Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Netanyahu's Problems.

Ha'aretz newspaper are this morning summing up the meeting which took place between Obama and Netanyahu and, in doing so, have articulated Israel's extraordinary attitude towards the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

American administrations that want to distance themselves from Israel have always put settlements on the agenda. The milder ones have made do with the familiar lip service of proclaiming the settlements an "obstacle to peace," while the tougher ones have demanded that Israel halt construction, so as not to create facts on the ground that would thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Israel has always managed to evade this American pressure, and it has expanded the settlements under the pretext of natural growth. Ariel Sharon reached an understanding with the Bush administration that enabled Israel to engage in accelerated construction in the major settlements blocs, particularly around Jerusalem, while severely slowing, and unofficially even freezing, construction in isolated settlements east of the separation fence. The Olmert government continued this policy. As a reward for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Bush administration also ignored Israel's foot-dragging on the evacuation of outposts.
Ha'aretz is actually one of Israel's most reasonable papers, yet even they seem perfectly happy with the notion of Israel continuing to steal Palestinian land, "under the pretext of natural growth."

Indeed, the culture of settlement building - despite the fact that it is utterly illegal under international law - is so ingrained in Israeli society that Ha'aretz find themselves worrying about how Netanyahu will ever be able to deliver what Obama has demanded.
This poses a problem for Netanyahu, since his coalition has a firm majority of right-wing MKs. Even the most leftist governments have never declared a settlement freeze. Sharon didn't either, even though he actually evacuated settlements from Gaza. So how can one expect the Netanyahu government, of all governments, to generously offer to satisfy the United States on this issue?
Netanyahu's associates say Americans and Israelis view the settlements differently. For Obama, they are a political issue: The president must show that he is pressuring Israel and extracting concessions from it in order to curry favor with the Arab world and Europe (as well as with his liberal supporters at home). For Netanyahu, they are a practical issue: If he promises a complete freeze on settlement construction, every newly closed-in balcony in the West Bank settlement of Ariel will make a liar out of him. Moreover, he has to take care of the existing settlements' basic needs.
I'll say that both sides see things differently. The problem for the Israelis is that they have never accepted, nor have many American governments ever forced them to accept, the notion that what they have been engaging in was utterly illegal.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 12, 1949, 6 UST 3516, paragraph 6:
The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
It couldn't be any clearer just how illegal the settlement building is and yet Ha'aretz say this:
So what can be done? In the follow-up talks to Monday's visit, the parties will try to find a formula that will satisfy Israel's commitment to freeze settlement construction (as laid down in the road map peace plan) without causing Netanyahu to commit political suicide. He will surely play for time and propose compromises such as allowing upward expansion - which does not require any additional land - or distinguishing between areas where construction will be permitted and areas where it will not.
The entire notion that this is deeply illegal appears to be lost on even the writers at Ha'aretz.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 465:
5. Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;
It is long overdue that an American administration demanded that Israel obey international law, even if Israel should find such a notion genuinely shocking. Obama is seeking to change the way the rest of the world views the United States and nothing has contributed more to the ill feeling some nations feel towards Obama's, than the notion that Israel can flout international law with impunity.

And, even as Obama was laying down the new law, it appears that Hillary Clinton was playing the game as it used to be played.
In the Obama administration's division of labor, Mitchell and National Security Advisor James Jones are the bad cops. Both have previously served as envoys to Israel and the Palestinians, and been disappointed by Israel's foot-dragging and the impediments it raised. In contrast, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the good cop. Israelis who were present at her dinner with Netanyahu on Monday night liked what she told them: Hope is not a plan. For those who see Obama's efforts at dialogue with Iran and the Arab world as expressions of a naive liberal ideology, Clinton's realism was like a breath of fresh air.
So, Hillary is telling the Israelis that Obama's great plans regarding the Arab nations will probably come to naught. That it will soon be back to business as usual. To the Israelis this, "realism was like a breath of fresh air".

Clinton's way of thinking is actually part of the problem. It is that way of thinking which has led the Israelis to express such genuine astonishment at the notion that international law might actually apply to them.

That way of thinking led to the atrocities in Gaza and Lebanon.

For far too long American politicians have behaved in the way in which Hillary is behaving. Telling the Israelis only that which they want to hear and acting as if international law is something which can be skirted around.

It's far too early to say whether or not Obama is actually going to change the way the US allow Israel to flout international law, but he's started by making the right noises. Hillary, however, is continuing the same old baloney which got us into this mess in the first place.

This is the exact same crap she expressed during the primaries, where she dismissed Obama's way of thinking as "naive liberal ideology". He defeated her then, and we all have to hope that he will defeat ingrained cynicism such as hers this time around as well.


It's fascinating to watch the way Obama's change of tone is being reported in other Israeli newspapers.

Ben Caspit in Ma'ariv:

What happened there? Everything. There were those close to Netanyahu who promised him in recent weeks that Obama would not embarrass him in his first visit to Washington and would try to make light of their differences. Obama never heard that promise. He deluged Netanyahu with "two states" at least three times, he spoke about the road map, and even "Annapolis," thanks to Avigdor Lieberman, got mentioned twice. He spoke about freezing settlements, of past commitments of the sides and the need to treat them seriously, about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, about everything. There wasn't a single blister that Obama didn't step on, and it didn't seem to bother him. He left no stone unturned with Netanyahu sitting by his side and listening attentively.

Everyone has noticed that change is in the air. Hillary needs to get up to speed.


I think Netanyahu's choice of gift says a lot about the mindset which he arrived with.
Did you see the news item noting that Netanyahu is giving Obama a copy of Mark Twain's travelogue to the Levant from Innocents Abroad? This may seem a peripheral news item, but it isn't -- not in terms of the sad history of propaganda marshaled by Zionists against Palestinians.

In 1984 Joan Peters'
From Time Immemorial was published, and Twain's satire, The Innocents Abroad (1869) was thus canonized in the Zionist effort to erase the history of Arabs in Palestine. Peters argued that Palestine was effectively empty until Jewish Zionists came on the scene in the late 19th century, and that Arabs then emigrated from surrounding lands to take advantage of economic opportunities provided by the Zionists. Hence, the Arabs are "arrivistes," have no legitimate claim to be refugees.
Twain's book is often quoted by Israel's more fervent supporters as "proof" that there were no Palestinians in Palestine. It's an astonishing gift for Netanyahu to give to Obama. Does he seriously think Obama is going to buy into that nonsense?

Click title for full article.

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