Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

US soldiers weep in Afghanistan at loss of KFC

With the war thoroughly lost years ago, American troops had to entertain themselves in the time-honoured, imperial tradition of completely ignoring local customs. Good story by McClatchy:

There is nothing quite like coming off a patrol, your body-armor-shaped sweat stains still drying and ears ringing from grenades, only to have the hostess at T.G.I. Friday’s tell you to wait a few. Sorry, sergeant, we’ve got to clear a table.

Or hovering over the desert for hours in a throttled-down Apache helicopter on an oh-dark-30 stakeout, disassembling half a dozen Taliban fighters with your chain gun as they plant a roadside bomb, only to get back to base and discover that the Canadian-themed donut shop is selling just coffee because insurgents blew up the latest inbound shipment of donut mix.

What’s a man gotta do to get a maple-glazed in this war?

Soon enough, he won’t be able to. The Kandahar Airfield boardwalk, for a decade the surreal yet comfortingly familiar heart of the biggest NATO base in Afghanistan, is closing down.

The festive, elevated rectangle of shops and fast-food vendors built around a small soccer field and running track will inevitably live on in the war stories of tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops and contractors who’ve lived at Kandahar Airfield or passed through it on the way to smaller combat outposts.

The businesses will shut down in phases, beginning next month, with the final one closing before the end of 2014, base officials said in an emailed statement. Most of the buildings will be torn down, though the walkway and the sports facilities will remain awhile.

The closure plan mirrors the withdrawal of U.S. troops as the NATO coalition here shrinks in advance of ending its combat mission next year. The 62,000 or so U.S. troops still in Afghanistan are expected to begin leaving in significant numbers after this year’s summer fighting season tapers.

“This is a natural evolution as we draw down forces across the country,” U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. John Dolan, the base commander, wrote in the statement. “As our personnel numbers decrease, so will the amenities at our installations.”

Every large base here has amenities to make long tours of duty more bearable, including “local national” markets, with cheap rugs and jewelry, bootleg DVDs, counterfeit watches and other goods and souvenirs. But they are all lowly five-and-dimes to the boardwalk’s Mall-of-America-like grandness, street-corner buskers to Liberace.

Soldiers slurping tea and fruit smoothies browse locally owned shops that offer alterations, patches for uniforms, shoes, flat-screen TVs, cellphones, jewelry and carpets. They line up for American, Mexican, Asian or Middle Eastern fast food, or opt for dine-in at the T.G.I. Friday’s.

Once there was a franchise of the famous-in-Canada Tim Hortons donut shop, though now it’s run by a local owner under the name Coffee Time. The French exchange store also changed hands and names, though it still offers perhaps the only chocolate croissants in southern Afghanistan.

Soon, though, the croissants will be gone, and with them the hotdogs at Nathan’s Famous, the rugs with AK-47 designs, the $700 jackets just like SEAL team operators wear at the German exchange and, heaven forbid, even Gyros for Heroes.

The boardwalk. Famous and infamous. If the war in Afghanistan ever gets its own “Apocalypse Now” film treatment, the movie crew will have to rebuild it for that symbolism-freighted scene about the dizzying gulf between the two cultures fighting the war. KFC vs. whatever the Taliban outside the base are eating.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan who ate just one meal a day, ran eight miles daily and slept only four hours a night, hated the boardwalk, especially the fast food. It made troops soft. His command sergeant major, Michael T. Hall, once wrote a blog post denouncing it. “This is a war zone – not an amusement park,” he said.

But even McChrystal couldn’t kill it, and he was in charge of the whole war then.

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Congratulations America; you just love imprisoning your citizens by the millions

That’s quite a record (via Alternet):

The United States imprisons almost three times as many Black people than were jailed in South Africa during Apartheid, Rep. Spencer Bachus said Thursday [3] during a subcommittee oversight hearing on the Federal Bureau of Prisons. While games of comparison are rarely productive, the American prison industrial complex has seen cries of racism for years now. And for once, both Democrats and Republicans are up in arms over the shocking state of affairs and say they are in favor of overhauling a system that many say is broken and biased. 

Bachus reported that the U.S. prison population hovered around 24,000 for most of the 1900s until suddenly, in the 1980s, the country saw a staggering rise in the inmate population to nearly a quarter million. The main causes? the War on Drugs that began in the 1980s under then-President Ronald Reagan, mandatory sentencing and three-strikes laws, all of which, most agree, disproportionately affect minorities.

The rise in prison population may have another less publicized cause: gradual privatization of the prison industry, with its profits over justice motives. If the beds aren’t filled, states are required to pay the prison companies for the empty space, which means taxpayers are largely left to deal with the bill that might come from lower crime  and imprisonment rates. Most privately built prisons mandate 90%-occupancy rates,  according to the new report by In The Public Interest. The incentive to do so is big. When the state of Arizona recently failed to meet its 97% quota, the state paid the prison company Management & Training Corporation $3 million, the Huffington Post reports [4]. 

Of all the contracts that the advocacy group assessed, nearly two-thirds of the quotas were met. The prisons in question then were found to use the profits to expand their reach, pulling a variety of strings in an effort to make lawmakers increase incarceration stats through new laws. The US currently leads the world in incarcerating its residents, with one in every 100 adults behind bars, making it a $6 billion annual industry. Over the past 30 years, the prison population has more than quadrupled, mostly due to the very same drug offenses that disproportionately African Americans. 

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The Bourdain/CNN take on Israel/Palestine

Surely a healthy sign of the mainstreaming of Palestine. US chef Anthony Bourdain takes his TV show to Israel and Palestine (including the West Bank and Gaza) and shows humanity in Palestine and crass extremism of Zionist settlers:

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Why Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four is my favourite work of fiction

I was asked to write a short column on Australian novelist Annabel’s Smith’s website:

…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and what it means to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from journalist and political writer Antony Loewenstein.

I remember first reading Orwell’s masterpiece many years ago before the rise of the internet and the mass surveillance state that is now ubiquitous. The Ministry of Truth and Big Brother have rightly entered our daily language as a way to describe the power of PR as news and spin as reality. The lead character Winston Smith is a classic hero, principled and torn, looking for love and fighting a system that both resembles a totalitarian nightmare (surely what Orwell imagined at the time of writing in 1949) but also increasingly the post 9/11 state in the West.

The book affected me the first time because it didn’t offer easy answers to existential problems. Orwell had seen war first hand, and lived through the rise and fall of Nazism, so a state using torture, threats and forced persuasion wasn’t an abstraction but a disturbing fear of what could happen without democratic resistance.

I believe 1984 is even more relevant today. Language has been bastardised by the corporate media and politicians. Torture has become “enhanced interrogation.” War has become “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. Orwell would be appalled at how little opposition exists to these changes.

What continues to resonate with me is how prescient Orwell could be just after World War II. He could never have dreamt of the internet, satellite technology or mobile phones, all devices that both liberate their users but also provide the most comprehensive way to track and monitor citizens in the history of humanity.

Would Orwell be able to write a sequel to 1984 and imagine a time in the 21st or 22nd century where privacy had completely died and personal time, with a lover, friend or family, must be conducted in secret, away from the prying eyes of the state? 1984 painted a nightmare, in moving and passionate prose, that’s well on the way to becoming today’s truth. And very few people are actively resisting the surveillance state so aptly described by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

We need Orwell alive again today to paint us a way forward. Most of our journalists and non-fiction writers are failing miserably.

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While Zionist settlers thrive, Netanyahu talks about Arab “threat”

Welcome to “democratic” Israel.

Last night here in Sydney distinguished international lawyer and UN expert Richard Falk explained how growing numbers of people globally are recognising the justice of the Palestinian cause and Israel’s continued belligerence. But we still a way away from holding the Jewish state to account.

Here are two stories that highlight the moral bankruptcy of maintaining the status-quo.

Phil Weiss from Mondoweiss visits a West Bank settlement:

There was already a Palestinian state, the settler said, past that mountain where Moses died, on the Moab. Jordan. Palestinians should have citizenship in that state. Even Palestinians inside Israel should have citizenship in that state. You could not have two Palestinian states on the Jordan River. That was a death warrant for Israel.

Really he did not see why anything should change. Palestinian workers came into the settlements to build houses at better wages than they could get in the villages. Palestinians had moved into this area as the settlers developed it. Let’s build together, he declared. I want them to do well too. The Palestinians had had the opportunity to build a state under Oslo, but they hadn’t. Look at Gaza. Look– if they joined with him to build a common future, everyone would do well.

The only problem was their not having any political rights, he conceded. Of course that was a concern. It got a lot of attention from leftwingers– like yourself. But if you lived out here, what was wrong with the status quo? It had worked for decades. It was better than the alternative: the Arab dictatorships and civil wars. The Palestinians here accepted the status quo, most of them. Yes, they should have greater freedom of movement. But Israelis had to go through checkpoints too. It slowed down their lives too.

It got cool and we went inside and sat on the overstuffed lumpy furniture. His children came in from working the sukkot and had some of the bottled ice tea and paid me no mind. The famous Israeli informality.

What if this settlement ended up being in a Palestinian state? he asked. Well, if the Palestinians let him stay, he would stay. So long as he had equal rights as a minority.
I felt I had caught him out. “Why isn’t that a model for the whole of Israel and Palestine? Everyone has equal rights, minority or not.”

He shook his head confidently. The Jewish people need a state. We have demonstrated that, with out incredible achievements. This is the Jewish state. We have one sliver of land. There are 350 million Arabs around us and we are just 7 million.

His view is what you always get to in Israel: This is Jewish land. All the liberal talk is just a charade, a Mizrahi friend has said to me; to be Israeli is to be rightwing.

In Haaretz a report that outlines the inherent racism of the Jewish state. Can you imagine a Western leader proudly talking about needing to maintain a Christian majority because the threat of non-Jesus loving babies is too great?

Israel’s growing demographic problem is not because of Palestinians, but of Israeli Arabs, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference on security, Netanyahu said Israel had already freed itself from control of almost all Palestinian Arabs. He said he could not foresee a future in which “any sane Israeli” could try to make Palestinians either Israeli citizens or “enslaved subjects.” The Palestinians would under all circumstances rule themselves and administer their own affairs, he said.

“If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens,” he said. The Declaration of Independence said Israel should be a Jewish and democratic state, but to ensure the Jewish character was not engulfed by demography, it was necessary to ensure a Jewish majority, he said.

If Israel’s Arabs become well integrated and reach 35-40 percent of the population, there will no longer be a Jewish state but a bi-national one, he said. If Arabs remain at 20 percent but relations are tense and violent, this will also harm the state’s democratic fabric. “Therefore a policy is needed that will balance the two.”

The economy is the single most important factor that will lead to Jews immigrating to Israel, he said. “I go mad when I see that because of low taxation in Moscow, there is now a capital flow there. If we want Jews to come here, we need a flourishing and dynamic economy. If we want Israeli Arabs to integrate, we need a flourishing and dynamic economy.”

He said it was necessary to improve education standards, especially for Arab citizens. Netanyahu said that the “separation fence” would also help to prevent a “demographic spillover” of Palestinians from the territories.

Reactions to the speech were not slow in coming from Arab Knesset members and others. “Netnayahu’s demographic time bomb is a stink bomb and a racist one,” said Ahmed Tibi (Hadash). “The day is not far off when Netnayahu and his followers will set up roadblocks at the entrance to Arab villages to tie Arab women’s tubes and spray them with anti-spermicide.”

Azmi Bishara, of Balad (National Democratic Alliance) said: “Describing the original residents of this land as a demographic problem would be considered racism in any normal, or even abnormal, country.”

Makhoul Issam Makhoul (Hadash) said: “A leader who considers 20 percent of the population of Israel to be a demographic threat and treats them as an existential problem, is himself a racist threat to democracy, sanity, and the rule of law – and he should be disposed of immediately for the good of both peoples.”

Talab a-Sana (United Arab List) said: “How would Netanyahu react if someone in the West or the U.S. said that the reproduction rate of Haredi Jews was a demographic problem? Netnayahu has double standards.”

Labor whip Dalia Itzik described Netanyahu as “a serial pyromaniac.” She said: “He has already lit the flames between rich and poor, and now he is trying to do the same between Jews and Arabs.”

Yossi Sarid, MK (Meretz), said: “It is amazing to see how great leaders can instantly be revealed as small racists. The Palestinian problem has not yet been solved in the territories and they are already trying to create another problem with Israeli Arabs… A thousand firemen will not be enough to put out the flames one frivolous man set alight.”

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In conversation with indy journo and Manning trial stalwart Alexa O’Brien

The wonderful US independent journalist Alexa O’Brien is currently in Australia (she appeared this week at the Sydney Opera House with Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald and others).

I spoke to her at a public event in Sydney about her coverage of the Chelsea Manning trial, dissent in America, Barack Obama’s war on whistle-blowers and threats to democracy. The video was recorded by Cathy Vogan:

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Calling US Middle East “peace process” the farce that it is

Great piece by Bill Van Esveld, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch based in Jerusalem, published in The Hill:

Twenty years ago, Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, opening the “peace process” that the US is trying to reinvigorate. Yet the Obama administration has failed to learn the lesson of the past two decades: keeping human rights violations off the peace talks agenda is a losing strategy. In this respect, Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent shuttle diplomacy has actually reached new lows.

Kerry, according to news reports and other sources, met with European leaders in Vilnius on September 7 and urged them to postpone new rules that would ensure Israel could not use European Union funds to support West Bank settlements.

But European sources say the rules are required by the EU’s own law, which incorporate its obligations under international law not to “recognize” illegal actions by other countries. Allowing EU aid to be used to benefit Israel’s settlements could breach that law. Kerry contended that Europe’s attempt to prevent itself from violating international law could complicate the peace process.

This isn’t the first time. The U.S., in the name of promoting negotiations, has consistently applied pressure to block accountability for rights violations, from vetoing Security Council resolutions critical of Israeli violations to calling on Palestine not to join the International Criminal Court – even at times when the peace process has been practically moribund.

Israel’s official position is that the primary responsibility for Palestinians’ human rights in occupied territories lies with the Palestinian Authority. Yet Israel allows Palestinian Authority security services to operate in less than 20 percent of the West Bank.

In the areas of the West Bank where Israel has exclusive control of security, its justice systems finds 99.74 percent of Palestinian defendants guilty of “security offenses,” but closes more than 90 percent of Palestinian complaints of settler violence without even filing an indictment. Only six Israeli soldiers have been convicted of unlawfully killing Palestinians since 2000, and none served more than seven months in jail.

The U.S. has also failed to address abuses, including credible allegations of torture, by the Palestinian Authority. U.S. diplomats in Jerusalem told me that the U.S. would oppose Palestinian efforts to sign human rights treaties. This has been an option since the majority of UN member states recognized Palestinian statehood in 2012 and would make it easier to hold the Palestinian Authority to account for abuses. But the U.S. diplomats I spoke to said such a move would be “unhelpful to final status negotiations.”

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Earth to New York Times; you don’t have a monopoly on stories

The Guardian recently published a stunning story, via Edward Snowden, of overly close intelligence sharing between America and Israel.

The New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reveals a shocking lack of news judgement by the paper and a sense that unless big stories are found and broken by them, well, don’t bother looking to them to cover it:

Many Times readers have been writing to me for several days about a story The Guardian broke last week, describing how the United States routinely shares with Israel intelligence information that the National Security Agency gathers on American citizens.

The story was published five days ago, and by late last week I was already hearing from dozens of readers. One of them was Phyllida Paterson, of Silver Spring, Md., who wrote:

“48 hours and there is still nothing in The Times about how the N.S.A. shares U.S. citizens’ raw communications data with Israel. This explosive story ought to be front-page news. Word is spreading and The Times is losing credibility by the hour. Friends of mine who never before believed that newspapers suppressed news are shocked by the evidence before them. Do you really want to push more readers into the arms of The Guardian?”

After a weekend in which no mention was made in The Times of the article, I asked the managing editor, Dean Baquet, about it on Monday morning.

He told me that The Times had chosen not to follow the story because its level of significance did not demand it.

“I didn’t think it was a significant or surprising story,” he said. “I think the more energy we put into chasing the small ones, the less time we have to break our own. Not to mention cover the turmoil in Syria.”

So, I asked him, by e-mail, was this essentially a question of reporting resources? After all, The Times could have published an article written by a wire service, like Reuters or The Associated Press.

“I’d say resources and news judgment,” he responded.

In a world with many news outlets, he said: “We can spend all our time matching stories, and not actually covering the news. This one was modest and didn’t feel worth taking someone off greater enterprise.”

The Times has been working on “enterprise” – that is, journalism that it produces itself, usually through investigative digging or other deep reporting – with The Guardian and ProPublica based on leaked information from the N.S.A. Many of the articles in recent months have been broken by The Guardian and The Washington Post, after the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden’s leaking of the information.

The Times published the first of the articles in that collaboration this month, and there is more to come.I’ve written about this several times, most recently saying that it was good to see The Times getting more fully involved in developing these extraordinary revelations and resisting government requests to withhold the story.

I disagree, however, with Mr. Baquet’s conclusion on this one. I find it to be a significant development and something that Times readers should not have to chase around the Web to find out about. They should be able to read it in The Times.

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ABC Sunday Nights interview on For God’s Sake

My recent book, For God’s Sake, tackles religion, faith and politics. Last Sunday all the contributors were interviewed by ABC Radio’s Sunday Night:

Sunday Nights takes on the world’s biggest religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and, what some refer to as a kind of religion, Atheism.

A recent book, For God’s Sake, features representatives from each of these faiths together to debate some of life’s most critical issues, from the personal to the political.

In this edition of The Issue, Noel Debien is joined by author and atheist commentator, Jane Caro; freelance journalist and prominent Jewish commentator, Antony Loewenstein; Director of the Centre for Public Christianity, Simon Smart; and academic and writer Rachel Woodlock, who specialises in Islam and Muslims in the West.

In this fascinating discussion, they discuss their views on belief, the universe, abortion and the concept of good and evil. 

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The Daily Show on how cable TV melts the brain and keeps us ignorant

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Assange, Greenwald, Coombs, O’Brien, Manne and Keane on mass surveillance

Last night at the Sydney Opera House I witnessed a truly unique event. 1.5 hour discussion with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, indy reporter and key documenter of the Chelsea Manning trial Alexa O’Brien (with whom I did an event tonight on Manning and dissent), Manning lawyer David Coombs, academic Robert Manne and moderator Crikey’s Bernard Keane.

They discussed mass surveillance, Edward Snowden and why dissent is so vital in an age of ever-growing government and corporate intrusion:

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The eternal paradox at the heart of Zionism

The always insightful Israeli historian Ilan Pappe  (who endorsed my first book, My Israel Question) on where to from here for Israel and Palestine:

The recent attempt to revive the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is not likely to produce more meaningful results than that of any of the previous attempts. It comes 20 years after the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The Oslo Accords were a twofold event. There was the Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed ceremoniously on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993; and there was the relatively less celebrated ‘Oslo II’ agreement signed in September 1995 in Taba, Egypt, which outlined the implementation of the 1993 DoP, according to their Israeli interpretation.

The Israeli interpretation was that the Oslo Accords were merely an international as well as a Palestinian endorsement of the strategy the Israelis had formulated back in 1967 vis-à-vis the occupied territories. After the 1967 war, all the successive Israeli governments were determined to keep the West Bank as part of Israel. It was, for them, both the heart of the ancient homeland and a strategic asset that would prevent the bisection of the state into two should another war break out.

At the same time, the Israeli political elite did not wish to grant citizenship to the people living there, nor did they seriously contemplate their expulsion. They wanted to keep the area, but not the people. The first Palestinian uprising, however, proved the cost of the occupation, leading the international community to demand from Israel a clarification of its plans for the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For Israel, Oslo was that clarification.

The Oslo Accords were not a peace plan for the Israelis; they were a solution to the paradox that had long troubled Israel, of wanting the physical space without the people on it. This was the predicament of Zionism from the day of its inception: how to have the land without its native people in a world that no longer accepted more colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

The Oslo II accords provided the answer: the discourse of peace will be employed while creating facts on the ground that lead to the restricting of the native population to small spaces, while the rest is annexed to Israel.

In the Oslo II accords, the West Bank was divided into three areas. Only one of them, Area A, where Palestinians lived in densely populated areas, was not directly controlled by Israel. It was a non-homogeneous territory that constituted a mere three per cent of the West Bank in 1995, and it grew to 18 per cent by 2011. The Israelis granted that area autonomy and created the Palestinian National Authority to run it. The two other areas, Area C and Area B, were run directly by Israel in the case of the former, and allegedly jointly, but also directly in practice, in the latter.

Oslo was meant to allow the Israelis to perpetuate this matrix of partition and control for a very long period. The second Palestinian uprising of 2001 showed that the Palestinians were unwilling to accept it. The Israeli response was to search for yet another Oslo, which we can perhaps call Oslo III, that would again grant them international and Palestinian acceptance for the way they want to rule the occupied territories. That is, by granting limited autonomy in densely populated Palestinian areas and full Israeli control over the rest of the territory. This would serve as a permanent solution in which that autonomy would eventually be termed ‘statehood’.

But something has changed in the Israeli view of Oslo since the year 2000. The political powers in Israel before 2000 were genuine, I believe, in their offer of Area C of the West Bank, and Gaza to the Palestinians for statehood. The political elite that took over in this century, however, while employing the discourse on two states, has established, without declaring it publicly, a one Israeli state in which Palestinians in the West Bank will be in the same secondary status as those living elsewhere inside Israel. They also found a special solution for the Gaza Strip: to ghettoise it.

The wish to maintain the status quo as a permanent reality became a full-blown Israeli strategy with the rise of Ariel Sharon to power in the early part of this century. The only hesitation he had was about the future of the Gaza Strip; and once he found the formula of ghettoising it, instead of ruling it directly, he felt no need to change the reality on the ground elsewhere in any dramatic way.

This strategy is based on the assumption that in the long run, the international community would grant Israel, if not legitimacy, than at least leniency toward its continued control over the West Bank. The Israeli politicians are aware that this strategy has isolated Israel in world public opinion, turning it into a pariah state in the eyes of civil society groups all over the globe. But, at the same time, they are also relieved to know that so far this global trend had little effect on the policies of the Western governments and their allies.

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