Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Abbas's glory moment may be just that

If you want to avoid any engagement of the possible, keep insisting that your adversary recognise the impossible.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the Israeli exponent, par excellence, of that duplicitous tactic.  And Barack Obama is always reliably on-hand to ensure that the deceit is efficiently stage-managed.

No negotiations can take place, Netanyahu insists, without Palestinian endorsement of Israel as a Jewish state. 

Palestinian acceptance of such a state would, of course, mean not only the abandonment of UN Resolution 194, the right of return, it would also be a ratification of Israeli apartheid, signing-away any claim to equal, democratic rights of the 20 per cent Arab Palestinians currently inside Israel.

As the Palestine Papers show, Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have already revealed their willingness to 'do the impossible' in giving away such Palestinian rights.

Yet, even he sees the dire fallout for the PA on the Arab Street from recognising Israel as a Jewish state.

Just think for a moment about this staggering demand. Imagine, say, an emerging independent Scotland asking other countries to recognise it as a Protestant, Catholic or otherwise Christian state.

Yet, as the Middle East and its Arab Spring press for real democratic constitutions, Israel wants to push further down the theocratic road, denying non-Jews the same democratic and civil rights as Jews.

Even if the Palestinians did recognise such a state, Israel would still find some other precondition to stall and dissemble.  The greatest 'fact on the ground' is that Israel has no intention of ceding an inch of the West Bank or Jerusalem.  And no amount of diplomatic window dressing can disguise that truth.

Although Mahmoud Abbas surely sees the ways in which Israel and the US are using the standard call for a 'negotiated settlement' - with that 'Jewish state' demand  - to bluster and delay, he still shows a subservient willingness to engage in a fixed and dominated game.

As Frank Barat comments:
"While it is easy to understand the PA’s motivations in making a move at the UN — taking matters for the first time in a long time into their own hands, not succumbing to pressure, making a statement — it has unfortunately very little chance to make any real difference on the ground. By going to the UN, the PA continues to accept the rules of its master/oppressor."
While Abbas may have returned triumphantly from the UN, his statehood bid has, conveniently, been kicked into the diplomatic long grass, with the US now threatening disinvestment against the West Bank unless he gets back to the same posturing negotiations.

This is where the politics of dependency, old party survival and international stagecraft all combine to 'create' more of the same stasis, nothing of substance, serving the hegemonic fiction of Washington and the rest of the Quartet as determined 'solution seekers' and 'honest brokers'.

For Jonathan Cook, this latest key shaming of Washington as the ever-ready protector of Israel may have provided a moment of glory for Abbas, but, as reality bites, it also signals the gathering demise of the "old guard" Palestinian Authority which, as a product of the Oslo process, will now become its inevitable "casualty".

And from this dialectic an emerging new-blood is now rising above the old, tired politics, refusing to engage those controlling entities.  As Cook puts it:
"Instead we are entering a new phase of the conflict in which the US, Europe, and the UN will have only a marginal part to play. The Palestinian old guard are about to be challenged by a new generation that is tired of the formal structures of diplomacy that pander to Israel’s interests only.
The young new Palestinian leaders are familiar with social media, are better equipped to organise a popular mass movement, and refuse to be bound by the borders that encaged their parents and grandparents. Their assessment is that the PA – and even the Palestinians’ unrepresentative supra-body, the PLO – are part of the problem, not the solution. 
Till now they have remained largely deferential to their elders, but that trust is fast waning. Educated and alienated, they are looking for new answers to an old problem. 
They will not be seeking them from the countries and institutions that have repeatedly confirmed their complicity in sustaining the Palestinian people’s misery. The new leaders will appeal over the heads of the gatekeepers, turning to the court of global public opinion. Polls show that in Europe and the US, ordinary people are far more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than their governments.
The first shoots of this revolution in Palestinian politics were evident in the youth movement that earlier this year frightened Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas into creating a semblance of unity. These youngsters, now shorn of the distracting illusion of Palestinian statehood, will redirect their energies into an anti-apartheid struggle, using the tools of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Their rallying cry will be one person-one vote in the single state Israel rules over."
Obama, in his default-line defence of Israel, told the UN that there can be "no shortcut" to statehood for the Palestinians. When all the raised expectations of Abbas's statehood bid subside, a more useful reality will surface: that there can be no shortcut to ending the occupation and delivering a true state of peace, democracy and equal human rights.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Palestinian 'statehood' bid - what really changes?

As the day nears for attempts to establish a Palestinian state at the UN, key Palestinian figures and civil society groups have raised significant objections to the plan.

While the bid seems popular with many Palestinians and may garner welcome publicity for their cause, it also creates many more detrimental possibilities, all to Israel's advantage. 

The bid for statehood is, first and foremost, a survival strategy for Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority (PA).  And, in that vital context, it elevates the PA's own political agenda above that of any true liberation agenda.

Omar Barghouti argues, convincingly, that the Abbas administration has neither the political authority to present such a motion nor any intention of defending the wider rights of Palestinians, as entrenched, most notably, in UN resolution 194:
"Without any sense of irony, Palestinian officials who have time and again colluded in eroding official international support for UNGA 194, as the Palestine Papers have amply shown, are now appropriating that very number and using it in a bid that runs the risk of surrendering the right of return associated with it for more than six decades. This is merely a symbol of the far more substantive moral, political and legal bind that this Initiative may potentially place the Palestinians and their supporters in. 
The “September Initiative” is at best vague and confusing and at worst damaging to the interests of the Palestinian people. Regardless, it is entirely divorced from the will of the Palestinian people, and those advocating it have no democratic mandate from the people to employ it in any way that jeopardises our UN-sanctioned rights."
Barghouti also cites strategic Zionist thinking on the bid, noting, in particular, the dangers of any transfer of authority from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) - the officially-recognised voice of all Palestinians, occupied or exiled - to the effective hand of a PA-led state, a scenario that would only diminish Palestinian rights and entrench Israeli claims to a Jewish state.  Thus:
"The spokesman of the Israeli delegation, notable writer Sefi Rachlevski, was quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth on September 5 saying, “We are a group that fully supports [Israel’s] declaration of independence and the Zionist dream of establishing the State of Israel, and we see the Palestinian initiative a definite continuation of that.”"
With the US pledging to veto the bid if it gains the necessary nine SC votes, even the likely endorsement of the General Assembly will mean only an attenuated version of UN membership (note that only states can recognise other states, the UN can only consider membership of states).

All of which begs the question: why is Netanyahu so vehemently opposed to the UN statehood bid.

The answer lies, mainly, in Israeli fears of further international isolation. Any US veto, should the bid first be referred, as promised by Abbas, to the Security Council, would also place Obama in a more embarrassing situation, having openly-declared US support for a two-state solution. 

Avi Schlaim, seeing the symbolic merit of the UN bid, elaborates the point:
"Why are Israel and the US so hysterical about the UN bid if it doesn’t make a difference? They are hysterical about it because until now, for the last 20 years, they have everything their way. There was the American-sponsored peace process, which was leading nowhere slowly, and Israel was carrying on with its expansionist agenda and pretending to be involved in a peace process. Now this has ended. There is no pretending."
More fundamentally, Netanyahu, like all previous Israeli leaders, lives by the expansionist dictum that no settlements can ever be sacrificed, no serious concessions ever granted to already occupied and dispossessed Palestinians. 

While Israel has always pitched for Abbas as the preferred 'negotiating' party - with all the useful stalling props and collaboration that entails - the apparent problem for Netanyahu now lies in the prospect of having to recognise, or at least deal with, a Palestinian state, rather than a territory, notably one that includes illegal Israeli settlements. 

And yet, what would statehood effectively change in this regard?  The occupation would still be in place.  The settlements would still be present. Jerusalem would still be annexed.  Would Israel, now intensively arming the settlers, suddenly be more inclined to vacate the West Bank?  Would it end the siege of Gaza?  After six decades of calculated oppression, would this declaration make Israel rush in genuine haste to the negotiating table?       

The biggest risk for Palestinians, on the other hand, in terms of international support, is that any realisation of statehood could be widely interpreted as the issue having been 'resolved': Palestine, many might say, now has its state, so does Israel, and the 'facts on the ground' suggest that the settlements are there, long-established, and, therefore, a realistic fact of life. 

Not only would the settlements remain in perpetuity, but the claims of diaspora Palestinians would be rendered an increasingly abstract issue.  Jerusalem would still be under Israeli control and the wall would still be in place protecting stolen land beyond the 1967 line.

Adherents of the plan also argue that statehood would allow Palestine a more effective means of challenging the occupation through the UN and its legalistic bodies.  This all sounds convincing in theory.  

Yet, consider that Lebanon and Syria, both holding such state 'rights', have been unable to use those procedures to halt Israeli violations of their borders. 

Joseph Massad's analysis suggests that whatever of the two possible outcomes comes to pass, Israel will be the main beneficiary. 

Any failure of the bid would see Israel carrying on as determined occupier, with the US and Israel able to impose even more stringent, punishing conditions on a disobedient PA.

Alternatively, should a state be declared, it would mean effective relegation of the PLO and sacrificing the right of return, with Israel also likely declaring, once and for all, the limits of Palestinian 'sovereignty': namely, the minuscule pockets of West Bank territory they already 'control'. 

In addition, notes Massad, the establishment of any such state would firm-up the reality of Israel as a Jewish state alongside it, with Israel now better able to set punitive preconditions for recognising a Palestinian state, including the relinquishing of its recent pact with Hamas. 

Whatever happens on the political stage after the bid is presented, the reality on the ground will be one of ongoing occupation, siege and apartheid policies. 

Abbas has created a heightened sense of expectation in the West Bank - less so in Gaza - and the likely frustration that will be created after the full bid fails  - or gets committee-delayed at the Security Council - may be expressed as either raised street reaction or weary resignation. None of these scenarios augurs well for Abbas's own survival. 

Netanyahu's late 'appeal for direct talks' can be easily read as yet another stalling move, intended to show Israel as a 'willing negotiator'. 

Whether Abbas succumbs to more last-minute Israeli-US platitudes remains to be seen.  In an effort to offset its increasing pariah status and prevent the US from having to use its veto, Israel may offer token 'assurances' that something could still be 'on the table'. 

If Abbas resists another such charade, and the bid proceeds, some useful publicity might be earned from the exercise.  But it will still leave the core problem unresolved and Palestine stuck as a limbo-land 'state' with no effective authority. 

When all the dust settles on this 'diplomatic offensive', the reality of Israeli power will still be grossly apparent.

True Palestinian liberation will only come about through sustained popular resistance to the occupation itself - using the Arab Spring and BDS as tactical opportunities - not via any superficial claims to statehood or upgraded UN status.     


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Censoring Gaza's kids

An art exhibition by Gazan children depicting the trauma of being bombed and besieged by Israel has been censored by a US gallery.

The decision to pull the show, set to open in Oakland, California, was taken after intense pressure from pro-Israeli organisations.

Board directors at the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) cancelled the show, A Child's View of Gaza, citing the “inappropriate nature” of the work.

It's yet another illustration of the power wielded by a massively-funded Israeli lobby in the US.

It might also be the first time ever that pictorial experiences of traumatised children have been deemed inadmissable by a gallery, particularly one that's already hosted other childhood victims of warfare.

Fortunately, the adverse publicity generated by this shameful decision only helps highlight the artwork and its laudable, moving message.

If every picture tells a story, every effort to subvert the truest one exposes a more worried and mendacious hand at work.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

Britain's dark trade with Gaddafi in arms, oil and torture

New and damning evidence now confirms Britain's dark trade and torture arrangements with the Gaddafi regime.

In a treasure-trove of documents recovered by Human Rights Watch from the disused office of ex-Gaddafi intelligence chief Moussa Koussa - openly welcomed as a defector to the UK - we now have written proof that MI6 were sending 'terrorist suspects' to Libya for rendition torturing.

A whole flow of similar communications reveal how Britain was briefing Libyan intelligence about opponents of the regime in Libya and abroad.

Many other papers disclose the cosy, cordial ties between Libyan and British intelligence in promoting Tony Blair's visits to Libya and how UK officials even helped write a speech for Gaddafi to assist his rehabilitation: 
"The papers illustrate the intimate relations Mr Koussa and some of his colleagues seemingly enjoyed with British intelligence. Letters and faxes flowed to him headed 'Greetings from MI6' 'Greetings from SIS', handwritten Christmas greetings, on one occasion, from ' Your friend', followed by the name of a senior British intelligence official, and regrets over missed lunches. There were also regular exchanges of gifts: on one occasion a Libyan agent arrived in London laden with figs and oranges. "
Meanwhile, Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News has recovered further evidence of Britain's dark weapons trade with the Gaddafi regime. 

His report reveals the $165 million deal secured by military supplier General Dynamics UK, all facilitated by ex-UK Ambassador to Libya Sir Vincent Fean, following on from Blair's 'deal in the desert' with the regime.

The Cameron government has also been found operating a secretive Whitehall cell serving to undermine Gaddafi by seeking to manipulate and control the Libyan oil sector.  International Development secretary Alan Duncan has been closely involved in the operation, liaising with giant oil company Vitol, a firm he was previously employed by.  

In a standard rebuttal of this highly embarrassing evidence, Downing Street has denied any conflict of interest, claiming that Duncan was essential to helping officials on the ground 'understand the intricacies' of the oil market.

One can but imagine the political and media furore if, say, a Libyan or Iranian cell had been involved in plotting similar destabilisations inside the UK or any other Western country.

It all goes with the imperialist territory.  When America, Europe and Nato - what Bill Blum calls "The Holy Triumvarate" - want a state 'called-in', questions of international law, recognition of sovereignty or just plain democratic conduct has no bearing:
"If The Holy Triumvirate decides that it doesn't want to overthrow the government in Syria or in Egypt or Tunisia or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Yemen or Jordan, no matter how cruel, oppressive, or religiously intolerant those governments are with their people, no matter how much they impoverish and torture their people, no matter how many protesters they shoot dead in their Freedom Square, the Triumvirate will simply not overthrow them.

If the Triumvirate decides that it wants to overthrow the government of Libya, though that government is secular and has used its oil wealth for the benefit of the people of Libya and Africa perhaps more than any government in all of Africa and the Middle East, but keeps insisting over the years on challenging the Triumvirate's imperial ambitions in Africa and raising its demands on the Triumvirate's oil companies, then the Triumvirate will simply overthrow the government of Libya.

If the Triumvirate wants to punish Gaddafi and his sons it will arrange with the Triumvirate's friends at the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for them.

If the Triumvirate doesn't want to punish the leaders of Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan it will simply not ask the ICC to issue arrest warrants for them."
As Libya's new order and the 'international community' decry Gaddafi's atrocities, it's worth reflecting on the crucial part that Britain and America have played in torture arrangements, oil deals and arms to that regime.

If Gaddafi ever does end up at the International Criminal Court, more of that evidence might well emerge, a troubling thought no doubt exercising Nato minds as they deploy every available resource to eliminate their former friend.     


Ode to Palestine

Fine, harmonious work by the Beethovians for Boycotting Israel (BBI) who managed to disrupt a BBC Proms performance by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.

There's a bogus argument, predictably expressed by outright adherents of Israel, that cultural events like this should be exempt from protest actions. 

Tell that to the bombed and imprisoned people of Gaza and the West Bank, while such 'artistic ambassadors' go around the world fabricating a clean image for Israel.

Amid all the blustering outrage, such as that from Stephen Pollard in the Telegraph, declaring the protest 'anti-semitic', it's also good to note the prominent involvement of conscientious Jews and Jewish-Palestine-supporting groups.

As noted in an article from the New York Times:
"The possibility of disruption had already been well flagged. Earlier in the week, a letter signed by 23 professional musicians, including Ms. Fink, a music teacher who has been active in Jewish groups opposing the Israeli occupation of pre-1967 Palestinian territory, was published in a newspaper, The Independent, castigating the BBC for inviting the Israeli orchestra. 
“Israel deliberately uses the arts to promote a misleading image of Israel,” the signers said. “Through this campaign, officially called ‘Brand Israel,’ denials of human rights and violations of international law are hidden behind a cultural smokescreen.”"
A press release for BBI noted: 
A new vocal ensemble, Beethovians for Boycotting Israel (BBI), gave its debut performance at a Prom concert at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.
Their first piece was intricately interwoven with Webern's Passacaglia, played by guest artists the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).
"We thought we'd liven up the Webern a bit" said Deborah Fink (soprano). "The
performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the previous night's Prom was so exciting that we decided to treat the audience to our own version of the Ode to Joy". 
The lyrics of the BBI's "Ode to Boycott" have an unmistakeably Beethovian ring: 
Israel, end your occupation:
There's no peace on stolen land.
We'll sing out for liberation
'till you hear and understand 
Ethnic cleansing and apartheid
Should belong to history.
Human rights cannot be silenced:
Palestine will soon be free.
Uplifting sentiments.

A standing ovation for this imaginative chorus of dissent.