Voting under the gun

It strikes me as a bizarre perversion of the ideals of democracy that people should be expected to cast votes– and then to concur in the legitimacy of the leadership thus “chosen”– if these election campaigns and the subsequent elections have been held in a situation of gross public insecurity.
But that is what the US and Israel are trying to sell as “democratization” these days.
In Iraq, back in late October, it was evident there were major political issues to be resolved between on the one hand the Sunni Arab minority in the country, and on the other the Shiite Arab majority, the Kurds, the Interim Government, and the Americans.
Many parties were pursuing negotiations of these issues at different levels. But the Americans and their Allawist allies simply walked away from those negotiations. They were adamant that they wanted to “solve” the Sunni issue by force… “in time to restore calm before the Jan. 30th elections”.
Well, we’ve seen that they haven’t “solved” anything. Their disastrous decision to “clean out” Fallujah has led only to highly increased levels of public insecurity throughout huge swathes of the country.
But still, Bush’s spokesman tells us that the President remains adamant the elections will go ahead on time. This, despite the proliferation of reports that various figures in the interim government itself are floating the idea of a postponement…
You SHALL vote on the day ve tell you to! (How is that not gross foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs?)
(Go see what Riverbend wrote about the elections, last Sunday. She’s heard you can sell a voter’s card there for $400 already.)
But back to my main theme.
One of the major “meta-ideas” of democratic theory is that in a democratic community it is always possible to find ways to talk through differences and arrive at compromises between competing interests… How on earth did anyone think that the escalatory tactics the US military has pursued in particular since last October provided any kind of a “preparation” for democracy at all?
And then, there’s Israel, another internally (though like the US, also problematically) democratic country that’s running a heavyhanded military occupation in foreign territory… And over there, too, the indigenous people in the country under occupation have an election coming up…

There too, you might think that the occupying power, professing as it does an interest in seeing the strengthening of democracy among the people in the occupied areas, might have helped prepare the ground for the elections by trying to broker and lead a de-escalation during the election campaign…
Yeah, you might think that Sharon, if he were sincerely interested in showing that his government can be a plausible negotiating partner for a re-elected and relatively moderate Abu Mazen, would have ordered the IDF to hold back on some of their more aggressive tactics like “extra-judicial executions” (i.e., assassinations) of suspected militants…
That he might have asked the IDF command to tighten up on the Rules of Engagement, so as to avoid any gross “over-reaction” or other form of escalation?
Or, that he might even–gasp!– have pulled the Israeli troops back out of the cities and allowed free circulation of candidates and politicians between the different Palestinian cities and towns?
You might have thought that. But no. It’s been extra-judicial executions just about as usual, far as I can see, in the two months since Arafat’s terminal illness, as before then.
B’tselem’s count of deliberate, targeted assassinations undertaken by the IDF between 9/29/2000 and 11/30/2004 is 181 people killed by its snuff teams. And during those targeted killings, an additional 106 Palestinians were killed, 29 of them minors. Collateral damage, that’s called.
It’s hard even for the seasoned pros at B’tselem and the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for HUman Rights to keep up their counting of the tsunami of killings– whether deliberate, collateral, or the result of excessive IDF violence– that has been striking the shores of Palestine in recent months.
Including during all of their so-called election “campaign”.
Just go to the PCHR’s well-organized website and see what they’ve been reporting in recent weeks.
Just today, five todays before the Palestinian election, an IDF tank near Beit Lahiya, in Gaza, fired a shell at a group of minors, killing seven of them. Here are their names:

    1. Hani Mohammed Kamel Ghaben, 17;
    2. Mohammed Hassan Mousa Ghaben, 17;
    3. Rajeh Ghassan Kamel Ghaben, 10;
    4. Jaber ‘Abdullah Ghaben, 16;
    5. Bassam Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 17;
    6. Mahmoud Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 12; and
    7. Jibril ‘Abdul Fattah al-Kaseeh, 16.

How on earth is this not an excessive use of force?
How on earth do they expect Abu Mazen not to harden his rhetoric as he tries to wage a campaign under these circumstances?
In the last two days of 2004, Occupation Force tanks raided Khan Yunis, in Gaza, killing five Palestinians, including a child and a mentally disabled civilian man.
How on earth is this not an excessive use of force?
Then, there have been the continued and even stepped-up closures. According to a PCHR press release today, the Rafah international crossing point between Gaza and Egypt has been kept closed by the Israelis since December 12th.:

    Rafah crossing point is the only place which Palestinian civilians have access to the outside world. The closure of the crossing point has a serious and detrimental effect on the economic, social, cultural and political life in the Gaza Strip.

This in itself is a gross application of structural violence to stunt and stymie the lives of the Palestinians. But it will also affect the ability of the Palestinians to have a free and fair election even within the highly constrained system in which they are supposed to hold them. The PCHR press release says:

    PCHR is particularly concerned at the effect which the closure will have on the upcoming Palestinian elections. The vast majority of those civilians, who are denied passage into Gaza Strip, are of voting age, in accordance with Palestinian law. Preventing them from crossing into the Gaza strip also deprives them of their right, granted under the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, to participate in the government of their country through elections.
    PCHR believes that the act of closing Rafah international crossing point will disenfranchise around 3% of the total Gaza electorate.

The PCHR, by the way, is an exemplary human-rights organization with a trained and professional staff. They record not only the abuses committed by Israel, but also those committed by the PA and its affiliates, and those committed by Palestinians militants. You can find all of that on their site.
But what concerns me most in this post is the behavior of these two internally democratic, allegedly democracy-seeking occupying powers— Israel and the US.
Looking at their behavior during the campaigns for this month’s elections in both Iraq and Palestine, you have to conclude that these occupying powers have missed numerous opportunities for de-escalation in connection with the campaigns. Instead they continued, or even increased, their own recourse to escalatory violence.
You have to conclude, further, that what they’re interested in in not so much the spread of true democracy, as the perpetuation of their own control.
It makes me want to weep. Such a fine ideal: “elections”. But elections held directly under the occupiers’ gun? I don’t think that’s acceptable, at all.

55 thoughts on “Voting under the gun

  1. John Koch

    So what indeed would you have done about Fallujah? Do you think elections were possible there of anywhere else if the US simply surrendered public order to the insurgents? Or do you infer that elections, because they may be insecure or corrupt, should not be held at all?
    Elections are an essential, if not the final, ingredient necessary for US departure. How else can one establish an interim government that can rule Iraq?
    Things are bad despite, and not because of, the US reconquest of Fallujah. Yes, there is a problem. Mainly it is that certain Sunni radicals have no intention of living in a Shia dominated state.
    How does one “talk through differences” with people who daily bomb,shoot, behead, and terrorize election officials, police, and civilians?
    A “not my war, not my problem” or “just get out” stance is not very constructive. As someone else recently wrote,
    “If things go on like this the real question won’t be whether you could hold elections but rather whether the members of the new government could be kept alive.
    “That is another problem with just having the US summarily pull out. The neo-Baath and Salafi guerrillas could and would just kill the members of the existing government, in preparation for making a Sunni Arab coup. That really would provoke a civil war.”

  2. Christiane

    Concerning the Iraqi elections, there was one crucial negotiation which should have been made : the definition of constituencies and of their weight in the future assembly. Of course that is always a highly political exercise. But the electoral commission could have adopted the actual 18 provinces, attributing each a number of seats proportional to the number of food rations’ tickets they count. This sounds like the kind of proposal a UN polling adviser would have made. I wonder who decided for one single constituency ? and why ? was it already in the US imposed Transitional Law ? is it defined in the Electoral Law adopted by the Elections commission ? was it adopted under the US pressures ? or under pressures of former Iraqi government members ? under pressures of exiled parties ? under pressure of the Shiites and Sistani ? did the UN adviser agree with such a dumb proposal ?
    Who definied that each elector would only get one voice, whether for a person or a party ? Naturally if you admit that there is only one single constituency, then it would be impossible for the electors to know all the candidates. So this is another dumb consequence of the single constituency rule.
    Some negotiations yet took places, especially among the Shiites who came up with the huge list supported by Sistani. The list is said to encompass some 27 different parties. But since the electors will only have one voice. Who will define the weight given to each of these parties ? negotiations behind the scene : are another farce of these elections.
    The whole thing is completely untransparent, but the US hold on the 30th January date desperately. May be because that date is fixed in the UN resolution and they expect the UN to postpone it and to further validate their presence..

  3. Christiane

    John Koch,
    The US has played the wrong cards all along, since after the fall of Saddam. So of course when you have messed everything up, it’s difficult to get out of the mess.
    The errors are so blattant, that sometimes I come to wonder whether they weren’t done on purpose, just to have the excuse to keep Iraq occupation going on and on and have troops permanently in Iraq.
    One good example : the disbanding of the former Iraqi army. Antoher one : keeping the UN in a secondary role instead of a leading role. Another one : appointing local and regional authorities instead of organizing local/regional elections immediately. There were many errors before the Falluja assaults, but the razing of Falluja was the surest mean to provoque a Sunni boycott. It was denounced by Brahimi before it came.
    The Madness/blindness of Bushies’ hawks is leading Americans in a wall. But the ones who pays the highest price for that are the Iraqis. The further these neocons will go the more difficult it will be to find reasonnable solution. I fear that a lebanization of Iraq is on tracks and can’t be prevented now.

  4. Christiane

    Concerning Falludjah, there are still very few news coming out of it. And anyway, right now, all the news are turning their attention to the effects of the tsunami in the Indian Gulf. However I found that
    Reuters’wire, which could easily go un-noticed.
    I’m amazed that despite all the attention the Iraq is getting from the media, there has not been more protests against what has succeeded in Falludjah in the West ? Of the last assault I’d say like Helena, that it has missed it’s goal in Iraq, where the resistance is as strong as ever and where it has provoqued a Sunni boycott of the elections, setting Iraq on a very bad track. But it was a success of Pentagon propaganda in the West, where the razing and the emptying of a city of 300’000 inhabitants didn’t provoque any protest.

  5. Pat K., California

    Thanks for posting that Reuter’s piece, Christiane. I’d spotted it yesterday, but then it got away from me before I could print it out.
    Fallujah weighs on my mind. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of it. The sheer scale of deliberate man-made death and destruction, brought about by my own country … and my own country is silent as the grave. Silent as the grave.
    I’m sorry. Words fail me …

  6. Joshua

    1) The U.S. faces a dilemna in determining when to set election dates. If they moved back the date, they would be accussed of perpetuating their own control of the country, or trying to buy time for Allawi to raise their profile (you’ve already said that your measure of legitimacy for this election is that Sistani wins and Allawi loses. Frankly, I’m baffled at how a particular outcome determines, legitimacy. But you’ve already decided that anything pro-America in Iraq is bad. And you also ignore Riverbend’s post that many of the people who are trying to buy these voter cards are Iranians who want a Shi-ite dominatd government. So apparently it’s not only pro-U.S. forces who are trying to rig the vote). On the other hand, if the U.S. says “elections go ahead,” then they’re confused of somehow imposing democracy on the Iraqi people (poor dears!). Both arguments have some legitimacy, which shows why you shouldn’t occupy a country unless you really need to. Nevertheless, the U.S. is the occupying authority, and these decisions have to be made. Frankly, I want the U.S. out in a reasonable period of time, so I want the elections as soon as possible.
    2) I am unaware of any “political militants” assassinated by Israel. I am aware of several members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad whom Israel has killed. There is nothing “political” about these people unless you consider attempted murder of Jews to be a “political” act (apparently, some people do). They are not political militants, but just militants. And as militants, they are combatants whom Israel can pursue with force, including lethal force.
    Israel arrests militants, rather than kill them, when it can. Of course, the arrested murderers are then considered “political” prisoners. So Israel can’t win under any scenario.
    3) Your take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so typical of the anti-Israel left. Palestinians kill Israelis. Pundit says nothing. Israel strikes back, and is accused of “escalating” the conflict. I’m not happy whenever one side tries to kill the other, but there is in fact comparatively less violence now than there has been.
    Sharon has already announced a pullout during the immediate period before the vote. Even then, that wasn’t good enough for you.
    4) How are the Israeli actions not excessive use of force? Easy. If Israel was going after military targets, and civilians are killed as well, it’s not excessive, unless the use of force was disproportional. Dropping a one ton bomb on a residential area (which Israel once did in a failed assassination attempt) is disproportionate. Firing a single tank shell generally is not, unless the military had no reason to think there was a combatant in the area in question. Then there’s plenty in between. Whether particular force in particular circumstances is disproportionate is a highly difficult question which people of good faith can disagree over. The question is whether the person is considering the concerns of both sides in good faith, or just looking to repeat the same shrill anti-Israeli criticism that they have engaged in for years.
    4) The U.S. Iraq war was a war of choice. So I think it is significantly more important that the U.S. immediately move to establish democratic rule in Iraq. The Six Day War was not a war of choice. And Israel did not occupy portions of Egypt, Jordan and Syria so it could bring democracy to the Palestinians. It did so to fend off an attempted annihilation of the country. I think democracy is important, so I want the Palestinians to have a democratically elected leader. But if your complaint is “Israel isn’t occupying Palestine to make it more democratic” then the appropriate response is “Yes, and so?”
    5) Even if everything you said was completely true, there is one fact that cannot be denied. Iraq and the Palestinian territories are the ONLY countries/territories in the Middle East (other than Israel) that have a chance at a true election of a new political leadership that reflects the desires of the electorate. I cannot guarantee that the elections will run smoothly. My guess is that the Palestinian election will be fine, and the Iraqi one will be problematic, the only question being whether it is so problematic that it is illegtimate.
    This is not necessarily a credit to the U.S. or Israel, but it is a stunning indictment of a) the rest of the Middle East, which has a huge democracy deficit with the rest of the world, and b) those members of the international community who see nothing better than to criticize Israel and the U.S., while allowing other significantly more brutal regimes and conflicts to go by with a free pass.

  7. Helena

    John, I quite agree with you that there are organized networks in Iraq that, ” bomb,shoot, behead, and terrorize election officials, police, and civilians.”
    I agree with you that this was already a sizeable problem back in late October, early Nov. Now, it is a much bigger problem.
    But I think you didn’t really “get” my broader argument above, which perhaps I should have spelled out more clearly:
    (1) There were plenty of different methods to deal with the above-stated problem that used nothing like the massively escalatory violence that the US-Allawists did indeed choose. A continuation, or rather strengthening, of the “containment-plus-negotiation” approach that the authorities had been using until about October 31 would have been perhaps the optimal method.
    That would probably have involved some combination of maintaining the security cordon they already around Fallujah with a much stronger emphasis on bringing the negotiation they already had with the Fallujah city “fathers” to a successful conclusion.
    Instead of which, as we know, the US-Allawists walked out of the negotiation and opted for the massive violence that ended up visiting such horrendous destruction on the city.
    (Btw, big thanks toi Christiane for that excellent link, which is to an IRIN report.)
    (2) The path the US-Allawists chose did not solve the “problem”, but instead massively–and quite predictably– exacerbated it a hundredfold throughout the country… Look at the intensification of violence since early November.
    Meantime, of course, the fundamentally anti-democratic message that “if you’ve got a strong difference of opinion with someone, then violence is a quite legitimate way to solve it!” also got spread throughout the country.
    Plus, along the way there, the “infant” Iraqi government forces that the US was trying to rebuild once again cracked under the strain of being forced to participate in an assault against their own compatriots, just further complicating the path to a peaceable handover of power back to the Iraqis. (The ING had to be disbanded earlier this week.)
    Okay, finally to clarify: I wasn’t necessarily proposing a negotiation with the “men of violence” themselves (though that wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing, either.) But for the US-Allawists to walk out of the negotiations they had going with the city fathers and opt instead for blind pursuit of massively intimidatory violence? Unbelievable!
    What body part do you think they were “thinking” with?

  8. Helena

    Joshua, you were right on one thing: to question the statement I’d originally made here that the Israelis have been targeting “suspected political militants” for assassination. I’d originally meant to write “suspected Palestinian militants”, but mistyped that. After reading your comment I just took out that middle qualifier altogether.
    I don’t doubt that the people whom the IDF–or more often, the IAF– do target for assassination are generally themselves men suspected of using violence, rather than “political” leaders. Though Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, the two successive leaders of Hamas WERE political leaders, not military leaders.
    But tome, the key word here is “suspected”. When countries use the death penalty, which some regrettably do, at least there has to be an open and lengthy court hearing in which the identity of the accused is verified and all the evidence presented in public and carefully (we hope) considered. Even with that, mistakes are made.
    But how about when a secret committee of people in some body in Israel “decides”, based on secret information that is never examined in public, that Palestinian Militant (or political leader) Muhammad X is deserving of the death penalty?
    That is the travesty.
    So thanks for picking up on that. Little of the rest of what you write is notable. Your assertion that “there is comparitively less violence” would be laughable if it weren’t tragic. For the Israelis, alone, maybe that’s true, if that’s all you look at. But altogether, within that homeplace for 9.5 million human souls? I don’t think so.
    As for your argument in number (5), that just shows you don’t really know much about countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Bahrain– or even, these days, Algeria.

  9. Shirin

    John, do you think elections are possible in a city which has been reduced to rubble, has no basic services (electricity, water, sewage, telephone), and whose entire population has either been killed or scattered all over the country as long-term refugees?
    And do you think, as a result of the above, Fallujans now have lots of warm, fuzzy trusting feelings toward their occupiers? Do you think, aside from the practical impediments created by the occupiers, Fallujans are eager to participate in an election arranged by the people who destroyed their cities, killed and maimed their relatives, neighbors and friends, and turned a couple of hundred thousands of them into refugees?

  10. Joshua

    I recognize that Turkey is a democracy and have much respect for the country.
    Lebanon democracy is a sham, Bahrain and Algeria, despite some baby steps, are nowhere near democratic countries.
    As for comparatively less violence. Give me the numbers and I’ll retract the statement if necessary. I suppose you can fudge the numbers any way you want, by comparing one day with IDF actions compared to one day without and saying that there has been an “increase” or “decrease” based on selective framing. But other than the seige of Rafah (which followed regular rocket attacks on Sderot, none of which met with any international condemnation), there really has not been any major combat in the past several months.
    Finally, with respect to assassinations, the comparison to the “Death Penalty” is inapposite. The death penalty (which I oppose catagorically) is a judicial form of punishment. Israel’s assassinations are not part of the judicial structure. They are part of an ongoing war. I hesitate when I hear the term “extra-judicial executions” because it implies that the militant is, in fact, entitled to judicial due process. He (I use gender specific because I think they all have been he’s) is not.
    I would agree that the Israelis should cease assassinations immediately if all major Palestinian factions would immediately cease the intifada and formally acknowledge that Israel is the “occupying authority” and entitled to take all actions of an occupying authority under the Geneva Conventions, including right to police the territory until the parties can negotiate a resolution of the conflict.
    In other words, if Israel believes that a Hamas member has committed some crime, it can issue an arrest warrent, send the police to apprehend the guy, and give the Hamasnik a trial. If Hamas is willing to say “Sure, we’ll comply with all subpoenas, etc” then Israel can arrest the person.
    But the Palestinians have, quite clearly, made it their intent to “resist occupation.” I assume that they can, although I see nothing in the Geneva Conventions explicitly endorsing resistance to occupation. But once they do so, Israel can fight back.
    I am not one of those people who thinks that the Palestinians have to lie down submissively while Israel occupies them. To the contrary, I believe that, in legal terms, both sides are free to beat each other to a bloddy pulp if that’s what they so desire until one side surrenders, subject to the protection given to non-combatants. But I’m not a big fan of that. So I’d rather that both sides negotiate a settlement and be done with it. While that’s going on, however, I’m not going to blame Israel for defending itself against ongoing terror.

  11. Shirin

    the US-Allawists walked out of the negotiation
    As I recall, Helena, they did not merely walk out of the negotiation. At one point they actually arrested the Fallujan negotiators! Now, if that was not intended to scuttle the negotiations, what exactly was it meant to do, I wonder!

  12. Christiane

    If you oppose the death penalty example, stating that the militants aren’t breaching regular orders. Then you ought to refer to the Palestinian militants as member of a guerilla war and to recognize they are under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. You can’t say that the Palestinian militants can’t be treated under regular law and at the same time deny them the protection of the Geneva Convention. But either way, the Israeli, as an occupying force, are not acting legitimately when they execute Palestinian militants.

  13. Helena

    Shirin, you’re quite right!
    (I’ll leave Joshua’s paternalistic and ill-informed comments about the political systems in Arab countries, and his apparent assertion that deliberately killing suspects is OK as a means of waging a counter-insurgency to speak for themselves.)

  14. No Preference

    Helena, for once I have to dispute one of your points. The killing of the seven Palestinian civilian minors was terrible but understandable under the circumstances. According to a Palestian survivor of the Israeli shelling, Palestinian militants had fired mortars from the field in which the youths were working just before the Israelis shelled the area. When the Israeli shells landed the militants had run away but the civilians were still there.
    Joshua, your account of the Israeli occupation of West Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza ignores the long history of Israeli designs on those territories prior to 1967. It overlooks Israel’s very strong contribution to the events leading up to that war. It completely ignores Israel’s behavior in the territories since the occupation. Praising Sharon’s promise (and when were Sharon’s promises worth anything?) to pull out of Gaza begs the question of what the hell Israeli settlements are doing there in the first place.
    Finally, the legitimacy Palestinian elections under Israeli suzereignty is very questionable indeed. For years Israel refused to allow any movement because it would not accept the democratically elected leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat. An election where a foreign occupier claims veto power over the candidates can scarcely be considered democratic.

  15. WarrenW

    Bizarre Perversion of the ideals of democracy
    Crippled, emerging democracies always look terrible. Newborn babies look like sick monkeys. I hope the baby can be saved. Even when doctors and midwives spread disease rather than helped, everybody pitched in and prayed the baby would survive.
    I’m not sure Helena really wants the baby Democracy to survive in Iraq. I can’t help but feel that Helena would rather that the Iraqis get another atrocious dictatorship and Bush be proved wrong (and Helena be proved right).
    The decision to move against Fallujah might have been wrong, but after delaying it to prevent civilian casualties it seemed necessary. The French democracy emerged after the horrors of the French Revolution (The Terror), and the South Korean situation has become much more democratic after the pretend democracy of the 1950’s and 1960’s. American occupation is not the kiss of death to democracy, just look at Japan and Germany and Italy and South Korea… Hope is possible.
    The Sunni insurgency is not a people asking to be free, it is a clique demanding to be dictator.
    It is urgent that the decapitaters and the Return Party not get command of Iraq and the huge defence budget that Saddam Hussein had. But Helena seems more worried about the (regretable) errors of the Bush Administration. Bush will eventually go away, but hopefully Iraq will still be on the path to democracy. A pretend election might be the best that is possible right now. There are other, better steps to be taken in the future. Take heart, progress awaits. Not because Bush is a genius (!) but because enough Iraqis want democracy.
    Helena seems to think that all the problems come from the Israelis and the Americans, and seems to think that when Arab leaders oppress their people horribly we should look the other way.
    It is necessary to criticize the situation in Iraq. If only Helena would criticize the Islamists with the same enthusiasm…

  16. Joshua

    I agree that the Palestinians, simply by virtue of having elections, will not be free. They are still subject to military occupation, and not free because of that. Those are two separate issues.
    However, while the Palestinians have a right to choose whoever they want, the Israelis have a right to decide how they are going to negotiate with that leader. If the Palestinians elect someone whose willing to clamp down on violence and negotiate a resolution, then they should return the favor. If the Palestinians elect someone who will refer to Israel as “the Zionist entity” and call for annihilation of the state, the proper Israeli response should be “Congratulations on your election, we shell your compound at noon.”
    Well, that may be a bit harsh, but my point is simply that while the Israelis have to respect the Palestinian decision as to who their leader is, their negotiations with that leader will depend on whether he can be trusted.
    Finally, I have no interest in re-hashing the history of the conflict in the middle east since 1967, since 1948, or since 1917. Suffice it to say that while I believe that Israel made its share of misstakes and has committed it’s share of misdeeds, the problems do not solely, or primarily, rest with them. I prefer to move on.

  17. WarrenW

    Do not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.
    And can be explained by the successes of the opposition. There is no benefit to Bush or anyone in prolonging the agony of Iraq, the would not prefer war, whose outcome is uncertain, to peace, if it is compatible.
    And remember even Saddam Hussein was once compatible.

  18. b

    One point about Palestinian elections this coming Sunday. Many Palestinians have been actually calling for such elections for a long time, knowing full well they would be held under occupation. But having no elections had allowed a corrupted political system to become entrenched. Those who favor elections now — municipal, presidential and legislative — see this as a chance to at least begin to put in place institutions that are responsive to those who live under the occupation. It’s not a perfect setting for elections, but compared to iraq there will be a very large international presence and the actual vote will probably be conducted by quite high standards of honesty and there are at least two plausible candidates who represent different positions on key issues. So, for me, the clincher is that many Palestinians seem to want the elections even in these circumstance, and the alternative right now is not free elections free of occuaption, but no elections at all.

  19. WarrenW

    You SHALL vote on the day ve tell you to!
    Is that supposed to be a German accent? German as in Nazis? You think Hitler forced elections on foreign nations?
    How is that not gross foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs?
    Yes, we should have waited patiently for Saddam to implement fair and free elections…
    The real problem may simply be that Helena did not have time to reflect on exactly what it is she wrote. Helena probably can do better than this.

  20. Joshua

    Fine, call them guerilla militants rather than terrorists. I personally think that’s more accurate. But if they are guerillas, then they are combatants, and Israel can go after them. One of the problems with guerilla warfare is that the clandestine nature of such combat dilutes a lot of the protections of the Geneva Convention. It weakens the distinction between combatants and non-combatant civilians. It weakens the distinction between persons engaged in combat and persons who have laid down arms. By being labeled a “guerilla,” the Geneva Convention certainly does not protect them from being killed! So I’m not sure that helps them. I would also note that while I am not going to categorically claim that guerilla tactics are wrong, the Geneva Convention does require combatants to be visibly identifiable as such.
    Helena, I am baffled as to what you consider “paternalistic and ill informed.” The Algerian government is subservient to the military. The Lebanese government is controlled by Syria. And all branches of Bahraini goverment are controlled by the King. I personally believe the citizens of Algeira, Lebanon and Bahrain deserve better, much better. I never realized that was “paternalistic and ill informed.” I think your personal attack was unwarrented.

  21. No Preference

    John Koch, Warren W, and Joshua – your posts about the promise of democracy in Iraq miss the point. Our purpose there is not to give Iraqis the government that they want. We invaded Iraq to give Iraq the government that we want, and the Iraqis are well aware of this. Any Iraqi government that comes to power under American auspices will be regarded as illigitimate by most Iraqis. The notion of “sticking it out” under these circumstances is absurd.
    Joshua, you represent the Israeli position very well here. You don’t present the reality of the situation in the Occupied Territories very well. You appear to agree that Israel has no right to dictate who the Palestinian leader will be, yet you present as normal, ordinary and acceptable the context (the Israeli occupation) which allows Israel to do just that.
    Ariel Sharon has far more innocent civilian blood on his hands than did Yasser Arafat. That’s not hyperbole. Anyone familiar with Sharon’s career prior to Sabra and Shatilla knows that killing Arab civilians was a specialty of Sharon’s. On those grounds, Arafat had far more right to refuse to negotiate with Sharon than vice versa, IMO. Many world leaders would much prefer to have a different Israeli leader, yet they work with Sharon.
    Like all Israeli apologists you ignore questions about the issue of illegal Israeli settlement of Palestinian territory, which had been repeatedly condemned by the Security Council. You “prefer to move on”, while keeping as much as possible of the accretions of Palestinian land which Israel has seized.
    The rest of the world does not see the Israeli occupation as normal, or the American support of it – without which it could not exist – as fair. I’m concerned about world opinion during this era of “the war on terror”. Israeli apologists would prefer for us not to notice. By all means, let’s move on.

  22. Joshua

    Personally, I think Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories, and dismantle most, if not all, of the settlements. I am not someone who believes the pre-67 borders are “sacrosanct,” generally sides don’t get “do overs” in wars, so if some settlements stay that doesn’t trouble me. But I do support the disengagement plan, not because I support Sharon, but because I see it as a way of permanently crippling the “Greater Israel” dream and setting a precendent for removal when final status negotiations come along.
    I agree that Sharon was a brutal leader, although I think he is given too much blame for Sabra and Shatilla. I think Begin was even more brutal, and was significantly more an ideological heir of Jabotinsky than Sharon, who joined Likud because he was a Mapai cast off. But he proved able to make a deal and (with Sharon’s crucial implementation) execute it.
    It’s tough to forgive, and for that matter tough to say “I won’t forgive, but I’ll work with you to prevent any more bloodshed.” If Arafat’s only problem was the blood on his hands in the past, then that would be one thing. Israel tried that, after the PLO (originally created by other Arab states) was repeatedly dubbed “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” Israel let him back in to the territories, and gave him standing by recognizing the PNA. Arafat’s problem wasn’t his past, or even that he supported violence. It was that he repeatedly talked out of both sides of his mouth, proved himself incapable of making good on promises, and turned himself into the world’s greediest kleptocrat, all in the name of mother Palestine. I’m sure you can make similar claims against Sharon. Without getting into the veracity of each one, I will note that both Hosni Mubarak, and Abu Mazen, who will be two vital figures in the near future, have been quoted as saying that they think Sharon is the one Israeli that can deliver peace. Mazen said this before Sharon was even in office.
    It was not just Sharon in Israel, and the so called “neoconservative Likudniks” in the Bush administration, that distrusted Arafat. He lost his allies in State, including Powell. And of course he absolutely infuriated Bill Clinton, who did everything he could to broker a deal (perhaps too much too soon, if there is such a thing), decided that Arafat couldn’t be trusted. Note: I’m not going to do another post-mortem on the failed Camp David negotiations, that cadaver has been mutilated, and we are drifting too far off topic already. I will simply say that for those who actually had to deal with Arafat, both in Israel and the U.S., it had reached a near unanimous consensus that the man could not be trusted and would not deliver peace.
    Finally, you note that there would be no Israeli occupation without American support of Israel. I am inclined to agree, although the occupation came before America gave any significant aid to Israel. Counterfactual scenarious are always difficult to predict. But most likely, the alternative would have been continued open warfare between Israel and neighboring Arab states, with any organized Palestinian group playing a minimal role, and a significantly higher death toll in a matter of months than we have seen over the 37 and a half years of the occupation. I do not know whether the conflict would have been resolved by then, but if it was, it probably would not have been through peaceful negotiations that led to the creation of a Palestinian state. Most likely, there would have been a decisive war, with horrendous carnage. I don’t know which side would have won, but whichever way it went, the effects would have been devestating, and probably would have gone on long enough to still be with us today.
    The above is admittedly rank speculation. But no more so than “If we just didn’t support Israel, everything would be hunky dory.”

  23. WarrenW

    You SHALL vote on the day ve tell you to!
    Is that supposed to be a German accent? German as in Nazis? You think Hitler forced elections on foreign nations?
    How is that not gross foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs?
    Yes, we should have waited patiently for Saddam to implement fair and free elections…
    The real problem may simply be that Helena did not have time to reflect on exactly what it is she wrote. Helena probably can do better than this.

  24. Warren

    WarrenW wrote;
    ” There is no benefit to Bush or anyone in prolonging the agony of Iraq, the would not prefer war, whose outcome is uncertain, to peace, if it is compatible.”
    Actually there is a benefit. By seeding chaos they remove a threat to Isreal. Iraq no longer has a standing army. By insisting America ‘train’ the new Iraq army we can try to make it the way we want, led by persons beholden to us. If the original army had been left in place we would have armed and better trained an army that was a direct threat to Isreal.
    For many years Iraq trained its own army and police. Yet now, America insists Iraq is incapable of doing so. This is evidence to what was said above, that we don’t want what THEY want, but what WE want.
    All of America’s actions, including the elections, are now irrelevent. We no longer control Iraq. Sistani controls Iraq. He can put a million Iraqi’s in the street on 2 days notice. If that happens (I believe it is certain) American forces will have only two choices; a) leave immediately, b) open fire on the crowds.
    I believe American forces will take the second choice. And the neo-cons will get the Iraq they have been planning on all along.
    It’s important to remember one central fact on our interference in Iraq. We did not over throw Saddam because he was a vicious dictator, we over threw him because he was not OUR vicious dictator. This administration LOVES dictators, and never misses a chance to make deals with them. It’s the democracies (Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey), with all their messy ‘doing what their majorities want’ decisions this administrations has problems with.
    Warren (NOT WarrenW)

  25. Helena

    Interesting fact of the day: I was born at a maternity hospital called (inexplicably) “The Warren”. And now here you guys are, multiplying like… well, perhaps not yet rabbits!
    Seriously though, big thanks to you Warren (not W)for clarifying that you and WW are different people.

  26. Shirin

    generally sides don’t get “do overs” in wars
    This is not about a “do over”. This is about the application of international law – both international law that existed before Israel’s invasion and occupation of the occupied territories, and international agreements entered into by Israel after.

  27. Joshua

    “This is about the application of international law – both international law that existed before Israel’s invasion and occupation of the occupied territories, and international agreements entered into by Israel after.”
    I agree. International law does not allow belligerent nations to recover all territory they lost in a war of aggression. Take a look at the maps before and after WW II. And applicable Security Counsel resolutions clearly require that the relevant parties negotiate the final status of the territories in question. A demand that Israel withdraw from ALL occupied territories was removed from the resolution’s language.
    This was done to ensure that Israel’s opponents could not sit back and demand, that as a matter of law, that they were entitled to retrieve all that they lost. Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been made clear enough, since this argument is made, ad nauseum.
    In any event, we’ve gotten way off topic from the subject of whether elections can be conducted under occupation.

  28. Helena

    Yes, Joshua, but 242 also clearly restated the constant UN language about, “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” This still applies in Golan, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and Gaza. What Israel is entitled to, which can perhaps be seen as a gain itwon through its military victory in 1967, is a full peace with all of its neighbors. Hence the terms of the peace accord sketrched out between Rabin and Asad Pere, but never alas finalized, that envisaged a full Israeli withdrawal from Golan for a very extensive, far-reaching, and multidimensional peace between the two sides. (As on the Egyptian front.)
    And then, there’s the Palestinian negotiation… The two sides have certainly negotiated in earnest about land swaps but no-one on the Palestinian side has been or ever would be prepared to make unilateral concessions on the claim to the whole of the West Bank and Gaza. On the Palestinian side there is even less justification than on either the Egyptian or Syrian side to talk about the Palestinian side having been engaged in planning any kind of a war prior to June 1967…
    Btw, it’s complete nonsense to say Clinton “did everything he could” to broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. He did nothing whatsoever, from the time the final status talks were supposed to start (1994) until they were supposed to have been completed (1999) to push that crucial negotiation forward. Instead, he facilitated the process whereby the very powerful Israeli side was able to divert all the negotiating energy there was into discussing ever-tinier portions of what everyone recognized was only a “transitional” arrangement… Right down to splitting control over individual city blocks in Hebron, etc.
    You can fault the Palestinian negotiators for getting seduced into that pointless game, as I have all along. (We saw how pointless the “endless transition” process was in March 2002 when the Israelis simply marched back into all the areas from which they had withdrawn under all the “transitional” arrangements that flowed from Oslo.)
    As for Clinton, he didn’t even start to engage in the final-status negotiation–which, i repeat, was supposed to have been FINISHED in 1999– until Barak came and, in effect, ordered him to do this in the summer of 2000. That was ways, ways late! By then, the situation on the ground for the Palestinians in the OPTs was disastrous already, what with the number of settlers having already doubled in the years between Oslo and then.
    So there’s plenty of responsibility to go around for the failure of Camp David 2. What you can’t say with a straight face, though, is that Clinton “did everything he could” in the 7 years prior to 2000. he took a unique situation of hope and potential momentum that the Norwegians handed him on a plate in Sept. 1993 and frittered it all away.

  29. Dave

    I came across this quote yesterday and thought it seemd relevant to the discussion here.
    “The compulsion to do good is an innate American trait. Only North Americans seem to believe that they always should, may, and actually can choose somebody with whom to share their blessings. Ultimately this attitude leads to bombing people into the acceptance of gifts.”
    – Ivan Illich, in 1968
    ( for more Illich quotes.)
    I’d also like to remind some of the more aggressive commenters here that if you want respect, you first gotta give respect.

  30. Joshua

    “What Israel is entitled to, which can perhaps be seen as a gain itwon through its military victory in 1967, is a full peace with all of its neighbors.”
    No, Israel was entitled to a full peace from the outset. It did not need to fight a war to establish that right, although it needed it to enforce it.
    Israel cannot “acquire territory through war.” But it can acquire territory through negotiated agreement. Indeed, in the “full peace” with Egypt, Egypt dropped it’s claims to Gaza (in fact, I think they INSISTED that Israel keep Gaza). Now Israel may have to, negotiate over the status of Gaza again, and as far as I’m concerned they should give it all back, but the point is that 242, and common sense, does not require that things be restored to what were originally armistice lines between Israel, Egypt and Jordan, not “Palestinian land.” In fact, by calling the land “Palestinian land” we are in fact making a radical departure to the pre-1967 scenario, where there was no independent Palestinian political entity (I in fact think that’s a good thing).
    As for Clinton. I think you give him, and his predecessor, Bush the elder far too little credi, in encouraging the parties to negotiate the Oslo accords. The fact that the negotiations were in Oslo does not mean that the Norwegians “handed him” peace on a plate. U.S. backing and resolve was necessary to convince all parties involved that peace would work. The Norwegians provided an assist, the U.S. did the heavy lifting.
    Clinton then worked, throughout his two terms, to broker deals, both long and short term, between the Israelis and Palestinians. Warren Christopher recently admitted that the adminstration was perhaps overfocused on the conflict, and on multiple occassions he would cancel plans, literally in mid-flight, to travel to the middle east to resolve various disputes.
    Your criticism ultimately boils down to the fact that Clinton did not demand that the parties enter final status agreements when, almost immediately after Oslo was signed, an Israeli doctor machine gunned Palestinians at a mosque, and the Palestinians repeatedly sent kids with bombs strapped to their chest to blow themselves up and kill as many Jews as possible. Suffice it to say that these were not exactly optimal conditions for peacemaking. But Clinton was obsessed with bringing about middle east peace, perhaps too obsesssed. Although he may not have made the right steps each time, he tried his utmost. The fact that he didn’t force Israel unilaterally grant all Palestinian demands does not mean he did not try to bring about peace.
    And apparently, the only criticism you can level toward the Palestinian negotiators is, gasp…that they cooperated with the U.S. in negotiating side agreements. There are plenty of other reasons to criticize the negotiators, none of which I see as relevant to your original topic. Unless your original topic was just “I hate the U.S. and Israeli governments and let me think of what other bad things I can say about them.”

  31. Christiane

    Warren wrote :
    “The real problem may simply be that Helena did not have time to reflect on exactly what it is she wrote. Helena probably can do better than this”
    Warren, you should quit that macho-paternalistic tone with Helena, because if there is one thing she doesn’t diserve it’s this condescending tone : all her contributions are very well documented and thought provocing. I can’t say the same of yours, alas.

  32. Helena

    Joshua– I was at the Oslo signing ceremony on the White House lawn. It was an extraordinary, truly transformative moment. A couple of days later we hosted the Norwegian foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst at our house in DC for a small brunch– I’d known his wife for some time by then. I know many of the other participants in the Oslo negotiation, too…
    It was absolutely the case that the Israelis (Peres and Rabin) and the Palestinians (Arafat and Abu Mazen) had determined the preceding december or so that they could not make any progress through the post-Madrid, US-facilitated “bilateral track” but needed a different channel to mediate the clinching of a deal. So they negotiated through, and with the active help of the Norwegians, throughout all of 1993 until the deal was fully cooked in late August. It was not until that point that they informed Warren Christopher of what they’d been doing, which they did because they saw the necessity of “locking in” US support for the implementation of the Accords.
    Tragically, Holst died of, I think, a massive stroke, just a few weeks later.
    I don’t quite get your point about Bush the Elder. I hadn’t said anything about him about him at all. But I have always given him and Jim Baker enormous credit for bringing about the Madrid Peace Conference, which was the first time ever that representatives of the Jordanian government, the Syrian government, the Lebanese government, and the Palestinians (sitting in a joint delegation with Jordan) sat down openly with the Israeli Prime Minister to launch the negotiation of final peace accords. That was another transformative moment.
    Bush Sr. did not, however, have anything at all to do with the negotiation of the Oslo Accord. As I recall he was defeated in the election of November 1992?
    I recognize that on many issues it seems that you and I would be in basic agreement. I am not sure, therefore, where you get the combative, “definitive” tone in which you assert as fact some things for which, it seems to me, you have little actual evidence?
    Maybe in the future you could keep your comments a little shorter and more civil, and do some elementary fact-checking before you post them?

  33. No Preference

    Joshua, you are giving a very one-sided version of history here. Phrases like this:
    International law does not allow belligerent nations to recover all territory they lost in a war of aggression.
    are very problematical.
    First, Israel was not attacked by its neighbors in 1967. Israel struck first. The 1967 was not a war of aggression by the Arabs against Israel.
    Second, in Resolution 242 the definite article was dropped from the English language version of “territories occupied in the recent conflict” at the sole insistence of the US. (It was retained in the French version). The US made this demand on behalf of Israel under pressure from Israel and Israel’s American supporters. It is absolutely clear from the statements of British, French, and, for that matter, the American diplomats (including Secretary of State Dean Rusk) involved in the negotiations that the principle of the inadmissability of the acquistion of territory through force applied to the occupied territories. THAT was the principle they cared about. THAT was the principle that “does not appear to have been made clear enough” in the resolution – not “International law does not allow belligerent nations to recover all territory they lost in a war of aggression”, as you absurdly state. Israel was never deemed to have a claim on the land it conquered. The only changes envisioned were minor and mutual border adjustments to make the pre-1967 borders more workable.
    Your description of the meaning of 242 is a travesty, and so typical of the treatment of history by supporters of Israel. Truth becomes distorted entirely out of recognition. You keep repeating the distortion until through familiarity it becomes the accepted “truth”.
    This works better in the US, where the media are practically a conduit for Israeli claims, than in other countries. But because the US is so powerful, the Israeli point of view, through our endorsement, becomes hard for other nations to ignore.

  34. Joshua

    For middle east peacemaking, the Oslo accords were a very important, but discrete, event. It should not be seen as having more weight than continued American involvement, through multiple administrations.
    Bush Sr. and Clinton were not directly involved in negotiating Oslo itself. But Bush along with Jim “**** the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway” Baker, facilitated the Madrid conference, which got the negotiations process rolling. You also say that the Clinton administration was seen as necessary for “locking in” the accords.
    Why is that? Maybe some of this can be attributed to the gravitas of having a signing on the White House Lawn, as opposed to in front of the Royal Court of Norway. But I think most of this can be attributed to the fact that only the United States has the economic, diplomatic, and other resources to support a peace process work. Anyway, I believe Clinton’s continued engagement the term demonstrated commitment, even if he made mistakes.
    I am sorry if you perceive me to be combative. I do not try to be. Of course, I perceive statements such as “Little of the rest of what you write is notable.” “Your assertion…would be laughable if it weren’t tragic.” and “I’ll leave Joshua’s paternalistic and ill-informed comments…” to be somewhat combative. But I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder.

  35. Joshua

    “First, Israel was not attacked by its neighbors in 1967. Israel struck first. The 1967 was not a war of aggression by the Arabs against Israel.”
    Sigh…Helena says my posts are too long, but to refute statements like this, some explanation is necessary…
    Prior to taking out Egypt’s air force on the ground…1) Israel had been subject to repeated feyadeen attacks across the border, 2) Israel was regularly shelled from the Golan Heights by Syria, 3) In response to a verifiably false report from the Soviet Union, Syria invoked its “defense” treaty with Egypt, 4) The Arab armies massed troops on the borders, 5) The Arab leaders made multiple public pronouncements that they were about to annihilate Israel, 6) Nasser evicted peacekeeping troops from the Sinai, with no opposition from U-Thant 7) Nasser blockaded the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israel from its only source of oil, Iran, 8) The international community refused to challenge the blockade with a flotilla, as suggested by LBJ.
    Israel faced a grave and immediate threat, and could not keep its reserves mobilized indefinitely (Israel could not defend its country with a standing army. It needed, and still needs, reserves to defend itself against full fledged invasion). Given this, Israel had no choice but to take out the opposing armies before they crossed the border.
    And if you really want to get technical about it, blockading the Straits of Tiran constituted an act of war. Personally I never got caught up on that technicality, and am more concerned about the crucial life and death situation the country faced.
    As for 242. The definite article was kept in the French, and omitted in the English. The word “all” was explicitly rejected however. Game, set, match. You are correct that Israel was never deemed to have a claim on the land, but the Arabs were not deemed to have a claim to all of it back either. It was recognized that there would have to be mutually agreed upon border negotiations. That remains the case today, even though the surrounding Arab nations have been replaced by the Palestinians. I never said otherwise, so I have no idea why you think my claim is a “travesty.”
    My initial response in this post addressed issues of democracy under occupation. Instead, you and a couple of other posters have decided to turn it into a forum for criticizing everything Israel has done wrong since its existence, and whining about how “unfair” those who hold opposing views are. I’m willing to stick to the subject, but I will not put up with revisionist history.

  36. Shirin

    you and a couple of other posters have decided to turn it into a forum for criticizing everything Israel has done wrong since its existence
    Joshua, if you did not want people to use this forum to refute your claims, you should not have tried to turn this into a forum for your contrafactual and illogical apologetics for Israel’s atrocious conduct with respect to Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.
    I will not put up with revisionist history
    Now THAT would be funny if it weren’t so pathetically sad!

  37. WarrenW

    No Preference:
    The government they want vs. the government we want:
    Neither the Iraqis nor the Americans wanted Saddam. It looks like Sistani and his friends are popular enough to be a first approximation to democracy. For now. Despite the debacle of not finding the nukes the reason for the regime change in Iraq was military, not economic, and not political.
    George W Bush doesn’t have to be a saint, sacrificing for the civil rights of Iraqis, neither does Allawi. All they have to do is be better than Saddam Hussein.
    Given the political environment, a movement toward elections and democracy in Iraq is very likely, no matter how badly Bush messes up, and no matter how hard the Sunni’s fight against Sistani, Allawi, democracy, and the US.

  38. WarrenW

    Warren (NOT WarrenW):

    By seeding chaos they remove a threat to Isreal. Iraq no longer has a standing army.

    While the US had a reason to remove Saddam from the head of the Army, there is no reason to suppose that the chaos was deliberate, that it would help Israel, or that it was intended to help Israel.
    A quick and clean regime change would have been better for everyone.
    Iraq was more of a military threat to his Arab neighbors than to Israel, and Israel has more to fear from Syria and Egypt than from Iraq. Unless, that is, Saddam had nuclear tipped missles. Given his technology, Saddam would probably have nuked as many Arabs as Israelis, of course.
    Based on his history, we know Saddam would have started another war. We don’t know whether it would have been against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran or Israel. And we do know that Saddam would use WMD’s if he had them. Chaos doesn’t help that, regime change does.
    The idea that chaos was invented by Bush to help Israel sounds more like old-fashioned theories of Jewish Conspiracies than a serious idea. I’m serious, it really sounds off the wall.
    Don’t ascribe to malice what can be attributed to error and the success of one’s enemies.
    Also, the country is spelled I-S-R-A-E-L, even though it “Is Real”.

  39. No Preference

    Joshua, I don’t “whine” that you’re “unfair” in your arguments. I say that your arguments are untrue.
    There was a very heated atmosphere at the time of the 1967 war, to which all parties contributed. Israel was understandably very tense. The fact is, however, that Israel attacked its neigbors, not the other way around.
    Let’s look at your justifications for Israel’s attack.
    1) Israel had been subject to repeated feyadeen attacks across the border
    Israel had suffered 14 deaths as a result of fedayeen attacks during the two and a half years before the war. Four of these were civilians.
    2) Israel was regularly shelled from the Golan Heights by Syria
    According to UN observers, Israel provoked the majority of those attacks by encroaching on the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. Moshe Dayan famously confirmed this in a 1976 interview, published postumously, in which he said:
    Eighty percent of the incidents worked like this: We would send tractors to plow in an area of little use, in a demilitarized zone, knowing ahead of time that the Syrians would shoot. If they
    didn’t start shooting, we would tell the tractors to advance until the Syrians would get aggravated and start shooting. We used artillery and later the air force became involved.

    3) In response to a verifiably false report from the Soviet Union, Syria invoked its “defense” treaty with Egypt
    I don’t have Michael Oren’s highly-praised (though not by me) pro-Israeli account of the 1967 war at hand, but according to Norman Finkelstine, Oren confirms that Israel had in fact decided to attack Syria. In any event, two months before the war Israel provoked a major air battle in Syrian air space in which six Syrian planes were shot down. Syria had good reason to fear an Israeli attack.
    4) The Arab armies massed troops on the borders
    US intelligence recognized before the war that Israel was militarily superior to all of the Arab nations combined.
    5) The Arab leaders made multiple public pronouncements that they were about to annihilate Israel
    There was far too much angry bombast emanating from Arab capitals at the time. At the same time, however, Israeli leaders were making multiple public pronouncements about their intent to attack Syria.
    6) Nasser evicted peacekeeping troops from the Sinai, with no opposition from U-Thant
    Yes, he did. U-Thant had no legal right to oppose that. Nasser was bound by a defense pact to support Syria, which he believed was threatened by Israel. It’s worth noting that the Israelis did not permit UN peacekeeping forces on its side of the border to begin with.
    7) Nasser blockaded the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israel from its only source of oil, Iran,
    Israel could have shipped oil through Haifa, and Iran was not its only source of oil. There was the US, for example. I’m not aware of any evidence that Israel was actually suffering from an oil shortage prior to its attack. If you have any I’d be curious to see it.
    8) The international community refused to challenge the blockade with a flotilla, as suggested by LBJ.
    The blockade was under mediation, with both the UN and the US talking to Nasser.
    I think it’s true that both Israel and its Arab neigbors felt a genuine sense of crisis at the time of the war. It’s a long way from that to the notion that the Arabs started a war of aggression, which is really a twist.
    You say you will not put up with revisionist history. What you will not put up with is a challenge to the Israeli version of events. Which brings us to this:
    The word “all” was explicitly rejected however. Game, set, match. You are correct that Israel was never deemed to have a claim on the land, but the Arabs were not deemed to have a claim to all of it back either. It was recognized that there would have to be mutually agreed upon border negotiations.
    First of all, the principle of the inadmissability of the acquisition of territory through war was strongly insisted upon by all UN members, including India, Latin American nations, France, and the US. The only country to take exception to this principle, as far as I can tell, was Israel. Israel’s UN ambassador dissented in language similar to the language you use in your “International law does not allow belligerent nations . . .” post.
    Second, most nations interpreted this as requiring Israel to withdraw from all the territories. The French made that clear at the time when discussing the French version of Resolution 242.
    A few countries intended the resolution to allow for border adjustments. The purpose of this was simply to rationalize the boundaries between Israel and its neighbors, not to allow Israel to gain territory. Therefore any adjustments were to be minor and mutual. That is to say, Israel was to exchange Israeli land for land taken from neighboring territories. Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted the resolution, said that his intention was for an impartial boundary commission which would recommend new borders, not for negotiations between the belligerents. Then US Secretary of State Dean Rusk said in his memoirs that the US supported the principle of mutual border adjustments, not an increase in territoty for Israel.
    It’s hard to imagine how the current situation, with Israel in apparently permanent control of about 60% of the occupied territories, conforms to this vision. Yet it does according to the Israeli version of events, which always seems to become standard history in the US.

  40. Joshua

    “There was a very heated atmosphere at the time of the 1967 war, to which all parties contributed. Israel was understandably very tense”
    And it had reason to be.
    “The fact is, however, that Israel attacked its neigbors, not the other way around.”
    And it had reason to.
    Ultimately, your counterarguments are based on the assumption that if Israel had engaged in completely acquiescent behavior up to the war, then its enemies wouldn’t have engaged in their aggressive behavior. Had Israel just sat around, it would have been annihilated. Egypt, Jordan, or Syria could have ended the chance of war at any time over the proceeding 20 years by stating that they were willing to convert the armistice agreemnt (which means the parties were still AT war) into a peace treaty. Full recognition, dropping all territorial claims, and a peace treaty. There would have been no war then.
    Instead, you think that Israel had to sit by and wait until they were overrun by their neighbors. No thanks. There was only one way to secure Israel, and that was to wipe out the enemies before they made good on their explicit threat to annihilate the country.
    As for 242, I suggest you address what I say, rather than your straw man Israeli argument. I have said, all along, that any changes in the borders have to be mutually agreed upon. What 242 does not contemplate is that Israel has to return to the status-quo ante.
    It also did not contemplate the creation of a Palestinian state. The assumption was that land would be returned to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. So although Israel does not have a claim, as of right, to the land, the Palestinians certainly does not, as they were not considered in UN 242.
    This is all changed in part by the Oslo Accords, whereby Israel recognized a Palestinian national entity, and the parties agreed to negotiate all final issues. Nowhere do the Oslo accords say that the PNA, as of right, can claim all the land.
    Ultimately, I have said the same thing all along. The final status of such matters is to be negotiated between the parties. Neither customary international law, UNSC 242, or the Oslo Accords allows Israel to unilaterally take as much as it wants, but neither does it require Israel to give it all back, especially to a party that never had it in the first place.

  41. No Preference

    Had Israel just sat around, it would have been annihilated.
    That absolute nonsense is contradicted by numerous statements from Israeli generals themselves.
    What 242 does not contemplate is that Israel has to return to the status-quo ante.
    In terms of Israeli claims to the land, I’m afraid that it does. The huge swathes of land Israel has illegally grabbed and settled in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are nothing other than the acquisition of territory through war, which 242 said was inadmissable. This was agreed upon by all parties at the times except for Israel. No nation at that time or before – except for Israel – considered that Israel had any claim whatsoever on the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza.
    As far as a Palestinian state not being contemplated by Resolution 242, that’s correct. At the time of the war there was no international consensus on what to do with what were about to become the Occupied Territories. They were originally to be part of a Palestinian state. The failure to resolve the conflict between Israel and its neighbors – to which Israel was a major contributor – left them in limbo. But the world did agree that they were not part of Israel.
    So although Israel does not have a claim, as of right, to the land, the Palestinians certainly does not, as they were not considered in UN 242.
    According to the most basic view of international law, sovereignty fundamentally belongs to the people who live on the land. That certainly applies to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. In fact, the reason why Israel was not accepted in the first place by the Arabs was because the UN disregarded the views of the large majority of the inhabitants of Palestine to impose a two-state solution heavily favoring the Jewish minority, almost all of whom had been born abroad.
    Nowhere do the Oslo accords say that the PNA, as of right, can claim all the land.
    The Oslo Accords are based on Resolutions 242 and 338. The Palestinian reading of the document certainly saw the Israelis as eventually departing. They were self-deluded.
    The Oslo Accords are an absurdity because the Palestinians can’t really negotiate with an occupying power that has complete control over their lives. Arafat thought that the US would serve as a guarantor of a fair Palestinian rights. How wrong he was on that. The US has sided with Israel at every turn.
    BTW, there have been numerous Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza as illegal under the Geneva Convention. The US used to vote in favor of those resolutions. Then it started to abstain, under the domestic political pressure from supporters of Israel.
    There are frequent UN General Assembly Resolutions criticizing Israel that pass by margins of 144-6 and so on. The US and Israel are on the losing end, typically accompanied by US dependents like Micronesia. That reflects the sense that the world has in general of the views and “history” that you have put forth here.
    This totally unwavering support for Israel by the US has had an incredibly negative impact on our position in the world. Yet for guys like you, this does not matter.

  42. WarrenW

    What is the purpose of wrangling over 1967? If one side or another wins its argument, should it impact the outcome of future negotiations between Israel and the PA?
    I mean, if it’s decided that the blockade of Tiran was the “Real start” of the war, does Israel get to keep more of the Golan heights, but if the Nasser’s threats were really hot air and Israel the aggressor, then the PA gets an airport? What’s the calculus here?
    And who really did start the Battle of Hastings?
    Okay, my tone is a little over the top here but the question is genuine; What’s the prize for winning that argument?

  43. Helena

    This Comments board is about to be closed. Please read this JWN post to see why.
    I’m about to put up another post on the broad subject of elections under the gun. Please resume the discussion of that topic over on that other Comments board once it’s up.

Comments are closed.