Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Iran and the Japanese Nuclear Model - Opportunity for Obama

Obama has gotten himself into a diplomatic bind, investing so much of American prestige in the old neo-con campaign to force Iran to accept humiliating special nuclear restrictions while nuclear rogue Israel flaunts its blank check. Now key Iranian national security official Ali Larijani has given Obama a way out.

During his current visit to Japan, Larijani stated that Iran will follow the Japanese model – having the technical capacity for militarization of nuclear technology without actually taking the final step. This achieves Iran’s presumed desire for status and security while following in the footsteps of perhaps the most respected modern country, the one that officially rejects the right to self-defense (albeit with some very large caveats, of which Japan’s technical competence in nuclear matters is surely one). It also leaves Iran in a moral position on nuclear matters far superior to that of its key adversary, Israel.

But most interestingly, Larijani’s statement opens the door for the U.S. to respond, “Fine. It’s certainly your right and it’s a deal.” That would in a superficial sense solve Obama’s dilemma.

The question of whether or not Iran might cheat of course remains. But it exists for Japan and Brazil and every other NPT signatory with technical knowledge as well. So Obama would still be faced with a tough problem, but it would be one vastly easier to manage that the current insulting effort to humiliate Iran into proving a negative. Instead of demanding that Iran alone of all nations on earth “prove” that it lacks the “intention” of militarizing, Obama’s challenge would be to lay out a fair set of standards for application to all nations with the technical capacity to go nuclear.

Rather than singling Iran out for treatment that no government could ever be expected to accept, the approach would be to ask:

  1. What do the Japans, Brazils, Germanies of the world do to demonstrate their sincerity?
  2. Is there a common element within the answer that can be articulated by the IAEA as the “standard?”
  3. In what way is Iran falling short of that global standard?

It would be much easier for Iran to cooperate with the IAEA to meet such a clearly articulated global standard and much more difficult for it to resist than in the current situation where humiliation rather than solving the nuclear dispute often seems to be Israel’s real goal, if not Washington’s.

It does not matter whether or not Larijani has correctly stated the official Tehran position or if they can be trusted to adhere to it. Its public enunciation is an opportunity for Obama to back out of a bad position and take a significant step toward enunciating clear and defensible standards for global nuclear non-proliferation while simultaneously putting the onus on Iran for meeting those standards.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Does Political Islam Have a Center?

Is there a centrist position in political Islam, and could the West benefit from cultivating, rather than suppressing, it?

The post-9/11 American prejudice is that Muslim societies have only two groups: the quiescent, obedient ones and the terrorists. So, I’d like to pose a few questions that any specialist would no doubt find laughably simplistic. From the perspective of Muslim studies, they are simplistic; from the perspective of the average American, I’m afraid they are not. So specialists need to take them seriously and provide answers:

Meaning of “Centrist” or “Middle of the Road:”

Note that I said “centrist,” not “moderate.” I would take “centrist” to indicate non-violent when feasible, advocating rule through law and discussion but not necessarily behaving in a manner a citizen of a rich, comfortable industrial state might call “moderate” because in a highly corrupt and polarized traditional dictatorship (apply these loaded terms where they fit), “moderation” may not be what is needed to reach the center. Just to make the point for American readers, “moderation” would not have freed the slaves or eliminated segregation; “moderation” would not have gotten women the vote; “moderation” would not have earned workers the right to independent unions. If society is far to the right (oh, think the behavior of the police during anti-globalization protests in Seattle or during the Republican convention in New York or the attitude of government toward the poor of New Orleans fleeing Katrina), then “centrist” does not somehow magically transform into “just a little less far to the right;” rather, “centrist” still must contain some semblance of aiming at the “center,” i.e. half way between repressive elitism and revolutionary destruction. A “centrist” Obama Administration, for example, might have broken up Goldman Sachs and jailed all executives convicted of interfering with government regulators; few would have termed that “moderate,” but it would have been right in the center between the right wing demand for unregulated Wall Street greed and the public ownership concept of modern socialism—which would call for the replacement of Goldman by a governmental institution to manage trading for the public welfare.

Being Centrist in Muslim Society.

Returning to Muslim societies, and without forgetting the questions posed above, how should a centrist political Islamic activist behave? The answer for such a person in Turkey may be easy…well, at least if that person is ethnically a Turk. But what if that citizen is a Kurd and wants to participate in a peaceful, democratic movement for regional autonomy? What about a member of Iran’s green movement peacefully marching while being beaten by the Basij? What about a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood being thrown in jail for aspiring to vote or, indeed, an elected Muslim Brotherhood member of parliament for aspiring to serve? What about a poor Shi’ite resident of South Lebanon watching Israeli jet bombers roar over his house at low altitudes in fake attack runs to remind him of the terror of the summer 2006 war? What about a farmer in Gaza being shot at for walking in his fields along the Israeli border?

Americans, not least those over-confident folks in Washington driving their aircraft carriers here and there, would benefit from considering these questions. I will try to as well, in coming posts. Chime in!


In 2008, Khalil al-Anani wrote an intriguing article still well worth reading called, not coincidentally, “The Path of Centrist Political Islam” January 29, 2008 on the Common Ground News website.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Palestinian Bantustan...and Sharon

I have been tossing around the term “Palestinian Bantustan” lately. To the uninitiated this must surely sound like an extraordinarily nasty anti-Israeli insult, so I thought it might be worthwhile setting the record straight: as much as I think the phrase is appropriate for what the current Israeli regime is planning, indeed for describing the current situation on the ground, I cannot take credit for the allusion to South Africa’s version of the Warsaw ghetto. It comes, believe it or not, from none other than that great champion of human rights (remember Sabra and Shatila?) Ariel Sharon. [Thanks to Allan Nairn for the citation.] Haaretz had the story way back in 2003 [Akiva Eldar, “Sharon’s Bantustans are far from Copenhagen’s hope” Haaretz May 13, 2003]:

During his visit two weeks ago to Israel, former Italian prime minister Massimo D'Alema hosted a small group of Israelis - public figures and former diplomats - to a dinner at a Jerusalem hotel.

The conversation quickly turned to the conciliatory interviews Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave to the press for their Independence Day editions. One of the Israelis, of the type for whom it's second nature, no matter who is in government, to explain and defend Israeli policy, expressed full confidence in Sharon's peace rhetoric. He said the prime minister understands the solution to the conflict is the establishment of a Palestinian state beside

The former premier from the Italian left said that three or four years ago he had a long conversation with Sharon, who was in
Rome for a brief visit. According to D'Alema, Sharon explained at length that the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict.

The defender of
Israel quickly protested. "Surely that was your personal interpretation of what Sharon said."

D'Alema didn't give in. "No, sir, that is not interpretation. That is a precise quotation of your prime minister."

Supplementary evidence backing D'Alema's story can be found in an expensively produced brochure prepared for Tourism Minister Benny Elon, who is promoting a two-state solution -
Israel and Jordan. Under the title "The Road to War: a tiny protectorate, overpopulated, carved up and demilitarized," the Moledet Party leader presents "the map of the Palestinian state, according to Sharon's proposal." Sharon's map is surprisingly similar to the plan for protectorates in South Africa in the early 1960s. Even the number of cantons is the same - 10 in the West Bank (and one more in Gaza). Dr. Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, notes that the South Africans only managed to create four of their 10 planned Bantustans.

"Palestinian Bantustan" is a deadly serious, long-term Israeli plan.

See also:

Neve Gordon, “Bowed Heads and Bantustans,” July 31, 2002” on the Dissident Voice website concerning Sharon’s attitude toward ceasefires.

Lawrence of Cyberia, “I Have…A Cunning Plan,” January 2, 2008, on the Information Clearing House website.

Mika Minio-Paluello, “Disengaging Resistance,” on the StoptheWall website and also on the Z Magazine website, June 22, 2004 for an analysis of Israeli strategy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Palestine & Global Security

Being an intensely emotional and morally significant issue to both sides, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict defies dispassionate, thoughtful analysis. Yet the conflict is not just a heart-rending story of homeland lost. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict poses very real challenges to global security, so the security ramifications of that conflict require the most careful analysis. [My thanks to Online Journal for first publishing this article.]

Five possible near-term futures for Palestine and Israel seem worth serious consideration:

1) Jordan Becomes Palestine -- the transfer of Palestinians to Jordan, which would probably give Palestinians control of Jordan;

2) Two States -- a sovereign and secure Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state;

3) Secular Democracy -- a single, secular state in which Palestinians and Israelis are equal before the law;

4) Bantustan -- a disarmed Palestinian Bantustan, next to Israel, that could in turn either lead to the destruction of Palestinian society or stimulate the desperate Palestinians to turn to a radical militia for protection; or

5) Catastrophe -- the longer the conflict continues, the greater the possibility of a catastrophe even worse than the current situation.

Each possibility leads, naturally, to further evolution. For example, if Palestinians are incorporated into Jordan, Israel might try to control Jordan, a civil war might ensue, the new Palestinian majority might take control. If the latter, would they be content to let their dreams of their homeland die, or would a new stage in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict arise? Alternatively, if the West Bank became an independent state, what would happen to the half million illegal Israeli colonist-settlers? How would the tiny state defend itself or even survive economically, or provide its people any measure of governance and security to fend off the neighborhood’s many advocates of extremism?

But limiting ourselves just to imagining the immediate next step already brings to mind some basic questions that, in the fog of taboo and denial and emotion, seldom receive the consideration they deserve:

  • Which of these possible futures is the situation now moving toward?
  • What is the impact of the current direction on the broader Western-Islamic confrontation?

The Current Direction. The first question would have been difficult to answer six months ago, but now seems trivially obvious: Obama has surrendered, giving up any sincere intent he may ever have had to change the course of Mideast history away from force toward conciliation. The Israeli right is winning hands down and is moving rapidly toward the absorption of desired portions of the West Bank into Israel, with the relegation of the Palestinian people to Bantustan. That blunt assessment may be wrong even as I write it and certainly might—theoretically—change abruptly tomorrow (e.g., were Obama to re-read his Cairo speech and inspire himself anew), but at least it is, I trust, clearly stated.

Supporting and disconfirmatory evidence need to be collected and assessed. Supporting evidence for evolution toward Palestinian Bantustan would include Washington refusing to hold Israel responsible for actions during attack on Gaza and Washington opening the spigots of military aid to Israel even wider in recent days. Israeli government toleration of settler violence against Palestinians is strong supporting evidence, albeit being downplayed in the U.S. Disconfirmatory evidence includes recent cut-backs in the formerly rising level of checkpoint restrictions on Palestinians, Obama’s rhetoric during the initial months of his presidency, and possibly his recent appointment of a special representative to the Islamic world (provided if the new envoy comes armed with substantive policy changes). A full analysis would require consideration of any evidence relevant to the other possible futures as well. Just as an example, two examples that seem to support the contention that the region is moving toward catastrophe are the Palestinian refugee camp violence in Lebanon and the rise of Salafi sympathies in Gaza.

Whatever the future course, we Americans need--for the sake of our own security--to understand more precisely, to recognize more honestly where the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, under (after all) our tutelage, is headed.

Impact of the Current Direction.

A full analysis would also require consideration of the national/global security implications of the other possible futures. For example, although two equal and independent states may be hard to reject as a goal on the basis of morality, creating a geographically, politically, economically, and militarily viable Palestinian state would clearly be an historic tour-de-force replete with security issues. Remarks here will be limited to the security impacts likely to flow from the rise of a Palestinian Bantustan.

Undermining America’s Reputation. Perhaps even more important than Washington’s clear anti-Palestinian stance is its pretense of fairness, which effectively undermines trust in anything else it claims to support regarding the Islamic world, with the result that the U.S. will be weakened diplomatically, i.e., the U.S. will have a harder time persuading other actors to follow its lead.

Radicalizing Political Islam. Two alternative hypotheses can easily be stated concerning the probable Muslim reaction: 1) Muslims will give up, forget about Palestine, and move on with life; 2) Muslims will be radicalized, thereby empowering extremists. Both hypotheses are probably true, as most people are likely to avoid politics, with a minority becoming upset. The damage done on 9/11 by a dozen or so angry guys and the display of resistance achieved by the few thousand of Hezbollah during Israel’s summer 2006 invasion of Lebanon suggest that those desiring peace should take little comfort from the fact that most of the time, most people tend to avoid international affairs. The Palestinian situation should be expected both to enflame the passions of those already radical and to broaden the radicals’ base in the Islamic world.

Empowering the Israeli Right. The tension with Palestinians is the foundation of the Israeli right’s hold on power. The rise of the Israeli garrison state and the decline of Israeli democracy can be expected to intensify as a function of the level of tension. The dangers of this trend are well described by Israeli thinkers such as Uri Avnery and Daniel Sokatch.

Intensifying Iran’s Nuclear Drive. Those Iranian politicians favoring the militarization of nuclear technology will be strengthened, and all who favor integration with the West or the pursuit of a moderate, conciliatory path of any sort will be weakened by regional tension. This will happen directly because repression of Palestine is a no-lose issue for hardliners and indirectly because American politicians will fall into the Israeli right’s trap of believing that Palestinian-Israeli tensions requires a hostile attitude toward Iran (not seeing that the existence of one source of tension mandates instead the alleviation of the other to prevent a vicious cycle). The falling of provincial American politicians into the Israeli right’s trap will in turn stimulate a hostile or defensive Iranian response, and whatever component of that Iranian response that is in fact defensive will nevertheless be interpreted by those American politicians as “evidence” of hostile Iranian intent.

Deepening Iran’s Influence Over Iraq. As Iraqis, now led by Shi’a with profound historical ties to Iran, strive for independence from both Iran and the U.S., the more blatant Israeli repression of Palestinians, the more likely a rise in sympathy for all who articulate an anti-Israeli position. This can be expected to strengthen Iraqi ties to Iran, provoke Iraqi nationalism and pressure on the U.S. to remove its string of military bases, and enflame domestic tensions with the pro-Israeli Kurds.

Militarizing Western-Islamic Relations. Logically, the general strategy for normalizing relations between the Islamic world and the West would be to bring to the fore as many areas as possible, especially areas in which the West has real and obviously desirable contributions to make: the heritage of evolving toward freedom, democracy, civil rights, and international law; economic support; scientific knowledge. The repression of Palestine raises the relative significance of military ties in the Western-Islamic relationship, narrowing the relationship and therefore making it more fragile.

Stimulating an Islamic anti-Western United Front. If 9/11 isolated Muslim extremists and briefly opened the door (had Washington only chosen to walk through it) to global cooperation against extremism, the Palestinian predicament pushes the world in the opposite direction, opening a very different door – toward the rise of an Islamic anti-Western united front. As the real home of extremism increasingly appears to lie in Israel, if not Washington, both neutrals and outright Western allies come to view the Iranian/Hezbollah/Hamas positions as the relatively more reasonable ones. Erdogan’s anger over Gaza transforming into a steady Turkish distancing from Israel and the mutual accommodation of Hariri and Hezbollah in Lebanon exemplify what may well become a significant trend in Islamic politics. Many factors enter into this, including how skillfully Iran plays its hand. The point here is not to make a prediction but simply to point out that the rise of a Palestinian Bantustan increases the likelihood that an Islamic anti-Western united front between the “resistance” and moderates will emerge, greatly weakening Washington’s position even if it falls short of destabilizing any of the pro-U.S. Arab dictatorships.

In sum, the region appears, with Washington’s active support, to be headed toward Palestinian Bantustan. A generous Israel might conceivably buy the support of a majority, but Israel’s continuing collective punishment of not just Gazans but all Palestinians (recall, for example, that West Bankers too are being prevented from obtaining their share of agricultural water or selling traditional products on the international market) gives little hope of Israeli benevolence. Miracles can happen, but the social dynamics of Israel’s shift to the right, most markedly illustrated by the positive attitude of Israelis toward its vicious attack on Gaza and utterly immoral follow-up campaign of collective punishment, make a generous Israeli colonial regime seem about as naïve a hope as the rise of a single, united, secular Jewish-Palestinian democracy.

This Bantustan prospect in turn can be expected to further enflame tensions in the Western conflict with activist political Islam, while empowering those elements most hostile to Western influence. Increasing Israeli militarism, consolidation of Iranian hostility, Iraqi instability, a broad intensification of Islamic hostility toward the West, a broadening of the “resistance front” to include actors currently viewed as neutral or pro-Western, and a weakening of the American position can be anticipated as a result of Washington’s neglect of Palestinians and blatant bias in favor of the Israeli right wing.

Even assuming all the above hypotheses about the impact of U.S./Israeli Palestinian policy are true, one could counter that military might is what counts and that the effect will thus be minimal. Over the short-term, military might does indeed appear impressively effective, but the more carefully one looks at the results on the ground and their national security implications, the less impressive the military victories seem. The U.S. conquest of Iraq took only days, it appeared, but then dragged on for years, and the U.S. position there remains unstable. The U.S. conquest of Afghanistan took only a few months, yet nearly a decade later, the U.S. position is widely described as getting worse. It is not clear that the utterly one-sided Israeli attack on Gaza accomplished anything of value in terms of Israeli security: the near absence of rockets now is about the same as the near absence of rockets following the summer 2008 truce with Hamas. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, depending on one’s count the third, fourth, or fifth in the last generation, consolidated Hezbollah’s political position as a legitimate if not dominant participant in the Lebanese government.

One could also argue that economics are what count. Washington’s financial resources may appear infinite, with its access to Chinese loans and ability to run trillion dollar deficits. Yet, questions about the financial capability of even the U.S. to continue the extraordinary pace of expenditures on wars in Muslim regions that it has maintained since 9/11 are becoming increasingly prominent.

U.S.-Israeli policy on Palestine appears to be undermining the national security of the U.S. and Israel. No effort is made here to evaluate the importance of that trend, though that would be very important to think about. Suffice it to say that despite the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian arena is a very small place, the current Palestinian policy is impacting a far larger portion of the globe in ways that are counter-productive to the goal of national security.

The Meaning of "Palestinian Bantustan"

I have used the term "Palestinian Bantustan" in print as though we all understood what this phrase means. Perhaps it takes a South African to understand, so here is an extract from a South African specialist Virginia Tilley. I strongly recommend reading her whole article.

The challenge for the apartheid government was then to persuade “self-governing” black elites to accept independent statehood in these territorial fictions and so permanently absolve the white government of any responsibility for black political rights. Toward this end, the apartheid regime hand-picked and seeded “leaders” into the Homelands, where they immediately sprouted into a nice crop of crony elites (the usual political climbers and carpet-baggers) that embedded into lucrative niches of financial privileges and patronage networks that the white government thoughtfully cultivated (this should sound familiar too).

It didn’t matter that the actual territories of the Homelands were fragmented into myriad pieces and lacked the essential resources to avoid becoming impoverished labor cesspools. Indeed, the Homelands’ territorial fragmentation, although crippling, was irrelevant to Grand Apartheid. Once all these “nations” were living securely in independent states, apartheid ideologists argued to the world, tensions would relax, trade and development would flower, blacks would be enfranchised and happy, and white supremacy would thus become permanent and safe.

The thorn in this plan was to get even thoroughly co-opted black Homeland elites to declare independent statehood within “national” territories that transparently lacked any meaningful sovereignty over borders, natural resources, trade, security, foreign policy, water — again, sound familiar? Only four Homeland elites did so, through combinations of bribery, threats and other “incentives.” Otherwise, black South Africans didn’t buy it and the ANC and the world rejected the plot whole cloth. (The only state to recognize the Homelands was fellow-traveler Israel.) But the Homelands did serve one purpose — they distorted and divided black politics, created terrible internal divisions, and cost thousands of lives as the ANC and other factions fought it out. The last fierce battles of the anti-apartheid struggle were in the Homelands, leaving a legacy of bitterness to this day.
Hence the supreme irony for Palestinians today is that the most urgent mission of apartheid South Africa — getting the indigenous people to declare statehood in non-sovereign enclaves — finally collapsed with mass black revolt and took apartheid down with it, yet the Palestinian leadership now is not only walking right into that same trap but actually making a claim on it.

Did You Know? U.S. Congressman Calls on U.S. to Break Israel's Blockade of Gaza

AP reports:

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird says the United States should break Israel's blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies by sea.

The Washington Democrat, who is not running for re-election, told Gaza students Sunday that ships should bring supplies to the beach and deliver them to United Nations agencies.

He also said President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy should visit the Hamas-ruled territory to get a first-hand look at the destruction caused by Israeli's military offensive last year.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stop Letting the Israeli Tail Wag the U.S. Dog

More than once I have criticized the public debate in the U.S. about Israel for bias and superficiality. For once, here is evidence to the contrary, an example of superb analysis of the relationship by Roger Cohen in a formal debate hosted on February 9, 2010 by Intelligence Squared U.S. From the proceedings, here is Cohen’s opening statement in full (my highlights):

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. In life, when we fail, we call it stupidity to

burrow deeper into failure. Measured by any standard, American policy toward Israel has failed

over the past couple of decades. We are no closer to any kind of peace. Israelis and Palestinians

today stand further apart than ever. They are estranged. They are mistrustful. They are

antagonistic. They can scarcely even imagine peace. We will therefore submit to you tonight

that rather than burrowing deeper into failure, and so jeopardizing American interest, the United

States should reconsider its ties with Israel. It should step back from its special relationship in

favor of a normal relationship. Now a normal relations between allies, and the United States and

Israel must remain firm allies, are often marked by differences. With France, with Japan, with

Germany, with Turkey, important allies all, America has regular and often open disagreements.

What makes America's relationship with Israel is its uncritical nature, even when U.S. interests

are being hurt. What also makes the relationship special is the incredible largess that the United

States shows towards Israel, over the past decade, $28.9 billion in economic aid. And on top of

that, another $30 billion in military aid, that's almost $60 billion. That's 10 times the GNP of

Haiti that is being gifted to a small country. Now, I ask you, to what end is this money being

used. Ladies and gentlemen, we would submit that it ends often inimical to the America interest.

Take the ongoing Israeli settlement program in the West Bank, at a cost of about $100 billion,

this enterprise has grown the number of settlers in the West Bank from about 140,000 in 1996, to

about 300,000 today. If you add the roughly 150,000 Israeli's in East Jerusalem, you get to a

number of 450,000 Israelis beyond the 1997 border. That's not all. Money has poured into a

repressive apparatus involving settler-only highways, reserved military areas, a separation or

security barrier. The Israelis call it "separation wall", "hated separated wall" the Palestinians call

it, a barrier that burrows into the West Bank and annexes 10% of the land. What's the result of

this? Well the result is an isolated, fragmented, atomized, fractured, humiliated Palestinian

presence that simply makes a nonsense, at first, of the notion of "Two States for Two Peoples".

What I observe there on my visits to the West Bank amounts to a kind of primer in colonialism.

Imagine, Israelis in their fast cars, Blackberry-ing away, booming down these super highways,

while Palestinians on their donkey carts make their way on dirt tracks, if they can get there, to

their orchards. This is a primer in colonialism, much more than it resembles a nascent Palestinian

state. Yet, "Two States for Two Peoples" is the declared U.S. objective. In effect, the United

States is bankrolling the very Israeli policies that are dashing its own aims and the hopes for Oslo

by making two states almost unimaginable. Does this make sense? Is that clever? I don't think so.

And if you don't think so, ladies and gentlemen, you should vote for the proposition tonight.

Now, the United States has raised its voice occasionally. Jim Baker, for example, Secretary of

State in '89, said, "Foreswear annexation. Stop settlement activity."

Now fast forward two decades to Barack Obama, in Cairo, two decades in several hundred

thousand settlers, he said, "The United States does not accept legitimacy of the continued Israeli

settlements." And what did Prime Minister Netanyahu do two weeks ago, planted settlings in

various settlements, and they are part - and said, "They are part of Israel for all eternity." Now in

a normal relationship, there would be consequences to such defiance. In a special relationship,

the one that exists, there are no such consequences. Now, America's perceived complicity in

Israeli violence carries a heavy price. Jihadi terrorism aimed at the United States is not primarily

motivated perhaps by the Palestinian issue, but it is a major factor. It is a potent terrorist

recruitment tool. The United States should stand by its allies. And Israel is an ally. But if

America is to pay the blood, and the treasure, and the last piece of mind that comes with

supporting Israel, it should be ready at least to speak openly and critically of Israeli mistakes

when needed. To boost, ladies and gentlemen, are unhealthy, a climate that affixes charges of

anti-Semitism to anyone critical of Israel, and self-hating Jew to any Jew who's critical of Israel,

is unhelpful. For if there are not two states, there will be one state.

And sooner or later, the number of Palestinians in it will outnumber the number of Jews. And

what then will remain of the Zionist dream? Ladies and gentlemen, there's also a moral issue

here. I am a Jew. I know that Israel at its foundation and its declaration of independence said it

would, "Ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective

of religion, race, and sex." We, Jews, know in our bones what persecution is. Alas, and this is

hard to say, Israel, has in my view, lost touch with these fundamental values. By uncritically

supporting Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, America is undermining its own values,

which at the very least stand for the absence of second class citizenship and equality of

opportunity. Yes, I know Israel's a vibrant democracy isolated in the Middle East. And its values

are closer to ours than those at closed Arab societies. But that does not mean that we should

endorse Israel's systematic dismemberment of the Two State option. And if President Obama is

serious about reaching out to the Muslim world, America must appear much more as an honest

broker and less as Israel's spokesman. And that requires a serious re-balloting. You will, I

suspect, hear that Israel is a lonely David facing an Arab Goliath. You will hear that it needs

blanket American support to be secure. This is simply not true. Nuclear-armed Israel is


John Donvan: Roger Cohen, your time is up.

Roger Cohen: The United States can step back while ensuring Israel's security. And so I urge

you to vote for the motion tonight. Thank you.

Unfortunately for the interests of serious debate, the speakers defending the special relationship (as opposed to a normal alliance) pretty much overlooked Cohen’s critique, satisfying themselves with biased platitudes, so it really was not much of a debate. I did not, for example, see any defense of Israel’s “systematic dismemberment of the Two States option.” But for Cohen to have made these remarks in public is a refreshing step toward the very old(-fashioned) American ideal of the marketplace of ideas. Now, not to be sarcastic, but can anyone in Congress read?

From the field: Goldstone Commission member draws fire

From the field: Goldstone Commission member draws fire

Augustus Norton provides the historical detail on what really happened between the Hamas-Israel ceasefire in mid-2008 and Israel's December 2008 attack on Gaza.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Team Washington" Can't See the Palestinian End Zone

If you can't see what the problem is, how can you find the solution?

[Thanks to Online Journal for publishing this article. Future posts will explore its ramifications.]

In an interview at the end of his first year in office, Obama admitted that, “for all our efforts at early engagement [with Israel and Palestinians], it is not where I want it to be….Both sides…have found…that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation….” Now this sounds so far like an admirably honest admission of failure that might just serve as the basis from doing a better job during the Administration’s second year until the next few words, in which Obama referred to “a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and the Palestinians have sovereignty.”

Why not a solution in which both have security? Because even nice-guy Obama seems as trapped in the blind Washington prejudice of putting Israelis on a pedestal as the blatantly pro-Israeli neo-conservatives who preceded him. Solutions will not be found until Washington can conceive of what “solution” means. “Solution” means eliminating the problem.

Netanyahu at least has a solution: ethnic cleansing. The solution of Zionist extremists who believe in a Greater Israel expanding far beyond
Israel’s legally recognized 1949 borders in fact remains somewhat unclear. So far, it appears to constitute ethnic cleansing from desired portions of the West Bank plus an apartheid-like system of Bantustans or reservations for those Palestinians not completely driven out. The goal of this group, which currently controls Israel, thus appears to fall somewhat short of Hitler’s genocide, more nearly resembling the white American campaign to destroy the social integrity and political power of Native Americans while leaving token remnants of the population alive but marginalized.

Implementation of this policy takes the form of relentless theft of Palestinian land, by means of government encouragement of Israelis to settle in regions where Palestinians live, with, when necessary, the protection of the Army to ensure that the settlers have a monopoly of force. Employing a form of terrorism that is effective but typically stops short of outright murder, the Israeli settlers destroy precious Palestinian olive groves and Palestinians are, by a combination of settler pressure and government action, forced to surrender their homes. Palestinians are thus squeezed into smaller and smaller living spaces rigidly controlled by an apartheid policy that, for example, restricts Palestinians to the use of side roads.

Once no more Palestinians exist in the areas Israel wants to expand into and once they are completely repressed and reduced to living on the margins of Israeli society, there will, these Israeli extremists apparently believe, no longer be a “Palestinian problem.”

No matter that this vision of a “pure” Israeli society might substitute for the “Palestinian” problem a Lebanese problem or a Syrian problem or an Iranian problem: it is not clear where the ambitions of Greater Israel advocates stop nor is it clear how its neighbors might react to the fulfillment of the Palestinian stage of their grand project. But at least on paper, Netanyahu has a “solution”—one just as “final” as that of white America toward Native Americans.

Some in Hamas—born from the harsh mother of Israeli oppression—seem once to have had in mind the mirror image solution, though it is no longer at all clear who in that organization may still hold fast to its founding vision. Khaled Meshal notably has been quoted as saying, "Hamas has already changed--we accepted the national accords for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, and we took part in the 2006 Palestinian elections." That puts Hamas in a considerably more moderate position than that of the current Israeli regime, which has in mind Palestinian Bantustans completely under Israeli control rather than the legitimate two-state solution implied in Meshal’s remark.

The original Hamas solution of expelling Israelis, which quite logically was no nicer than that of the Greater Israel types, might also have contained the seeds of new problems, for it would have left a weak Palestinian state at the mercy of powerful Arab dictatorships that would see the very fact of its victory as an unacceptable threat to their domestic oppression. In any case, the habit apologists of Israeli extremism have of dwelling on the original Hamas concept of a solution seems misplaced today, given the moderating trend in Hamas thinking. Indeed, it seems little more than a red herring to cover up the fact that Hamas now seems to be more moderate than the Israeli government.

Tragically, Obama seems unable to see through the Israeli propaganda. He cannot, evidently, understand that the “problem” in the Levant will not go away unless it is addressed, and that will require overcoming the bias now so deep in the veins of Team Washington.

Washington” is a tribal culture; one must accept the perspective of the elders in order to be part of the group. Labels matter little (one must have some way to differentiate you from me). The Team comprises Democrats and Republicans, office-holders and Big Finance and Big Oil and Big Arms Proliferator, but they all must prove they are “team players” by absorbing the culture into their bones. That oh-so-provincial culture includes much about which one might usefully speak, such as the core value of avoiding the embarrassment of superiors with mere facts and the insistence that short-term brutality (sorry, “realism” is the preferred term) trump the agonizing process of actually listening to the views of others. But to stay on subject, one of the core values of that culture is that “Jews own suffering.”

As long as Team Washington cries for the suffering of the wave of European colonialists that has spent the last century creating what has become a little nuclear empire more than it cries for the Palestinian victims who have lost their homes and land and freedom and all of their security, it will be unable to discover any “solution” except that of the Zionist extremists. (By “extremist,” to be clear, I mean a person who prefers one-sided solutions achieved through force; I leave for self-professed Zionists to say whether or not it is possible to be a Zionist and still support a fair partition of the old Palestinian territory into two modern, independent, secure states—one for Palestinians and one for Israelis.)

If the colonialists have now had children who have nowhere else to go and also deserve a right to their own homes, then no real justice seems possible. Palestinians will have to compromise. But the compromise that will achieve a “solution” will have to be based on equality. If Israelis deserve security, so do Palestinians. For those who are politically illiterate, that is spelled: “national army.” Or, dear Team
Washington, were you thinking about the alternative option…that a “sovereign” but dependent and helpless Palestinian Bantustan would turn to a Hezbollah-like solution? No? Not what you had in mind? I thought not.

Yet, I only see five alternatives: 1) Jordan Becomes Palestine - the transfer of Palestinians to Jordan, which would probably give Palestinians control of Jordan; 2) Two States - a sovereign and secure Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state, 3) Secular Democracy - a single, secular state in which Palestinians and Israelis are equal, 4) Bantustan - a disarmed Palestinian Bantustan, next to Israel, that will stimulate the desperate Palestinians to turn to a radical militia for protection, or 5) Genocide. Obama is talking publicly about Two States, while the Israeli government is demanding Bantustan (without thinking about the long-term dangers).

Whatever Obama may think, Netanyahu has no intention of allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. Consider the following summary from Israel’s leading English-language daily:

Netanyahu called his endorsement of a Palestinian state without military capabilities, which he presented in a policy speech at Bar Ilan University earlier this month, a "winning formula for peace."

That is not called a “state;” that is called a
Bantustan or, to use an older term, a “reservation.”

Add to that the remark by Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman that “we cannot accept a vision of stopping completely the settlements,” and you have a clear Israeli insistence not only on preventing Palestinian independence but continuing to steal what little attractive land remains in Palestinian hands. And that is why it is “hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation.”

A “solution” will require the replacement of the nuclear mini-empire by a modest state living like a good neighbor, resolving the normal issues of life by shouting across the backyard fence or inviting the neighbor to dinner, as the case may be, but not by nuclear blackmail, infringing on the neighbor’s airspace, demanding the right to tell the neighbor what arms he cannot have that that already fill your garage to the roof, or jamming the neighbor into some tiny open-air jail in the desert.

One might imagine the solution as two states with equal rights (e.g., to regional water sources) and capabilities (e.g., for self-defense). One might alternatively imagine the solution as a single state that would reject both the fundamentalist bias of a caliphate and a "Jewish state" and that would therefore have no use for apartheid. Those are details, albeit crucial ones.

But whatever the details, the “solution” will have to address the “problem.” The problem is not the existence of Hamas or the anger on which it is founded. The problem is the injustice of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Team
Washington has not yet even caught a glimpse of the problem so how could anyone think that it would be able to imagine the solution?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Iran: Unacceptable Symbol of Independence

Iran and the U.S. are engaged in a hypocritical little dance, which might be funny if the possibility of miscalculation were not so great.

Ahmadinejad announces the intention of achieving the ability to use Iranian uranium for medical purposes as though it were a challenge to American superpower status. That's good for him politically, at least within his close personal circles. Then, Clinton and Gates and Obama and all the usual Israeli hawks respond with threatening remarks about the danger Iran poses; that's good for them politically.

So the politicians on both sides who either are extremists looking for a good war or who want to be perceived as extremists egg each other on, feed off each other, and create a dangerous dynamic that could truly lead to war and that at a minimum does in fact empower extremism on both sides.

But the reality is even more complicated than that because Iran actually is a threat - not to US national security but to a foreign policy goal that is now very popular in Washington: ensuring that everyone in the Mideast bow down to American leadership. Iran's crime, in Washington eyes, is to stand alone as the only regional state with an independent position. Iran may not be able to do very much, but it is a symbol of independence that could easily spread and shake what arguably is a rather shaky American/Israeli house.

There is nothing natural about Israel having a regional nuclear monopoly, being able to get away with thinly veiled nuclear threats against non-nuclear Iran, having the “right” to tell neighbors (e.g., Lebanon) what weapons they are allowed to possess, or being allowed to attack neighbors (e.g., Syria) whenever they build or buy something Israel disapproves of. There is also nothing natural about Washington constructing a huge archipelago of military bases throughout the region and insisting that all regional states follow Washington’s lead and play by a highly discriminatory set of rules that Washington crafts specially for each state. It is, therefore, understandable that Washington might view the regional position it has built for itself as shaky. To a degree—and no one really knows how to measure this—Washington’s regional dominance rests on a foundation of bluff: Washington dares the locals to protest, but as long as no one does, Washington wins. Iran is in the crosshairs because it alone among the region’s states, dares to call Washington’s bluff.