Freedom Flotilla II, testing Israel’s legitimacy
The hour is imminent when Israel’s right to exist will be tested once more. Some time this week or perhaps into the next, the second self-anointed “Freedom Flotilla” – consisting of ten boats from across Europe and North America – will set sail in convoy from the failing state of Greece to the Gaza Strip. Their aim is clear: it is to break the blockade which surrounds the Hamas-controlled territory as to force the hand of the Israeli government into preventing them from doing so by any means necessary.
What is clear from this method of protest (if you can call it that) is that their desire to see the establishment of some kind of Palestinian state has been superseded by a want to undermine the legitimacy of the one and only Jewish state. After all, if their aim was genuinely to relieve the people of Gaza, then there are various legal avenues solidarity campaigners might use.
Since June 2010, the State of Israel has liberalised the laws surrounding the import of goods into Gaza, allowing for the passage of civilian goods whilst preventing certain weapons and dual-use items from entering the enclave. Not only this, but in the wake of the revolution in Egypt, the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and the Sinai has been reopened, with a much larger number of Palestinians crossing back and forth between the two territories on a daily basis.
The flotilla, by contrast, is choosing to set sail directly for the port of Gaza with the sole aim of violating the sovereignty of the State of Israel. Moreover, they aim to provoke a forceful response from the Israel Defense Forces as a means to delegitimising them as an institution and the Israeli government as an authority. This rabble would appear to be another case of a group or organisation speaking for the Palestinians as a cover for promoting their own unhelpful, damaging causes.
Freedom Flotilla II, as with the original failed endeavour, is being sponsored by a coalition of shady figures who amount to nothing more than the Western arm of the Friends of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. The umbrella group heading the whole thing is again IHH, a charity with links to international terrorism that masquerades as a humanitarian organisation. IHH boasts a history of involvement in Islamic extremism, having been connected with a failed plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.
Also involved are the Free Gaza Movement, who count amongst their patrons Lauren Booth, who far from being a journalist is a mouth-piece and propagandist for Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a face of Press TV. Iran’s Western media outlet, this network plays host to such bums and lowlifes as Yvonne Ridley and George Galloway, dear friend of, amongst others, Bashar al-Assad and the late Saddam Hussein.
Israel does not have to tolerate such tests of legitimacy from these sorts of thugs and slugs. If their aim truly is some kind of glorious martyrdom, then the IDF can be as sure as hell that those at sea will do whatever is possible to bring on such a fiery end. On the part of the Israeli authorities, three things ought to be requested. The first is obvious: any use of force must occur as a measure of last resort, applied proportionally only after it is certain that the convoy will not halt and have defied repeated warnings of what might occur should they continue onto Gaza. Moreover, the aim of such force must be to navigate the boats towards an Israeli port and detain the so-called activists there.
Second, the Israelis need to adopt a more lenient attitude towards journalists than they are at present. CNN, CBS and the New York Times are all dispatching hacks to board the flotilla, and the government needs to respect that their role is to report with neutrality and accuracy on the events at hand. Talk of barring journalists from Israel for up to ten years merely for being on the boats is not helpful to the State’s image.
Third, after the progress of the first flotilla was halted, the IDF released audio evidence which demonstrated that the Mavi Marmara was indeed warned several times of the risk of breaking the blockade. Even with the presence of journalists aboard this time around, such steps will need to be taken again. The responsibility of the Israelis, then, is to be as fair, open and transparent as possible with regard to whatever action they take after the Freedom Flotilla passes the point of no return.
Bibi goes to Washington: What he said and what it means
Here follows a glance at Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech which he delivered in a joint session of Congress earlier today. Suffice to say, his statements garnered much appreciation from the attendees, and at times he appeared to own the room, even going so far as to lean jauntily on the podium as if he were at a roast for Joe Biden, brushing off a heckler with casual ease. His address offered a number of statements on peace and the Palestinian state, which are worth a closer look.
“And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. …This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.”
Netanyahu’s use of the term “Judea and Samaria” is telling: above all, this reference to the Hebraic terminology for the West Bank and his overtures to the ties between religion and land are to be read as reassurances to certain members of his coalition. Parties like Shas, and other religiously-orthodox parties who do not believe in the two-state solution, are essential to Netanyahu to keep him in power and his rightist coalition together.
“I stood before my people — and I told you it wasn’t easy for me. I stood before my people, and I said, “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, “I will accept a Jewish state.””
One of two instances whereby Netanyahu defined the preconditions for fresh talks, it signifies a further shifting of the goalposts. Previously, it had always been required of the Palestinians to accept Israel’s right to exist. This was achieved in 1993, when as an addendum to the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat wrote to Yitzhak Rabin in a letter: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”. Now, Netanyahu demands (again, as an act of appeasement) that the PA recognises the right to exist as a Jewish state. This had not been required prior to his premiership.
“The vast majority of Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighbourhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and greater Tel Aviv. Under any realistic peace agreement these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.”
This is a poorly-veiled code for the desire to see annexed into the State of Israel, once the borders are defined, the major Israeli settlements in the West Bank that lie close to the 1967 borders. For ‘suburbs of Jerusalem’, read Ma’ale Adumim in particular, and places like Har Homa and Gilo. ‘Greater Tel Aviv’ likely refers to Ariel and the towns in the northern-central area. In terms of ‘places of critical strategic importance’, this refers probably to the Seam Zone, the area in between the Green Line and the Security Barrier, which Israel asserts is key to the security of the State. This would involve the incorporation of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem.
“In any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.”
The central West Bank is dotted with smaller settlements that would be given up in any peace agreement. This statement perhaps refers to those who reside around the major Palestinian localities, in particular Hebron where violence has flared up in the past and there is clear delineation between Jewish and Arab areas of the city. Any final agreement would have to deal with some security arrangement for these settlers.
“Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state. And here’s what this means: It means that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.”
The right of return was referenced repeatedly throughout the speech, making it clear that Palestinian would not have the ability to return to the old villages of the Mandate. This was the position of President Clinton set down in his Parameters, which allowed for Israel to pay restitution to some refugees and assist in finding residence for them in the new Palestinian state.
“Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.”
Previous sketches of agreements have allowed for a rump East Jerusalem in Palestinian control, but this has been the position of every Likud Prime Minister since Menachem Begin, who made this very same point in a speech to the Knesset during negotiations of the Camp David Accords. And, it is the position of the city’s mayor today.
Netanyahu later stated that: “I know this is a difficult issue for Palestinians, but I believe that with creativity and with goodwill, a solution can be found”. Thus, Netanyahu wills a united Jerusalem, but would be prepared to allow for limited Palestinian sovereignty or self-governance in predominately-Arab areas of the city they call Al-Quds.
“It’s absolutely vital, that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it’s absolutely vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.”
The desire for a demilitarised state echoes the position President Obama took in his address on the matter last week. In terms of the Jordanian border, this has been something Netanyahu has sort for a long time, however it would if implemented severely undermine the sovereignty of any Palestinian state if the Israelis were to control access of all land borders. One suggested compromise has been for a neutral force (the UN, the EU) to patrol the Israel-Palestine-Jordan border.
“I say to President Abbas, “Tear up your pact with Hamas, sit down and negotiate, make peace with the Jewish state. And if you do, I promise you this: Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as the new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to do so.””
The second precondition, and a further change in the Israeli position. Prior, Israel had always said that it could not negotiate with the PA, because it did not represent the will of the Palestinian people. Following the Fatah-Hamas reunion, Netanyahu is now saying we cannot speak with you, precisely because of this pact with Hamas. Abbas has sought to reassure Israel and the United States that the current negotiating team will remain and will not alter to involve Hamas. This may not be enough. Hamas would have to alter its charter radically first, as the PLO did in 1988 before negotiations can begin in earnest.
Obama on Israel and the Palestinians
Unlike the speeches of the previous commander-in-chief, those made by President Obama are orated for the purpose of dissection. They are written by a meticulous language of fairness, accuracy and a little caution that open the door to numerous interpretations. By contrast, where can one go with such nuanced statements as “you’re either with us or against us”?
Obama’s speech on Thursday was intended as a second address to the Arab world, after his famous Cairo speech of 2009. After all, its broadcast was timed specifically for when citizens of the Near East and North Africa would be home from work. It set out state by state how the United States viewed events related to the Jasmine Revolution, though it is his remarks on Israel and the Palestinians that I shall focus on now.
What is clear right off the bat is that Obama views the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as integral to the stabilisation and eventual flourishing of the Arab Spring. “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past,” he proclaimed, “the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever”.
At the same time, the speech seemed to heave cold water on the idea of talks resuming in the immediate, particularly in the wake of the emergence of a unity government in the Palestinian Territories. On this, Obama said:
“Recognising that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognise your right to exist?”
Here, Obama has fallen into line with the standard Israeli position since the Fatah-Hamas split, adding that Palestinian leaders need to come up with a “credible answer” to this question. Moreover, the President fired a warning shot in the direction of Fatah: “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimise Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” This would appear to signal that the United States will indeed vote against and perhaps veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood as a threat to Israeli security.
As to justification such a stance toward the Palestinians, one which puts that out of kilter with the rest of the international community, Obama pivoted to make some important statements with regard Israel’s role on the West Bank. He referenced with regard to the Palestinians the “humiliation of occupation” and settlements as a barrier to peace. Most importantly, Obama stated: “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation”. Such a bold notion has never been articulated by a sitting United States President, and Obama deserves credit as such.
The most contentious paragraph of the speech, the one which Media has most aggressively analysed, focused on the issue of borders:
“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
The use of the word ‘contiguous’ is one Obama has used before during the 2008 presidential campaign, in the speech he made to AIPAC (the one that called for a united Jerusalem, for reference). Perhaps the President is merely referring to the proposal for a disengaged corridor on Israeli soil that links Gaza to the West Bank, which was part of the Olmert Plan. If not, then Obama seems to be signalling a desire to enlarge Palestinian territory to the stage where the two entities meet, thus in turn slicing Israel in two, which would do a great deal to threaten Israeli security and indeed its very existence.
His comments on borders are not in fact radical, to put it mildly. The notion of having boundaries centred about those which existed pre-1967 is a consensus opinion amongst European and world leaders, and is in fact something most Israelis believe ought to be the outcome of talks. Again however, no sitting American President has ever said this out loud before, even though the idea of using the Green Line as the basis for peace negotiations was the foundation of the Clinton Parameters, the Bush Road Map and the Olmert Plan.
Overall, the speech reflects an approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that is a mirror of the attitude he has brought to the presidency: one of care, even-handedness, an awareness of the necessary stances he must adopt, and a desire to always seek resolution. I believe Obama is genuine in his desire to resolve the dispute, to maintain a secure Israel and to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, based on the belief that “people should govern themselves”. What is not clear, however, is what the administration will do to make this happen, or whether they believe it’s even possible at all.
To War, Once More
“The government, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Israeli public has an iron will to defend the country and its citizens. Israel will act forcefully, responsibly and wisely to preserve the quiet and security that prevailed here over the past two years.” - - Benjamin Netanyahu, March 23, 2011
Once again in the Land of Israel, all signs point to war, only two years after the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strong and unequivocal statement arrives in the wake of a detention of a 1kg-2kg bomb opposite the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, which has claimed one life and wounded twenty-five others. It is the first such attack on the city since 2004, at the fag-end of the last intifada.
That such an event has occurred in West Jerusalem, and around the bus station where security measures are strict and guards alert, is a tremendous shock. The event will rock Israel to its foundations. Nonetheless, that an attack on Israeli soil has taken place at all is not unexpected, after weeks of escalating tensions in both halves of the Palestinian Territories.
On the West Bank, the Orthodox Jewish settlement of Itamar was shaken by the murder of five members of the Fogel family whilst they slept, including Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, a baby girl of 3 months. Thousands attended their funeral, whilst in response the Knesset approved the construction of 500 additional homes in Judea and Samaria. A Haaretz editorial condemned the decision, adding that the move would “neither placate the settlers nor prevent a revenge attack by the lawless among them.”
Meanwhile over in Gaza, Hamas and her sister terrorist gangs have restarted their campaign of indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns. It began on Saturday as an act of retaliation, Hamas stated, after two militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a training camp. Close to fifty mortar shells were fired in the border region.
The Israeli military has this week countered with tactical airstrikes and the use of artillery units. While Islamist militants were taken out in the operations, on Tuesday mortar shells killed a 60-year-old grandfather, as well as three youths playing football. Islamic Jihad continues to fire rockets deep into Israeli territory, with some reaching Ashkelon, Ashdod, and as far as Be’er Sheva.
The stage is set, therefore, for another Israeli military operation in Gaza. The events of the last two weeks, certainly on the western front, mirror the circumstances which led to the commencement of Operation Cast Lead. In that instance, after a period of intense shelling from Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces launched a ground invasion to prevent further attacks. CNN reported that during the twenty-two days of fighting, more than 1,200 people died, all but 13 of them Palestinians.
Moreover, it certainly appears as though forces in Gaza are making preparations for another terrorist campaign. Last week, the Israeli navy intercepted an Iranian vessel bound for the Strip, which had departed from the Syrian port of Lattakia. Aboard, The Washington Post states that Israeli commandos found “a ‘large quantity’ of 60 and 120 millimetre mortar shells and between two and four Chinese-made C-704 shore-to-sea missiles, with a range of 21 miles.”
With this is mind, an Israeli response would be justified, but it can only lead to a grand deterioration in security conditions in the region, at a time when tumult is rife and coalition forces are attempting to conduct precise, tactical military operations in Libya. The Arab Spring has touched most Middle Eastern states, and the Palestinian Territories are not immune to the inviting scent of jasmine either. Destabilisation of the West Bank as a result of mass demonstrations and revolt is not out of the question.
Most importantly, any unilateral action on the part of Israel in Gaza would be the final nail in the coffin for this round of peace negotiations. Never have these talks, initiated at the behest of the Obama administration, ever really gained any traction. Instead, they have aimlessly wandered and stumbled from setback to setback, and have been utterly stagnant since Israel allowed the moratorium on illegal settlement construction to lapse in September.
Any war would be a disastrous yet apt conclusion to this gradual decline and fall of the peace process – one which began with a whimper and looks set to end with a bang. The Israelis and the Palestinians will be placed back at square one. All sides are culpable, for neither the Netanyahu nor Abbas administrations have taken the risks required to make the improbable possible. To war, once more, and it won’t be the last.
On Egypt, A Concern for Israel
Again I express solidarity with the Egyptian revolutionaries, in their struggle for freedom and liberty after nearly fifty years of military dictatorship. However, I feel as though it would be slightly shady of me if I did not express my concerns regarding the security of the State of Israel at this time.
Currently, Al Jazeera is reporting that there is neither an anti-American nor an anti-Israeli tone to the current protests. Within the mainstream, this uprising is purely focused on ousting the grizzled, ossified Pharaoh of the Nile Hosni Mubarak. This protest too is economic, driven by a educated, youthful upwardly-mobile class of Egyptians who merely seek the universal rights they are entitled to.
Yet it is evident from the pictures we are seeing on the television and on the internet that, on the ground, the situation is chaotic, and could soon become anarchic if Mubarak doesn’t heed the warnings the people are sending him. Citizens have taken to forming armed, vigilante neighbourhood gangs to prevent looting and pillaging. This, as the NDP headquarters’ burn up, right next door to the Cairo Museum, stuffed full of wondrous antiquities.
Amist the chaos, it is not out of the question for religious fundamentalist organisations to take advantage. YNet News already reports that Hamas detainees in Egypt have escaped and are making their way toward the Gaza Strip. Moreover, any descent into disorder after Mubarak’s seemingly inevitable downfall would certainly make it easier for Hamas to operate in Gaza, and for them to cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Such a situation would surely spell disaster for the State of Israel, who in Egypt has found a close ally in a hostile region over the past thirty-plus years.
Israel, however, can help itself. Reports from Al Jazeera and CNN state that Mubarak may be welcome to a stay in exile at the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv, after being rejected by the Saudis. Such a move would be suicidal for the Israelis: not only would it hand the Islamist movement ready-made propaganda material, but it would undermine relations with any future democratic Egyptian government.
At this time, as Al Jazeera reports, there is no great cause for alarm. But the Israelis too have to start by helping themselves, by rejecting Mubarak’s pathetic appeals.
What of the Clinton Agenda?: an Assessment
George Orwell once wrote that one of the four great motives for writing is ‘sheer egoism’, a “desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death”, and so forth. It is this vain and self-centred outlook on life that drives one to not only to write but to delve into previous works to check that what was written in years past still holds up to scrutiny.
Generally, everything seems to be in order. I make no apologies for referring to Iraq in 2007 as a ‘quagmire’ – remember we now inhabit a world après-Surge. I will too excuse myself not only for consistently referring to anything within a Cold War framework, but also for mentioning a loathing of communism in situations where it really isn’t appropriate. On the latter, sadly some things don’t change.
I mention all of this not purely on narcissistic grounds, but because shortly after the inauguration of President Obama on that glorious January day, I wrote a piece called “The Clinton Agenda” (page 17), which argued in favour of the use of ‘smart power’. “Combining the soft power of open dialogue and negotiation and the lingering threat of military potency, smart power will justly be the future vanguard of American foreign policy.”
In the article I outlined four main objectives for the new Clinton Agenda, the most pressing of which lay in the Middle East, with the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Two years on, it is time to take stock; a little assessment is required.
“Secretary Clinton must persuade all Arab states to recognise Israel, and stop Hamas and Hezbollah from waging intifadas and wars of attrition.”
From January to June 2008, 1,119 Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip – a prison state controlled by Hamas – into Israeli territory. Their response was Operation Cast Lead, which culminated in a full-scale ground invasion that resulted in the deaths of 300 Hamas militants and a dramatic reduction in the number of attacks on the State. Yet the United States is no closer to neutering Hamas and Hezbollah as forces of aggression than two years ago.
In terms of the wider family of nations, the only Arab nations to be heavily involved in the peace negotiations are Egypt and Jordan – states which already maintain treaties with, and thus recognise the right to existence of, the State of Israel. It is likely that most Arab nations would only recognise Israel if a Palestinian state was established alongside Israel in the Lands of Judea and Samaria.
“Support for Israel must remain steadfast, yet her relations with the United States must become a marriage of equals. Israel must end the process of constructing settlements in Palestinian territories and start abandoning existing ones.”
Under the tenure of Benjamin Netanyahu, the power in this marriage has tilted evermore toward Israel. Never was this more evident than in the humiliating, grovelling offer the United States made to Netanyahu to have him retain the freeze on settlement construction. In return for a new three-month construction halt – which did not even include East Jerusalem! – the Obama administration offered unto him a package of security incentives and fighter jets worth $3 billion. Thankfully such an offer was subsequently withdrawn from the table, but construction now continues unabated on the future lands of a Palestinian state.
In the original article, I argued that the Israeli government endorses these illegal settlements as a “coping mechanism for general insecurities over the survival of their state” and to “attract the attention” of the United States. Clinton’s craven offer makes it clear that the second reason proves true, and that Israel is more than successful in her aims. However, there is clearly something much more sinister behind the activities of settlers themselves, namely that they aim to destroy any chance of ever establishing Palestine by making camp all over their territory. Settlements are now more than ever essential to the future of the peace process.
“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are missions incomplete and unresolved; the current course is deteriorating yet withdrawal would have disastrous consequences.”
The liberation of Iraq is almost complete, though more thanks to want President Obama didn’t do. In selecting not to abandon the mission in Mesopotamia wholesale, United States troops helped to maintain some degree of comparative order during the most recent round of elections, with a new government formed in recent weeks. Though the structures of government are as shaky as a fiddler on the roof, the people of Iraq do at least have their freedom, if nothing else.
Afghanistan is an altogether different beast. Again, this is hardly the fault of the President, as for too long President Bush neglected the mission there whilst focused on the removal of Saddam Hussein. It is the desire of the Obama administration to see combat troops removed from harms way by 2014, leaving the nation in the far-from-capable and dirtied hands of Kaiser Karzai. I can only reiterate that such a procedure would indeed have disastrous consequences, not only for the people of Afghanistan, but for the War on Terror at-large.
“The spectre of a nuclear Iran looms large; steps need to be taken in order to ensure this never occurs.”
On this front, the West appears to be too late. Peace talks with the Iranians have thus far produced nothing of note. The economic boycott, while perhaps impacting their economy, has not stopped nuclear proliferation in Persia. The infamous leaked diplomatic cables have revealed that Iran’s Arabian neighbours already suspect her of having the bomb. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reportedly demanded that the United States “cut the head off the snake”, as did Jordan and Bahrain, sadly in less colourful terms.
All of these problems, the matter of a nuclear Iran is perhaps the great ‘what is to be done?’ question for the Obama administration. Soft power, including multi-power negotiations, as mentioned has failed, particularly given that Russia continues to aid Tehran. Moreover, an Iraqi-style military invasion to remove Khamenei and Ahmadinejad from their thrones would be almost impossible for a myriad of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the Iranian government would not hesitate to slam the nuclear trigger which callous relish. On this matter, containment may a far-from-ideal but necessary temporary measure.
“In Pakistan an inept government is essentially ignoring terrorists operating in their own back garden; smart power has a great role to play in ensuring the government wakes up to the problems in its own territory.”
President Obama, or more accurately Vice-President Biden, was in his defence one of the few people to recognise that the war in Afghanistan was in fact an Af-Pak conflict, which crossed mountains and boundaries. The United States military has stepped up the frequency of drone attacks on North and South Waziristan – lawless territories where peoples, ideas and arms flow back and forth across a porous border. In 2010, there were 118 known drone strikes on Pakistani territory.
From the inauguration to the present, the situation with regard to the government in Islamabad does not seem to have improved. Further leaks in July 2010 revealed that the ISI continues to work with Al-Qaida to plan attacks and meet with representatives of the Taliban to help co-ordinate the counter-insurgency strategy. Asif Ali Zardari has proven to be an ineffectual president, with King Abdullah again labelling him the “‘rotten head’ that was infecting the whole body” with regard to global counter-terrorism strategy.
On all counts however, it does not seem appropriate to blame the Secretary of State herself for the superficial lack of progress. After all, President Obama has hardly dedicated any of his waking hours to problems occurring outside of the métropole. His entire first term was spent tackling pressing domestic issues such as unemployment and healthcare policy, with only the START treaty as his single international accomplishment.
His self-described shellacking in the midterm elections leaves him with the ‘Party of No’ controlling one branch of the legislature, and a significantly reduced majority in the other, where a supermajority is needed even to get a piece of legislation out of debate and to the floor for a vote. Impotency then is inevitable, but for those who still look to America as the light of the world, his electoral failure brings with it great optimism.
Presidents of the past who have experienced such a rollicking often seek to recast themselves as leaders of the free world; think of Reagan and what comes to mind: Star Wars, Gorbachev, and “tear down this wall!” President Obama ought to do the same to reenergise America’s diplomatic tasks and the doctrine of smart power, as to reignite the beacon, and “restore Washington as that shining city upon a hill, and the United States of America as the glowing symbol of hope for the free and those still bound in chains.”
With god on their side, no peace in our time
“We are destined to live together, on the same soil in the same land. We say to you today, in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough! We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in affinity as human beings, as free men.” - - Yitzhak Rabin, September 13 1993.
If the Arab-Israeli conflict is, as has so often been said, purely a struggle for the control of land, then there would have been a peace by now. When Yasser Arafat extended his hand to Yitzhak Rabin on the lawn of the White House in September 1993, it was a signal to their neighbours and to the world that the die had been cast, and they would work toward the formation of two states for two peoples in one land, in a condition of perpetual peace.
Based upon the recollections of President Clinton, to believe that this was possible in the wake of the Oslo Accords is not as preposterous as it would now seem. Rabin had, asserts Clinton, come to realise Israeli occupation of the West Bank was “no longer necessary to its security”, and undermined Israel’s status as a Jewish, democratic state. Arafat too, for what it’s worth, in a letter to Rabin wrote the PLO “recognises the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”, and in doing renounced “use of terrorism and other acts of violence.”
Thus it seemed – in the lovely post-Oslo light – that the political mainstreams in the Land of Israel had incubated a suitable environment for peace to bloom, and that broadly speaking it was understood the ends to which those sat around the negotiating table were aiming for. Then three bullets, fired from a Beretta 84F semi-automatic pistol, which resulted in the death of Yitzbak Rabin, set in train the decline of the peace process into chaos, violence and impasse.
The assassination of Rabin, and the events which followed, debunk the myth of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the battle of land, demonstrating that religion, and not politics, continues to be the force poisoning the peace process and preventing further progress. From the Mediterranean to the Jordan, the parties of god – Hamas and Hezbollah; Shas, and in its worst excesses Likud – have inflicted a great deal of damage upon the internal functioning of the region, and the search for peace.
Although Israel was founded as a homeland for the Jews, the refugees who took advantage of the Law of Return were largely of a secular disposition. They retained the customs and practices of Judaism, but had long ago given up on a god who had abandoned them during the Shoah. But devout Judaism is now on the rise, with Orthodox families breeding like rabbits, creating a fundamental schism at the heart of Israeli society. Only last week for instance The Guardian reported on Holocaust survivor Eli Tzvieli, who was denounced by his neighbour Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for renting rooms to Arabs in Safed.
Eliyahu advocates “the expulsion of all Arabs from land he says God gave to the Jewish people,” and it is this potent mix of bigotry grounded in the worst kind of clerical dogma extends to the attitudes of those who continue to colonise the West Bank like Jewish conquistadors. The construction of settlements, on land that the ultra-Orthodox deem part of Eretz Yisrael, is part of a silly, superstitious and ultimately apocalyptically dangerous plot to bring on the Messiah and marginalise or better yet rid the Holy Lands of infidelic influences.
The settlers are aided and abetted by the Israeli government, a nasty coalition of nationalistically and religiously orthodox parties that include ministers from Shas, who advocate segregation between Jews and Arabs. The whole sordid operation is overseen by Benjamin Netanyahu, a most untrustworthy little toad whose mirror has two faces. Throughout the entirety of worthless and meaningless public career, he has shown no appetite for peace whatsoever, only exploiting the whole process like some sort of pimp, offering a flash of the flesh in return for military hardware.
The resurgence of Orthodox Judaism in Israel comes at the most unfortunate moment for the peace process, coupled as it as with the arrival of fascism with an Islamic face in a strip of land that shares a fifty-one kilometre border with the Jewish state. For, in part of the Palestinian Territories, years of mismanagement under the guiding hand of an ailing Arafat gave rise to Hamas. This is perhaps the worst development in the Middle East’s post-Oslo story.
Hamas’ Covenant is clear: the “Zionist invasion is a vicious invasion”; it strives to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine”; there is “no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.” The Covenant specifically quotes the Prophet Mohammed: “the Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees.”
Since their takeover of the Gaza Strip, they have transformed the territory into a prison state, and a base of operations for terror against the State of Israel. In 2008 alone, 1752 Qassam rockets were launched by Hamas, including 223 during an agreed ceasefire, resulting in the deaths of eight Israeli civilians. Only since Operation Cast Lead and the implementation of the blockade has the number decreased.
Hamas, outcast during the most recent round of peace negotiations, has undertaken a campaign to destabilisation. Part of this operation included the murder in cold blood of four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, on the West Bank. Gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying two men and two women at a junction near the city of Hebron. Hamas described the event as a “heroic operation”.
The efforts of Yitzhak Rabin showed that, in spite of political, national and indeed spiritual differences, it was possible to make overtures and concessions toward the establishment of two states cohabiting amicably in the Land of Israel. But this was a different time. The Arab-Israeli conflict can no longer be called a battle for land alone. It has mutated into a war of religious fundamentalisms, out of which no victor can possibly emerge. Whilst the parties of god continue to square off, derail the peace process, undermine secularism, and meddle in internal governmental affairs, we will not see peace in our time the Middle East.
There’s just something about Israel: a Reply
Student movements have always displayed their most noble side when organised against injustices beyond our shores. In the 1960s, protest was directed against racial segregation and the incursion into Indochina. Forward to the 1980s, and note the worthy work London students undertook in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. Contrast this to the glitter finale at Millbank – where the middle classes and some astroturf anarchists defiled private property, with the aim of protecting privilege – and we see how far we have fallen.
Writing in London Student, James Haywood advances such a notion in going after the NUS for turning a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians, demanding that “Palestinian human rights [should] be upheld like everyone else’s.” Indeed, students should be more active in championing for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which must include the formation of a Palestinian state. To put it simply, solving one injustice, in the creation of the State of Israel, does not in turn justify another. That the Palestinian and indeed Kurdish peoples continue to lead a stateless existence in this century should be an embarrassment to the world’s free nations.
On the other hand, Mr. Haywood’s article fails to recognise that while the principle of a Palestinian state is a simple, black and white proposition, the picture of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict is painted with a thousand shades of grey. It would be entirely improper for the NUS to mount the sort of ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ crusade against Israel he is advocating. In doing so, we would be indulging in bigotry and ahistoricism, labelling the State of Israel as bad as apartheid South Africa, whilst applying a narrow, good against evil paradigm to a situation beset by the most complex political issues of our time.
The piece itself paints a rather distorted picture of the conflict, failing to concede at all that the Palestinians might be deciders in their own destiny. On the Separation Fence and checkpoints, they are indeed an unfortunate blight on the beautiful hills of Jerusalem and points beyond: walls between peoples are never sought. But, we must bear in mind that they were constructed as a direct response to the campaign of indiscriminate (or, one could argue, very discriminate) terror that residents of the Territories waged against Israel, in particular during the Al-Aqsa Intifada.
Blame too must rest with the Palestinian leadership, in particular Yasser Arafat. Not only did he run the nascent Authority on the West Bank into the ground through corruption and lackadaisical leadership, but he walked away from talks at Camp David which offered both sides the best chance at peace since Yitzbak Rabin extended his hand on the lawn of the White House in 1993. “[Ehud Barak] had taken great risks to win a more secure future for Israel”, President Clinton wrote in his memoir, “Arafat’s rejection of my proposal after Barak accepted it was an error of historical proportions.”
On Israel, I do not care one iota for the tone in which the State has been demonised by Mr. Haywood. He never goes as far as to directly question its legitimacy, but the kinds of questions he raises of it can’t help but invite suspicion. In particular, he brings up the “murder of aid volunteers on international waters”, or rather as it was in reality a direct act of confrontation against Israel’s sovereignty masquerading as a peace mission. Aboard the flotilla were such shady individuals as Amin Abu-Rashid, Hamas’ chief fundraiser in Western Europe, and Yasser Muhammad Sabag, an agent of Syria who had been active in the Abu Nidal terrorist organisation. The benefactors behind the flotilla, IHH, boast a history of involvement in Islamic extremism, having been linked with a failed plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.
On the whole, James Haywood makes an excellent point, namely that students should be involved in more selfless rather than selfish campaigns of international solidarity. We should, for example, be standing with our brothers and sisters in Tehran, as a civil society begins to emerge in a nation ruined by three decades of rule by clerical diktat. So too should we turn our gaze toward Burma, especially in the wake of the release of the unfaltering democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
But yes, there is just something about Palestine, in the same way that for some as his article demonstrates there is something about Israel too. Students should not be involving themselves, as Mr. Haywood suggests, in a campaign of persecution against Israel. Rather, we all, including cadres in ULU and the NUS, should be active in pursuing a just and fair resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, one which acknowledges a history of wrongdoing on both sides of the divide. We must seek a concord free from ideological dogmatism, where two states for two peoples co-exist in one land, in a condition of perpetual peace. We can but hope.
An edited version was published in London Student, November 22 2010. Written in reply to “There’s just something about Palestine”, by James Haywood, London Student, November 8 2010.