat by reopening the separate consulate in Jerusalem that dealt directly with the Palestinians. Other than that, Trump’s “deal of the century” peace plan remains dead in the water, as it was on arrival, but there’s nothing in its place.

Biden, we are constantly reminded, has met every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir, nearly 50 years ago. He’s certainly experienced enough to know the limitations of American foreign policy and he’s not about to waste time, diplomatic resources and political capital on the Sisyphean task of solving the conflict, while he’s got a global pandemic, a climate crisis and confrontations with China and Russia to deal with.

Without American leadership, no other country is going to try, certainly not the Arab countries which are busy making their own side-deals with Israel, bypassing the Palestinians. The world has moved on, and Israel-Palestine is, if not officially, at least for all intents and purposes, now on the scrap-heap of insoluble conflicts.

That doesn’t mean the conflict is going away. How could it, with over a third of the 14-million people living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean deprived of the basic rights of citizenship and statehood and living under various degrees of Israeli military occupation? But the world has given up on solving that, and neither side, Israelis or Palestinians, seem particularly inclined to making any of the compromises necessary for resolving it themselves.

Israel’s far right continues to toy with the idea of annexation, disregarding the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis simply don’t want to have full responsibility for another five-million Palestinians. The far left spent the last 15 years promoting BDS, which failed completely to make even the tiniest of dents on Israel’s burgeoning exports or its flourishing foreign relations. Now they’re pinning their hopes on the International Criminal Court prosecuting Israelis for war-crimes, which is unlikely to ever happen. And even if it does, it will take another decade of investigations and legal wrangles and, even then, probably won’t achieve much of an impact.

American academics of Jewish and Palestinian ancestry wax lyrical on binational “one-state” solutions, as if 7,000 miles away from their faculty lounges, anyone actually gives a toss about their thought-exercises.

None of this means that there is nothing to be done to try to improve the situation, to reduce the levels of injustice, and perhaps even to lay groundwork for the distant day when circumstances may change and a solution will be achievable. But to do that, two realities have to be recognized.

The first reality is that none of the comprehensive solutions of two-states, one-state, federations or shared sovereignty are realistic in the foreseeable future, whether achieved by persuasion or coercion. Once you’ve accepted that bleak reality, then there’s a second more optimistic reality you can engage with — that there is scope for more limited progress on the ground, progress that won’t force either side to give up on the principles they currently cling to. That reality is Jerusalem as a shared city. And the very limited decisions of the Biden administration offer a key to engaging with that.

There’s a tendency to treat Jerusalem as a city of religious and ethnic hatred which only division to two capitals for two states can ever solve. Under the still prevailing diplomatic orthodoxy, Jerusalem is still the separate body envisaged in the 1947 U.N. resolution. But that ignores reality.

Jerusalem isn’t just the city’s municipal area. It’s a sprawling urban center of one and a half million people, a dozen municipal and regional councils, under the aegis of Israel’s interior ministry, the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli “Civil Administration” in the West Bank. Roughly 55 percent are Israeli Jews, living on either side of the Green Line. Forty percent are Palestinian citizens, over half of whom are official residents of Jerusalem, with access to Israel’s social and municipal services, and about five percent Palestinians holding full Israeli citizenship.

There is no more diverse population living side-by-side anywhere in the Middle East. Jews and Muslims of every religious stripe and persuasion, and the Holy Land’s largest Christian communities as well. A city which includes not only the oldest and holiest relics for three religions, but some of the region’s most advanced medical centers, high-tech research hubs, its top university — competitive even by global academic standards, and two parliaments and national administration headquarters.

Neither side is going to give up on its claims for sovereignty over parts or all of Jerusalem or its aspirations for calling the city its capital. But those claims do not have to change daily life for ordinary people of all groups in greater Jerusalem.

Currently there is very little interaction between most parts of the Jerusalem urban area. The disparate groups are hardly neighborly and there’s little reason to hope for that to change in the near future. But at many levels there is cooperation.

Most Israelis and Palestinians use the same road networks, share electric grids, water and sewage systems, and are treated in the same three hospitals which, while being Israeli-run, have a high proportion of Palestinian workers at nearly all levels. It’s not conflict resolution but it is cohabitation. And living together, but living better, can, at the very least, provide a template for that wider solution, if and when the opportunity ever presents itself.

There’s no way to pretend that the coexistence in Jerusalem is equal. Israel holds most of the power outside Palestinian cities and controls access to and from them. Israeli Jews enjoy the lion’s share of resources and a much higher level of public services. But this is exactly where there is scope for improvement through enhanced cooperation and integration between the different local authorities.

For diplomats and other professionals of the “peace process” industry, working with both sides on improving Jerusalem’s infrastructure and on matters such as urban planning and waste-management may sound mundane, and nowhere near as glamorous as brokering a peace treaty. The same goes for the various NGOs, whether they claim to fight for historic “justice” or to somehow bring individuals from either side together. It’s not happening.

By the end of this decade, there will be nearly two-million people squashed together, living in this single built-up contiguous area. Ensuring that Israelis and Palestinians don’t drown in each other’s feces, while not being flashy or prestigious, is the closest anyone is likely to get to progress in this decade.

– edited from Haaretz (Israel), February 18, 2021
PeaceMeal, March/Aapril 2021

(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.)


Trump administration reverses longstanding U.S. policy on Israeli settlements

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on November 18 announced a major reversal of the United States’ longstanding policy on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, rejecting a 1978 State Department legal opinion that deemed the settlements “inconsistent with international law.”

The announcement, which breaks with international law and consensus, is the latest in a string of hardline, pro-Israeli moves that are likely to inflame tensions between the Trump administration and Palestinians and widen the divide between the administration and traditional U.S. allies in Europe.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate... the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said. He added that the U.S. government is “expressing no view on the legal status of any individual settlement” or “addressing or prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank.”

Even as Pompeo tried, misleadingly, to present the move as continuation of a previous president’s policies, the State Department tacitly recognized the disruption the shift could cause by issuing a sweeping travel warning for all U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. citizens in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

International law holds that an occupying power cannot build civilian settlements on occupied territories. Under international law, the West Bank is seen as occupied territory, a conclusion Israel disputes.

The new U.S. position was swiftly repudiated by the European Union, which issued a statement emphasizing that their “position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.” It called “on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.”

In contrast, Pompeo’s announcement was hailed by embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces possible criminal indictment in three corruption probes, as well as being involved in a fight to remain Israel’s leader after two inconclusive elections.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, condemned Pompeo’s announcement on West Bank settlements as marking another attempt by the Trump administration “to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’ ”

“Israeli settlements steal Palestinian land, seize and exploit Palestinian natural resources, and divide, displace and restrict the movement of the people of Palestine. In sum, Israel’s colonial- settlement enterprise perpetuates the negation of the Palestinian right to self-determination,” Erekat added. He called on the international community to “take all necessary measures to respond [to] and deter this irresponsible U.S. behavior.”

Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland, said the administration has been removing every frame of reference that has been used to address this conflict over decades. What that means, Telhami said, is that when Pompeo declares the Trump administration policy simply recognizes “realities,” it is rewarding the stronger party. “In essence, it’s just saying the powerful win and the weak party loses. There’s no reference to legality or justice; it’s all about who is powerful, who controls,” Telhami said. “Think about the signal that sends to the rest of the world.”

Shortly after the announcement, the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council shared a security alert for Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, noting that there may be retaliation in reaction to the news. “Individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. citizens,” the alert said. “Potential targets include public events, such as demonstrations, holiday events, and celebratory gatherings; hotels, clubs, and restaurants popular with U.S. citizens; places of worship; schools; shopping malls and markets; tourism infrastructure; public transportation and airports.”

“U.S. citizens should carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security at sites and events that are potential targets,” the warning continued, mentioning that U.S. citizens in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem “should avoid non-essential movements and events that attract attention.”

The announcement is likely to further imperil the prospects for the Trump administration’s long-touted but yet to be unveiled Middle East peace plan. Palestinian officials have dismissed the United States’ role as an arbiter in any peace negotiations, given the Trump administration’s policy moves.

Under Trump, the U.S. moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in defiance of international norms. It has also shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington and slashed funding to the Palestinians.

– edited from CNN, November 18, 2019
PeaceMeal, March/April 2020

(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.)


Rachel Corrie is distinguished example of global solidarity in face of Israeli occupation

The Council on International Relations - Palestine (CIR) said that the 17th anniversary marking the killing of American activist Rachel Corrie at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces comes at a time when attempts to write off the Palestinian issue with the support of the Trump administration are increasing.

Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, while undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition.

The council said that Corrie, who paid her life to protest the crimes of the occupation, is an honest and inspiring example of the solidarity of activists from all countries with the Palestinian cause, although some of those countries’ governments support Israel’s occupation policy.

The Council affirmed that the young generation around the world believes in truth, justice and humanitarian support for the Palestinian people in their struggle to protect their land and rights, despite great sacrifices.

“We see a contradictory picture of a United States admini-stration that supports the occupation and American activists who shed light on the reality of the Palestinian people. This confirms that people of conscience in the American people reject this occupation and its crimes,” the CIR said.

– edited from the CIR, March 16, 2020
PeaceMeal, March/April 2020

(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.)


This is how AIPAC really works

M.J. Rosenberg

One hing that should be said about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet about the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is that the hysterical reaction to it proved her main point: The power of AIPAC over members of Congress is literally awesome, although not in a good way. Has anyone ever seen so many members of Congress — of both parties — running to the microphones and sending out press releases to denounce one first-term member of Congress for criticizing the power of a lobby?

Somehow, I don’t think the reaction would have been the same if she had tweeted that Congress still supports the ethanol subsidy because the American Farm Bureau and other components of the corn/ethanol lobby spend millions to keep this agribusiness bonanza going (which they do). Or that if she had opposed the ethanol subsidy, she would have been accused of hating farmers.

That’s American politics. The only difference between all the domestic lobbies that essentially buy support for their agenda is that AIPAC is working for a foreign government, a distinction but not much of a difference when the goal is to maintain a status quo that is not necessarily in the United States national interest.

What did Omar tweet that was so terrible, anyway? Actually, it was two tweets that produced the unsettling but oh-so-telling coming together of President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in common denunciation of Omar. Her crime: daring to suggest that campaign contributions orchestrated by AIPAC play a large part in achieving bipartisan support for anything proposed by the Israeli government and/or its lobby, AIPAC.

This is something everyone knows and which even a former president of AIPAC once admitted in a conversation that was recorded by a participant. In fact, as early as 1988, 60 Minutes did a segment on how AIPAC divvies up the money.

Officially, of course, AIPAC does not engage in political fundraising; it would be illegal for it to do so, and the lobby is vehement on the point that it doesn’t. And it is true that, to my knowledge, it does not directly raise money to support or defeat candidates. But that is just a technicality. Political fundraising is a huge part of AIPAC’s operation.

I know this because I witnessed it over and over again. I sat in AIPAC staff meetings at which the political director (annual salary over $450,000) discussed whom “we” would be supporting in this campaign and whom “we” were going to “destroy” in that one. I also sat in on meetings at AIPAC’s huge annual policy conference, attended by as many as 20,000 AIPAC members and virtually the entire Congress, at which fundraising pitches were made in side rooms, where candidates and invited donors (only the really wealthy donors get the invites) meet and decide which candidate will get what. The side rooms are the most exclusive venues in the country for candidates to raise money in the name of advancing the AIPAC cause.

Back to Representative Omar. The first tweet, which resulted in ominous storm clouds over her head, was her response to a journalist who asked by tweet what accounted for such fierce defense of a foreign country by U.S. political leaders, even if it meant attacking the free-speech rights of Americans. Omar responded, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” breezily referring to $100 bills. This was bad enough, suggesting that campaign contributions play a part in AIPAC’s success at garnering support for legislation that reads like it’s written by Israel’s Likud Central Committee.

But that was nothing compared to the monsoon of invective produced by her response to a reporter from the Jewish newspaper Forward, Batya Ungar-Sargon, who by tweet disingenuously asked Omar who she thought was “paying American politicians to be pro-Israel.” Even before Omar responded “AIPAC!” Ungar- Sargon had resorted to the lobby’s (and its media friends’) favorite tactic when exposed or criticized: charging Omar with anti- Semitism. That opened the floodgates for the full “she’s an anti-Semite!” onslaught.

And then AIPAC’s congressional enforcers weighed in, led by Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, who has been AIPAC’s man on the House floor for decades, Pelosi, and others. They all said the same thing: that Omar’s tweet was anti-Semitic, with many adopting Ungar-Sargon’s characterization of Omar’s words as “an anti-Semitic trope,” by which they seem to mean using the words “Jewish” and “money” in the same tweet.

But Omar wasn’t even talking about Israel per se. When asked whom she was accusing of buying members of Congress, Omar responded with one word: AIPAC. Period.

Watching what the lobby and its acolytes, in Congress and out, are saying about Omar would cause anyone in politics to think long and hard before saying anything at all about Israel, other than the effusive statements of praise AIPAC wants. And that is the lobby’s goal: to ensure that Congress never questions Israel about anything, that it just shuts up and keeps the billions of dollars in aid coming. And above all, without conditions, like requiring Israel to take steps to end the occupation of Palestinian territory, the blockade of Gaza, or to grant equal rights to Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied territories.

Believing that Israel has every right to exist in peace is not the same as saying that it should continue to occupy or blockade Palestinian lands or deny full democratic rights to the people who live there. It certainly does not mean that we have to embrace AIPAC’s number-one priority of recent years: preventing and then destroying President Obama’s nuclear pact with Iran simply because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers to deter an Iranian nuclear bomb through war (preferably an American attack) rather than diplomacy.

No, supporting Israel has very little, if anything, to do with keeping quiet about the dangers represented by its out-of-control lobby. In fact, it more likely represents the opposite. AIPAC is bad for America, but it could well be catastrophic for Israel, if it hasn’t been already. This is something more and more Jews (particularly the young) now understand, which is why groups like J Street, IfNotNow, Americans For Peace Now, and Jewish Voice for Peace have come to the fore in recent years and have grabbed their share of the congressional turf, which was once exclusively owned by AIPAC. Joining them are the newly energized Arab American Institute and a significant new player, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, as well as various Palestinian student groups which are ensuring that Palestinian voices are heard, sometimes in concert with the progressive Jewish groups and sometimes on their own. But finally heard.

M.J. Rosenberg has worked at the State Department, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and at Israel Policy Forum. His article is edited from The Nation, February 14, 2019, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, March/April 2019.

(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-Palestine conflict solution: one-state or two-state?

The proposed “one-state” solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict isn’t a new idea. It has enjoyed support on the fringes of Israeli politics for decades, and was once described by the Palestine Liberation Organization as its main goal — before it moved toward formally supporting a two-state solution in the 1980s. For decades, the one-state solution has also been viewed as a marginal idea that doesn’t have much support among Americans, but that seems to be changing. A poll released in December by the University of Maryland showed that more and more Americans are expressing support for this idea.

One question in the survey asked respondents what their preferred solution to the conflict would be if it became apparent that a two-state solution had become impossible to achieve. Some 64 percent replied that, in such a scenario, they would support a single democratic state in which all Israelis and Palestinians are equal citizens.

The Israeli left has mostly rejected this idea over the past decades, as it would lead to the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. For the same reason, the leading left-wing Jewish groups in the United States have also consistently rejected the “one-state” option, and instead pushed for a negotiated two-state solution that would ensure Israel’s standing as a Jewish and democratic country.

In recent years, though, the mood has been shifting, and there is growing support for a one-state solution on the left. That includes at least one new member of Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Democrat of Michigan), who is of Palestinian descent and is officially supportive of the one-state option.

Dr. Shibley Telhami, who conducted the University of Maryland poll, wrote that rising support for a one-state solution is likely a result of despair from the possibility of implementing a two-state solution. “When one considers that many Israelis and Palestinians, as well as many Middle East experts, already believe that a two-state solution is no longer possible, especially given the large expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it’s not hard to see why more people would be drawn to a one-state solution,” he wrote.

Dr. Debra Shushan, director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, told Haaretz that what is driving up support for a one-state solution among left-wingers in America is “the aggressive, annexationist policies of the current Israeli government and its failure to pursue a two-state solution. This has fostered a growing perception that an independent Palestinian state is moot or impossible, which prompts people to look for alternatives,” she said.

Dr. Shushan strongly prefers a two-state solution, and her organization works to promote that goal. As a result, it has often been attacked by right-wing supporters of Israel in the United States. “Since a two-state solution is the only conflict-ending vision that satisfies the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike, it is incumbent upon seekers of Israeli- Palestinian peace to confront resolutely the formidable but surmountable obstacles to peace and redouble our efforts to achieve it,” she said.

Left-wing groups affiliated with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel are clearly pleased with the shifting dynamic over the one-state solution in the United States.

Josh Ruebner of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights told Haaretz: “For too long, an unsuccessful yet unending pursuit of a two-state solution has meant that the status quo of inequality continues, with millions of Palestinians oppressed by Israeli rule. It is welcoming to see that there are growing numbers of people — from activists to thought leaders to now members of Congress — who are shifting away from telling Israel that the status quo is unsustainable to instead saying the status quo is unacceptable.”

The Trump administration, after almost two years in office, has thus far refused to do so. Trump has said a number of times that, from his point of view, both one state or two states would be a good solution, saying at the United Nations in September: “Bottom line: If the Israelis and Palestinians want one state, that’s OK with me. If they want two states, that’s OK with me. I’m happy if they’re happy.”

In 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the height of that year’s general election campaign, promised that a Palestinian state would never take place as long as he is in office. Netanyahu’s Likud party never officially expressed support for two states, and the majority of its Knesset members oppose the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

This is also a challenge for left-of-center Jewish groups, such as J Street, the Israel Policy Forum, and others, that support a two-state solution. These groups have long grown used to being criticized by the right for opposing settlement expansion and push-ing for a two-state solution. These days, though, they are also being criticized from the left for the same positions. J Street, specifically, announced that it was dropping its endorsement of Tlaib because of her support for a one-state solution.

Dylan Williams, J Street’s senior vice president for govern-ment affairs, told Haaretz his organization is concerned about support for a one-state solution on both the left and right. He notes that while Tlaib is the only Democrat in Congress who openly supports the one-state solution, there are dozens of Republicans who have endorsed the Israeli right’s version of a one-state solution, which is basically annexation in the West Bank without providing citizenship and equal rights to the Palestinians.

Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum told Haaretz that “one-staters on the left and the right have very different visions of what a single state will look like, but their support for one state is creating joint momentum for a disastrous outcome that is going to leave most Israelis and Palestinians unhappy if it comes about.”

– edited from an article by Amir Tibon in Haaretz (Israel), December 15, 2018
PeaceMeal, January'February 2019

(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 truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal

Israel has been stealing nuclear secrets and covertly making bombs since the 1950s. And western governments, including the United States and Britain, turn a blind eye. But how can we expect Iran to curb its nuclear weapon ambitions if the Israelis won’t come clean?

Deep beneath desert sands, an embattled Middle Eastern state has built a covert nuclear bomb, using technology and materials provided by friendly powers or stolen by a network of secret agents. It is the stuff of pulp thrillers and the sort of narrative often used to characterize the worst fears about the Iranian nuclear program. In reality, though, neither U.S. nor British intelligence believe Tehran has decided to build a bomb, and Iran’s nuclear projects are under constant international monitoring.

The exotic tale of the bomb hidden in the desert is a true story of another country. In an extraordinary feat of subterfuge, Israel managed to assemble an entire underground nuclear weapons complex at Dimona, which produced an arsenal estimated at 80 warheads, and even tested a bomb nearly half a century ago, with a minimum of international outcry or even much public awareness of what it was doing.

Despite the fact that the Israel’s nuclear program has been an open secret since a disgruntled Dimona technician, Mordechai Vanunu, blew the whistle on it in 1986, the official Israeli position is still never to confirm or deny its existence.

When the former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, broke the taboo in December 2013, declaring Israeli possession of both nuclear and chemical weapons and describing the official non-disclosure policy as “outdated and childish”, a rightwing group formally called for a police investigation for treason.

Meanwhile, western governments have played along with the policy of “opacity” by avoiding all mention of the issue. In 2009, when late Washington reporter Helen Thomas asked Barack Obama in the first month of his presidency if he knew of any country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons. He dodged the trapdoor by saying only that he did not wish to speculate. U.K. governments have generally followed suit.

But through the cracks in this stone wall, more and more details continue to emerge of how Israel built its nuclear weapons from smuggled parts and pilfered technology.

The tale serves as a historical counterpoint to today’s drawn-out struggle over Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions. The parallels are not exact; Israel, unlike Iran, never signed the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), so could not violate it. But it almost certainly broke a treaty banning nuclear tests, as well as countless national and international laws restricting traffic in nuclear materials and technology.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft, include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the United States, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway.

Meanwhile, Israeli agents charged with buying fissile material and state-of-the-art technology found their way into some of the most sensitive industrial establishments in the world. This daring and remarkably successful spy ring included such colorful figures as Arnon Milchan, a billionaire Hollywood producer behind such hits as Pretty Woman, LA Confidential and 12 Years a Slave, who finally admitted his role in December 2013.

According to Milchan’s biography by Israeli journalists Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman, he was responsible for securing vital uranium-enrichment technology, photographing centrifuge blue-prints that a German executive had been bribed into temporarily “mislaying” in his kitchen. The same blueprints, belonging to the European uranium enrichment consortium URENCO, were stolen a second time by a Pakistani employee, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who used them to found his country’s enrichment program and to set up a global nuclear smuggling business, selling the design to Libya, North Korea and Iran. For that reason, Israel’s centrifuges are nearly identical to Iran’s, a convergence that allowed Israel to try out a computer worm, codenamed Stuxnet, on its own centrifuges before unleashing it on Iran in 2010.

Israel had few qualms about proliferating nuclear weapons knowhow and materials, giving South Africa’s apartheid regime help in developing its own bomb in the 1970s in return for 600 tons of uranium yellowcake.

Israel’s nuclear reactor also required heavy water (deuterium oxide), to moderate the fissile reaction. For that, Israel turned to Norway and Britain. In 1959, Israel managed to buy 20 tons of heavy water that Norway had sold to the U.K. but was surplus to requirements for the British nuclear program. Both governments were suspicious that the material would be used to make weapons but decided to look the other way.

Israel’s nuclear-weapons project could never have gotten off the ground, though, without an enormous contribution from France. The country that took the toughest line on counter- proliferation when it came to Iran helped lay the foundations of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, driven by sympathy from French-Jewish scientists, intelligence-sharing over Algeria, and a drive to sell French expertise abroad.

France’s first reactor went critical as early as 1948. Pierre Mendès France, president of the council of ministers, gave the order to start building bombs in December 1954. As it built its nuclear arsenal, Paris sold material assistance to other aspiring weapons states. At Dimona, French engineers poured in to help build Israel a nuclear reactor and a far more secret reprocessing plant capable of separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel. This was the real giveaway that Israel’s nuclear program was aimed at producing weapons.

By the end of the 50s, there were 2,500 French citizens living in Dimona, transforming it from a village to a cosmopolitan town, complete with French lycées and streets full of Renaults, and yet the whole endeavor was conducted under a thick veil of secrecy.

The British were kept out in the dark, being told that the huge construction site was a desert grasslands research institute and a manganese processing plant. The Americans, also kept in the dark by both Israel and France, flew U2 spy planes over Dimona in an attempt to find out what they were up to.

The Israelis admitted to having a reactor but insisted it was for entirely peaceful purposes. They claimed the spent fuel was sent to France for reprocessing, even providing film footage of it supposedly being loaded onto French freighters. Throughout the 60s, it flatly denied the existence of the underground reprocessing plant that was churning out plutonium for bombs.

Israel refused to countenance inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), so in the early 1960s, President Kennedy demanded they accept American inspectors. U.S. physicists were dispatched to Dimona but were given the ? run-around from the start. The lead American inspector, Floyd Culler, an expert on plutonium extraction, noted in his reports that there were newly plastered and painted walls in one of the buildings. It turned out that before each American visit, the Israelis had built false walls around the row of elevators that descended six levels to the subterranean reprocessing plant.

As more and more evidence of Israel’s weapons program emerged, the U.S. role progressed from unwitting dupe to reluctant accomplice. In 1968, CIA director Richard Helms told President Johnson that Israel had indeed managed to build nuclear weapons and that its air force had conducted sorties to practice dropping them.

The timing could not have been worse. The NPT, intended to prevent too many nuclear genies from escaping from their bottles, had just been drawn up, and if news broke that one of the supposedly non-nuclear-weapons states had secretly made its own bomb, it would have become a dead letter that many countries, especially Arab states, would refuse to sign.

The Johnson White House decided to say nothing, and the decision was formalized at a 1969 meeting between Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. In fact, U.S. involvement went deeper than mere silence.

At a meeting in 1976 then-CIA deputy director Carl Duckett informed a dozen officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the agency suspected some of the fissile fuel in Israel’s bombs was weapons-grade uranium stolen under America’s nose from a processing plant in Pennsylvania. Not only was an alarming amount of fissile material going missing at the company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation, but it had been visited by a veritable who’s-who of Israeli intelligence, including Rafael Eitan, a top Mossad operative.

It was one of the most glaring cases of diverted nuclear material, but the consequences appeared so awful for the people involved and for the U.S. than nobody really wanted to find out what was going on. An investigation was shelved and no charges were made.

A few years later, on September 22, 1979, the U.S. satellite Vela 6911 detected the double-flash typical of an atmospheric nuclear weapon test off the coast of South Africa. Leonard Weiss, an expert on nuclear proliferation, was briefed on the incident by U.S. intelligence agencies and nuclear weapons laboratories. He became convinced a nuclear weapon test had taken place in contravention to the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

It was only after both the Carter and Reagan administrations attempted to gag him on the incident and tried to whitewash it with an unconvincing panel of inquiry, that it dawned on Weiss that it was the Israelis rather than the South Africans who had carried out the detonation. “I was told it would create a very serious foreign policy issue for the U.S. if I said it was a test. Someone had let something off that the U.S. didn’t want anyone to know about,” Weiss said.

Israeli sources told American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh the flash picked up by the Vela satellite was actually the third of a series of Indian Ocean nuclear tests that Israel conducted in cooperation with South Africa.

The U.S. policy of silence continues to this day, even though Israel appears to be continuing to trade on the nuclear black market. In a paper on the illegal trade in nuclear material and technology published in October 2013, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security noted: “Under U.S. pressure in the 1980s and early 1990s, Israel … decided to largely stop its illicit procurement for its nuclear weapons program. Today, there is evidence that Israel may still make occasional illicit procurements. U.S. sting operations and legal cases show this.”

In the Arab world and beyond, there is growing impatience with the skewed nuclear status quo. Egypt in particular has threatened to walk out of the NPT unless there is progress toward creating a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East. The western powers promised to stage a conference on the proposal in 2012, but it was called off, largely at U.S. opposition, to reduce the pressure on Israel to attend and declare its nuclear arsenal.

– edited from an article by Julian Borger, The Guardian (U.K.), January 15, 2014
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2018

(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.)