Thursday, April 02, 2009

The U.S. -Israel's Godfather

The U.S. Israel's Godfather. Palestine Cultural Center for Peace, Boston, MA. January 21, 2009.

There are quite a range of topics to talk about, it’s a lot of complex issues. I have a few minutes and I don’t want to speak too long and I’ll just pick two topics and try to focus on them. A couple of words about something else. The two topics are—I’m not going to talk about the atrocities that took place in the last few weeks*, I’m sure you’re quite familiar with that. (*referring to what's been called the Gaza massacre)

One question has to do with legitimacy of the US-Israeli invasion. And we should bear in mind crucially that it’s US-Israeli invasion. We’re critically involved at every level. So, one has to do with its legitimacy.

The second question that I want to talk about has to do with the reasons for it. And the two are intertwined so what I’ll say won’t be entirely separate, segregated but I’ll try to do it systematically.

Legitimacy of the invasion

As far as legitimacy is concerned, it’s almost universally assumed in commentary that the invasion is legitimate. It’s criticized as being disproportionate, but it’s legitimate because obviously a state has the resort to defend itself against attacks from the outside.

Well, there’s certain level of truth to that argument. Yes, a state has a right to defend itself from attack. But this argument moves very quickly to another position. Namely, that a state has the right to defend itself by force from attacks from the outside. And nobody believes that. If that’s supposed to be the principle, it’s, I think, universally rejected.

So, no one agrees that, say, Nazi Germany had a right to defend itself by force against the terrors of the partisans in the occupied Europe. Nobody, I suspect very few people here around us, would believe that the British had a right to defend themselves by force against George Washington’s army. And the reasons are obvious. In both cases, they had no reason to be there in the first place. So, therefore they have no right to defend by force.

There was an easy way to defend themselves: put a stop to the atrocities and invasion and aggression. And when that option was available, you just don’t have the right to defend yourself by force.

Or take say, a useful analogue, take the British in northern Ireland. I mean IRA terror was certainly criminal. And the British had a right to defend themselves from it. How? Not by violence, not by terrorizing the Irish Catholic community, but by addressing the grievances that led to the violence. When they finally began to do so, the terror stopped. And you can think of case after case like that.

So, the universal agreement that Israel had a right to defend itself by force is not only wrong but it is transparently wrong. Wrong on the bases of principles that virtually everyone accepts. If that reasoning is correct, there’s plenty of—a crucial educational problem to face: bring people to understand that by their own principles, their conclusions are absolutely “illegitimate.” And the reasoning is not profound, nothing deep about it, it’s all on the surface.

The reasons of the invasion

Well, let’s turn to reasons. What were the reasons for the attack? Well, there is an official reason. That was given, for example, by Ehud Barack, defense minister, who said Israel had lost patience with the rocket attacks and therefore it had to invade. That, of course, that’s accepted almost universally, then you debate about proportionality. But that has the same fallacy. You have to show that a reaction by force to rocket…you have a right to defend yourselves against rocket attacks surely, but it takes another step in the argument to show that you have a right to defend yourselves by force against rocket attacks as in the examples I mentioned and numerous others. And to show that, you have to show that there were no peaceful alternatives to doing so. Well, that didn't happen to be true; there are plenty of peaceful alternatives. I’ll come to them in a minute.

There has been further debate about the, discussion about the reasons. One commonly proposed argument which I think is accurate is that Israel had to overcome what they called “the lessons” of the failed Lebanon war in 2006, when Israel lost what’s called credibility, its deterrent capability. Put that into simple English, it had lost the ability to intimidate its adversaries into submission by the threat of extreme violence. And they had to recover that capability. It was probably a factor.

As for the timing, probably it had to do mostly with the Israeli elections, in fact, which are coming up in a couple of weeks. One Israeli commentator calculated at the very beginning of the war, that for every 40 Palestinians killed, (Ehud) Barak gained one parliamentary seat. I’m not sure if his arithmetic is exactly right but principle is, if you compare the polls and the casualties, comes out more or less like that. But none of that gets to the reasons. I think that the reasons are different and much deeper.

The reasons are pretty much explicit. They were explained by Ehud Olmert, then Prime Minister. But right here in the United States in May 2006, he gave a speech to a joint session of Congress, rousing ovations, when he explained two points. One of them is principle, the other is implantation of it.

The principle, he said, that is the historic right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, (...) is beyond challenge; rousing ovation. There is a corollary to that: the original population doesn’t have the right there. And in fact, the US and Israel just took that position formally at the United Nations.

Once again, last month, in last December 2008, there was a series of UN resolutions that were passed, mostly by about the same votes, something like 170 to 3 or something like that.

This one passed 173(5) to 5, it was on the right of Palestinians to self-determination. The five against were the United States, Israel and a couple of pacific islands, you know. That’s the usual votes on the Unites Nations. And as usual, it doesn’t get reported.

So, for example, also unreported was that the fact that there was a resolution on the right to food. A huge problem now, it’s that a billion people are facing starvation, it’s far worse than financial crisis. But, of course, that deals with what one British diplomatic historian called “the unpeople.” Ones who are different from us, you know, so, not discussed much. The vote on that was unanimous with one vote against, namely the United States.

There was a vote on arms traffic. The United States is by far the biggest arms trafficker. This was to regulate the arms traffic. In 2006, the United States voted against that alone. This time, it had a company: Zimbabue. So, two of us voted against it. None of this obviously couldn’t get reported.

But the one on the Palestinians is interesting. No right of self-determination. And that’s a corollary to the conclusion that the historic rights of Israel to the land—of the Jewish people to the land of Israel are beyond question, to go together. Actually if you look at the colloquy at the United Nations, there are very excusive, rather pathetic excuses as to why the US had to vote that way but you can go and demand. So, that’s principle.

Then comes the question of implementation. And Olmert, also at the same time in May 2006, explained the implementation. It’s the program that he called “convergence.”

Israel does not want to take---there were sections and still are sections in Israel that want to take over the entire West Bank. But the more rational people understand that’s a problem. That leads to what’s called “demographic problem”: there will be too many Palestinians in the state. If it’s all democratic, it won’t be a Jewish state. So, you have the problem where you have to keep a Jewish state, while taking over what you want in the West Bank.

On the side, it’s not in question that all of the actions in the West Bank are illegal in violation of the foundations of international humanitarian law: the Geneva Conventions.

In fact, the Israeli government was informed of that in 1967 by its own top legal representatives, including justice minister. So, it’s been ratified by the International Court of Justice, the World Court, in a unanimous decision including a US justice. So, there's not a real debate about that. Everything going on there is criminal.

And the US, as what’s called a “high contracting party” to the Geneva Conventions, has the legal responsibility of acting to prevent it. Not doing so is also criminal. And directly embedding it by economic, military, ideological and other means is multiply criminal. So, the criminality of all these actions in Washington and Tel Aviv is not in question. But it’s accepted universally that somehow, that’s us, it’s OK.

In other words, the United States regards itself as an outlaw state. And its commentators, intellectuals and the media accept that. And that right of being an outlaw sate is inherited by its clients. So the issue of criminality is kind of off the agenda.

How do you go about taking what you want in the occupied territories without running into the demographic problem? Well, there is a way, traces way back to 1967 and it’s taking various forms since.

Olmert’s version was that Israel should annex everything within what’s called the Separation wall. It’s an annexation wall actually. It should proceed as it has been doing to take over the Jordan Valley, that’s about a third of West Bank. It will-- that imprisons what’s inside, of course, Israel has the total control of air and so on.

But what’s inside in the imprisoned part has to be broken up into cantons. If you take a look at a settlement map, there are two salients, actually three salients that cut through the West Bank, from the part that Israel annexes within the Separation wall up to the Jordan Valley. One goes east of Jerusalem, what’s called Jerusalem is illegally annexed in violation of Security Council resolutions that go back 40 years. But the US accepts it so it’s us, OK. 

By now it’s greater Jerusalem much expanded to the east. There is a town Ma'aleh Adumim, which was developed mostly in the Clinton years with the purpose of bisecting the West Bank. And to the north, there are two other salients. One go to the town Ariel, the other to Kedumim, that breaks up what’s left and there’s a complex network of check points and barriers and so on, which have no security function except in the sense that they undermine the possibility of any civilized life for the “animals” that are wandering around in the rest of the territory.

Well, that, proceeding in that way, Israel could take over what’s valuable for it in the West Bank: the arable land, the pleasant suburbs around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the water resources that they have control of, in the Jordan Valley, the fertile area. And also it imprisons everything and everything else that goes through. And it doesn’t have any responsibility for the Palestinians. What will happen to them? Well, this may be very clear right at the very beginning of the occupation.

Actually, the person who was the clearest was Moshe Dayan, who was Defense Minister in charge of the occupied territories. Among the leadership, perhaps he was a person who was the most sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. He recognized it and understood. And his position was that what we are doing to you, to the Palestinians, is very much like a Bedouin who kidnaps a young woman and forces her to marry him, and ultimately she’ll accept it. So, ultimately you’ll accept what we are doing to you. Otherwise, as he put it, “you will live like dogs,” and those who want to leave can leave and we’ll see where that goes. Nothing secret about this, you know. Public record from 1967.

And it’s implemented since, it’s not words repeated in one or another form and it’s implemented. Those are the settlement programs, development programs which you and I pay for in a lot of ways, not just financially, but militarily, diplomatically and other ways.

Well, that’s the way to implement the historic right of the Jewish people to all of Palestine without running into the feared demographic problem.

There’s also the problem of Palestinian citizens, non Jewish citizens in Israel, mostly Arab. That can be handled in various ways. One way, in fact, was just proposed by the electoral commission. A couple of weeks ago, they banned participation of the Arab parties in the coming election. That sounds likely to stand—of course I think they're not likely to let that stand, that’s too blatant and in overt violation of minimal democratic practice but in one way of another, they can be marginalized and kept out.

And there’s a further plan which is accepted pretty much across the spectrum*. That is that means have to be found to encourage the Palestinian Arab citizens to leave, citizens in Israel to leave, either by your act of transfer or by rejoining borders so that the heavily settled parts of (....) Galilee will be transferred into one of those segregated cantons that will be called---could be called a Palestinian state someday. Meaningless. (*referring to the proposals of Avigdor Lieberman)

So, those are ways of practically implementing the program of, the doable program of recognizing that the historical rights of Jewish people are beyond, to the entire land are beyond question. And doing it in such a way, that can remain free from the demographic problem: the dangerous problem of having non Jews in a Jewish state. Those are not just proposals. I mean they are being implemented everyday, going on constantly.

Well, those proposals can be implemented only if there is no resistance to them. Now, in the West Bank, by now, there is little resistance because of Israeli violence which has indeed subdued the population. By now, it’s because of collaborationists: the Palestinian forces.

I’m sure you know that Israel is--- the United States with its allies, the Arab dictatorships, Jordan and Egypt, have trained security forces, Fatah security forces, whose main task is to subdue the population. So, if they have a demonstration against atrocities in Gaza, then, instead of the Israeli army going in, they’ll do it. That’s a typical colonial pattern. You know, the whole history of colonialism works like that. I won’t run through the details but it’s absolutely common, very common.

So, like, say, India was that the population was mostly kept under control by Indian soldiers under the British command. Just a typical and natural procedure.

In Chechnya today, it’s kept subdued and quiet and developing and so on under Chechen military forces. The Russians are in background in case anything goes wrong. It’s routine. And it's being duplicated in the West Bank. Well, OK, they've pretty much subdued protests in the West Bank so that it can carry out policies without disturbance. But they haven’t yet subdued Gaza. In Gaza, you still have resistance.

Now, remember, Gaza and the West Bank are one unit. Furthermore, they’re both occupied. There’s no question that Gaza is occupied. Even as sane Israeli commentators point out that there is never going to be a day that it hasn’t been under occupation.

There is a talk about, you know, this famous disengagement but that was a well organized scam.

Hard liners in Israel like Ariel Sharon, the saint patron to the settlers, understood that it was completely senseless to keep several thousand Jewish settlers in the ruins of Gaza, which they already pretty much destroyed, taking a large part of the land and scarce resources like water and protected from a million and a half people by a big component of the IDF, the Israeli army. That’s just crazy. 

So, what makes sense is to essentially transfer them to valuable territory. They were subsidized to go to Gaza, so fine, you’ll load them up in trucks and take them over to be illegally subsidized in the West Bank, which you want to keep, which is what happened. When they announced this disengagement, they, also at the same time, announced new settlement programs in the West Bank. Most of them went there, some went to the illegally occupied Golan Heights. That’s almost all of them.

This had to be presented as a trauma, a national trauma because you had to have images of that on front pages of the newspapers. You may remember the Boston Globe, a pathetic little boy, you know, pleading with the solders not to take them away, you're destroying their homes, you can have cries of “never again,” it’ s kind of like Nazis and so on.

They were all totally faked. I mean if they wanted to remove the settlers, there was nothing easier.

You could have simply announced that on August 1st, the Israeli army is going to leave Gaza, two days later, the people who live there would have climbed into the lorries provided for them and quietly gone to their new subsidized homes and illegally the settlements in the West Bank. Then you wouldn’t have a national trauma and you wouldn’t be able to shout “never again” and so on.

There’s a lesson in this because it also has to do with the possibilities of dealing with the settlements in the rest of the occupied territories, the West Bank.

So, it’s very commonly argued that there’s no possibility of a two state settlement because if the Israeli army tried to forcefully remove the settlers, there would be a civil war. And that’s probably true. The religious nationalist settlers have such a powerful role inside Israel, in particular, in the Israeli army, that they might just refuse to carry, especially to officers corps. Many of them obey rabbis, not the state openly.

So, yes, they might refuse. To do it, you’d have battles, could be a civil war. But there’s no reason for any of that. To eliminate the settlements in the West Bank is a trivial move, just withdraw the army, the settlers will all divide. Many of them are there just because they are paid to have a decent quality of life. OK, so they’ll go back and be paid to be within the border of Israel.

There will be nationalist, religious groups that will fight and hang on to every clot of earth. OK, they can be left to their own devices. They can stay under Palestinian Authority or they can leave too. But there doesn’t have to be any civil war, there doesn’t have to be any force. The mechanisms are just straightforward. So, that’s not a barrier to proceeding to political settlement.

And this has been done. Many examples of this. Just take one recent one, which is pretty dramatic but can’t be discussed here because of what it applies.

Indonesia in 1975 invaded East Timor. You know, what happened was about close to genocide to anything in the modern period. It killed about 200,000 people, maybe a quarter the population. Strongly backed by the United States and also Britain when the atrocity mounted and others. They swore they were never going to leave. The general said it’s part of Indonesia, we are going to keep it, nothing in the world can do about it.

Well, September 1999, under, by then, very serious international and domestic pressure, Clinton decided that it’s enough. He told Indonesian generals “Sorry, friends, the game’s over.” And immediately they withdrew.

You can’t stand up to the godfather. It’s just too dangerous. So, OK, that was the end of that. Now, that’s going down in history as a humanitarian intervention by the United States. Look, how humanitarian we are.

First we supported the invasion, for 25 years helped them destroy the population then, when they just became too much a bother to us, we told them to call it off. And they called it off. OK.

International affairs, you know, there aren’t many principles in international affairs, although scholars will tell you there are, but one principle that works pretty well is that international affairs are very much like the mafia.

And there’s the godfather and you better obey him or else you’re in trouble. And then there are what are called intellectuals who explain to you that what the godfather is doing is humane and just and divine mission and so on and so forth. That’s pretty much the way it works. And the same could work in the rest of the occupied territories.

Legitimacy of the attack on Gaza

Let’s go back to the question of legitimacy of the attack. Are there peaceful alternatives for Israel when they are under rocket attack? Well, there are alternatives in a narrow sense and also in a broader sense.

The narrow sense is sometimes discussed. The narrow alternative is just to accept ceasefire. That would mean ending the rocket attacks and opening the border. Crucially, opening the border. And there are agreements on paper about that.

So, in 2005, there was an agreement that Israel would allow continuous flow across the borders so the people can at least survive and there would be no more violence.

Well, a couple months later in January 2006, Israel rejected the agreement as did the United States. And the reason is that the Palestinians had committed a really grave crime. They had voted the wrong way in a free election and you don’t do that. The godfather doesn’t like that. So, therefore, you have to be punished.

And meanwhile, the intellectual community has to write uplifting articles about our yearning for democracy, so on and so forth. Again, that’s the way international affairs work and cultural system works. So, Israel backed away from the agreement and since then there has been no acceptance of the truce.

Actually, right before the present invasion, the latest invasion, on December 27(2008) although the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, proposed that they go back to the 2005 agreementーOK? No need for invasionーIsrael didn’t even respond to the request.

It was much better to attack then you can try to eliminate the last resistance to the atrocities that continue every minute both in Gaza but more seriously in the West Bank, which they really cared about and want to take over the way they describe. So, that’s a narrow proposal. You can accept the ceasefire.

The broader proposal is very simple: accept international law which is straightforward, you have no right to be in the occupied territories, withdraw, and allow Palestinian national self-determination in the released territories. That would be the West Bank and Gaza, 22% of the former Palestine.

Now, on that matter, there’s an overwhelming international consensus and has been for over 30 years, other topics that aren’t discussed here.

This proposal came to the Security Council of the United Nations in January1976. It was brought by the Arab… we call “confrontation states,” Syria, Jordan, Egypt, two state settlement on the international borders incorporating all the wording of UN 242 that you follow, that’s at least the principle that everyone accepts, so right of Israel and every other state to live in peace and security within recognized borders and so on, and a Palestinian state in the released territories.

Well, Israel bitterly opposed to that. Actually, it carried out in action which presumably was directed against the UN: Israel bombed Lebanon for no pretext, killing 50 people. It was kind of reported here but you know, it was like a footnote. Rightly, this footnote. That was probably a message to the United Nations, don’t fool around this. The US vetoed it. OK. The godfather took care of that.

There’s been records ever since later on, I won’t go through it. But there is one break in the record. And it’s important to recognize it because it's significant for the future.

In January 2001, there was one week of negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in which  Palestinians and Israelis negotiated, top negotiators, dealing with the detailed issues about borders, Jerusalem, refugees and so on. And they came pretty close to an agreement. In fact, in their last press conference, they said if they had a couple more days, they probably could have reached a settlement in terms of the international consensus. Well, Israel called off the negotiations prematurely. That was the end of that.

But 2001 isn’t that long ago. It’s not like reaching for pie in the sky, I mean that can be resumed. What’s required is that the godfather agree to what it agreed to Indonesia in 1991. Just say, OK, the game’s over. And you have simple ways to proceed to achieve the international consensus.

Right now, the US and Israel are absolutely isolated on this. Hamas accepts it, Hezbullah has said they won’t disrupt anything that the Palestinians accept, Iran has said the same, the rest of the world is in favor of it. It’s the US and Israel, and the US is the crucial actor all the way through because of its power. So, it’s really in our hands. And that means, I’ll just say one more word.

There’s a lot of talk about trying to apply the kinds of tactics that we used in the case of South African Apartheid but think that through. I mean it’s tempting, I agree, boycott, divestment, sanctions. Think it through.

The South African boycott, divestment and sanctions were effective after decades of education and organizing. In the 1980s, at a point when Congress was passing legislation in favor of boycott, barring US trade, mayors were getting arrested protesting against Apartheid, the American corporations were protesting against it. OK, at that point, people understood what was going on, and you could have effective campaign.

And the same would be true in this case. If people understood what was going on, which you are doing, you can have that kind of campaign. But this is different. You don’t need a campaign. If people understood what was going on, you could settle the problem without that. Namely, by getting the United States to withdraw its extreme rejectionism.

I think that focuses on the task that is really in front of us. It’s an educating and organizing task. The one that was carried out over a long time to lead to overwhelming opposition to apartheid. OK? Then you can do things about it. And it’s not easy and the apartheid case indicates why.

So, in the 1980s, Congress did legislate and end US trade with South Africa. The Reagan administration evaded it. And in fact, trade increased. As late as 1988, the Pentagon declared the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, to be one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world. It’s in 1988, that’s Collin Powel’s Pentagon. 

In fact, you may know that Mandela was removed from the terrorist list just a couple months ago. I guess this was coming too much embarrassing.

So, you have to, even at the time when you really have the basis for achieving something, you’ve got to compel the US government to go along with it. They got their own interests and their own constituency. But it can be done and it was done and it can be done in this case too, but not without a lot of work.

7 comments:

Young Activist said...

Great source of information, thanks for putting all of this together.

Mariko, SAKURAI said...

Thanks. Sometimes I need encouragement.

Young Activist said...

I linked to you, so hopefully that will help a little bit, and I also added you to Blogshares, which is an index of blogs listed by topic, so hopefully that will help a little bit to. Feel free to come and stop by sometime.

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