Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Washington to Hamas: no peace talk

It's International Peace Day and the self-proclaimed Middle East 'peace-makers' show no willingness to take the real and necessary steps towards a just solution. The lack of good intent and proper authority is most clearly evident in the decisive exclusion of Hamas, a glaring feature of the peace-denying process.

Further confirmation has emerged of past Hamas assurances to the US that it would accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 Green Line. But this inconvenient truth doesn't suit the Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas game plan of keeping Hamas isolated.

It's a staggering irony that the very party most immediately able to deliver any semblance of a serious peace - at least on the Palestinian side - is being consciously prohibited from doing so. It's all part of the same game plan to paint Hamas as nothing other than a vengeful terrorist entity, thus denying the true range of diverse and pragmatic discourse within its evolving ranks. Yet, whatever these policy issues, one doesn't have to endorse Hamas perspectives or practices to recognise their primary right to speak for the Palestinians they govern.

This most basic democratic principle has been rejected by Washington with curt, monosyllabic efficiency. As Sunday Herald journalist David Pratt notes:
"Asked just before the current talks began what role Hamas would have in the process, George J Mitchell, United States special envoy for Middle East Peace, replied with one word: “None.” How unbelievably redundant is such thinking. Is this as far as joined-up thinking goes among diplomats when it comes to breaking the deadlock on building a Middle East peace process?

Already, based on that one last remark, I can hear the clamour of response from some quarters insisting that it is impossible to talk to Hamas because they don’t want to talk, or recognise the state of Israel and would rather just “sweep it into the sea”. The fact is a way has to be found to engage with Hamas – not on the basis of liking or disliking them, but simply because, in pragmatic terms, Hamas, not Mahmoud Abbas, are the people who can deliver.

As Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah put it recently: “No serious analyst believes that peace can be made between Palestinians and Israelis without Hamas on board, any more than could have been the case in Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein and the IRA.”"

All true. But, for Hamas itself, there's also strategic reasons not to be at these talks. These relate to the clear understanding within Hamas that, even with good Palestinian will, Israel has no serious intention of agreeing a deal even on the basic 1967 line.

Thus, why would Hamas want to be anywhere near these 'negotiations' when they indicate a balance of power unlikely to yield any useful results for the Palestinians?

Chief Hamas spokesman Khaled Mesh’al has laid out this thinking in a new policy statement:

"In all honesty and courage I say: negotiation is not absolutely prohibited or forbidden, be it from a legal or political perspective, or in view of the experiences of the nation and humanity, or the practices of the resistance movements and revolutions throughout history. However, it must be subject to equations, regulations, calculations, circumstances, contexts and proper management, for without these it becomes a negative and destructive tool.

Regarding the Palestinian case, we say that negotiation with Israel today is a wrong choice. A proposal was put forward to Hamas directly to negotiate with Israel but we refused. Some from among the Hamas leadership received a proposal to meet with a number of Israeli leaders, some of them in power, such as [Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Shas Party leader] Eli Yishai, and others belonging to the peace camp. Hamas has rejected these offers.

Negotiations today – under the current balance of power – is in the service of the enemy, and does not serve the Palestinian side. The conflict on the ground has not developed in a manner that has forced the Zionist enemy to resort to negotiation; it refuses to this day to withdraw from the land, and does not recognise Palestinian rights. Thus negotiation in such conditions is a kind of fruitless gamble.

In light of our weakness and the imbalance of power, Israel is using negotiations as a tool to improve its relations and polish its image before the international community, and using it to gain time so as to create new facts on the ground through settlement-building, expelling people, Judaising of Jerusalem and the demolition of its neighbourhoods. It also uses negotiations as a cover to distract attention from its crimes and to water down Palestinian demands. Israel is exploiting negotiations to normalise its relations with the Arab and Islamic world and to penetrate it, and to distort the nature of the conflict; Israel is the sole beneficiary of the negotiations as they stand.

Negotiations under the existing imbalance of power is a subjugation of the Palestinian side to the requirements, conditions and dictates of the Israeli occupation; this is not an equal process, for just as there is currently no parity in the field of confrontation, there is also no parity around the negotiating table."
Obama, Netanyahu and, most particularly, Abbas all privately recognise the truth of Hamas's prudent calculations. But they can't have Hamas at the table because that would require genuine signals to them that there's something worth coming to the table for. And that, of course, is contrary to the three-sided artifice of 'difficult-but-dutiful engagement' - with nothing at the end - currently going on.

All this, in turn, is well understood on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank. Laila El-Haddad illustrates the point neatly regarding Gaza:
"Ask any resident of Gaza what their thoughts are on the US-sponsored "direct talks" between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas's Ramallah government, and you're likely to hear one of three responses:

1) Surely, you jest;

2) Something's rotten in Ramallah;

3) Negotiations?

There is very little patience in Gaza for this latest set of talks. They are not only being conducted without a national consensus by what is broadly considered an illegitimate government, but they also completely marginalise the Gaza Strip and overlook the blockade and asphyxiation it has suffered for more than four years."

A rather more punitive political denial prevails in the PA-controlled West Bank where Abbas's forces have resorted to increased repression. Senior Al Quds Al Arabi journalist Abdel Bari Atwan contextualises the PA's violent crackdowns on groups protesting against the Abbas talks agenda:

"The problem is not confined to a group of thugs within the security forces who stormed the headquarters of the Forum, tore down banners and logos, and caused absolute chaos in the room. The problem is in the policies pursued by the Authority in recent years, particularly the confiscation of freedoms, control of Palestinian representation, and speaking on behalf of the people without any legitimacy or authority or both. This section of the security forces, whose members carried out this scandalous act hooliganism belongs to an apparatus whose members have been selected very carefully under the supervision of four intelligence agencies. Two of them are Arabs (Jordanian and Palestinian) and the other two are foreign (the Israeli Shin Bet and American CIA) and this was recorded in a lecture delivered by the principal Godfather, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, at an institute in Washington, when he said that the main objective of the current scheme was the creation of a new Palestinian; one who is devoid of national dignity and self-pride.

This group, therefore, has been raised on values, principles, ethics and morals that are alien to us and which we do not want to know. They have no relationship to the values, ethics and principles of the Palestinian people, and for which thousands of Palestinian, Arab and Muslims sacrificed their lives."
The repression is perhaps most acute inside some of the West Bank refugee camps, with PA forces purging activists and a younger generation drawn to more leftist ideals, such as those of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Meanwhile, the 20 percent of Palestinians comprising Israel's population, notes Ben White, remain firmly under Israel's apartheid grip, a seemingly invisible community for most of the media and present 'peace-talkers':
"This is the question that many Western media outlets won’t touch, and most politicians dismiss with platitudes. The Palestinians in Israel are forgotten, particularly in terms of the international community’s peace process, despite — or realistically, because of — the way in which their struggles relate to what happened in 1948 and the meaning of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. This is the conversation that needs to take place, and increasingly is, from academia to activists."
Beyond the 'still hopeful' posture being cultivated by Obama/Clinton/Mitchell - a way of preparing the Palestinians and wider world for Netanyahu's rejections and the inevitable 'heroic collapse' of the talks - the gathering realisation of the Washington charade is serving to build an invigorated Palestinian resistance. Electronic Intifada editor Matthew Cassell:
"Although not invited to the White House, the numerous grassroots movements across the Middle East present the best hope for bringing peace and justice to this region. And it's those increasingly popular movements that people around the world concerned with the fate of the Middle East should support. In the meantime, let the puppets and their masters walk on red carpets in Washington while the real change is made by those with their feet on the ground."
In sum, we're seeing a promising new bloom of political awareness and civil mobilisation pushing out and away from the contradiction of Washington's tired and deceitful 'diplomacy'. This is all contrary to the 'learned' readings of 'seasoned' media observers who only ever focus, obediently, on the 'latest talks round' or the 'critical issue' of the settlement freeze extension or Washington's sanctimonious promise to 'go-the-extra-mile-for-peace.' Rarely, if ever, do they take the trouble to consider - like Cassell and Abdel Bari Atwan - the real political dynamics on the ground, developments which, unlike the same old peace show now on tour, suggests encouraging signs of something useful in the making.

John Hilley

Monday, 20 September 2010

Boycotting Israeli goods: Sunday Herald letters exchange

A reply at the Sunday Herald letters page following this from Dr Denis MacEoin:

Sunday Herald, 12 September 2010
A senseless animosity

The boycott of Israeli goods by Muslim shopkeepers is regrettable (Anti-Israel Boycott by Muslim shops goes Scotland-wide). Mixing politics and religion in this negative way has already caused immense suffering across the Muslim world, notably in Iran, Pakistan, Gaza and Afghanistan. It brings to the surface a disturbing sense of motivation in anti-Israel sentiment and action. The first war to be launched against the new state of Israel was loudly declared to be a jihad and was fought in the main for religious reasons.

Today, Hamas, the Iranian regime, al-Qaeda, and millions of other Muslims declare their hatred of Israel and their wish to see it destroyed in religious terms: Jews are unbelievers who have no right to rule over territory that was once ruled by Islam. This is a longstanding legal ruling that has no place in the modern world. Few things have done more harm to the Palestinians across the years. By taking this stance, Scotland’s Muslims simply reinforce an animosity that does good to no-one, least of all themselves.

Dr Denis MacEoin

Newcastle upon Tyne

Sunday Herald, 19 September 2010
Boycott has but one motive

Dr Denis MacEoin’s letter castigating the boycott of Israeli goods by Muslim shopkeepers employs the usual confusion between a supposed attack on Jews and the denunciation of Israel as a state (A senseless animosity, Letters, September 12). Indeed, Dr MacEoin’s ill-informed lumping of an Islamic monolith, intent on seeing Israel “destroyed in religious terms”, only exacerbates the very animosity he claims to denounce.

Hatred does exist between Palestinians and Israelis, feeding hostility between Muslims and Jews. But any containment of such must address the core causes, rather than symptoms, of the conflict: Israel’s historic and continuous aggressions against a displaced and brutalised people.

The international Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign is driven by a singular concern for Palestinian human rights, not religious motives, a cause which many Jews of good conscience also support. That’s the kind of civil solidarity, helping to dissipate religious animosity, Dr MacEoin might better seek to promote.

John Hilley


My original letter to the Sunday Herald, which was edited for publication:

Dr Denis MacEoin's letter castigating the boycott of Israeli goods by Muslim shopkeepers ("A senseless animosity") employs the usual confusion between a supposed attack on Jews and the denunciation of Israel as a state. Defenders, outright or implicit, of Israel's illegal occupation and apartheid policies often resort to such 'don't mix politics with religion' warnings, part of the false, default-line 'antisemitism' intended to evade the key issues.

Indeed, Dr MacEoin's ill-informed lumping of an Islamic monolith, intent on seeing Israel "destroyed in religious terms", only exacerbates the very animosity he claims to denounce. Hatred does exist between Palestinians and Israelis, feeding hostility between Muslims and Jews. But any containment of such must first address the core causes, rather than symptoms, of the conflict: Israel's historic and continuous aggressions against a displaced and brutalised people.

Contra Dr MacEoin, "few[er] things have done more harm to the Palestinians across the years" than his kind of contrived concern over religious animosity while those same Palestinians endure daily Israeli violence and persecution.

Hence, the international Boycott, Divestment Sanctions campaign, similar to that effected against apartheid South Africa. BDS is driven by a singular concern for Palestinian
human rights, not religious motives, a cause which many Jews of good conscience also support. That's the kind of civil solidarity, helping to dissipate religious animosity, Dr MacEoin might better seek to promote.

John Hilley

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Exchange with BBC re Norwegian divestment from Israeli firms

Here's an exchange with the BBC regarding their questioning of Norwegian government official Gro Nystuen. The Today programme's Steven Evans had asked her why Norway's Ministry of Finance had decided to divest from two leading Israeli companies operating in the West Bank.

In my initial letter, I raised five points of concern over the interview, which the BBC's Sean Moss here addresses.

17 September, 2010

Dear Mr Hilley,

Thank you for your email of August 27 to Helen Boaden which she has sent to me. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding. For future reference, we would ask you to send any complaints via the webform at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints. As I think you are aware, the BBC has an established complaints procedure to ensure that correspondence is directed towards the appropriate journalist or programme. In this way, complaints are handled in the speediest, most efficient and effective way for our audiences and for our programme-makers.

In this case your complaint concerned the Today programme and I forwarded your concerns to the programme and to the presenter.

With regard to your first point, Today's online team hope they can clear up any confusion. They explain that the 'Listen Again' facility on the BBC 'Today' programme website is not comprehensive. Only highlights are included. The iplayer, on the other hand, is a complete version of the whole programme - available up to seven days after the transmission date. That would seem to be the most likely explanation for you finding the interview was available on one platform but not the other. I hope this is useful information.

With regard to the other points you have raised, Today's business news presenter Steven Evans has offered the following replies in response to your concerns.

On point 2, he says that it seems to be completely relevant to ask why a fund should boycott some Israeli companies on ethical grounds while not shunning Chinese companies which may well have close relations with a Chinese government criticised as repressive. Indeed, the interviewee indicated that relations with Chinese companies were also being examined.

On point 3, Steven Evans believes it was unnecessary to do as you suggest and "caveat .... remarks with an acknowledgement that Britain and most other Western countries actively engage in trade with China " . He felt that this would be stating the obvious and and, arguably, was not a relevant factor here anyway.

In his response to your point 4, Steven Evans says: "There is a left of centre government in Norway and some on the Right argue that the Left in parts of Europe is more critical of Western behaviour than it is of what might be deplorable behaviour by non-Western countries: the Left criticises European and American malfeasance more than it does, say, Cuba's or China's or South Africa's or Zimbabwe's behaviour, is the argument. I didn't endorse that view - I simply raised the point because I felt it was editorially legitimate to do so."

And to your point 5, the programme believes it to be a perfectly valid question to ask whether a fund financed from the production of oil is well placed to take the ethical high ground.

BBC journalists point out that it is the role of an impartial broadcaster to raise issues and different perspectives so that audiences can form their own judgements. To ask a question is not to endorse an opinion. It is to test a position - and that is a legitimate role for journalists and interviewers.

I hope this addresses your concerns and thank you for taking the trouble to write.

Yours sincerely,


Sean Moss
Complaints Adviser
BBC Complaints

Dear Sean

Thanks for responding and forwarding the views of Steven Evans. (I did also send my letter via the BBC complaints format.)

On point 1, I can only take your word for this, but it seems odd that the particular segment wasn't deemed worthy of inclusion by the Today team. It would be interesting to know why.

The argument by Steven Evans at point 2 is bogus. His entire line of questioning was framed around this contrived and drawn-out assertion of 'double standards', a selective diversion which disallowed any examination of the Israeli companies in question and the nature of their business in the illegal West Bank settlements. I'm reasonably sure that listeners would have been much more interested in that and the primary context within which the Norwegian divestment took place.

Likewise, on point 3, any question over Norway's dealings with Chinese companies (also now, as noted, under review) should, indeed, acknowledge that British and other Western governments deal enthusiastically with China. Indeed, why single out China's human rights violations when Evans could have cited the UK's own repressions in Iraq and elsewhere and the British arms companies (Norway has already divested from certain UK arms firms ) who help support such suffering?

On point 4, I'm not sure the Left have, in fact, been slow to criticise South Africa (see Pilger's excellent critiques of the neoliberal incorporation of that country, for one), Zimbabwe or, indeed, China which, to my leftist understanding, is a super-growth capitalist economy offering no credible model of a socialist, sustainable society. Why has Evans held it up as some 'special exception', supposedly close to the hearts of 'leftist' governments?

As for Cuba, please tell me how a non-aggressive country crippled by years of US sanctions and still able to run one of the best health services in the world should receive the same critical treatment as Israel, with its murderous occupation and apartheid oppressions?

Evans may claim that he's merely putting the point as seen from the Right, but he has a seeming blindness to the more staggering levels of carnage visited by America, with European compliance, around the world, even aside from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Regarding point 5, yes, it's fair to ask about the moral credentials of a Norwegian fund derived from oil royalties. The question was whether Evans or any other BBC presenter would ever put such a point to a UK minister about this country's oil money.

You conclude:

"BBC journalists point out that it is the role of an impartial broadcaster to raise issues and different perspectives so that audiences can form their own judgements. To ask a question is not to endorse an opinion. It is to test a position - and that is a legitimate role for journalists and interviewers."
There is, in reality, no impartial balance or equal testing of different perspectives at the BBC. Differing views may - within a limited and controlled spectrum - be allowed. But, as countless examples of loaded reportage, language and interviews suggest, the questioning of leftist voices or/and those opposed to Western or Israeli actions invariably works on core assumptions of benign, if sometimes 'mistaken', Western conduct. It's a set of understandings hard-wired into the BBC's very own reporting guides - for example, Hamas (democratically elected) "rule", "run" or "control" Gaza, while the ConLibs "govern" Britain.

This interview by Steven Evans is a fine example of how that selective set of codes and intonations work in practice.


John Hilley

Friday, 17 September 2010

Media Lens on Marr, Blair and Iraq casualty lies

Another, ever-indebted nod to the Media Lens editors for their latest critique of journalists in obsequious service to power.

This time, not for the first, their attentions are on Andrew Marr, the BBC's servant-of-choice to interview Tony Blair as he parades his fact-distorting book, his unrelenting vanity and his self-serving invincibility to that most elementary legal and moral custom: telling the truth.

Many people, the millions of marchers, the 'uninformed' public, the would-be 'passive citizenry', all understood the lies and evasions being fashioned in the corridors of power in a resolute effort to take the country to war.

Honourable insiders like senior Foreign Office diplomat Carne Ross have, as ML illustrate, provided more than ample corroboration of those public suspicions. A veritable pile of damning evidence sits in the Chilcot file and beyond fingering Blair as a calculating, self-protecting warmonger. Over a million Iraqis are in their graves, a nation displaced and traumatised. And still, Blair enjoys this kind of studio freedom to peddle his fantastic lies.

As in the Alert, it's worth citing again just what Marr said in testament to Blair as Baghdad fell to the illegal US/UK-led forces:
“Well, I think this does one thing - it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of... well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren’t going to thank him - because they’re only human - for being right when they’ve been wrong. And he knows that there might be trouble ahead, as I said. But I think this is very, very important for him. It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics.

“I don't think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he’s somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.” (Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, April 9, 2003)
Marr's other recorded support for Blair's 'ethical interventions', including his proposed ground war against Serbia, made him the BBC's ideal choice. As ML assert, there could be no better, safer host.

Blair's capacity for self/public deception needs no further elaboration. But what about Marr's complicit amplification of the grand lie? How can an 'incisive journalist' like Marr accept such a remit knowing the protective distortions he's uttered? Where is the conscientious reflection, the cursory admission, even, of his 'mistaken' servitude? And how can the BBC, as a supposedly 'neutral' news body, hand such a task to someone so obviously in thrall to Blair and his actions?

The answers, of course, need little elucidation: political closure and elite management; the establishment looks after its own. Indeed, as ML point out, there doesn't have to be any accountable explanation:
"So why does the BBC, a public service broadcaster, habitually turn to journalists who have previously declared their firm support for Blair’s militant Christian policies to interview Blair about those policies? The answer is that no-one outside the BBC has the remotest idea - there is flat-zero openness on this kind of choice; it is deemed none of the public’s business."
Some semblance of 'critical' investigation must, however, be observed. This, after all, is the BBC.

Thus, with no hint of his own past overtures, Marr asks Blair about the "toxic" legacy of Iraq and (putting on weary voice) how he views those who wish to see him in the dock at the Hague. Making some derisory noises, Blair brushes them aside:
"But they're not...the majority of people are far more sensible about issues like this...sure you'll get...you know, the people who do the blogs and the whatever nowadays and will come on the protests...it's not the whole of people [sic]."
Marr is content to let the dismissal pass, as though Blair's criminality is some kind of petty misdemeanour being pursued by a vexatious, moaning minority.

In addition, the ML piece reveals establishment efforts to discredit the Lancet findings on the million-plus casualties in Iraq, further undermining the media-preferred Iraq Body Count version.

The Alert also cites impressive study insights on how casualty figures actually decline in inverse relation to increased hostilities and the higher attendant danger faced by journalists, noting that Iraq has proved the most deadly war, to date, for correspondents. In short, the greater the danger, the less likely journalists are to report civilian deaths, hence the deep unreliability of IBC's 100,000 figure, a truth, as with the Lancet findings, conveniently ignored even by our 'best' liberal media.

Which, again, should make us so very appreciative of the fine, probing and now-developing Media Lens project, as indicated by this welcome footnote to the Alert:
"Having started Media Lens in 2001, we are delighted to announce that, a mere nine years later, David Cromwell has finally escaped from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton to join David Edwards in working full-time on the project. No longer can the BBC’s John Sweeney claim that we are “two moonlighting clerks from the White Fish Authority or some such aquatic quango”. (Sweeney, letter to New Statesman, September 22, 2003)"
Great to have David Cromwell on-deck, full time. And a nice piece of shark-seething vitriol from Mr Sweeney. Isn't it revealing how such 'champion liberals' reserve their most vicious bites for ML and its supporters?

John Hilley

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Washington talk-talk-talk

Journalists, editors and other analysts of the Israel-Palestine 'peace summit' in Washington are playing a vital part in promoting the message of America's 'benign intentions'.

Here, for example, is the latest Guardian editorial, pitching Obama as 'honest-broker':
"Once again, an American president is putting his prestige on the line in the hope that American pressure on both sides can tip the balance. And once again, expectations are low."
Likewise, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen has been among the many media amplifiers speaking in weary tones of the 'low expectations' and 'intractability' of 'the conflict', a dutiful narrative which serves to anoint Obama, play down hopes of an accord and disguise Washington's own dark part in the Palestinians' suffering.

In a true-to-form piece, the BBC have lumped Hamas, Iran's President Ahmadinejad and, for good measure, right-wing Israeli settlers together as extremist recalcitrants, while implicitly lauding the "moderate" forces being guided by Obama's 'fair hand:
"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described the direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as futile and doomed to fail.

His comments - the first regional reaction to the talks - came a day after the first direct talks between the two sides since 2008.

Right-wing Israeli activists and Gaza militants also reacted angrily. Hamas has vowed to step up attacks on Israel.

But moderate Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed the peace process.

The US Middle East envoy earlier said the talks, between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, had been "constructive".

The talks at the US state department had been initiated by US President Barack Obama, who gave both sides a one-year deadline to reach a solution."
Alongside these selective demonisations and the diversionary 'two sides poles apart, as ever' message, come standard media presentations of the dramatis personae - or, at least, the 'lead players' designated as such by the elite players themselves.

First, there's
Netanyahu, cast as the cold, firm negotiator, Israel's latest 'man of history' carrying the nation's hopes on his shoulders. Much is made of Netanyahu's refusal to 'toe the Washington line' - notably on the settlement extension 'issue' and likelihood of Israel's building 'moratorium' ending in late September 2010. Posed as a key, stumbling block, the fundamental illegality of the settlements, and core fact that there can be no serious peace until they are vacated, is virtually ignored.

we have 'President' Abbas as lead Palestinian figure. Bowen et al do dutifully mention Abbas's problematic mandate to speak for all Palestinians. Yet, they conveniently fail to mention that he has no actual, current status as President - it ran out almost a year ago. Open discussion of this, we must suppose, would seem 'churlish' and 'incidental' to the big production taking place, undermining Washington's stage-set efforts to proclaim the 'credibility' of the talks. It's all part of the understood media representation of Israel's preferred 'partner-for peace'.

And then we have Obama/Clinton/Mitchell as the 'fair facilitators' of the talks, the most disingenuous part of the presentation. No possible suggestion can be permitted that they are anything other than honest brokers. Yet, any serious review of the US-Israel relationship proves otherwise. Washington is unequivocally sided with Israel, its consistent ally. America funds Israel. It votes at the UN on behalf of Israel. It provides every level of political and diplomatic cover for Israel. And Israel, in turn, acts as America's principal proxy in the region.

As such, America is a significant part of the conflict, a critical obstacle in the problem to be solved.

Indeed, the very holding of these talks is predicated on Obama having
acted as dishonest broker by specifically adhering to Israeli wishes, notes Aseer Aruri (author of Dishonest Broker: America's Role in Israel and Palestine).

While urging the Palestinians not to come to the table with preconditions,
Obama's meeting with Netanyahu in July 2010 "in fact created preconditions" that serve Israel's 'negotiating' requirements. In particular, Aruri notes:
"They want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which means that the million and a half Palestinians who live in Israel will move from second-class citizens to third-class citizens. It's like saying that the United States should be recognized as a Christian state, and so the non-Christians are not part of it and not included in the distribution of rights.

Netanyahu also managed to get Obama to drop the request to end the moratorium on building new settlements. So Netanyahu managed to get preconditions while stymieing Palestinian efforts to set preconditions, such as compliance with UN resolutions--in particular Resolution 242, on the need to end the occupation."
As Obama's gathering threats against Iran show, this all fits rather prosaically with Washington's ongoing Israel-centred policy for the Middle East. Indeed, it's sobering to think of all the 'policy experts' and lovestruck media who hailed his inauguration-time Cairo speech, supposedly offering a 'hand of peace' to the Islamic/Arab world. In truth, at no stage has Obama discouraged Tel Aviv's belligerence towards Tehran or paid any credible attention to the Palestinian cause. As Aruri notes, even his cursory 'concerns' over the settlements have been abandoned to naked appeasement and domestic interests:
"the Obama position started to wane under pressure coming from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which supported Netanyahu at least 100 percent. Basically, Obama knuckled under. He moved from talking about ending the settlements to now praising Netanyahu, the defender of the settlements, for making a contribution to the peace process."

"Most likely, Obama feared that his pressure on Israel would become a domestic issue and cost Democrats support in the upcoming congressional elections. AIPAC demonstrated to him that he couldn't really keep pushing Netanyahu to comply with international law and the global consensus. Obama then capitulated and accepted Netanyahu's preconditions for the current talks."

None of this is being flagged-up by the BBC and other service media. Other basic questions go unstated. Why, most basically, has Washington been accepted as the 'natural' venue for talks rather than the UN, a more obvious place/body through which to conduct such negotiations?

Where is the merest suggestion that the US should not actually be at the table as facilitator/arbiter, but as one of the key factions in the negotiations? Under this more appropriate arrangement, Washington would have to answer for its part in the conflict and offer concessions/assurances on what it can do to effect a just and lasting solution.

And, of course, where is the serious, elementary discussion of why Hamas and all other interested Palestinian parties are not present or seriously represented?

The other vital element left unexplored in this simple 'two entrenched sides' picture is Israel's particular peace-avoidance. Even if a fair venue and the legitimate participants were in place, there remains Israel's resolute rejection of any serious two-state solution.

Aruri again:
"They are not going to agree to let the refugees go back to their homes. And they are not going to agree with full sovereignty and full contiguity for the Palestinian state. So I would not be surprised if they postpone these parts of the discussion. There may be signatures and celebrations, but nothing substantive will take place and nothing that could be described as a diplomatic breakthrough. And the entire process is not set up in the interests of Palestinians."
However, one helpful consequence of this cold reality, notes Aruri, is the welcome reconfiguration of views on how to resolve this 'intractable' situation, giving added momentum to a single or bi-national state:
"In many Palestinian circles, the idea of a single state has gained ground in the past year and a half. At the same time, we find that the idea is gaining ground among the Israeli right wing. This is pretty amazing. Most people have been astonished that the right wing is calling for a single state. But we have to keep in mind that the right wing in Israel has embraced a single state not based on equality.

Their single state would in fact continue the occupation. It would extend the status quo under the name of a single state. On the other side, more and more Palestinians now advocate a single bi-national state with civil equality and the right of Palestinian refugees to return as the only solution. So we have a situation of dueling concepts of a single state."

Which all serves to highlight the important amalgamation taking place between the BDS agenda and those internal forces opposed to Abbas:

"So the BDS movement should grow and prosper because it is going to have more and more support from what seems an opposition that is reforming and trying to reestablish itself inside Palestine. The international BDS movement hopefully will be able to link up with the new opposition expressed in the demonstrations in Ramallah against the talks."

Why are the Guardian and the BBC not exploring these key shifts and potential consequences in their editorials and reports? The possibility of such content on a BBC news programme is seemingly more remote than any just agreement coming out of Washington.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Washington talk-talk

The US-facilitated Israeli-Palestinian 'peace talks', now commencing in Washington, will succeed in failure. Here's ten good reasons why.

The successful failure will be the result Israel wants and America expects. Israel will have been seen to exercise its 'peace-seeking' duties in having come to the table. And America can, in standard noble pretence, say that it has provided the table.

Netanyahu will fly home proclaiming that he's done his best in agreeing to negotiate, but was unable to meet the Palestinians' 'unreasonable demands'. Obama can say that he's given it his 'best shot'.

The better shot, of course, would be to remove the $3 billion America gifts annually to Israel. But this detail, we can be reasonably sure, will feature nowhere in the political discussion or on the media's radar.

With no obvious prospect of Israel conceding a single settler dwelling in the West Bank or an inch of East Jerusalem, the talks will amount to the grandest ever posture in the long charade called the 'peace process'.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas will have come to the summit as Obama's and Netanyahu's pawn, helping to highlight Washington's and Tel Aviv's 'sound intentions', while knowing that he has no effective mandate and can't deliver the inevitable impossible 'offer' that Netanyahu will put.

The rational reality of a non-event summit, leading to a status quo outcome, is well understood by Gideon Levy, who reminds us of the "endless masquerade", Netanyahu's ever-deceitful manoeuvring, Obama's unwillingness to act decisively and Abass's non-permission to negotiate while the democratically-elected Hamas is barred from the room.

But the post-Washington scenario is not entirely bleak. As Ramallah-based lawyer Diana Buttu notes, the expected outcome of the talks will bring an end not just to these contrived negotiations but the contrived ideology of negotiations:

"The major concern is that we all know that this is going to fail. It doesn't require anyone with any particular knowledge or foresight to realize that these talks are going to fail. The real question is what is going to come afterwards, and here is where I'm most concerned. For the past 17 years, the PLO, and in particular, Fatah, has had one strategy and only one strategy: negotiations, negotiations, negotiations.

And they have had only one strategy as regards to themselves, and that is survival. We are now at a stage where we are seeing that this is going to be -- and I really hope that it is -- the final blow to the logic and the ideology of negotiations, that people somehow have to negotiate their freedom."

So, where does the Palestinian cause go from here? The stage-management and, what will be conveniently termed, 'collapse' of the talks is intended to encourage ever-greater resignation amongst Palestinians and their international supporters.

Some in Israel will hope that weary and subjugated Palestinians will effectively give up, despairing over the seeming impossibility of a resolution or improvement in their miserable lives.

With the last intifada crushed and much of its movement killed or imprisoned, Israel will bank on there being little appetite for a third wave of mass resistance. More sweetener money will likely be sent into the West Bank to quell dissent. Gaza will remain under stringent lock-down.

But this won't solve or nullify the problem for Israel. Netanyahu will have returned from Washington satisfied that another Oslo-type inconvenience has been circumvented. More time will have been stalled. Yet, he and unflinching others will also know that, with the two-state solution finally dead - it was never seriously alive - the momentum for an 'unthinkable' one state agenda will advance.

Despite a well-prepared hasbara effort to blame the Palestinians for the 'collapse', the focus on Israel's apartheid policies will intensify. Realising the futility of two states, and increased international acceptance of that reality, there may be a further, more organised, mobilisation of Arab Palestinians inside Israel demanding civil and political rights. And that collective pressure for human equality will further erode the fiction of Israel's 'democratic' state.

Which all keeps us attuned to the actual task of Palestinian resistance and the real peace process in play: the effort being conducted slowly, daily, patiently, locally and internationally to bring an end to the occupation and Israel's apartheid state.

And here, beyond the sham of Washington, a more realistic, even optimistic, picture can be discerned.

Deeply worrying for Israel, in particular, is the highly impressive growth and impact, in just five years, of the BDS movement.

While most Israel-leaning Americans oppose any outright boycott, there also appears to be growing objections in the US to Israel's occupation, and those companies involved in the West Bank settlements.

Reacting to this international civil and ethical concern, more countries may well follow the example of Norway and begin divesting in major Israeli companies.

The campaign for Palestinian justice will not just 'return', post-Washington, to some plodding renewal of the struggle. That struggle will have been going on throughout this non-event summit, calmly advanced by those who were never deceived by the talks charade or diverted from the real task in the first place.