Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 28, 2010

Can You Believe the Spin?

Filed under: Gaza,Hamas,Israeli politics,Netanyahu government's policy,Uncategorized — quinnconnors @ 3:20 pm

In a recent visit to Turkey, the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the current blockade on Gaza and referred to the territory as a “prison camp”.   The Israeli embassy in London accordingly responded to Mr. Cameron’s remarks by asserting that the Palestinians living in Gaza are actually prisoners of Hamas, rather than prisoners of the Israeli blockade. Furthermore, the Israeli spokesperson claimed that Hamas, due to its election in 2006, is responsible for the situation in Gaza.

While the media is focusing on the visit and remarks by David Cameron, the responding statements by the Israeli embassy are, in my view, more interesting.  Both statements are clear examples of political spin, but spin that has gone so far as to place the blame for Israeli actions upon Hamas.

The logic is impossible to follow, but according to the Israeli envoy to the UK, this is what we are supposed to understand about the blockade. They want us to believe that Hamas really doesn’t care much about the well-being of the Palestinians who elected it into power.  And that Hamas is enforcing a strict blockade on the territory that they control.  Clearly, they would never want any form of international trade, freedom of movement, secure access to power, or building materials.  Instead, Hamas focuses solely on building rockets and killing Israelis, at the expense of any effort that might aid Gaza.

However, the officials who work at the Israeli Embassy are not idiots.  They most likely understand that the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the ensuing conditions of poverty, are not the responsibility of Hamas.   But they still try to put out this kind of spin, wriggling their way out of any sort of blame or consequences and using Hamas as a scapegoat.  Unfortunately, many in the United States accept this spin without question.

July 19, 2010

Behind the Smiles and Handshakes

Broad smiles and firm handshakes are staples of any meeting between world leaders documented by journalists and cameras. But in these diplomatic relationships there is always a gap between the symbols of alliance or trust and the true power dynamics between nations and their allies. In the case of the American-Israeli relationship, a recently- released video of Binyamin Netanyahu from 2001 reveals which partner the Prime Minister believes really holds the reigns.

The video, aired Friday on Israel’s Channel 10, shows PM Netanyahu speaking candidly with Israeli settlers about Israel’s relationship with the United States, it’s image on the world stage and using loopholes in the Oslo Accords to continue occupying the West Bank. His remarks, even in translation, are direct and clearly demonstrate the extent to which Netanyahu felt, and likely still feels, Israeli actions are safe from world and especially American criticism.

“Woman: wait a moment, but then the world will say “how come you’re conquering again?”

Netanyahu: the world won’t say a thing. The world will say we’re defending.

Woman: Aren’t you afraid of the world, Bibi?

Netanyahu: Especially today, with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right correction…They won’t get in our way. They won’t get in our way.”

On the topic of the Oslo Accords and maintaining Israel’s occupation of the West Bank Netanyahu said “I’ll give such interpretation to the Accords that will make it possible for me to stop this galloping to the ’67 [armistice] lines. How did we do it? …No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.”

The words truly speak for themselves in revealing the chasm that exists, at least from the Israeli side, between Netanyahu’s photographed smiles and the strength of his handshake.

July 14, 2010

180° from Cairo to Washington

Last June, in the famous address at Cairo University, President Obama promised the world that “America will not turn [its] back on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own” and argued that two viable states living side-by-side is in America’s, as well as Israel’s, best interests. On July 6th, however, Obama made a complete about-face in a highly theatrical meeting with PM Netanyahu, retreating from pressuring Israel on its peace-hindering settlements.

During their “excellent conversation” that Tuesday, the President took pains to assure Netanyahu of the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, despite a growing disparity in the countries’ strategic interests. This fissure has become more visible recently, especially on the topic of non-proliferation. Concerned with preventing nuclear proliferation, the United States recently signed a UN document that singled out Israel for refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But, in last Tuesday’s meeting, President Obama backtracked from this stance, instead implicitly allowing Israel to keep building its undeclared nuclear arsenal by pledging that “efforts for weapons control and decommisioning nuclear weapons will not harm Israel’s security.”

On the topic of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a source of contention that led to March’s chilled White House reception for Netanyahu, Obama decidedly avoided the issue. In response to a reporter’s inquiry, according to the Washington Post, the President finally acknowledged the subject, but only by declining to say that Israel should extend its West Bank settlement building moratorium which will expire in September. Settlement construction, however, is a clear impediment to any meaningful peace talks, as well as the formation of a viable state for Palestinians. Thus, Obama’s retreat on this issue discredits any hoped-for direct negotiations.

A week after this disappointing meeting, the on-the-ground reality is quickly reflecting Obama’s new stance. Just this Tuesday, July 13th, a Palestinian home was demolished in East Jerusalem for the first time in eight months. Since November Israel had not implemented any standing house demolition orders in this area due to pressure from the US. But now, given America’s changed attitude, Israel can feel confident in continuing actions, such as house demolitions in highly-contested East Jerusalem, which directly harm the peace process.

The hope and change rhetoric of Cairo now appear almost gone. The ‘peace process’ is moving further away from a two-state solution in which each state is a viable one, signaled by Netanyahu’s refusal to even utter the phrase ‘two-state solution’ on July 6th while discussing peace. By surrendering to domestic pressures which demand unconditional support for Israel, President Obama is now agreeing to support a stance which could ultimately hurt Israel’s and America’s security and international standing.

June 24, 2010

Budrus

Yesterday, I attended an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that showcased the documentary “Budrus.

Budrus is a small, relatively unknown Palestinian village located near Ramallah with a population of about 1,500.  The documentary tells the story of the community’s struggle with the state of Israel in 2003 against plans to build part of the separation barrier through the village.  The proposed plan would have surrounded the village and confiscated 40% of the land.

The documentary follows a local leader, Ayed Morrar, who united the community to try and block the plans through nonviolent means.  He brought together an unlikely group, comprising of members of Hamas and Fatah as well as Palestinians, Israelis, men, and women.

Perhaps most crucial was the role of women.  Morrar was unable to mobilize the community until his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam brought women to the movement.  The women would stand in front of bulldozers or lie in front of olive trees, and IDF soldiers did not know  how to deal with them.  The documentary actually shows some soldiers beating women.  As a result, a woman IDF soldier was called in to handle them.

Israelis played a crucial role in the nonviolent movement as well.  Iltezam states how she did not think she would ever have an Israeli friend before; she never knew any, only IDF soldiers.  Morrar, who was at the event yesterday, commented on how through this event, he was able to see the good side of Israelis. He was able to see and meet Israeli that want peace and who want to raise their children in peace based on justice, not peace based on what Morrar calls the relationship between the slave and master.  Israelis are very important in the nonviolent movement, as they give credence to the Palestinian struggle by questioning the actions of their own state.

Also unlikely was the cooperation of Fatah and Hamas members.  Morrar recounted how politics were temporarily put aside, as both parties, even if they differed ideologically, desired the same results.  Politics is indeed an important issue in the struggle for nonviolent protest.  The pockets of resistance in villages such as Budrus do not have any national leadership yet, and the role of the PA in the nonviolent movement is still questionable.

Though the movie documents the struggle of just one village, its message offers hope for what is possible: eventual freedom.  The producers of the film, Just Vision, are trying to spread this message.  Just Vision is currently on a six month promotion tour through the U.S.  For Screenings of “Budrus” in your area, click here.

Spoiler Alert:

In the end, the villagers of Budrus, after 10 months of nonviolent protest, forced the IDF to move the separation barrier out of the village.  They saved 95% of the land, and the barrier was built almost entirely on the Green Line.  Some parts even went into the No Man’s Land area.  However Israel will not acknowledge the efforts of the Budrus villagers.  The official response from the government is that the barrier was not moved because of the villagers’ efforts, but for other reasons.

June 21, 2010

Democracy and Equality in Israel

The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel: “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

This was Israel back in its idealistic days, when it advertised itself as a land of egalitarianism and democracy.  Israel now, as Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman puts it, has the most “unequal society among western nations.”

Israeli Arabs are marginalized and discriminated against in Israeli society, though they make up about 20% of the population.  Just to highlight a few aspects of discrimination, the State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories states that: “Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, Palestinian Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. Women suffered societal discrimination and domestic violence. The government maintained unequal educational systems for Arab and Jewish students.” (more…)

Far from Ideal: Gaza Blockade Eased

Following international pressure and diplomatic discussions with Egyptian, US and Quartet representatives, Israel’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it would change its blockade policy for the Gaza Strip.  At present only 114 items are allowed into the Strip, but according to the announced easing of the Gaza blockade a new “black list” of unpermitted goods will replace the current highly restrictive policy. The PM Binyamin Netanyahu confirmed that all goods, other than “weapons and materials Hamas uses”, will  be allowed into the Palestinian territory while adding that a finalized list of items not allowed will be released as soon as possible.

While the exact definition of a “material Hamas uses” is not clear, the announcement certainly paves the way for humanitarian aid and some construction materials to soon enter the Gaza Strip.  Heavy limitations, however, remain on the construction materials allowed, as they must be for Palestinian Authority-approved projects and kept under international supervision.  Netanyahu described these new allowances as “eliminating Hamas’ main propoganda claim and allow[ing] [Israel]…to face [their] real concerns in the realm of security.” (more…)

June 14, 2010

Investigation into Gaza Raid

Israel has rejected UN demands for an external probe of the Gaza raid, and instead has announced that it is to administer an internal investigation.  Israel, trying to somewhat appease the international community, has added “two foreign observers” to the commission.  The observers include Irish Nobel Prize laureate David Trimble, and Canada’s former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces Ken Watkin.  David Trimble, one of the “foreign observers,” recently joined a Friends of Israel group.  If Israel is to include outsiders in the internal probe, it should at least let them be chosen by an external party.  The “observers” should also have an active participating role; simply observing the commission and not offering their input seems futile.  The structure of the commission is inhibiting in other ways as well.  The commission must use summaries of the events, as soldiers cannot be directly questioned.  It can ask for more information if not satisfied, though there is no guarantee they will receive more information (BBC).

The purposes of the commission are to: examine the “security circumstances” of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law, decide if the actions of May 31st, conform to the principles of international law, and consider the actions of those who organized and took part in the flotilla “and their identities” (BBC).  The last requirement, not surprisingly, shifts the focus away from Israel and tries to make them the victims.  This culture of victimization and no sense of accountability will no doubt result in another travesty of justice. (more…)

June 10, 2010

Obama and Abbas Meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid.  The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).

Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region.  The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in  home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera).  As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA.  He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered.  He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)

The Separation Barrier

A mix of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers, have all united in opposition to the construction of the separation barrier in an area around Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Environmentalists and settlers of Gush Etzion are opposed to the destruction of the natural landscape.  Also, a development company called Givat Yael, though self-interested, drew up an alternative route that Israel rejected.  The alternative would have met security goals, had a smaller impact on the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, and allowed the company to continue with its development plans (Haaretz).  Israel’s rejection of the alternative gives more credence to the idea that the wall is not motivated by security, but rather demographics, as the proposed placement of the barrier blocks off the village. (more…)

June 8, 2010

Rising Jewish Extremism

In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world.  Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel.  However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.

Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure.  About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured.  The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome. (more…)

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