Tag Archives: Palestine

Gaza? It’s more than that!

Guest post by Poya Pakzad, Independent Analyst, Denmark.

There is no longer any virtue in reviewing the premeditated US-Israeli massacre in Gaza from December to January. Virtually no disparity exists between the human rights organizations inside Israel or abroad. The record is unambiguously clear. Israel disrupted the “six months of lull”; maintained its “illegal blockade”; committed “grave breaches of international humanitarian law” and denied any attempt at continually offered nonviolent alternatives. As always, Israel reflexively denies any allegation without providing counter evidence. [1]

It’s hardly a challenge to lay bare this methodical pattern in the gladly forgotten record of Israeli aggressions.

No, one must refuse to plunge into this discussion. The largely manufactured hullabaloo serves for the most part to sidetrack attention from the rather palpable steps towards peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It bears crucial notice that an international consensus on a two state solution to the conflict has long subsisted in an otherwise changing world.  The following assessment is an attempt to elucidate this accord and two immediate discrepancies. (1) Why has the conflict not been settled? And (2), what is the efficacy of the resuscitated appeal for a one state solution? Each question merits a study much beyond the scope of this piece. The purpose of the subsequent text is to inform as well as incite an exchange.

The provisions of the broad agreement are based on the central diplomatic document, issued against the backdrop of the six day war, entitled UN Security Council Resolution 242. The preamble states that there can be no acquisition of territory by force in accord with customary international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The basic interpretation is a settlement along the “green line” with “minor and mutual adjustments” to uncurl the arbitrary cease fire lines.

The resolution further stipulates that all states in the region have a right to “live within secure and recognized borders.” The latter has been reiterated for decades, even as US-Israeli rejection of the conditions has been the chief motor of occupation since the seventies.

Surprisingly, the right of Palestinians to self determination remained unspoken between the partition of 1947 and the first unanimous international call in the seventies. The change is worth paying attention to. In 1973 the PLO tacitly agreed to a formula of full Israeli withdrawal and full Arab recognition in a General Assembly resolution. Yet another call was made informally through the Security Council in 1976, explicitly putting a Palestinian state on the international agenda. Israel flatly rejected it and the United States effectively vetoed.

In 1980, a Security Council Resolution repeated these legal obligations, the US vetoed and since then US-Israeli rejectionism has been consistent. A change occurred on the other side however, as the Palestinian National Council accepted the two state settlement in 1988 from tacit approval to formal advocacy. This put the US and Israel in total international isolation, deeming every departure point of “peace process” negotiations as a rejection of the consensus.

Today the consensus enjoys the support of authoritative political, legal and human rights bodies. The most representative political body in the world, the General Assembly, presents the modalities of the settlement each year and the vote has been identically lopsided every time. The entire state system is on one side and Israel with the US along with South Pacific atolls on the rejectionist side. In 2004 the International Court of Justice, the highest authoritative legal body in the world, rendered an advisory opinion on the wall Israel has built in the West Bank. The court judged the wall to be illegal; confirmed the illegality of “territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force” and deemed Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian Territory.” [2]

What might come as a surprise to the devoted reader of the press is the fact that Hamas since 2005 has been more forthcoming to this consensus than Israel. The first document Hamas signed when they were elected freely and fairly was the so-called Prisoner’s Document in which Hamas declares their agreement with Fatah on the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders – incidentally supported by 77 % of the Palestinian population. It has since been conceded, even by NY Times, that Hamas is willing to negotiate along the lines of the Saudi Peace Plan and to recognize Israel de facto but not de jure. All 22 Arab states have signed the Saudi Peace Plan, which is essentially a transcript of Resolution 242 – including non-Arab states such as Iran. [3]

What has been recognized as the most contentious aspect of the conflict, namely the right of return, has surprisingly not been the most disputed issue during negotiations. At Taba, they accepted a “pragmatic settlement” which wouldn’t change “the demographic character of Israel.” The main problem has been Israel’s unwillingness to have a 1:1 land swap, i.e. the “minor or mutual adjustments” [4]. The right of return is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Resolution 194 of 1949. It is unambiguously supported by the international community, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (and also in principle by Israeli Jews, who established their own state on the notion of that very right.)

American presidents including Barack Obama have demonstrated time and again, that they are not honest brokers. The institutional permanence of vast diplomatic, economic and military support suggests state guidelines across the political spectrum. The doctrine of policy deems Israel a “strategic asset” in the heart of the energy producing region, serving as “cops on the beat,” effectively “educating” the “savage Arab” into submission. This course of action serves to strengthen US-Israeli intransigence against Palestinians and renders the international corpus of rules null and void. It doesn’t require a doctorate to discover US hegemony in the region and the European Union toddling behind, maneuvering where it can, and obeying where it must.

This can be exemplified by comparing reactions towards state violations of customary norms, such as “serious breaches of the prohibition to use force”, the “right to self determination” and fundamental standards of human rights and humanitarian law. When the Security Council fails to perform in accord with Article VII owing to “the Tyranny of the Veto”, the General Assembly typically doesn’t hesitate to assert its duty by calling for the implementation of economic, financial and diplomatic sanctions, notably in the case of South Africa. Such comparisons can be found in an exhaustive study by Marc Weller and Barbara Metzger from Cambridge University. They conclude a “double standard” granting Israel “complete immunity” from reflexive remedies with regard to Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor such as “arms embargo,” “sanctions” and “international presence” of monitors and peacekeeping forces. [5]

Israel’s latest defiance of the Council’s calls has likewise been backed by US President Barack Obama’s administration. US support has continued and been amplified apart from Obama’s rhetorical superfluities. The near unanimous European euphoria over the election of Obama is a back hand admission of both its recognition of the double standard and its awareness that it isn’t able to do much without the consent of the Super Power. [6]

Recognizing this milieu of inaction and “facts on the ground”, elements of the left (and extreme right for dissimilar reasons) lends support to the proposal of a one state solution based on the egalitarian principles applied in South Africa and elsewhere. It requires a shift of paradigm terminologically replacing “occupation” with “Apartheid.” Indeed apartheid is a component of the occupation, yet annexation is a far worse crime than any comparable stage of colonization in South Africa. Annexation is an altogether different sort of imperialism, suggesting practically no alteration of behavior even if historical Palestine was to be developed into one state. A single state is no guarantee; take a simple look at the existing ones!

Arguments for a one state solution is usually based on justice – acknowledging quite accurately that the two state solution is far from just. Yet, justice, apart from discussions in academic seminars, is limited in the real world by the fact of feasibility. No one says that Hopi Indians should renounce their claim to their ancestors’ land, but then, no one advocates it either. The arguments become tautological: “No settlement is acceptable unless it’s acceptable.”

If there is a series of steps leading to the one state solution it should by all means be discussed. Trying to create an environment conducive to this settlement today seems impossible and may well be a recipe for further conflict. The idea of boycotts and divestiture requires the active participation of important actors within Israeli society. The struggle in South Africa took decades to establish with mayors already committed to civil disobedience and corporations agreeing to the “Sullivan conditions.” If such a strategy will look like an attack on Israeli society it is likely to be counterproductive. I have seen serious debate regarding the efficacy of the two state settlement. How can you divide Cis-Jordan for example? How can Palestinians realize a “rump state”? Yet, as an interim solution, far from the final status anathema it has become, the struggle for normalization, fulfillment of rights and integration shall continue.

[1] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The six months of the lull arrangement,” December 2008 |Human Rights Watch, “Precisely Wrong,” June 2009 | Human Rights Watch, “Rain of fire,” March 2009 | Amnesty International, “Israel/Gaza: Operation “Cast Lead”: 22 days of death and destruction,” July 2009 | Bt’Selem, “Guidelines for Israel’s Investigation into Operation Cast Lead,” February 2009.

[2] International Court of Justice, ”Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” 2004.

[3] Avi Issacharoff, “Poll: 77 % of Palestinians support the Prisoner’s Document,” June 2009, Ha’aretz | Mouin Rabbani, “A Hamas Perspective on the Movement’s Evolving Role: An Interview with Khalid Mishal: Part II,” Summer 2008, Journal of Palestine Studies vol. 37 | Avi Issacharoff, “Meshal: Hamas backs Palestinian state in ’67 borders,” April 2008, Ha’aretz | Amira Hass, “Haniyeh: Hamas willing to accept Palestinian state with 1967 borders,” September 2008, Ha’aretz | Middle East Online, “Hamas calls for Palestinian state in 1967 borders,” June 2009 |Hamas, “We Do Not Wish to Throw Them Into the Sea,” February 2006, Washington Post | Jay Solomon & Julien Barnes-Dacey, “Hamas Chief Outlines Terms for Talks on Arab Israeli-Peace,” Juli 2009, Wall Street Journal.

[4] Ron Pundak, “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?,” Autumn 2001, Survival p. 31-45, The International Institute for Strategic Studies.

[5] Marc Weller & Barbara Metzger, “Double Standards,” September 2002, PLO Negotiations Affairs Department | for further deliberations see: Yoram Dinstein, “War, Aggression and Self Defense,” 4th ed., 2005, Cambridge University Press p. 302 and David Cortright & George A. Lopez, “The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s,” 2000, Lynne Rienner.

[6] The Bush Sr. administration went beyond rhetoric objecting to illegal settlement by denying economic support for them. Oppositely, Obama administration officials state that such dealings are “not under discussion” and that any pressures will be “largely symbolic”: Helene Cooper, “U.S Weighs Tactics on Israeli Settlement,” May 2009, NY Times | Grant F. Smith, “$2.775 Billion in US Aid Supports Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program,” June 2009, Online Journal.

Two pieces on the ‘Iran-Hamas’ discussion

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time in the new year to reflect on the most important topic in the discussion of the Middle East right now: the Israel-Hamas War in Gaza. Fortunately, other people have had time! I recommend the following pieces:

Daniel Luban criticizes the neoconservative and Israeli statements and narratives of Hamas being an ‘Iranian proxy’ to drive home the point that it is not. In these days of all-out propaganda warfare against Iran and actual all-out war on the Palestinian people, this is important reading.

However, with her recent brilliant piece on ‘Israel, Gaza War, Return of “Emboldened Iran” and Obama’, Farideh Farhi places the discussion in a broader perspective. Instead of dwelling on what has become an art in itself – i.e. to determine, weigh and define the nature of Iranian influence on Hamas – Farhi maintains that the recent linking of the Gaza events with ‘the Iran threat’ is part of the general crisis over how to deal with Iran. Farhi also treats an extremely interesting aspect: the Basiji ‘Gaza volunteer’ sit-in in Tehran’s airport. The ‘volunteers’ are demanding to be sent to Palestine, but the state refuses (just as it seems to be restraining Hezbollah). Why? Read Farhi’s article!

More to follow soon!

The Other War

by Sune Haugbolle.

Below is a translation into English of my op-ed on Gaza, published January 9 in the Danish daily Information (to non-Danes: Information is a leftist daily roughly equivalent to the Independent – in fact they publish Robert Fisk’s pieces). Link to the Danish piece here.

The Other War

One the eve of January the 4th, as the IDF rolled over the border crossing into Gaza, the Israeli government’s spokesman Mark Regev appeared on TV screens across the world and assured viewers that the ongoing conflict is nothing more than a defence against Hamas’ rocket attacks. The war simply put.

Israel unquestionably has a security problem in form of Hamas. But this war is about more than Hamas’ rocket attacks and the Israelis’ brutal attempt to stop them. Israel’s attempt to portray the war in 2009 as a defence against the assault of a terrorist enemy conveys a here-and-now image which suits the short time frame of our TV reality, and which consciously tries to obfuscate the broader lines of the Middle East conflict.

Without too much information, or historical memory, it is easy to sympathise with the state of Israel’s wish to neutralise an aggressive enemy on its door step. Regev’s simple formulation probably won the sympathy of many Danes, despite Israel’s continued bombing of densely populated areas and the many reports of civilian casualties, which viewers have had to swallow with their nine o’clock tea – the regrettable collateral damage that we have been taught to accept in every conflict against terrorists.

While the land invasion continues to rage it is important that we keep in mind that the tight Israeli blockade was one of the reasons why Hamas on the 19th of December chose to end the ceasefire from last summer. In the words of one Hamas leader, the blockade gave them choice between starvation and continued struggle. The group probably also reasoned that fighting could provide a way to ease the pressure on them from an increasingly desperate population looking to the de facto government of Hamas for solutions.

The blockade, which several international observers have condemned as an inhuman form of collective punishment, officially serves the purpose of restricting smuggling of weaponry and ammunition into Gaza. Even though Israel in 2005 ended its occupation of the Gaza strip, the IDF still controls access and hence are masters of the area’s aid dependent economy. The southern border crossing is still controlled by another former occupation force in the strip, Egypt.

To Gaza’s citizens, the blockade feels more like a form of collective strangling. By minimising the import of basic goods, materials and fuels to the Gaza strip, Israel has within the last year made most of its 1.5 million inhabitants completely dependent on international aid organisation. According to UNRWA and the World Food Program, which together provide for more than half of Gaza’s total population, in the last two months only a small percentage of clothes, medicine and other basic goods have arrived, as a direct consequence of Israel restricting the number of trucks into Gaza dramatically. How shoes, medicine and tea mugs can be a security threat to anyone is really not clear.

On November the 5th, Israel closed the border crossings to Gaza completely in response to rocket attacks from Hamas, which in their turn came in response to an Israeli incursion killing six Hamas members. The total blockade and quick worsening of an already dire energy and nutrition situation in a few weeks turned a serious humanitarian crisis into a catastrophe.

The blockade is not the only reason for the war, of course. Hamas can be blamed for gambling with ending the ceasefire and attacking Israel when they must have known that the coming Israeli elections could prompt its leaders to react harshly. In a wider sense, the situation today in Palestine also bears witness to what a miserable deadlock the Palestinians’ historic struggle for independence has ended in since the second Intifada in 2000 all but put an end to the Oslo peace process. Yasser Arafat’s successors in Fatah have been too weak, and lacked sufficient American support, to continue the negotiations for an independent Palestinian state, which came close to succeeding at Camp David in 2000.

Of course the lack of Israeli will to end their settlements is the real reason for the death of the Oslo process, but it doesn’t change the sad fact that is the divided and ineffective Palestinian national movement today, since Fatah lost the elections to Hamas in 2006 and was evicted from Gaza in May, 2007.

Since then, Gaza’s international status has, more than ever before, been unclear. Officially the Gaza strip forms part of the Palestinian National Authority, but in effect they are now ruled by Hamas, who, it must be said, have not exactly been the picture of good governance according to reports by Amnesty International and others.

When Fatah left Gaza in 2007, the area entered into a status of no man’s land, in terms of international law. Add to its isolation the fact that many in the West have chosen to adopt the Israeli view of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and a key opponent in the war on Islamist terror in which we are supposedly engaged. These discursive constructions of Gaza as illegitimate and isolated make the war tolerable and justifiable to the Western public. They are designed to do so. And they make it possible to drink that nine o’clock tea even if it’s now starting to taste a tad bit bitter from the increasing hundreds of civilian casualties.

What ever one might think of Hamas’s violent ideology and the negative impact it has had on the peace process, there is no denying the fact that the group is the main political representative of the Palestinians in Gaza. And the Palestinians must not be robbed of political representation in the face of Israel – that would, politically speaking, be the greatest crime of all. For the time being, there is no alternative to Hamas. Even if they are really toppled in the coming weeks, it is impossible to see Mahmoud Abbas somehow entering Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank.

In fact, despite the pounding they are taking in these days, Hamas in all probability will remain the political representatives. The lessons Israel should have learned from the war against Hizbollah in 2006 is that such organisations which rest on social networks cannot be knocked over by bombs. Hamas is not a series of buildings, but an ideology of Islamic resistance that will only be strengthened by a long and bloody fight.

In a regional context, Hamas belongs to the group of Islamic non-state organisations which, like Hizbollah, claim the right to fight Israel independent of the state. What Israel and the West have apparently failed to register is that these organisations thrive on war and sacrifice. Seen through the optic of martyrdom even a bloody defeat is the foundation of future victory.

Thus, the war is part of a regional struggle between Arab states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan who support an American dictated peace in the Middle East – and to which group Abbas belongs – and on the other side the rejection front consisting of Hizbollah, Syria, Iran and Hamas.

If the strategic calculation from Israel’s side has been to strengthen Mahmiud Abbas and the moderate Arab states by neutralising Hamas militarily, then that is unlikely to succeed, an besides an almost incredible misreading of the empathy of other Palestinians and Arabs. The longer this war continues, and the more civilians are killed, the more support Hamas will get from Arab populations. Exactly like in 2006, the war in 2009 spells out a dilemma in Arab politics, namely that while most Arab governments have been edging towards normalisation with Israel, great parts of its populations back up the uncompromising Islamic resistance groups.

That fact is not least due to the direct, unmitigated and often emotional view of the war offered by TV channels. Al-Jazeera, still the most widely viewed Arab TV channel, has so far covered the war in way that bears witness to the strong, and in may ways understandable, wish among Arab media and Arab publics to counter what they see as the West’s hypocritical attempt to cover this as a war of two equal sides – Mark Regev’s “rocket logic.” The result so far has been a media coverage which, to a large extent, makes Hamas the heroes and martyrs they want to be.

This is what the war in 2009 is about: structural violence against a brutalised people, a divided Palestinian political class, and strengthening of the extreme positions in Israel, which will soon be lead by a right wing government, among the Palestinians, who can be forgiven for giving up hope that they have a partner for peace in Israel, as well as in the Arab populations who turn against their own leaders in disgust. Violence breeds violence and, what is worse, self-righteousness.

Tony Blair, special envoy to the Knightsbridge Armani store

by Sune Haugbolle.

Kul ‘am wa intu bikhair! In these war times it is nice to know that we have skilled diplomats who work day and night to secure a ceasefire. Thanks to Mark Farha for allerting me to the story.

Tony Blair, special envoy to the Middle East, has been spending Christmas and New Year with his family, only arriving in his Jerusalem office on Saturday, just in time to watch the land invasion from a safe distance. 

“For at least part of the time he was in London, where he was spotted at a special private opening of the Armani store in Knightsbridge,” the Daily Mail reports

“Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: ‘People in the Middle East are entitled to ask themselves, “Where is Tony Blair?”

“‘So far he has been conspicuous by his absence.’”

“In a weekend interview, Gordon Brown was asked if he had talked to his predecessor since the crisis began. He replied: ‘Tony’s on holiday at the moment.’”

Well, with hard work he has put in in 2008, he must have badly needed one. 

More Gaza related entries soon. In the meantime, I recommend the commentaries by Robert Fisk here and here, and Glenn Greenwald here and here.