Friday, August 27, 2004

 

A Eulogy for the Roadmap

Adrian Hamilton writes an op-ed for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today that essentially declares that, although the roadmap might have been flawed, unworkable even, the way that the Bush administration is going about killing it, with silence from everybody but the Palestinians it seems, is much much worse.
U.S. acceptance of additional settlement building is so absolute a slap in the face of its road-map partners, so exclusively attuned to the president's domestic political needs, that its partners have responded with open-mouthed silence. No one denies the implications. But no one -- not the British, who once seemed so keen on leading the way to Middle East peace in parallel with the Iraqi invasion, not the Democratic Party in the United States that is so enthusiastic a critic of every other part of President Bush's Middle East policy -- is prepared to come out and say anything as the peace plan is buried beneath a gravestone marked "a forgotten victim of the U.S. presidentials."

[...]

Flawed though it was, the road map at least represented an international commitment to push for peace, recognition by the wider community that a settlement of the Palestinian issue was an essential part of better relations between the Arabs and the West.

This would be the very worst moment to throw that away, just as the world teeters on the precipice of a general confrontation between the Muslim world and the West. It's clear that little can be expected from the United States before the November elections. Even then it is doubtful that a change in government would bring that radical a change in policy, especially if the Democrats bring back to power Dennis Ross, Clinton's Middle East adviser and a man who has lost almost all credibility among Palestinians.

[...]

For the Europeans, as for the United Nations, there is no choice. They cannot afford to leave the Middle East to stew in its own juice. Much though Israel may dislike and distrust European intervention, the reality is that the European Union has to take an active part in something that lies on its borders and affects the communities within its boundaries. Israel cannot, with the huge European market on its doorstep, act as if the EU doesn't exist and doesn't have interests in how it deals with the Palestinian question.

[....]

[T]here is a role for the international community to keep involved and active in the search for peace, and to make absolutely clear the wider world's belief that a just and lasting settlement can rest only on the twin pillars of a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 boundaries. And in that there can be no room for new settlement activity, with or without the nod from Washington.
Essentially a call to action to the European community, Hamilton is well aware that the Palestinians cannot hope that a US change in November will bring them any closer to peace. Indeed, even outside of his outspoken support of Israel's wall and settlements, Kerry is running on a platform that is looking to get less involved in the Middle East, not more. Hamilton also captures the sense of awful pessimism/optimism that seems to best describe the situation now: "If there is any room for optimism, it may lie in the very awfulness of the situation." That about sums it up, folks.

 

Yeah, just take my word for it

In an update from the new cold war, Israel is planning to stock up on these Arrow missiles that can (well... maybe) intercept Iranian Shihab-3 missiles.
The Arrow anti-ballistic missile is capable of intercepting an Iranian Shihab-3 missile, despite its failure to do so in a test off the California coast, Aryeh Herzog, the Defense Ministry official in charge of the Arrow project, said Friday.

The Arrow, which is being developed by Israel and the United States, failed Thursday to destroy a target missile simulating an Iranian Shihab-3 and a Scud-D of the type Syria possesses.
Well, I'm sure the Israelis feel safer knowing that the Arrow is "capable" of intercepting missiles, it just doesn't seem to want to in the tests. Great. This is why missile defense will never replace good old fashioned diplomacy (or, unfortunately, machine guns, tanks, and F-16s).

 

IDF soldiers arrested for murder of Palestinian

From the Guardian:
The Israeli military has arrested two soldiers on suspicion of murdering an unarmed Palestinian and has also arrested two officers from their platoon for allegedly attempting to cover up the killing, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported Friday.

The paper cited prosecutors at a special hearing held Thursday at the army's general staff headquarters in Tel Aviv as accusing the men of the "deliberate shooting of an innocent man who was not behaving suspiciously." It said the suspects were remanded in custody. No trial date has so far been set.

A military spokesman could neither confirm nor deny the report Friday.

[...]

The paper said one of the suspects, urged on by the other, shot the man during military operations in the southern Gaza Strip last October, then told his superiors that he had shot a hostile gunman.
We'll see where this heads. After all, the IDF is notorious for protecting it's own from any repercussions. The article notes that a soldier is still on trial for manslaughter in the case of Tom Hurndall, a British ISM activist shot dead by the IDF, and the investigation into Rachel Corrie's death found that the bulldozer driver who ran over her was not responsible (the "investigation" found that the cause of death was the rubble that fell on her, not the driver of the bulldozer that happened to push that rubble on her), so it seems unlikely that if there is no justice for an American and a Brit, it will come to a Palestinian.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

 

Non-violence in NYC

Since we are on the topic of non-violent popular struggle, there is a particularly interesting and worthwhile article by Rick Perlstein on Common Dreams about the possibility of protest and activism at the RNC in New York this coming weekend backfiring in the long run. Perlstein draws many parallels between the 1968 DNC protests in Chicago (which helped Richard Nixon win the election) and the potential upcoming protests at the RNC in New York. The problem, Perlstein writes, is not in the righteousness of the cause or the sincerity of the activists involved. It is in a lack of strategic thinking, a failure to communicate with those outside of the 'activist circuit,' with those who should be the targets of the protest. The value of protest is not in changing the minds of those in power (somehow I don't think Dick Cheney is going to have a great revelation at the RNC if he sees a hundred thousand protestors) but in drawing attention and sympathy from those who otherwise were unaware or uninterested.
[E]ven the most passive protesters, when arrested, are often perceived by the public—as they were in Chicago in 1968—as bringers of anarchy, and end up hurting the causes they profess to help.

To ask this is not to reject protest; it is just an invitation to strategize—to think about politics.
It would be nice if everybody would think a little bit more, about strategy, about politics, about how you often have to think about what is going to work with other people, not just for yourself.
People get caught up in their righteousness—maybe you are—which is easy to do: Demonstrators do no more "damage" to the Great Lawn than concertgoers. The conventioneers coming to New York are getting subsidized by tax dollars because they are seen as a boon to business, even though the protesters spat upon by the city carry money that is just as green. The city has become a censor. All of these things are true.

Rae Valentine is even right, in a cosmic sense, when she says that "people understand that the so-called chaos of streets being shut down by protesters or even a window being broken is nothing compared to the day-to-day chaos and destruction of people being able to afford housing, or health care. That's where the real violence—in the system—lies."

But she is not right in the sense that matters: the political sense. "I think people understand," she says. Linger on that formulation. It is only inane arrogance that gives someone the confidence to pronounce that, magically, "people will understand." They might not understand at all. Instead, what they might understand is: "Bush is better than anarchy in the streets." It ain't fair. But if it all goes down as unplanned, there'll be a whole lot more unfairness coming down the pike in the next four years.

 

Non-violence in the Palestinian Territories

There is always lots of talk about "why can't the Palestinians be more like Ghandi and use non-violence instead of violence to achieve their goals?" It is an interesting question, and Amira Hass uses the occasion of the grandson of the Mahatma Ghandi visiting the Palestinians to talk to them about non-violent popular struggle to address some of the obstacles that face a non-violent Palestinian movement.
They face two main obstacles. The first is an Israeli talent to excuse everything with "security concerns" or "military needs" - which in turn relies on the brainwashing that the Palestinians only want to destroy us, and that the current conflict has nothing to do with the Israeli occupation.

Let's assume that as part of a non-violent popular struggle, the Palestinians decide to send out 50,000 people one day to plant olive trees in an area defined as "state lands" near their villages.

Would the IDF impose a curfew or closure on the villages and roads on the grounds that armed men might infiltrate the planters, or that there is a risk to a nearby settlement? And let's assume that 20,000 Palestinian planters decide to take the chance and ignore the army's order closing the area; can we be sure that no Israeli commander would order soldiers to shoot - first tear gas, and then live fire - on the thousands of people carrying only hoes?

And assume that there would be a few hundred people carrying olive saplings ready to be wounded, indeed even killed. Would they, as casualties, manage to shake Israeli society? And let's say that the IDF makes do with uprooting the saplings, over and over, and not shoot? Would Israeli society then understand that it is the Palestinians' right to develop their land, even if it is not privately owned?

That is the second obstacle, and it is much tougher. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis - and possibly more - have an interest in the settlements remaining in place, constantly expanding, and in new highways that connect every remote settlement to Kfar Sava and Beit Shemesh, and Israeli control over all the water sources in the West Bank.

There is the interest of Israelis whose country does not offer them any hope for improvement in their standard of living unless they move to settlements in the territories. There is the interest of Israeli companies that build the settlements, the security industries that manufacture equipment and trains people to defend the safety of the settlers, and of anyone who has a direct or indirect connection to settlers: family, employers, employees, Shin Bet officers and their families, officials from the educational and health systems.

For decades, a complex web of interests has grown. This complex network, combined with the well-known mantra about an existential security risk emanating from the Palestinians - as opposed to the real, personal risk faced by soldiers and civilians - has made the Palestinian resistance silent to most Israelis. Those interested parties will back the army, whatever means it uses to put down any popular struggle.
Non-violent struggle, when met with violence, only becomes effective when there is enough pressure from the group that accepts oppression as a necessity starts to feel that the actions being taken in their name are no long necessary or go beyond the bounds of acceptability. At this point the Israeli public has had that limit and those bounds pushed very very far by the actions of the Palestinian militants and by the Israeli government, media, and public discourse. One hopes that it hasn't been pushed so far, like elastic, that it has broken and cannot come back.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

 

Worse than South Africa?

From Ha'aretz:
South African law professor Prof. John Dugard, the special rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, has written in a report to the UN General Assembly that there is "an apartheid regime" in the territories "worse than the one that existed in South Africa."

As an example, Dugard points to the roads only open to settlers, from which Palestinians are banned.

[...]

Dugard, a law professor from South Africa, was a member of a Truth Commission at the end of the apartheid regime, and was appointed by the UN in 2001 as special rapporteur for human rights in the West Bank and Gaza.
Well, you'd think if anybody would know, it would be somebody like John Dugard (who just happens to have written books with titles like The denationalization of Black South Africans in pursuance of apartheid: A question for the International Court of Justice?, Human rights & the South African legal order, Rights & Constitutionalism: The New South African Legal Order, and The Last Years of Apartheid: Civil Liberties in South Africa). However, while Israel is currently "leaning toward cooperating with the various rapporteurs of the UN, and responding to their questions and requests" (oh the generousity, responding to their questions... well, leaning toward that at least), with just a little caveat.
But there are two exceptions to that rule: Dugard, and the special rapporteur for food, Jean Zigler. Israel refuses to cooperate with them because of the language of their mandates, and what it regards as their unfair approach. According to the sources, Dugard's assignment was phrased in a way that discriminates against Israel.
Ah, the unfair approach. In other words, Israel will cooperate with those that don't criticize it too harshly. That's just great.

And speaking of not criticizing Israel too harshly, there has hardly been a peep about new settlement units that are set to be built shortly. The Daily Star has an editorial spelling out the repercussions of this, not just for the Palestinians, but in a global sense.
Israeli political sources made it known to the press on Monday that the construction of the 530 new homes, together with tenders for 1,000 others approved last week by Premier Ariel Sharon, would focus on settlements near Jerusalem. For its part, Washington made it known Saturday it could accept building within existing construction lines of settlements that have spread on territory Israel captured in 1967. It had previously insisted on a construction freeze under the "road map" peace plan.

If Washington feels that its change in position on settlement expansion is important now because it helps Sharon deflect internal far-right opposition, it should stop being so short-sighted and consider the longer-term damage that comes from its decision. When the world's largest power and erstwhile guardian and promoter of democracy and the rule of law blatantly ignores the overwhelming global consensus on the illegality of Israel's colonial adventure in the West Bank and Gaza, it sends dangerous signals: that the law does not matter, that a global consensus is meaningless, that the powerful can do as they please. This is perhaps no surprise, given the United States' recent tendency to make unilateral policy and war when it feels its national interests - or electoral interests - are at stake. This, too, is the dark and ugly side of the otherwise impressive legacy of the US democratic experience. Washington cannot long expect to have either friends or admirers if it insists on unilaterally defining global legal norms, waging wars for "regime change," reordering entire regions, transforming a legitimate anti-terror campaign into a messy adventure in Iraq and everywhere demanding that its officials and soldiers remain exempt from any accountability to international law.

This is not a recipe for peace, the rule of law, or prosperity. It is a recipe for anarchy, lawlessness and immorality - as the Israeli experience in the West Bank and Gaza proves so sadly.

Monday, August 23, 2004

 

2 Abu Aardvark posts of interest

The first, and most recent, post from Abu Aardvark is that al-Aribiyya is reporting that Iyad Allawi is threatening resignation over the Najaf situation.
Since Allawi's resignation would more or less mean the complete collapse of the American-brokered "transitional" political strategy, this would seem to be a rather big deal. I wouldn't miss him, personally, since he represents an alarmingly authoritarian trend in the new Iraq, but that's where the Bush administration chose to put its chips. If this story is true (and even if it isn't), the dice do seem to be rolling (and the knives out).

For what it's worth, Al Arabiya is considered (by itself, its Saudi owners, and the Bush administration) to be the more 'moderate' and more 'professional' and more 'objective' alternative to al Jazeera. As with the bin Laden thing last week, I don't know if the English-language media isn't covering this because it isn't true, or if something else is going on. But either way, could some of our well-paid media folks maybe avert their eyes from Swift Boat Liars for a moment and find out?
Also from Abu Aardvark, apparently the name of the 'conference' to establish an Iraqi parliament to set Iraq on the path towards elections and then [ta-da] elections in Arabic (al Mutamar al Watani al Iraqi) is the same as the Iraqi National Congress - the group headed by Ahmed Chalabi.
Chalabi and the INC aren't just the most unpopular political grouping in Iraq (they scored a whopping 0.2% support in the June 2004 Oxford Research International poll, and scored third - behind the Baath and the Communist Party - on "who would you never vote for?"; in the February 2004 survey, Chalabi topped the rankings as the single must mistrusted politician in Iraq - 10.3%, more than 7% worse than Saddam Hussein in second place). More to the point, Chalabi and the INC were seen by pretty much everybody as the chosen American puppets. Even now that he has fallen from American graces, and is trying to reinvent himself as a Sadrist, "American puppet" is what almost all Arabs think when they hear the name "Iraqi National Congress."

Which makes "al Mutamar al Watani al Iraqi" a particularly, almost spectacularly, inept choice of names for a gathering meant to build legitimacy for the new government, and to convince Iraqis and Arabs of the independence of this new Iraqi government from the American occupation.

So, whose bright idea was it?

Now, on general principles, when you hear the words "spectularly inept" and "Chalabi" in the same sentence about Iraq, the neo-cons in the Defense Department immediately spring to mind. And this conference was "stipulated by a law enacted by the departing U.S. civil administration last month." Was this yet another master-stroke from our neo-con friends, with their keen understanding of Arab culture and political psychology?
Every time you think that it couldn't possibly get any worse, that maybe somebody is going to start taking this Iraq thing seriously and stem the bleeding, you are quickly disabused of that notion.

 

John Lyndon Baines Kerry?

From Friday's Boston Globe, and republished on Common Dreams, Derrick Z. Jackson takes Kerry and the Democrats to task for refusing to challenge the choice to go to war in Iraq, and their borrowing from the Republicans jingoistic language when talking about the war in Iraq and the war on terror. Kerry continues to say that, even had he known before the war what we know now, he still would have cast his vote in support of the war (and let's not fool ourselves into thinking that wasn't what that vote was about). In an attempt to catch up to Bush in polls that showed that Bush was viewed more favorably when it comes to national security and defense against terrorism, the Kerry/Edwards campaign has adopted the "hunt them down and destroy them" language of the Bushies when it comes to terrorism. But Jackson writes:
Things were going so badly in Iraq that Kerry came from big deficits in several major polls into a close race with Bush on who can better handle terrorism and Iraq. But very recent polls by Pew and Time show that Bush has stopped his free fall and is back up to 56 to 58 percent approval ratings on his handling of terrorism. That may foretell that Kerry's go-along-to-get-along, but I-can-do-it-better claim may already be at the end of its effective use.
Hopefully the Democrats can come up with a better strategy this time than just doing more of what the Republicans are doing. And I also hope that, if elected, the tune will change a bit with Kerry no longer in a campaign. But that doesn't change how disheartening it is to hear Kerry say that he would have supported the war no matter what.
By saying he would still vote for the Iraq invasion, Kerry seems to endorse the loss of between 3,200 and 7,300 Iraqi civilians in the initial invasion, according to estimates by news agencies and think tanks. By saying he would still vote for the invasion, Kerry also accepts how Americans were numbed by the Bush administration not to care about Iraqi civilians, even as we claimed to liberate them.

The United States refused to make any civilian death counts even though it will say how many "insurgents" were killed. In an April press briefing, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was asked about images on Arab TV of American soldiers purportedly killing Iraqi children. Kimmitt's response was straight out of 1984. "My solution is quite simple: change the channel. Change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station. The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda and that is lies. So you want a solution? Change the channel."

The US-propped-up Iraqi interim government did change the channel this month, shutting down the Baghdad office of Arab satellite television network Al Jazeera for 30 days. We have unnecessary carnage and censorship, and Kerry would still vote for this?

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