Category Archives: Palestine 2013

Kerry’s road to nowhere

So PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israeli minister Tzipi Livni have met in Washington, shaken hands, and agreed to sit down and talk some more… and this is considered an achievement by Secretary of State Kerry? Give me a break. Twenty years ago, negotiators from the PLO and the Israeli government who had considerably stronger mandates and positions than these two people were sitting down in Oslo and Stockholm and were far deeper into negotiators than these two are today. (Those Oslo-launched talks continued for many years but with rapidly decreasing momentum. In the Oslo agreement the two sides signed on Sept. 13, 1993, they agreed that they would conclude their final-status peace agreement in May 1999. We are now 14 years and 3 months behind that deadline– which was missed primarily because of the machinations of Israel’s PM at the time, a man named B. Netanyahu. Meantime, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has nearly tripled since 1993….)

In today’s WaPo, David Ignatius tries to present the ‘best case possible’ as to why this time around, the talks convened by Sec. Kerry will ‘succeed’. It is a sad and pathetic attempt.

He writes:

Skepticism about Kerry’s project is nearly universal, and it’s understandable when you look at the graveyard of past negotiations. But some interesting dynamics beneath the surface should make observers cautious about premature burial announcements.

What Kerry has done, in effect, is get the two sides to grab hold of a stick of dynamite. If they can’t defuse it within nine months through an agreement, it’s going to blow up: The moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank would collapse; militant Palestinians would take statehood to the United Nations, probably this time with broad European support; an angry Arab League would withdraw its peace initiative. It would be a big mess for everyone.

Riiiiight. Like the Obama administration’s last big attempt to use the ‘threat’ of a big-bang deadline to scare reluctant negotiators to reach agreement worked so well? I refer, of course, to the threat of a government-spending sequester if Congressional negotiators failed to reach agreement on a budget. That worked really well, didn’t it? No reason to think a similar big-bang deadline threat will work any better on the Palestine issue, now.

This time, the scenario that threatens is one that might be seen as a ‘big mess’ by liberal Zionists and all that top rank of PLO leaders who have been living high on the US/EU payroll for the past 20 years… But, ahem, those two groups of people are not ‘everyone’. (Actually, David, in case you hadn’t noticed, the situation in which many millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the extensive Palestinian diaspora have been living for several decades now can certainly be characterized as an existing and chronic ‘big mess’. Protection for the 500,000 stateless Palestinian refugees in Syria, anyone?)

I don’t know how much slack I want to cut Ignatius for a piece that, at its best looks like a piece of lazy, access-ensuring backscratching. But really, I think he knows better than to come out with some of the statements he makes today.

Like this one: “If they fail this time, it will cost the parties dearly, probably Israel most of all. That provides harsh leverage for Washington.” Oh come on. This week, AIPAC just lazily rippled a little of its congressional muscle on two issues: increasing the pressure on Iran, and continuing U.S. support for Egypt’s coup-committing military. If there’s any kind of a showdown between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration, you think Obama would be in any mood to exercise “harsh leverage” on Israel? Get real.

And then, there is this stunning assessment from Ignatius: “The borders question is, at bottom, an Israeli political issue.” Whaaaat? Like, um, it has no particular consequence for the Palestinians?

The reason I think this is a lazy, access-ensuring article is that David appears not to have either talked to anyone except ‘special envoy’ Martin Indyk (whom he describes as “a longtime friend”), or to have done any thinking of his own as he composed the piece. As I know well, David has a lot of “longtime friends” he could have talked to– including many Palestinians, who could have set him right on many issues. But hey, maybe he was hurrying to get to the beach so just doing stenography for his buddy Indyk seemed like the easiest and quickest way to get today’s column written.

Stenography is not, of course, anything like the writing of a broadly informed and well argued opinion piece. But it does have a value, if it helps reveal what the policymakers are thinking. Maybe this is the money-quote from David’s piece: “An intriguing option for Kerry is a settlement that leaves unresolved some especially difficult issues, such as the status and division of Jerusalem.”

So it seems that Indyk and Kerry are not really insisting on concluding a final-status, i.e. conflict-ending, full peace agreement, at all. Which was, let us recall, what Israel and the PLO absolutely both committed themselves to concluding, back in the Oslo Agreement of 1993. So now, the relationship between the two parties seems less robust than it was 20 years ago… and what Kerry is aiming for, at best, is a renegotiation of the terms of the ‘interim self-government deal’ they reached at Oslo that year.

What a deeply tragic farce.

Meantime, the concrete continues to get poured in new emanations of Israel’s appalling, 19th-century colonial settler project throughout East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Israel continues to maintain its tight, life-denying siege around Gaza. Jerusalem’s ancient and proud society of Palestinians continues to get squeezed extremely hard. Young Israeli conscripts continue to operate the cattle-pens known as ‘crossing points’ throughout the West Bank. The PLO/PA, lacking anything like sovereignty status, remains quite unable to offer its own, Palestinian, land as a safe haven to Palestinian refugees facing terrible assaults– from both sides– in Syria’s civil war…

And western governments continue their bizarre practice of financing Israel’s continued operation of all aspects of its military occupation of Palestine. Which means, basically, that it looks as if it can go on forever. Truly a diplomatic road to nowhere.

Iraq, Palestine, and America’s fetishization of ‘constitutions’

I watched BBC World News as long as I could tonight. It was the dreadful Katty Kay on again. In the story on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, her guest was– L. Paul Bremer! Oh my goodness, the BBC are such lapdogs, these days. So Kay gave Bremer (and he took) every opportunity to whitewash the effects of the invasion and subsequent ten years of U.S. military occupation of Iraq… At the end, he said the thing he was “proudest of” regarding the years he spent as the U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, was that “Iraq now has the most liberal and progressive constitution of any country in the Arab world.”

This, on a day in which at least 65 Iraqis were killed in vile, sectarian bombings that demonstrated to everyone worldwide (if this still needed demonstrating to anyone?) that the country still has very deep, unresolved issues of internal political difference that plague the lives of all of its 33 million people.

So a “constitution”– that is, a piece of paper with words on that at one point in time  a certain number of “parliamentarians” who were elected in complex circumstances and under the jackboot of the occupying force signaled their support for, but that the ruling powers transgress on a daily basis, anyway– is supposed to somehow make all this terrible and continuing grief worth while?

Americans have such a strong capacity to fetishize constitutions! It is almost unbelievable. I mean, even though Bremer was talking to the representative of a (nominally) British news outlet, he somehow thought everyone around the world would join him in seeing that a “constitution” in Iraq could be counted as a signal achievement?

Britain, I note, has never had a constitution– and nor have a number of other countries. In some of them (e.g. Israel), internal conflict is deepseated but is managed in ways other than through recourse to a constitution. In others, including Britain, the internal conflict is not so deep; but when it occurs is generally fairly effectively managed through a plethora of other national institutions.

For Americans, I think, having a constitution is one of the only things, really, that draws and keeps this disparate group of settlers and immigrants all united. That probably accounts, at the domestic level, for the high regard in which the idea of a “constitution” is held. (Even if the constitution in question denied the vote, at the time of adoption, to women, indentured people, enslaved people, and native Americans… ) And then, Americans at the official level are so solipsistic that they think that whatever they value for themselves, must be ipso facto, valuable for everyone else, too!

But I bet that more than a few of them also see the whole idea of trying to foist  “constritutions” and “constitutionalism” off onto captive peoples as an alternative to actually resolving the deep issues of national sovereignty and self-determiation, as more than a little bit attractive. (Plus, how many American people’s careers have been made, or substantially  enhanced, by the wor they have done in “training” Iraqis in the finer points of constitution-writing?)

The other main example I’m thinking of in this regard is Palestine. Remember how, back in 1993-94, the PLO and the Israelis agreed that there would be created in the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank a “Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority” that would perform certain functions in some parts of the OPTs on an interim basis, pending the conclusion within the next five years of a final status peace agreement (between the PLO and Israel, I not– and NOT between the PISGA and Israel)?

Well, very soon indeed after that interim agreement was reached at Oslo, two things happened. One was that everyone started treated the PISGA– soon renamed the “PA”– as if it were a Palestinian government. The other was that many otherwise fine people in the Palestinian movement started getting very engaged and tied up in knots over fine points to do with the constitution of the PISGA— as if it were, indeed, a government!

Meantime, as we know, Israeli control over all the OPTs continued; additional settlers were systematically pumped into the OPTs; and the lives of the OPT Palestinians became more and more thoroughly curtailed an controlled by the Israeli occupying authorities.

What a dangerous distraction that whole exercise in “constitutionalism” turned out to be… In Palestine, as in Iraq.