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.
By Joshua Schreier & Mira Sucharov
The Israeli government has expressed elation in reaction to Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Likud MK Yehuda Glick invited Trump to visit the territories to “see with his own eyes that settlements are the way to peace.” Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister, expressed hope that the president-elect would fulfill his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
And Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, who has called for annexing parts of the West Bank, insisted that Trump’s victory signals that “the era of a Palestinian state is over.”
There are at least two lessons to be learned here.
First, while it may be disturbing to those who had pinned their hopes on a two-state solution, Bennett’s declaration makes clear what has already been obvious for some time: Israel already is governing a single entity from the river to the sea. Linking equality for Palestinians to an ever-distant two-state solution has become not only unrealistic, but also dangerous. Waiting for an imaginary state to materialize means that the struggle to bring democracy to the one state that does exist is being denied. Instead, we must push for all the area’s residents — some of whom are citizens and some of whom are stateless — to be granted equal rights, justice and protection of life and limb.
The parallels between Trump’s America and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel are many. In the lead-up to 1948, the forerunners to the Israeli army forced the majority of certain ethnic groups to leave, and after independence, Israel prevented those fleeing from returning. Israel has fashioned an immigration policy around religion and ethnicity, and since 2003 has been building and maintaining a wall to keep out undesirables. Mind you, Trump’s proposed wall between the United States and Mexico would follow a legitimate international border, whereas Israel’s West Bank barrier snakes through areas that Israel currently governs, in many cases separating Palestinian residents from access to land and livelihood.
Trump’s proposal to force all Muslims in the United States to register with a federal agency is especially chilling. But this, too, bears striking similarity to Israel. Until 2005, Israeli identity cards classified citizens according to ethnic origin; now the ethnicity/religion distinctions are contained in the records of Israel’s national population registry. The sticker system used by Israeli airport authorities signaling whether the traveler is Jewish or Arab, among other things, is by now well known. These parallels between Trump’s vision for America and contemporary Israel are important.
Let us be perfectly clear: We don’t advocate a turning away from America; Americans and those close to them must continue to fight for democratic values of equality and inclusion while actively standing in solidarity with those most vulnerable. Neither do we suggest a turning away from Israel. But being pro-Israel in an inclusive sense will mean a different form of engagement. It will mean direct pressure — in various non-violent forms — to demand justice and human rights. This won’t be easy for the many American Jews who are accustomed to expressing their identity in terms of automatic support for Israel. But when it comes to dignity and human rights, the time has passed for exceptionalism. Racism and exclusion are unacceptable everywhere, be it in friendly states or hostile ones, and we need to be consistent.
Coalition-building has become central among progressive groups in North America. Groups like Black Lives Matter, Students for Justice in Palestine and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights have linked the struggle for tolerance and inclusion in the U.S. and abroad. These groups already count many Jewish members or supporters. And those involved in specifically Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Center for Jewish Nonviolence and T’ruah have placed human rights in Israel-Palestine at the core of their Jewish identity. Obviously, we may disagree with each other on certain issues. But taking a unified stand against all forms of intolerance and hatred is far more urgent than the particular issues that may divide us.
Given the deep ties between the two countries, the fate of America and Israel — including the Palestinians under Israeli rule — are intertwined. To this end, American Jews have a crucial role to play.
The Arab world is going through the bloodiest period of its history. Every day the body count grows higher. Pictures of dead bodies, maimed children and burned out villages and neighborhoods flash on TV channels. Images of floating dead bodies splatter screens. This has been going on now from some time and we all wonder when it will stop. A region that once prided itself on being almost crime free has now turned into a battlefield. And although it is painful to see that transformation, there is no use in finger pointing. The blame essentially lies with us. Years of societal neglect and deprivation along with the absence of structures that could have created a civil society that respects the rights and dignity of the people planted the seeds for what is happening today. While the 1960s, 70s and 80s saw a world on the move and people turning toward technology, civil rights and better awareness, the Arab world and its media were extolling the “virtues” of the “strong leader”. Dictators thrived and on the other side, religious fervor instead of instilling spirituality in people and a quest for good deeds created extremism and a hate psychosis. The youth, who gathered around self-appointed religious leaders in the absence of role models, began to be drawn to perpetrators of hatred and violence. A failed Arab Spring, which led to a political and social vacuum, further created unrest. Many Arab leaders could not understand that the reason for this was that people wanted a life of dignity and economic equality and to have a say in their lives. But that is all history now. Today, wars are going on and Arabs are killing Arabs directly or through proxies. I see armies, militias and foreign troops traverse the land and destroy cities hunting for murderous thugs like Daesh. And I wonder why they have not been able to take out these mercenaries! Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other areas are going through hell due to the intransigence of those in power. All these super powers are killing their own “enemies” in Syria and Iraq. The Arabs have no choice but to observe. They moan about foreign conspiracies, which to me as a political realist are as clear as the sun. But we have allowed this to happen. A failed Arab League and a total collapse of communication between leaders and Arab institutions, along with a subservient media that parrots the calls of its masters have thrown us into this bloody mess. Netanyahu has used this period of time to kill more Palestinians and start a pogrom of the inhabitants of the land. Hordes of Jewish terrorists roam the occupied lands shooting Palestinian women and children at point-blank range. And there is glee and a surge of happiness in Israel. In the words of one Israeli writer about the conflict in Syria and even the Arab world: “May it never end.” That message has not been recognized by the Arabs. For that, they will pay a heavy price! The writer is Editor-at-Large.
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.
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.