Focal Points Blog

U.S. Congress a Standard Bearer for Israeli Expansion

Joe Walsh (R-Il)

Joe Walsh (R-Il)

If you read some of the blogs or alternative media reports on the Internet you might know it happened, but you wouldn’t have found out from the major Establishment media. I got it from Caroline Glick, the right-wing deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post: “Earlier this month, Rep. Joe Walsh and 30 co-sponsors issued a resolution supporting Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria.” That’s the way Glick and other Israeli expansionists refer to the West Bank, or what is known in most of the world as the occupied territories. Yes, it happened, an action so provocative and stupid it is understandable that the Times and the Posts of this country would want to ignore it.

Two days after the Republican Walsh tabled his bill in the House, the New York Times ran a political blog piece about him, sans the Israel connection, but noting that he is “a darling of the Tea Party” who had “raised his national profile during the debt ceiling debate this summer, touring the media circuit after he put out a video vehemently accusing President Obama of bankrupting the nation and lying to the American public.”

And, the Walsh gambit wasn’t the only U.S. political action Glick sought to pass off as good for the Israel expansionists. “Israel has nothing to lose, everything to gain from going on the offensive. Our friends in US Congress have shown us a path that lays open to us to follow,” she wrote, adding that, “Israel’s friends in the US Congress have put forward two measures that pave the way” for “a strategy for victory.”

Glick also cites the action of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has introduced a bill calling for the US to “end its financial support for the Palestinian Authority and drastically scale-back its financial support for the UN if the UN upgrades the PLO’s membership status in any way.”

“Ros-Lehtinen’s bill shows Israel that there is powerful support for an Israeli offensive that will make the Palestinians pay a price for their diplomatic aggression,” says Glick.

There is no question where Glick, a former assistant foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, with numerous ties to neo-conservative circles in the US, is coming from. She holds that “Israel’s sovereign rights to Judea and Samaria are ironclad while the Palestinians’ are flimsy. As the legal heir to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, Israel is the legal sovereign of Judea and Samaria. Moreover, Israel’s historic rights to the cradle of Jewish civilization are incontrovertible.”

This stance puts her in league with far right Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, chair of World Likud, and Chair of the Knesset Committee for Aliya (immigration), Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. Danon announced at the end of October the Israeli Parliament will take up a bill he has authored calling for full Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), Danon’s bill “was submitted in line with a similar initiative in the U.S. Congress offered by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), which calls for supporting Israel’s rights to annex the West Bank should the Palestinian Authority move forward with its statehood bid without negotiating.”

“Meanwhile, a letter signed by the leaders of four ruling coalition factions — Likud Party chairman Ze’ev Elkin, Shas chairman Avraham Michaeli, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Uri Orbach, and National Union leader Yaakov Katz — asks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex Jewish-settled areas of the West Bank and calls for increased construction in those areas,” according to the JTA.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the U.S. sharply condemned the Netanyahu government’s decision to build 1,100 new housing units in East Jerusalem. “We are deeply disappointed by this morning’s announcement by the government of Israel approving the construction of 1,100 housing units in East Jerusalem,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We consider this counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”

Catherine Ashton, foreign policy director for the European Union, also slammed the move saying it “should be reversed” as it undermines the search for peace in the region. She added that the settlement expansion “threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution” between the two sides, as backed by the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations. On September 28, the government of China the nation “regrets and opposes” Israel’s expansion of the East Jerusalem settlement.

Not much accurate reporting on the settlement expansion either. On September 27, the New York Times’ Isabel Kershner penned a 700-word piece online titled “Israel Angers Palestinians With Plan For Housing” that was carried by a number of newspapers around the country. It contained nary a word about the State Department response or that of the EU or China. When the story appeared in print the following day it had been amended to include only mention that the Obama administration was “deeply disappointed” by the Israeli announcement.

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial board.

When Creation Myths Converge: U.S. and Israeli Colonialism

Ohio 1760sGOP Presidential candidate Rick Perry, who has in the past compared Gaza to Mexico and the Alamo to Masada, wants you to know that the Lone Star state and the Star of David state have a lot more in common that just bad relations with their neighbors and certain ethnic groups. “Historian T.R. Fehrenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies,” the governor of Texas proudly proclaimed in a recent op-ed making the rounds in conservative papers condemning President Obama’s Israel policy and the Palestinian Authority’s efforts at the UN.

But, as Max Blumenthal has pointed out, the paraphrasing was too accurate by half. According to Blumenthal, what Fehrenbach actually said in his work Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans was this:

The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land.

Perry’s Freudian slip?

Perhaps (more likely, it was shoddy speechwriting). But both Perry and Fehrenbach make important points — Perry in terms of mythologizing history, Fehrenbach in terms of actually reporting history.

One thing that has always struck me about the points of the argument regarding the disposition of land in the British Mandate of Palestine was how similar the Zionist claim that the Jordan River Valley is an integral part of Israel sounds to arguments made centuries earlier over a different river valley that was once as contested as the Jordan River Valley is today: the Ohio River Valley in the United States.

In the 1760s and 1770s, the Ohio River Valley was a flashpoint that loomed large in foreign and American consciousnesses. Multiple wars were fought over it, military outposts were built throughout its boundaries, people argued that its seizure was tantamount to national survival, and officially sanctioned (by George Washington, no less) ethnic cleansing took place after the American Revolution as settlers and land speculators crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the region.

It all began when the British (doesn’t everything?) fought the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, largely to check French political ambitions in Europe. The colonies were a secondary combat theater, but the war had the bonus outcome of driving the French from the fertile Ohio River Valley, a prize sought by many colonials, from Virginia plantation owners (including George Washington) to New England merchants and farmers. Britain, however, did not think unregulated settlement was a good idea. The British thus issued the Proclamation of 1763 (without consulting any of the colonial legislatures), which severely restricted the expansion of colonial settlement westward and turned over most of the Ohio River Valley to allied Native Americans. British forts went up to enforce the boundary lines and British soldiers began evicting those American settlers and traders who were there illegally. Americans were furious.

At the heart of the colonists’ rage (the rebellion against the Crown wasn’t all about taxes, despite what you may hear from conservatives today) was the belief that the Native Americans, weren’t worthy of possessing the land they inhabited. They weren’t natives, they were transients (and savage ones at that). Even though the British did begin to chip away at Indian territories to appease the colonials, it was not enough for them.

Sound familiar? While the Arab invasions of (present-day) Israeli territory in 1948 may indeed have been the catalyst for the expulsion of Palestinians, the aforementioned perceptions about strangeness, inferiority and savagery were the precipitants for the Nakba – and Israel’s ensuing distorted claims that the former inhabitants now have no claims to the land).

The issue of legality is what made the Proclamation of 1763 especially galling: it implicitly recognized that the Native Americans were, well, Native Americans and legally entitled to the land they lived on, something a very vocal number of colonists (including most of the now-deified “Founding Fathers”) absolutely refused to accept. Here is how the mythmaking gets going: You couldn’t “give” these people ownership of the land. “Ownership” was alien to them (actually, it wasn’t, but subtleties like that didn’t matter). These people weren’t white (i.e., they were inherently inferior). They had no paperwork to denote land ownership (except sometimes they did – but like certain UN Security Council resolutions, the settlers selectively recognized them).

And, worst of all to American sensibilities, the natives didn’t even farm the land. All that “vacant land” going to waste! That the American continent was a wilderness before European settlement is an assumed historical fact.

And it is just that: assumed.

Americans have long failed to realize that the “wilderness” was actually one of the most intensive examples of arboriculture ever practiced in human history: rather than rely on fields, Native Americans managed the forests for game and crops (and often did practice farming, just not to the extent that the European colonists did). The untamed wilderness myth only got worse as time went on, because people moving west increasingly came upon depopulated landscapes. Just a few years before, these landscapes had been heavily managed by native populations, but they now lay fallow, rendered vacant by disease, warfare and ill tidings of the rapacious white man’s approach. The real (or imagined) vacancy of the land is necessary for any colonial enterprise to succeed: the land has to “belong” to those not even on it yet. Sometimes it helps to force the vacancies along.

Israeli assertions that Zionism has made the “desert bloom” and that the Arabs were incompetent farmers have taken on the same justificatory tone (both moralsitic and scientific) as the untamed wilderness myth in the U.S. The blooming dessert meme also explains why the present water situation in Israel has become a major environmental issue and the Israelis have had to destroy so many Palestinian orchards — to conserve water, perhaps?

But these orchard demolitions reveal an inherent problem with the wilderness narrative: the land is inhabited. The Founding Fathers, though unhappy with Indian land claims, recognized that the natives did live there (duh, that was the whole problem!) and, obviously, since they lived there in numbers, knew that they were able to feed themselves. The “wilderness” mythology is, in fact, a largely modern invention in both Israel and America.

So how does one end up glossing over this? The simplest solution is for the people at the time to have already gone and created a “wilderness” through scorched earth tactics, as the 1779 Sullivan Expedition to the Ohio demonstrated. Largely forgotten today, it was launched four years into the American War for Independence and was regarded as an extremely important military effort at the time. George Washington himself ordered it, making it comparable to David Ben-Gurion’s decision to launch the October 1948 invasion of Galilee.

Like the Galilee operation, the Sullivan Expedition had been given the same objective: secure the territory for future settlement by evicting the native population. Washington, who was known among the Iroquois as “The Devourer of Villages” ordered the expedition to:

Lay waste all the [Indian] settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner; that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed.

After you have very thoroughly completed the destruction of their settlements; if the Indians should shew a disposition for peace, I would have you to encourage it.

Washington wasn’t sending an army out just to burn down a few dozen native tents — he was sending them to burn down dozens of native villages (comparable in size to the average colonial village) until the natives sued for peace.

Regarding that, though, he cautioned his officers over what “peace” in these circumstances meant:

It is likely enough their fears, if they are unable to oppose us, will compel them to offers of peace, or policy may lead them to endeavour to amuse us in this way to gain time and succour for more effectual opposition. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us . . . and in the terror with which the severity of the chastizement they receive will inspire them. Peace without this would be fallacious and temporary.

Ben-Gurion explicitly made an Israeli association (in terms of tactics and moral justification) with this era in American history quite clear during the 1948 War of Independence. His biographer, Michael Bar-Zohar, says that Ben-Gurion told his head officers “the American Declaration of Independence . . . [has] no mention of the territorial limits. We are not obliged to state the limits of our State.”

Galilee was, like Ohio, supposed to remain in the hands of its native inhabitants (that was the UN plan). But, expansionist Israel had other ideas. Washington and his officers had aspirations about Ohio; Ben Guiron pressed his reluctant commanders to drive into Galilee. So, once the natives were cleared by the invaders (in Ohio’s case, by the Americans’ burning of Indian villages and their food stocks just before the onset of winter; in Galilee’s, this was achieved by forced evictions and killings of Arabs that “encouraged” a mass exodus) the now-“empty” land ceased to present a military threat and could be peopled by new settlers.

The narrative then became that the settlers had the virtue of divine providence; they were fighting for their lives; the natives didn’t think of themselves as natives until after they abandoned their land when a fight that they started turned sour for them, etc. Manifest Destiny became accepted fact, rather than historical romanticism and political PR. “The harder you hit them, the longer they stay quiet,” goes the old Russian Army axiom. The Palestinians have not forgotten this. Nor have the Israelis (though they have tried to whitewash it and expedite the process of “winning the West [Bank]” through demographic growth). Only a short while after the seminal historical enshrinement of the “frontier in American history” by Frederick Jackson Turner, the clothing of choice for pro-war American jingoes was that of the Western cowboy, incorporating the virgin lands mythology of the frontier with a belligerent self-assertiveness. Today, the clothing of the Israeli jingo is that worn by Israeli settlers — which may now make up at least 40% of the Israeli military (cowboys in uniform). Theodore Roosevelt, an American “cowboy” in uniform, would in fact probably consider Jewish Voice for Peace to be a group of unpatriotic dilettantes, liken the Palestinians to Apaches, and embrace the Israeli residents of Gush Etzion as kindred spirits.

Over time, it becomes easier to forget about these actions and to go along with the post-victory narrative that the land was always “empty” and “uncultivated” (even though men like Washington and Ben-Gurion knew that this was not the case because they planned their campaigns on the premise that their forces were going to have to seize and destroy at least a few dozen native settlements in order to claim victory). This forgetting is less prevalent (relatively speaking) in Israel today because 1) it happened only sixty-odd years ago and 2) there are a lot more Palestinians than Native Americans alive today. But in any case, history is fickle, whether it spans half a dozen or two dozen decades. History, written by the victors, always tends to focus more on the eras of expansion that follow the eras of displacement.

Small wonder that both Israel and the U.S. rely on their selective memories to justify their actions and find common ground in their narratives of expansion (not narratives of dispossession, but of provident growth, of democracy and technology triumphing over feudalism). Israel serves a useful purpose from a military standpoint, true, for the U.S. but also serves a useful ideological one as a complement to manufactured American historical narratives.

Selective memory is more or less how consensus is made in any society, particularly a colonialist one. In most Belgian historiography, you’d think that King Leopold II of Belgium was one of the best things to ever happen to the Congolese, or was at least no worse than any other colonizer (rationalization is always a form of justification). Japanese government officials and the media referred to “incidents” in China in the years leading to WWII rather than “battles” (a euphemism sometimes repeated in postwar history textbooks). “History is a series of lies on which we agree,” as Napoleon once said.

And, as we’ve already heard, the Israelis made the desert bloom and the U.S. tamed the virgin wilderness (the Arabs and Indians being footnotes and irritants in the blazing pace of progress set by kibbutz dwellers and homesteaders, respectively).

Two Manifest Destinies (yes, the Jewish National Fund uses that language), two peoples harnessing underutilized resources to better the whole world through economic and democratic beneficence. The expansionist “Age of Jackson” in America can be seen again in Israel – through a line of self-serving historiography extending from the Sullivan Expedition and the Trail of Tears to the Nakba and the Six Days War.

As Adam Hochschild puts it in King Leopold’s Ghost:

And yet the world we live in – its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence – is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Pentagon Still Denies Agent Orange Stored on Okinawa During the Vietnam War

Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Agent Orange in Vietnam.

“Without Okinawa, we cannot carry on the Vietnam war.”
Admiral Ulysses Sharp, Commander of U.S. Pacific Forces, December 1965.

During the 1960s and ’70s, the United States military transformed Okinawa into a forward operating base for its war in Vietnam. From mainland American ports, it transported supplies to the island it dubbed its “Keystone of the Pacific” before transferring them into smaller ships for the passage to South East Asia. But there is one vital ingredient of its war machine that the Pentagon denies ever passed through Okinawa — the defoliant, Agent Orange.

Given the fact that the military transported everything else through the island — from tanks and toilet paper to guard dogs and hundreds of thousands of GI’s — such a claim is implausible. Yet as recently as 2004, the US government has asserted that its records “contain no information linking use or storage of Agent Orange or other herbicides in Okinawa.”

Over the past few years, though, the cracks in that denial have started to show. In 2007, it came to light that the Department of Veterans Affairs — the US government body responsible for caring for sick soldiers — awarded compensation to a marine who had developed prostate cancer as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange in the northern jungles of the island. Then in 2009, the same department admitted that “herbicide agents were stored and later disposed in Okinawa” during Operation Red Hat — the 1971 US military project to remove its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons from Okinawa to Johnston Island.

Bolstering these official comments are the firsthand accounts of over twenty US veterans who have come forward to describe their experiences with Agent Orange on Okinawa. Longshoremen, forklift drivers, medics and marines, these former service members paint an alarming picture of the widespread use of the herbicide on ten American military installations stretching from the Yambaru jungles in the north to Naha Port in the south. Not only did these veterans help to unload and store the defoliant, they also sprayed it as a localized herbicide to keep down the vegetation around their bases’ runways and fences. “None of us gave Agent Orange the respect we should have,” says one supply yard worker who regularly used it without masks or gloves. “We didn’t know anything about its risks like we do today.”

Now, many of the US veterans who came into contact with Agent Orange on Okinawa are suffering from serious illnesses that the US government recognizes as the result of exposure to dioxins. In some cases, their sons and daughters were born with deformities consistent with Agent Orange poisoning. Despite this, none of these veterans exposed on Okinawa has been able to receive compensation — due solely to the fact that the Pentagon continues to deny that the defoliant was present on the island.

All of these veterans are painfully aware of the harm that Agent Orange may have caused Okinawan civilians at the time. Some of them express their concern at having bartered the defoliant with local farmers in exchange for food and beer, while others talk of seeing groups of school children walking close to base perimeters soon after spraying. “I wonder whether those kids are alive today,” one of the veterans told me. “Or whether the chemicals I was spraying damaged their health as much as it has mine.”

Agent Orange is far from a historical problem. Today in Vietnam, 50 years after the defoliant was first brought to the country, there are over twenty potential dioxin hotspots on the sites of former US bases where Agent Orange had been stored. Yet the people of Vietnam are better informed than those on Okinawa — the last American forces left Saigon in 1975 so Vietnam has been able to conduct extensive environmental testing on the land where the bases once stood. However, on modern-day Okinawa, the US military continues to occupy approximately 20% of the island — and it has repeatedly refused requests to test the levels of pollution within its bases. Such a stance is particularly worrying given the military’s environmental track record on Okinawa which includes the irradiation of the entire Torishima Island through the use on depleted uranium ordnance in the 1990s and the discovery of lethal concentrations of arsenic and asbestos on land returned to civilian use in 2003.

Any discussion of American bases on Okinawa quickly becomes entangled with wider issues of imperialism, global security and legitimacy. But the question of whether Agent Orange was used on the island ought to transcend partisan maneuvering. The Pentagon’s increasingly unconvincing denials not only prevent veterans from receiving the medical care that they so desperately need, but they also endanger the health of both local Okinawans and American service members currently stationed on the island.

With the potential environmental and human impact so enormous, any delay by the US and Japanese governments to launch a comprehensive investigation into the issue is criminally negligent. It is time to reveal the full extent to which Okinawa has been suffering its own dioxin poisoning over the past 50 years.

Jon Mitchell is a Welsh-born writer based in Yokohama. As a result of his research into Agent Orange on Okinawa in August, 2011, the Japanese government asked the U.S. Department of Defense to reinvestigate the presence of military herbicides on the island.

This essay first appeared in Japanese to coincide with the release of “Living The Silent Spring” — a new documentary detailing the damage military defoliants have caused to the children of both Vietnamese and American soldiers. A trailer for the film can be viewed here: http://cine.co.jp/chinmoku_haru/trailer.html

Bin Laden’s Gift to Islam: Giving Muslims Religious License to Kill Each Other

Michael Scheuer, some of whose pronouncements about al Qaeda since 9/11 you may be familiar with, was head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit between 1996 and 2005. In a piece titled The Zawahiri Era, he addresses the succession of al Qaeda’s leadership.

The question on everyone’s lips is whether new al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri is up to the job. My own bet is that al-Qaeda will survive, as it did after near economic ruin in Sudan (1994–96); after the pounding it took from the U.S.-NATO-Pakistan coalition (2001–02); and after the U.S. military helpfully killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s chief in Iraq (2006), whose indiscriminate targeting of Muslims almost pushed al-Qaeda to the brink of defeat.

As proof that al Qaeda will endure, Scheuer cites the approach that al Qaeda used in dealing with al-Zarqawi’s excesses. He writes: “Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri agreed that the indiscriminate killing of Sunni and Shia Iraqis was wrong in Islamic terms, was not al-Qaeda policy and would not recur. … Forced by the al-Zarqawi-led brutality to clarify appropriate target sets” — Muslims deemed permissible to kill — “bin Laden and al-Zawahiri proffered their mea culpas … and delegitimized the Western narrative.” By which he means the “West’s incorrect, absolutist interpretation of Islamic law [which] forbids-the-killing-of-one-Muslim-by-another-in-all-cases-whatsoever.” (Emphasis added.)

Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri correctly pointed out that there are Muslims on all continents and in all countries. … If al-Qaeda, its allies and those it inspires were going to wage their jihad effectively, they would have to kill Muslims. Thus, the remaining job was to define those Muslims who were religiously permissible targets.

Scheuer has never been one to shy away from bloodshed. Not long after bin Laden was killed, The New Statesman reported:

Scheuer has admirers on the left and the right. The former quote his views on the link between US foreign policy and the al-Qaeda threat; the latter point to his support for near-indiscriminate military action against terrorist groups, the use of “extraordinary rendition” and CIA special prisons, and his relaxed attitude towards “collateral damage”.

Returning to the National Interest article, he writes that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri defined — “splendidly” — exactly which Muslims were expendable.

In the Salafist interpretation of Sunni Islamic law, Muslims who actively support an apostate regime or an infidel occupier sacrifice the protection afforded by their faith; their lives and wealth can be taken. Soldiers, bureaucrats, security and intelligence officers, and elected or appointed government officials serving apostate regimes or foreign occupiers are therefore legitimate targets.

Remember, he’s not speaking about collateral damage, but of Muslims intentionally targeted by Muslims. Turns out, too, that, according to Scheuer, al Qaeda’s rationalization is working (emphasis added).

It is individuals in these categories who have been al-Qaeda in Iraq’s primary victims as it tries to recoup al-Zarqawi-caused losses, and there has been little to no negative reaction from Iraq’s Sunni community or other Islamic regimes and scholars outside Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s focus on these categories of Muslims as legitimate targets is likely to harden into an organization-wide policy … This leaves a reinvigorated al-Qaeda with an expanded and well-defined target set.

So many Muslims for Islamist extremists to kill, so little time.

Israeli Parliamentarians Respond to Bid for Statehood by Calling for Annexation of West Bank

The Land of Israel caucus — a parliamentary group established in 2010 by members of Likud and other nationalist parties (Shas, National Union and Jewish Home) — is calling on the Israeli government to respond to the Palestinian Authority’s “unilateral” actions at the UN this past week by formally annexing all Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which the caucus members usually refer to as “Judea and Samaria”). Shortly after this, Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon (Likud) announced that his bill to scrap “all obligations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as established by international agreements” (including the Oslo Accords) and permit “full Israeli annexation of the West Bank” will be voted on in the Knesset at the end of October.

In a letter to PM Netanyahu (which preceded Danon’s announcement), the Land of Israel caucus members also urged the government to increase settlement expansion, suspend financial assistance to the PA, and halt all Palestinian construction projects in “Area C” of the West Bank.

Area C is administered by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) authorities, who “retain authority over law enforcement and control over the building and planning sphere,” according to the UN (Area A consists of Israeli settlements, and Area B is administered by the PA). The area is the least densely populated part of the West Bank and is believed to hold 150,000 Palestinian residents. Due to underdevelopment, it is considered the most marginal part of the West Bank, despite accounting for almost 2/3 of the West Bank’s total land area.

The UN considers the eventual establishment of Palestinian Authority control over Area C under the terms of the Oslo Accords “vital”:

In addition to its importance to those residing within its confines, Area C contains the land reserves critical for the sustainability of a future Palestinian state. Area C holds the only available space necessary for the expansion of Palestinian population centers as well as the bulk of Palestinian agricultural and grazing land. Because it is the only contiguous territorial block in the West Bank, large-scale infrastructure projects including national roads, water and electricity networks usually pass through it.

The Palestinian Authority has demanded a halt to Israel expansion in the area in return for renewing negotiations. The Land of Israel caucus, though, claims that the area is an integral part of “Greater Israel.” Religious figures in the caucus said at the caucus’s founding that “One of the goals of the lobby is to promote legislation to strengthen settlement – legislation that already exists in the Bible.”

Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), who has been at the forefront of the caucus’s efforts since its establishment, asserted in 2010 that:

We face many challenges and we have many problems, but still and all, the rate of growth in Judea and Samaria is the largest in the country. As with the Jews in ancient Egypt, the more they oppress us, the more we grow . . . . We are all united to strengthen the Land of Israel and develop Judea and Samaria.

Danon, among others on the Israeli right, have suggested that in the event of annexation, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs would have to either swear loyalty to “the Jewish state,” or migrate to Jordan and Egypt. Supporters of Danon’s plans often allude to Jordan as “the Palestinian homeland.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has announced the construction of 1,100 new homes in East Jerusalem beyond the “Green Line.” The caucus has urged the government to maintain the pace of settlement expansion, and PM Netanyahu has indicated that if the PA wishes to resume talks with Israel following the UN bid, Tel Aviv will not agree to “preconditions,” which, among other things, would include a temporary halt settlement construction. Israeli settlement construction has increased this past summer, partly in response to massive social protests that originally began in response to rising costs of living and housing shortages (the caucus actually urged an increase in settlement construction in response to the protests). The issue of halting Israeli settlement construction has proven to be a major stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and a source of humiliation for the Obama Administration.

Some have suggested that the latest Israeli moves are a response to comments by a PLO official towards the separation of Jews from Palestinians in a future Palestinian state, though top Israeli officials have also been explicitly advocating population transfers in Israel and the West Bank targeted at non-Jewish individuals as part of a future peace settlement.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Kaddish for Oslo

Kaddish for Oslo(First in a series.)

Although not quite over, September 2011 is one that Israelis are likely not soon to forget. It’s not that their whole world has been shattered, but many of the political threads that have held Israeli regional policy together for decades seem to have simultaneously broken leaving the Israeli “ship of state” floating aimlessly in the Eastern Mediterranean. Worse, it seems to have been hit with a political tsunami for which it – as well as its main supporters in Washington – was ill prepared.

Five years after Israel’s abortive invasion of Lebanon that left 20,000 Lebanese dead and the country’s infrastructure in ruins as a result of massive Israeli bombing, three years after Israel’s unconscionable military assault on Gaza, and one year after Israeli special forces stormed the Mari-Marmara Turkish aid ship to Gaza, killing 9 (8 Turks and one U.S. citizen) Israel finds itself more and more isolated both within the Middle East and in the world as a whole, its image tarnished, its credibility at a low point.

The U.S. Congress can vote for lop-sided pro-Israeli resolutions until it is blue in the face. The fact remains that over the past five years Israel’s international status has plummeted. Almost universally outside of the U.S. and a few of its closest allies, Israel is characterized as a rogue state and threat to peace. The comparisons between Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is more and more compared to South Africa’s treatment of blacks under the apartheid system. Indeed, Israeli isolation is probably more total today than South Africa’s in the last days of apartheid. Its cynical strategy that the rest of the world can go to hell as long as it has the support of Washington is coming apart at the seams.

Among the recent slew of developments:

  • Two strategic regional allies upon which Israel heavily relied to help extinguish anti-Israeli fires now appear far less willing to play their designated role – Turkey and Egypt.
  • Turkish-Israeli relations are at an all-time low. The Mari-Marmara incident did not blow over; a significant political and military parting of the ways seems to be occurring as Turkey, essentially spurned in its attempt at European Union membership, turns east.
  • Perhaps even more serious, is the decline in Israeli-Egyptian relations. The much touted 1979 Camp David Accord has not collapsed, but Egypt has called for its re-negotiation. Egypt’s unwillingness to support the Israeli sealing of Gaza and the partial re-opening of the Egyptian-Palestinian border crossing has somewhat defused the humanitarian crisis there.
  • Egypt’s post-Mubarak posture – pressed by mass opposition in Egypt to the Israeli-Egyptian relationship – has also given momentum to new dialogue and possible cooperation between the main long-feuding Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah.
  • Regardless of the U.S. vete’s Palestinian UN membership or not, the momentum to support the principle of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations has been a great diplomatic setback for Israel that should not be under-estimated.
  • And while Barack Obama – in perhaps his worst performance on the world stage – “stood by” Israel at the United Nations, U.S.-Israeli relations have become strained as the voices within the United States – both within circles of power and on the street – question whether the U.S.-Israeli relationship benefits or undermines the U.S. strategic position in the Middle East.
  • As Israel finds itself more and more isolated in the Middle East, it’s turning even more so than in the past to what might be called the meshugener Christian fundamentalist fringe (John Hagee, Christians United For Israel) here in the USA that has always supported (politically and financially) settlement building and opposed negotiations with the Palestinians.

The fact of the matter is that the spectacular collapse of Israel’s strategic position is the result of trends that have been brewing for decades and is not simply the result of recently events. What has happened recently is that its near-eternal violation of international law and its contempt for UN resolutions excepting those serving its interests has caught up with Israel. It turns out that there is a limit to how long a country can ignore international law – even the United States or Israel – before the boomerang of the world’s conscience hits in the back of the neck.

A few months after Israeli Foreign Secretary Tzipi Livni suggested that Israel was facing nothing less than a crisis in legitimacy; things continue to fall apart for the Netanyahu government. Put all together, these threads and others tell yet another tale: the utter failure of what was called the Oslo Peace Process and with it, a dramatic failure in U.S. Middle East policy as well. Oslo is dead in the water and has been for a long while. It is only now finally after yet another unsuccessful attempt to raise it from the dead, that both Obama and Netanyahu understand that it is gone, history.

Long lauded as a path to peace, 18 years after its signing, it has turned out to be anything but. Oslo was important in that it provided Israel with a cover of global legitimacy that it has now lost with Washington’s encouragement and connivance from both Democratic and Republican administrations. Israel tried to string the process along for as long as possible. It was a two pronged strategy: talk peace while building settlements (and then a separation wall) that would make a two-state settlement that much more difficult to achieve.

From the outset, more than skeptical about Oslo’s chances of delivering an Israeli-Palestinian peace based upon political realism and justice, we do not mourn – but welcome – its collapse. It produced nothing but settlements and suffering. A new framework is needed; the time is now.

Ibrahim Kazerooni is completing a joint PhD program at the Iliff School for Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. Rob Prince is a lecturer in International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies; for the past seven years he has published a blog, The Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Escaping Haqqanistan

Haqqanis, father and son

Haqqanis, father and son

Brutal Haqqani Crime Clan Bedevils U.S. in Afghanistan is the unusually colorful title of a New York Times article by Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane, and Alissa J. Rubin. They write that the Haqqani network — separate from, but affiliated with, the Taliban — is “the most deadly insurgent group in Afghanistan” according to “American intelligence and military officials.” It’s effectively a crime syndicate — “the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war” according to Mazzetti, et al. Yet it’s as brutal as a serial killer: this year alone, for instance, the Haqqanis are responsible for the attacks in Kabul on the Intercontinental Hotel and the U.S. embassy.

The authors write: “They have trafficked in precious gems, stolen lumber and demanded protection money from businesses building roads and schools with American reconstruction funds.” In fact, “Over the past five years … the Haqqanis have run what is in effect a protection racket for construction firms — meaning that American taxpayers are helping to finance the enemy network.”

Humiliating, to say the least. To some American officials, though, failing to deal with the Haqqanis constitutes “a missed opportunity with haunting consequences. … American military officers … express anger that the Obama administration has still not put the group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations out of concern that such a move would scuttle any chances that the group might make peace with Afghanistan’s government.”

In fact, even though they’re responsible “for hundreds of American deaths, the Haqqanis probably will outlast the United States troops in Afghanistan and command large swaths of territory there once the shooting stops.”

Why postpone the inevitable then? Leave Afghanistan to the Haqqanis, as well as the Taliban. Without Western aid, it won’t be long before they come down with a severe case of “watch out what you wish for.” One reason this is unlikely to soon occur is that the United States is no doubt reluctant to relinquish its original purpose for attacking and invading Afghanistan — to not only defeat al Qaeda, but drive it out of Afghanistan.

See, according to a report in July by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (as summed up by Washington Post) the Haqqani network “has been more important to the development and sustainment of al-Qa’ida and the global jihad than any other single actor or group.”

After bin Laden relocated to Afghanistan and began making provocative statements against the West … Haqqani allowed the al-Qaeda leader to use its territory in eastern Afghanistan to organize calls for global jihad. … [Recent] events may have brought al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network closer together, their ambitions more in line. With drone strikes on the network’s base in North Waziristan, it likely has a sense of shared suffering with senior al-Qaeda leaders. In part because of that shared affinity, the CTC study finds, it would be a mistake for U.S. policymakers to underestimate the impact of Haqqani network beyond Afghanistan’s borders.”

Them’s certainly intervention-extending words. In fact, the CTC concludes that

U.S. efforts to disrupt and degrade [the Haqqani network] today … are just as much about dismantling [al-Qaeda] as they are about degrading the Haqqani network.

Still, who’s to say that the Haqqanis aren’t open to throwing over al Qaeda for the right price? Let’s sit down with them and see.

“Anti-Price Tag Patrol” Yet More Fuel for Israeli Right’s Fire

"Price tag" in Hebrew on wall of mosque.

“Price tag” in Hebrew on wall of mosque.

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

In response to expected clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians over the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee and the Israel group Anarchists Against The Wall are launching their own patrol efforts around Palestinian villages. Meanwhile, in response to the deaths of two Israelis in a car crash whose cause is now attributed to Palestinian stone throwers, Israeli settlers are demanding that the IDF take action, or they will. The controversial Orthodox Chief Rabbi of the Kiryat Arva settlement, Dov Lior, has told Israeli news outlets that “We have murderous rioters surrounding us, according to the Torah, there is room for collective punishment and the IDF must carry out the punishment against the rioters. There are no innocents in a war.”

The anti-price tagging story, first reported by the Christian Science Monitor, outlines the actions of the Palestinian-Israeli groups, who are running car patrols around Palestinian villages and lands to keep an eye out for price-taggers, Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians and IDF property in retaliation for any removal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank. The CSM notes the recalcitrance of the Israeli settlers towards these actions, quoting the mayor of the West Bank settlement of Itmar as saying “This is our home, Israel. It’s in the Bible. It belongs to the Jewish nation.”

Israeli settlers are already coordinating their own patrols and protests through their community organizations, while the IDF, Israeli Border Police and Palestinian Authority are nominally working together to prevent outbreaks of violence. At least 5 Israeli settlements have also brought in members of the far-right French JDL to prevent “Arab infiltration.”

The CSM also quotes Palestinians involved in the anti-price tagging patrols as being unsupportive of the UN effort and willing to engage in a non-violent campaign to resolve the settlements’ question. This course of action has also been suggested by outside commentators, such as Carne Ross of Independent Diplomat.

The story about the Palestinian and Israeli anti-price tag patrols as reported by the pro-Israel, Jewish-American weekly The Algemeiner, though, focuses on charges of how these groups are delegitimizing Israel and enabling the deaths of settlers through their (in)action towards Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli motorists (two Israelis were reportedly killed in a car crash caused by Palestinian stone throwers on Friday):

Among the settlement leaders who have expressed their concerns is David Ha’ivri, the spokesman for the Samaria Liaison Office, the public relations branch of the Samaria Regional Council.

Ha’ivri alleged that the patrol initiative was “another effort by the extremist left wing and Anarchist activists in Israel to cause friction between Jewish and Arab residents.”

Commentary magazine, referring the stone throwers, asserts that “Arabs” are the main source of all West Bank violence and that the “rare” instances of Israeli retaliation are often done in self-defense.

Israeli settlers have reacted strongly to the deaths. A public funeral for the dead was disrupted by protests that forced the IDF to intervene. A settler leader told Ynet:

The hurling of stones must be stopped. If the IDF can’t do it, then we’ll do it and we know how. We shall deploy our men along the line. Anyone with a licensed weapon will arrive and we’ll equip others with batons and protective gear.

So far, according to Israeli media, protests and counter-protests in the West Bank have remained “relatively” calm, though deaths and injuries among both Israelis and Palestinians have been reported since Friday, when the PA formally presented its statehood bid at the UN in New York.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Obama and Netanyahu Left in the Dust, Overtaken by the Arab Spring and Bid for Palestinian Statehood

Tony Blair got one thing absolutely right.

The special envoy to the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the U.S., the EU, and Russia) did not get much sleep at the UN meeting in New York last week. In an environment made frenetic because of the Palestinian bid for full recognition as a UN state, Blair seems to be alone in a deep understanding that the most auspicious time for diplomatic negotiations is when everyone who matters is bumping into everyone else who matters in the same space. His insistence on using the chaos to the fullest allows him to be especially resilient in the face of Palestinian anger at the suggestion that negotiations replace the Palestinian application. No problem. Blair is now affirming Prime Minister Abbas’s strategy to make a bid for full UN membership. In this period after the vote, negotiations are certain to be even more frenetic. It was never an either/or situation: either negotiations for a two-state solution, or application for statehood at the U.N.

If scientists and mathematicians were on the scene they would no doubt have a theoretical interest in the diplomatic scurrying for some kind of behind-the-scenes results. “Aha!” they might say. “Here we have a collection of ‘agents” interacting with one another in pursuit of a seemingly simple result, and what might emerge is something much more complicated that cannot be predicted on the basis of the collective action.” This ambiguity, the hallmark of what theorists call nonlinear systems (what goes in is not necessarily what comes out), is what makes everyone crazy and often unable to find solutions to a complex problem. Like Tony Blair, scientists find the chaos challenging and seductive, knowing that this is a terrific opportunity for changing the game.

Unlike President Obama, stuck in the legend of present-day Israel read to him by the American Jewish right, Blair seems able to scan a larger library, maneuvering deftly through the stacks for an answer at the edge of chaos. He is comfortable in not knowing which book off the shelf might suggest the happy ending he is searching for. Where Blair is diplomatically nimble and adaptive, Obama is disappointedly rigid and adamant.

Complex systems science is often called “the science of surprise,” or the “science of emergence.” In order to assist difficult negotiations in today’s world, the mediator must give up the need to control the outcome of a very nonlinear, very chaotic, quite unpredictable process. Otherwise, there are no surprises and no breakthroughs, just the same old tired outcomes. Because Netanyahu and Obama are wedged in the old and increasingly discredited paradigm of command and control, they are failing as leaders facing a much more complex world. This failure of leadership disrupts, and ultimately disables, what little respect is left for U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East.

In his speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly, Obama spoke in generalities with little sense of urgency. Reading from a text that could have been written for him by the pro-Israel lobby, he held his position that the U.S. would veto the Palestinian call for statehood, even after delivering speech after speech previously affirming the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own. “Peace is hard” he said and must be won in negotiations.

Obama knows what’s at stake politically–conservative Jewish and evangelical Christian money and votes–and is allowing his election agenda to overtake his international responsibilities. Those include respecting the “Arab Spring”, a fight for democracy in a sea of autocratic rule. Obama is once again choosing not to do the right thing on one of the issues that matters most to the freedom fighters: ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and welcoming a Palestinian state into the family of nations. Our unconditional support for Israel sadly leaves the U.S. at the bottom of the arc of the surprising, emerging new Middle East. Because of the absence of the U.S. as the champion of democratic reform, we can be almost certain that this sea change will be more chaotic. Let’s hope we don’t tumble over the edge into the swirling waters.

Merle Lefkoff, Ph.D. is President of Ars Publica, applying the science of Complexity to the art of diplomacy.

Palestinian Christians Given Short Shrift by U.S. Christian Zionists

Christian ZionismTexas Governor and aspiring Republican Presidential nominee Rick Perry has repeatedly attracted attention with a series of pronouncements on foreign policy pertaining to Israel. This behavior stems from Perry’s affinity for Christian Zionism, a highly influential strain of thought within large swaths of the conservative Protestant population in the United States. They see Israel as fulfilling crucial elements of the end-times scenario as depicted in the Biblical book of Revelations. Christian Zionism has steadily gained the support of many influential members of the clergy, who donate large amounts of money and other efforts to support the Zionist cause, and perhaps more importantly, place political pressure on the U.S. government to support the agenda of right-wing elements within Israel. Perry in particular is known to be close to pastor John Hagee, who rose to prominence primarily due to his Zionist activism.

Christian Zionism has a great many critics, but rarely does anyone point out the cognitive dissonance the Christian Zionists are ignoring, namely that Zionism kills, injures, and displaces Christians. Though their communities have dwindled in size, tens of thousands of Christians live in the Palestinian territories. When Israel’s “security barrier” seizes Palestinian land, and Israeli settlers divert water supplies for their own use, this harms Christian well-being. When Israeli authorities prevent Palestinians from travelling, Christians cannot go to work, school, or religious sites. When Israel launches air strikes into the Gaza Strip, this kills, maims, and impoverishes Christians. Unsurprisingly, in December of 2009 leaders of the Palestinian Christian community issued a statement known as the “Kairos Palestine Document,” in which they called Israel’s policies a “sin against God,” and asked for an international boycott of Israel.

Similarly, Christian Zionists unfailingly endorse Israel’s wars, despite the damage to the sizable Christian communities in Israel’s opponents. Christians were participants on both sides of the Lebanese Civil War, in which Israel intervened by invading in 1982. In the 2006 war, Lebanon’s Christians suffered heavy casualties due to Israeli attacks. The Christian communities of Jordan and Syria are well-integrated into their societies, and while Egypt’s Christians are in a precarious position with the Muslim majority, the fact remains that any conflict with these countries would likely cause serious harm to their Christian populations, as has happened before.

Furthermore, Israel’s own Christians, numbering over 100,000, are essentially second-class citizens. While they may be better off in some ways than the Arabs of neighboring countries, the fact remains that they are treated worse than Israeli Jews in matters of education, the rule of law, immigration, housing, and other elements of civil rights. Surveys indicate a toxic environment of racist attitudes, manifesting itself in substantially worse economic indicators for Israel’s Arab citizens, Christian and Muslim alike.

The same question arose when evangelical American Christians were the staunchest supporters of the invasion of Iraq, a war which dealt severe, possibly catastrophic, damage to that country’s Christian community: Why do so many American Christians support, for religious reasons, policies that are devastating to the Christians of the Middle East?

Scott Charney is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

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