Martin Indyk on the peace process: hoping against hope
Aug 29, 2010 

Rabbi Brant Rosen

A commenter on my blog asked me what I thought of Martin Indyk’s recent NY Times op-ed, in which he expresses a powerful optimism about the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington.

My answer? Indyk’s article represents a picture-perfect example of the inherent inequity of the peace process as it is currently defined.

In his op-ed, Indyk lists four factors that he believes distinguish this round of direct talk from previous attempts. Number one, he claims that “violence is down considerably in the region.” Thanks to the PA’s security measures in the West Bank and Hamas’ in Gaza, Indyk explains, Palestinian violence against Israelis has decreased considerably.

His analysis, however, completely leaves out the other side of the equation: Israel’s violence against Palestinians, which remains as brutal and oppressive as ever. The examples are legion: Israel’s military assault in Gaza in 2008/09 that left 1,400 dead, the structural violence of its ongoing blockade of Gaza, which is having a devastating effect on Gaza’s economy, health care system, infrastructure and Gazans’ freedom of movement. In the West Bank, the IDF continues its armed crackdown on weekly non-violent protests and has increased its arrests and incarceration of non-violent Palestinian leaders. Home evictions and demolitions continue throughout the territories, East Jerusalem and even in Israel proper.

Indyk’s myopia on this front is fascinating. Indeed, it offers an important window into a fundamental injustice that currently pervades the peace process – a process where only Palestinian violence against Israelis is considered germane to negotiations. It might reasonably be asked: is this process about delineating the terms of a equitable peace treaty or dictating the terms of a Palestinian surrender?

Indyk’s second factor: Israel’s “settlement activity has slowed down considerably.” To demonstrate his claim he quotes from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, which reports that

(No) new housing starts in the West Bank were reported…in the first quarter of this year. What’s more, there have been hardly any new housing projects in East Jerusalem since the brouhaha in March, when Vice President Joe Biden, during a visit to Israel, condemned the announcement of 1,600 additional residential units. The demolition of Palestinian houses there is also down compared with recent years.

It is a clear sign of Indyk’s abiding prejudice that he turns to the Israeli government for an accurate report of facts on the ground. I’d suggest a more trustworthy source: namely, Peace Now, who has long been indefatigably tracking Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank.

According to its most recent report:

(On) the ground, there is almost no freeze or even a visible slowdown, despite the fact that legal construction starts have been frozen for 8 months (and) that the Government of Israel is not enforcing the moratorium.

The report’s main findings:

• At least 600 housing units have started to be built during the freeze, in over 60 different settlements.

• At least 492 of those housing units are in direct violation of the law of the freeze.

• During an average year (when there is no freeze) approximately 1,130 housing units start to be built in 8 months in the settlements. The new construction starts during the moratorium constitute approximately half of the normal construction pace in the settlements.

• Some 2,000 housing units are currently under construction in the settlements, most of them started before the freeze was announced in November 2009.

This means that on the ground, there is almost no freeze or even a visible slowdown, despite the fact that legal construction starts have been frozen for 8 months. It also means that the Government of Israel is not enforcing the moratorium.

In short? Indyk’s claim is misleading and spurious. Palestinians have been reasonably concerned about entering into direct talks while Israel’s settlement activity is ongoing. As things currently stand, the “freeze” is slated to be lifted next month – precisely the same time talks in Washington are scheduled to commence.

For factors three and four, Indyk points out that a majority of the public on both sides support a two-state solution – and that there really isn’t that much left to negotiate anyway. He blames Arafat exclusively for the breakdown of Camp David in 2000, a failure that left “Palestinians and Israelis mired in conflict.” This is, of course, the conventional Israeli narrative regarding the failure of Camp David: the Israelis made a generous offer, the Palestinians spurned it, and the Second Intifada ensued.

This is a simplistic, one-sided narrative that has long been challenged by compelling accounts of the actual negotiations. Most famously, this narrative asserts that Israel was prepared to offer 96% of the Occupied Territories to the Palestinians. It has since been pointed out that this 96% number more accurately represented the percentage of the land over which Israel was prepared to negotiate. It did not include, among other things, East Jerusalem, the huge belt of Jewish settlements around the city or a ten mile wide military buffer zone around the Palestinian territories. In fact, after factoring in an obligation to lease back settlements to Israel for twenty five years, the total Palestinian land from which Israel was prepared to withdraw actually came to approximately 46%.

Regardless of which narrative we choose to believe, it is clear that ten years after Camp David many difficult complicated issues remain unaddressed. In the meantime, Israel has continued to expand its settlement regime across Palestinian territories, which likely means the amount of land from which it is prepared to withdraw has shrunk all the more. Under these circumstances, Indyk has little cause to treat the current round of negotiations as pro-forma.

Albert Einstein once famously remarked that “the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” For the past twenty years the peace process has been defined by the same basic – and one-sided – parameters. Each time the process has been rebooted, we’ve heard the same kinds of hopeful tropes that Indyk expresses here. Each time we’ve been told that we have an unprecedented opportunity for peace. Each time we’ve been told that those who criticize the process are the “enemies of hope.” But each time, this flawed political process has brought us no further along toward a viable two-state solution.

Perhaps it is time to envision a different process. One that takes values of justice and equity as seriously as it does peace. One in which the United States acts as a truly honest broker, in which Israel is held to account for its violence against Palestinians, for its oppressive policies and its ongoing settlement of the occupied territories. Then, and only then, will there truly be, as Indyk puts it, “hope in the Middle East.”

This post originally appeared on Rabbi Brant Rosen’s blog Shalom Rav.

Siun and Philip Munger say FDL has offered a platform for criticism of Israel

Aug 29, 2010 

Philip Weiss

My post yesterday on Firedoglake suppressing criticism of Israel has hit a nerve; even neocon Eli Lake has commented on it. I’m going to respond later but in the meantime, I wanted to post two sharply-critical comments that we’ve received from two longtime contributors to FDL, the blogger Siun and the composer Philip Munger. Their responses are in the comment thread, but this is an important conversation on the left (as Alex Kane notes); and it feels right to highlight these criticisms from the FDL community. On a defensive note, I’d add that Jane Hamsher, FDL’s founder, has been tweeting that I’ve been in favor of McCarthyite tactics. That’s not me. She is referring to a post by Jack Ross about blacklists. Yes I like Jack’s independent mind, which mingles anti-Zionism and libertarianism; and we post a lot of stuff I don’t personally agree with but find interesting.

Now here’s Siun, followed by Philip Munger:

I am stunned by this given our continuing overage of IP issues, particularly the free rein and encouragement I’ve received from Jane to write on our flagship front page, warning of the run-up to Cast Lead, 2-3 posts a day during that horror, live blogging of the assault on the Mavi Mamara and much more. I’d suggest you and your readers take a look before launching such an unfounded attack.

Also, I’ve made a point of linking to you on many occasions and encouraging our readers to follow things here as well.

While the progressive blogosphere has persistently avoided IP issues, Jane has been one of the only site owners to offer a platform for precisely this type of coverage – and I’d note I have never had my work on IP issues edited or censored in any fashion, only encouraged and promoted.

Thanks for just dismissing several years of my work and for attacking one of the few spots where IP issues reach a larger audience.

Philip Munger:

I’ve been involved with how firedoglake deals with the inevitable hassles that ensue in an online community when I/P gets brought up as long as anyone. I post there as Edward Teller, and have written a few front-page articles for fdl and hundreds of essays for The Seminal, the fdl niche at which the exchange between Leen and Rayne occurred. Several of my Seminal diaries have been front-paged at fdl. Some of my I/P diaries have been headlined, but I’m more likely to get headlined there when I write about Alaska politics, as I live in Wasilla and I’m a long-time critic of you-know-who (see chapter 13 of Eric Boehlert’s Bloggers on the Bus).

I started commenting at fdl shortly after the blog was created. I was one of the first people to attempt to write there about Palestinian rights, militant Zionist expansionism and the concerns many have about the power of the Israel lobby, particularly their influence on congressional decisions.

From early 2005 until about the time of the 2006 Hezbollah War, it was extremely difficult to comment about I/P without your comment going into moderation for minutes or even hours. If you entered the term “AIPAC” in a comment, the comment went into long, long moderation. We got around that by entering the term “A*P*C,” which skirted the filters.

That changed in July-August 2006. Since then, there have been hundreds of diaries at various fdl niches that are critical of policies and issues that pertain to Israel.

In a comment here several weeks back, I linked to a question I had posed in October 2006 to then-Adm. Joe Sestak at a Blue America session at fdl that sought to clarify Sestak’s position on Israeli settlement expansion. Sestak replied. Nobody moderated the exchange. Nor have any of my thousands of comments at fdl on the topics of I/P been moderated or deleted since mid-2006.

I’m not quite sure what Rayne is attempting to achieve in her very hands-on interjection as “site editor” into some diaries at fdl, but this interjection has not occurred at any of my diaries there. I haven’t written any I/P diaries there since August 8, and this tempest only began last week, from what I’ve been able to determine, so I can’t write that if there is a new policy at fdl regarding I/P diaries, I had noticed it in my contributions.

I would like to stress, though, that more than any multi-issue progressive blog in the country, fdl has attempted to honestly record the changing environment in how the blogosphere, American politics, cultural trends and other related issues reflect current events in Israel, the occupied territories, Gaza and our own country. Here are the titles of my last five diaries there on I/P-USA issues:

Thoughts on Abe Foxman’s Speechlessness over Fareed Zakaria’s Return of the ADL’s Humphrey Award

Israeli Troops Violate U.N. Resolution 1701 in Provocation that Kills at Least Five – War, or Communications Probe?

Time for Abe Foxman to Apologize to Jimmy Carter

British Prime Minister Calls Gaza a “Prison Camp”

Andrew Breitbart’s Next Target? – Oliver Stone

These are recent, and were written in less than two weeks. Nobody hassled me about writing them. fdl live-blogged the Mavi Marmara fiasco and MV Rachel Corrie interception better than any other multi-issue blog in the western hemisphere.

I’ve discussed I/P coverage at fdl in e-mails with fdl editors, contributors and Jane Hamsher herself, many times over the past four years. In all these communications, I felt that the people with whom I was corresponding were very fair, and that in the exchanges progress was made.

What more can one ask of the site, Phil?

Photos of expulsion plastered to Jewish Nat’l Fund wall reveal a society in crisis
Aug 29, 2010 

 Philip Weiss

Something that made me feel great today: a report from Israel that activists have plastered the sides of the Jewish National Fund building, the organization that for over a century has bought up land for Jews, with photographs of JNF’s work: the recent destruction of the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib. Here is the original Hebrew report, with photos of the Al-Arakib pictures on the side of the JNF building in Tel Aviv. Here is the report from Haaretz:

The photos were posted “to protest the JNF’s complicity in the crime of pushing the Arab and Bedouin residents of the Negev from their lands,” according to a statement.

As part of the effort to “Judaize” the Negev, the government leased much of the unrecognized village’s lands to the JNF, for forestation purposes, said the activists.

(Thanks to Lia Tarachansky for passing this along. As most people who come to this site know, I’m ethnocentric. I grew up in a Jewish world, in a very tribal culture; and though I’ve become more worldly, I love my tribe, and Zionism is the unhealed wound, the triumph of unbridled ethnocentrism. As the signs on the building show, there’s not just a political crisis in Israel, but a war on in the soul of Judaism, and there are many, many Jews on my side. And yes, I know, the only way to win this struggle is to join hands with many many non-Jews.)

P.S. On the Never again front, France and other European countries are turning on the Roma, fellow victims of the Jews during the Holocaust, seeking to expel them and destroy their camps. Read Ethel Brooks, a US Romany writer, in the Guardian.

‘Times’ grants Abunimah a platform: Include Hamas
Aug 29, 2010

Philip Weiss

The Times has run an Op-Ed today discounting the new peace talks by Ali Abunimah. What a great journalistic moment. We will make no progress toward peace in Israel/Palestine until the right that was demolished in the leadup to Partition– the right of self-determination of peoples–is respected. This is what Arab leaders repeatedly said to our State Department, we want to be consulted. I know enough about Palestinian attitudes to know that Abunimah speaks for many Palestinians. These voices must be included in the discussion, or we will see 62 more years of unrest.

Asked what role Hamas would have in the renewed talks, Mr. Mitchell answered with one word: “None.” 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 I.R.A.

The United States insists that Hamas meet strict preconditions before it can take part in negotiations: recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Hamas is not a member. These demands are unworkable. Why should Hamas or any Palestinian accept Israel’s political demands, like recognition, when Israel refuses to recognize basic Palestinian demands like the right of return for refugees?

As for violence, Hamas has inflicted a fraction of the harm on Israeli civilians that Israel inflicts on Palestinian civilians. If violence disqualifies Hamas, surely much greater violence should disqualify the Israelis?

It was only by breaking with one-sided demands that Mr. Mitchell was able to help bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Slater: Goldberg’s argument is slippery
Aug 29, 2010

 Jerome Slater

Scholar Jerry Slater has another great post at his site, an analysis of Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in the Atlantic on the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran that disputes Joe Klein’s claim that Goldberg was merely reporting attitudes in the Israeli establishment. An excerpt:

Here Goldberg drops his guise of just reporting what others think and speaks in his own voice: “Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean–built reactor in Syria. An attack on Iran, then, would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.”

Those are simply the facts of the matter, Goldberg wishes us to think. But they are not facts at all. As others have pointed out, rather than stopping an Iraqi nuclear program, it either created it or, at a minimum, caused it to be vastly expanded. Moreover, so far as I know there has been no independent verification, as opposed to an Israeli claim, that what the Israelis struck in Syria was a North Korean nuclear reactor. Even if it was, an attack on a single reactor sitting above ground in an open desert would provide no useful precedent whatsoever for judging the likely success of an attack on the extensive, dispersed, hidden, hardened, and underground Iraqi nuclear program.

Throughout the article, Goldberg extensively quotes Benjamin Netanyahu and other advocates of an Israeli attack on the dangers of a new “holocaust” if Iran gets nuclear weapons. One quote is particularly significant: “The only reason Bibi [Netanyahu] would place Israel’s relationship with America in total jeopardy is if he thinks that Iran represents a threat like the Shoah,” an Israeli official who spends considerable time with the prime minister told me. “In World War II, the Jews had no power to stop Hitler from annihilating us. Six million were slaughtered. Today, 6 million Jews live in Israel, and someone is threatening them with annihilation. But now we have the power to stop them. Bibi knows that this is the choice.”

…And here is Goldberg’s conclusion: “Based on months of interviews, I have come to believe that the administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program; and Obama knows—as his aides, and others in the State and Defense departments made clear to me—that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to the interests of the United States.” Note that Goldberg does not say that “American officials believe” that a nuclear-armed Iraq would be a serious threat to the U.S. national interest—presumably serious enough to justify a U.S. or US/Israel attack—he says that it is such a threat.

The cat is out of the bag. Eliminate the clever—not that clever—slipperiness, and here is my translation of what Goldberg is saying: An Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear installations would have dangerous consequences, but is still necessary to prevent a new Holocaust. Even if Iran is not so irrational as to commit national suicide by launching nuclear weapons against Israel, Israel would suffer other unacceptable consequences—like, for example, causing large numbers of Israelis to emigrate, fearing an eventual Iraqi attack.

However, it is unlikely that an Israeli attack on its own could succeed in eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat. Therefore, the United States should attack, for its national interests would be so threatened by Iranian nuclear weapons as to require an overwhelming military attack, regardless of the probable devastating consequences. And it had better attack soon, because otherwise Israel will.

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