Saturday, September 24, 2011

09-24-11 Activist Newsletter

September 24, 2011, Issue #170












By the Activist Newsletter

President Barack Obama repeatedly claims to be an advocate of a Palestinian state. But behind his verbiage is total acquiescence to the stalling and intransigence of the right/far right government of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also alleges he supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood but continues to illegally occupy their already vastly reduced territory, expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, and conduct a quasi-siege of Gaza, making progress impossible.

Traditionally, both the U.S. Senate and House have seemed even more pro-Zionist than the White House, judging by huge majority votes in Congress over the years, though Obama's opportunist and humiliating capitulation to Netanyahu at the UN Sept. 21 has closed the gap.

TV news broadcasts of the meeting between the two leaders after the Sept. 23 speeches — seated side-by-side as they congratulated each other for a job well done — conveyed the impression that Netanyahu was the boss and Obama the reverential employee, basking in his superior's praise. It was little enough price to pay, evidently, to obtain the Israeli leader's blessing as an election year looms.

The majority of American Jews and the majority of Israeli Jews support the creation of a Palestinian state, despite a certain confusion and unease caused by their recalcitrant governments. Their political leaders project similar avowals but with obvious insincerity, judging by their actions as opposed to their talk.

According to a Sept. 20 U.S. public opinion poll by the Pew Research center, 42% of the American people believe Washington should recognize a Palestinian State, 26% oppose recognition, and the remaining 32% don't know what they think. In terms of political allegiance, 54% of Democrats support two states, 14% oppose; 27% of Republicans support, 38% oppose; 45% of independents support, 28% oppose.

We assume most of the tens of millions of Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. are among those who oppose a Palestinian state since the anticipated return of Jesus to terra firma is supposed to depend on Jewish retention of the entire historic biblical region. They constitute a powerful voting bloc in support of Israel.

The U.S. government overwhelmingly backs everything Israel does, sends it billions of dollars every year in subsidies, provides total political support in the UN and elsewhere and seeks to overthrow or destroy countries that Israel prefers to think of as enemies, such Iraq, and now Iran.

The PA move has not been without criticism from some forces within the pro-Palestine movement. Hamas, which rules in Gaza, opposed going to the UN, as did a number of critics of the present leadership of the Palestine Authority and of Fatah, the leading organization within the West Bank government.

Washington has been stringing the colonized and oppressed Palestinians along for many years, and in our view it was good to see PA President Mahmoud Abbas stand firm at least on this issue, bringing the matter to the international forefront. Hopefully the Palestinian people will be emboldened to go beyond Abbas and his unelected, U.S.-backed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in future years, because there are many issues that must be resolved, including the right of return.



{Editor's Note: We are circulating the following Sept. 24 article because the author, Uri Avnery, the leader of Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc), makes a good case against the U.S.-Israeli response to the Palestinian effort to secure UN recognition as an independent state. At the same time, since it's not mentioned in the article, the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas remains captive to considerable U.S. influence and its leadership is due for change. Also, in our view, it's mistaken to suggest Washington "helped the Libyans" by bombing them. But on the question of going to the UN this week we think Avnery hit the target.]

By Uri Avnery

A wonderful speech. A beautiful speech. The language expressive and elegant. The arguments clear and convincing. The delivery flawless.

A work of art. The art of hypocrisy. Almost every statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a lie. A blatant lie: the speaker knew it was a lie, and so did the audience. It was Obama at his best, Obama at his worst.

Being a moral person, he must have felt the urge to vomit. Being a pragmatic person, he knew that he had to do it, if he wanted to be re-elected.  In essence, he sold the fundamental national interests of the United States of America for the chance of a second term.  Not very nice, but that’s politics, OK?

It may be superfluous — almost insulting to the reader — to point out the mendacious details of this rhetorical edifice. Obama treated the two sides as if they were equal in strength — Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians and Israelis.

But of the two, it is the Israelis — only they — who suffer and have suffered. Persecution. Exile. Holocaust. An Israeli child threatened by rockets. Surrounded by the hatred of Arab children. So sad.

No Occupation. No settlements. No June 1967 borders. No Naqba. No Palestinian children killed or frightened. It’s the straight right-wing Israeli propaganda line, pure and simple — the terminology, the historical narrative, the argumentation. The music.

The Palestinians, of course, should have a state of their own. Sure, sure. But they must not be pushy. They must not embarrass the U.S. They must not come to the UN. They must sit with the Israelis, like reasonable people, and work it out with them. The reasonable sheep must sit down with the reasonable wolf and decide what to have for dinner. Foreigners should not interfere.

Obama gave full service. A lady who provides this kind of service generally gets paid in advance. Obama got paid immediately afterwards, within the hour. Netanyahu sat down with him in front of the cameras and gave him enough quotable professions of love and gratitude to last for several election campaigns.

The tragic hero of this affair is Mahmoud Abbas. A tragic hero, but a hero nonetheless. Many people may be surprised by this sudden emergence of Abbas as a daring player for high stakes, ready to confront the mighty U.S. If Ariel Sharon were to wake up for a moment from his years-long coma, he would faint with amazement. It was he who called Mahmoud Abbas “a plucked chicken.”

Yet for the last few days, Abbas was the center of global attention. World leaders conferred about how to handle him, senior diplomats were eager to convince him of this or that course of action, commentators were guessing what he would do next. His speech before the UN General Assembly was treated as an event of consequence. Not bad for a chicken, even for one with a full set of feathers....

The world is treating him with newfound respect. Nearing the end of his career, he made the big gamble. But was it wise? Courageous, yes. Daring, yes. But wise? My answer is: Yes, it was.

Abbas has placed the quest for Palestinian freedom squarely on the international table. For more than a week, Palestine has been the center of international attention. Scores of international figures, including the leader of the world’s only superpower, have been busy with Palestine.

For a national movement, that is of the utmost importance. Cynics may ask: “So what did they gain from it?” But cynics are fools. A liberation movement gains from the very fact that the world pays attention, that the media grapple with the problem, that people of conscience all over the world are aroused. It strengthens morale at home and brings the struggle a step nearer its goal.

Oppression shuns the limelight. Occupation, settlements, ethnic cleansing thrive in the shadows. It is the oppressed who need the light of day. Abbas’ move provided it, at least for the time being.

Barack Obama's miserable performance was a nail in the coffin of America’s status as a superpower. In a way, it was a crime against the United States.

The Arab Spring may have been a last chance for the U.S. to recover its standing in the Middle East. After some hesitation, Obama realized that. He called on Mubarak to go, helped the Libyans against their tyrant, made some noises about Bashar al-Assad. He knows that he has to regain the respect of the Arab masses if he wants to recover some stature in the region, and by extension throughout the world.

Now he has blown it, perhaps forever. No self-respecting Arab will forgive him for plunging his knife into the back of the helpless Palestinians. All the credit the U.S. has tried to gain in the last months in the Arab and the wider Muslim world has been blown away with one puff. All for reelection.

It was also a crime against Israel. Israel needs peace. Israel needs to live side by side with the Palestinian people, within the Arab world. Israel cannot rely forever on the unconditional support of the declining United States. Obama knows this full well. He knows what is good for Israel, even if Netanyahu doesn’t. Yet he has handed the keys of the car to the drunken driver.

The State of Palestine will come into being. This week it was already clear that this is unavoidable. Obama will be forgotten, as will Netanyahu, Lieberman and the whole bunch. Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen, as the Palestinians call him – will be remembered. The “plucked chicken” is soaring into the sky.


[Following is an excerpt of a longer article published  Sept. 16, a week before the UN confrontation, by The Middle East Report (link at bottom). This selection deals with cautions regarding the Palestinian Authority (PA) strategy.]

By The Middle East Report

.... Some form of enhanced UN recognition could offer Abbas and the PA external legitimacy and their own sense of hope against daunting odds. But the UN initiative, whatever shape it takes, could also be empty symbolism or, worse, a seal of approval on creeping apartheid if it is only an isolated tactic. Caution is warranted in two respects.

The UN maneuver has potential to break the U.S. stranglehold on Israel-Palestine diplomacy only if Abbas and his confreres take additional steps toward a comprehensive strategy of internationalization. First on such an agenda would be revival of efforts to unify the PA and Palestinian national movement, from which Abbas has retreated over the summer, and insistence that Israel and the U.S. lift the Gaza blockade, which Abbas’ wing of the PA has of course championed as a means of defeating its rival Hamas. Steps two and three would be resuscitation of the Goldstone report and pursuit of the 2004 International Court of Justice opinion against Israel’s separation wall. But given the doldrums of reconciliation talks, and the dearth of other signs of strategic thinking in Ramallah, there is reason to fear that Abbas will pocket the coming U.S. veto and desist, hoping that the ensuing hubbub itself will prod the U.S. and Israel back to the negotiating table. It is almost surely a vain hope, and in any case, renewed bilateral parleys under unilateral U.S. tutelage can lead only to reinforcement of the Oslo paradigm and further dispossession of the Palestinians.

What media outlets are dubbing the “showdown” at the UN also comes at a juncture of eroded U.S. hegemony. Its economy teetering on the brink of double-dip recession, its overseas wars unending and its historical coddling of dictators laid bare, the U.S. is in no position to tell the Palestinians what to do, particularly since Washington will not rein in its Israeli ally. If the Sept. 16 Washington Post is correct, the Obama administration failed even to extract a non-apology apology, one devoid of assumption of guilt, from Israel for its May 2010 raid on the Gaza aid flotilla. The White House had thought such an Israeli statement would diffuse international anger over the impending veto. If U.S. weakness made the UN gambit possible for the Palestinians, it also makes the U.S. a highly questionable patron going forward. It is the paradox of global affairs in miniature: Washington’s clout is hollow, yet there is nothing to replace it, so it lives on as simulacrum.

Whether now or in 25 years’ time, no force but the Palestinian people is likely to tear down the walls and redress the systemic wrongs in the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. It is the Palestinian people’s struggle, ultimately, and not the ventures of quasi-governments, that the world supports. The PA sectors loyal to Abbas and the West Bank chief administrator, Salam Fayyad, will not mount or harness a genuine popular movement to challenge the status quo; by the logic of Oslo, they cannot. Perhaps the groundswell, whether it is an uprising or a campaign of mass civil disobedience or something not yet imagined, must come from sources that, as in Tunisia and Egypt before January, are largely unknown today. But the Palestinians have striven heroically, for decades before the 2011 Arab awakening, for justice and freedom. Their two Intifadas have cost them dearly. If liberation is to transpire, the onus is upon outside backers of Palestinian rights — in the Arab world, the West and elsewhere — to develop new means of solidarity and, in particular, new ways of holding Israel accountable to the international law it has flouted for so long.

—Full article:


[The following article is from the daily Israeli newspaper Haaretz Sept. 22.]

A rally organized by leftist intellectuals in support of a Palestinian state yesterday descended into a verbal free-for-all after a group of right-wing activists gate-crashed the demonstration in Tel Aviv.

Among the organizers and left-wing participants were 17 Israel Prize laureates, looking to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to embark on a diplomatic initiative, ahead of the expected declaration of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

The protesters' declaration declared: "We, the undersigned, call upon any person seeking peace and liberty and upon all nations to join us in welcoming the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and support the efforts of the citizens of the two states to maintain peaceful relations on the basis of secure borders and good neighborliness."

While the ceremony was underway with a "declaration of independence from occupation" being read, right-wing activists shouted "fifth column" and "traitors" at the demonstrators....
The declaration, which was read on Rothschild Boulevard outside Independence Hall, was couched in phrases recalling Israel's Declaration of Dependence, which David Ben-Gurion read in the same hall on May 14, 1948.

"We have gathered here on this 21st day of September to welcome the expected declaration of independence of the Palestinian state, the state bordering on Israel according to the borders of our independence, which were created with the end of the War of Independence in 1949, known as the 1967 borders," proclaimed the declaration.

Other participants were author Sami Michael, playwright Yehoshua Sobol, filmmaker Ari Fogel, and Professor Zeev Sternhell. Later, in a televised debate on Channel 2, Ben-Gurion's grandson, Dr. Yariv Ben-Eliezer, lashed out at Sternhell, asking: "Who do you think you are? My grandfather's vision has been turned into a gimmick."

"There is intentional symbolism in it," Sternhell responded.  "We are raising the Declaration of Independence to a higher level."

The incident spurred various responses. Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said: "Such actions only drive the chance for peace, reconciliation and the establishment of a Palestinian state farther away. They create false hope among the Palestinians that they can establish a state unilaterally without negotiations with Israel."


[The following communication is from one of a number of U.S. Jewish organizations that support the Palestinian effort to seek statehood from the UN.]

By Jewish Voice for Peace

Today, Sept. 23, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority presented a bid for the state of Palestine, based on the 1967 borders, to be considered by the Security Council for full membership in the United Nations.

Shortly afterward, he addressed the General Assembly, where he reviewed, from the 1948 Nakba until today, the multitude of ways in which Israel has suppressed Palestinians’ rights. While the question remains if the UN statehood bid adequately addresses the larger issue of Palestinian rights, Abbas’ address importantly gave voice to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. While there is no uniform support for this UN bid, today was undoubtedly a historic and moving day. After over 63 years struggling for global recognition, it was moving to see the countries of the world represented in the UN general assembly give President Abbas a rousing standing ovation.

Not so for Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke shortly after Abbas. Netanyahu responded to the Palestinian leader with diversion and doublespeak instead of honest engagement, and peace slogans couched in hostility, aggression, and denial of Palestinian claims — a continuation of the standard Israeli tactic. We know from history that this empty rhetoric has been used by the Israeli government for decades and will only mean further pain and oppression for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and all over the world.

As a Jewish-American organization, we believe it is important to remain focused on our primary responsibility:  having an impact on U.S. policy. As such, we will continue to speak out strongly against the U.S. using its veto power in the Security Council to reject this bid for statehood.

We know now that President Obama will not do the right thing. Speaking at the UN on Wednesday, Obama lauded the Arab Spring — but rejected the Palestinian Autumn. The president retreated from his earlier positions that demanded Israeli accountability for its military occupation, and he did not acknowledge the ongoing role of the U.S. in maintaining that imbalance through its extraordinary economic, military, and diplomatic support for Israel, even when its actions violate international law, human rights, and U.S. policy. And he didn’t acknowledge that 20 years of the “peace process” has brought only a more entrenched occupation. Instead, Obama merely said that both sides should “sit down together, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and fears.”

While this week has not been an easy one, we at JVP actually feel a redoubled assurance in the promise of our strategy to change the dynamics on display at the United Nations.  We know now, more than ever, that the President or Congress will not change on their own.  The array of power and money is simply too strong — for now. We know, as with the examples of the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement, to name just two, that it is movements like ours that force our governments to change their policies.  It was the steadfastness, the creativity, the demonstrations, the local organizing, and the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) tactics that helped these movements and so many others for social justice eventually succeed.  So we’ll let the politicians play their games, and meanwhile, our work will continue.


By Lesley Clark

UNITED NATIONS (McClatchy Newspapers, Sept. 23) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today formally requested full U.N. membership for an independent Palestinian state, bucking staunch U.S. opposition in the hope of redefining the long-running conflict with Israel.

Abbas submitted the application to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon prior to addressing the annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly, where he delivered an impassioned call for an end to "63 years of suffering" under Israeli occupation of lands that the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Accusing the Israeli government of undermining the peace process by erecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital, Abbas complained of "armed settler militias" who he said wage "frequent attacks against our people, targeting their homes, schools, universities, mosques, fields." He insisted that the bid for statehood wasn't "aimed at isolating Israel or de-legitimizing it; rather we want to gain legitimacy for the cause of the people of Palestine.

"We only aim to de-legitimize the settlement activities, the occupation and apartheid and the logic of ruthless force," he said, adding, "We believe that all the countries of the world stand with us in this regard."

Still, he offered an olive branch, saying he was interested in making peace with the Israelis, "instead of policies of occupation, settlement, war and eliminating the other."

At the end of his speech, Abbas, an avuncular man with silver hair and glasses, held up a copy of the application and received a loud ovation from a packed chamber of delegates. The Palestinian statehood bid has dominated the General Assembly meeting, and Abbas' speech was interrupted numerous times for applause — a stark contrast to President Barack Obama's relatively coolly greeted remarks Sept. 21.

Later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the U.N., saying his nation never gets a fair shake. He insisted that Israel wants peace with the Palestinians, but accused them of opposing negotiations. He also warned against the threat of militant Islamists.

"The truth is that Israel wants peace. the truth is that I want peace," Netanyahu said. "The truth is that in the Middle East peace must be anchored in security. So far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The Palestinians want a state without peace...and you shouldn't let that happen."

The United States has pledged to block the Palestinians' statehood bid with the veto it wields as a permanent Security Council member, and was reportedly lobbying fellow council members to delay a decision on the application. The Obama administration said that granting Palestinian statehood was premature and would jeopardize efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which it has said is the only route to a durable peace.

"When the speeches end today, we must all recognize that the only way to create a state is through direct negotiations. No shortcuts," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Twitter.

Abbas had pledged for years to take this bid to the UN, and he drew a direct line between the pro-democracy ferment roiling the Arab world and the Palestinians' desire for independence.

"At a time when Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy in the Arab Spring, the time has come also for the Palestinian spring, the time for independence," he said, to loud applause.

He accused the Israelis of repeatedly blocking serious negotiations, saying that "efforts at peace were repeatedly smashed against a rock." He called on the Security Council to approve the application immediately.

"This is a moment of truth; our people are waiting to hear the answer of the world," he said.

"Will it allow Israel to occupy us forever, and will it allow Israel to remain a state above the law and accountability?"

As Abbas spoke, large crowds gathered in Ramallah in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, waving the Palestinian flag, and television images showed some women weeping. Near the West Bank town of Qusra, clashes between West Bank villagers and Israeli settlers turned deadly when Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man, according to witness accounts.


By Jason Ditz

(, Sept. 23) — Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loudly condemned the notion of an independent Palestinian state being recognized by the international body, saying that the Palestinians would have to reach a final peace deal with Israel, something which isn’t even being discussed by the two sides, before independence could even be considered.

As usual this included a number of demands from Netanyahu that the Palestinians would have to accept as a condition for ending the occupation, including recognizing Israel as “the Jewish state.”

The Palestinian Authority submitted its proposal for recognition to the United Nations Security Council today, just over a year after the last direct talks with the Israeli government, and are believed to have a strong majority in the general assembly, as well as a likely majority in the security council. President Obama has vowed to veto Palestinian independence on Israel’s behalf.

Perhaps the most unusual comment from Netanyahu, however, was that Israel would never accept an independent state in Gaza, saying that Israel would only accept an independent Palestine within a portion of the West Bank. Though Netanyahu’s Likud Party were loudly in opposition to withdrawing settlers from the tiny Gaza Strip, it is unclear what Israel plans to do with the strip in the event the PA ever got an independent state in the small portion of the West Bank which doesn’t contain settlements.



JERUSALEM (Jerusalem Post, Sept. 24) — Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh yesterday criticized the Palestinian Authority's statehood petition at the United Nations, saying that the Palestinian people should not have "to beg for a state."

Speaking after Friday prayers at a mosque in Gaza City, Haniyeh said that "liberation" of Palestinian land must come first, and then the "state," Hamas-affiliated Al Resalah reported.

"We have reservations about the United Nations because we feel the institution is controlled by the Americans and others," Haniyeh continued. "The political orientation of the United Nations is not beneficial."

Haniyeh's comments underlined tensions between Hamas and Fatah over the PLO's statehood bid at the UN, and came just before PA President Mahmoud Abbas presented a request to the UN to be accepted as a full member.


By Yitzhak Benhorin

NEW YORK (Israel News, Sept. 23)— A day after he made what is being called his "Zionist speech" at the UN General Assembly in New York, President Barack Obama was back in the White House where he held a conference call with over 900 orthodox, conservative and reform rabbis from throughout the U.S. ahead of the Jewish new year.

 During the 30 minute call, Obama assured the rabbis that the U.S.-Israel alliance was stronger than ever before. "Prime Minister Netanyahu knows he can count on the United States," Obama told the rabbis. "We will not abandon the pursuit of a just and lasting peace that will end the conflict."

He then noted that "the bonds between the U.S. and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the security of Israel is ironclad. Since coming into office, I haven't just talked the talk, we've walked the walk."

Obama also spoke about the recent events in Egypt and the Middle East uprisings and noted that the progress towards peace with the Palestinians could cool down the region.

"The most important thing we can do to stabilize the strategic situation for Israel is if we can actually resolve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis because that's what feeds so much of the tumult in Egypt. That's what I think has created the deep tension between Turkey and Israel and Turkey has historically been a friend and ally of Israel's. That's why we think direct negotiations are so critical."



(Washington Post, Sept. 21) — The Senate Appropriations Committee today raised the stakes for the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership by threatening to cut off U.S. economic aid and close the Palestinians’ office in Washington.

“We want to let them know, you do that at your own detriment,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of the Palestinian effort. “It is not a wise thing to do. It will not advance peace.”

The House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations has already passed a bill that would end U.S. economic aid to the Palestinian Authority if they pursued U.N. recognition, strengthening the likelihood of a cutoff.

The United States is the second-biggest foreign donor to the Palestinians after the Europeans, and the loss of the funding could severely affect the Palestinian Authority, which relies on $1 billion in foreign aid to help pay its bills and spur the economy of the occupied West Bank. The Congressional bills would leave in place the $100 million annual U.S. contribution to train Palestinian security forces.

Graham’s amendment would require the secretary of state to inform Congress on what actions lawmakers could take regarding the Palestinians’ status in the United States -- “especially about the closing of its office”-- if they sought U.N. membership as a state.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) argued for a delay in voting on the measure, saying that it was a “very sensitive time” and that adopting the amendment could upset negotiations to put off a vote on the Palestinian membership bid. But the measure passed on a voice vote.

Despite the strong statements about ending aid, no action is expected for months on a cutoff of funds, since the House and Senate bills will eventually have be reconciled and may be bundled into a bigger spending bill to be passed later this year.