THREE CRITICAL VIEWS
OF ISRAEL-PALESTINE CRISIS
The Obama Administration, after making extreme efforts to convince the Palestinian Authority to forego seeking UN recognition as an independent state later this week, will veto any such motion when it comes before the Security Council, despite overwhelming support for the Palestinians among the majority of countries in the General Assembly. An exacerbation of the Middle East political crisis is obviously brewing.
The Israeli left and peace movement supports the existence of an independent Palestinian state. On Sept. 14, the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum — a coalition uniting over 100 Israeli peace and justice organizations — published a list of 50 reasons for Israel to support a Palestinian state. (Text at http://www.peacengo.org/.)
Following are three articles that shed a progressive light on the situation. The first piece is by veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, the leader of Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc). The second is an analysis of Israeli's precarious position vis-a-vie its two important and now-former tacit allies — Egypt and Turkey — at a time when Turkish President Erdogan is visiting Cairo and working toward increasing Ankara's influence in the Arab world. Third is an analysis by progressive author and columnist Gideon Levy published in the Israel newspaper Haaretz.
1. SAD AND HAPPY
By Uri Avnery
Gush Shalom, Sept. 17
“WILL THIS be the happiest day of your life?” a local interviewer asked me, referring to the approaching recognition of the State of Palestine by the UN.
I was taken by surprise. “Why would that be?” I asked.
“Well, for 62 years you have advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel, and here it comes!”
“If I were a Palestinian, I would probably be happy,” I said, “But as an Israeli, I am rather sad.”
LET ME explain. I came out of the 1948 war with four solid convictions:
• There exists a Palestinian people, though the name Palestine had been wiped off the map.
• It is with this Palestinian people that we must make peace.
• Peace will be impossible unless the Palestinians are allowed to set up their state next to Israel.
• Without peace, Israel will not be the model state we had been dreaming about in the trenches, but something very different.
While recovering from my wounds and still in uniform, I met with several young people, Arabs and Jews, to plot our course. We were very optimistic. Now everything seemed possible.
What we were thinking about was a great act of fraternization. Jews and Arabs had fought each other valiantly, each fighting for what they considered their national rights. Now the time had come to reach out for peace.
The idea of peace between two gallant fighters after the battle is as old as Semitic culture. In the epic written more than 3000 years ago, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk (in today’s Iraq) fights against the wild Enkidu, his equal in strength and courage, and after the epic fight they become blood brothers.
We had fought hard and had won. The Palestinians had lost everything. The part of Palestine that had been allotted by the UN to their state had been gobbled up by Israel, Jordan and Egypt, leaving nothing for them. Half the Palestinian people had been driven from their homes and become refugees.
That was the time, we thought, for the victor to stun the world with an act of magnanimity and wisdom, offering to help the Palestinians to set up their state in return for peace. Thus we could forge a friendship that would last for generations.
18 years later I brought this vision up again in similar circumstances. We had won a stunning victory against the Arab armies in the Six-Day war, the Middle East was in a state of shock. An Israeli offer to the Palestinians to establish their state would have electrified the region.
I AM telling this story in order to make one point: when the “Two-State Solution” was conceived for the first time after 1948, it was as an idea of reconciliation, fraternization and mutual respect.
We envisaged two states living closely together, with borders open to the free movement of people and goods. Jerusalem, the joint capital, would symbolize the spirit of the historic change. Palestine would become the bridge between the new Israel and the Arab world, united for the common good. We spoke of a “Semitic Union” long before the European Union became a reality.
When the Two-State Solution made its extraordinary march from the vision of a handful of outsiders (or crazies) to a world-wide consensus, it was this context in which it was viewed. Not a plot against Israel, but the only viable basis for real peace.
This vision was firmly rejected by David Ben-Gurion, then the undisputed leader of Israel. He was busy distributing new Jewish immigrants across the vast areas expropriated from the Arabs, and he did not believe in peace with the Arabs anyhow. He set the course that successive Israeli governments, including the present one, have followed ever since.
On the Arab side, there was always support for this vision. Already at the Lausanne Conference in 1949, an unofficial Palestinian delegation appeared and secretly offered to start direct negotiations, but they were roughly rebuffed by the Israeli delegate, Eliyahu Sasson, on direct orders from Ben-Gurion (as I heard from him later).
Yasser Arafat told me several times – from 1982 to his death in 2004 – that he would support a “Benelux” solution (on the model of the union between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg), which would include Israel, Palestine and Jordan (“and perhaps Lebanon too, why not?”)
PEOPLE SPEAK about all the opportunities for peace missed by Israel throughout the years. That is nonsense: you can miss opportunities on the way to a goal that you desire, but not on the way to something you abhor.
Ben-Gurion saw an independent Palestinian state as a mortal danger to Israel. So he made a secret deal with King Abdullah I, dividing between them the territory allocated by the UN partition plan to the Arab Palestinian state. All Ben-Gurion's successors inherited the same dogma: that a Palestinian state would be a terrible danger. Therefore they opted for the so-called "Jordanian option" – keeping what is left of Palestine under the heel of the Jordanian monarch, who is no Palestinian (nor even Jordanian — his family came from Mecca).
This week, the present Jordanian ruler, Abdullah II, flew into a rage when told that yet another Israeli former general, Uzi Dayan, had again proposed turning Jordan into Palestine, with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as “provinces” of the Hashemite kingdom. This Dayan is, unlike his late cousin, Moshe, a pompous fool, but even a speech by such a person infuriates the king, who is mortally afraid of an influx of Palestinians driven from the West Bank into Jordan.
Three days ago, Binyamin Netanyahu told Cathy Ashton, the pathetic “foreign secretary” of the European Union, that he would agree to anything short of Palestinian statehood. That may sound strange, in view of the “historic” speech he made less than two years ago, in which he expressed his support for the Two-State Solution. (Perhaps he was thinking of the State of Israel and the State of the Settlers.)
In the few remaining weeks before the UN vote, our government will fight tooth and nail against a Palestinian state, supported by the full might of the US. This week Hillary Clinton trumped even her own rhetorical record when she announced that the US supports the Two-State Solution and therefore opposes any UN vote recognizing a Palestinian state.
APART FROM the dire threats of what will happen after the UN vote for a Palestinian state, Israeli and American leaders assure us that such a vote will make no difference at all. If so, why fight it?
Of course it will make a difference. The occupation will go on, but it will be the occupation of one state by another. In history, symbols count. The fact that the vast majority of the world’s nations will have recognized the State of Palestine will be another step towards gaining freedom for Palestine.
What will happen the day after? Our army has already announced that it has finished preparations for huge Palestinian demonstrations that will attack the settlements. The settlers will be called upon to mobilize their “quick-reaction teams” to confront the demonstrators, thus fulfilling the prophecies of a “bloodbath”. After that the army will move in, pulling many battalions of regular troops from other tasks and calling up reserve units.
A few weeks ago I pointed to ominous signs that sharpshooters would be employed to turn peaceful demonstrations into something very different, as happened during the second intifada. This week this was officially confirmed: sharpshooters will be employed to defend the settlements.
All this amounts to a war plan for the settlements. To put it simply: a war to decide whether the West Bank belongs to the Palestinians or the settlers.
In an almost comical turn of events, the army is also providing means of crowd dispersal to the Palestinian security forces trained by the Americans. The occupation authorities expect these Palestinian forces to protect the settlements against their compatriots. Since these are the armed forces of the future Palestinian state, which is opposed by Israel, it all sounds a bit bewildering.
According to the army, the Palestinians will get rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, but not the “Skunk”.
The Skunk is a device that produces an unbearable stench which attaches itself to the peaceful demonstrators and will not leave them for a long time. I am afraid that when this chapter comes to an end, the stench will attach itself to our side, and that we shall not get rid of it for a long time indeed.
LET’S GIVE free rein to our imagination for just one minute.
Imagine that in the coming UN debate something incredible happens: the Israeli delegate declares that after due consideration Israel has decided to vote for recognition of the state of Palestine.
The assembly would gape in disbelief. After a moment of silence, wild applause would break out. The world would be electrified. For days, the world media would speak of nothing else.
The minute of imagination has passed. Back to reality. Back to the Skunk.
2. TURKEY TAKES OVER THE ARAB SPRING
By Pepe Escobar,
Asia Times Sept. 15
Finally. Crystal clear. Someone finally said it — what the whole world, except Washington and Tel Aviv, knows in its collective heart; the recognition of a Palestinian state is "not an option but an obligation."
It did wonders that the man who said it was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Cairo, at the Arab League, in front of all Arab foreign ministers and with virtually the whole Arab world glued to satellite networks scrutinizing his every word.
The current Erdogan Arab Spring tour — as it was billed by the Turkish press — comprising Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, has already rocketed him to the status of a geopolitical cross between U2's Bono and Barcelona's superstar Argentine footballer Lionel Messi.
Erdogan received a rock/soccer star welcome at Cairo's airport — complete with "Hero Erdogan" banners brandished by the Muslim Brotherhood. He even addressed the crowd in Arabic (from "Greetings to the Egyptian youth and people, how are you?" to "Peace be upon you").
Erdogan repeatedly stressed, "Egypt and Turkey are hand-in-hand." But it's the subtext that is even more incendiary. While Israel's former good friends Egypt and Turkey are now hand-in-hand, Israel is left isolated facing a wall. There could not be a more earth-shattering development in the Levant — unheard of since the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978.
Erdogan's tour is a realpolitik master class. He's positioning Turkey as the forefront supporter of the Palestinian cause. He's also positioning Turkey at the core of the Arab Spring — as a supporter and as an inspirational model, even though there have been no full-fledged revolutions so far. He's emphasizing solid Turkish-Arab unity — for instance planning a strategic cooperation council between Egypt and Turkey.
Plus the whole thing makes good business sense. Erdogan's caravan includes six ministers and nearly 200 Turkish businessmen bent on investing heavily all across northern Africa. In Egypt, they may not match the billions of dollars already committed by the House of Saud to the military junta led by Air Marshall Mohammed Tantawi. But in 2010, Turkish trade with the Middle East and North Africa was already at $30 billion, representing 27% of Turkish exports. Over 250 Turkish companies have already invested $1.5 billion in Egypt.
Crucially, Erdogan told Egyptian TV channel Dream, "Do not be wary of secularism. I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt." Erdogan was subtly referring to Turkey's secular constitution; and at the same time he was very careful to remind Egyptians that secularism is compatible with Islam.
The current Turkish model is enormously popular among the Egyptian street, featuring a moderate Islamic party (the Justice and Development Party — AKP) in power; a secular constitution; the military — albeit strong — back in the barracks; and an ongoing economic boom (Turkey was the world's fastest growing economy in the first half of 2011).
This model is not exactly what the regressive House of Saud wants. They would prefer a heavily Islamist government controlled by the most conservative factions of the Muslim Brotherhood. Worse; as far as Libya is concerned, the House of Saud would love to have a friendly emirate, or at least a government peppered with Islamic fundamentalists.
Erdogan also stressed that the "aggressiveness" of Israel "threatens the future of the Israeli people". That's music for the Arab street. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Erdogan in Cairo — and confirmed he'll go ahead with Palestine's bid to be fully recognized as a state by the United Nations Security Council later this month.
Palestine will definitely be accepted as a non-voting state by the UN General Assembly floor. The problem is the extremely non-representative Security Council — which sanctions full UN membership with state voting rights. It's a done deal that Washington will veto it. The fractured European Union (EU), true to its character, still has not decided on a unified vote. There's a strong possibility Britain and France will also veto the Palestinian bid at the Security Council.
Yet even with the consolation price of "only" becoming a non-voting state, Palestine strikes a moral victory — aligned with world public opinion. Moreover, Palestine can become a member of the International Criminal Curt and sue the hell out of Israel over its serial violations of international law.
Turkey's game goes way beyond "neo-Ottomanism" — or nostalgia to revive the superpower days of the 16th and 17th centuries. It's a natural development of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's policy of "zero problems with our neighbors" — moving to forge deeper bonds with most of these neighbors, and consolidating what Davutoglu himself defines as Turkey's strategic destiny (see Turkey: the sultans of swing Asia Times Online, April 7, 2011).
Turkey, for some years now, had decisively abandoned an isolationist brand of Turkish nationalism. The country seems to have finally surmounted the trauma associated to its dream of joining the EU; for all practical purposes the dream was shattered by France and Germany.
As for the Israeli-Turkey alliance, in fact it kept the Arab world at bay and confined Turkey to a passive role of
ineffective outsider in the Middle East. Not anymore. Erdogan can now afford to send multiple simultaneous messages to Israel, the US, the EU, assorted Arab leaders and most of all the Arab street.
Davutoglu has been relatively magnanimous towards Israel, saying it is "out of touch with the region and unable to perceive the changes taking place, which makes it impossible for the country to have healthy relations with its neighbors".
What he could have added is with "friends" like that — Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, former Moldova bouncer Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister, rabid settlers dictating policy — Israel does not need enemies; or rather fabricates enemies en masse. It is the Israeli government itself that accelerated Turkey's rapprochement with Egypt — which is leaving Israel totally isolated.
The touch of genius in the whole process is that Erdogan represents a democracy in a Muslim majority country strongly supporting both the Palestinians and the real pro-democrats in the Arab Spring. This provides a direct connection between the Palestinian tragedy and the spirit of the Arab Spring (which has nothing to do, it must be stressed, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing Libya or a military junta running Egypt).
It will be crucial to watch Erdogan's Islam-rooted AKP's follow-up. It's virtually certain that in the next Egyptian elections the Muslim Brotherhood will come out swinging. It's also virtually certain the Brotherhood will press for a minimalist relationship with Israel, including a full revision of the Camp David accords. In theory, Turkey would be fully behind it.
Then there's the Libya front. In his first public address in Tripoli, the chairman of the dodgy Transitional National Council (TNC), Mustafa Abdel Jailil, stressed Islamic sharia law would be the main source of legislation. But he crucially added, "We will not accept any extremist ideology, on the right or the left. We are a Muslim people, for a moderate Islam."
There's no evidence yet the TNC will be even able to hold the country together, not to mention promote "moderate Islam". The (foreign) vultures continue circling. NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has been warning that Libya is in danger of falling into the hands of Islamic extremists who would "try to exploit" the current power vacuum. It's unclear what role Turkey — a key NATO member — would have inside a NATO fully implanted in Libya.
And all this while the Persian Gulf petro-monarchies — horrified by the Arab Spring — have proposed $2 billion in annual direct aid to Jordan so it will become part of the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, also known as the Gulf Counter-revolutionary Club. As a monarchical club, the GCC wants Jordan and Morocco as new members. The icing on the cake, though, would be a monarchical Libya.
On a parallel track, the counter-revolutionaries have been forced by Turkey to step up — at least verbally — their support for Palestine. Even Jordan's King Abdullah, staunch US ally and Israel's only "friend" left in the Middle East, has claimed that "the future Palestine are stronger than Israel is today".
Well, Israel did look for it — after the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the massacre in Gaza in 2008 and the attack on the Turkish flotilla in 2010. In terms of world public opinion, Israel is toast — and even the Arab counter-revolution had to notice.
That includes the House of Saud. None other than former Saudi intelligence supremo Prince Turki al-Faisal wrote a New York Times op-ed piece stating outright, "Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy" if the US vetoes the Palestinian bid at the Security Council.
Prince Turki also stressed that everything must evolve around a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, which every grain of sand in the Sinai knows Israel will never accept.
In the event of a US veto, Prince Turki threatened Saudi Arabia would be "opposing the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq" and would "part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well".
Now imagine the House of Saud lavishly funding a double guerrilla war all across the Pentagon's "arc of instability" — Sunnis against Shi'ites in Iraq plus the already turbocharged Taliban in Afghanistan — while lobbying for an Islamist government in both Egypt and Turkey; and this while Egypt and Turkey for their part fully collide with an isolated and angry Israel. Now that's what the "birth pangs of the new Middle East" are all about.
— Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His latest book is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
WHAT WILL WE SAY?
By Gideon Levy
Haaretz Op Ed: Sept. 15, 2011
What will we tell the world next week, at the UN? What could we say? Whether in the General Assembly or the Security Council, we will be exposed in all our nakedness: Israel does not want a Palestinian state. Period. And it doesn't have a single persuasive argument against the establishment and the international recognition of such a state.
So what will we say, that we're opposed? Four prime ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu among them, have said that they're in favor, that it must be accomplished through negotiations, so why haven't we done it yet? Is our argument that we object to it's being a unilateral measure? What's more unilateral than the settlements that we insist on continuing to build [for 44 years]? Or perhaps we will say that the route to a Palestinian state runs through Ramallah and Jerusalem, not New York, a la the U.S. secretary of state. The State of Israel itself was created, in part, in the United Nations.
Next week will be Israel's moment of truth, or more precisely the moment in which its deception will be revealed. Be it the president, the prime minister or the ambassador to the UN, even the greatest of public speakers will be incapable of standing before the representatives of the nations of the world and explaining Israeli logic; none of the three will be able to convince them that there is any merit to Israel's position.
Thirty-two years ago, Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt in which it undertook "to recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people" and to establish an autonomous authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip within five years. Nothing happened.
Eighteen years ago the prime minister of Israel signed the Oslo Accords, in which Israel undertook to conduct talks in order to achieve a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, including the core issues, within five years. That, too, did not occur. Most of the provisions of the agreement have foundered since then — in the majority of cases because of Israel. What will Israel's advocate at the UN say about this?
For years, Israel claimed that Yasser Arafat was the sole obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Arafat died — and once again nothing happened. Israel claimed that if only the terror were to stop, a solution would appear. The terror stopped — and nothing. Israel's excuses became increasingly empty and the naked truth was increasingly exposed. Israel does not want to reach a peace arrangement that would involve the establishment of a Palestinian state. This can no longer be covered up in the UN. And what did Netanyahu's Israel expect the Palestinians to do in this case — another round of photo ops, like the ones with Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni that led nowhere?
The truth is that the Palestinians have just three options, not four: to surrender unconditionally and go on living under Israeli occupation for another 42 years at least; to launch a third Intifada; or to mobilize the world on their behalf. They picked the third option, the lesser of all evils even from Israel's perspective. What could Israel say about this — that it's a unilateral step, as it and the United States have said? But it didn't agree to stop construction in the settlements, the mother of all unilateral steps. What did the Palestinians have left? The international arena. And if that won't save them, then another popular uprising in the territories.
The Palestinians in the West Bank, 3.5 million today, will not live without civil rights for another 42 years. We might as well get used to the fact that the world won't stand for it. Can Netanyahu or Shimon Peres explain why the Palestinians do not deserve their own state? Do they have even the slightest of arguments? Nothing. And why not now? We have already seen, especially of late, that time only reduces the possible alternatives in the region. So even that weak excuse is dead.
Yesterday, a coalition of Israeli peace organizations published a list of 50 reasons for Israel to support a Palestinian state. Assuming that you only accept five of them, isn't that enough? What exactly is the alternative, now that the heavens are closing in around us? Can anyone, can Peres or Netanyahu, seriously contend that the regional hostility toward us would not have lessened had the occupation already ended and a Palestinian state been established?
The truths are so basic, so banal, that it hurts even to repeat them. But, unfortunately, they're the only ones we have. And so, a simple question to whoever will be representing us at the UN next week: Why not, for heaven's sake? Why "no" once again? And to what will we say "yes"?