Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Race to the horizon

The 8 November issue of the NY Review of books sports a letter

sent by its signers on October 10 to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The statement is a joint initiative of the US/Middle East Project, Inc. (General Brent Scowcroft, chairman, International Board, and Henry Siegman, president), the International Crisis Group (Gareth Evans, president), and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program (Steven Clemons, director).

The signatories - 'Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, Carla Hills, former US Trade Representative under President George H.W. Bush, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, former Senator, Thomas R. Pickering, former Under-Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush, Theodore C. Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Adviser to President John F. Kennedy', and 'Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System' - have spent all or part of their careers close to the centre of power.

They are concerned to ensure that President Bush's November Middle East peace conference succeed. But they themselves are best placed to know why that is out of the question. If it were so easy, how did it come to pass that they never managed to persuade the US administrations they worked for to extract the slightest concession from Israel when they had the President's ear?

Of course what they mean by 'succeed' and what justice demands are entirely different things. For one thing, they labour under the misappprehension that the protagonists are 'Israeli and Palestinian leaders', or hope that their readers will do so. The unnamed leaders they refer to are the thoroughly discredited Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, the man who dreams of approval ratings as high as Dubya's and the terminally corrupt and ineffectual quisling Abu Mazen. One question that it does not occur to them to ask, or that they don't want readers to think about, is who will represent the Israeli Arabs? Presumably, since they are Israeli, Olmert represents their interests. But since they are not Jews, how likely is that? And since they are Palestinian, Abu Mazen must represent them. But they never even got to vote in the Palestinian elections, so that's hardly plausible either. As for the Palestinian diaspora, and the refugees in particular, they've never required representation before, so why should they get a seat at the table now? As a matter of fact, even though the right of return is an individual right that nobody can negotiate on the refugees' behalf, the US and the Quartet are happy to negotiate it away with anyone offering enough other humiliating concessions.

If the parties they identify fail to reach an agreement, the Quartet 'should put forward its own outline, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Clinton parameters of 2000, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, and the 2003 Road Map.' They naively or cynically insist on 'A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution', as if justice for the refugees weren't a direct contradiction of the persistence of a Jewish ethnocracy – necessarily one of the two states. But then all these illuminati need to address is 'the Palestinian refugees' deep sense of injustice'. They understand that they must never allow that an actual injustice occurred – ‘Don’t mention the Nakba’. To hammer home the point, they further insist the solution 'provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance'. That is, meaningful, as opposed to adequate or appropriate, compensation and help to resettle outside of Israel, unless Israel decides it can afford to allow a few to return 'to their homes', in the immortal words of UN General Assembly resolution 194.

The signatories are actually more generous than Clinton intended. Where Clinton suggested that Israel relinquish 'between 94-96%' of the West Bank for the Palestinian state. The 4-6% Israel would annex 'should be compensated by a land swap of 1-3%'. In contrast, this proposal countenances a 1:1 land swap. I assume that the ratio pertains strictly to area, rather than, say, population, infrastructure development, productivity, or some other factor that might be relevant. Since 1967, Israel has been assiduously establishing 'facts on the ground' – permanent settlements strategically sited to control the best land, the aquifers, and the Palestinian population – with the explicit intention of retaining the West Bank in perpetuity. Well meaning advocates of a two state outcome often lose sight of this elementary function of the whole settlement enterprise – to integrate the settlement network inextricably into Israel. It may be technically feasible to uproot and relocate nearly half a million settlers, some of whom have lived in 'Judea and Samaria' for over a generation and many of whom are motivated by a strong secular or religious ideological commitment to annexing the entire West Bank and are armed to the teeth. But even if it failed to result in an outright civil war, it would certainly rend bloody great holes in Israel's social fabric. Not that the fabric of a society where one third of all children go to bed hungry is all that robust to begin with. The main idea of the land swap is to ensure that Israel retains the 'large settlement blocs'. In other words, Israel is to be rewarded for forty years' cavalier flouting of the Fourth Geneva Convention. And in his April 2004 letter to then Israeli PM Sharon, the decider has given this his imprimatur.

As far as I know there are only two basic proposals for what parts of the area of Palestine euphemistically known as 'Israel proper' the future Palestinian state would score in the land swap. One of these is to unload some barren area in the Negev Desert in return for water resources and olive groves. The other is to trade off areas of northern Israel with high concentrations of Palestinian population, like the Little Triangle. This latter approach, reminiscent of, if not quite identical with, the execrable Avigdor Lieberman's plan, conveniently rids the Jewish state of a significant proportion of its unwelcome non Jewish population, appreciably slowing the tick of the dreaded ‘demographic time bomb’. Lurking beneath the innocent sounding 1:1 land swap, then, we discover retrospective sanction of clear, blatant, and overt violations of the laws of war. At best, it is a cynical exercise in 'the acquisition of territory by war', precisely what UN Security Council Resolution 242 emphasised was 'inadmissable'. At worst, it is also another round of ethnic cleansing.

On Jerusalem, the Brzezinski group shows themselves quite out of touch. They want 'Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty'. It’s important to note that ‘Jewish neighborhoods’ is a euphemism for the settlements in and near Jerusalem. It’s impossible to be sure what they might have in mind here, but it’s certainly possible that they mean to exclude the Jewish ‘neighborhoods’ that surround and penetrate Arab East Jerusalem from the land swap equation. The Jewish ‘neighborhoods’ may even include the notorious E1 corridor that divides the West Bank in two.

In any case, Arutz 7's Hillel Fendel reports that 'An unprecedented coalition of American Jewish groups has formed on short notice to ensure that united Jerusalem remains Jewish...Jewish leaders around the world are coalescing around a simple bottom-line position: World Jewry opposes Israeli negotiations which would include any discussion of ceding sovereignty over part or all of Jerusalem.' If world Jewry rejects sharing Jerusalem, it can only mean that people like these who demand its partition must be antisemites.

Brzezinski et al. also show themselves to be on the outer fringes of acceptable discourse by advocating participation in the 'peace' conference not only of Syria, but even Hamas. Clearly only a lunatic would even consider inviting the party elected to 'govern' the PA to such an event. Like many, they are keen to see 'results relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians'. They want 'concrete steps to improve living conditions and security, including...prevention of weapons smuggling, cracking down on militias, greater Palestinian freedom of movement, the removal of unjustified checkpoints, dismantling of Israeli outposts, and other tangible measures to accelerate the process of ending the occupation.'

Nothing could be more obvious than that weapons smuggling is a bad thing. But whose living conditions and security improve if it is effectively prevented? Israel, of course, has never found any need to smuggle weapons. It has a steady flow coming from the US and a world class arms industry of its own. Since Israel tries to control everything and everyone moving in or out of the occupied territories, the occupied population can only arm itself surreptitiously. Similarly, there is little enthusiasm for cracking down on settler militias, much less on the formidable Israeli military. It's just those engaging in legitimate, albeit counterproductive, forms of armed resistance to the occupation who concern the foreign policy nabobs. They demand the removal of those checkpoints deemed unjustified. But if history is any guide, Israel will insist that the checkpoints are a justified measure to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens. Those whose principal worry is Israeli security will accept that rationale. And Palestinians are to enjoy 'greater freedom of movement' than they have under curfew, but actual freedom of movement – even around the West Bank, much less between the WB and Gaza, in or out of 'Israel proper', or between the occupied territories and Jordan or Egypt - is not on the agenda.

They further demand dismantling of Israeli 'outposts' - the settlements that have not yet received the endorsement of the Israeli government. It must be a big step to ask that Israel dismantle settlements that are illegal even by their own lights. Especially since this demand has been made and ignored so many times before. They want 'to accelerate the process of ending the occupation'. As there has never actually been a process of that kind, its acceleration need not result in a burst of speed. But then, since the objective is Condi's 'political horizon' – the destination that can never be reached - the pace of progress is irrelevant.

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