Friday, September 14, 2007

Palestine: democracy not Zionism

Palestine: democracy not Zionism
A decent two-state solution to the 'Palestinian problem' has become impossible.

By John V. Whitbeck
from the September 14, 2007 edition

Jeddah, saudi arabia - With some sort of "meeting" or "conference" to kick start the peace process now being touted by the Bush administration, there is at least the appearance of an understanding in Washington of the importance for the region and the world of solving the "Palestinian problem."

However, if this problem is ever to be solved, it must be redefined. Those who truly seek justice and peace in the Middle East must dare to speak openly and honestly of the "Zionism problem" – and then to draw the moral, ethical, and practical conclusions that follow.

When South Africa was under a racial-supremacist, settler-colonial regime, the world recognized that the problem was the ideology and political system of the state. Anyone outside the country who referred to the "black problem" or the "native problem" (or, for that matter, to the "white problem") would instantly have been branded a racist.

The world also recognized that the solution to that problem could not be found either in "separation" (apartheid in Afrikaans) and scattered native reservations (called "independent states" by the South African regime and Bantustans by the rest of the world) or in driving the settler-colonial group in power into the sea. Rather, the solution had to be found – and to almost universal satisfaction was found – in democracy, in white South Africans growing out of their racial-supremacist ideology and political system and accepting that their interests and their children's futures would be best served in a democratic, non-racist state with equal rights for all who live there.

The solution for the land which, until it was literally wiped off the map in 1948, was called Palestine is the same. It can only be democracy.

The ever-receding "political horizon" for a decent two-state solution, which, on the ground, becomes less practical with each passing year of expanding settlements, bypass roads, and walls, is weighed down by a multitude of excruciatingly difficult "final status" issues. Israeli governments have consistently refused to discuss these final-status issues seriously, preferring to postpone them to the end of a road which is never reached – and which, almost certainly, is intended never to be reached.

Just as marriage is vastly less complicated than divorce, democracy is vastly less complicated than partition. A democratic post-Zionist solution would not require any borders to be agreed, any division of Jerusalem, anyone to move from his current home, or any assets to be evaluated and apportioned. Full rights of citizenship would simply be extended to all the surviving natives still living in the country, as happened in the United States in the early 20th century and in South Africa in the late 20th century.

The obstacle to such a simple – and morally unimpeachable – solution is, of course, intellectual and psychological. Traumatized by the Holocaust and perceived insecurity as a Jewish island in an Arab sea, Israelis have immense psychological problems in coming to grips with the practical impossibility of sustaining forever what most of mankind views as a racial-supremacist, settler-colonial regime founded upon the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population.

Indeed, Israelis have placed themselves in a virtually impossible situation. To taste its bitter essence, Americans might try to imagine what life in their country would be like if the European settlers had not virtually exterminated the indigenous population and if almost half of today's American population were Indians, without basic human rights, impoverished, smoldering with resentment, and visible every day as the inescapable living evidence of the injustice inflicted on their ancestors.

This would not be a pleasant society in which to live. Both colonizers and colonized would be progressively degraded and dehumanized. The colonizers could, rationally, conclude that they could never be forgiven by those they had dispossessed and that no "solution" was imaginable. So it has been, and continues to be, in the lands under Israeli rule.

Perhaps the coming "meeting" or "conference" will be the last gasp of the fruitless pursuit of a separation-based solution. Perhaps those who care about justice and peace and believe in democracy can then find ways to stimulate Israelis to move beyond Zionist ideology toward a more humane, hopeful, and democratic view of present realities and future possibilities.

No one would suggest that the moral, ethical, and intellectual transformation necessary to achieve a decent one-state solution will be easy. However, more and more people now recognize that a decent two-state solution has become impossible.

It is surely time for concerned people everywhere – and particularly for Americans – to imagine a better way, to encourage Israelis to imagine a better way, and to help both Israelis and Palestinians to achieve it. It is surely time to seriously consider democracy and to give it a chance.

• John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of "The World According to Whitbeck."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Wars and Occupations

Wars and occupations are never completely alike. Yet future historians will marvel over the similarities between the US occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Both occupations involve taking what belongs to other nations. The US wants Iraq’s oil and Israel wants Palestine’s water and land. Both involve incredible suffering of occupied populations. After four years, Iraq is without basic services like water and electricity. Four million have fled. In Palestine, the human suffering has gone on for decades, creating one of the largest refugee populations in the world (six million).

The US and Israel employ many of the same tactics including unlimited detention without charges, torture, and daily assassinations that almost always involve civilian deaths. Neither country bothers to count the the number of civilians made homeless or killed. It simply doesn’t matter.

Both occupying countries use high tech weaponry to keep their own troop casualties at a minimum. Both occupying countries use fear to keep people back home from questioning the butchery being committed in their names.

Both occupations are being paid for by the same country, the United States. The occupation of Iraq has cost at least 450 billion with no end in sight. US payments to Israel have exceeded 130 billion, or more than $20,000 for each Israeli citizen. These numbers are well beyond anyone’s imagination, but represent the wealth of the world’s most powerful nation being used for war and oppression.

Israel Lobby Slammed at Start of Book Tour

Israel Lobby Slammed at Start of Book Tour
By Terry Walz
CNI Staff

John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, the Chicago/Harvard University professors whose article last year on the Israel Lobby caused an uproar amongst hardline supporters of Israel have started a national book tour in connection with the publication of their book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26.00), now available.

They made two appearances in Washington, DC on September 5, addressing packed audiences at the Cosmos Club and at the city's famous bookstore, Politics and Prose. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

At the Cosmos Club event, which I attended, the authors addressed two questions: Is there an Israel Lobby? (Walt) and Is the Lobby's impact positive or negative? (Mearsheimer). The object was to bear out the thesis of their book, that such a lobby does exist (which had been preposterously denied by Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross in a debate a year earlier at Cooper Union in New York City), and that it has worked extremely well, often to the detriment of both American and Israeli interests.

Walt told the audience how the initial reaction to the article in the London Review of Books in March 2006 had prompted a vociferous response, one that was often laced with charges of anti-Semitism, none of which was true, and "sloppy scholarship", a charge aimed at demeaning and dismissing the views of the authors. But the response by interested people has been significant. According to the webmaster at the Harvard University website where the longer version of the article was posted, it had been downloaded 265,000 times as of July 2006.

The lobby's successes in congressional hallways have come by wielding a heavy axe, often forcing nervous congressional representative to realize that criticism aimed at Israel would likely result in electoral defeat at the polls. The lobby's ability to steer money to their electoral opponents was among the tools the Lobby used without hesitation. In this, it was perhaps no different than other lobbies, which as Walt averred, were "as American as apple pie."

And yet, the Israel Lobby's agenda, Mearsheimer stated, has led the United States into an alliance with Israel that in the long run undermines both the strategic interests of the United States in the Middle East as Israel's own interests within that region. It has also led the American government to hold positions that are not only opposed by the majority of Americans polled - for example, on Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, on the continued occupation of the West Bank - but also by most peoples in the world. In a post-colonial world, it has tolerated Israel to construct colonies in the West Bank. There is no doubt, Mearsheimer said, that the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis was among the reasons that led to the 9/11 attacks, and to continues attacks on American interests. There is also no doubt that, whatever leaders of the Israeli government may have thought, the Lobby solidly backed neoconservative efforts to promote the war on Iraq, which has produced nothing but continued death, destruction, and turmoil in the Middle East, to neither American nor Israeli strategic interests in the area, nor the welfare of the people in the region.

Whatever else happens with the book, the authors concluded, their hope is that it would open up the debate on Israel and the American policy in the Middle East, and move the United States to adopt more sensible policies there.

The 355 page book is backed up by an additional 108 pages of footnotes.

The a list of Mearsheimer and Walt's upcoming appearances in California (San Francisco, Los Angeles) and elsewhere during September and October, see their website and also Farrar Straus and Giroux's (author appearances).