Empty Promises: Obama takes his Middle East peace plan to the UN
23 Sep 2010
“International law is not an empty promise” – except for Palestinians
President Obama’s General Assembly speech called on the international community to mobilize behind the U.S.-led “peace process.” He called on the Palestinians to “reconcile with a secure Israel” and waxed eloquent on the illegality of killing Israeli civilians. He called on the Palestinians’ friends to implement the Arab Peace Plan’s proposed normalization with Israel without ever mentioning the plan’s clear understanding that ending Israel’s 1967 occupation must come first. And he called on Israel to – talk nicely.
Obama did say that Israel’s partial settlement moratorium “should” be extended, but carefully went on to urge that the talks “press on until completed” with no linkage between the two goals. Not to mention that what he calls a “moratorium” has consistently allowed continued building throughout Arab East Jerusalem, continued construction on homes already approved or begun, and work on huge infrastructure projects throughout the settlements.
Obama pretty much ignored any substantive role for the United Nations in the “peace process,” but he lectured the General Assembly, noting that “many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians.” (He didn’t, apparently, include himself in that category.) From those friends, he demanded “tangible steps towards normalization” with Israel, ignoring the fundamental basis of the Arab Peace Initiative that makes clear normalization comes after, not before, an end to Israel’s occupation.
And he condemned the “slaughter of innocent Israelis,” but said not one word about Israel’s 2008-09 assault, which used U.S. arms to kill 1,400 Gazans–more than 900 of them civilians and more than 300 of them children. Let alone any mention of the nine killed (including a U.S. citizen) and 50+ injured in the Israeli assault on the Turkish ship in the international humanitarian flotilla a few months ago.
The speech made clear that support for the moment, the endless “peace process” is, for Washington, a perfectly appropriate alternative to holding Israel accountable for any violations of human rights or international law. The Goldstone Report, UN and other efforts to hold Israel accountable for the illegalities inherent in its occupation and apartheid policies, or even the extreme violations like the Gaza war or the flotilla assault, must be sidelined or squashed entirely – because they could undermine the peace talks, whether or not those peace talks have any hope of succeeding. It is the exact opposite position as that taken by Obama’s UN Ambassador Susan Rice regarding Darfur. Rice was one of the strongest voices insisting on full implementation of the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir regardless of the dangers it posed to the fragile Sudanese ceasefire because accountability must come first, insisting that justice comes before peace.
But not, apparently, when it comes to Israel-Palestine.
Obama made a vitally important point when he said that “international law is not an empty promise.” Unfortunately he said that only in regard to imposing sanctions on Iran. After that, when he began to speak of Palestine and Israel, the phrase “international law” was never seen again.
In all his discussions of the peace talks and their importance, and even in his description of the arguments of “the cynics,” Obama never acknowledged the most important reason why this round of talks will almost certainly fail to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace: because they are not based on international law and the UN Charter and resolutions. The president said that the cynics’ view is that Israelis and Palestinians don’t trust each other, that both parties are divided internally, that “the gaps between the parties are too great.” But he never acknowledged that “the parties” do not come to the table as equals, that this is not a border dispute between Peru and Ecuador. These are talks between an Occupying Power, which happens to be the 23rd wealthiest country in the world and by far the strongest military and nuclear weapons power in the region, backed by the strongest and most powerful country on the globe, facing an impoverished and dispossessed occupied population. When talks are based on accepting that inequality as a given, when the arbiter of the talks is the main backer of the stronger party, and when international law is ignored, the talks cannot succeed.
So far, the Obama administration seems to be saying that “no change” is the only change we can believe in when it comes to U.S. policy on Israel-Palestine.
You never know what kind of a day you’ve woken up to in this city. Will it be a lazy and serene day, the first day of a vacation that I’ve waited so long for, or a day where the entire city turns into a Kafkaesque story. But perhaps it’s not the city – but the people who live here. So here’s the story: it’s about murder; the police; detainees; missing people; hate; lies and loads of stupidity and folly. In short a typical day in East Jerusalem.
1. The Murder: At around 4 AM one of the settlers’ private security guards opened fire in the direction of some residents in Silwan. At least one man was killed by the shots. 32 year old Samer Sarhan, a father of five. These are all the facts that are certain. According to the security guard he was pelted with stones and his life was in danger. According to Silwan residents Samer was on his way from his home to work and the guard prevented him from continuing, during the ensuing argument the guard took out his pistol and fired.
2. The Backdrop: The Jewish settlers in Silwan have a set up a private armed militia for themselves, and we all foot the bill. 65 million New Israeli Shekels ($17.5 Million) are paid out every year by the Israeli Ministry of Housing to guard a couple of hundred Jewish settlers in the middle of Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. The guards are regularly briefed by the settlers, and very often are hired by the heads of the right-wing organizations. The guards are armed only with live ammunition. This is how an armed militia that is operated by the settlers came to be.
These militiamen have opened with live fire at least seven times in the last three months. And those are just the occurrences that I am aware of, apparently there have been many more. This time it ended in disaster.
3. Silencing: From the moment that the murder took place the Jerusalem Police started a comprehensive operation to silence the matter. Large police forces surrounded the event site and prevented people from getting near. When it became known that a man was shot in Silwan, the police spokesperson stated that it was the result of a dispute between clans. This announcement was made hours after police forces were at the site and had already questioned the security guard. The pinnacle of the event for me was that the police reporters that I talked to continued to assert during the course of the morning that this was a case of a dispute between rival clans, despite the fact that the guard reconstructed the event before our eyes. They sucked up their information directly from the police spokesperson.
4. Missing People: Up until now, 18 hours after the event, nobody knows exactly how many people were injured by the shooting. Early rumours contended that there was another casualty, and 18 year-old youth who was in the area. Jerusalem hospitals, the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir and the Israeli Magen David Adom refused to provide any information whatsoever regarding those injured or killed during the event, and what their condition was. Even the information that Samer was killed was given to his family only many hours later. According to reporters a blanket silence such as this, where no one is willing to provide information, many hours after the event, was exceptional to say the least. Although we’ve already seen situations where hospitals and Magen David Adom have been threatened by the Israeli security forces and prefer not to become embroiled, however, in general, after a couple of hours the information becomes public. Not in this case. (As opposed to the conspicuous prominence of hordes of Israeli hospital directors who are interviewed after every Palestinian terrorist attack).
5. Arrest warrants against Israeli left-wing activists: How do you get rid of a left-wing activist who’s in the area? For this too the police have a creative solution. A “Solidarity Sheik Jarrah” activist was arrested in Silwan this morning and was taken in for a police interview about an event that had taken place on April 30th this year. Their timing is a bit curious, the activist was apparently to close to the crime scene at the time that the security guard was reconstructing the murder.
6. Meanwhile in Sheikh Jarrah…: 60 “Solidarity” activists and Palestinian residents decided despite the events to build a sukkah in the neighbourhood, next to one of the residents’ house. The sukkah which was planned as part of the joint celebration of Sukkot (The Jewish Festival of Booths) was also meant to serve as a mourners’ tent regarding the murder in Silwan. Three building inspectors from the Jerusalem Municipality (who apparently remembered that they are supposed to provide services to East Jerusalem) turned up accompanied by dozens of police and demolished the sukkah time after time. Somehow they overlooked two giant sukkahs that the Jewish settlers had built in the neighbourhood, not to mention hundreds in the public domain throughout the city. And so, the peace sukkah in Sheikh Jarrah became the only one to be destroyed during the holiday.
7. Kafkaesque Arrests: 2 women activists were arrested during the course of the inspectors’ courageous assault on the sukkah. Here too the police achieved a new record for creativity. The arresting police officer decided to arrest one of the activists since the Jewish settlers might assault her in the future. And so the activist was brought into the police station in order to ensure her safety. The brave soldier Schweik would certainly be jealous of such a plot twist.
8. From the Media: “Dozens of left-wing activists attempted to approach the Tomb of Simon the Righteous in the area where Jews reside in Sheik Jarrah, the police prevented them and detained one activist for interrogation regarding the breach of public peace and assault against a police officer”. This is the wording of the police announcement regarding the events in Sheik Jarrah, which the media hurried to parrot. This was definitely a comprehensive report regarding an event in which activists constructed a sukkah next to a Palestinian home, and the police destroyed it time after time. It’s interesting to note that the Police doesn’t believe its own announcements: the proof being that neither of the activists arrested was accused of assault.
9. At the end of the day: It’s now evening in Jerusalem. The festival of lies, distortions and fictions has run its course. Apparently, only to resume again tomorrow. Tomorrow will bring a new dawn, in which each of us will have to choose between being a captive of the “Jerusalem Syndrome” or to see one’ self as part of the hard reality, to which the city awakes every morning.
Copenhagen city council set to vote on divestment
23 Sep 2010
And other news from Today in Palestine:
* Land and Property Theft and Destruction/Ethnic Cleansing
Hamas: PA detained 12 supporters overnight
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – Hamas accused Palestinian Authority forces of arresting 12 supporters in West Bank cities on Wednesday. The Islamist movement said affiliates were detained in Nablus, Qalqiliya and Hebron. Rights groups, including the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, have documented hundreds of detentions of Hamas members since 30 August, when Hamas-affiliated militants killed four Israeli settlers driving in the West Bank. The group has called on the PA and its security services to refrain from carrying out arbitrary arrest campaigns, to immediately release all political prisoners, and to put an end to political arrests. http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=317226 Abbas woos U.S. Jewish leaders
At a dinner with American Jewish leaders Tuesday in New York that I attended, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas left open the possibility that he might not break off direct talks with Israel even if Israel refuses to extend a partial West Bank settlement moratorium due to expire next week. But he said a failure to extend the freeze would make it much more difficult for him to do so. http://www.politico.com/blogs/laurarozen/0910/Abbas_woos_US_Jewish_leaders.html# Meeting again with Jewish leaders, Abbas broaches substance
WASHINGTON (JTA) — For Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Jewish leaders, their second date featured a little more substance and a little less flirtation. And this time the Palestinian Authority president brought a wing man. Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, met separately Tuesday evening with Jewish leaders in New York — a sign of understanding on the Palestinian side of the importance of Jewish sensibilities, in Israel and the Diaspora, to advancing the peace process. Abbas at the meeting seemed ready to move forward on some substantive issues, which took place during the launch of the U.N. General Assembly session. http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/09/22/2741019/in-second-meeting-with-jewish-leaders-abbas-broaches-substance Palestinian Prime Minister Rejects Violence
NEW YORK, Sept 21 – Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in a meeting with American Jewish leaders, said he rejected violence and would try to eliminate incitement against Israelis to help speed the inevitable creation of a Palestinian state. In an unprecedented question and answer session organized by The Israel Project at a private home in Manhattan, Fayyad said violence “has to be dealt out of the equation permanently regardless of what happens in the peace process.” Security, he said, was a vital interest both for Israelis and Palestinians and those who used violence to advance their agendas needed to be prosecuted and punished through due process. http://www.theisraelproject.org/site/c.hsJPK0PIJpH/b.672581/k.DB67/The_Israel_Project__For_Freedom_Security_and_Peace.htm
They. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
This image illustrates one of the most significant problems facing the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. This morning, a settler guard opened fired on Palestinians in Jerusalem and reports indicated that two Palestinians are dead and Israeli police have stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque. Below the image of Palestinians in Jerusalem on Haaretz’ home page is a story about Abbas and that he hinted he’d continue with talks if a settlement moratorium isn’t extended. For many Palestinians, this is not merely a juxtaposition which characterizes the front of Haaretz’ website today, but rather one that characterizes their entire political situation at the moment. http://blog.thejerusalemfund.org/2010/09/they-just-dont-get-it.html The True Meaning of ‘Jewish Democracy’, Michael Khaled for MIFTAH
Racism is a normal thing in a state that identifies itself as an ethnic democracy. Israeli officials forcefully declare Israel as the “Jewish democratic” state. Yet there is a basic contradiction between the principals of democracy and having a state built to cater to one of its ethnicities. Minority inclusion, cosmopolitanism and universal protection of basic rights are the foundation of democracy, yet the values Israel’s leaders are espousing today are the polar opposite. Whether the final result of the conflict will separate Palestinians and Israelis in two states or bring them together as citizens of one state, it is clear that Israel as it stands today is living in a hypocritical self-image. http://www.miftah.org/Display.cfm?DocId=22602&CategoryId=13 A history lesson in Jerusalem, Philip Weiss
My wife left Jerusalem two days ago after her first visit here. It meant a lot to me to see this place through her eyes. So what did she think? …She preferred East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, and Palestinian life in the Old City to the posh, middle-Europe flavor of West Jerusalem. Of course there is a political component to these feelings; she saw the injustice of the political arrangement here, and she took greater interest in the people whose culture is indigenous. She enjoyed the company of Palestinians and European intellectuals, seekers, and eccentrics who flock to East Jerusalem. She shocked me by saying she would consider converting to Judaism. I am pretty sure it was notional, but she said that she has never been excited by the Christian theology in which she was raised, she prefers a more ancient wisdom tradition, and that tradition is alive here. She loved the western wall and walking through the Jewish Quarter. There was a political component to this declaration. During a conversation with a Zionist friend, my wife was offended that she doesn’t get to register an opinion about Palestine because she’s not in “the club.” She has a mind to join the club so she can speak out. http://mondoweiss.net/2010/09/a-history-lesson-in-jerusalem.html Is The Mideast Peace Process A Charade?, Mamoon Alabbasi – LONDON
Analysts argue whether Middle East peace process is sincerely undertaken, or just a show. http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article1546 Little Town of Bethlehem: Peace Possible? Where To Begin To See An End
Boston\USA– PNN – This week Little Town of Bethlehem movie was launched in screenings around American Universities. The movie comes in times were Israeli settlers escalated attacks on Palestinians and construction of West Bank settlements have casted a heavy shadow over the renewed sound of peace talks. Since May of this year settlers and military attacks had rendered 16 Palestinians killed. Four Israeli settlers were killed; among them a pregnant woman during Palestinian fighters attacks earlier this month in the West Bank. http://english.pnn.ps/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8808&Itemid=1