Monday, September 30, 2013

Daniel Levy on ‘boxing in Bibi’

Sep 29, 2013 09:19 pm | Annie Robbins

Expect all eyes on Netanyahu over the next few days, having arrived in the US for a 3 day visit which includes a meeting with Obama tomorrow culminating in a much anticipated address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
The Jerusalem Post cites an Israeli official “We are aware that in this atmosphere we are swimming against the current” and the Guardian quotes one senior researcher at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Centre,  Jonathan Spyer, saying it would be ”an enormous challenge for Netanyahu to reverse that trend.” The trend being the euphoria that’s swept the American public over the prospect of a breakthrough with Iran.
Daniel Levy’s current article at Foreign Policy, Maximum Bibi, breaks down Netanyahu’s urgent dilemma given the “diplomatic opening” created by the election of Rouhani as Iran’s president. Explaining why Netanyahu doesn’t want the US to cut a deal with Iran, Levy posits Netanyahu doesn’t want Iran powerful and independent, Israel likes its hegemony in the region, uncooperative neighboring regimes are ok if they’re considered “beyond the pale” by U.S. standards, nothing we don’t know. But I became excited when Levy cited Iran as being ‘extremely useful’ at diverting attention away from Palestine. I think more and more people are putting the pieces together, not that Levy just discovered this, but that fear-mongering over Iran is roundly recognized as linked to Palestine:
Israel’s leadership would consider the emergence of a third type of regional actor — one that is not overly deferential to Washington but also is not boycotted, and that even boasts a degree of economic, political, and military weight — a deeply undesirable development. What’s more, this threatens to become a not-uncommon feature of the Middle East: Just look at Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or Egypt before the July 3 coup, or an Iran that gets beyond its nuclear dispute and starts to normalize its relations with the West.
There are other reasons for Netanyahu to oppose any developments that would allow Iran to break free of its isolation and win acceptance as an important regional actor with which the West engages. The current standoff is an extremely useful way of distracting attention from the Palestinian issue, and a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran would likely shine more of a spotlight on Israel’s own nuclear weapons capacity. But the key point to understand in interpreting Netanyahu’s policy is this: While Obama has put aside changing the nature of the Islamic Republic’s political system, Israel’s leader is all about a commitment to regime change — or failing that, regime isolation — in Tehran. And he will pursue that goal even at the expense of a workable deal on the nuclear file.
……………. The prime minister is nothing if not consistent: He was similarly intractable when the Palestinian leadership and the Arab League put forth pragmatic proposals. While the PLO’s leadership accepts Israel’s existence, the 1967 lines, and an accommodation on Israeli settlements (including in East Jerusalem) by way of land swaps, Netanyahu has shifted the goal posts — rejecting the 1967 lines and refusing to take yes for an answer. With the Arab League’s “Arab Peace Initiative” offering recognition of Israel and comprehensive peace in exchange for withdrawal from the occupied territories, Netanyahu is again following this pattern of rejectionism.
There’s more and I recommend the whole article. Levy concludes by saying Obama needs to become “defter” at outmaneuvering Netanyahu, and “the interests of global and regional security” might “require a short, sharp burst of boxing in Bibi.”
And that’s music to my ears.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bragging Rights Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century By Tom Engelhardt

“But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

-- Barack Obama, address to the nation on Syria, September 10, 2013

Let’s be Americans, which means being exceptional, which also means being honest in ways inconceivable to the rest of humanity. So here’s the truth of it: the American exceptionalism sweepstakes really do matter. Here. A lot.

Barack Obama is only the latest in a jostling crowd of presidential candidates, presidential wannabes, major politicians, and minor figures of every sort, not to speak of a raging horde of neocons and pundits galore, who have felt compelled in recent years to tell us and the world just how exceptional the last superpower really is. They tend to emphasize our ability to use this country’s overwhelming power, especially the military variety, for the global good -- to save children and other deserving innocents. This particularly American aptitude for doing good forcibly, by killing others, is considered an incontestable fact of earthly life needing no proof. It is well known, especially among our leading politicians, that Washington has the ability to wield its military strength in ways that are unimaginably superior to any other power on the planet.

The well-deserved bragging rights to American exceptionalism are no small matter in this country. It should hardly be surprising, then, how visceral is the distaste when any foreigner -- say, Russian President Vladimir Putin -- decides to appropriate the term and use it to criticize us. How visceral? Well, the sort of visceral that, as Democratic Senator Bob Menendez put it recently, leaves us barely repressing the urge to “vomit.”

Now, it’s not that we can’t take a little self-criticism. If you imagine an over-muscled, over-armed guy walking into a room and promptly telling you and anyone else in earshot how exceptionally good he is when it comes to targeting his weapons, and you notice a certain threatening quality about him, and maybe a hectoring, lecturing tone in his voice, it’s just possible that you might be intimidated or irritated by him. You might think: narcissist, braggart, or blowhard. If you were the president of Russia, you might say, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

Yes, if you’re a foreigner, this country is easy enough to misunderstand, make fun of, or belittle. Still, that didn’t stop the president from proudly bringing up our exceptionalism two weeks ago in his address on the Syrian crisis. In that speech, he plugged the need for a U.S. military response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military. He recommended launching a “limited strike,” assumedly Tomahawk missiles heading Damascus-wards, to save Syria’s children, and he made sure the world knew that such an attack would be no passing thing. (“Let me make something clear: the United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”)

Then, in mid-speech, in a fashion that was nothing short of exceptional (if you were considering the internal logic of the address), he suddenly cast that option aside for another approach entirely. But just because of that, don’t let first impressions or foreign criticism blind you to the power of the president’s imagery. In this century, as he suggested then and in an address to the U.N. two weeks later, American exceptionalism has always had to do with Washington’s ability to use its power for the greater planetary good. Since, in the last decade-plus, power and military power have come to be essentially synonymous in Washington, the pure goodness of firing missiles or dropping bombs has been deified.

On that basis, it’s indisputable that the bragging rights to American exceptionalism are Washington’s. For those who need proof, what follows are just eight ways (among so many more) that you can proudly make the case for our exceptional status, should you happen to stumble across, say, President Putin, still blathering on about how unexceptional we are.

1. What other country could have invaded Iraq, hardly knowing the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, and still managed to successfully set off a brutal sectarian civil war and ethnic cleansing campaigns between the two sects that would subsequently go regional, whose casualty counts have tipped into the hundreds of thousands, and which is now bouncing back on Iraq? What other great power would have launched its invasion with plans to garrison that country for decades and with the larger goal of subduing neighboring Iran (“Everyone wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran”), only to slink away eight years later leaving behind a Shiite government in Baghdad that was a firm ally of Iran? And in what other country, could leaders, viewing these events, and knowing our part in them, have been so imbued with goodness as to draw further “red lines” and contemplate sending in the missiles and bombers again, this time on Syria and possibly Iran? Who in the world would dare claim that this isn’t an unmatchable record?

2. What other country could magnanimously spend $4-6 trillion on two “good wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq against lightly armed minority insurgencies without winning or accomplishing a thing? And that’s not even counting the funds sunk into the Global War on Terror and sideshows in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, or the staggering sums that, since 9/11, have been poured directly into the national security state. How many countries, possessing “the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” could have engaged in endless armed conflicts and interventions from the 1960s on and, except in unresisting Panama and tiny Grenada, never managed to definitively win anything?

3. And talking about exceptional records, what other military could have brought an estimated 3.1 million pieces of equipment -- ranging from tanks and Humvees to porta-potties, coffee makers, and computers -- with it into Iraq, and then transported most of them out again (while destroying the rest or turning them over to the Iraqis)? Similarly, in an Afghanistan where the U.S. military is now drawing down its forces and has already destroyed “more than 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment,” what other force would have decided ahead of time to shred, dismantle, or simply discard $7 billion worth of equipment (about 20% of what it had brought into the country)? The general in charge proudly calls this “the largest retrograde mission in history.” To put that in context: What other military would be capable of carrying a total consumer society right down to PXs, massage parlors, boardwalks, Internet cafes, and food courts to war? Let’s give credit where it’s due: we’re not just talking retrograde here, we’re talking exceptionally retrograde!

4. What other military could, in a bare few years in Iraq, have built a staggering 505 bases, ranging from combat outposts to ones the size of small American towns with their own electricity generators, water purifiers, fire departments, fast-food restaurants, and even miniature golf courses at a cost of unknown billions of dollars and then, only a few years later, abandoned all of them, dismantling some, turning others over to the Iraqi military or into ghost towns, and leaving yet others to be looted and stripped? And what other military, in the same time period thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, could have built more than 450 bases, sometimes even hauling in the building materials, and now be dismantling them in the same fashion? If those aren’t exceptional feats, what are?

5. In a world where it’s hard to get anyone to agree on anything, the covert campaign of drone strikes that George W. Bush launched and Barack Obama escalated in Pakistan’s tribal areas stands out. Those hundreds of strikes not only caused significant numbers of civilian casualties (including children), while helping to destabilize a sometime ally, but almost miraculously created public opinion unanimity. Opinion polls there indicate that a Ripley’s-Believe-It-or-Not-style 97% of Pakistanis consider such strikes “a bad thing.” Is there another country on the planet capable of mobilizing such loathing? Stand proud, America!

6. And what other power could have secretly and illegally kidnapped at least 136 suspected terrorists -- some, in fact, innocent of any such acts or associations -- off the streets of global cities as well as from the backlands of the planet? What other nation could have mustered a coalition-of-the-willing of 54 countries to lend a hand in its “rendition” operations? We’re talking about more than a quarter of the nations on Planet Earth! And that isn’t all. Oh, no, that isn’t all. Can you imagine another country capable of setting up a genuinely global network of “black sites” and borrowed prisons (with local torturers on hand), places to stash and abuse those kidnappees (and other prisoners) in locations ranging from Poland to Thailand, Romania to Afghanistan, Egypt and Uzbekistan to U.S. Navy ships on the high seas, not to speak of that jewel in the crown of offshore prisons, Guantanamo? Such illegality on such a global scale simply can’t be matched! And don’t even get me started on torture. (It’s fine for us to take pride in our exceptionalist tradition, but you don’t want to pour it on, do you?)

7. Or how about the way the State Department, to the tune of $750 million, constructed in Baghdad the largest, most expensive embassy compound on the planet -- a 104-acre, Vatican-sized citadel with 27 blast-resistant buildings, an indoor pool, basketball courts, and a fire station, which was to operate as a command-and-control center for our ongoing garrisoning of the country and the region? Now, the garrisons are gone, and the embassy, its staff cut, is a global white elephant. But what an exceptional elephant! Think of it as a modern American pyramid, a tomb in which lie buried the dreams of establishing a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East. Honestly, what other country could hope to match that sort of memorial thousands of miles from home?

8. Or what about this? Between 2002 and 2011, the U.S. poured at least $51 billion into building up a vast Afghan military. Another $11 billion was dedicated to the task in 2012, with almost $6 billion more planned for 2013. Washington has also sent in a legion of trainers tasked with turning that force into an American-style fighting outfit. At the time Washington began building it up, the Afghan army was reportedly a heavily illiterate, drug-taking, corrupt, and ineffective force that lost one-third to one-half of its personnel to casualties, non-reenlistment, and desertion in any year. In 2012, the latest date for which we have figures, the Afghan security forces were still a heavily illiterate, drug-taking, corrupt, and inefficient outfit that was losing about one-third of its personnel annually (a figure that may even be on the rise). The U.S. and its NATO allies are committed to spending $4.1 billion annually on the same project after the withdrawal of their combat forces in 2014. Tell me that isn't exceptional!

No one, of course, loves a braggart; so, easy as it might be to multiply these eight examples by others, the winner of the American exceptionalism sweepstakes is already obvious. In other words, this is a moment for exceptional modesty, which means that only one caveat needs to be added to the above record.

I’m talking about actual property rights to “American exceptionalism.” It’s a phrase often credited to a friendly nineteenth century foreigner, the French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville. As it happens, however, the man who seems to have first used the full phrase was Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. In 1929, when the U.S. was showing few signs of a proletarian uprising or fulfilling Karl Marx’s predictions and American Communists were claiming that the country had unique characteristics that left it unready for revolution, Stalin began denouncing “the heresy of American exceptionalism.” Outside the U.S. Communist Party, the phrase only gained popular traction here in the Reagan years. Now, it has become as American as sea salt potato chips. If, for instance, the phrase had never before been used in a presidential debate, in 2012 the candidates couldn’t stop wielding it.

Still, history does give Vladimir Putin a claim to use of the phrase, however stomach-turning that may be for various members of Congress. But maybe, in its own way, its origins only attest to... well, American exceptionalism. Somehow, through pureness of motive and the shining radiance of the way we exercise power, Washington’s politicians have taken words wielded negatively by one of the great monsters of history and made them the signature phrase of American greatness. How exceptional!

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (recently published in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Two State Illusion

September 14, 2013
Two-State Illusion
an op-ed in the NY Times 9/14/13


THE last three decades are littered with the carcasses of failed negotiating projects billed as the last chance for peace in Israel. All sides have been wedded to the notion that there must be two states, one Palestinian and one Israeli. For more than 30 years, experts and politicians have warned of a “point of no return.” Secretary of State John Kerry is merely the latest in a long line of well-meaning American diplomats wedded to an idea whose time is now past.
True believers in the two-state solution see absolutely no hope elsewhere. With no alternative in mind, and unwilling or unable to rethink their basic assumptions, they are forced to defend a notion whose success they can no longer sincerely portray as plausible or even possible.
It’s like 1975 all over again, when the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco fell into a coma. The news media began a long death watch, announcing each night that Generalissimo Franco was still not dead. This desperate allegiance to the departed echoes in every speech, policy brief and op-ed about the two-state solution today.
True, some comas miraculously end. Great surprises sometimes happen. The problem is that the changes required to achieve the vision of robust Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side are now considerably less likely than other less familiar but more plausible outcomes that demand high-level attention but aren’t receiving it.
Strong Islamist trends make a fundamentalist Palestine more likely than a small state under a secular government. The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible as the evacuation of enough of the half-million Israelis living across the 1967 border, or Green Line, to allow a real Palestinian state to exist. While the vision of thriving Israeli and Palestinian states has slipped from the plausible to the barely possible, one mixed state emerging from prolonged and violent struggles over democratic rights is no longer inconceivable. Yet the fantasy that there is a two-state solution keeps everyone from taking action toward something that might work.
All sides have reasons to cling to this illusion. The Palestinian Authority needs its people to believe that progress is being made toward a two-state solution so it can continue to get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidize the lifestyles of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants, and the authority’s prominence in a Palestinian society that views it as corrupt and incompetent.
Israeli governments cling to the two-state notion because it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.
American politicians need the two-state slogan to show they are working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.
Finally, the “peace process” industry — with its legions of consultants, pundits, academics and journalists — needs a steady supply of readers, listeners and funders who are either desperately worried that this latest round of talks will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, or that it will not.
Conceived as early as the 1930s, the idea of two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea all but disappeared from public consciousness between 1948 and 1967. Between 1967 and 1973 it re-emerged, advanced by a minority of “moderates” in each community. By the 1990s it was embraced by majorities on both sides as not only possible but, during the height of the Oslo peace process, probable. But failures of leadership in the face of tremendous pressures brought Oslo crashing down. These days no one suggests that a negotiated two-state “solution” is probable. The most optimistic insist that, for some brief period, it may still be conceivable.
But many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of “If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!” Those who assume that Israel will always exist as a Zionist project should consider how quickly the Soviet, Pahlavi Iranian, apartheid South African, Baathist Iraqi and Yugoslavian states unraveled, and how little warning even sharp-eyed observers had that such transformations were imminent.
In all these cases, presumptions about what was “impossible” helped protect brittle institutions by limiting political imagination. And when objective realities began to diverge dramatically from official common sense, immense pressures accumulated.
JUST as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics. When those thresholds are crossed, the impossible suddenly becomes probable, with revolutionary implications for governments and nations. As we see vividly across the Middle East, when forces for change and new ideas are stifled as completely and for as long as they have been in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, sudden and jagged change becomes increasingly likely.
History offers many such lessons. Britain ruled Ireland for centuries, annexing it in 1801. By the mid-19th century the entire British political class treated Ireland’s permanent incorporation as a fact of life. But bottled-up Irish fury produced repeated revolts. By the 1880s, the Irish question was the greatest issue facing the country; it led to mutiny in the army and near civil war before World War I. Once the war ended, it took only a few years until the establishment of an independent Ireland. What was inconceivable became a fact.
France ruled Algeria for 130 years and never questioned the future of Algeria as an integral part of France. But enormous pressures accumulated, exploding into a revolution that left hundreds of thousands dead. Despite France’s military victory over the rebels in 1959, Algeria soon became independent, and Europeans were evacuated from the country.
And when Mikhail S. Gorbachev sought to save Soviet Communism by reforming it with the policies of glasnost and perestroika, he relied on the people’s continuing belief in the permanence of the Soviet structure. But the forces for change that had already accumulated were overwhelming. Unable to separate freedom of expression and market reforms from the rest of the Soviet state project, Mr. Gorbachev’s policies pushed the system beyond its breaking point. Within a few years, both the Soviet Union and the Communist regime were gone.
Obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than steering clear of icebergs. But neither ships in the night nor the State of Israel can avoid icebergs unless they are seen.
The two-state slogan now serves as a comforting blindfold of entirely contradictory fantasies. The current Israeli version of two states envisions Palestinian refugees abandoning their sacred “right of return,” an Israeli-controlled Jerusalem and an archipelago of huge Jewish settlements, crisscrossed by Jewish-only access roads. The Palestinian version imagines the return of refugees, evacuation of almost all settlements and East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
DIPLOMACY under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere. And this isn’t the first time that American diplomats have obstructed political progress in the name of hopeless talks.
In 1980, I was a 30-year-old assistant professor, on leave from Dartmouth at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. I was responsible for analyzing Israeli settlement and land expropriation policies in the West Bank and their implications for the “autonomy negotiations” under way at that time between Israel, Egypt and the United States. It was clear to me that Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s government was systematically using tangled talks over how to conduct negotiations as camouflage for de facto annexation of the West Bank via intensive settlement construction, land expropriation and encouragement of “voluntary” Arab emigration.
To protect the peace process, the United States strictly limited its public criticism of Israeli government policies, making Washington an enabler for the very processes of de facto annexation that were destroying prospects for the full autonomy and realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people that were the official purpose of the negotiations. This view was endorsed and promoted by some leading voices within the administration. Unsurprisingly, it angered others. One day I was summoned to the office of a high-ranking diplomat, who was then one of the State Department’s most powerful advocates for the negotiations. He was a man I had always respected and admired. “Are you,” he asked me, “personally so sure of your analysis that you are willing to destroy the only available chance for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?” His question gave me pause, but only briefly. “Yes, sir,” I answered, “I am.”
I still am. Had America blown the whistle on destructive Israeli policies back then it might have greatly enhanced prospects for peace under a different leader. It could have prevented Mr. Begin’s narrow electoral victory in 1981 and brought a government to power that was ready to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians before the first or second intifada and before the construction of massive settlement complexes in the West Bank. We could have had an Oslo process a crucial decade earlier.
Now, as then, negotiations are phony; they suppress information that Israelis, Palestinians and Americans need to find noncatastrophic paths into the future. The issue is no longer where to draw political boundaries between Jews and Arabs on a map but how equality of political rights is to be achieved. The end of the 1967 Green Line as a demarcation of potential Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty means that Israeli occupation of the West Bank will stigmatize all of Israel.
For some, abandoning the two-state mirage may feel like the end of the world. But it is not. Israel may no longer exist as the Jewish and democratic vision of its Zionist founders. The Palestine Liberation Organization stalwarts in Ramallah may not strut on the stage of a real Palestinian state. But these lost futures can make others more likely.
THE assumptions necessary to preserve the two-state slogan have blinded us to more likely scenarios. With a status but no role, what remains of the Palestinian Authority will disappear. Israel will face the stark challenge of controlling economic and political activity and all land and water resources from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The stage will be set for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.
Fresh thinking could then begin about Israel’s place in a rapidly changing region. There could be generous compensation for lost property. Negotiating with Arabs and Palestinians based on satisfying their key political requirements, rather than on maximizing Israeli prerogatives, might yield more security and legitimacy. Perhaps publicly acknowledging Israeli mistakes and responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians would enable the Arab side to accept less than what it imagines as full justice. And perhaps Israel’s potent but essentially unusable nuclear weapons arsenal could be sacrificed for a verified and strictly enforced W.M.D.-free zone in the Middle East.
Such ideas cannot even be entertained as long as the chimera of a negotiated two-state solution monopolizes all attention. But once the two-state-fantasy blindfolds are off, politics could make strange bedfellows.
In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.
It remains possible that someday two real states may arise. But the pretense that negotiations under the slogan of “two states for two peoples” could lead to such a solution must be abandoned. Time can do things that politicians cannot.
Just as an independent Ireland emerged by seceding 120 years after it was formally incorporated into the United Kingdom, so, too, a single state might be the route to eventual Palestinian independence. But such outcomes develop organically; they are not implemented by diplomats overnight and they do not arise without the painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side.
Peacemaking and democratic state building require blood and magic. The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot. But avoiding truly catastrophic change means ending the stifling reign of an outdated idea and allowing both sides to see and then adapt to the world as it is.

Ian S. Lustick is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza” and “Trapped in the War on Terror.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

Remembering the FIRST 9/11: September 11, 1973 when the US organized military coup murdered democracy in Chile and Israel welcomed Pinochet with open arms (and arms sales)

In 1970 Chile's crime was to democratically elect a socialist government that tried to put socialism into practice. The USA has stormed in and overthrown many governments in Latin America for far less than this. So Allende was a marked man from the beginning: Nixon and Kissinger were not going to allow this to succeed.

The CIA/Pinochet coup killed thousands, imprisoned more thousands, thousands were exiled. Besides a dictatorship, Pinochet's military government imposed extreme neo-liberal "free market" economic policies that impoverished the people and enriched the elite (and US businesses).

Seeing the kind of government it likes, Israel jumped in with arms sales to the Chilean military after the coup. It was carrying out its role as a sub-contractor and partner with the US's global system, both politically and militarily (this role has expanded greatly over the decades. Now Israel is fully integrated into the USA's military/industrial/technology/security and spying system).

"Why does the world hate us?" talking media heads intoned after September 11, 2001. Look at September 11, 1973 for an insight into this question that the house-broken US media will never figure out, not only because they are usually too obtuse to do so, but also because they are paid not to.

Cornel West and the Fight to Save the Black Prophetic Tradition

Chris Hedges' Columns

Posted on Sep 9, 2013

By Chris Hedges

There is an insidious and largely unseen effort by the White House to silence the handful of voices that remain true to the black prophetic tradition. This tradition, which stretches back to Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, has consistently named and damned the cruelty of imperialism and white supremacy. It has done so with a clarity and moral force that have eluded most other critics of American capitalism. President Barack Obama first displayed his fear of this tradition when he betrayed his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, abetting the brutal character assassination of one of the church’s most prophetic voices. And he has sustained this assault, largely through black surrogates such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, Tom Joyner and Steve Harvey, in vicious attacks on Cornel West.

“Jeremiah Wright was the canary in the mine,” West said when we met a few days ago in Princeton, N.J. “The black prophetic tradition has been emptied out. Its leaders have either been murdered or incarcerated. ... A lot of political prisoners who represent the black prophetic tradition [are] in jail. They have been in there for decades. Or we have leaders who have completely sold out. They have been co-opted. And these are the three major developments. With sold-out leaders you get a pacified followership or people who are scared.”
“The black prophetic tradition has been the leaven in the American democratic loaf,” West said. “What has kept American democracy from going fascist or authoritarian or autocratic has been the legacy of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Martin King, Fannie Lou Hamer. This is not because black people have a monopoly on truth, goodness or beauty. It is because the black freedom movement puts pressure on the American empire in the name of integrity, decency, honesty and virtue.”

The tradition is sustained by a handful of beleaguered writers and intellectuals, including Glen Ford and his Black Agenda Report, James Cone, Carl Dix, Bruce Dixon, Boyce Watkins, Yvette Carnell, Robin Kelley, Margaret Kimberley, Nellie Bailey, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Maulana Karenga, Ajamu Baraka and Wright, but none have the public profile of West, who is routinely attacked by Obama’s black supporters as a “race traitor,” the equivalent of a “self-hating Jew” to hard-line supporters of Israel. It is understandable why this tradition frightens Obama. It exposes him as the ideological heir of Booker T. Washington, a black accommodationist whose core message to black people was, in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, “adjustment and submission.” The wide swath of destruction Obama has overseen on behalf of the corporate state includes the eradication of most of our civil liberties and our privacy, the expansion of imperial war, the use of kill lists, abject subservience to Wall Street’s criminal class and the military-industrial complex, the relentless persecution of whistle-blowers, mass incarceration of poor people of color and the failure to ameliorate the increasing distress of the poor and the working class. His message to the black underclass in the midst of the corporate rape of the nation is drawn verbatim from the Booker T. Washington playbook. He tells them to work harder—as if anyone works harder than the working poor in this country—and obey the law.

“Obama is the highest manifestation of the co-optation that took place,” West said. “It shifted to the black political class. The black political class, more and more, found itself unable to tell the truth, or if they began to tell some of the truth they were [put] under surveillance, attacked and demonized. Forty percent of our babies are living in poverty, living without enough food, and Obama comes to us and says quit whining. He doesn’t say that to the Business Roundtable. He doesn’t say that to the corporate elites. He doesn’t say that to AIPAC, the conservative Jewish brothers and sisters who will do anything to support the Israeli occupation against Palestinians. This kind of neglect in policy is coupled with disrespect in his speeches to black folk, which the mainstream calls tough love.”

“He is a shell of a man,” West said of Obama. “There is no deep conviction. There is no connection to something bigger than him. It is a sad spectacle, sad if he were not the head of an empire that is in such decline and so dangerous. This is a nadir. William Trotter and Du Bois, along with Ida B. Wells-Barnett, were going at Book T tooth and nail. Look at the fights between [Marcus] Garvey and Du Bois, or Garvey and A. Philip Randolph. But now if you criticize Obama the way Randolph criticized Garvey, you become a race traitor and an Uncle Tom. A lot of that comes out of the Obama machine, the Obama plantation.”

“The most pernicious development is the incorporation of the black prophetic tradition into the Obama imperial project,” West said. “Obama used [Martin Luther] King’s Bible during his inauguration, but under the National Defense Authorization Act King would be detained without due process. He would be under surveillance every day because of his association with Nelson Mandela, who was the head of a ‘terrorist’ organization, the African National Congress. We see the richest prophetic tradition in America desecrated in the name of a neoliberal worldview, a worldview King would be in direct opposition to. Martin would be against Obama because of his neglect of the poor and the working class and because of the [aerial] drones, because he is a war president, because he draws up kill lists. And Martin King would have nothing to do with that.”

“We are talking about crimes against humanity—Wall Street crimes, war crimes, the crimes of the criminal justice system in the form of Jim Crow, the crimes against our working poor that have their backs pushed against the wall because of stagnant wages and corporate profits going up,” West said. “Abraham Heschel said that the distinctive feature of any empire in decline is its indifference to criminality. That is a fundamental feature of our time, an indifference to criminality, especially on top, wickedness in high places.”
“This is not personal,” West said. “This was true for [George W.] Bush. It was true for [Bill] Clinton. We are talking about an imperial system, manifest in Obama’s robust effort to bomb Syria. War crimes against Syrian children do not justify U.S. war crimes. We are talking about a corporate state and a massive surveillance and national security state. It operates according to its own logic. Profit on the one hand, and secrecy to hide imperial policy on the other. Jesse [Jackson] was the head house Negro on the Clinton plantation, just as Sharpton is the head house Negro on the Obama plantation. But there is a difference. Jesse was willing to oppose Clinton on a variety of issues. He marched, for example, against the welfare bill. But Sharpton loves the plantation. He will not say a critical word. It is sad and pathetic. We are living in the age of the sellout.”

“Garvey used to say that as long as black people were in America the masses of black people, the poor and the working class, would never be treated with respect, decency or fairness,” West said. “That has always been a skeleton in the closet, the fundamental challenge to the black prophetic tradition. It may very well be that black people will never be free in America. But I believe, and the black prophetic tradition believes, that we proceed because black people are worthy of being free, just as poor people of all colors are worthy of being free, even if they never will be free. That is the existential leap of faith. There is no doubt that with a black president the black masses are still treated unfairly, from stop and frisk to high unemployment, indecent housing and decrepit education.”

“It is a spiritual issue,” West said. “What kind of person do you choose to be? People say, ‘Well, Brother West, since the mass of black folk will never be free then let me just get mine.’ That is the dominant response. ‘I am wasting my time fighting a battle that can’t be won.’ But that is not what the black prophetic tradition is about. History is a mystery. Yes, it doesn’t look good. But the masses of black folk must be respected. Malcolm X used to say as long as they are not respected you could show me all the individual respect you want but I know it’s empty. That is the fundamental divide between the prophetic tradition and the sellouts.”

The tradition has been diminished by what West called the “emaciation” of the black press that once amplified the voices of black radicals. The decline of the black press and the consolidation of the media, especially the electronic media, into the hands of a few corporations means that those who remain faithful to this tradition have been shut out. West does not appear on MSNBC, where the black and white hosts serve as giddy cheerleaders for Obama, and was abruptly dropped as a scheduled guest on an edition of CBS’ “Face the Nation” that aired after the 50 anniversary of the march on Washington. The black prophetic tradition is rarely taught in schools, including primarily African-American schools, and West said that this deterioration threatens to extinguish the tradition.

“It no longer has a legitimacy or significant foothold in the minds of the black masses,” West said. “With corporate media and the narrowing of the imagination of all Americans, including black people, there is an erasure of memory. This is the near death of the black prophetic tradition. It is a grave issue. It is a matter of life and death. It means that the major roadblock to American fascism, which has been the black prophetic tradition, is gone. To imagine America without the black prophetic tradition, from Frederick Douglass to Fannie Lou Hamer, means an American authoritarian regime, American fascism. We already have the infrastructure in place for the police state.”
“Black intelligence and black suspicion is still there among the masses,” West said. “Black people are not stupid. We are not completely duped. We are just scared. We don’t think there is any alternative. This is re-niggerization of the black professional class. They have big money, nice positions, comfort and convenience, but are scared, intimidated, afraid to tell the truth and will not bear witness to justice. Those who are incorporated into the black professional and political class are willing to tolerate disrespect for the black masses and sip their tea and accept their checks and gain access to power. That is what niggerization is—keeping people afraid and intimidated.”

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Oslo Dead but Still Matters: Abbas’s Village Leagues and Palestinian Silence

from Palestine Chronicle
by Ramzy Baroud
Sept 4 2013 / 6:33 pm

Palestinians have to face up to the inescapable reality that their leadership has completely acquiesced.

Suppose several armored vehicles belonging to a branch of the Palestinian Authority raided an Israeli border village at the eve of a new round of peace negotiations. One can picture PA President Mahmoud Abbas defending the killings, stating that the attack was made in the cause of protecting the security of the Palestinian public. Would the Israeli delegation return to the talks with handshakes and smiles?

The answer is an obvious no. Yet the Palestinian delegation did return to real recently renewed peace talks after Israeli forces’ raided a refugee camp in north Jerusalem on August 26, killing three. This was not the only lethal Israeli attack to take place during “peace talks”, and it will not likely be the last.

Granted, Palestine is an occupied nation, and its leadership possesses far fewer advantages than its Israeli counterpart; but if negotiations exist under such humiliating circumstances, can Abbas and his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reasonably expect any fair outcome from these talks?

Of course not. Yet Abbas continues to offer more concessions that defy logic and the history of diplomacy. After volunteering last year to terminate claims to historic Palestine during an Israeli TV interview, which was rightly understood as a direct dismissal of Palestinians’ right of return to land occupied in 1947-48, he is still unrepentant.

“The Palestinians would abandon historic claims to land that is now in the state of Israel in the event of a far-reaching peace deal,” he told a group of Israeli parliamentarians, as reported by The Guardian newspaper on August 23.

Abbas, who serves no purpose aside from filling the US-entrusted role of the “moderate” Palestinian, has no vision of his own. Rather he is an assortment of confounded ideas about peace and justice and international law. He is willing to abandon the internationally enshrined rights of his people, yet expects a “just” agreement that would usher in “an end of the conflict”.

He doesn’t even seem to fully grasp the timetable set forth for the negotiations: “We wanted the meetings … to take place every day or every second day, and not once a week or every 10 days like the Israelis want. I don’t know why they don’t want to. We don’t have much time.”

Although his term as a president of the PA has expired, and his authority doesn’t enjoy a speck of democratic credentials, he makes concessions in the name of his people. “You have a commitment from the Palestinian people and also from the leadership, that if we are offered a just agreement, we will sign a peace deal that will put an end to the conflict and to future demands from the Palestinian side.”

Abbas’ statements have grown so increasingly strange that few political commentators – aside from those working in self-serving media outlets belonging to, partly funded by, or permitted to operate under the auspices of the PA in the West Bank – even bother to decipher his outlandish remarks.

The current peace process, styled on the 1993 Oslo I Accord, is long dead as far as its chances of achieving any peace, just or otherwise. Israel has made it crystal clear that no peace deal is present on its agenda.

In August alone, the Israeli government announced bids for 3,000 more housing units in illegal Jewish settlements. Abbas himself, although playing along for non-altruistic reasons, is aware of that. “I can’t say that I’m optimistic, but I hope we aren’t just wasting our time.”

That said, and although irrelevant as far as its declared reasons for finding a fair solution to the historic conflict, Oslo is not dead as a culture. That aspect of Oslo is very much alive. It continues to define Palestinian political bankruptcy and split Palestinian society.

As disheartening as it may sound, the accord’s legacy has plenty of supporters who are benefiting, to various degrees, from its perks and privileges. It has polarized Palestinians around factional and geographical lines. And unlike other attempts by Israel to weaken Palestinian resolve, this particular gambit has had unparalleled success.

History is laden with failed Israeli experiments aimed at destroying the Palestinian national project from within. In 1976, the Israeli government, then led by Yitzhak Rabin, conducted local elections in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a classic Rabin move aimed at stripping the Palestine Liberation Organization and nationalist leaders of any validity in the occupied territories.

Israel had by then made-up another group of Palestinian “leaders”, which consisted mostly of traditional heads of clans, a small, self-seeking oligarchy that historically accommodated whatever foreign power happened to be ruling over Palestinians at the time. Israel was almost certain that its allies were ready to sweep the local elections, but it miscalculated.

Israel’s miscalculation in 1976 was a rude awakening for both its military and political leaderships, whose plans had officially faltered when the results came out. National candidates won an overwhelming majority, sweeping 148 of the 191 mayoralties and councillorships. The attempt to create an early version of Abbas and his PA was a complete failure.

But Israel was never to give up trying to mold local Palestinian leaders as alternatives to elected Palestinians or internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian struggle. In 1978, Israeli leader Menachem Begin established the Village Leagues, giving its members relatively wide powers, including approving or denying developmental projects in the occupied territories.

He armed them and also provided them with Israeli military protection. But that too was deemed to fail. “The league members [were] widely regarded as collaborators by their fellow townspeople and villagers (And by 1983) Israel had begun recognizing the artificial nature of the Village Leagues and acknowledged the failure of the efforts to create political institutions capable of mobilizing Palestinian support for the occupation,” wrote Ann Mosely Lesch and Mark Tessler in Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada.

As a revamped version of the Village Leagues and their clan-like political apparatus, Abbas’ authority is working too well. Palestinians have to face up to the inescapable reality that their leadership has completely acquiesced and their continued silence is an affirmation of that defeat.

- Ramzy Baroud ( is a media-consultant, an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

World's literary stars sign Israeli petition against destruction of Palestinian villages Nobel laureates in literature and other prominent writers sign petition by David Grossman against destruction of villages in southern Hebron hills.

from Haaretz

By Maya Sela | Sep. 2, 2013 | 3:07 PM |

Dozens of the world’s literary stars have added their names to an Israeli writers’ petition urging the army and the Netanyahu government not to destroy Palestinian villages in the southern Hebron hills.

Renowned Israeli author David Grossman penned the petition, which has now also been signed by Nobel laureates in literature J. M. Coetzee, Mario Vargas Llosa, Herta Mueller, Orhan Pamuk and the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died last Friday and signed the petition before his death.

Other signatories include Julian Barnes, John Le Carre, Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, Dave Eggers, Neil Gaiman, Nathan Englander, Aleksandar Hemon, Yann Martel, Colum McCann, Ian McEwan and Philip Roth.

The petition, which Grossman wrote in late June, was signed by Israeli writers such as Yoram Kaniuk (before his death), Sami Michael, Meir Shalev, Yehoshua Kenaz, Etgar Keret, Zeruya Shalev and Ronit Matalon. It reads in part: “For the past 20 years, Israel has been actively expelling and displacing the inhabitants of the villages of the southern Hebron hills. These villagers have always practiced a unique lifestyle: Most of them are cave dwellers and find their livelihood in sheep and goat herding and farming."

Over these years they have suffered from constant abuse by the army and by settlers. Homes are destroyed again and again, their cisterns are blocked and their crops are destroyed. One thousand people, adults and children alike, who live in eight villages in the area designated in 1980 as Firing Zone 918, are now threatened with immediate eviction from their villages. They live in constant fear, helplessly facing a ruthless power that does everything to displace them from the home they have inhabited for centuries.”

The petition continues, “We cannot bring peace today. But the least we can do is to expose and condemn ‘small’ local outrages. In a reality of ongoing occupation, of solid cynicism and malice, each and every one of us bears the moral obligation to try and relieve suffering, to do something to bend back the occupation’s giant, cruel hand.”

On Tuesday, a hearing on the petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against the eviction will take place in the High Court of Justice.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kerry’s rationale to attack Syria could have also justified attack on Israel over Gaza


Sep 03, 2013 11:51 am | David Samel

A week ago, on August 26, Secretary of State John Kerry made the case for military action against Syria. As we all know, a few days later, he made an even stronger statement, followed by his boss, President Obama, who is asking Congress to approve his authority to use force. Apparently this resolution will be binding if it passes, and only advisory if it does not.
There are many excellent reasons to oppose military action already discussed on Mondoweiss by Phyllis Bennis and Max Blumenthal. But what struck me when reading Kerry’s remarks was that his rationale would have paved the way for Russia to unilaterally attack Israel in the wake of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-2009.
Kerry’s reasoning was as follows. First, the events in Syria “should shock the conscience of the world” and “defies any code of morality,” as it involved “the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders.” He later offered the number of Syrian dead at 1429, including 426 children. Second, “the meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict on Syria itself,” since “this is about the large-scale indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all.” Third, “the Syrian regime has failed to cooperate with the U.N. investigation.” Kerry “made it very clear to [the Syrian Foreign Minister] that if the regime, as he argued, had nothing to hide, then their response should be immediate: immediate transparency, immediate access.” Finally, as Kerry added in his August 29 statement, “because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act, as it should.”
In 2009, Vladimir Putin or Dimitry Medvedev could have made virtually the same speech about Israel. First, the IDF indiscriminately attacked Palestinian civilians during its onslaught, and the eventual death toll of about 1400, including 313 to 431 children, is quite similar to Kerry’s figures, which are far higher than those estimated by other sources. Second, the meaning of the attack was bigger than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, because it was about the use of indiscriminate military force upon a civilian population “that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all.” Third, Israel adamantly refused to cooperate in any capacity with the U.N. Commission headed by Richard Goldstone assigned to investigate the conduct of all parties to the conflict. Finally, any attempt to impose punishment or sanctions upon Israel through the U.N. Security Council was doomed to fail due to “guaranteed U.S. obstructionism.”
So Russia could have claimed the same “authority” to circumvent the U.N. Security Council, rendered powerless by an inevitable U.S. veto, and deal Israel the punishing blow it deserved for its “conscience-shocking” behavior in Gaza.
Like any analogy, this one is not perfect. There are differences, some significant and some less so, between today’s situation with Syria and Israel in 2009. But for the most part, those differences make a stronger case for Russian military action against Israel than for Kerry’s case against Syria. First, there truly is no doubt who was responsible for the killing of so many civilians, including children, in Gaza. While the general consensus among the political and media elite is that Assad is to blame for a sarin attack, Max Blumenthal has exposed the likelihood that Israeli intelligence has spoon-fed that conclusion to a willingly gullible audience. As for Israel’s excuse that the high civilian death toll in Gaza was due to Hamas militants hiding behind civilians, the Goldstone Report rejected the allegation. Moreover, it surely is true that Syrian rebels are physically intertwined with the civilian population, thereby endangering the lives of those civilians. Assad could make the same claim that Israel has relentlessly repeated ad nauseam for years.
While it is true that Israel’s slaughter of Gaza civilians was mostly achieved through conventional weapons (with the exception of white phosphorus for several dozen victims), both events were clear violations of fundamental principles of international law and military conduct: use of chemical weapons in Syria, and launching an aggressive war and failing to distinguish between fighters and civilians in Gaza. Perhaps the most important difference is that in Syria, the Assad regime and rebel forces had fought to a stalemate, while Israel always had an overwhelming military advantage in Gaza and essentially could inflict as much damage as it wanted while suffering a bare minimum of casualties. Indeed, when Kerry called Syrian civilians “the world’s most vulnerable people,” he offered no reason why they should be considered more vulnerable than the 1.5 million captive inhabitants of the tiny Gaza strip.
Of course, those afflicted with patriotic amnesia will contend that Russia has no moral authority to punish Israel for attacking civilians because of its history of even worse conduct in Chechnya. The notion that the U.S. (napalm, agent orange, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, millions dead in Southeast Asia and hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan with millions made refugees) has more moral authority act as global cop, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner is beyond absurd.
Though I think it should be obvious, I certainly am not advocating that Russia should have launched a unilateral attack against Israel. My point is that the US case for doing so against Syria is as morally bankrupt and legally vacuous as a hypothetical Russian case for attacking Israel, even more so. The fact that a Russian strike against Israel has never been contemplated as a remote possibility should make us all question why the Obama/Kerry plan should even be debatable.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fireagra: for foreign policy impotemce

follow the link for political cartoon