My latest column for New Matilda is about the realities facing the incoming Israeli government:
The ground is slowly shifting in international attitudes towards Israeli policies. But the longer Israel delays changing direction, the fewer options it will have, writes Antony Loewenstein
As the new Israeli Government under Benyamin Netanyahu begins its tenure, a small report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz this week highlighted the reality of the situation in Palestine:
“Construction activity on West Bank settlements has increased in the transition period between the February general election and the formation of the new government, Ha’aretz has learned.
“One notable example is the extensive earthworks being carried out in preparation for the construction of a road to connect the settlement of Eli, north of Ramallah, with the Hayovel outpost Yuval, just south of the Arab city.
“The earthworks are being carried out on private land owned by residents of the Palestinian village of Qaryut. The mayor, Abd al-Latif Lavum, plans to submit a petition today to the High Court of Justice demanding the issuing of a stop order to the Civil Administration to halt the work.”
Such brutal facts make Netanyahu’s talk about “economic peace” — that is, reducing Israel’s economic pressure on Palestinians in the hope they will become more pliable if their stomachs are full — completely irrelevant.
Saeb Erakat, one of the leading Palestinian peace negotiators under President Mahmoud Abbas, virtually begged the Obama Administration in last week’s Washington Post to pressure the new Israeli regime to cease settlement building and engage seriously with the Palestinians.
Tragically, it is a forlorn hope, not least because it is being expressed by Fatah, a party, that has negotiated repeatedly with the Israelis for years and achieved absolutely nothing in return other than expanded colonies.
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chastised his Palestinian opponents recently by claiming he “offered a deal that has never been offered by any Prime Minister in the history of the State of Israel. A deal that dealt with the heart of every problem”.
Talk is cheap in the Middle East. Only facts on the ground matter. And these facts, highlighted by human rights group Gisha, remain dire for the human rights of the imprisoned Palestinians.
Even the ineffectual European Union is warning the Netanyahu Government that it must not “walk away from the peace process”. Perhaps the EU should follow the lead of US diplomats who recently assessed Jewish settlement activity at an Israeli-occupied district near Jerusalem — a rare public examination of illegal colony expansion.
But this has all happened before. Washington calls the settlements “unhelpful”. Israel provides a spurious excuse and continues building. The Palestinians yelp that such moves “hinder” peace but have no power to stop it. The occupation deepens. A two-state solution, long professed as the ideal outcome by the Western world, becomes more unlikely — arguably impossible. One leading Israeli commentator now even argues that the Arab League initiative to bring the entire Arab world into peace with Israel could not now be implemented even if Israel agreed.
With notable exceptions, the global Jewish diaspora remains largely mute and therefore complicit in the process. One leading Jewish American leader, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, now happily and unashamedly agrees Zionism is racism, on the basis that it is a valid form of nationalism like any other.
How is this being pro-Israel? Such questions were consistently asked during the recent Australian visit of American/Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, including at his talk at Sydney University.
John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby, asked Jews this same question last week, demanding to know how their silence in the face of a Greater Israel narrative would allow the Jewish state to survive in the long-term.
One commentator on the post added a pithy response:
“The US should publicly state that for every Jewish Israeli living in one of those illegal colonies, one Palestinian will be allowed to return to Israel and reclaim his or her properties. We’d be pleasantly surprised at how fast the colonies disappear.”
As with the global financial crisis, waiting for America to provide leadership on this is a fool’s game. The creators of the mess are unlikely to find the best solutions to fix it. Although the Obama administration has indicated a few differences in policy to the Bush years — although not towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, continuing the disastrous drone-bombing of “terrorists” and infuriating the civilian population — it is far too early to tell whether the Middle East will change.
Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, indicates that Washington is looking to improve its relations with Syria, reflecting the belief that this could be easier than negotiating with the Palestinians. Furthermore, Iran would then be isolated. But Hersh includes a key paragraph that demands attention, arguing that during January’s attack on Gaza the incoming Obama officials had no real issue with Israel’s bombardment:
“[T]he Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ‘smart bombs’ and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. It was [retired Marine General and national security adviser candidate James Jones] who came up with the solution and told Obama, ‘You just can’t tell the Israelis to get out.'”
Political posturing which promises a new direction without delivering it is unhelpful at best and damaging at worst. It never ceases to amaze me how the Zionist faction of the mainstream Jewish community continues to write as if the “peace process” will continue, no matter who runs Israel or America.
Take the recent revelations of IDF human rights abuses during the Gaza war. The accusations are severe and warrant independent investigation. Human Rights Watch also released a report providing evidence that Israel illegally used white phosphorous on civilian areas.
Rather than react with horror, many Zionist spokespeople have attempted to smear the messengers, particularly the IDF soldiers making the accusations. David Horowitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, worries that the global outrage against Israel is affecting Zionist resolve:
“The notion that the tried and true methods of anti-apartheid trade protest could be widely adopted against Israel in Britain and then Europe may seem unthinkable to some.
“But it is not unthinkable to those who are internalising the degree to which Israel is being demonised and delegitimised post-Operation Cast Lead, and the extent to which this process makes defending Israel uncomfortable even for those on that continent who do have the rare capacity to distinguish between legitimate criticism and distortion, manipulation and outright falsehood.
“Put simply, Israel has rarely looked this bad in European eyes.”
Some, such as a former chairman of the pro-settler Yesha Council, argue that simply setting up a PR ministry would solve the country’s image problems. The issue, dear Zionists, isn’t the message. The problem is your shocking behaviour.
But this is perhaps where hope may lie. Israel only knows the language of discrimination, humiliation and violence (witness its decision to worsen its treatment of Hamas prisoners held in Israel, in a pointless effort to pressure the group to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit). These moves have never worked and they won’t now. A policy of domination has proven a failure for years and yet the Zionist establishment wants to continue it.
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen argued last week that Hamas had to be engaged and that the US should abandon the practice it followed under Bush of no longer tolerating Israeli behaviour no matter what. In its editorial that paper also stated that Hamas had to be included in any Palestinian unity government.
Pressure on the Obama Administration to break with decades-old policies is rising. Even a growing number of American Jews want intense force placed on the Israelis, according to a study by progressive lobby group, J Street.
Talk about the one-state solution is also spreading, prompted by the stalling and obfuscation of the political and media elite. Meanwhile Jewish attacks against Arabs in Israel are soaring.
If the status quo is sustainable, I’d like to know how.