How Israel Uses Gas to Enforce Palestinian Dependency and Promote Normalization by Tareq Baconi

Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory does not only exist above ground. Since 1967, Israel has systematically colonized Palestinian natural resources and, in the field of hydrocarbons, has prevented Palestinians from accessing their own oil and gas reserves. Such restrictions have ensured the continued dependence of Palestinians on Israel for their energy needs. The Palestinians’ own efforts to develop their energy sector fail to challenge Israel’s overarching hegemony over Palestinian resources. Rather, they pursue growth and state building within the reality of the occupation, further reinforcing — even if inadvertently — the asymmetric balance between occupied and occupier.

The Energy Crisis Israel Imposes on Gaza and Palestine

Within the space of a few years, Israel has moved from being a regional gas importer to acquiring the potential to become an exporter. As Israel became awash with gas, the Gaza Strip’s pitiful reality became starker than ever.

The Gaza Strip has been under blockade since 2007. The Gaza Power Generation Company (GPGC), the sole company of its kind in the Palestinian territory, currently runs on liquid fuel that is purchased and transported into the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

To supplement power from GPGC, Gaza purchases electricity from the Israeli Electricity Company as well as from the Egyptian electric grid — in line with the Paris Protocol, enshrined between Israel and the PLO as part of the Oslo Accords. Even so, fuel purchased for power generation in Gaza is insufficient to meet local demand, and the Strip has suffered from chronic electricity shortages since Israel imposed the blockade.

In early 2017, protests swept throughout Gaza as inhabitants of this coastal enclave protested having electricity for only three to four hours daily. Aside from the tremendous restrictions these shortages put on mundane facets of life, electricity outages have a crippling impact on the economic activity of the private sector, healthcare, education, and life-sustaining facilities such as water sanitation plants. Stunted operations in these areas have consequences that are both immediate and lasting, impacting rising generations.

Blame for Gaza’s energy crisis is fired in all directions. Protesters flooding the winter streets blamed Hamas’s government, the PA, and Israel. Anger was directed at Hamas’s government for allegedly diverting funds from the purchase of fuel necessary to run Gaza’s only power plant toward other activities, including the building of tunnels.

Frustrated demonstrators accused the PA of supporting the blockade by controlling fuel purchases and transfers into Gaza. The power company itself, a privately owned operation, is repeatedly criticized for supposedly making profit off the backs of ordinary Gazans who suffer from these shortages.

To mitigate the particularly painful winter months of late 2016 and early 2017, interventions into Gaza’s energy sector were forthcoming from Turkey and Qatar in the form of fuel supplies that allowed the resumption of power generation from GPGC. These measures are at best short-term palliatives that will carry Gazans through another chapter of a chronic crisis.

In this wave of popular anger and recrimination, the impact of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and Israel’s broader colonization and control of Palestinian resources is diluted, if not pushed to the background.

Yet Palestinians discovered gas reserves almost a decade before Israel’s gas bonanza. In 1999, the Gaza Marine field was discovered off the coast of Gaza, and the license for exploration and production was awarded to BG Group, the major British oil and gas company since acquired by Shell.

In the early days of the discovery, this national treasure was hailed as a breakthrough that could offer Palestinians a windfall. At a time when the Oslo Accords that had been signed in 1993 still seemed plausible, the resource discovery was viewed as something that could provide Palestinians with a much-needed boost toward self-determination.

With an estimated 1 tcf of gas, Gaza Marine is not sufficiently large to act as an exporter. But the gas volumes it holds are sufficient to make the Palestinian energy sector entirely self-sufficient. Not only would Palestinians not have to import Israeli or Egyptian gas or electricity, but the Gaza Strip would not suffer from any electricity shortages. Moreover, the Palestinian economy would enjoy a significant source of revenue.

That move to sovereign rule was not to be. Despite persistent attempts by owners of the field and investors to develop Gaza Marine, Israel placed unyielding restrictions that have prevented any measures from taking place. This is despite the fact that exploration and production from Gaza Marine would be relatively straightforward given the shallow depth of the reserve and its location close to Palestinian shores.

According to documents uncovered by Al-Shabaka, Israel initially prevented the development of this field as it sought commercially favorable terms for the gas produced. After Israel discovered its own resources, it began citing “security concerns” that were heightened with Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Although Netanyahu allegedly considered allowing Palestinians to develop Gaza Marine in 2012 as part of a broader strategy to stabilize the Gaza Strip, these efforts have yet to materialize. Given the recent acquisition of BG Group by Shell, and the latter’s global asset divestment program, it is likely that Gaza Marine will be sold off.

Until Israel ends its stranglehold on the Palestinian economy, this Palestinian asset is likely to remain stranded. Indeed, the manner in which the Israeli and Palestinian gas discoveries have shaped economic development in Israel and the Palestinian territory elucidates the power disparity between the two parties. Unlike Israel, which rapidly secured energy independence after the discovery of its gas fields, Palestinians are unable to access a resource they discovered close to two decades earlier.

Rather than addressing the root cause of the blockade and the occupation regime that has prevented their control of resources such as Gaza Marine, Palestinians are instead forced to seek immediate measures that mitigate the pressing misery they face. Although this is understandable in the context of a brutal occupation, efforts to enhance quality of life under occupation overlook the longer-term strategic goal of securing energy independence within the broader goal of freedom from occupation and realization of Palestinian rights.

Economic Peace and Normalization

Israel’s gas discoveries are often heralded as potential catalysts for a regional transformation. The positioning of the Israeli state as an energy supplier to resource-poor neighbors is considered a sure way to facilitate economic integration between countries such as Jordan and Egypt as well as the Palestinians.

The economic benefit that cheap pipeline gas could offer these countries is seen to offset any social and political concerns among their citizens regarding dealings with Israel. This line of thinking assumes that through economic integration, the pursuant stability would diminish prospects of volatility in an explosive region as Israel and its neighbors become integrated in mutual dependency.

The notion of “economic peace” has a long history in the region and has manifested itself in various forms, including recently in Secretary of State John Kerry’s economic development proposal. This view also appears favored by the Trump administration’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

Rather than directly addressing the political impasse caused by Israel’s prolonged occupation and other violations, such proposals address issues related to quality of life, trade, or economic growth, presumably as a stepping stone to peace. With similar thinking, once the Israeli gas discoveries were made, the Obama administration began to explore ways to position Israel as a regional energy hub.

Proponents of this approach of separating national and political rights from economic incentives would argue that there is an obvious commercial advantage for Israeli gas to be used within the Palestinian territory and Jordan. Israel now has an excess of gas, and these regions are still dependent on energy imports.

In the case of the Palestinian territory, dependence on Israel already exists, and not only in Gaza: close to 88 percent of Palestinian consumption is supplied by Israel, with the West Bank importing almost the entirety of its electricity from Israel. Advocates for economic peace believe that prospects for instability diminish when such mutual dependency is reinforced.

The Dangers of Truncated Sovereignty

There are several national and regional dangers to the push for closer integration through gas deals in the absence of a concurrent effort on the political front.

The first danger is that Palestinian energy security is pinned to Israel’s goodwill. Israel can and has in the past used its power to effectively turn the taps off for Palestinian consumers. The most evident (and violent) manifestation of Israel’s willingness to withhold power to Palestinians is its decision to destroy without hesitation the sole power generation company in the Gaza Strip during its bombardment of the coastal enclave in 2006 and again in 2014.

Secondly, this approach legitimizes the Israeli occupation, soon entering its fiftieth year. Not only is there no cost to Israel’s prevention of Palestinian state building, there is rather a direct reward in the form of revenue from the sales of gas to territories maintained indefinitely under Israel’s territorial control.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, such energy exchange and trade in the pursuit of economic peace in the absence of any political prospects merely entrenches the power imbalance between the two parties — the occupier and the occupied. Such integration propagates a fiction of normative sovereign relations between an occupying power and a captive economy in the West Bank and Gaza.

One might think back to similar quality of life initiatives that were put forward in the 1980s, with the direct encouragement of the Reagan White House, as a failed alternative to political engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The constant efforts to circumvent Palestinian political demands through such measures has allowed Israel to manage, rather than resolve, the conflict.

The case of gas demonstrates most starkly how Palestinian state building efforts through the development of national resources have been elided in favor of alleviating energy crises within the framework of truncated sovereignty. Instead of addressing Palestinians’ inability to explore their own natural resources, American diplomats are actively working with Israel to facilitate negotiations that enhance Palestinian “quality of life” that ultimately leaves them bound to Israel in perpetuity.

This approach carries regional dangers as well. Jordan is currently dependent on Israel for around 40 percent of its energy imports. Jordan’s willingness to enter into this kind of commitment, despite several geostrategic disadvantages, advances Israel’s normalization in the region even as it maintains its occupation of Palestinian territory.

This disposition heralds several threats at a time when the Trump administration is proposing the pursuit of “outside in” diplomatic measures that might entirely circumvent the Palestinians.

Strategies for Pushback

In normal conditions, mutual dependency and economic development are indeed anchors against instability and hold the benefit of advancing the quality of life of the inhabitants of the region. However, they must not be viewed as an end in their own right, and certainly not as a substitute for the realization of Palestinian rights. Such a depoliticized view can only go so far. Focusing solely on economic peace has detrimental consequences precisely because it overlooks the broader historical context that has led to Palestinian, and possibly regional, dependency.

Economic growth will never remove Palestinian calls for sovereignty and rights or the demand for self-determination. That was a lesson that was fully articulated with the eruption of the first intifada close to 30 years ago, after decades of normalized economic relations between Israel and the territories under its military occupation. While “economic peace” could offer short-term relief, it will only pave the way toward greater stability if it is built on a foundation of equality and justice.

Palestinians’ right to their own resources is subject to final status negotiations with the Israelis. The current gas agreements being pursued will create an infrastructure of dependency that will be difficult to untangle in the case of a negotiated settlement. More importantly, given the vanishing hopes of a negotiated two-state solution, these agreements merely concretize the status quo.

Therefore, while economic relations may have to be pursued to avert humanitarian suffering, as the case might be with increasing fuel and electricity supply to Gaza, the PLO and PA as well as Palestinian civil society and the Palestine solidarity movement must continue to use all the tools at their disposal to push for justice and rights for Palestinians.

At the same time, the PLO/PA must use such economic negotiations as a means of securing accountability from Israel rather than as a way of acquiescing to enforced dependency. In particular, the non-observer member state status that Palestine has secured at the UN must be used to lobby at international legal forums such as the International Criminal Court to push Israel to meet its responsibility as an occupying power under international law. This means it is tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding the livelihood of inhabitants under its control, including the provision of electricity and fuel, and it is accountable for decisions it might make to “turn the taps off.”

Certain elements of economic peace may serve the Palestinians in the short term by underpinning economic growth and development. But these cannot come at the expense of an indefinite state of dependency and truncated sovereignty. Palestinians must work on two fronts: They must push to hold Israel’s occupation accountable in international forums. And they must ensure that prospects of forced economic integration and any attempt by Israel to impose a one-state apartheid reality is met by a call for rights and equality. Whichever political vision is pursued for Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian leadership must formulate a strategy around these gas deals and contextualize notions of economic development within the wider struggle for Palestinian liberation.

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.

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.

Abby Martin: How Palestine became Israel

Rehmat's World

Abby MartinRelease of American journalist Abigail Suzanne (Abby) Martin, 32, latest investigative documentary (watch below) on How Palestine became Israel, was at the most appropriate time. Last week Israelis were overjoyed by sucking another $38 billion military aid from US taxpayers, and this week they’re mourning the death of their great leader Shimon Peres, a war criminal.

In late August 2016, Martin, the host of teleSUR’s The Empire Files visited the Fatah-ruled West Bank and the Zionist entity with her crew to find out the truth behind the Jewish-controlled media lies about Jewish occupation, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.

She was not allowed to enter Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip by Israeli authorities.

Ron Paz, head of Israel’s foreign press office refused to accept Abby Martin as a journalist, and accused her being a Palestinian supporter and an Israel-hater.

What we saw was one of the biggest human rights disasters on the planet. A…

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The West in the Middle East

by Roger Hardy

Many people, understandably, are perplexed by the violence and disorder of the Middle East. They look at, say, the conflict in Syria and ask: how did it come to this? Part of the problem is that the media focus on the crowded foreground and neglect the all-important historical background – in particular, the formative period in the emergence of the modern Middle East, in the age of empire.

To understand the conflicts and crises of today′s Middle East, we need to understand how it emerged in essentially its present form, in the half-century between 1917 and 1967. When the British left Egypt, 77 percent of the population was illiterate, per capita income stood at £42 a year and the life expectancy of an Egyptian male was 36.

The region was shaped in important and fateful, ways by the First World War and its aftermath. The Ottoman Empire, which had governed the Middle East for four hundred years, had taken the side of Germany. After its defeat, Britain and France divided the Arab portions of the empire between them. The post-war settlement left a legacy of deep mistrust – and unwittingly sowed the seeds of many of the conflicts of today, including the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the Lebanon problem and the statelessness of the Kurds.

Arabs who dreamt of independence felt betrayed when they found they had exchanged Turkish for European rule. ″The ghost of the Peace Settlement,″ wrote the historian Albert Hourani, ″has haunted Arab politics ever since.″

A bitter harvest

European domination of the Middle East and North Africa had profound consequences for the region and its relations with the West. First, colonial rule was from the start contested. Only two years after the French occupied Algeria in 1830, a charismatic young warrior and Sufi scholar, Emir Abdelkader, led a 15-year revolt. This and a subsequent rebellion in 1871, were suppressed with great ferocity. Arabs and Berbers, the country′s two main ethnic groups, were united in opposing French rule. An anonymous Berber poet wrote of the bitterness the French left in the wake of these revolts:

They have sowed hatred in the villages.

We store it under the ground where it remains,

The abundant yield of a harvested field.

The same sentiment was apparent elsewhere. Throughout the region, with relatively few exceptions, colonial rule provoked resentment and – in many cases – rebellion.

The French were taken by surprise by the Great Revolt in Syria in the 1920s, which broke out in the Druze region south of Damascus and soon spread to much of the country. In Iraq, the Shia of the south rose up against British rule in 1920 and the colonial power responded by using air power against this and subsequent unrest, whether among the Shia tribes or the Kurds of the north. In Palestine, it took the Arab Revolt, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, to knock the stuffing out of British complacency.

The most sustained violence was in Algeria. Experts continue to debate how many died in the war of independence, which lasted from 1954 to 1962, but it was no less than half a million.

Nation-building

Secondly, colonial rule challenged the basis of Middle Eastern societies. Under Ottoman rule, for all its deficiencies, the region had a certain coherence – culturally as well as politically – which it never regained. The idea of the nation-state was novel and, initially at least, alien. British and French officials drew the new borders – those infamous ″lines in the sand″ – to suit their imperial interests. In many cases, they were scarcely a natural fit. As a result, the process of state-building and nation-building was fraught with difficulty.

What′s more, even when they proclaimed a ″civilising mission″, the colonial powers did little to educate the mass of the people. Instead they educated a small collaborative elite which could provide the schoolteachers and low-level functionaries they required. When the British left Egypt, 77 percent of the population was illiterate, per capita income stood at £42 a year and the life expectancy of an Egyptian male was 36.

A pattern of intervention

Third and perhaps most crucially, colonial rule was part of a broader pattern of intervention. This went back to the era of Disraeli and Gladstone, when the European powers picked at the decaying corpse of the Ottoman Empire and extended beyond the colonial period to more recent interventions – most notably the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

Whatever else they were guilty of, the two authors of that invasion, George Bush and Tony Blair, displayed an astonishing ignorance of history. They seemed blissfully unaware that, for more than two hundred years, Western intervention in the Middle East had produced a nationalist response – and that prolonged occupation provoked prolonged insurgencies.

And when insurgencies are crushed, the hatred is stored:

… under the ground where it remains,

The abundant yield of a harvested field.

ISIS explained – by Ramzi Baroud

In 1999 there were no so-called “jihadis” espousing the principles of “jihadism”, whatever the interpretation may be. On the outskirts of Baghdad was a military training camp, not for “al-Qaeda”, but for “Mojahedin-e-Khalq”, an Iranian militant exile group that worked, with foreign funding and arms, to overthrow the Iranian Republic.

At the time, the late Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, used the exiled organization to settle scores with his rivals in Tehran, just as they, too, espoused anti-Iraqi government militias to achieve the exact same purpose.

Iraq was hardly peaceful then. But most of the bombs that exploded in that country were American. In fact, when Iraqis spoke of “terrorism”, they only referred to “Al-Irhab al-Amriki” – American terrorism.

Suicide bombings were hardly a daily occurrence; in fact, never an occurrence at all, anywhere in Iraq. As soon as the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 followed by Iraq in 2003, all hell broke loose.

The 25 years prior to 2008 witnessed 1,840 suicide attacks, according to data compiled by US government experts and cited in the Washington Post. Of all these attacks, 86 percent occurred post-US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, between 2001 and the publishing of the data in 2008, 920 suicide bombings took place in Iraq and 260 in Afghanistan.

A fuller picture emerged in 2010, with the publishing of more commanding and detailed research conducted by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism.

“More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation,” it emerged.

“As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq … total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically – from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009,” wrote Robert Pape in Foreign Policy.

Tellingly, it was also concluded that “over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.”

When I visited Iraq in 1999, “al-Qaeda” was merely a name on the Iraqi TV news, referring to a group of militants that operated mostly in Afghanistan. It was first established to unite Arab fighters against the Soviet presence in that country, and they were largely overlooked as a global security threat at the time.

It was years after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1988, that “al-Qaeda” became a global phenomenon. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US’ misguided responses – invading and destroying countries – created the very haven that have espoused today’s militancy and terror.

In no time, following the US invasion of Iraq, “al-Qaeda” extended its dark shadows over a country that was already overwhelmed with a death toll that surpassed hundreds of thousands.

It is hardly difficult to follow the thread of ISIS’ formation, the deadliest of all such groups that mostly originated from “al-Qaeda” in Iraq, itself wrought by the US invasion.

It was born from the unity of various militants groups in October 2006, when “al-Qaeda” in Mesopotamia joined ranks with “Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq”, “Jund al-Sahhaba”, and the “Islamic State of Iraq” (ISI).

ISIS, or “Daesh” has been in existence since then, in various forms and capacities, but only jumped to the scene as a horrifically violent organization with territorial ambitions when a Syrian uprising turned into a deadly platform for regional rivalries. What existed as a “state” at a virtual, cerebral level had, in fact, morphed into a “state” of actual landmass, oil fields and martial law.

It is easy – perhaps, convenient – to forget all of this. Connecting the proverbial dots can be costly for some, for it will unravel a trajectory of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention. For many western commentators and politicians it is much easier – let alone safer – to discuss ISIS within impractical contexts, for example, Islam, than to take moral responsibility.

I pity those researchers who spent years examining the thesis of ISIS as a religious theology or ISIS and the apocalypse. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. What good did that bring about, anyway?

American military and political interventions have always been accompanied by attempting to also intervene in school curricula of invaded countries. The war on Afghanistan was also joined with a war on its “madrasas” and unruly “ulemas”. None of this helped. If anything, it backfired, for it compounded the feeling of threat and sense of victimization among tens of millions of Muslims all around the world.

ISIS (Daesh) is but a name that can be rebranded without notice into something entirely different. Their tactics, too, can change, based on time and circumstances. Their followers can mete out violence using a suicide belt, a car laden with explosives, a knife even, or a truck moving at high speed.

What truly matters is that ISIS (Daesh) has grown into a phenomenon, an idea that is not even confined to a single group and requires no official membership, transfer of funds or weapons.

This is no ordinary fact, but in a more sensible approach should represent the crux of the fight against ISIS (Daesh).

When a French-Tunisian truck driver rammed into a crowd of celebrating people in the streets of Nice, the French police moved quickly to find connections between him and Daesh, or any other militant group. No clues were immediately revealed, yet, strangely, President François Hollande was quick to declare his intentions to respond militarily.

Such inanity and shortsightedness. What good did France’s military adventurism achieve in recent years? Libya has turned into an oasis of chaos – where Daesh now control entire towns. Iraq and Syria remain places for unmitigated violence.

What about Mali? Maybe the French had better luck there.

Writing for Al Jazeera, Pape Samba Kane described the terrible reality that Mali has become following the French intervention in January 2003. Their so-called “Operation Serval” turned into “Operation Barkhane” and neither did Mali became a peaceful place nor did French forces leave the country.

The French, according to Kane are now Occupiers, not liberators, and according to all rationale data – like the ones highlighted above – we all know what foreign occupation does.

“The question that Malians have to ask themselves is”, Kane wrote: “Do they prefer having to fight against jihadists for a long time, or having their sovereignty challenged and their territory occupied or partitioned by an ancient colonialist state in order to satisfy a group allied with the colonial power?”

Yet the French, like the Americans, the British and others, continue to evade this obvious reality at their own peril. By refusing to accept the fact that Daesh is only a component of a much larger and disturbing course of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention, is to allow violence everywhere to perpetuate.

Defeating Daesh requires that we also confront and defeat the thinking that led to its inception: to defeat the logic of the George W. Bushes, Tony Blairs and John Howards of this world.

No matter how violent Daesh members or supporters are, it is ultimately a group of angry, alienated, radicalized young men seeking to alter their desperate situation by carrying out despicable acts of vengeance, even if it means ending their lives in the process.

Bombing Daesh camps may destroy some of their military facilities but it will not eradicate the very idea that allowed them to recruit thousands of young men all over the world.

They are the product of violent thinking that was spawned, not only in the Middle East but, initially, in various western capitals.

Daesh will fizzle out and die when its leaders lose their appeal and ability to recruit young men seeking answers and revenge.

The war option has, thus far, proved the least affective. Daesh will remain and metamorphose if necessary, as long as war remains on the agenda. To end Daesh, we must end war and foreign occupations.

It is as simple as that.