Change is in the Wind

Part 1: Israel and Palestine after the Flotilla

There are times in world politics when a relatively small incident can trigger a major chain of events, depending on circumstances. Another way of expressing this is contained in the ancient Chinese proverb, “A single spark can start a prairie fire” — particularly when conditions include a warm gusty wind and the grassland is dry.

This analogy comes to mind in the aftermath of the violent illegal interdiction by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) of the six ships and nearly 700 people in the humanitarian Gaza Freedom Flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea over a month ago, killing nine Turkish supporters of Palestinian national rights and wounding about 50 other voyagers.

Is it possible this incident may represent the start of a transitional moment leading toward substantial change for the Palestinians, Israelis and perhaps the Middle East in general? We think yes, and the process has already begun. How far it goes, nobody knows, but conditions are ripe for change.

After three years of increasingly tightened sanctions against the 1.5 million beleaguered Palestinians resident in the Gaza Strip, Israel has been forced to significantly ease its near-total blockade — not because of decisions by the UN and the several big powers that have been working with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a settlement, but by the action of a people’s movement.

Israel’s use of brute force on the high seas against a boatload of civilians on a brave journey motivated by compassion for a suffering people swiftly sent a tidal wave of international criticism and anger crashing against Israel’s shores. As always, the Jewish State sought to depict itself as the victim, but times have changed in recent years and the victim of yesterday, for whom humanity still mourns, is now perceived as an executioner of today, extracting 10, or 50, or 100 eyes for an eye.

Much of the anger directed at the Tel-Aviv government this last month began to coalesce when Israel attacked Lebanon and Gaza in the summer of 2006. It grew after Israel’s vicious three-week invasion of defenseless Gaza starting in late December 2008. But it took the bungled flotilla attack for this gathering criticism to breach the levees.

Now what? In the wake of the flotilla fiasco and public disapproval, obdurate Israel is obliged to make some concessions to the so-called Quartet, which is composed of the UN, European Union, U.S. and Russia — a group formed eight years ago to resolve differences between Israel and Palestine leading to the establishment of two separate states.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet with President Barack Obama in Washington July 6 for their first meeting since before the May 31 killings. Each side probably will make some concessions since the main task for both leaders is to convey the impression of moving forward in cordial unity after several months of apparently strained relations.

One of the principal topics of discussion will be converting the present indirect talks between Israel and the Palestine National Authority (PNA), with American mediator George Mitchell going back and forth between the parties, into face-to-face direct negotiations. The PNA is reluctant to take part is such meetings until the Netanyahu government agrees to extend its temporary ban on building new settlements on Palestinian territory. We will discuss the other issues between Tel-Aviv and Washington throughout this article.

The Obama Administration supports Israel politically and militarily, and has raised Washington’s annual subsidy to Israel to $3 billion beginning in October. It believes, however, that the Tel-Aviv regime’s disproportionate violence, illegal occupation of the West Bank (with a population of 2.8 million Palestinians) and foot-dragging on facilitating a Palestinian state undermines U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, and its imperial interests worldwide.

President Obama refused to blame Israel for shooting unarmed civilians at sea, saying only that “the United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries.” Nor has the White House used its decisive power to permanently halt the building of settlements on territory illegally seized from the Palestinians 43 years ago, much less to withdraw from the land it illegally occupies in the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s governing extreme right wing and ultra-orthodox religious coalition has no desire to curtail the establishment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands, to end its occupation of the West Bank, or to work seriously toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Hardline religious sectors entertain the belief that Israel was “given to the Jews by God.” (Were the Palestinians to make an identical claim based on equivalent evidence they would be dismissed as typical Islamic religious fanatics.)

In this four-part article, we will discuss all these matters in detail, report on the actions of President Obama and Congress, explore the role of Turkey and Iran, the split between Fatah and Hamas, the disunity within the Arab world, and anticipate possible geopolitical outcomes throughout the Middle East.

The people of the Gaza Strip are still suffering from sanctions and many other indignities, but the pain of a total blockade and virtual collective imprisonment is easing for now in this narrow 25-mile long territory on the Mediterranean coast set aside in 1949 to accommodate some of the Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of the State of Israel.

The world’s principal human rights organizations welcomed the partial lifting of the blockade, but called for it to be entirely ended. Said Amnesty International: “This announcement makes it clear that Israel is not intending to end its collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population, but only ease it… Israel must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade.”

The UN Relief and Works Agency, which oversees the Palestinian refugee community, declared June 20 through spokesperson Christopher Guinness: “We need to have the blockade fully lifted…. The Israeli strategy is to make the international community talk about a bag of cement here, a project there. We need full unfettered access through all the crossings.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which rarely speaks out on such matters, called for a complete end to the blockade June 14, noting that the embargo has destroyed the territory’s economy and ruined its healthcare system.

This small concession on sanctions has not changed the political goals of the Israeli government. In general, it seeks the destruction of Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) that governs Gaza; the domination and manipulation of PNA and Fatah (the Palestine Liberation Movement), which governs in the West Bank; the maintenance of Israeli occupation forces and illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land; and widening its control of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s objective is to keep the Palestinians in a condition of neocolonial subjugation as long as possible. The real desire of the right wing government coalition is to permanently absorb as much Palestinian land as possible. The Quartet some time ago encouraged Israel to work toward establishing a two-state solution in 2012, but the current regime poses innumerable obstacles to an equitable settlement, seeking to delay an agreement for many years or forever if possible.

On June 29, neofascist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced there was “no chance” of meeting a 2012 deadline. Lieberman indicated some time ago that he would consider the idea of two states if Israel’s 1.3 million Arab inhabitants — second class citizens in their own land — would be uprooted and “transferred” to the Palestinian side of the border, which is hardly likely. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party already suggests that most Israeli Arabs are “disloyal” and should have their citizenship revoked. “No loyalty, no citizenship” was its election slogan in what Israel’s supporters term “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

PNA President Mahmoud Abbas conducted a rare meeting with reporters from the Hebrew press last week in Ramallah, for three hours no less. The Jerusalem Post editorialized July 1 that the event “can be seen as an attempt — quite possibly with heavy U.S. encouragement — to reach out to the Israeli public. There was nothing particularly new in what Abbas had to say. But the general impression that the PNA head will most likely have succeeded in conveying to the Americans is that he is showing a readiness to push ahead with negotiations on the final-status issues of security and borders, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has proffered nothing but a wall of silence. ‘We have yet to receive a sign from Netanyahu on progress,’ Abbas said.”

Two more moderate political parties — Kadima, which calls itself “centrist” but functions on the right, is the largest party in the Knesset (parliament); and the Labor Party, which still sports a “center-left” label but is center-right at best and rightist when it comes to the Palestinians — are more amenable to the two-state proposition. But neither has evidenced an interest in anything more than a weak, virtually dependent Palestinian state. And no mainstream Israeli party gives credence to the left idea advocated by some of transforming Israel-Palestine into a single progressive multi-ethnic, multi-religious state based on true equality and mutual benefit.

President Obama is said to be considering the idea of proposing “an independent, democratic and contiguous” Palestinian state that — “for Israel’s security” — would not be allowed to have an army or enter into a mutual security pact with another country. Given the recent history of Israel’s violent military incursions into neighboring states, it seems logical to inquire, what about Palestinian security?

For his part, Netanyahu evidently has learned nothing from the international criticism of Israel’s harsh blockade and the attack on the flotilla. He told the Knesset recently that “they want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime.”

Uri Avnery, the leader of the Israeli Peace Bloc, Gush Shalom, sees things differently, as he wrote June 19: “For years, now, the world sees the State of Israel every day on the TV screen and on the front pages in the image of heavily armed soldiers shooting at stone-throwing children, guns firing phosphorus shells into residential quarters, helicopters executing ‘targeted eliminations,’ and now pirates attacking civilian ships on the open seas. Terrified women with wounded babies in their arms, men with amputated limbs, demolished homes. When one sees a hundred pictures like that for every picture that shows another Israel, Israel becomes a monster.”

Commenting on the Israeli government’s actions, the conservative weekly The Economist declared June 5: “Israel is caught in a vicious circle. The more its hawks think the outside world will always hate it, the more it tends to shoot opponents first and ask questions later, and the more it finds that the world is indeed full of enemies…. He [Netanyahu] does not give the impression of being willing to give ground in the interests of peace.”

Time magazine put it this way June 21: “Besides fracturing the Jewish state’s relations with Turkey, its most important Muslim ally, and undermining a nascent rapprochement with the Obama Administration in Washington, its most important ally of all, the flotilla fiasco also invited fresh judgment of the kind of democracy Israel has become: a conspicuously belligerent one, reflexively disposed toward the military option whatever the problem at hand — and apt to look bad doing it.”

(To be continued)

Jack A. Smith is the editor of the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. He can be reached at Read other articles by Jack.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ismail Zayid said on July 6th, 2010 at 11:07am #

    The Israeli assault and act of air piracy on the Free Gaza flotilla is only a new chapter in a long history of Israeli acts of aggression and war crimes. We hope that the optimistic view expressed here by Jack Smith, that this assault will have an international impct and force Israel to comply with international law, will materialise. The optimistic views, expressed suggesting that President Obama will act positively to effect this change, are, I believe, far fetched. However, we will see today the outcome with his meeting with Netanyahu.

  2. mary said on July 6th, 2010 at 11:25am #

    James Reynolds, fresh from his Nieman Fellowship year at Harvard (some more useful contacts made there no doubt) has just referred to Obama as ‘the most powerful man in the world’!! in his report from Washington. This craven toad also referred to the attack on the flotilla and the murders of the passengers as a ‘raid’ when saying that Netanyahu will not apologize to Turkey or pay compensation.

    He is a second generation reporter. His father Paul was also a good servant of the powers-that-be/gangsters-in-charge when he was at the BBC.

  3. Rehmat said on July 7th, 2010 at 7:41am #

    “When you read the history of Israel from objective sources, you discover that it is an outlaw state, created by the powers that be by stealing the land from its original inhabitants and systematically exterminating them ever since,” John Kaminski.

    “Even Arabs can be labeled ‘anti-Semitic’, although they’re in fact Semites and do not have to link any claim to the Holy Land to descent from seventh century converts to Judaism, as do the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe from whom half of the Israelis and most American Jews, including this writer, are descended,” Alfred Lilienthal, an Orthodox Jew, in ‘What Cost Holocaustomania’, which appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East affairs, April 1998.

    “Judaism is not a religion, it’s a law, religionized,” Moses Mendelsohn.

    “The Noahide Laws, at first glance, innocently appear to be a take-off on the Ten Commandments. Their defining features though, is the fact that among the Seven is one which is not “thou shalt not” but which commands that courts be established to punish those guilty of breaking one of the other Six. The punishment is death and method of execution is decapitation. Jehovah, the giver of both the Talmudic and Noahide Laws, is not our Heavenly Father/Creator. Jehovah is the god of ZION, a symbolic satanic force which drives the plan and its unGodly, evil intentions,” Jackie Patru in Jewish Persecution.

    Israel – Thou shalt not know the truth

  4. mary said on July 10th, 2010 at 8:46am #

    An e-mail received from Free Gaza today.

    ‘As we get ready to challenge Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza once more, we would ask you to remember the nine men murdered in cold blood by Israeli commandos, who came down from helicopters firing live ammunition.

    The official autopsy reports will be released in the next couple of weeks, but preliminary reports say the nine men were shot over 31 times, most through the face and the top of the head. If you have not seen their photos or read who they are, we have now uploaded their information as well as how they were killed onto our FLICKR site. Please take a moment to pay your respects and maybe, add a comment.

    These nine men were husbands and fathers, an American student who wanted to become a doctor, a fireman who came to help on board the Mavi Marmara, a photojournalist shot through the middle of the forehead as he tried to photograph Israel’s assault on a civilian ship in international waters in the dark.

    No matter what spin Israel sends out or its slick talking heads who try to justify murder and mayhem, it is important to remember that none of these men were armed with guns, sound bombs or tear gas. No Israeli soldier was shot… as members on board the Mavi Marmara tried to defend themselves… something every one of us would have done if our family, friends, ship or home was attacked by masked armed intruders.

    No Israeli soldier was killed. The few who were injured were treated by Turkish doctors, then sent back to their unit.

    The terrorists on board that ship as well as the other five ships, (where passengers were beaten, tied up, tear gassed and wounded), worked for the Israeli navy.

    Greta Berlin, Co-Founder


    Another report has emerged today about an aid boat from Libya being prevented from going to Gaza. The Israelis are calling for help in stopping it. Blockade eased? Supplies allowed in? Nothing has changed.

    Israel steps up bid to block aid ship bound for Gaza
    Saturday, 10 July 2010 10:39 UK

    The Amalthea is carrying 2,000 tonnes of food, medicine and other items Israel has stepped up its attempts to stop an aid ship breaking its blockade of Gaza, sending a letter to the UN and engaging Greece and Moldova in talks.

    The Moldovan-flagged ship, Amalthea, chartered by a charity run by the son of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, was due to leave the Greek port of Lavrio on Saturday.

    Israel said it now believed the ship would not reach Gaza.

    An Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship in May killed nine Turkish activists.

    (report on the BBC website)

  5. mary said on August 2nd, 2010 at 11:46am #

    Old Ban Ki-Moon is having a laugh at us. He announced that Israel has agreed to join a UN panel to investigate the Israeli attack on the flotilla. Straight faced, he says that the panel will be international with members from Turkey and Israel together with New Zealand’ ex PM Palmer and Colombia’s outgoing President Uribe.

    Complete impartiality from Uribe is promised as you see from this article in the Jerusalem Post where the close civilian and military ties between Israel and Columbia are being discussed by Peres and a visiting Foreign Minister from Colombia.

    PS To Aaron – don’t bother feeding the Zionist trolls. They come and go here like yoyos, timewaste and go round in circles.

  6. mary said on August 2nd, 2010 at 11:56am #

    Straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak –

    International awards

    Uribe (left) being presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

    In May 2007, the American Jewish Committee gave Uribe its “Light Unto The Nations” award. AJC President E. Robert Goodkind, who presented the award at AJC’s Annual Dinner, held at the National Building Museum in Washington stated: “President Uribe is a staunch ally of the United States, *a good friend of Israel and the Jewish people*, and is a firm believer in human dignity and human development in Colombia and the Americas”.

    Presidential Medal of Freedom

    On 13 January 2009 US President George W. Bush awarded President Uribe, along with former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair and former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, the highest civilian award; the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dana Perino, the White House Press Secretary explained that he received this award “for (his) work to improve the lives of (his) citizens and for (his) efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad.” She said (speaking of the three leaders who received the reward on this day): “All three leaders have been staunch allies of the United States, particularly in combating terrorism.”

    (Álvaro Uribe Wikipedia)