Rene — Solving Palestine While Israel Destroys It

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Obama’s Bubble of Ignorance
Solving Palestine While Israel Destroys It

CounterPunch Front Page

April 15, 2009
To a greater degree than perhaps ever before, Washington today is
engulfed in denial about Israel and its stupefying behavior, about its
murderous policies toward the Palestinians, about the efforts of
Israel and its U.S. defenders to force us to ignore its
atrocities. Blinders have always been part of the attire of
U.S. policymakers and politicians with regard to Israel and Israeli
actions, but in the wake of the three-week Israeli assault that laid
waste to the tiny territory of Gaza — an assault ended very
conveniently just before Barack Obama was inaugurated, so that he has
been able to act as though it never occurred — the perspective from
which Washington operates is strikingly more blinkered than ever in
the past.
At a symposium on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Middle East Policy
Council just days before Obama took office, Ali Abunimah, a sharp
Palestinian-American commentator who runs the website
ElectronicIntifada.net, declared frankly that Washington exists in a
bubble of ignorance and denial. While the rest of the world,
particularly at the level of civil society, is talking about war
crimes tribunals for Israeli leaders and about sanctions against
Israel, Abunimah observed, Washington and those world leaders beholden
to it are trying to move ahead as if nothing had changed. `We
have to expect,’ he said, `that the official apparatus of the
peace-process industry — the Hillary Clintons, the Quartets, the Tony
Blairs, the Javier Solanas, the Ban Ki-Moons, the whole panoply of
official and semi-official Washington think tanks — will carry on
with business as usual, trying to make believe that, through their
ministrations, a Palestinian state will come into being.’
But in the real world, this state won’t happen, he said, and the time
has come to speak frankly about what is going on.
So far, three months into the Obama administration, there is little
evidence that Obama sees clearly or is ready to speak frankly. Another
very savvy Palestinian political commentator and activist, Haidar Eid,
who lives and endures Israel’s constant punishments in Gaza, recently
told an interviewer that the international reaction to Israel’s Gaza
assault was like the reaction to some kind of natural disaster — as
if no human hand had had a role in the destruction and nothing but
money and aid was required to resolve the problem. As if, he said, the
disaster had not been `created by the state of Israel to annihilate
the Palestinian resistance and Palestinian society.’
Eid was commenting on an international conference of donors that
convened in Sharm el-Sheikh in early March and made themselves feel
magnanimous by pledging almost $5 billion in aid to relieve the
`humanitarian crisis’ in Gaza — but not to do anything to resolve the
political reality of Israeli occupation that is at the root of Gaza’s
humanitarian plight. The donors — the same `peace-process industry’
leaders Abunimah spoke of — were there only to pretend concern and to
dole out money, always the easiest way in the minds of political
elites to make messy human problems go away. Thus do they relieve
their own consciences and at the same time tell Israel it can proceed
with impunity to destroy Palestine and Palestinians; the international
community will pick up the pieces and pick up the tab. Israel has not
failed to get the picture.
Any thought of forcing Israel to cease its gross oppression of
Palestinians, any thought of doing anything to deprive Israel of the
carte blanche it enjoys, was apparently beyond these do-gooders. Any
realization that their aid pledge was merely part of an endless
destructive cycle was also lost on them — a cycle in which these same
donors, led by the with the world’s most advanced weapons and the
absolute political power that comes with the weapons, and Israel then
uses the arms and the political license to destroy the Palestinians,
and the donors convene again to pay to repair the destruction. The
hypocrisy was further underlined by the firm U.S. demand that, before
Gazans receive any of this international largesse, Hamas must
recognize Israel’s right to exist — in other words, Hamas must
recognize the right to exist of the very state that just tried to
destroy it and its people, and even the land they live on.
Were Israel’s behavior not so loathsome, the U.S. and international
denial would be something to laugh at. But the aid pledge and the
endless loop of Western-financed misery — and the myopia they signify
— together constitute but one striking example of the willful
ignorance, arising from a thought process wholly oriented toward
Israel’s perspective, from which the United States and the
international community always approach this conflict. The end of
George W. Bush’s long tenure and the advent of Barack Obama have now
given rise to other initiatives that are as naïve and myopic as
the aid pledges — myopic because, wittingly or not, they come from a
starting point that is totally centered on Israel and its demands and
totally oblivious to Israel’s barbaric behavior.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton speak earnestly of the
`inevitability’ and the `inescapability’ of a solution based on two
states, without regard to the growing impossibility of a real
Palestinian state or to the fact that Israel is killing off any
prospect for such a state and is in fact openly killing off the
Palestinians. The early months of the administration, and the
appointment of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy, are
bringing out others who, more enamored of the process than of any
prospect of genuine peace, blindly pursue the `peace-process industry’
regardless of realities on the ground or the virtual guarantee of
Probably porting to lay out a path toward a two-state solution was
actually written before Obama took office and is only now being
publicized. This plan — entitled `A Last Chance for a Two-State
Israel-Palestine Agreement’ — was drawn up in December by a group of
well meaning U.S. elder statesmen, including Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew
Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Paul Volcker, the only one of the ten to
enter the Obama administration. The elders were drawn together by
Henry Seigman, a former head of the American Jewish Committee and
scholar of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict who has distinguished
himself in recent years by his frank, realistic criticism of the
Israeli occupation. The proposal is a 17-page blueprint for achieving
the impossible. It approaches the conflict from an Israel-centered
perspective and indeed, by heavily emphasizing the need to meet
Israel’s security needs, contains the prescription for its own
failure. The report devotes a remarkable one-fifth of its entire
length to an annex on `Addressing Israel’s Security Challenges,’ in
addition to considerable verbiage devoted to this subject in the body
of the document. There is no mention whatsoever of any need to ensure
Palestine’s security against threats from Israel.
The impulse behind this plan is admirable: it recognizes the
centrality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to other issues and
U.S. interests in the Middle East; it urges that the new
administration overturn the Bush administration’s eight years of
disengagement from the conflict and do so quickly; it calls for
engaging Hamas; and it urges that the peace effort be undertaken even
at the cost of angering `certain domestic constituencies. But the plan
itself is naïve and oblivious to the brutal realities of the
situation, which existed even before the Gaza assault. Because it
takes no account of Israel’s lethal intentions toward the Palestinians
or its responsibility for the current level of violence, the report
actually encourages Israeli intransigence
uming that this rigidity can be overcome by issuing a plan on a few
pieces of paper while the U.S. continues to send Israel the arms
necessary to destroy Palestine.
The report exists in a never-never land in which Israel has no
responsibility for occupying Palestinian land and has concerns only
for its own security but no obligations to the Palestinians. The
report refers repeatedly to the `chicken and egg’ security situation
in the occupied territories — as if it cannot be determined whether
Israel’s occupation or Palestinian resistance to it came first, as if
the occupation is not the reason for Palestinian resistance, as if the
Palestinian suicide bombings that the report says cause Israel
`understandable anxiety’ might have arisen out of nowhere rather than
precisely out of Israel’s oppression.
The plan addresses the requirements of peace between the two
envisioned states almost solely in terms of Israel’s needs — not only
its security needs, but its settlements needs and its concerns about
Palestinian refugees’ right of return. For instance, while it calls
for the border between the two states to be `based on’ the lines of
June 1967 with only minor reciprocal modifications, it recommends that
the United States `take into account areas heavily populated by
Israelis in the West Bank.’ Although the language minimizes the
magnitude of this issue, this passage means that accommodation must be
made for major Israeli settlement blocs, which include approximately
ten percent of the small Delaware-sized West Bank, cover virtually the
entirety of East Jerusalem, and include fully 85 percent of the
475,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In April 2004, George Bush gave Ariel Sharon a letter that officially
granted U.S. approval to Israel’s retention of what Bush called `major
[Jewish] population centers’ in the West Bank, thus altering what had
been almost 40 years of U.S. policy supporting a virtually full
Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Bill Clinton
`parameters’ outlined in 2000 had done the same on a somewhat smaller
scale by proposing to allow Israel to retain its settlements —
referred to by the anodyne term `neighborhoods’ — in East
Jerusalem. The latest proposal by the elder statesmen repeats this
Clinton dictum and in general endorses both Clinton’s and Bush’s
declarations unilaterally ceding Palestinian land to Israel, without
negotiation or consultation with Palestinians.
This proposal also gives away the Palestinians’ right of
return. Although it gives a nod to the refugees’ `sense of injustice’
and calls for `meaningful financial compensation,’ it declares, again
unilaterally and pre-emptively, that resolution of the refugee problem
should `protect Israel from an influx of refugees’ — meaning that the
right would not be available to all or even most refugees who might
choose to return to the homes and land inside Israel from which they
were expelled. This provision would `protect’ Israel from any
requirement that it rectify the massive injustice it perpetrated in
1948 and would require that the victims be satisfied, after 60-plus
years, with a little money and a home somewhere outside their own
The major element of the elders’ report proposes that the Palestinian
state would be non-militarized and would be policed by a U.S.-led,
UN-mandated multinational force that would function for five years but
would have a renewable mandate, the intention being to permit
Palestinians to control their own security affairs (and of course be
able to guarantee Israel’s security) within 15 years. The force would
be a NATO force supplemented by Jordanian, Egyptian and — amazingly
enough — Israeli troops. The Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of this
particular proposal is the elders’ assumption that Palestinian
sovereignty would somehow be respected even as the Palestinians were
being forced to turn their security over to a multinational force that
included not merely elements of multiple outside armies, but t have
just shed by attaining statehood. This is the kind of `peace-process
industry’ nonsense that renders proposals such as this utterly
The proposal gives away, before negotiations have begun, more than any
state-to-be could ever possibly afford to give. It cedes territory in
what would be the Palestinian state before Palestinians are even able
to sit down at the negotiating table. It cedes, without cavil or
apology, the Palestinians’ right to redress of a gross injustice that
is, and has been from the beginning 60-plus years ago, the fundamental
Palestinian grievance against Israel. It cedes Palestinian sovereignty
and security by inviting in an international security force including
troops of precisely the occupying force that the Palestinians seek to
be rid off. And it cedes any viability in the new so-called state.
The elders who composed this document should know better. Some of them
have actually worked as specialists on the Arab-Israeli conflict in
the past, and the proposal’s convener Henry Siegman has been working
on this issue for decades. But the proposal exhibits so little
understanding of the extent to which Israel has already absorbed the
West Bank into itself that it would appear that none of these
individuals has ever even visited the region. Nor, in its blithe
assessment that it will be possible to induce Israel to agree to any
withdrawal at all from the occupied territories, is there much
understanding that no Israeli government of any political stripe, and
particularly none of the rightwing governments that have led Israel
for the last decade and more, has any intention of permitting the
Palestinians any degree of true independence and sovereignty anywhere
in Palestine.
Finally, just like the donors’ conference that treated the Gaza
disaster as if some natural force beyond human control had descended
like a hurricane on the territory, this proposal gives no sign of
recognition that Israel is the responsible party in this
conflict. Israel is the party with all the power, controlling all the
territory; Israel is the party that is law; Israel is the party that
demolishes homes, bombs civilian residential neighborhoods, drops
white phosphorus on civilians, imposes checkpoints and roadblocks and
other movement restrictions, builds walls to close off Palestinians,
blocks imports of food to an entire Palestinian population,
confiscates land to build settlements and roads for Israeli Jews
only. Israel is the party that has carried out 85 percent of the
killings in the conflict since the intifada began eight and a half
years ago.
But the ignorance of these statesmen and their denial of the realities
of Israeli occupation, Israeli brutality, Israeli aggression are
indicative of just how much Israel is able to get away with in the
atmosphere of adulation for Israel that prevails in the United
States. One wonders, in fact, if these people are truly as ignorant as
they seem to be of what is going on, with U.S. facilitation, in
Palestine. Do they believe it is all right and that it advances
U.S. national interests in some way to continue arming Israel and
grant it total carte blanche to continue oppressing Palestinians? Or
have they been so sucked into the Israel-centered discourse in this
country that they are literally afraid to oppose Israel and confront
its U.S. lobbyists?
The house of cards that is the `peace-process industry’ that Abunimah
referred to — that house of cards that pretends Israel is not a rogue
nation rampaging through its neighborhood whenever it feels like it —
must soon collapse. As Abunimah told the Capitol Hill conference, what
people know in Europe and in Chicago, where he lives and works, is
quite different from what people in Washington and New York think they
know and, as he noted, silence about the realities on the ground in
Palestine is no longer an option. When the history of this period is
written, Abunimah said, `Gaza will be seen as the moment after which
it became impossible for Israel to be integrated into the region as a
so-called Jewish-Zionist state.’
Kathleen and Bill Christison have bee
ook, forthcoming in June from Pluto Press, on the Israeli occupation
and its impact on Palestinians. Thirty years ago, they were analysts
for the CIA. They can be reached at kb.christison@earthlink.net.