The shift in Israel from a democratic - even socialist – society into a fundamentalist-driven, expansionist state, contemptuous of its closest ally, and aggressively hostile to all its neighbors is one of the most depressing developments in our time. It is driven by the religious parties, the settler movement and the opportunism and paranoia of Netanyahu. To give a flavor of his government, note that his neo-fascist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, just went to Moscow to give Putin an embrace after the latest rigged elections, and denigrated the Russian opposition. The idea that a man like Lieberman is interested in democracy for the Palestinians on the West Bank is ludicrous. To him, the Palestinians are sub-human irritants, one day to be expelled or subdued.
All of this would be disastrous enough, but we now know that the two likeliest Republican nominees next year back neo-fascists like Lieberman to the hilt. Today, Gingrich has all but declared that under his presidency, the American position would be that of Netanyahu’s. This is Pamela Geller territory:
Ben Smith, the best reporter on the US-Israel struggle, quotes Hussein Ibish:
To call the Palestinians ‘an invented people’ in an obvious effort to undermine their national identity is outrageous, especially since there was no such thing as an ‘Israeli’ before 1948,” he said. “Arab and Jewish identities are very old, but Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms are both 20th-century phenomena, and arose at the same time in competition with each other. The idea that either is more ‘invented’ and hence less ‘authentic’ than the other is ignorant, ahistorical claptrap.
Ron Paul is right, charging Newt Gingrich as ‘trying to make trouble’ by insisting Palestinians are an invented people. Newt (as all the GOP) is trying to appeal to Jewish voters. First of all, research shows US Jewish voters don’t vote on the single issue of Israel. Second, what American Jewish organization would agree with Gingrich. None, except maybe The Emergency Committee on Israel, founded by the same neoconservatives who brought us war in Iraq.
The problem is that Gingrich’s comments were picked up by the Arab Press. His stature as front-running Republican candidate make his remarks seem like they’re endorsed by more than a tiny sliver of Americans (if there are any besides Gingrich!), most of whom know little about the history of the Middle East.
Juan Cole sets the history straight in Informed Comment:
Gingrich said that there had never been a Palestinian state in history. If you want to play the romantic nationalist game of finding ancient forebears for modern nations, it would be easy in the case of the Palestinians, who were mentioned by the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians. But today’s Palestinians are equally descended from the ancient Canaanites and as well as from the ancient Jews.
If Gingrich meant to argue that Palestine was never an administrative unit of Muslim states, this is incorrect– under the Mamluks it was one of the five districts of Syria and had its capital at Jerusalem.
Palestine was a known place in medieval Islam. People referred to it as a place. It was sometimes the name of an administrative unit. There are coins stamped Filastin. People who lived in that area were Filastinis or Palestinians. Over time, 80% of them came to be Muslims, with the rest Christians. Between 1000 AD and 1800 AD there were very few Jews in geographical Palestine (Bonaparte found 3,000 or so as I remember).
That Palestinians were part of the Ottoman Empire is irrelevant to whether they are a nation or not. You could make all the same assertions about Albanians that Gingrich made about Palestinians. There was no Albanian state in antiquity. They were ruled by the Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian and Ottoman Empires. There was no Albanian province under the Ottomans…
–f you want a “national” precedent for the Palestinians, in the 18th century when the Ottoman Empire had largely decentralized, Jazzar Pasha ruled Palestine from Akka and successfully fought off Napoleon Bonaparte.
As for Palestinians being “Arabs,” actually no Palestinians would have called themselves Arabs in the nineteenth century, except Bedouins. The word then for the most part meant pastoral nomad. The idea of a pan-Arab nation only arises in the 20th century, and it hasn’t been notably successful. The only thing “Arabs” have in common is that they speak Arabic. But it is arbitrary that we call all forms of Arabic “Arabic,” but we do not speak of Romance as a language. The difference between Moroccan spoken “Arabic” and the “Arabic” spoken in southern Iraq is greater than the difference between Spanish and Portuguese.
Sequence of actions:
1. Palestinians fail to get a nine vote majority for statehood through the Security Council. Disunity between Gaza and the West Bank a major issue.
2. Europeans go into crisis mode: get agreement from Palestine and Israel that each submit its concept of border within three months, in attempt to get sides to establish border and security arrangements before proceeding to other ‘final status’ issues.
3. Quartet asks Israel to stop settlement building to allow talks. Israel declines.
4. State Department says parties have to be in direct talks before approaching borders/security.
5. Palestinians say the Quartet envisioned dealing with the security/border issue outside direct talks.
6. Borders/security not addressed.
What’s wrong with this picture?
It was my understanding, and I’m sure more than just mine and the Palestinians (!), that the Quartet proposal was to avoid the entire issue of ‘direct talks’ at this time. So why did the State Department butt in and essentially derail the Quartet (of which the US is a member) goal?
Diplomacy in the Middle East is a joke.
It’s ironic. The US was the key architect and founder of the United Nations after WW2 to mediate conflicts between nations before they developed into bloodshed. The organization was founded on a structure that gave the UN Security Council final say on most major decision it made. With 10 rotating members and 5 permanent ones (US, Britain, France, Russia, China) – each of whom can veto any action taken by the SC – the UN was pretty much stacked for the Cold War era, when the key conflict was between the US and USSR and the tug of war centered on Europe.
Now, the US is victim of its own success. The inevitable tension between the big nations that founded and wield power in the UN and dozens of newly independent, post-colonial and emerging nations who now comprise the majority is a serious factor in most of the UN’s deliberations today.
Enter the Palestinians in September 2011, late bloomers in the nation-state cycle, fed up with a stalled peace process and seeking UN recognition of statehood to push Israeli and Palestinian negotiations forward. At no time have the Palestinians said their UN bid was meant to replace negotiations with Israel on borders and the other ‘final status’ issues. As of this week, the Palestinians don’t have nine votes to pass statehood in the Security Council, and even if they did, the US would veto it.
Nevertheless, UNESCO’s recent acceptance of Palestinian membership is triggering a 1994 US law that prohibits US funding of any UN agency that allows Palestinian membership. The US immediately cut off its funding, including this quarter’s projected $60 million contribution to the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural work. In essence, the US Congress is punishing the UN for following UN rules and procedure, as well as majority rule
As ridiculous as this seems, enforcing this retribution law has bipartisan support in Congress, and the Obama Administration has no intention of seeking its removal. This means that if the Palestinians go on soliciting recognition from various UN agencies, they will be blamed for causing financial troubles, if not doom, for the UN. Even the General Secretary has said the Palestinian plan for recognition is not good for Palestine or the UN.
Yet, all claim to want a two-state solution. Up until the Palestinians presented their bid for statehood to the UN, however, the peace process was hopelessly stalled. Israel refused to stop settlement building on Palestinian land, and without such a moratorium, the Palestinian leadership cannot return to the bargaining table and expect it still represents the Palestinian people.
Since September, the oversight of the peace process has shifted from the US to the broader alliance of the EU, US, Russia, Britain, the Quartet. Both principals have promised the Quartet to outline the future boundaries of Israel and Palestine, as each would see them. The Quartet gives them 90 days to deliver the maps. From there, the Quartet will lead the principals into the next small step of the process, as yet undefined.
Does this mean the peace process is still alive and running? I think it does. But there is absolutely no other effort being made towards peace, nor does it seem likely to come from either the Israelis or Palestinians any time soon.
For too long, the US and other Western countries have insisted that Israel and Palestine negotiate a treaty directly. In the end, they will have to. But that shouldn’t exclude auxiliary steps aimed at jump-starting and maintaining a meaningful process now. All parties should cool off, including the PA and US Congress. The UN can delay or suspend its votes (as a whole and its agencies). Let the Quartet process play out.
I’m reminded of those old Westerns where one gunslinger is about to shoot another one in the heart – until the first realizes the buddy of his intended victim also has a gun and it’s aimed at the first guy’s head. Who will shoot first? Will they all three be dead in a game of real-life roulette? Or will they call it a draw and buy each other beers at the saloon?
Leon Panetta, in a conversation with reporters on his way to visit Israel and Palestine, slammed Israel on its increasing diplomatic isolation:
“There’s not much question in my mind that they maintain that (military) edge. But the question you have to ask is it enough to maintain a military edge, if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?” Panetta said.
Panetta went on to say: “At this dramatic time in the Middle East….it’s not a good time for Israel to become increasingly isolated.” Panetta said Israel needed to repair its relationships with Turkey and Egypt and would urge both Israelis and Palestinians to restart peace negotiations, adding both sides ‘have nothing to lose.’ He indirectly spoke to the US fear that Palestinian expectations of statehood not met by a UN resolution could result in West Bank violence.
The good news is that finally, a high-ranking US official, is calling out the Likud government for its self-defeating policies, charging that Israel itself is responsible for most of the isolation it’s encountered. The bad news is that he, like other Western officials, is once again hiding behind a concern that raised Palestinian hopes could collapse into a third infatada. This is nonsense. The PA has made it clear it will initiate and support non-violent civil disobedience to occupation based on the Arab Spring tactics of Tunisia and Egypt, but will not tolerate violence on the West Bank.
I happen to think that Abbas should accept the Quartet push for new negotiations even if Israel doesn’t issue a moratorium on settlements. The ‘whole world is watching’ the post-UN maneuvering, and this is a perfect time for Abbas to call Netanyahu’s bluff by agreeing to restart negotiations and using that platform to expose the Likud’s double-talk and ‘refusnik’ program if Netanyahu demands that all previous Israeli PM negotiation position are null and void. In other words, give the Likud government enough rope to escape its self-defeating myopica and if not, to hang itself in the court of world opinion.
At this point, Israel has accepted the Quartet’s statement on restarting peace negotiation. President Abbas and the PA have asked the Quartet to clarify what it meant in calling for both sides to avoid putting ‘obstacles’ in the way of renewed talks. Of course, anybody following the drama knows that for Israel the allusion is settlements, and for Palestinians, it’s pushing forward with the UN vote.
So far, Israel has suffered no repercussions for setting up obstacle after obstacle for negotiations. Whether Panetta’s trip signals a change in US policy away from unquestioned support of the Netanyahu government remains to be seen.
Granted, the process is confusing and everyone who comments on the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN will slant comments towards their own position. But the way PM Abbas is handling the UN bid is not in conflict with US demands that only a negotiated peace between the two sides will last. He has said all along, he wants to negotiate. And that is what the Quartet is trying to foster.
So where is Obama on this?
Below is a Blogging Heads one-on-one between Daniel Levy and Aaron David Miller, both integrally involved in and knowledgable about ‘peace process’ politics, regarding current US politics regarding the Middle East and how President Obama has dealt with them. I agree with both that the US should bow out of trying to play ‘honest broker’. The Oslo peace process is over. The ascension to power of an uber conservative Congress has blocked the Obama Administration in its efforts. That’s why the Palestinians went to the UN in their bid for statehood. asking the international community to “supervise” the process forward. Taking lessons from the civil disobedience movement behind the Arab Spring, the Palestinians are pursuing a new strategy of peaceful resistance to occupation combined with diplomatic initiatives that will either advance negotiations between the two parties or lead to another path for peace.
In an unusually tough and effective interview for any American journalist, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pressed PM Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements, past peace proposals, the Arab Spring and Israeli’s global isolation in a post-UN speech interview. The PM’s responses showed him way over his head on the international stage: he was defensive, evasive and deflecting.
Netanyahu repeated rote responses about settlements that he’s been giving for a year, but Bliztzer pressed him on just how dramatically conditions have changed. Netanyahu’s flat-footed, cliched response sounds as if he has no idea what’s been happening in and around his country. A far cry from the great statesmen PMs Israel has produced:
BLITZER: Prime Minister thanks very much for joining us.
NETANYAHU: Thank you.
BLITZER: Why not freeze settlements one more time, test the Palestinians, see if they’re serious about resuming direct peace negotiations with Israel, because that’s their condition.
What would be wrong with that?
NETANYAHU: Well, I did freeze the settlements. I’m, so far, the only prime minister who’s ever done that. Gave it almost a year, 10 months, the Palestinians didn’t do anything with it. Nine months and one week into this freeze, they finally showed up and said, well, we just want more.
So it’s a pretext. It’s — it’s not serious.
BLITZER: But at this delicate moment — Israel is very isolated right now in the region, around the world, wouldn’t that help show how you’re willing to go the extra mile
NETANYAHU: I have gone the extra mile. I have called for two states for two peoples. I lifted 400 roadblocks and checkpoints to facilitate the ease of movement and the Palestinian economy. I have — I froze the settlements for 10 months.
BLITZER: But even — even to just try to improve Israel’s image in the region. You see what’s happening in Egypt with the Israeli Embassy there, potentially in Amman, Jordan with Turkey. The relationship, potentially, Israel’s isolation in the region could be — could be eased if you were to make that gesture.
Blitzer quotes from his recent interview with President Clinton in which Clinton blames Netanyahu for blocking peace talks, saying that President Abbas had already agreed to accept a proposal made by Clinton and rejected by former PLO leader Arafat ten years ago. Clinton accused Netanyahu of ‘moving the goal posts’ away from what previous Israeli prime ministers had accepted as the basis for negotiations. The PLO recognized Israel as prelude to the Oslo agreements. Now Netanyahu wants them to recognize ‘the Jewish State of Israel” something never brought up as a condition for peace during the last 20 years of negotiation.
And the facts are that, if anything, I moved Israel’s position to something that now is consensual, that we can have a dramatized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. I have made that into the consensuses here in Israel. And I don’t think any Likud leader did that before.
In the wake of Republicans accusing President Obama of ‘throwing Israel under a bus…” and other slanders, Blitzer gives the PM a chance to declare President Obama a true friend of Israel. Netanyahu turns it down.
NETANYAHU: Well, I’m just not going to get into internal American politics. I think there’s a very strong bipartisan support for Israel in the United States. It’s — it’s, I think, impressive. Probably, Israel is one of the few countries that enjoys this unanimity, even intensity of support in the United States, and it comes from both sides.
Blitzer then confronts the PM with examples (Iron Dome, bunker-busting missiles) showing, as some experts declare, that Israel and the US share a closer military to military relationship than ever before under Mr. Obama. This is where Mr. Netanyahu shows a disingenuousness not usually associated with a head of state and implicitly reveals his courting of the GOP and conservative members of Congress:
BLITZER: Some have suggested that the U. S. -Israeli military- to- military or security intelligence cooperation today in this Obama administration is better than it’s ever been before. Is that true?
NETANYAHU: These are very good relations. We enjoy a lot of cooperation.
BLITZER: Better than ever?
NETANYAHU: You know, I haven’t taken a history of it, certainly –
BLITZER: You know the history. You know the history.
NETANYAHU: It’s certainly — it’s certainly, I think, substantial. I think it’s worthwhile. I think it’s meaningful and significant in the Middle East as we see it today. It’s a very unstable place.
BLITZER: I’m going to get to Iran in a second. The Republicans, whether presidential candidates, members of Congress or others say to Israel’s friends in the United States, that President Obama is not a friend, what do you say?
NETANYAHU: I think all American presidents, including President Obama, share the ethos of the American people, which is a deep friendship — I don’t want to wax poetic, but it’s at the very least a very deep friendship for the state of Israel and a powerful alliance between Israel and the United States. And that continues to this very day in public ways and in ways that I prefer not disclose.
Mr. Netanyahu could not bring himself to address Mr. Obama by name. Remember, this is a man who last June was invited by the highly partisan Speaker of a highly partisan House to speak before a Jt. Session of Congress as the President tried to re-start peace talks. Netanyahu not only used the occasion to lobby conservatives to accept his position on restarting talks, which was an outlyer in the history of the talks, but actually berated the American President in public over something that wasn’t even true and never apologized.
Common diplomatic courtesy would have required the Israeli PM to make amends by declaring that of course President Obama is a true friend of Israel and has cooperated in every way to ease the military burden on Israel.
Why didn’t Mr. Netanyahu instinctively put to rest the fallacious charges against Mr. Obama that the PM knows are circling US political circles and that he himself helped stoke in his June trip? Why did he hide behind generalities?
I can only guess that the PM did not want to disagree with Republican partisans whom he depends on for ratifying anything the Netanyahu Administration says. By refusing to thank Mr. Obama in particular for his friendship towards Israel, Netanyahu sunk even deeper into the deceptive pit of US partisan politics. As I said, he’s in over his head.
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