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January 25, 2007

Israel, US, and "the lobby"-4: A broader discussion needed about the Middle East

(See part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

The media in the rest of the world, including Israel, have much more balanced coverage of Middle East politics that does the US media. The Tony Judt article I wrote about before, for example, appeared in Ha'aretz. News media in the US tiptoe around the Israel government, seemingly afraid to make any serious criticism of its policies. During the Israel-lobby debate, Judt said described how when he wrote an article about the lobby, the editors of a "well known North American newspaper" called him and said that they needed to know if he was Jewish before they published it. He also pointed out that debate itself was noteworthy for being sponsored in the US by a foreign publication, The London Review of Books. It was this same publication that published the Mearsheimer and Walt article after The Atlantic, that originally commissioned it, decided not to publish it.

As another example, Israel's open defiance of UN resolutions are rarely mentioned in the media here while the US has argued that such defiance by other countries like Iraq is grounds for military action. And in July 2006, California state legislator Tom Hayden gave an example of the way the lobby works when he reflected on events in 1982 when he was influenced by "the lobby" to take a position on the previous Israeli invasion of Lebanon that he knew was wrong and now regrets. He said that the current debate on the role of the Israel lobby had persuaded him to reveal now what had happened to him then.

What is also interesting is that AIPAC boasts about its influence with the US government when it is fundraising but reacts angrily when others point to that same influence as an example of its power. But the sense that AIPAC speaks for all American Jews may be on the wane as some become more determined to stake their own ground in the debate. Philip Weiss, writing in the New York Observer in the wake of the furor over Jimmy Carter, says that progressive Jews are trying to break the stranglehold that AIPAC has had so far on discussions in the US about Israel and the situation in the Middle East. He talked about the New York visit of two people from that region who are trying to spread the word about the conditions in the occupied territories.

The situation these men describe is worse than apartheid. "Three and a half million people live without any rights," said the Israeli, whose own sister was killed by a suicide bomber. "You want to stop these people [suicide bombers], you should give them a reason to live."

The campaign by the U.S. Jewish leadership to smear Jimmy Carter will one day be taught in history books, as an effort by a privileged elite to suppress the truth. Slavery and segregation also had powerful defenders who misrepresented those conditions. Despite all their well-connected efforts, these people will lose for two simple reasons: the facts are against them, and a movement has begun to discover those facts. The progressive Jews jamming the temple last night are the evidence. (emphasis in original)

I have written before about how the US is really a one party state with a pro-war/pro-business platform, with two factions differing on some social issues. Its policy concerning Israel is part of that one-party consensus so one should not expect any changes when there are changes in the leadership in Congress as occurred in the last elections. Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco has looked at the positions on Israel and the Middle East of the top Democratic leadership and concluded that "The election of a Democratic majority in the House and Senate is unlikely to result in any serious challenge to the Bush administration’s support for Israeli attacks against the civilian populations of its Arab neighbors and the Israeli government’s ongoing violations of international humanitarian law."

We already see examples of this with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards both trying to curry favor with AIPAC by refusing to criticize Israel in even the mildest way, and beating the drums for war against Iran, despite the lessons learned from what happened in Iraq. It will be interesting to see if any candidate for president in 2008 takes a stand that runs counter to AIPAC or to any of Israel's current policies in the occupied territories.

The state of affairs of the Palestinians in Gaza right now is a scandal. The people there are essentially being punished for the crime of voting in a government that Israel and the US do not approve of. Reporter Gideon Levy writing for Ha'aretz says that Gaza is becoming like Darfur, with the exception that at least in the case of Darfur, at least some in the West are paying attention to their plight. Another Ha'aretz reporter Amira Hass lists all the mind-boggling restrictions that Palestinians currently experience on a day-to-day basis. It is not hard to imagine the humiliation that all these indignities must be causing each and every day.

Periodically, the US sends some envoy, such as the Secretary of State to the Middle East to "revive the peace process." Condoleeza Rice made such a trip just last week and blathered on about getting the two sides to talk, etc. I rarely pay any attention to US government officials or the media references to the state of the "peace process." Until such time as a real solution is proposed by the US for the Middle East, these trips should be viewed for what they are, just window dressing, to give the impression that something is being done while in reality the construction of more and more Israeli settlements in the occupied territories makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state even more remote. I have written before about the way that by its existing settlements, Israel has already created a kind of Swiss-cheese like region in the West Bank, with settlements and roads carving out non-contiguous regions for the Palestinians to live in, so that they have to go through Israeli checkpoints to get from one region to another.

This issue goes well beyond the question of the role of AIPAC in American politics, although that is part of the problem. The real problem is that as long as the American mainstream media does not describe the situation in the occupied territories in a way that resembles reality, there will be no reason for the American public to demand of its government that it pursue policies that have a chance of bring peace to the Palestinian and Israeli people. And so the violence will continue, and even escalate, and the American public will continue to be baffled by the failure to find a solution.

A real solution would have to have the following features: (1) Withdrawal by Israel to the pre-1967 borders; (2) The currently occupied territories of the West bank and Gaza made into a fully autonomous state; (3) the internationalization of Jerusalem; (4) full recognition of the state of Israel; (5) security guarantees (with the stationing of international troops as buffers if necessary) for the Israeli and Palestinian states until the growth of bilateral trade and other links between the two states makes a peacekeeping force unnecessary.

Oddly enough, comedians like Jon Stewart seem to understand what it would take to get a solution in the Middle East. Why is it so hard for others?

I believe that there will never be peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians have their own viable state, something at least closely resembling what I have outlined above. Until those policies are implemented, all talk of a "peace process" is pure wind.

POST SCRIPT: Let there be light?

On Tuesday, Mr. Deity explained why evil and suffering is necessary, and yesterday he tried to explain to Jesus what the crucifixion was about. Today, Mr. Deity finds that creating special effects is not as easy as it looks in the movies.

Tomorrow: How Mr. Deity treats prayers.

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Comments

Mano

It is reasonable to conclude that an Israeli withdrawl to its pre 1967 borders would not reduce the probability of attacks on Israeli citizens by a violent minority of Palestinians. In the past Israel has withdrawn from occupied land and such withdrawls have not achieved reductions in hostility.

In the end of May, 2000, Israel ended its 22 year occupation of southern Lebanon with the hopes that such an action would reduce the desire of a violent minority of Lebanese to take a hostile action against Israel. Subsuquently, however, the largest and best organzed violent group, Hizbollah, continued to make excursions across the Israeli border to kidnap Israeli soldiers or to fire rockets at Israeli towns. Since the 2000 withdrawl from Lebanon did not result in a cessation of hostilities, it is reasonable for the Israeli government to assume that a withdrawl from the occupied Palestinian territories would likewise not result in a cessation of hostilities.

Sadly, if the aim of Israel's highly destructive assualt on southern Lebanon in 2006 was to prevent further assualts on the Israeli citizenry, it appears to have been a success. At least, between the end of the August and December of 2006, Kofi Annan wrote that "there were no serious incidents or confrontations". If an Israeli withdrawl required such a belligerent follow up in order to end attacks, it is debatable whether continued occupation is a better option than a withdrawl.

Posted by Gregory Sutton on January 27, 2007 12:59 PM

Greg,

The issue of violence is imporant but I do not think that denying the Palestinians their right to sovereignty because of attacks against Israel by some is justified. Having their own state should not be seen as a reward for 'good behavior' but as a basic right for a displaced and dispossessed people.

Creating a state for them will not immediately stop the violence which is why the international community will have to act as a buffer for some time. But it will remove a major incentive for it.

Posted by Mano Singham on January 28, 2007 10:27 AM

Mano-
The restrictions and prohibitions placed against Palestinians were done so in response to ploys used by them to infiltrate suicide bombers into Israel. Perhaps if the legitimate government in the West Bank and Gaza would actually work to eliminate the threat from suicide bombers and cease stating that their aim is to eliminate Israel restrictions to entry into Israel might be eliminated. We are fortunate in our country that so far we have not had a suicide bomber walk into a crowded mall and detenate a bomb. So far.

Posted by Marc Yergin on January 28, 2007 11:37 AM

Marc,

I cannot see how building settlements in the occupied territories in any way increases security for Israelis. Also the idea of denying the right to statehood and instituting conditions of everyday harrassment for an entire people in response to the criminal actions of a few constitutes collective punishment, which is a violation of all kinds of international norms.

In Sri Lanka we have had many cases of Tamil suicide bombers killing Sinhala civilians in crowded areas. Thoughtful people there have long since realized that retaliating against the entire Tamil ethnic group using collective punishment is counterproductive. The government tried it in 1983 and made matters hugely worse.

Posted by Mano Singham on January 29, 2007 08:52 AM

Mano

I did not mean to imply nor make any judgements whether or not the Palestinians have a right to have their own sovereign state, nor whether occupying the territories should be done as a 'punishment'. My point was that it is reasonable for the Israelis to deny the Palestinians a state if the Israelis do not feel that leaving the occupied territories will reduce the violence. Even if ethically giving the Palestinains their own state can be proven as 'the right thing to do', Israel will be against doing such if they feel such an action will not reduce the violence. Convincing Israelis to withdraw has to considered from the point of view of 'is it somehow beneficial or at least neutral for Israel to withdraw'.

Very salient to the interests of Israel is your statement that withdrawl would remove a primary incentive for the violence. I can only refer you to my original post, in which an Israeli withdrawl may have removed an incentive for Lebanese attacks on Israel but did not prevent the attacks themselves. Lacking the Lebanese example, your point about the Tamil tigers is an excellent one. I am interpreting the counterexample in Lebanon as evidence that different social groups react to similar situations differently. I think the Palestinians would be much more likely to react to a withdrawl as Hizbollah reacted, than to react in the same manner as the Tamil tigers. I admit that this is pure extrapolation, and I'd be receptive to arguments to the contrary.


Posted by Gregory Sutton on January 29, 2007 01:07 PM

Thanks a lot for what You are doing!Information, that I managed to find here
is extremely useful and essential for me!With the best regards!
Frank

Posted by Frankxc on January 30, 2007 07:26 AM

I do agree with the examples of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

Posted by Jasmine on January 30, 2007 09:23 AM

Greg,

Actually, the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon did lead to a lull in the cross-border violence. As this article states:

What most casual observers are not expected to know, but what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Bush should know, is that the six years between Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 until the momentous Hezbollah attack on July 12 were comparatively placid.

During that period, one Israeli civilian was killed by Hezbollah weapons (and five more were killed in a Palestinian operation that may have been helped by Hezbollah ). Meanwhile, more than a score of Lebanese civilians were killed either by hostile action or by mines left behind by Israel. The dead deserve that we not treat their violent end lightly. Haviv Donon, 16, who was felled by a Hezbollah antiaircraft round fired at Israeli planes violating Lebanese airspace, and Yusif Rahil, 15, a shepherd killed by an artillery round intended for Hezbollah after an attack in Shebaa Farms, were innocent victims. Thankfully, such victims were far fewer then than may be commonly imagined.

There were serious clashes in the vicinity of the Shebaa Farms, part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights claimed by Lebanon during that six-year period. Nine Israeli soldiers died in Hezbollah attacks in the contested area, and 16, including eight on July 12, were killed along the international border in seven clashes. Some of the attacks were in retaliation for Israeli-caused deaths in Lebanon. At least 21 Israeli soldiers were also wounded. By way of comparison, an average of 25 Israeli soldiers died annually during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, according to Justice Minister Haim Ramon. More Israeli soldiers than that already have died in the present war.

With one possible exception, there were no purposeful attacks on Israeli civilians across the Lebanese border. This is important to recognize because it illustrates that the task of maintaining stability across this hostile border was neither impossible nor infeasible. Indeed, the rules of the game were well understood by both Israel and its Hezbollah foe.

But while I see your point that Israel might not want to withdraw for its own reasons, the fact reamins that if it is the right thing to do, it should be done.

Posted by Mano Singham on January 30, 2007 09:42 AM

I do agree that there will be never pease in the middle east

Posted by Gina on January 31, 2007 11:30 AM

interesesting information but like gina above me wrote, there will never be peace in the middle east. they been fighting since long long ago.

Posted by sfbay on June 24, 2007 05:24 PM