Saturday, July 14, 2007

Keeping on a steady course to Apartheid

by Jeff Halper
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
<http://www.icahd.org/eng/>

June 25, 2007
<http://www.icahd.org/eng/articles.asp?menu=6&submenu=2&article=373>

For all the attention and hysteria the latest events in Gaza have generated since the Hamas "takeover," for Israel they represent nothing but a minor blip in its inexorable drive towards its own unilateral "solution:" apartheid. Israel’s end-game, explicit and unruffled by the recent turmoil on the ground, is clear. It is laid out in detail in the Convergence Plan" Olmert presented to a joint session of the American Congress in May, 2006, based on Sharon's plan of "cantonization." With minor adjustments, it constitutes the plan Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is quietly advancing with the help of Condoleezza Rice, and it is accepted in its entirety by Ehud Barak, the newly-elected leader of the Labor Party, who played a key role in its formulation. The Israeli plan for apartheid is as follows:

(1) Creating a truncated Palestinian "state" comprised of four disconnected cantons, three in the West Bank and Gaza. By annexing its major settlement blocs defined by the Wall, Israel thereby expands onto 85% of the country, leaving the Palestinians confined to impoverished enclaves on the remaining 15% of the land. In such a "two-state solution" Israel would control the borders, external and internal Palestinian movement, the "Greater" Jerusalem area, all the water resources, the air space, the communications sphere and even the Palestinian state's foreign policy. Such a Bantustan would have no genuine sovereignty or viable economy - but would have to accept all the traumatized and impoverished Palestinian refugees.

(2) If this fails, primarily because Israel cannot find the quisling Palestinian leader who would sign off on a Bantustan, Plan B - the Livni-Rice plan - calls for the unilateral declaration by the US of a "provisional" Palestinian state with no fixed borders, no meaningful sovereignty and no viable economy, squeezed between the Wall, Israel's eastern "demographic" border incorporating the settlement blocs, and the Jordan Valley, Israel's eastern "security" border. The Palestinians would thus be left in the limbo of a "provisional" state indefinitely - or until they agree to a Bantustan - all in conformity to the parameters of the "Road Map."

Period. Regardless of the "peace initiative" of the moment - the Road Map, the Saudi initiative, the summit at Sharm el-sheikh, the appointment of a Middle East envoy - all these plans will have to conform to one of these alternatives or be doomed to irrelevance.

What happens in Gaza, then (tellingly nicknamed "Hamastan," the Palestinian cantons of the West Bank now dubbed "Fatahland"), is therefore irrelevant to Israel, since Gaza represents nothing more than a tiny part of the tiny Palestinian Bantustan (about 8%). Whether Gaza would have been "quieted" after the Israeli disengagement as Sharon had planned, exporting cheap labor into Israel and perhaps enjoying limited economic growth, whether it was merely isolated and impoverished due to US and Israeli sanctions after the Hamas election victory or whether, as happened, it explodes, nothing will hamper Israel's ceaseless process of consolidating its hold on the West Bank. Sooner or later, in the Israeli-American plan, Gaza will fall into place.

Not only are the Palestinians irrelevant, in Israel’s view, but the Hamas "takeover" is actually a positive development, since it furthers the apartheid process. A key reason why Palestinians voted for Hamas was the perception that it would resist pressures to accept a Bantustan better than the weak, vacillating Fatah movement, which was seen as little more than Israel’s policeman in the Territories. Israel, the US and a complicit Europe is thus seen as trying to isolate precisely those who truly resist the Occupation while "strengthening" Abbas and the "moderates" - "moderate" defined as those willing to pacify the Palestinians without securing their fundamental right to a sovereign and viable state of their own. The American-sponsored program of arming Fatah against its own people, complete with "lending" them an American general (Dayton), only confirms these suspicions, especially if they make Abbas dependent upon outside forces for his survival.

Israel and the US are doing in microcosm in Palestine what the US is doing throughout the Muslim world, forcing the Palestinians to choose between two unacceptable options: either the prospects of an apartheid regime which is all the "moderates" can deliver or continued resistance to occupation and apartheid under Hamas at the price of international isolation and an unwanted process of Islamization. Where are the true liberators who can deliver a viable Palestinian state while recognizing - though standing up to - Israel? Where are the progressive leaders who represent the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people? Where are the "strong" leaders that Bush claims are lacking on the Palestinian side? Either dead, the victims of a 30-year campaign on the part of Israel to eliminate any effective Palestinian leader, or languishing in refugee camps or in exile, or in prison. If Marwan Bargouti and the prisoners of all the factions who produced the Prisoners‚ Document, the only viable peace plan that has any chance of success, were free and allowed to lead their people, the Israel/Palestine conflict could be resolved tomorrow.

What is lacking, of course, is good faith. The will among governments to stand up for Palestinian rights and against Israeli apartheid is totally lacking. The Israeli newspaper Ha‚aretz (21.6.07) noted the cynicism underlying the recent Olmert-Bush meeting. "Olmert reached an understanding with∑Bush during his visit to Washington that it is necessary to support Abbas," a senior political source in Jerusalem said. "The decision to aid Abbas was made despite skepticism about his chances for success, in view of past experience. Olmert and Bush agreed they must not allow the impression that Abbas failed because Israel or the U.S. failed him."

Israel is not going to bolster Abbas - unless he becomes the collaborator Israel is looking for, which he won't. Olmert has already announced that there will be no final status negotiations in the foreseeable future. So neither the Saudi Inititative nor the Sharm meeting will lead to genuine negotiations. The US, with its moribund Road Map, will not facilitate the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and Europe will not act independently to do so, even in its own interest. The Palestinians, for their part, are powerless to achieve a viable state on their own and will continue to be beaten and blamed for their own incarceration and resistance.

Our governments have failed us. Unless we, the people worldwide, can mobilize grassroots opposition to the Israeli-US-European Occupation, a new apartheid regime,in the Holy Land no less, will soon emerge before our very eyes. Its only when the people lead that our "leaders" will even contemplate doing the right thing.


(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at jeff@icahd.org)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Declaration of Independence from Israel

by Chris Hedges

Israel, without the United States, would probably not exist. The country came perilously close to extinction during the October 1973 war when Egypt, trained and backed by the Soviet Union, crossed the Suez and the Syrians poured in over the Golan Heights. Huge American military transport planes came to the rescue. They began landing every half-hour to refit the battered Israeli army, which had lost most of its heavy armor. By the time the war was over, the United States had given Israel $2.2 billion in emergency military aid.

The intervention, which enraged the Arab world, triggered the OPEC oil embargo that for a time wreaked havoc on Western economies. This was perhaps the most dramatic example of the sustained life-support system the United States has provided to the Jewish state.

Israel was born at midnight May 14, 1948. The U.S. recognized the new state 11 minutes later. The two countries have been locked in a deadly embrace ever since.

Washington, at the beginning of the relationship, was able to be a moderating influence. An incensed President Eisenhower demanded and got Israel’s withdrawal after the Israelis occupied Gaza in 1956. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli warplanes bombed the USS Liberty. The ship, flying the U.S. flag and stationed 15 miles off the Israeli coast, was intercepting tactical and strategic communications from both sides. The Israeli strikes killed 34 U.S. sailors and wounded 171. The deliberate attack froze, for a while, Washington’s enthusiasm for Israel. But ruptures like this one proved to be only bumps, soon smoothed out by an increasingly sophisticated and well-financed Israel lobby that set out to merge Israel and American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Israel has reaped tremendous rewards from this alliance. It has been given more than $140 billion in U.S. direct economic and military assistance. It receives about $3 billion in direct assistance annually, roughly one-fifth of the U.S. foreign aid budget. Although most American foreign aid packages stipulate that related military purchases have to be made in the United States, Israel is allowed to use about 25 percent of the money to subsidize its own growing and profitable defense industry. It is exempt, unlike other nations, from accounting for how it spends the aid money. And funds are routinely siphoned off to build new Jewish settlements, bolster the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories and construct the security barrier, which costs an estimated $1 million a mile.

The barrier weaves its way through the West Bank, creating isolated pockets of impoverished Palestinians in ringed ghettos. By the time the barrier is finished it will probably in effect seize up to 40 percent of Palestinian land. This is the largest land grab by Israel since the 1967 war. And although the United States officially opposes settlement expansion and the barrier, it also funds them.

The U.S. has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems and given Israel access to some of the most sophisticated items in its own military arsenal, including Blackhawk attack helicopters and F-16 fighter jets. The United States also gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its NATO allies. And when Israel refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the United States stood by without a word of protest as the Israelis built the region’s first nuclear weapons program.

U.S. foreign policy, especially under the current Bush administration, has become little more than an extension of Israeli foreign policy. The United States since 1982 has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It refuses to enforce the Security Council resolutions it claims to support. These resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

There is now volcanic anger and revulsion by Arabs at this blatant favoritism. Few in the Middle East see any distinction between Israeli and American policies, nor should they. And when the Islamic radicals speak of U.S. support of Israel as a prime reason for their hatred of the United States, we should listen. The consequences of this one-sided relationship are being played out in the disastrous war in Iraq, growing tension with Iran, and the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza. It is being played out in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is gearing up for another war with Israel, one most Middle East analysts say is inevitable. The U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is unraveling. And it is doing so because of this special relationship. The eruption of a regional conflict would usher in a nightmare of catastrophic proportions.

There were many in the American foreign policy establishment and State Department who saw this situation coming. The decision to throw our lot in with Israel in the Middle East was not initially a popular one with an array of foreign policy experts, including President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, Gen. George Marshall. They warned there would be a backlash. They knew the cost the United States would pay in the oil-rich region for this decision, which they feared would be one of the greatest strategic blunders of the postwar era. And they were right. The decision has jeopardized American and Israeli security and created the kindling for a regional conflagration.

The alliance, which makes no sense in geopolitical terms, does makes sense when seen through the lens of domestic politics. The Israel lobby has become a potent force in the American political system. No major candidate, Democrat or Republican, dares to challenge it. The lobby successfully purged the State Department of Arab experts who challenged the notion that Israeli and American interests were identical. Backers of Israel have doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to support U.S. political candidates deemed favorable to Israel. They have brutally punished those who strayed, including the first President Bush, who they said was not vigorous enough in his defense of Israeli interests. This was a lesson the next Bush White House did not forget. George W. Bush did not want to be a one-term president like his father.

Israel advocated removing Saddam Hussein from power and currently advocates striking Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Direct Israeli involvement in American military operations in the Middle East is impossible. It would reignite a war between Arab states and Israel. The United States, which during the Cold War avoided direct military involvement in the region, now does the direct bidding of Israel while Israel watches from the sidelines. During the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was a spectator, just as it is in the war with Iraq.

President Bush, facing dwindling support for the war in Iraq, publicly holds Israel up as a model for what he would like Iraq to become. Imagine how this idea plays out on the Arab street, which views Israel as the Algerians viewed the French colonizers during the war of liberation.

“In Israel,” Bush said recently, “terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks. The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it’s not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that’s a good indicator of success that we’re looking for in Iraq.”

Americans are increasingly isolated and reviled in the world. They remain blissfully ignorant of their own culpability for this isolation. U.S. “spin” paints the rest of the world as unreasonable, but Israel, Americans are assured, will always be on our side.

Israel is reaping economic as well as political rewards from its lock-down apartheid state. In the “gated community” market it has begun to sell systems and techniques that allow the nation to cope with terrorism. Israel, in 2006, exported $3.4 billion in defense products—well over a billion dollars more than it received in American military aid. Israel has grown into the fourth largest arms dealer in the world. Most of this growth has come in the so-called homeland security sector.

“The key products and services,” as Naomi Klein wrote in The Nation, “are hi-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems—precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock in the occupied territories. And that is why the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region doesn’t threaten the bottom line in Tel Aviv, and may actually boost it. Israel has learned to turn endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting, occupation and containment of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the ‘global war on terror.’ ”

The United States, at least officially, does not support the occupation and calls for a viable Palestinian state. It is a global player, with interests that stretch well beyond the boundaries of the Middle East, and the equation that Israel’s enemies are our enemies is not that simple.

“Terrorism is not a single adversary,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote in The London Review of Books, “but a tactic employed by a wide array of political groups. The terrorist organizations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or ‘the West’; it is largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonize the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around.”

Middle Eastern policy is shaped in the United States by those with very close ties to the Israel lobby. Those who attempt to counter the virulent Israeli position, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, are ruthlessly slapped down. This alliance was true also during the Clinton administration, with its array of Israeli-first Middle East experts, including special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, the former deputy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, one of the most powerful Israel lobbying groups in Washington. But at least people like Indyk and Ross are sane, willing to consider a Palestinian state, however unviable, as long as it is palatable to Israel. The Bush administration turned to the far-right wing of the Israel lobby, those who have not a shred of compassion for the Palestinians or a word of criticism for Israel. These new Middle East experts include Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, the disgraced I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and David Wurmser.

Washington was once willing to stay Israel’s hand. It intervened to thwart some of its most extreme violations of human rights. This administration, however, has signed on for every disastrous Israeli blunder, from building the security barrier in the West Bank, to sealing off Gaza and triggering a humanitarian crisis, to the ruinous invasion and saturation bombing of Lebanon.

The few tepid attempts by the Bush White House to criticize Israeli actions have all ended in hasty and humiliating retreats in the face of Israeli pressure. When the Israel Defense Forces in April 2002 reoccupied the West Bank, President Bush called on then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to “halt the incursions and begin withdrawal.” It never happened. After a week of heavy pressure from the Israel lobby and Israel’s allies in Congress, meaning just about everyone in Congress, the president gave up, calling Sharon “a man of peace.” It was a humiliating moment for the United Sates, a clear sign of who pulled the strings.

There were several reasons for the war in Iraq. The desire for American control of oil, the belief that Washington could build puppet states in the region, and a real, if misplaced, fear of Saddam Hussein played a part in the current disaster. But it was also strongly shaped by the notion that what is good for Israel is good for the United States. Israel wanted Iraq neutralized. Israeli intelligence, in the lead-up to the war, gave faulty information to the U.S. about Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And when Baghdad was taken in April 2003, the Israeli government immediately began to push for an attack on Syria. The lust for this attack has waned, in no small part because the Americans don’t have enough troops to hang on in Iraq, much less launch a new occupation.

Israel is currently lobbying the United States to launch aerial strikes on Iran, despite the debacle in Lebanon. Israel’s iron determination to forcibly prevent a nuclear Iran makes it probable that before the end of the Bush administration an attack on Iran will take place. The efforts to halt nuclear development through diplomatic means have failed. It does not matter that Iran poses no threat to the United States. It does not matter that it does not even pose a threat to Israel, which has several hundred nuclear weapons in its arsenal. It matters only that Israel demands total military domination of the Middle East.

The alliance between Israel and the United States has culminated after 50 years in direct U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. This involvement, which is not furthering American interests, is unleashing a geopolitical nightmare. American soldiers and Marines are dying in droves in a useless war. The impotence of the United States in the face of Israeli pressure is complete. The White House and the Congress have become, for perhaps the first time, a direct extension of Israeli interests. There is no longer any debate within the United States. This is evidenced by the obsequious nods to Israel by all the current presidential candidates with the exception of Dennis Kucinich. The political cost for those who challenge Israel is too high.

This means there will be no peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It means the incidents of Islamic terrorism against the U.S. and Israel will grow. It means that American power and prestige are on a steep, irreversible decline. And I fear it also means the ultimate end of the Jewish experiment in the Middle East.

The weakening of the United States, economically and militarily, is giving rise to new centers of power. The U.S. economy, mismanaged and drained by the Iraq war, is increasingly dependent on Chinese trade imports and on Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury securities. China holds dollar reserves worth $825 billion. If Beijing decides to abandon the U.S. bond market, even in part, it would cause a free fall by the dollar. It would lead to the collapse of the $7-trillion U.S. real estate market. There would be a wave of U.S. bank failures and huge unemployment. The growing dependence on China has been accompanied by aggressive work by the Chinese to build alliances with many of the world’s major exporters of oil, such as Iran, Nigeria, Sudan and Venezuela. The Chinese are preparing for the looming worldwide clash over dwindling resources.

The future is ominous. Not only do Israel’s foreign policy objectives not coincide with American interests, they actively hurt them. The growing belligerence in the Middle East, the calls for an attack against Iran, the collapse of the imperial project in Iraq have all given an opening, where there was none before, to America’s rivals. It is not in Israel’s interests to ignite a regional conflict. It is not in ours. But those who have their hands on the wheel seem determined, in the name of freedom and democracy, to keep the American ship of state headed at breakneck speed into the cliffs before us.

Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”