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.

Why Israel lost the war and doesn’t recognise it’s now more isolated than ever

Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books:

The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever: according to a recent UN report, the Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. And this is to speak only of Gaza. How easily one is made to forget that Gaza is only a part – a very brutalised part – of the ‘future Palestinian state’ that once seemed inevitable, and which now seems to exist mainly in the lullabies of Western peace processors. None of the core issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the Occupation, borders, water rights, repatriation and compensation of refugees – is addressed by this agreement.

The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its ceasefire with Arafat’s PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was the work of Arafat’s sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996, during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas’s bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash, the ‘Engineer’, leading Hamas to strike back with a wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas’s political bureau – and an ally of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi.

Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel’s latest war, began just as Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours after he reviewed the draft proposal. Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, could have had a ceasefire – probably on more favourable terms – without the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis, but then they would have missed a chance to test their new missile defence shield, Iron Dome, whose performance was Israel’s main success in the war. They would also have missed a chance to remind the people of Gaza of their weakness in the face of Israeli military might. The destruction in Gaza was less extensive than it had been in Operation Cast Lead, but on this occasion too the aim, as Gilad Sharon, Ariel’s son, put it in theJerusalem Post, was to send out ‘a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated’.

Victory in war is not measured solely in terms of body counts, however. And the ‘jungle’ – the Israeli word not just for the Palestinians but for the Arabs as a whole – may have the last laugh. Not only did Hamas put up a better fight than it had in the last war, it averted an Israeli ground offensive, won implicit recognition as a legitimate actor from the United States (which helped to broker the talks in Cairo), and achieved concrete gains, above all an end to targeted assassinations and the easing of restrictions on the movement of people and the transfer of goods at the crossings. There was no talk in Cairo, either, of the Quartet Principles requiring Hamas to renounce violence, recognise Israel and adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: a symbolic victory for Hamas, but not a small one. And the Palestinians were not the only Arabs who could claim victory in Cairo. In diplomatic terms, the end of fighting under Egyptian mediation marked the dawn of a new Egypt, keen to reclaim the role that it lost when Sadat signed a separate peace with Israel. ‘Egypt is different from yesterday,’ Morsi warned Israel on the first day of the war. ‘We assure them that the price will be high for continued aggression.’ He underscored this point by sending his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, to Gaza the following day. While refraining from incendiary rhetoric, Morsi made it plain that Israel could not depend on Egyptian support for its attack on Gaza, as it had when Mubarak was in power, and would only have itself to blame if the peace treaty were jeopardised. After all, he has to answer to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent organisation, and to the Egyptian people, who are overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. The Obama administration, keen to preserve relations with Egypt, got the message, and so apparently did Israel. Morsi proved that he could negotiate with Israel without ‘selling out the resistance’, in Meshaal’s words. Internationally, it was his finest hour, though Egyptians may remember it as the prelude to his move a day after the ceasefire to award himself far-reaching executive powers that place him above any law.

That Netanyahu stopped short of a ground war, and gave in to key demands at the Cairo talks, is an indication not only of Egypt’s growing stature, but of Israel’s weakened position. Its relations with Turkey, once its closest ally in the region and the pillar of its ‘doctrine of the periphery’ (a strategy based on alliances with non-Arab states) have deteriorated with the rise of Erdogan and the AKP. The Jordanian monarchy, the second Arab government to sign a peace treaty with Israel, is facing increasingly radical protests. And though Israel may welcome the fall of Assad, an ally of Hizbullah and Iran, it is worried that a post-Assad government, dominated by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brothers, may be no less hostile to the occupying power in the Golan: the occasional rocket fire from inside Syria in recent days has been a reminder for Israel of how quiet that border was under the Assad family. Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever. It is this acute sense of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu’s desire to bolster his martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel into war.

Hamas, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the same regional shifts, particularly the triumph of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt: Hamas, not Israel, has been ‘normalised’ by the Arab uprisings. Since the flotilla affair, it has developed a close relationship with Turkey, which is keen to use the Palestinian question to project its influence in the Arab world. It also took the risk of breaking with its patrons in Syria: earlier this year, Khaled Meshaal left Damascus for Doha, while his number two, Mousa Abu Marzook, set himself up in Cairo. Since then, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the Syrian uprising, distanced itself from Iran, and found new sources of financial and political support in Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia. It has circumvented the difficulties of the blockade by turning the tunnels into a lucrative source of revenue and worked, with erratic success, to impose discipline on Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in the Strip. The result has been growing regional prestige, and a procession of high-profile visitors, including the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who came to Gaza three weeks before the war and promised $400 million dollars to build housing and repair roads. The emir did not make a similar trip to Ramallah.

Hamas’s growing clout has not gone unnoticed in Tel Aviv: cutting Hamas down to size was surely one of its war aims. If Israel were truly interested in achieving a peaceful settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders – parameters which Hamas has accepted – it might have tried to strengthen Abbas by ending settlement activity, and by supporting, or at least not opposing, his bid for non-member observer status for Palestine at the UN. Instead it has done its utmost to sabotage his UN initiative (with the robust collaboration of the Obama administration), threatening to build more settlements if he persists: such, Hamas has been only too happy to point out, are the rewards for non-violent Palestinian resistance. Operation Pillar of Defence will further undermine Abbas’s already fragile standing in the West Bank, where support for Hamas has never been higher.

Hardly had the ceasefire come into effect than Israel raided the West Bank to round up more than fifty Hamas supporters, while Netanyahu warned that Israel ‘might be compelled to embark’ on ‘a much harsher military operation’. (Avigdor Lieberman, his foreign minister, is said to have pushed for a ground war.) After all, Israel has a right to defend itself. This is what the Israelis say and what the Israel lobby says, along with much of the Western press, including the New York Times. In an editorial headed ‘Hamas’s Illegitimacy’ – a curious phrase, since Hamas only seized power in Gaza after winning a majority in the 2006 parliamentary elections – the Times accused Hamas of attacking Israel because it is ‘consumed with hatred for Israel’. The Times didn’t mention that Hamas’s hatred might have been stoked by a punishing economic blockade. It didn’t mention that between the start of the year and the outbreak of this war, 78 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by Israeli fire, as against a single Israeli in all of Hamas’s notorious rocket fire. Or – until the war started – that this had been a relatively peaceful year for the miserable Strip, where nearly three thousand Palestinians have been killed by Israel since 2006, as against 47 Israelis by Palestinian fire.

Those who invoke Israel’s right to defend itself are not troubled by this disparity in casualties, because the unspoken corollary is that Palestinians do not have the same right. If they dare to exercise this non-right, they must be taught a lesson. ‘We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza,’ Gilad Sharon wrote in the Jerusalem Post. ‘Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.’ Israel shouldn’t worry about innocent civilians in Gaza, he said, because there are no innocent civilians in Gaza: ‘They elected Hamas … they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.’ Such language would be shocking were it not so familiar: in Israel the rhetoric of righteous victimhood has merged with the belligerent rhetoric – and the racism – of the conqueror. Sharon’s Tarzan allusion is merely a variation on Barak’s description of Israel as a villa in the jungle; his invocation of nuclear war reminds us that in 2008, the deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai proposed ‘a bigger holocaust’ if Gaza continued to resist.

But the price of war is higher for Israel than it was during Cast Lead, and its room for manoeuvre more limited, because the Jewish state’s only real ally, the American government, has to maintain good relations with Egypt and other democratically elected Islamist governments. During the eight days of Pillar of Defence, Israel put on an impressive and deadly fireworks show, as it always does, lighting up the skies of Gaza and putting out menacing tweets straight from The Sopranos. But the killing of entire families and the destruction of government buildings and police stations, far from encouraging Palestinians to submit, will only fortify their resistance, something Israel might have learned by consulting the pages of recent Jewish history. The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region’s pariah. The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’, deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict. Iron Dome may shield Israel from Qassam rockets, but it won’t shield it from the future.

 

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The Wire interview on Israel and Gaza

I was interviewed a few days by the Australian national current affairs program, The Wire:

Israel’s latest strike on Gaza and assassination of Hamas military leader Amas Jabaari should be seen as traditional aggressive pre-election behaviour says commentator Antony Loewenstein. He says Egypt’s new regime and its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood is also making Israel nervous. There are fears that a well-armed Israel could continue and escalate the violence, particularly in the light of their opposition to Palestine’s bid for recognition by the UN
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ABCTV News24′s The World talking Israel and Gaza

Israeli cries of war against Gaza are building. I spoke last night on ABCTV News24’s The World discussing the growing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the mostly Palestinian civilians caught in the middle:

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Supporting Mosireen in Egypt; independent media in a new age

Back its crowd funding campaign.

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The Islamist revolution is here; are we ready and even willing?

The grand sweep of history after the Arab Spring is yet to be written; it remains a work in progress. But this piece, by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley in the New York Review of Books, is a stunner, riffing on the prospects of an Islamist phase, what this means for democracy, Arabs in general and Palestine. Read the whole thing:

New or newly invigorated actors rush to the fore: the ill-defined “street,” prompt to mobilize, just as quick to disband; young protesters, central activists during the uprising, roadkill in its wake. The Muslim Brothers yesterday dismissed by the West as dangerous extremists are now embraced and feted as sensible, businesslike pragmatists. The more traditionalist Salafis, once allergic to all forms of politics, are now eager to compete in elections. There are shadowy armed groups and militias of dubious allegiance and unknown benefactors as well as gangs, criminals, highwaymen, and kidnappers.

Alliances are topsy-turvy, defy logic, are unfamiliar and shifting. Theocratic regimes back secularists; tyrannies promote democracy; the US forms partnerships with Islamists; Islamists support Western military intervention. Arab nationalists side with regimes they have long combated; liberals side with Islamists with whom they then come to blows. Saudi Arabia backs secularists against the Muslim Brothers and Salafis against secularists. The US is allied with Iraq, which is allied with Iran, which supports the Syrian regime, which the US hopes to help topple. The US is also allied with Qatar, which subsidizes Hamas, and with Saudi Arabia, which funds the Salafis who inspire jihadists who kill Americans wherever they can.

In record time, Turkey evolved from having zero problems with its neighbors to nothing but problems with them. It has alienated Iran, angered Iraq, and had a row with Israel. It virtually is at war with Syria. Iraqi Kurds are now Ankara’s allies, even as it wages war against its own Kurds and even as its policies in Iraq and Syria embolden secessionist tendencies in Turkey itself.

For years, Iran opposed Arab regimes, cultivating ties with Islamists with whose religious outlook it felt it could make common cause. As soon as they take power, the Islamists seek to reassure their former Saudi and Western foes and distance themselves from Tehran despite Iran’s courting. The Iranian regime will feel obliged to diversify its alliances, reach out to non-Islamists who feel abandoned by the nascent order and appalled by the budding partnership between Islamists and the US. Iran has experience in such matters: for the past three decades, it has allied itself with secular Syria even as Damascus suppressed its Islamists.

When goals converge, motivations differ. The US cooperated with Gulf Arab monarchies and sheikhdoms in deposing Qaddafi yesterday and in opposing Assad today. It says it must be on the right side of history. Yet those regimes do not respect at home the rights they piously pursue abroad. Their purpose is neither democracy nor open societies. They are engaged in a struggle for regional domination. What, other than treasure, can proponents of a self-styled democratic uprising find in countries whose own system of governance is anathema to the democratic project they allegedly promote?

What will all this mean? The Islamists are loath either to share power achieved at high cost or to squander gains so patiently acquired. They must balance among their own restive rank-and-file, a nervous larger society, and an undecided international community. The temptation to strike fast pulls in one direction; the desire to reassure tugs in another. In general, they will prefer to eschew coercion, awaken the people to their dormant Islamic nature rather than foist it upon them. They will try to do it all: rule, enact social transformations incrementally, and be true to themselves without becoming a menace to others.

The Islamists propose a bargain. In exchange for economic aid and political support, they will not threaten what they believe are core Western interests: regional stability, Israel, the fight against terror, energy flow. No danger to Western security. No commercial war. The showdown with the Jewish state can wait. The focus will be on the slow, steady shaping of Islamic societies. The US and Europe may voice concern, even indignation at such a domestic makeover. But they’ll get over it. Just as they got over the austere fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia. Bartering—as in, we’ll take care of your needs, let us take care of ours—Islamists feel, will do the trick. Looking at history, who can blame them?

Mubarak was toppled in part because he was viewed as excessively subservient to the West, yet the Islamists who succeed him might offer the West a sweeter because more sustainable deal. They think they can get away with what he could not. Stripped of his nationalist mantle, Mubarak had little to fall back on; he was a naked autocrat. The Muslim Brothers by comparison have a much broader program—moral, social, cultural. Islamists feel they can still follow their convictions, even if they are not faithfully anti-Western. They can moderate, dilute, defer.

Unlike the close allies of the West they have replaced, Islamists are heard calling for NATO military intervention in Libya yesterday, Syria today, wherever they entertain the hope to take over tomorrow. One can use the distant infidels, who will not stay around for long, to jettison local infidels, who have hounded them for decades. Rejection of foreign interference, once a centerpiece of the post-independence outlook, is no longer the order of the day. It is castigated as counterrevolutionary.

What the US sought to obtain over decades through meddling and imposition, it might now obtain via acquiescence: Arab regimes that will not challenge Western interests. Little wonder that many in the region are persuaded that America was complicit in the Islamists’ rise, a quiet partner in what has been happening.

Everywhere, Israel faces the rise of Islam, of militancy, of radicalism. Former allies are gone; erstwhile foes reign supreme. But the Islamists have different and broader objectives. They wish to promote their Islamic project, which means consolidating their rule where they can, refraining from alienating the West, and avoiding perilous and precocious clashes with Israel. In this scheme, the presence of a Jewish state is and will remain intolerable, but it is probably the last piece of a larger puzzle that may never be fully assembled.

The quest to establish an independent, sovereign Palestinian state was never at the heart of the Islamist project. Hamas, the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, harbors grander, less territorially confined but also less immediately achievable designs. Despite Hamas’s circumlocutions and notwithstanding its political evolution, it never truly deviated from its original view—the Jewish state is illegitimate and all the land of historic Palestine is inherently Islamic. If the current balance of power is not in your favor, wait and do what you can to take care of the disparity. The rest is tactics.

 

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US peace group Code Pink in Pakistan protesting drone strikes

An Australian friend of mine was on this remarkable march and he’ll be writing something about it soon. It’s vital to raise awareness of the fact that US drone attacks are often indiscriminate and kill countless civilians. American peace group Code Pink, with whom I was in Cairo a few years ago for the Gaza Freedom March, were in Pakistan and here’s the CNN coverage:

CNN Coverage of CODEPINK Stop Drones Pakistan Delegation from Rae Abileah on Vimeo.

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As two-state “solution” dies a necessary death, one-state in Palestine gains serious traction

My following article appears in The Guardian today:

The Palestinian finance minister recently warned that the two-state solution would be in crisis unless the Palestinian Authority (PA) immediately received more funds.

“The two state solution is in jeopardy if the PA is not able to continue to function,” Nabeel Kassis said.

But Kassis was talking about an imaginary state, one largely funded by international donors. The World Bank announced last week that “sustainable economic growth” was impossible while Israel continued tocontrol vast swathes of the West Bank.

Large protests against the PA by Palestinians indicates growing unrest over rising prices and the failure to realise any tangible political moves towards independence. This is why growing numbers of Palestinians under occupation are talking about adopting the one-state solution and pressuring their leaders to follow.

“The idea of one state is about … breaking apart the system of privilege that exists and being able to live as an equal,” says Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team and contributor to a book I have just co-edited, After Zionism.

During a recent visit, I heard many Palestinians say that the two-state solution was barely discussed seriously in Palestinian circles, but that the PA, currently too reliant on western support not to continue the fiction of state-building, as yet persists in believing in its inevitability. The status quo is beginning to crumble, though, with senior PA officials now talking about abandoning the two-state idea and pushing for a one-state equation. Hamas concurs. This will only grow.

The real issue in the Israel/Palestine conflict is barely mentioned in this American election cycle; the obsession with Iran has seen to that. Yet, it is increasingly addressed in public debates, opinion pieces and among both the Jewish and Arab communities that it is time to end the two-state industry. Nearly 20 years after the Oslo process, there are now up to 700,000 Jewish colonists living illegally in the West Bank. A just partition of the land, with a Palestinian right of return, is impossible. It is for this reason, among others, that a one-state solution is gaining traction, even within conservative circles.

Liberal Jews in the United States, firm believers in justice and human rights, are especially conflicted. The controversy surrounding writer Peter Beinart’s recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, encapsulated their growing unease with blindly supporting the Jewish state, the occupation and a two-state solution – all once an article of faith. As Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian American, recently wrote, to blogger Jerome Slater:

“If the two-state outcome is exposed for fantasy, and Palestinians en masse demand civil rights, it is hard to see a sustained, western objection.”

And among the “non-objection” camp would be many American Jews. Demographically, the two US groups most committed to maintaining the occupation are Christian evangelicals and Orthodox Jews. If a significant number of American Jews start peeling away from the US pro-Israel lobby, breaking with the tradition of pressuring the US Congress to back every Israeli policy, the Jewish state would potentially face economic crisis.

The challenges are profound – not least unwinding two decades of Oslo propaganda that dictates the two-state solution as the sole answer – but there are growing calls to imagine what a democratic, secular state in the Middle East might look like.

The effect of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movements in the USEurope and around the world, combined with a rise in Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, which is animated against both Palestinians and Africans, the logic of a democratic, one-state solution seems more desirable and less utopian by the day. A plan for its implementation – a state promising justice for all of its citizens: Jews, Muslims, Christians or atheists – is already being mapped out.

The US political establishment largely backs the perpetuation of the two-state charade – witness former State Department official Aaron David Miller writing a few months ago that this outcome is the “only game in town” – but the unpredictability of today’s Arab world means that alternative ideas have a chance to gain traction. Israel’s ability to control events on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza is shifting, not least due to Egypt’s new-found assertiveness.

There has never been serious international pressure to implement a two-state solution; instead, Israeli settlement has been indulged. But moving the one-state idea from the fringes to the mainstream obliges defenders of the current situation to explain their reasoning behind endorsing a so-called solution that entrenches discrimination against Arabs. Now is the time to break open the debate.

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Breaking news; Egypt wants greater independence while Washington and Israel quiver

Fascinating interview with Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi in the New York Times that will be a welcome wake-up call to those presuming Cairo will remain a dutiful client state. No chance:

Mr. Morsi, 61, whose office was still adorned with nautical paintings that Mr. Mubarak left behind, said the United States should not expect Egypt to live by its rules.

“If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”

He suggested that Egypt would not be hostile to the West, but would not be as compliant as Mr. Mubarak either.

“Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region,” he said, by backing dictatorial governments over popular opposition and supporting Israel over the Palestinians.

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Sharing the art of writing in Gaza

Moving piece by Jamal Mahjoub in Guernica about his visit to Gaza with the PalFest literary bandwagon:

The Islamic University is the best funded of the four universities in Gaza. It is also the only one that is not secular. Our first day, we are given a tour of the segregated campus, our male guides giggling as we cross into the women’s section. The grounds are neatly tended and decorated with trees that stand between big, modern buildings, including a three-story library. Two of the buildings were bombed in 2009 but have been fully rebuilt. There are no signs of destruction or shortage. When I ask our guides about this I am told that they have “their own ways” of bringing in materials.

In a cramped lecture hall two other writers and I find ourselves facing a full house of mostly young women, nearly all of them wearing colorful headscarves and austere grey or black jilbabs. The fluency of English varies, and although they all display a great deal of enthusiasm about our visit it is unclear what is expected of us. This session was originally billed as a workshop, but after a round of introductions, I see that what the students really want to do is talk.

Many of the questions directed at us convey a concern about our motives. Why have we come here? What did we expect to find? I sense some degree of distrust, even resentment. The jilbabs and the headscarves give the impression that these women live sheltered lives. In contrast, though, they speak with a frankness I admire. Many of them already write. A couple of girls come forward to read out their poems. They do not wait for permission to speak. Like students in classrooms everywhere, they want to hear how we managed to get published and how they should go about getting their stories out into the world. They are witnesses to a unique situation which lends urgency. At the end, as we are about to leave, more of them crowd around still pressing for an answer to the question, “What do I have to do to write?” I repeat the same advice I have always given in similar situations: To write, all you have to do is write and keep writing.

On our last evening the closing PalFest event is shut down by security forces. It’s not clear who we have offended, but everything points to an accumulation of distrust. Gatherings in which men and women congregate in the same public space are frowned upon by Hamas. Two nights before, in what was the highlight of our roadtrip, the hugely popular and highly talented Egyptian group Eskenderella, who are traveling with us, gave a concert that was rapturously received. Eskenderella’s songs of revolution have been a fixture in Cairo over the last year, providing a soundtrack to the events in Tahrir Square. The local PalFest organizers were asked to split the concert hall, men on one side, women on the other, but they refused. Many of our authors are Egyptian, and the anti-authoritarian spirit has been running high at reading events and in interviews. It is perhaps not surprising that Hamas was made uncomfortable. In any case, on that last evening on the little stage at the Qasr al-Basha cultural center, the power is suddenly cut and the mic dies. A moment later a plainclothes officer runs across to snatch a camera from a young woman. What follows is a charged confrontation with an absurdly large crowd of armed police and plain-clothed security officers. In the end we are escorted back to our bus and allowed to return to the hotel. We take as many of the audience as we can manage. Many of them are nervous about possible repercussions, especially after we depart. Security men photographed much of the audience. Back at the hotel the terrace is converted into an impromptu venue and the concert continues long into the night with poetry readings and songs.

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“After Zionism” events hit London

I’ll soon be speaking at two major events in London for my just released book, After Zionism.

21 August at the Frontline Club:

With a new coalition formed in Israel, a prospective reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and a new leader in Egypt it could be said the century-long Israeli–Palestinian conflict is entering a new chapter.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, called off early elections after a deal was reached between his Likud party and the opposition Kadima party. Five years after Hamas took power in Gaza there are signs of a shaky reconciliation between them and Fatah that could lead to elections. There is concern in Israel about the growing power and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Across the world, the one-state solution is now openly discussed as a possible outcome. We will be bringing together an expert panel to explain the implications of these political shifts.

Chaired by Tim Llewellyn, the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent for ten years, during which time he covered the Lebanese civil war, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, the First Gulf War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since leaving the BBC in 1992, he has been a regular broadcast and print commentator on Middle East politics.

With:

Antony Loewenstein, an Australian freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for The GuardianHaaretz, the BBC, The Sydney Morning Herald and others. He is author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, and co-editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine. He is a research associate at the University of Technology, Sydney’s Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.

Dimi Reider, an Israeli journalist and blogger. His work has appeared in The New York TimesThe New York Review of Books,The GuardianForeign PolicyHaaretz and The Jerusalem Post. He is also a co-founder and contributing editor of +972 Magazine. His translation of Yehouda Shenhav‘s new book, Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish political essay is forthcoming in September with Polity Press.

Ahmed Moor, a Palestinian-American, born in the Gaza Strip, he was a Beirut-based journalist before he moved to Cairo where he covered the Egyptian revolution. He is co-editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine. His writing has been published in the Los Angeles TimesThe Washington PostThe Boston ReviewAl Jazeera EnglishThe Guardian, the San Francisco ChronicleMondoweissthe Huffington Post and others. In 2012, he became a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow.

Ghada Karmi, a leading British-Palestinian academic and writer. Currently she is co-director of the European Centre of Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. She is a frequent media commentator on Middle Eastern issues. She is the author of a memoir, In Search of Fatima; a Palestinian story. Her most recent book is Married to another man: Israel’s dilemma in Palestine.

22 August at SOAS’ Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy:

Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor will discuss their new book ‘After Zionism’ at SOAS on Weds Aug 22 (6.30pm, Khalili Lecture Theatre)

After Zionism 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 colonisation 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, Diana Buttu, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent Australian journalist, activist and blogger. He is the author of two bestselling books, My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, co-editor of Left Turn and has written for the Guardian, the Nation, Huffington Post, Haaretzi and other prominent publications. He is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian American journalist, blogger and activist and a Soros Fellow. He has written for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, the Guardian and Al Jazeera English and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

This event is free to attend and no registration required.

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Finally, maybe, siege on Gaza coming to an end?

Ma’an reports:

Egypt will follow a new policy on the Rafah crossing between it and the Gaza Strip, and the people of Gaza will experience changes in travel procedures and times, says prime minister of the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh.

Speaking to the Gaza-based Hamas-affiliated Palestine newspaper following a meeting with Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, Haniyeh said that the crossing would operate 12 hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

Further, the number of travelers leaving the enclave will rise to 1,500 a day, and all arrivals from abroad will be let in. “Sixty percent of the Gazan citizens blacklisted by Egypt and denied entry have been removed from the list,” Haniyeh added. 

In addition, he said, an agreement has been reached that any Palestinian citizen who arrives in Egypt from other countries will be granted a 72-hour visa, so as to make travel arrangements and avoid been deported. 

The electricity crisis was also discussed, he said. 

“Three major steps will be carried out to solve the power crisis starting with an increase in the amount of fuel to Gaza’s power plant in tandem with amplifying the power grid from Egypt to Gaza from 22 to 30 megawatt. After that, a gas pipeline will be built to provide Egyptian natural gas to the sole power plant in the coastal enclave. Then, the Gaza Strip will be connected to the joint Arab grid known as the 8th grid.”

Haniyeh and Mursi discussed as well reopening the Egyptian consulate in Gaza City which had been shut down since the Israeli military offensive on Gaza, according to Haniyeh. 

He hinted that he discussed with Mursi the issue of smuggling tunnels under the borders with Egypt. 

“The tunnels were a temporary phenomenon created when the Palestinians lost all elements of life. They used them to fulfill their needs, and it is their natural right, but if the siege on Gaza is ended, these tunnels will be needless.” 

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The life and death of favourite US and Israeli thug-in-chief Omar Suleiman

This week saw the death of former Egyptian intelligence head and thug, Omar Suleiman. Closer to Mubarak during his time in power, he was courted by Israel and America while his record of enabling terror was ignored. Of course.

Australian citizen and former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mamdouh Habib alleges Suleiman personally attended sessions when he was being tortured by the Egyptians, on direction from the US. Habib recounted the story to me last year.

Some interesting background from Steven A. Cook (via Foreign Policy):

Suleiman and I were hardly friends, and I certainly didn’t know him personally, but he graciously accepted my requests for meetings. Between the spring of 2005 and Jan. 24, 2011 — the eve of the revolution, and the last time I saw him — I met Suleiman four times: twice in one-on-one interviews, once with another colleague, and once more in a group setting. Through Egyptian friends of friends and Americans who knew him, Suleiman graciously accepted my requests for off-the-record interviews. This took a certain amount of ingratiation, though I never let it compromise my moral compass.

I can’t tell anyone where exactly the General Intelligence Service, Egypt’s foreign and domestic intelligence organ that was the seat of Suleiman’s power, is located other than it is in the posh Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. Unlike in the movies where visitors are hooded before entering a secret or sensitive location, I guess the Egyptians just thought they would confuse me before my first private audience with Omar Pasha. It worked: I was driven around for 30 minutes, doubling back and forth, going in circles, and speeding through unfamiliar neighborhoods until I completely lost my bearings. When the car finally passed through massive steel gates, I was in a pristine compound with grass and trees. There were other buildings, but not a soul to be seen.

I was driven up to the first building and told to wait in the car. Eventually, two men in uniforms that I had never seen before met me and motioned to follow them into the building, where I was handed off to another uniformed officer who brought me up a few floors in a carpeted elevator, where I was then met by an affable man in a very nice navy blue suit. He took me to a large waiting room with bright lights, gaudy furniture, and large murals of Egypt’s military triumphs from antiquity to the crossing of the Suez Canal in October 1973. After what seemed like forever, the same man in the blue suit escorted me to what can only be described as a fairly understated, American-style living room with bookshelves, a couch, a large easy chair, and two arm chairs at the end of a coffee table. I was asked to sit at the end of the couch closest to the easy chair. Omar Pasha entered a few seconds later with two note takers in tow, and said in a deep voice, “Good morning.”

Our conversation focused almost exclusively on foreign relations. He was deeply hostile to America’s enemies in the Middle East, complaining bitterly that every time he thought he had a deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Syrians and Iranians would scuttle it. He also offered his view that the United States, Egypt, and other friendly countries in the region should work together to keep “Iran busy with itself.” His implication was clear — Egyptian intelligence, the CIA, Mossad, Saudi intelligence and others should engage in clandestine operations to destabilize the clerical regime in Tehran.

Suleiman’s hawkish language was part and parcel of a larger shift in Egyptian rhetoric in the late Mubarak era. In those years, the Egyptians were always looking for ways to make themselves useful to Washington besides tangling with Hamas, participating in renditions of terrorist suspects, and being the occasional caterer for talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Omar Pasha did not take my bait to discuss domestic Egyptian politics, and when my 60 minutes were up, he excused himself and left with his note takers. The man in the blue suit then returned me to the elevator and everything played out in reverse.

The drill was exactly the same on my subsequent visits, during which Suleiman invariably steered the conversation to foreign affairs. He was expansive on the various challenges on the Palestinian front — President Mahmoud Abbas’s weakness and Hamas’s connection to what he later infamously calledthe “Brothers Muslimhood.” For all the lore about his close ties with the Israelis, he harangued me in one meeting that the Israelis were whipping up anti-Egyptian sentiment in Congress with videos of smuggling across the Gaza border. He also resented Turkish efforts to mediate between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, complaining that the Turks didn’t understand Hamas. That may well be true, but Suleiman was also clearly annoyed that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was encroaching on Egyptian turf.

The last time I saw Omar Pasha was on Jan. 24, 2011 — on the eve of the Egyptian revolution. I was with a group of foreign-policy experts, business leaders, and philanthropists and we met in an auditorium at the GIS headquarters. It was hard not to notice the freaky, yoga studio-like music that was playing over the sound system. When Suleiman arrived, he sat alone on a dais and spoke into a microphone, even though the delegation numbered only about 25 people seated in the second row of the auditorium, behind a gaggle of GIS courtiers. During the meeting, we learned that the United States had supplied Egypt with the technology to turn off the Internet — something the Egyptians would employ in earnest, though not terribly effectively, less than 24 hours later.

By Jan. 24, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had already fallen and a wave of self-immolations in Egypt had led to widespread speculation about whether the revolution was headed east. Naturally, therefore, someone in our delegation asked Suleiman whether the Tunisian revolt could happen in his country. But even at this late hour, he was as contemptuous of change as he had been six years ago, when he slammed his first down on the Washington conference table. “No,” he responded. “The police have a strategy and the president is strong.” Even at the time, the hubris was astonishing.

A little more than two weeks later, it was an ashen-faced Suleiman who brought the Mubarak era to a formal end in a short televised address. “Citizens, in these difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic, and has entrusted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to administer the nation’s affairs,” he said.

Some of my Egyptian friends still have a hard time processing the fact that Suleiman was unable to quell the Egyptian uprising. To them, this was a man who — despite being shrouded in secrecy — loomed impossibly large. Wasn’t he was a master manipulator, a man to be feared? After all, he had kept the Muslim Brotherhood down, brutalized the regime’s other opponents, served as the trusted interlocutor of Americans and Israelis alike, and was on the short list of Hosni Mubarak’s possible successors. For some Egyptians, it is hard to make sense of the fact that Suleiman turned out to be more Wizard of Oz than Dark Lord of the Sith.

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