Delusional Milestone

Dr. Lawrence Davidson

 

Dr. Lawrence Davidson

Dr. Lawrence Davidson

Delusional Milestone – An Analysis (8 April 2012) by Lawrence Davidson


Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel (CUFI) announced the “registration of their millionth member
” on 18 March 2012. This organization, founded in 2006, with the goal of “realizing the political potential of tens of millions of evangelical Americans who support Israel” can also be said to have the goal of destroying, in the name of God no less, the legitimate political aspiration of Palestinian statehood. And, the CUFI now has as much influence with our Republican Congress as does the Jewish Zionist lobby, AIPAC.  Continue reading

Minister listens

Stuart Littlewood

Stuart Littlewood

Playground bullying of Palestine and Iran must stop…

Stuart Littlewood

Last Friday I had a 2-hour meeting with my MP Henry Bellingham, who is a minister in the Foreign Office. We spent much of the time discussing the Palestinian statehood question and the absurd sabre-rattling against Iran.

Mr Bellingham listened politely, saying he was more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than some within the Government. He also agreed that the best way to influence Iran was to resume trade. Continue reading

UN bid heralds death of Palestine’s old guard

Jonathan Cook
New leaders will spurn two states
By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
Amid the enthusiastic applause in New York and the celebrations in Ramallah, it was easy to believe — if only a for minute — that, after decades of obstruction by Israel and the United States, a Palestinian state might finally be pulled out of the United Nations hat. Will the world’s conscience be midwife to a new era ending Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians?
It seems not.
The Palestinian application, handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon last week, has now disappeared from view — for weeks, it seems — while the United States and Israel devise a face-saving formula to kill it in the Security Council. Behind the scenes, the pair are strong-arming the Council’s members to block Palestinian statehood without the need for the US to cast its threatened veto.
Whether or not President Barack Obama wields the knife with his own hand, no one is under any illusion that Washington and Israel are responsible for the formal demise of the peace process. In revealing to the world its hypocrisy on the Middle East, the US has ensured both that the Arab publics are infuriated and that the Palestinians will jump ship on the two-state solution.
But there was one significant victory at the UN for Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, even if it was not the one he sought. He will not achieve statehood for his people at the world body, but he has fatally discredited the US as the arbiter of a Middle East peace.
In telling the Palestinians there was “no shortcut” to statehood — after they have already waited more than six decades for justice — the US President revealed his country as incapable of offering moral leadership on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Obama is this craven to Israel, what better reception can the Palestinians hope to receive from a future US leader?
One guest at the UN had the nerve to politely point this out in his speech. Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president who himself appears to be wavering from his original support for a Palestinian state, warned that US control of the peace process needed to end.
“We must stop believing that a single country, even the largest, or a small group of countries can resolve so complex a problem,” he told the General Assembly. His suggestion was for a more active role for Europe and the Arab states at peace with Israel.
Sarkozy appeared to have overlooked the fact that responsibility for solving the conflict was widened in much this way in 2002 with the creation of the Quartet, comprising the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
The Quartet’s formation was necessary because the US and Israel realised that the Palestinian leadership would not continue playing the peace process game if oversight remained exclusively with Washington, following the Palestinians’ betrayal by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000. The Quartet’s job was to restore Palestinian faith in — and buy a few more years for — the Oslo process.
However, the Quartet quickly discredited itself too, not least because its officials never strayed far from the Israeli-Washington consensus. Last week senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath spoke for most Palestinians when he accused the Quartet’s envoy, Tony Blair, of sounding like an “Israeli diplomat” as he sought to dissuade Abbas from applying for statehood.
And true to form, the Quartet responded to the Palestinians’ UN application by limply offering Abbas instead more of the same tired talks that have gone nowhere for two decades.
The Palestinian leadership’s move to the UN, effectively bypassing the Quartet, widens the circle of responsibility for Middle East peace yet further. It also neatly brings the Palestinians’ 63-year plight back to the world body.
But Abbas’ application also exposes the UN’s powerlessness to intervene in an effective way. Statehood depends on a successful referral to the Security Council, which is dominated by the US. The General Assembly may be more sympathetic but it can confer no more than a symbolic upgrading of Palestine’s status, putting it on a par with the Vatican.
So the Palestinian leadership is stuck. Abbas has run out of institutional addresses for helping him to establish a state alongside Israel. And that means there is a third casualty of the statehood bid – the Palestinian Authority. The PA was the fruit of the Oslo process, and will wither without its sustenance.
Instead we are entering a new phase of the conflict in which the US, Europe, and the UN will have only a marginal part to play. The Palestinian old guard are about to be challenged by a new generation that is tired of the formal structures of diplomacy that pander to Israel’s interests only.
The young new Palestinian leaders are familiar with social media, are better equipped to organise a popular mass movement, and refuse to be bound by the borders that encaged their parents and grandparents. Their assessment is that the PA – and even the Palestinians’ unrepresentative supra-body, the PLO – are part of the problem, not the solution.
Till now they have remained largely deferential to their elders, but that trust is fast waning. Educated and alienated, they are looking for new answers to an old problem.
They will not be seeking them from the countries and institutions that have repeatedly confirmed their complicity in sustaining the Palestinian people’s misery. The new leaders will appeal over the heads of the gatekeepers, turning to the court of global public opinion. Polls show that in Europe and the US, ordinary people are far more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than their governments.
The first shoots of this revolution in Palestinian politics were evident in the youth movement that earlier this year frightened Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas into creating a semblance of unity. These youngsters, now shorn of the distracting illusion of Palestinian statehood, will redirect their energies into an anti-apartheid struggle, using the tools of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Their rallying cry will be one person-one vote in the single state Israel rules over.
Global support will be translated into a rapid intensification of the boycott and sanctions movement. Israel’s legitimacy and the credibility of its dubious claim to being a democracy are likely to take yet more of a hammering.
Events at the UN are creating a new clarity for Palestinians, reminding them that there can be no self-determination until they liberate themselves from the legacy of colonialism and the self-serving illusions of the ageing notables who now lead them. The old men in suits have had their day.
Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

“Our concern is what happens on the ground” — Dr. Allam Jarrar from PMRS speaks about Palestinian Statehood

Palestine Monitor

Palestine Monitor

Palestinian civil society groups are cautiously supportive of the Palestinian Authority’s bid for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state and are making preparations for likely social outcomes arising from the process.

Dr. Allam Jarrar, director of the CBR Program at the Palestinian Medical Relief Service and prominent member of the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), said so long as the move was not an exercise in cynical politics by the Palestinian Authority, it had his support.

“We believe that the process over the last eighteen years (since the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority) has created nothing,” he said. “On the contrary, it has complicated things. ”

Dr Jarrar said PNGO supported the attempt if it means success in providing greater international legitimacy for Palestine, assists with the implementation of United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and guarantees the continued representational capacity of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

At present the PLO—made up of various political parties of which Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas’ Fatah Party is the largest faction—is recognised by the United Nations as the Palestinian’s legitimate representative.

It has held permanent observer status within the General Assembly since 1974. A successful attempt for recognition of Palestinian statehood would enhance this status to allow the Palestinian representative to take a more active role within international organisations and treaties, voting within the General Assembly, and providing avenues and access to better represent the concerns of Palestinian people.

The application for recognition of Palestinian statehood is expected to be introduced to the United Nations later this month.

According to Dr Jarrar, PNGO has been active in preparing for the vote for several months. “We consider one of the main roles of NGOs to help in the creation of an atmosphere of dialogue and education,” he said. “At present many people are not aware of the implications that recognition of Palestinian statehood will bring.”

In addition to hosting public information meetings, PNGO has been actively discussing ways to support any popular movements arising from the vote’s outcome.

“NGOs should be an active part in any social movements,” he said. “Our concern is what happens on the ground. We are preparing for the likelihood of the Israelis closing off areas, protests occurring, settlers attacking Palestinians, and trying to provide the capacity to respond to the needs of Palestinians during this time. Providing for protection will be important and we have discussed ways to mobilise human rights organisations to provide protection for Palestinian people in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

Dr Jarrar believes Palestinian non-state actors, such as NGOs, possess a degree of independence not enjoyed in other Arab states, where organisations are often made to report to government.

“In Palestine, the concept of civil society has been linked with our national struggle,” he said.

“The reality of occupation has created a special social and economic context in Palestine and a clear definition between government and civil society has only occurred in the last 18 years with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.”

PNGO was established in 1994 as a network of the 35 largest Palestinian NGOs and in response to the emerging political changes resulting from the Oslo Accords.

article source

Can the Palestinian Authority survive?

Barack_Obama_meets_with_Mahmoud_Abbas_in_the_Oval_Office_2009-05-28_1

‘Our leaders are negotiating the terms of our imprisonment’

By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth, 31 Jan 2011

With the 18-year-long Middle East peace process finally pronounced dead, is the Palestinian Authority finished too?

That is the question being asked by Palestinians in the wake of a week of damaging revelations that Palestinian negotiators secretly made major concessions to Israel in talks on Jerusalem, refugees and borders.

The PA — the Palestinians’ government-in-the-making, led by Mahmoud Abbas — was already in crisis before the disclosure of official Palestinian documents by Al Jazeera television last week.

Now, said George Giacaman, the head of the Ramallah-based research centre Muwatin, which advocates greater Palestinian democracy, the PA’s “back is to the wall”.

The question of the PA’s survival, and the future direction of Palestinian politics, has gained added urgency as the wider Middle East is rocked by unrest, from Tunisia to Yemen.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of the Jerusalem think-tank Passia, said the Palestinians were “at a crossroads”. Although the streets had remained largely quiet until now, he said it was only a matter of time before Palestinians started to make clear their revulsion at their leadership.

“It is now much clearer to Palestinians that they are living in a prison and that the PA leaders are there only to negotiate the terms of our imprisonment,” he said.

He, like many other Palestinian analysts, declared the negotiations for a two-state solution over.

That sentiment appears to be shared by a majority of Palestinians. A survey in December, before the leak of 1,600 official documents, by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research showed that 71 per cent of Palestinians believed they would not have a state within five years. The percentage is likely to have risen sharply.

In a sign of the mounting panic in Ramallah, Palestinian leaders frantically launched a rearguard action last week. Initially, they claimed the documents were fabricated, and suggested that Al Jazeera was siding with Mr Abbas’s political rivals, the Islamic party Hamas, to bring down the PA.

But several officials have confirmed the papers’ authenticity, and the PA has redirected its main attention to discovering who was behind the leak.

Mr Abdul Hadi said Palestinians would increasingly draw the conclusion that their intended future was living in “one binational state under an apartheid regime” administered by Israel.

“At the moment Abbas has his followers out on the streets but the Palestinian people are awakening to the reality of their situation,” he said.

Samir Awad, a politics professor at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, agreed that Israel was imposing a de facto one-state solution. “The fight for national independence is over and, if it is to survive, the PA must quickly reinvent its role. Palestinians are now in for the long haul: a struggle for their civil and political rights in a single state,” he said.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University in Israel and an expert on Palestinian politics, warned, however, that, as the PA faltered, Israel and the US would intensify their efforts to strengthen the authority’s security forces and its repressive role.

With politics stifled inside the occupied territories, said Mr Ghanem, it was crucial that outside Palestinian leaders step in to redefine the Palestinian national movement, including Palestinians such as himself who live inside Israel and groups in the diaspora.

Mr Giacaman said the PA had long ago outlived its official purpose.

It was created by the Oslo accords as a temporary administration in the transition to Palestinian statehood, proposed as a five-year period during which Israel was supposed to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza in stages.

Since the Camp David negotiations ended in deadlock in 2000, the PA has clung to power, with limited control over less than 40 per cent of the West Bank as Israel has continued to build settlements in the area under its rule.

Mr Abbas has threatened on several occasions to dissolve the PA, most recently in December, when he warned: “I cannot accept to remain the president of an authority that doesn’t exist.”

But Mr Giacaman said such threats were hollow, designed to put pressure on Israel to return to negotiations out of fear that it would otherwise have to take on the heavy financial burden of direct military reoccupation.

The PA, however, was in much deeper trouble after the leaking of the documents, Mr Giacaman said. “Without a peace process, it needs to justify its continuing existence.”

The most likely immediate focus, he said, was intensifying international action through the United Nations, by pushing for a resolution at the Security Council against the settlements.

He also thought the PA would consider changing its position and actively championing the Goldstone Report, the findings of a UN commission that suggest Israel committed war crimes during its attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

One of the leaked papers revealed that Mr Abbas had agreed under US pressure to shelve the report rather than take it to the UN General Assembly.

“The problem for the PA is that it needs to generate diplomatic crises to get the international community to intervene. But this will put it in confrontation with Israel and the United States. Israel can always threaten to cut the $60 million taxes it transfers every month to the PA,” Mr Giacaman said.

The PA’s threat to unilaterally declare statehood and then seek recognition at the UN, he added, would not change the reality on the ground. “Even if most countries recognise the state, it will still be a state under occupation,” Mr Giacaman said.

In the meantime, the diplomatic vacuum was likely to be filled by Israel. It could promote a plan similar to the one being advanced by Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right foreign minister, to recognise a Palestinian state in temporary borders. Or it could continue its separation policies, withdrawing from more of the West Bank and encouraging the Palestinians to take over what was left behind.

Mr Awad said the collapse of the PA held out many dangers for the Palestinians. One was the possibility of a convulsive civil war between the Fatah party of Mr Abbas and Hamas. Another, he said, was the “Aghanistanisation” of the occupied territories, as tribal warlords took limited control of the territorial enclaves Israel was not interested in.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

US mediation monopoly collapsing

Sam Bahour

Sam Bahour, 6 Dec 2010

The United States is at a crossroads in its mediation of Middle East peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The Obama administration can no longer walk on the Israeli side of the line–which is exactly where the US has been since Israel’s creation–while continuing to pay lip service to the illusion of walking on the thin line of fair mediation. Unfortunately, neither the US, nor anyone in the Palestinian leadership for that matter, has proposed anything beyond brushing the dust off already-failed initiatives and placing the burden for progress on the need for more Palestinian concessions; concessions that do not exist.

The international euphoria surrounding the US bear hug embrace of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah is about to quickly pass and, come autumn 2011–the Fayyad government’s declared target for Palestinian statehood–the region will find itself exactly where former President George W. Bush left it: at a dead end.

What is urgently needed is a restructuring of international mediation addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Shuttle diplomacy by world powers unable or unwilling to commit to international and humanitarian law as a foundation for Palestinian and Israeli reconciliation is a waste of time, money and Palestinian and Israeli lives. Military occupation must end if good faith final status negotiations are ever to sincerely begin.

The US has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that its historic alliance with Israel, an “unholy alliance” as it has often been called, prohibits it from being a fair and impartial mediator. Over the years, the Israeli agenda has become a domestic US issue and is integrally linked to US elections, US foreign policy and aid, and the US military-industrial complex. The collapse of the infamous Oslo peace process gave the US a historic chance to clean its slate of its blind support to Israel. It chose not to do so, thus losing any impression of being a credible, impartial mediator.

The US is fully aware of its failed attempts at mediation, especially over the past 20 years, and thus moved to create the so-called “Quartet”. In essence, the Quartet attempted to camouflage the dominating US role in the conflict with the inclusion of the European Union, Russian Federation and United Nations. This fuzzy, ineffective diplomatic mechanism, which self-proclaims a mandate of mediating the conflict, falls short of having any real international legitimacy. Over the past years, the Quartet, currently represented by Tony Blair, quietly observed unprecedented Israeli aggression against Palestinians and a collapse of the peace process while doing little more than deciding how high to jump after being ordered to do so by the US.

An alternative to the Quartet would be to create a properly mandated UN Security Council mediation team in which no member would be allowed to exercise veto power. The team would be equipped with the necessary resources to bring Israel (the occupier) and the Palestinians (the occupied) to the table with the agenda of ending the 43-year Israeli military occupation of Palestinians. The basis for an end to the occupation would be dictated as prescribed in international and humanitarian law. This mediation team would have the authority to deploy a specified number of multinational peacekeeping forces should they be required.

The wild card actually blocking such a serious approach to mediation is the US. Why would the US accept a mediation arrangement that would definitely drive a wedge between the US and Israel? There are 101 reasons for the US to take a backseat in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not the least being the quagmire that it created for itself in Iraq and Afghanistan or the constantly increasing costs that Israel is inflicting upon the US, both financially and politically. Sooner or later, the US must take action to remove Israel from dominating its domestic agenda. With President Barack Obama past the mid-term elections, despite recovering from a setback, he should be able to breathe a little easier and spend serious political capital to repair some of the damage that was done to his presidency when he was forced to retreat from the showdown with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over continued illegal Israeli settlement building.

However, betting on the US or Obama to make a historic unilateral about-face is most likely a losing bet. The international community needs to urgently step up to the plate.

If the US refuses to cooperate on it own, then the international community can take action regardless. Under a well-known and tested United Nations procedure called “Uniting for Peace” (General Assembly Resolution 377 A (V)), the UN General Assembly can demand a withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Palestinian lands. The General Assembly may also call for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent to Palestine to protect Palestinians from the occupying power. The “Uniting for Peace” procedure has been used before, by none other than the United States.

International law must be defined and applied by the world institutions that were established for the purpose, and not by the existing superpower or the party to the conflict that can hire the better public relations firms or has the stronger military. The clear and unequivocal end to Israeli occupation, in all its forms, has the power to bring justice, security and stability to a region on the verge of self-destruction. – Published 6/12/2010 © bitterlemons.org

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman.

http://www.bitterlemons.org/issue/pal2.php

Israel’s self-destruction

Jonathan Cook

Reunifying the Palestinian nation

Jonathan Cook in Nazareth, 11 Nov 2010

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is in the United States this week, but few observers expect an immediate or significant breakthrough in the stalled peace talks with the Palestinian leadership.

In public, Mr Netanyahu maintains he is committed to the pledge he made last year, shortly after he formed his right-wing government, to work towards the creation of a demilitarised Palestinian state.

But so far he has proved either unwilling or unable to renew even a partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank — a key condition set by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, for reviving the negotiations.

Most of Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet, including Avigdor Lieberman, his foreign minister, barely conceal their opposition to Palestinian statehood. Instead, Mr Netanyahu has imposed a precondition of his own: that the Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

A leading analyst of Palestinian politics says the picture is not as bleak for the Palestinians as it might appear.

Asad Ghanem, a professor of political science at Haifa University, predicts Mr Netanyahu and his cabinet will eventually come to rue their obduracy.

The intransigence and the unabashed espousal of “an ideology of Jewish supremacy” by Mr Netanyahu and his supporters will lead to the gradual “reunification” of the Palestinian people, Dr Ghanem said in an interview.

In clinging to a vision of Greater Israel, Mr Netanyahu and the right are fuelling a potentially powerful Palestinian nationalism that could yet come to crush not only the occupation but Israel’s status as a Jewish state, said Dr Ghanem, the author of several books on Palestinian nationalism.

Dr Ghanem, who belongs to Israel’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of the country’s population, noted that the original goal of Israel’s founders was to use a sophisticated version of divide-and-rule to weaken an emerging Palestinian national movement that opposed Zionism.

The war of 1948 that created Israel led to the first and most significant division: between the minority of Palestinians who remained inside the new territory of Israel and the refugees forced outside its borders, who today are numbered in millions.

Since 1967, Israel has fostered many further splits: between the cities and rural areas; between the West Bank and Gaza; between East Jerusalem and the West Bank; between the main rival political movements, Fatah and Hamas; and between the PA leadership and the diaspora.

Israel’s guiding principle has been to engender discord between Palestinians by putting the interests of each group into conflict, said Dr Ghanem. “A feuding Palestinian nation was never likely to be in a position to run its own affairs.”

He is dismissive of plans by Mr Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to try to revive the Oslo process by bypassing Israel and seeking the international community’s blessing for the establishment of a Palestinian state next summer.

Palestinian leaders who have pursued statehood, Dr Ghanem added, have done so on terms dictated by Israel.

First the rights of the refugees to be considered part of the Palestinian nation were sacrificed, then those of the Palestinians inside Israel. Next parts of East Jerusalem and all of Gaza were excluded. And now finally, he said, even significant parts of the West Bank were almost certain to be counted outside a future Palestinian state.

“The core of the negotiations for Abbas is about ending the occupation, but he has progressively conceded to Israel its very narrow definition of what constitutes occupied land. The rights of the refugees and other Palestinians to be included in the Palestinian nation now exist chiefly at the level of rhetoric.”

The Israeli right’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would accelerate the unravelling of Israel’s long-term policy of fragmenting the Palestinian people.

“All Palestinians are affected by such a demand, not just those living inside Israel. The Palestinian national movement accepted Israel as a state decades ago but Netanyahu is not satisfied by that.

“He wants to reopen the 1948 file,” Dr Ghanem said, referring to the war that established Israel by expelling and dispossessing 80 per cent of the Palestinian people. “He is provoking the Palestinian national movement to reassess the accepted two-state model for ending the conflict.”

As fewer and fewer Palestinians cling to the belief that Israel will ever agree to partition the territory, the physical and ideological barriers between the Palestinian sub-groups are starting to crumble, he said.

The separate struggles of the Palestinians — for civil rights among Israel’s Palestinian minority; for national liberation by those in the occupied territories; and for the right of return among the diaspora — were being superseded by “a common fight against the reality of an ethnic apartheid”.

Dr Ghanem added that, when Palestinians came to realise that they would never be offered more than a “crippled state” by Israel, the new paradigm would become “one binational, democratic state for all Palestinians and Jews in historic Palestine”.

The different Palestinian factions would eventually merge their political platforms. The civil rights movement rapidly emerging among Palestinians inside Israel would then serve to complement the fledgling anti-apartheid struggle in the occupied territories.

Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, as well as the millions of refugees, said Dr Ghanem, would one day come to thank Mr Netanyahu for bringing them together.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

The dangers of ‘recognition’

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has insisted from the launch of the current peace talks that the Palestinians set no preconditions, while making his own precondition the centrepiece of negotiations. Netanyahu has said talks are futile unless the Palestinians and their leader, Mahmoud Abbas, first recognise Israel as a Jewish state. “I recognised the Palestinians’ right to self-definition, so they must do the same for the Jewish people,” he told American Jewish leaders recently.

Netanyahu, of the rightwing Likud party, is not the first Israeli leader to make such a requirement of the Palestinians. His predecessor Tzipi Livni, leader of the centrist opposition, wanted the same recognition. Ehud Barak, the defence minister and head of the supposedly left-wing Labor party, also supports this position.

The consensus on this matter, however, masks a reluctance by Israeli politicians to clarify what exactly is being expected of the Palestinians and why recognition is so important.

Netanyahu clearly does not simply want the fact of Israel’s existence acknowledged. That is in no doubt and, anyway, the Israeli state has been recognised by the Palestinian leadership since the late 1980s. It is recognition of the state’s Jewishness, not its existence, that matters.

Debate on this subject focuses on Israel’s desire to stifle the threat of a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees. Though doubtless a consideration, that explanation hardly suffices. It is clear to everyone that the refugees are one of the main issues to be settled in the negotiations. In the unlikely circumstances that all other obstacles to Palestinian statehood were removed, it can be assumed that the international community would work to make that particular mountain a molehill.

The demand for recognition is directed chiefly at another party: the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian – the remnants of the Palestinian people who stayed on their land during the great dispossession of 1948, the nakba, and eventually gained Israeli citizenship.

They are only nominally represented at the talks by their state, Israel. Instead, Netanyahu hopes to use the promise of statehood to induce Abbas to sacrifice the interests of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. The Palestinian minority’s leaders, who have been lobbying Abbas hard in the run-up to the talks, understand what Netanyahu’s demand for recognition entails.

During the early years of the Oslo peace process, when a concession on Palestinian statehood appeared to be drawing nearer, the positions of Israel’s Palestinian and Jewish leaders polarised. The assumption of Israeli politicians was that Palestinian citizens would soon either declare loyalty to a Jewish state – effectively become Zionists – or be “transferred” to the coming Palestinian state.

Faced with this challenge, Israel’s Palestinian leaders encouraged a civil rights movement, demanding equality and an end to Jewish privilege. Their campaign, under the slogan “a state of all its citizens”, implied the end of Israel as a Jewish state and its transformation into a liberal democracy.

Over the past decade, during the years of the second intifada, relations between the two communities deteriorated further, with the Palestinian minority now routinely accused of being traitors.

Netanyahu’s latest demand should, therefore, be understood as a cynical move to bypass his own Palestinian constituency and persuade Abbas to negotiate away the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens on his behalf.

If the Palestinian president does recognise Israel as a Jewish state, the campaign by Israel’s Palestinian citizens to reform their country into a true democracy will be over. Netanyahu will have Palestinian backing to label the reformers a fifth column and expel them to the slivers of West Bank territory he may one day deign to call a Palestinian state.

In the meantime, he will also have Palestinian permission to institute a loyalty drive of the kind already being advanced through the Israeli parliament. Loyalty tests for individual Palestinian citizens, and the dismantlement of the Palestinian parties in the parliament unless they sign up as Zionists, would be the first measures. Rounds of expulsions could be expected later.

If all this sounds familiar, it is because much the same programme was laid out by Israel’s foreign minister last week during his controversial speech at the United Nations general assembly. Avigdor Lieberman’s plan for an “exchange of populations” would initially require border changes to force hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens into a Palestinian “interim state” in return for the inclusion of West Bank settlements, some deep in Palestinian territory, in the newly expanded Jewish state.

There is one flaw in Lieberman’s scheme. Many Palestinian citizens, such as those in the Galilee, are not near the West Bank and could not be exchanged through land swaps. His election slogan – “No loyalty, no citizenship” – tells the rest of a plan he has revealed to Israelis but not directly to the international community.

Although American Jewish leaders decried Lieberman’s use of the UN platform to reveal a proposal that officially counters his own government’s policy, Netanyahu baffled observers by remaining demure. His officials publicly distanced him from the scheme, but then privately told the Israeli media that the prime minister did not think the plan illegitimate and that he would not “chastise” Lieberman.

Netanyahu’s silence should not surprise us. His foreign minister may be speaking more bluntly than other Israeli politicians, but he speaks for them nonetheless.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

One-state debate explodes myth about the Zionist left

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook in Nazareth, 20 July 2010

A fascinating debate is entering Israel’s political mainstream on a once-taboo subject: the establishment of a single state as a resolution of the conflict, one in which Jews and Palestinians might potentially live as equal citizens. Surprisingly, those advocating such a solution are to be found chiefly on Israel’s political right.

The debate, which challenges the current orthodoxy of a two-state future, is rapidly exploding traditional conceptions about the Zionist right and left.

Most observers — including a series of US administrations — have supposed that Israel’s peace-makers are to be found exclusively on the Zionist left, with the right dismissed as incorrigible opponents of Palestinian rights.

In keeping with this assumption, the US president Barack Obama tried until recently to sideline the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyhau, Israel’s rightwing prime minister, and bolster instead Ehud Barak, his defence minister from the left-wing Labour party, and the opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party.

But, as the Israeli right often points out, the supposedly “pro-peace” left and centre parties have a long and ignominious record in power of failing to advance Palestinian statehood, including during the Oslo process. The settler population, for example, grew the fastest during the short premiership of Mr Barak a decade ago.

What the new one-state debate reveals is that, while some on the right — and even among the settlers — are showing that they are now open to the idea of sharing a state with the Palestinians, the left continues to adamantly oppose such an outcome.

In a supplement of Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper last weekend largely dedicated to the issue, Yossi Beilin, a former leader of the ultra-dovish Meretz party and an architect of Oslo, spoke for the Zionist left in calling a one-state solution “nonsense”. He added dismissively: “I’m not interested in living in a state that isn’t Jewish.”

The Israeli left still hangs on resolutely to the goal it has espoused since Mr Barak attended the failed Camp David talks in 2000: the annexation to Israel of most of the settlements in the West Bank and all of those in East Jerusalem. The consensus on the left is that the separation wall, Mr Barak’s brainchild, will ensure that almost all the half million settlers stay put while an embittered Palestinian population is corralled into a series of ghettoes misleadingly called a Palestinian state. The purpose of this separation, says the left, is to protect Israel’s Jewishness from the encroaching Palestinian majority if the territory is not partitioned.

The problem with the left’s solution has been summed up by Tzipi Hotoveley, a senior Likud legislator who recently declared her support for a single state. “There is a moral failure here [by the left]. … The result is a solution that perpetuates the conflict and turns us from occupiers into perpetrators of massacres, to put it bluntly. It’s the left that made us a crueler nation and also put our security at risk.”

The right is beginning to understand that separation requires not just abandoning dreams of Greater Israel but making Gaza the template for the West Bank. Excluded and besieged, the Palestinians will have to be “pacified” through regular military assaults like the one on Gaza in winter 2008 that brought international opprobrium on Israel’s head. Some on the right believe Israel will not survive long causing such outrages.

But if the right is rethinking its historic positions, the left is still wedded to its traditional advocacy of ethnic separation and wall-building.

It was the pre-state ideologues of Labour Zionism who first argued for segregation under the slogans “Hebrew labour” and “redemption of the land” and then adopted the policy of transfer. It was the Labour founders of the Jewish state who carried out the almost wholesale expulsion of the Palestinians under cover of the 1948 war.

For the right, on the other hand, the creation of a “pure” Jewish territory has never been a holy grail. Early on, it resigned itself to sharing the land. The much-misunderstood “iron wall” doctrine of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the Likud’s intellectual father, was actually presented as an alternative to Labour Zionism’s policies of segregation and expulsion. He expected to live with the Palestinians, but preferred that they be cowed into submission with an iron wall of force.

Jabotinsky’s successors are grappling with the same dilemmas. Most, like Mr Netanyahu, still believe Israel has time to expand Israeli control by buying the Palestinians off with such scraps as fewer checkpoints and minor economic incentives. But a growing number of Likud leaders are admitting that the Palestinians will not accept this model of apartheid forever.

Foremost among them is Moshe Arens, a former defence minister and Likud guru, who wrote recently that the idea of giving citizenship to many Palestinians under occupation “merits serious consideration”. Reuven Rivlin, the parliament’s speaker, has conceded that “the lesser evil is a single state in which there are equal rights for all citizens”.

We should not romanticise these Likud converts. They are not speaking of the “state of all its citizens” demanded by Israel’s tiny group of Jewish non-Zionists. Most would require that Palestinians accept life in a state dominated by Jews. Arens, for example, wants to exclude the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza from citizenship to gerrymander his Jewish-majority state for a few more decades. None seems to be considering including a right of return for the millions of Palestinian refugees. And almost all of them would expect citizenship to be conditional on loyalty, recreating for new Palestinian citizens the same problematic relationship to a Jewish state endured by the current Palestinian minority inside Israel.

Nonetheless, the right is showing that it may be more willing to redefine its paradigms than the Zionist left. And in the end it may confound Washington by proving more capable of peace-making than the architects of Oslo.

  • Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.
  • A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.