What’s Next for Palestine/Israel? – by Noam Chomsky

On July 13, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin issued a dire warning to the government of Israel: either it will reach some kind of two-state settlement or there will be a “shift to a nearly inevitable outcome of the one remaining reality — a state `from the sea to the river’.” The near inevitable outcome, “one state for two nations,” will pose “an immediate existential threat of the erasure of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” soon with a Palestinian-Arab majority.

On similar grounds, in the latest issue of Britain’s leading journal of international affairs, two prominent Middle East specialists, Clive Jones and Beverly Milton-Edwards, write that “if Israel wishes to be both Jewish and democratic,” it must embrace “the two-state solution.”

It is easy to cite many other examples, but unnecessary, because it is assumed almost universally that there are two options for cis-Jordan: either two states – Palestinian and Jewish-democratic — or one state “from the sea to the river.” Israeli commentators express concern about the “demographic problem”: too many Palestinians in a Jewish state.  Many Palestinians and their advocates support the “one state solution,” anticipating a civil rights, anti-Apartheid struggle that will lead to secular democracy.  Other analysts also consistently pose the options in similar terms.

The analysis is almost universal, but crucially flawed.  There is a third option, namely, the option that Israel is pursuing with constant US support.  And this third option is the only realistic alternative to the two-state settlement that is backed by an overwhelming international consensus.

It makes sense, in my opinion, to contemplate a future binational secular democracy in the former Palestine, from the sea to the river.  For what it’s worth, that is what I have advocated for 70 years.  But I stress: advocated.  Advocacy, as distinct from mere proposal, requires sketching a path from here to there.  The forms of true advocacy have changed with shifting circumstances.  Since the mid-1970s, when Palestinian national rights became a salient issue, the only form of advocacy has been in stages, the first being the two-state settlement.  No other path has been suggested that has even a remote chance of success.  Proposing a binational (“one state”) settlement without moving on to advocacy in effect provides support for the third option, the realistic one.

The third option, taking shape before our eyes, is not obscure.  Israel is systematically extending plans that were sketched and initiated shortly after the 1967 war, and institutionalized more fully with the access to power of Menahem Begin’s Likud a decade later.

The first step is to create what Yonatan Mendel calls “a disturbing new city” called “Jerusalem” but extending far beyond historic Jerusalem, incorporating dozens of Palestinian villages and surrounding lands, and furthermore, designated as a Jewish City and the capital of Israel.  All of this is in direct violation of explicit Security Council orders.  A corridor to the East of this new Greater Jerusalem incorporates the town of Ma’aleh Adumim, established in the 1970s but built primarily after the 1993 Oslo Accords, with lands reaching virtually to Jericho, thus effectively bisecting the West Bank.  Corridors to the north incorporating the settler towns of Ariel and Kedumim further divide what is to remain under some degree of Palestinian control.

Meanwhile Israel is incorporating the territory on the Israeli side of the illegal “separation wall,” in reality an annexation wall, taking arable land and water resources and many villages, strangling the town of Qalqilya, and separating Palestinian villagers from their fields.  In what Israel calls “the seam” between the wall and the border, close to 10 percent of the West Bank, anyone is permitted to enter, except Palestinians.  Those who live in the region have to go through a highly intricate bureaucratic procedure to gain temporary entry.  Exit, for example for medical care, is hampered in the same way.  The result, predictably, has been severe disruption of Palestinian lives, and according to UN reports, a decrease of more than 80% in number of farmers who routinely cultivate their lands and a decline of 60% in yield of olive trees, among other harmful effects.  The pretext for the wall was security, but that means security for illegal Jewish settlers; about 85 per cent of the wall runs through the occupied West Bank.

Israel is also taking over the Jordan Valley, thus fully imprisoning the cantons that remain. Huge infrastructure projects link settlers to Israel’s urban centers, ensuring that they will see no Palestinians.  Following a traditional neocolonial model, a modern center remains for Palestinian elites, in Ramallah, while the remainder mostly languishes.

To complete the separation of Greater Jerusalem from remaining Palestinian cantons, Israel would have to take over the E1 region.  So far that has been barred by Washington, and Israel has been compelled to resort to subterfuges, like building a police station.  Obama is the first US president to have imposed no limits on Israeli actions.  It remains to be seen whether he will permit Israel to take over E1, perhaps with expressions of discontent and a wink of the eye to make it clear that they are not seriously intended.

There are regular expulsions of Palestinians.  In the Jordan Valley alone the Palestinian population has been reduced from 300,000 in 1967 to 60,000 today, and similar processes are underway elsewhere.  Following the “dunam after dunam” policies that go back a century, each action is limited in scope so as not to arouse too much international attention, but with a cumulative effect and intent that are quite clear.

Furthermore, ever since the Oslo Accord declared that Gaza and the West Bank are an indivisible territorial unity, the US-Israel duo have been committed to separating the two regions.  One significant effect is to ensure that any limited Palestinian entity will have no access to the outside world.

In the areas that Israel is taking over, the Palestinian population is small and scattered, and is being reduced further by regular expulsions.  The result will be a Greater Israel with a substantial Jewish majority.  Under the third option, there will be no “demographic problem” and no civil rights or anti-Apartheid struggle, nothing more than what already exists within Israel’s recognized borders, where the mantra “Jewish and democratic” is regularly intoned for the benefit of those who choose to believe, oblivious to the inherent contradiction, which is far more than merely symbolic.

Except in stages, the one-state option is an illusion.  It has no international support, and there is no reason why Israel and its US sponsor would accept it, since they have a far preferable option, the one they are now implementing; with impunity, thanks to US power.

The US and Israel call for negotiations without preconditions.  Commentary there and elsewhere in the West typically claims that the Palestinians are imposing such preconditions, hampering the “peace process.” In reality, the US-Israel insist upon crucial preconditions.  The first is that negotiations must be mediated by the United States, which is not a neutral party but rather a participant in the conflict.  It is as if one were to propose that Sunni-Shiite conflicts in Iraq be mediated by Iran.  Authentic negotiations would be in the hands of some neutral state with a degree of international respect.  The second precondition is that illegal settlement expansion must be allowed to continue, as it has done without a break during the 20 years of the Oslo Accord; predictably, given the terms of the Accord.

In the early years of the occupation the US joined the world in regarding the settlements as illegal, as confirmed by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice.  Since Reagan, their status has been downgraded to “a barrier to peace.” Obama weakened the designation further, to “not helpful to peace,” with gentle admonitions that are easily dismissed.  Obama’s extreme rejectionism did arouse some attention in February 2011, when he vetoed a Security Council resolution supporting official US policy, ending of settlement expansion.

As long as these preconditions remain in force, diplomacy is likely to remain at a standstill.  With brief and rare exceptions, that has been true since January 1976, when the US vetoed a Security Council resolution, brought by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, calling for a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border, the Green Line, with guarantees for the security of all states within secure and recognized borders.  That is essentially the international consensus that is by now universal, with the two usual exceptions – not just on Middle East issues, incidentally.  The consensus has been modified to include “minor and mutual adjustments” on the Green Line, to borrow official US wording before it had broken with the rest of the world.

The same is true of the negotiations that may take place soon in Washington.  Given the preconditions, they are unlikely to achieve anything more than to serve as a framework in which Israel can carry forward its project of taking over whatever it finds valuable in the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders, while maintaining the siege of Gaza.  And doing so throughout with the critical economic, military, diplomatic and ideological support of the state running the negotiations.  One can of course hope for better, but it is hard to be optimistic.

Europe could play a role in advancing the hopes for a peaceful diplomatic settlement, if it were willing to pursue an independent path.  The recent EU decision to exclude West Bank settlements from any future deals with Israel might be a step in this direction.  US policies are also not graven in stone, though they have deep strategic, economic, and cultural roots.  In the absence of such changes, there is every reason to expect that the picture from the river to the sea will conform to the third option.  Palestinian rights and aspirations will be shelved, temporarily at least.

If the Israel-Palestine conflict is not resolved, a regional peace settlement is highly unlikely.  That failure has far broader implications – in particular, for what US media call “the gravest threat to world peace,” echoing the pronouncements of President Obama and most of the political class: namely, Iran’s nuclear programs.  The implications become clear when we consider the most obvious ways to deal with the alleged threat, and their fate.  It is useful, first, to consider a few preliminary questions: Who regards the threat as of such cosmic significance?  And what is the perceived threat?

Answers are straightforward.  The threat is overwhelmingly a western obsession: the US and its allies.  The non-aligned countries, most of the world, have vigorously supported Iran’s right, as a signer of the Non-proliferation Treaty, to enrich Uranium.  In the Arab world, Iran is generally disliked, but not perceived as a threat; rather, it is the US and Israel that the population regards as a threat, by very large margins, as consistently shown by polls.

In western discourse, it is commonly claimed that the Arabs support the US position regarding Iran, but the reference is to the dictators, not the general population, who are considered an irrelevant annoyance under prevailing democratic doctrine.  Also standard is reference to “the standoff between the international community and Iran,” to quote from the current scholarly literature.  Here the phrase “international community” refers to the US and whoever happens to go along with it; in this case, a small minority of the international community, but many more if political stands are weighted by power.

What then is the perceived threat?  An authoritative answer is given by US intelligence and the Pentagon in their regular reviews of global security.  They conclude that Iran is not a military threat.  It has low military expenditures even by the standards of the region, and limited capacity to deploy force.  Its strategic doctrine is defensive, designed to resist attack.  The intelligence community reports no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but if it is, they conclude, that would be part of Iran’s deterrence strategy.

It is hard to think of a country in the world that needs a deterrent more than Iran.  It has been tormented by the West without respite ever since its parliamentary regime was overthrown by a US-British military coup in 1953, first under the harsh and brutal regime of the Shah, then under murderous attack by Saddam Hussein, with western support.  It was largely US intervention that induced Iran to capitulate; and shortly after, President George Bush I invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the US for training in advanced weapons production, an extraordinary threat to Iran.  Iraq soon became an enemy, but meanwhile Iran was subjected to harsh sanctions, intensifying under US initiative to the present.  It constantly subjected to the threat of military attack by the US and Israel – in violation of the UN Charter, if anyone cares.

It is, however, understandable that the US-Israel would regard an Iranian deterrent as an intolerable threat.  It would limit their ability to control the region, by violence if they choose, as they often have.  That is the essence of the perceived Iranian threat.

That the clerical regime is a threat to its own people is hardly in doubt, though regrettably it is hardly alone in that regard.  But it goes well beyond naiveté to believe that its internal repression is much of a concern to the great powers.

Whatever one thinks of the threat, are there ways to mitigate it?  Quite a few, in fact.  One of the most reasonable would be to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region, as strongly advocated by the Non-aligned movement and particularly by the Arab states, and indeed most of the world.  The US and its allies voice formal support, but have hardly been cooperative.  That is once again clear right now.  Under NPT authority, an international conference was to have been held in Finland last December to advance such plans.  Israel refused to attend, but to the surprise of many, in early November Iran announced that it would take part, without conditions.  The US then announced that the conference was cancelled, repeating Israel’s objections: that a conference is premature before regional security is established.  The Arab states, Russia, and the European Parliament called for immediate renewal of the initiative, but of course little is possible without the US.

Details are murky.  Little documentary evidence is available, and all of this has passed without inquiry. In particular, the US press has not inquired, or in fact even published a single word on the most reasonable and practical efforts to address what it reports as “the gravest threat to world peace.”

It is quite clear, however, that Arab states and others call for moves to eliminate weapons of mass destruction immediately, as a step towards regional security; while the US and Israel, in contrast, reverse the order, and demand regional security – meaning security for Israel — as a prerequisite to eliminating such weapons.  In the not-very-remote background is the understanding that Israel has an advanced nuclear weapons system, alone in the region; and is alone in refusing to join the NPT, along with India and Pakistan, both of whom also benefit from US support for their nuclear arsenals.

The connection of Israel-Palestine conflict to the alleged Iranian threat is therefore clear.  As long as the US and Israel persist in their rejectionist stance, blocking the international consensus on a two-state settlement, there will be no regional security arrangements, hence no moves towards a establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone and mitigating, perhaps ending, what the US and Israel claim to be the gravest threat to peace, at least to do so in the most obvious and far-reaching way.

It should be noted that along with Britain, the US has a special responsibility to devote its efforts to establishing a Middle East NWFZ.  When attempting to provide a thin legal cover for their invasion of Iraq, the two aggressors appealed to UNSCR 687 of 1991, claiming that Saddam violated the demand to end his nuclear weapons programs.  The Resolution also has another paragraph, calling for “steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction…”, obligating the US and UK even more than others to undertake this initiative seriously.

These comments naturally only scratch the surface, and leave out many urgent topics, among them the horrifying descent of Syria into suicide and ominous developments in Egypt, which are sure to have a regional impact.  And indeed a lot more.  This is how some of the core issues appear, to me at least.

So it’s OK that Israel has Chemical Weapons but not Syria or Iran…Why?

By  Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM, Sep 23 2013 (IPS) – “Does Israel have chemical weapons too?” is the question posed by the U.S. publication Foreign Policy, citing a newly uncovered CIA document from 1983 which alleged that Israel is likely to have developed such weapons. Written ten years after the 1973 war in which Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, the CIA document revealed in Foreign Policy alleged that “Israel undertook a programme of chemical warfare preparations in both offensive and protective areas.” True or not, the report underpins Israel’s doctrine to deter frontline Arab states from attacking it by tilting the balance of power in its favour, Prof. Shlomo Aronson, Israeli weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) scholar at the Hebrew University Jlem tells IPS. “Since the Arab states started to produce chemical weapons, it would be quite natural that Israel has something similar. They have chemical weapons. We must have them as well.” “Syria produced chemical weapons to balance the threat of Israeli nuclear weapons,” Ziad Abu Zayyad, former head of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks on Arms Control and Regional Security (1991-1996) tells IPS.

“Since the Arab states started to produce chemical weapons, it would be quite natural that Israel has something similar.”

“While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents,” the CIA report said, “several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and non-persistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems.” It’s been known since the early 1970s that chemical tests are conducted at the secretive Israel Institute for Biological Research located in the town of Ness Ziona, 20 km south of Tel Aviv. The secret Intel file identified “a probable chemical weapons nerve agent production facility and a storage facility at the Dimona Sensitive Storage area in the Negev desert,” – that is, in the vicinity of the nuclear research centre where it’s widely assumed that nuclear warheads have been manufactured. Whether Israel retains the alleged chemical stockpile is unknown. Officially, it neither confirms nor denies the existence of a chemical weapons programme – let alone of a nuclear weapons programme – and intentionally shrouds in ambiguity its suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme, only exhibiting chemical warfare protection drills and gas mask kits distribution centres. Aronson deciphers the Israeli WMD doctrine – “not to admit the existence of WMDs before peace prevails; not taking the Arab people hostage to the behaviour of their leaders; not committing publicly to any red line in the realm of unconventional weapons.” Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (September 1993) which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of such arms, but never ratified it. If implemented, the convention would endow chemical weapons inspectors with intrusive powers, notes Aronson. “The treaty could allow inspectors in Israel’s facilities, including the nuclear facility.” Abu Zayyad believes that after Syria, Israel should disarm from its chemical weapons. “There should be a linkage,” he tells IPS. “We’re aiming at a WMDs-free Middle East.” Israel rejects any demand to link Syria’s chemical disarmament with a ratification of the Convention that would lead to the dismantlement of the arsenal it reportedly has. “The big difference is Syria, not Israel, uses chemical weapons,” Aronson points out. “Conventional Israel was never accepted. Unconventional Israel was, and is, accepted. Our very survival rests on unconventional weapons.” “Peace is the sole solution to Israel’s security predicament,” counters Abu Zayyad. Israel declines to answer queries by foreign journalists, opting instead for more discreet reactions in the local media. “Some of the countries in the region don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist and blatantly call to annihilate it,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson was quoted in the liberal newspaper Haaretz.” “In this context, the chemical weapons threat against Israel and its civilian population is neither theoretical nor distant,” the official said by way of rationale for not ratifying the Convention. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Jerusalem to brief Netanyahu about the U.S.-Russian framework agreement on terminating Syria’s chemical weapons the day after it was a done deal. “If we achieve that,” Kerry declared, “We’ll have set a marker for the standard of behaviour with respect to Iran and North Korea.” “The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron Iran,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to Kerry. “If diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat.” Netanyahu knows that the U.S., after having precisely adopted such a two-pronged approach on Syria, cannot afford not to back Israel publicly on Iran, even as Tehran is signalling readiness to compromise on its nuclear programme. And for the time being, demands for Israel to disarm from its alleged poison gas arsenal are bound to evaporate into thin air.



It is the job of the thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners – Albert Camus

We must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of the country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes explosive, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated by race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of the thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.

Why Is the Truth on Syria Difficult To Decipher? by Ramzy Baroud


by Ramzy Baroud, October 20, 2016

“The United States has the power to decree the death of nations,” wrote Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe.

Kinzer’s article was entitled: “The media are misleading the public on Syria.” In his piece, the scholar at a Brown University Institute contested that his country’s media misinformation on Syria is leading to the kind of ignorance which is enabling the American government to pursue any policy, however imprudent, in the war-torn Arab country.

The US government can “decree the death of nations” with “popular support because many Americans – and many journalists – are content with the official story,” he wrote.

Kinzer, in principle makes a strong point. His article, however, was particularly popular among those who sees the Syrian government entirely innocent of any culpability in the ongoing war, and that Iran and Russia are at no fault whatsoever; better yet, their intervention in Syria is entirely morally-guided and altruistic.

That said, Kinzer’s assertion regarding the US government’s dangerous meddling in Syria’s affairs, renewed Cold War with Russia and ill-defined military mission in that country, is all true.

Neither is the US, nor its western and other allies, following rules of war nor adhering to a particularly noble set of principles aimed at ending that most devastating war, which has killed well over 300,000 people, rendered millions displaced and destroyed the country’s wealth and infrastructure.

So what is the truth on Syria?

In the last five and a half years, since a regional uprising turned into an armed rebellion – turned into civil, regional and international war – “the truth on Syria”, has been segmented into many self-tailored “truths,” each promoted by one of the warring party to be the one and only, absolute and uncontested reality. But since there are many parties to the conflict, the versions of the “truth” communicated to us via copious media, are numerous and, most often, unverifiable.

The only truth that all parties seem to agree upon is that hundreds of thousands are dead and Syria is shattered. But, of course, each points to the other side for culpability of the ongoing genocide.

An oddly refreshing, although disturbing “truth” was articulated by Alon Ben-David in the Israeli Jerusalem Post last year.

The title of his article speaks volumes: “May it never end: The uncomfortable truth about the war in Syria.”

“If Israel’s interest in the war in Syria can be summarized in brief, it would be: That it should never end,” Ben-David wrote.

“No one will say this publicly, but the continuation of the fighting in Syria, as long as there is a recognized authority in Damascus, allows Israel to stay out of the swamp and distance itself from the swarms of mosquitoes that are buzzing in it.”

Of course, Israel never truly “stayed out of the swamp”, but that is for a separate discussion.

Aside from the egotistical, unsympathetic language, Israel’s “truth”, according to the writer, is predicated on two premises: the need for an official authority in Damascus, and that the war must continue, at least, until the fire burns the whole country down, which is, in fact, the case.

Russia’s supporters, of course, refuse to accept the fact that Moscow is also fighting a turf war and that it is entirely fair to question the legality of Russia’s actions in the context of US-Russian regional and global rivalry while, at the same time, attempting to underscore Moscow’s own self-seeking motives.

The other side, who are calling for greater American firepower, commit an even greater sin. Not least, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US has not only scarred, but truly devastated the Middle East – killing, wounding and displacing millions – and has no intention of preserving Syria’s territorial integrity or the human rights of its people.

That group’s plausible hatred for the Bashar al-Assad regime has blinded them to numerous facts, including the fact that the only country in the region that Washington is truly and fully committed to in terms of security is Israel, which has recently received a generous aid package of 38 billion dollars.

Keeping in mind Ben-David’s reasoning, it is no surprise that the US is in no rush to end the war in Syria, if not intentionally prolong it.

The American “truth” on Syria – reiterated by its European cheerleaders, of course – is largely centered around demonizing Russia – never about saving lives, nor even – at least not yet – about regime change.

For the US, the war is largely pertinent to American regional interests. After suffering major military and political setbacks in the Middle East, and considering its ongoing economic misfortunes, the US military capabilities have been greatly eclipsed. It is now, more or less, another powerful western country, but no longer the only dominant one, able to “decree the death of nations” on its own.

So, when Secretary of State John Kerry called recently for a war crime investigationinto Russian bombings in Syria, we can be certain that he was not sincere, and his impassioned appeal was tailored to win only political capital. Expectedly, his accusations were parroted in predictable tandem by the French, the British and others. Then, soon after, they evaporated into the augmenting, but useless discourse, in which words are only words, while the war grinds on, unabated.

So why is the truth on Syria so difficult to decipher?

Despite the proliferation of massive platforms for propaganda, there are still many good journalists who recognize that, no matter what one’s personal opinion is, facts must be checked and that honest reporting and analysis should not be part of the burgeoning propaganda war.

Yes, these journalists exist, but they fight against many odds. One is that much of the existing, well-funded media infrastructure is part of the information war in the Middle East. And good journalists, are either forced to, albeit begrudgingly, toe the line or to stay out of the discussion altogether.

But the problem is not entirely that of media manipulation of facts, videos and images. The war in Syria has polarized the discourse like never before, and most of those who are invested in that conflict find themselves forced to take sides, thus, at times abandoning any reason or common sense.

It is rather sad that years after the war in Syria ends, and the last of the mass graves is dug and covered, many unpleasant truths will be revealed. But would it matter, then?

Only recently, we discovered that the Pentagon had spent over 500 million dollars in manufacturing propaganda war videos on Iraq. The money was largely spent on developing fake al-Qaeda videos. Unsurprisingly, much of the US media either did not report on the news, or quickly glossed over it, as if the most revealing piece of information of the US invasion of Iraq – which destabilized the Middle East until today- is the least relevant.

What will we end up learning about Syria in the future? And will it make any difference, aside from a sense of moral gratification by those who have argued all along that the war in Syria is never about Syrians?

The truth on Syria is that, regardless of how the war ends, Syria has been destroyed and its future is bloody and bleak; and that, regardless of the regional and global “winners” of the conflict, the Syrian people have already lost.

What the $38 billion worth of weaponry for Israel has done for the Israelis and Palestinians peace process

By Sandy Tolan

Washington has finally thrown in the towel on its long, tortured efforts to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians. You won’t find any acknowledgement of this in the official record. Formally, the U.S. still supports a two-state solution to the conflict. But the Obama administration’s recent 10-year, $38-billion pledge to renew Israel’s arsenal of weaponry, while still ostensibly pursuing “peace,” makes clear just how bankrupt that policy is.

For two decades, Israeli leaders and their neoconservative backers in this country, hell-bent on building and expanding settlements on Palestinian land, have worked to undermine America’s stated efforts – and paid no price. Now, with that record weapons package, the U.S. has made it all too clear that they won’t have to. Ever.

The military alliance between the United States and Israel has long been at odds with the stated intentions of successive administrations in Washington to foster peace in the Holy Land. One White House after another has preferred the “solution” of having it both ways: supporting a two-state solution while richly rewarding, with lethal weaponry, an incorrigible client state that was working as fast as it could to undermine just such a solution.

This ongoing duality seemed at its most surreal in the last few weeks. First, President Obama announced the new military deal, with its promised delivery of fighter jets and other hardware, citing the “unshakable” American military alliance with Israel. The following week, at the United Nations, he declared, “Israel must recognize that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” Next, he flew to Israel for the funeral of Shimon Peres, and in a tribute to the Nobel Prize-winning former Israeli president, spoke of a man who grasped that “the Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people” and brought up the “unfinished business” of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (Peres is remembered quite differently by Palestinians as an early pioneer of settlement building and the author of the brutal Operation Grapes of Wrath assaults on Lebanon in 1996.) Not long after the funeral, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brazenly approved a new settlement deep in the West Bank, prompting the State Department to “strongly condemn” the action as “deeply troubling.”

Such scolding words, however, shrivel into nothingness in the face of a single number: 38 billion. With its latest promise of military aid, the United States has essentially sanctioned Israel’s impunity, its endless colonization of Palestinian land, its military occupation of the West Bank, and its periodic attacks by F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters using Hellfire missiles on the civilians of Gaza.

Yes, Hamas’s crude and occasionally deadly rockets sometimes help provoke Israeli fire, and human rights investigations have found that both sides have committed war crimes. But Israel’s explosive power in the 2014 Gaza war, fueled in large part by American military aid and political support, exceeded that of Hamas by an estimated 1,500-to-1. By one estimate, all of Hamas’s rockets, measured in explosive power, were equal to 12 of the one-ton bombs Israel dropped on Gaza. And it loosed hundreds of those, and fired tens of thousands of shells, rockets and mortars. In the process, nearly 250 times more Palestinian civilians died than civilians in Israel.

Now, with Gaza severed from the West Bank, and Palestinians facing new waves of settlers amid a half-century-long military occupation, the U.S. has chosen not to apply pressure to its out-of-control ally, but instead to resupply its armed forces in a massive way. This means that we’ve finally arrived at something of a historic (if hardly noticed) moment. After all these decades, the two-state solution, critically flawed as it was, should now officially be declared dead – and consider the United States an accomplice in its murder. In other words, the Obama administration has handed Israel’s leaders and the neoconservatives who have long championed this path the victory they’ve sought for more than two decades.

The Chaos Kids

Twenty years ago, the pro-Israel hard right in America designed the core strategy that helped lead to this American capitulation. In 1996, a task force led by neocons Richard Perle (future chairman of the Defense Policy Board), David Wurmser (future senior Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney), Douglas Feith (future undersecretary of defense), and others issued a policy paper aimed at incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” advocated that Israel walk away from its embrace of the Oslo peace process and Oslo’s focus on territorial concessions. The paper’s essential ingredients included weakening Israel’s neighbors via regime change in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and “roll back” in Syria and Iran. The authors’ recommendations turned out to be anything but a wish list, given that a number of them would soon hold influential positions in the administration of George W. Bush.

As journalist Jim Lobe wrote in 2007:

“[T]he task force, which was chaired by Perle, argued that regime change in Iraq – of which Feith was among the most ardent advocates within the Pentagon – would enable Israel and the U.S. to decisively shift the balance of power in the region so that Israel could make a ‘clean break’ from the Oslo process (or any framework that would require it to give up ‘land for peace’) and, in so doing, ‘secure the realm’ against Palestinian territorial claims.”

In other words, as early as 1996, these neocons were already imagining what would become the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. You could argue, of course, that neither the neocons nor Netanyahu could have foreseen the chaos that would follow, with Iraq nearly cracking open and Syria essentially collapsing into horrific civil war and violence, civilians stranded under relentless bombing, and the biggest refugee crisis since World War II gripping Europe and the world. But you would, at least in some sense, be wrong, for certain of the neocon advocates of regime change imagined chaos as an essential part of the process from early on.

“One can only hope that we turn the region into a caldron, and faster, please,” wrote Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute in the National Review during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. (In 1985, as a consultant to the National Security Council and to Oliver North, Ledeen had helped broker the illegal arms-for-hostages deal with Iran by setting up meetings between weapons dealers and Israel.) “The war won’t end in Baghdad,” Ledeen later wrote, in the Wall Street Journal. “We must also topple terror states in Tehran and Damascus.”

The neocons got so much more than they bargained for in Iraq, and so much less than they wanted in Syria and Iran. Their recent attempts – with Netanyahu as their chief spokesman – to block the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, for example, went down in flames. Still, it’s stunning to think just how much their strategy of regime change and chaos helped transform our world and the Greater Middle East for the worse, and to be reminded that its ultimate goal, at least in those early days, was in large part to keep Israel from having to pursue a peace deal with the Palestinians. Of course, there were other benefits the neocons imagined back then as part of their historic attempt to redraw the map of the Middle East. Controlling some of the vast oil reserves of that region was one of them, but of course that didn’t exactly turn out to be a “mission accomplished” moment either. Only the Israeli part of the plan seemed to succeed as once imagined.

So here we are 20 years later. All around the Holy Land, states are collapsing or at least their foundations are crumbling, and Israel’s actions make clear that it isn’t about to help improve the situation in any way. It visibly intends to pursue a policy of colonization, permanent human rights violations, and absolute rule over the Palestinians. These are facts on the ground that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu, the Israeli right wing, and those American neocon visionaries fought so hard to establish. A succession of leaders in Washington – at least those who weren’t designing this policy themselves – have been played for fools.

In the two-plus decades since the 1993 Oslo Agreement, which some believed would put Israel and the Palestinians on the path to peace, and that “Clean Break” document which was written to undermine it, the West Bank settler population has grown from 109,000 to nearly 400,000 (an estimated 15% of whom are American). The would-be capital of a Palestinian state, East Jerusalem, is now surrounded by 17 Jewish settlements. Palestinians nominally control a mere 18% of the West Bank (also known as Area A), or 4% of the entire land base of Israel/Palestine.

The Palestinians’ would-be homeland is now checkered with military bases, settlements, settler-only roads, and hundreds of checkpoints and barriers – all in a West Bank the size of Delaware, our second-smallest state. An estimated 40% of adult male Palestinians, and thousands of children, have seen the insides of Israeli jails and prisons; many of them languish there without charges.

Israel has, in essence, created a Jim Crow-like separate and unequal reality there: a one-state “solution” that it alone controls. The United States has done almost nothing about this (other than carefully couched, periodic State Department words of complaint), while its ally marched forward unchecked. Not since James Baker was secretary of state under the first President Bush before – notably enough – the signing of the Oslo accords has any U.S. leader threatened to withhold funds unless Israel stops building settlements on Palestinian land. The phrase “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” no longer applies in U.S.-Israeli relations. Rather, what we hear are regular pledges of “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.” Those were, in fact, the words of Vice President Joe Biden during a 2010 visit to Israel – a pledge offered, as it turned out, only a few hours before the Netanyahu government announced the construction of 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem.


“Unvarnished commitment” in 2016 means that $38 billion for what Obama called “the world’s most advanced weapons technology.” That includes 33 of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, at $200 million per jet, part of a troubled $1.5 trillion weapons system subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Other deadly hardware headed for Israel: cargo planes, F-15 fighter jets, battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, a new class of warships whose guided missiles would undoubtedly be aimed directly at Gaza, and more of Lockheed’s Hellfire missiles. If recent history is any indication, you would need to add fresh supplies of bombs, grenades, torpedoes, rocket launchers, mortars, howitzers, machine guns, shotguns, pistols, and bayonets. As part of the agreement, U.S. arms manufacturers will soon supply 100% of that weaponry, while Israeli weapons manufacturers will be phased out of U.S. military aid. “It’s a win-win for Israeli security and the U.S. economy,” a White House aide cheerily told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

The Clinton (Trump) White House and Israel

Current policy, if that’s the right word, could perhaps be summed up as weapons, weapons, and more weapons, while Washington otherwise washed its hands of what was always known as “the peace process” (despite that fig leaf still in place). Today, functionally, there’s no such process left. And that’s unlikely to change under either a President Clinton or a President Trump. If anything, it may get worse.

During the Democratic primary campaign, for instance, Hillary Clinton promised to invite Netanyahu to the White House “during my first month in office” in order to “reaffirm” Washington’s “unbreakable bond with Israel.” In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which labels itself “America’s pro-Israel lobby,” she was virtually silent on the Israeli settlement issue, except to promise to protect Israel against its own violations of international law. She attacked Trump from the right, denouncing his once-expressed wish to remain “neutral” on the issue of Israel and Palestine.

In the 1990s, as first lady, Clinton had stirred controversy by uttering the word “Palestine” and kissing Yasser Arafat’s widow, Suha, on the cheek. Now she fully embraces those who believe Israel can do no wrong, including Hollywood mogul Haim Saban, who has donated at least $6.4 million to her campaign, and millions more to the Clinton Foundation and the Democratic National Committee. Saban, an Israeli-American whose billions came largely from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise, describes himself as “a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”

Last year, he convened a “secret” Las Vegas meeting with fellow billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the bankroller of a panoply of Republican candidates and a huge supporter of Israel’s settlement project. Their aim: to shut down, if not criminalize, the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS. That boycott movement targets cultural institutions and businesses including those that profit from the occupation of the West Bank. Its approach is akin to the movement to impose sanctions on South Africa during the apartheid era.

With Saban’s millions destined for her campaign war chest, Clinton wrote to her benefactor to express her “alarm” over BDS, “seeking your thoughts and recommendations” to “work together to counter BDS.” Yet it’s a nonviolent movement that aims to confront Israel’s human rights abuses through direct economic and political pressure, not guns or terror attacks. Would Clinton prefer suicide bombers and rockets? Never mind that the relatively modest movement has been endorsed by an assortment of international trade unions, scholarly associations, church groups, the Jewish Voice for Peace, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. At the root of BDS, Clinton has hinted darkly, is anti-Semitism. “At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world,” she wrote Saban, “we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.”

As for Trump, some Palestinians were encouraged by his statement to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that he might “be sort of a neutral guy” on the issue. He told the AP: “I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it. A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal – whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.” Yet Trump subsequently fell in line with Republican orthodoxy, pledging among other things to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a litmus test for supporters of the hard right in Israel, and a virtual guarantee that East Jerusalem, at the center of the Palestinian dream of statehood, will remain in Israel’s hands.

In the short term, then, the prospect for an American-brokered just peace may be as bleak as it’s ever been – even though U.S. officials know full well that a just solution to the conflict would remove a primary recruiting tool for jihadists. For the next four to eight years, American leadership will, by all indications, shore up the status quo, which means combining all that weaponry and de facto acquiescence in Israel’s land grabs with, perhaps, the occasional hand-wringing State Department statement.

“With Patience, Change Will Come”

However, like Jim Crow, like South African apartheid, the status quo of this moment simply can’t last forever. Eventually, the future of the region will not be left to the self-proclaimed “honest brokers” of Washington who lecture Palestinians on the proper forms of nonviolence, while offering no genuine alternatives to surrender. Given the long history of Palestinian resistance, it is foolhardy to expect such a surrender now and particularly unwise to slander a movement of nonviolent resistance – especially given what we know about the kinds of resistance that are possible.

Whether by peaceful resistance or other means, the status quo will change, in part simply because it must: a structure this twisted cannot stand on its own forever. Already AIPAC’s monumental attempts to scuttle the Iran deal have led to humiliating defeat and that’s just a taste of what, sooner or later, the future could hold. After all, young Americans, including young Jews, are increasingly opposed to Israel’s domination of Palestinian lands, and increasingly supportive of the boycott movement. In addition, the balance of power in the region is shifting. We can’t know how Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran will operate there in the years to come, but amid the ongoing chaos, U.S. influence will undoubtedly diminish over time. As a member of a prominent Gaza family said to me many years ago: “Does Israel think America will always protect them, always give them arms, and that they will always be the biggest power in the Middle East? Do they really expect they can maintain this hold on us forever?”

A popular Arab folk ballad, El Helwa Di, promises a penniless child who has placed her life in God’s hands: “With patience, change will come. All will be better.”

Perhaps it will prove useful, in the end, to abandon the illusions of the now-terminal two-state solution, at least as envisioned in the Oslo process. In the language of those accords, after all, the words “freedom” and “independence” never appear, while “security” is mentioned 12 times.


In a regime of growing confinement, the Israelis have steadily undermined Palestinian sovereignty, aided and abetted by an American acquiescence in Israel’s ongoing settlement project. Now, at least, there is an opportunity to lay the foundations for some newer kind of solution grounded in human rights, freedom of movement, complete cessation of settlement building, and equal access to land, water, and places of worship. It will have to be based on a new reality, which Israel and the United States have had such a hand in creating. Think of it as the one-state solution.

How Kissinger Won the Middle East for America until now – by Uri Avnery

Exactly 43 years ago, at this exact moment, the sirens sounded.
We were sitting in the living room, looking out on one of Tel Aviv’s main streets. The city was completely silent. No cars. No traffic of any kind. A few children were riding about on their bicycles, which is allowed on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. Just like now.
Rachel, my wife, I, and our guest, Professor Hans Kreitler, were in deep conversation. The professor, a renowned psychologist, was living nearby, so he could come on foot.
And then the silence was pierced by a siren. For a moment we thought that it was a mistake, but then it was joined by another and another. We went to the window and saw a commotion. The street, that had been totally empty a few minutes before, began to fill up with vehicles, military and civilian.
And then the radio, which had been silent for Yom Kippur, came on. War had broken out.
A few days ago I was asked if I was prepared to talk on TV about the role of Henry Kissinger in this war. I agreed, but at the last moment the program was canceled, because the station had to devote the time to showing Jews asking God for forgiveness at the Western Wall (alias the Wailing Wall). In these Netanyahu times, God, of course, comes first.
So, instead of talking on TV, I shall write down my thoughts on the subject here.
Henry Kissinger has always intrigued me. Once my friend Yael, the daughter of Moshe Dayan, took me – in the great man’s absence, of course, since he was my enemy – to his large collection of unread books and asked me to choose a book as a present. I chose a book of Kissinger’s, and was much impressed by it.
Like Shimon Peres and I, Kissinger was born in 1923. He was a few months older than the other two of us. His family left Nazi Germany five years later than I and went to the US, via England. We both had to start working very early, but he went on with his studies and became a professor, while poor me never finished elementary school.
I was impressed by the wisdom of his books. He approached history without sentiment and dwelled especially on the Congress of Vienna, after Napoleon’s downfall, in which a group of wise statesmen laid the groundwork for a stable, absolutist Europe. Kissinger stressed the importance of their decision to invite the representative of vanquished France (Talleyrand). They realized that France must be part of the new system. To ensure peace, they believed, no one should be left out of the new system.
Unfortunately, Kissinger in power disregarded this wisdom of Kissinger the Professor. He left the Palestinians out.
The subject I was to speak about on TV was a question that has intrigued and troubled Israeli historians since that fateful Yom Kippur: Did Kissinger know about the impending Egyptian-Syrian attack? Did he deliberately abstain from warning Israel, because of his own nefarious designs?
After the war, Israel was rent asunder by one question: why had our government, led by Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, disregarded all the signs of the coming attack? Why had they not called up the army reserves in time? Why had they not sent the tanks to our strongholds along the Suez Canal?
When the Egyptians attacked, the line was thinly held by second-class troops. Most soldiers were sent home for the high religious holiday. The line was easily overrun.
Israeli intelligence knew of course of the massive movement of Egyptian units towards the canal. They disregarded it as an empty maneuver to frighten Israel.
To understand this, one has to remember that after the incredible victory of the Israeli army only six years earlier, when it smashed all the neighboring armies in six days, our army had abysmal contempt for the Egyptian armed forces. The idea that they could dare to carry out such a momentous operation seemed ridiculous.
Add to this the general contempt for Anwar al-Sadat, the man who had inherited power from the legendary Gamal Abd-al-Nasser a few years earlier. Among the group of “Free Officers” who, led by Nasser, had carried out the bloodless 1952 revolution in Egypt, Sadat was considered the least intelligent, and therefore appointed by consent as Nasser’s deputy.
In Egypt, a country of innumerable jokes, there was joke about that, too. Sadat had a conspicuous brown spot on his forehead. According to the joke, whenever a subject came up in a Free Officers’ Council meeting, and everyone expressed his view, Sadat would stand up last and start to speak. Nasser would put his finger on his forehead, press it gently and say: “Sit down, Anwar, sit down.”
In the course of the six years between the wars, Sadat several times conveyed to Golda that he was ready for peace negotiations, based on Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Sinai Peninsula. Golda contemptuously refused. (In fact, Nasser himself had decided on such a move just before he died. I played a small role in conveying this information to our government.)
Back to 1973: almost at the last moment Israel was warned by a well-placed spy, no less than Nasser’s son-in-law. The message gave the exact date of the impending attack, but the wrong hour: instead of noon, it predicted the early evening. A difference of several fateful hours. In Israel it was later debated whether the man was a double agent and had give the false hour on purpose. It was too late to ask him – he had died in mysterious circumstances.
When Golda informed Kissinger about the impending Egyptian move, he warned her not to carry out a preemptive strike, which would put Israel in the wrong. Golda, trusting Kissinger, obeyed, contrary to the views of the Israel Chief of Staff, David Elazar, nicknamed Dado.
Kissinger also delayed informing his own boss, President Nixon, by two hours.
So what was Kissinger’s game?
For him, the main American aim was to drive the Soviets out of the Arab world, leaving the US as the sole power in the region.
In his world of “realpolitik”, this was the only objective that mattered. Everybody else, including us poor Israelis, were just pawns on the giant chessboard.
A major but controlled war was for him the practical way to make everybody in the region dependent on the US.
When the Egyptian and Syrian attacks initially succeeded, Israel was in panic. Dayan, who in this crisis showed himself to be the nincompoop he really was, bewailed the “destruction of the Third Temple” (adding our state to the two Jewish temples of antiquity which were destroyed by the Assyrians and the Romans respectively.) The army command, under Dado, kept its cool and planned its countermoves with admirable precision.
But munitions were running out quickly and Golda turned in despair to Kissinger. He set in motion an “air bridge” of supplies, giving Israel just enough to defend itself. Not more.
The Soviet Union was helpless to interfere. Kissinger was king of the situation.
With remarkable resilience (and the weapons delivered by Kissinger) the Israeli army turned the tables, pushing the Syrians back well beyond their starting point and nearing Damascus. On the Southern front, Israeli units crossed the Suez Canal and could have started an offensive towards Cairo.
It was a rather confused picture: an Egyptian army was still east of the Canal, practically encircled but still able to defend itself, while the Israeli army was behind its back, west of the canal, also in a dangerous position, liable to be cut off from its homeland. Altogether, a classic “fight with reversed fronts”.
If the war had run its course, the Israeli army would have reached the gates of Damascus and Cairo, and the Egyptian and Syrian armies would have begged for a cease-fire on Israeli terms.
That’s where Kissinger came in.
The Israeli advance was stopped on Kissinger’s orders 101 km from Cairo. There a tent was set up and permanent cease-fire negotiations started.
Egypt was represented by a senior officer, Abd-al-Rani Gamassi, who soon captured the sympathy of the Israeli journalists. The Israeli representative was Aharon Yariv, former chief of army intelligence, a member of the government and a general of the reserves.
Yariv was soon recalled to his seat in the cabinet. He was replaced by a very popular regular army general, Israel Tal, nicknamed Talik, who happened to be a friend of mine.
Talik was devoted to peace, and I often urged him to leave the army and become the leader of the Israeli peace camp. He refused, because his overriding passion was to create the Merkava, an original Israeli tank that would give its crew maximum security.
Immediately after the fighting I met Talik regularly for lunch in a well-known restaurant. Passersby may have wondered about these two – the famous tank general and the journalist universally hated by the entire establishment – conversing together.
Talik told me – in confidence, of course – about what had happened: one day Gamassy had taken him aside and told him that he had received new instructions – instead of talking about a cease-fire, he could negotiate an Israel-Egyptian peace.
Immensely excited, Talik flew to Tel-Aviv and disclosed the news to Golda Meir. But Golda was cool. She told Talik to abstain from any talk about peace. When she saw his utter consternation, she explained that she had promised Kissinger that any talks about peace must be held under American auspices.
And so it happened: a cease-fire agreement was signed and a peace conference was called in Geneva, officially under joint US and Soviet auspices.
I went to Geneva to see what would happen. Kissinger was there to dictate terms, but Andrei Gromyko, his Soviet counterpart, was a tough customer. After a few speeches, the conference adjourned without results. (For me it was an important event, because there I met a British journalist, Edward Mortimer, who arranged for me to meet the PLO representative in London, Said Hamami. Thus the first Israeli-PLO meeting came about. But that is another story.)
The Yom Kippur war cost many thousands of lives, Israeli, Egyptian and Syrian. Kissinger achieved his goal. The Soviets lost the Arab world to the United States.
Until Vladimir Putin came along.

Syria – Cost of “Victory” by Graham E. Fuller

Contradiction lies at the heart of US policy towards the present horrifying conflict in Syria. Which is better? To now reluctantly accept continuation of Bashar al- Assad in power in Damascus for the foreseeable future, thereby hastening the end of the war and the killing? Or to fight till the last Syrian in the belief that an indefinite prolongation of the civil war will somehow bring about a much brighter future for Syria and deal a rebuff to the position of Russia and Iran in Syria?

The Syrian war represents one of the darkest moments in civil conflicts anywhere in the world in recent years. At this juncture its locus is now in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, and an ancient center of Middle Eastern high culture. And this is where the human level of suffering particularly cries out for relief. The number of people who have been killed by bombing – in recent weeks especially by Syrian government forces and Russian air attacks – is horrendous. Fear, starvation, and death haunt this once magnificent city.

But there is a decision to be made. Back in 2011 in the midst of the Arab Spring revolutions, there was reason to believe that the Assad regime too, would quickly bite the dust, as did Mubarak in Egypt, Qaddafi in Libya, and Bin Ali in Tunisia. But as an early uprising emerged against Assad, the regime reacted swiftly with harsh reprisals in the belief that a quick putdown would nip it in the bud.

If Syria had just been left to its own devices, Assad’s cynical calculations for maintaining power – typical of most authoritarian rulers who fight to the bitter end – might have quickly ended with a regime victory. But unlike Egypt or Libya, Syria itself was indeed divided over his rule: although Assad was never popular, much of the Sunni economic, military and governing elite had become de facto aligned with the minority Alawite Assad regime. Other minorities such as Christian, Jews, Druze, and others believed that while they didn’t like Assad, he was far preferable to a scenario of overthrow by jihadists or a long civil war. That belief considerably explains why Assad has not fallen.

But of course Syria was not left to its own devices but rather became the magnet of regional power-struggles, the cockpit of proxy wars rapidly involving Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the US on one side, with Iran, Iraq (to some extent) and Russia on the other. Now, the US for over forty years has viewed the Assad family regime as a thorn in its side against US dominance in the Middle East; it intermittently sought to overthrow it, with little success. This time around the US now saw Syria as offering a great venue to strike back at Iranian and Russian influence in the region as well. It therefore became willing to support “moderate” jihadis in the anti-Damascus struggle.

Sadly there have been almost no genuinely moderate and effective Syrian guerrilla forces since the outset. Jihadist groups have dominated the military struggle. And radical jihadi forces have been invariably more effective fighters on the ground than “moderate jihadis.” Obama finally wisely came to perceive that backing a civil war that would bring jihadists to power in place of Assad was, in the end, not a good deal. But the impulse to deliver a blow to Iranian and Russian interests still dominated most of Washington’s hawkish thinkers. The Syrian people would become the pawns of Washington’s struggle against Moscow and Tehran.

The US-Russian agreement to establish a cease-fire and reach a political solution – to which Kerry and Lavrov devoted so much attention – might have stood a chance. But it required one key condition: Assad would not be overthrown; he would retain power pending a multinational process to transition to a new regime.

Washington in principle bought into that difficult-to-implement principle, but still could not bring itself to abandon the “moderate jihadis” as a fighting force on the US side. Moscow’s view is starkly simple: disarm – or eliminate – all forces fighting the Assad regime to hasten the end of the war and a political solution (with few US allies).

After five years of hideous and devastating civil war – whose refugees have shaken up the very politics of Europe itself – there are probably few Syrians alive at this point who would not prefer to go back to the unfriendly peace and stability of Assad authoritarianism – that was otherwise not known for the degree of brutality that characterized, for example, Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Meantime, war is hell. For most civilians, in the end almost any peace is better than almost any war.

Washington must now decide: Does it want to continue for months to argue about how moderate or violent a particular jihadi group is to find suitable allies among them – to use as bargaining chips over the negotiations of new governance down the road in Damascus? (Most of these would-be allies are now in the al-Qaeda orbit to one degree or another.) Or will it decide that an end to the war, even on Assad’s terms, is not more realistic, and yes, even more humane?

Russia holds the stronger cards in this confrontation. If the US decides to end the war now and accept an Assad victory, there is no doubt that Moscow will have emerged as relative strategic victor. But how serious a strategic setback is that in reality? Is every battle, every piece of turf, worth trying to best Moscow over? Is Washington still willing to fight till the last Syrian – with all the radicalization in the region and its refugee flows – simply to parry Russia? Yes, Russian and Syrian bombings in Aleppo against all insurgent strongholds have recently been vicious and murderous. The US has also bombed. Civilians always die, whoever bombs. An end to bombing and civil war is imperative from any humanitarian perspective. This is not, or should not be, a zero sum game with Russia. The game is not worth the candle, the stakes are low. The US still shares the major common goal with Russia and the region – ending jihadism in Syria and the neighborhood.

Conversely, if blocking Russian (and Iranian) interests at every turn is the supreme American strategy then Washington stands just as guilty as Russia and Iran in tossing more Syrian bodies onto the bonfire of this feckless proxy war.

Palestine – Erased from Space and Consciousness – book by Noga Kadman

Noga Kadman’s Erased from Space and Consciousness is one of those rare books that profoundly re-shapes your perspective. Growing up inside the Zionist education system meant that even when I did eventually hear about the “Palestinian narrative,” it seemed distant — not connected directly to my life experiences as an Israeli.

Kadman’s book, a product of visits to the sites of 230 former villages and extensive archival work, traces the points at which the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 was submerged and normalized, until this massive break in the country’s history became almost imperceptible to younger generations of Israelis. Through documenting the points at which these Palestinian experiences were re-coded, the book enabled me to de-familiarize the familiar – to finally notice the ruins and the cacti I regularly passed on bus rides, and to start asking questions about their former inhabitants. As Edward Said notes, “there can be no hope of peace unless the stronger community, the Israeli Jews, acknowledges the most powerful memory for the Palestinians, namely the dispossession of an entire people” (p. 145-6). This acknowledgement can only happen once we re-read our surroundings and fully perceive what has always been there — in the background.

After a useful forward by Prof. Oren Yiftachel and an in-depth review of the scholarship on the Nakba and its erasure, the book runs through three empirical chapters. The first examines publications from 25 rural Jewish communities that took over the lands of ruined villages, and describes how this transition was narrated there. The second describes in detail two government bodies established following the state’s founding — the Government Names Committee, and the Survey of Israel (the agency responsible for mapping) — both of which determined how the sites of former Palestinian localities would be officially named in Hebrew.
The third chapter discusses signs and publications by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which help mold the public’s perceptions of what became nature reserves and holiday resorts, which mask the sites of former villages. Extensive quotes from these sources are accompanied by historical photographs of the sites (new immigrants dancing among the recent ruins), contemporary photographs by the author (ancient cacti still visible among the newer JNF forests), and reproduced illustrations from when the kibbutzim were founded (pioneers marching forward to till the land, with a destroyed house in the background). The appendices include detailed lists of the depopulated villages (but not towns), their location, demographic and topographic features, as well as the communities and parks that were built atop them and the new names they were given.

The process Kadman documents included more than “erasure” or “silencing.” More precisely, the memory of the former Palestinian inhabitants was re-shaped into a form more palatable to Israelis. The mill used by the villagers of Jarisha, inside what is now Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park, is attributed to the “Ottoman period” on the JNF website, with no mention whatsoever of the villagers who used to live there (p. 122).

Furthermore the memory of certain villages became synonymous with filth and backwardness: Kibbutz Sasa wrote that “we are mired in the ruins of an Arab village, that even before its destruction we had to run around in it among fleas and dirt” (p. 74). Sometimes the old name remained long after the inhabitants were gone, preserved by informal agents such as Mizrahi immigrant transit camps (whom the Names Committee accused of “distorting the Hebrew face of our state” — p. 103).

In the lexicon of Kabri, one of the many newly-established Jewish community, the entry “orchards in Kabri” describes delicious fruits, without mentioning the residents of the Palestinian village, al-Kabri, who planted the trees (p. 64). The Names Committee listed Moshav Kfar Daniel as “named to commemorate Daniel Frisch, the president of the Zionist Organization of America,” (p. 101) but the name curiously echoes that of the destroyed village that existed on the same site – Daniyal.
Palestinians celebrate during a festival by a natural spring at Lifta, on May 16, 2014 in Jerusalem. Palestinians came to mark the Nakba day. Lifta was a Palestinian village that was destroyed after the establishment of Israel. (Activestills.org)

Moshav Ya’ad provides a somewhat different example, in which elements of the older village were actually re-associated with its original inhabitants. The moshav was built on the lands of Mi’ar in the Lower Galilee in 1974, decades after the village was destroyed. Perhaps this is the reason members of the moshav were willing to work with internally-displaced refugees, who managed to stay inside the State of Israel during the 1948 war and today reside nearby. Together they managed to prevent new construction on the site of the former village, and the ancient cemetery was fenced off and protected. However, the majority of Ya’ad members opposed placing a sign to explain the history of the destroyed village.

Yet even this modest example of cooperation is an exception. At most first generation of kibbutz members sometimes expressed sorrow for the fate of the inhabitants whose land they took. Their questions (“what gives us the right to reap the fruits of trees we have not planted?” Kibbutz Sasa Passover Haggadah, p. 84) remained unanswered and inconsequential, and were not raised again by the following generations. In moshavim, less committed to a socialist ideology with universal pretensions, these dilemmas were entirely absent.

While Kadman’s research on the renaming of Palestinian locales remains groundbreaking, a decade after she began her study, her conclusions may seem too timid for some readers’ taste. During this period, Zochrot, the central Israeli organization trying to raise awareness of the Nakba among the Israeli public, shifted its emphasis from memorialization of the Palestinian catastrophe to actively reversing its results. Zochrot now explicitly calls for the return of refugees to the lands they were expelled from, so that they can live alongside the present Israeli inhabitants. Kadman is doubtlessly right to stress “the importance of memory,” and to document efforts to bring this memory to the consciousness of Israelis, but many Palestinians would argue that memory alone is not enough and cannot replace meaningful efforts to reverse the expulsion of 1948.

Nevertheless there is no doubt that exposing the memory of the former Palestinian locales and the attempts to cover it up is a crucial first step towards reconciliation. Kadman has provided us with a valuable tool for reconfiguring our own consciousness and perceiving the everyday traces of some 85 percent of the Palestinian population of what became the State of Israel – those who remain, to this day, “erased from space and consciousness.”