Weekend read: Excerpts from UK House of Commons debate on Palestinian statehood

The House of Commons debate on recognizing Palestinian statehood is striking in both quality and content. I would recommend reading it in full. Perhaps we should send some members of our House of representatives across the pond to see how it’s done.

Most of the US coverage centered on Sir Richard Ottaway’s speech, he’s the one who said:

Throughout all this, I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians and urged peaceful negotiations and a proportionate response to prevarication, and I thought that they were listening. But I realise now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the west bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent….

I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the Government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.

But there were so many other excellent comments that I wanted to collect them here. Some excerpts follow (all emphasis is mine).The question before the house was whether the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.

There was a lot of discussion about the impact such a resolution would have, and whether it would further a just peace.  Most of the contributions were from Labor MPs and their supporters (including the Welsh/Scottish Independence parties). Almost all Conservative MPs abstained from the vote and few of their back-benchers spoke.

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FT: Israeli Minister calls for “new models” instead of Palestinian state

Naftali Bennett was interviewed by the FT this week and said out loud what we know has been the Israeli right’s position for decades. The FT article: Israeli Minister calls for ‘new models’ instead of Palestinian state

Mr Bennett, whose party gets its support from “national religious” Zionists, including the half million people living in Israeli settlements, says he favours annexing the parts of the West Bank Israel already fully controls and giving Palestinians limited autonomy elsewhere.

The only thing surprising here is that Naftali is saying this out loud. It has pretty much been the stance of Likud and its founders since they arrived in Palestine. It’s been the driving force behind expulsions of Palestinians and territorial wars for 60+ years now.”Limited autonomy” and “annexations” are the reason so many “peace talks” have come to naught.  When someone’s nibbling away at the cake, it’s naive to believe they want to cut it fairly.

Naftali’s Jewish Home party is even further to the right of Likud but he might become PM if an election were held today since the political drift in Israel is ever rightward. Bennett says the relentless IDF bombing of Gaza this summer, destruction of homes with families inside and the death of 500 Palestinian children has “prompted a rightward shift” in Israel. Should that be translated as mission accomplished?

“The logic that the world will love us if we give up more land doesn’t work,” Mr Bennett said. “Now the Israeli public realises it; I hope that gradually, world leaders and the world will come to understand that everything we thought until now about the notion of a Palestinian state next to Israel is inapplicable.”

I didn’t realize the two-state solution was about loving Israel rather than the right to self-determination and ending a brutal military occupation. But then I still believe in equal rights for all.

PS. The comments section of the FT article is almost like Gamergate, except the vitriol is being spewed over religious fantasies rather than nerdy video-game ones.

Pamela Geller wants you to know something about Islam…

Pamela Geller’s outfit is placing a series of ads on US mass-transit. They’ll be showing up on trains and buses shortly.

Let’s just say the ads are provocative. They provoked the following response from NYC’s mayor, Bill de Blasio:.

In a statement to the Daily News on Friday, Mayor de Blasio said, “These ads are outrageous, inflammatory and wrong, and have no place in New York City, or anywhere. These hateful messages serve only to divide and stigmatize when we should be coming together as one city.”He added, “While those behind these ads only display their irresponsible intolerance, the rest of us who may be forced to view them can take comfort in the knowledge that we share a better, loftier and nobier view of humanity.”

What struck me in the third ad, which has a photograph of Hitler and the caption:

Adolf Hitler and his staunch ally, the leader of the Muslim world, Haj Amin Al-Husseini

Al-Husseini was not “the leader of the Muslim world”. He was grand mufti of Jerusalem. The title sounds impressive, but it’s just the (Sunni) cleric who serves as caretaker of the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem. For one thing, few Shia would recognize him as their “leader”.

Al-Husseini’s dealings with the Nazis is best understood as an expression of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. A segment of the Indian independence movement allied itself with Japan during WW-2, despite knowing of the atrocities Japanese armies had committed against other peoples in Asia. The Japanese provided arms and assistance to Bose’s INA and they launched an attack against British forces in India. It would be difficult to find someone who would claim this diminished the righteousness of the Indian independence struggle. Similarly, whatever Al-Husseini may have done or thought doesn’t diminish the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians to self-determination.

The ad states:

Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Quran

The Quran has largely positive things to say about Jews and Judaism as adherents to an Abrahamic, monotheist tradition. There are some hadith that are often misrepresented as being in the Quran (including the infamous hadith of the Gharqad tree which is in the “Hamas Charter”).  Muhammed did fight wars and persecute specific Jewish populations. Later suras and some hadith reflect these realities.

There is similar hatefulness in the Bible towards the Philistines (Palestinians) and other people. Both Islam and Judaism are a mix of politics and spirituality, their major prophets where both political and religious leaders. No one should be surprised that politics, propaganda and warfare seeped into the religious texts. In that sense, Pamela Geller is keeping up with Biblical traditions.

Done beating my head against a brick wall for the day…

Free Israel & Palestine in 3 easy steps

Israel announced last week that it would annex 1,000 acres of land owned by Palestinians to build a city for Jewish citizens. The state department noted this is “counterproductive… to a two-state solution”. Someone should let the State Department onto a secret. The two-state solution is dead, and has been dead for almost 40 years.

It died when Menachem Begin’s very first Likud government dramatically expanded settlements in the West Bank. No Likud government since has deviated from this path. No Palestinian leader will ever tell their people they should give up Jerusalem or the Jordan Valley, and nor should they. The Israeli electorate is not ready to make peace either, since they’ve been told a fairy tale about the expulsions of 1948. The hard right has begun to fantasize that they might be able to get away with another mass expulsion.

The only real question facing Israelis and Palestinians is one of timing. When will the Palestinian population be granted equal rights in the one state that has existed for 47 years.

This will happen when US policy changes (unless Israel decides to become a Russian client state like Assad’s Syria). US political institutions are not sympathetic to Palestine. Individual politicians may be sympathetic, but in their official capacity they cannot be. They cannot be supportive while the American population at large is uninterested. Remedying this will take three steps.

1. Stop talking about a “two-state solution”

Outside of diplomatic circles in Geneva, New York and DC, no one knows what the “two-state solution” is. Most Americans certainly don’t. Every failed summit costs the Palestinian people more years under a brutal military occupation. Worse, if Israel decided to give up the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza tomorrow (how likely is that), the resulting Palestinian state would cover 22% of Israel-Palestine, be split in two unconnected pieces, and need to support over half the people (not counting refugees outside Israel/Palestine).

Israel’s government is content to participate in “Peace Talks” that go nowhere while building settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. It’s time to change the dynamic.

2. Speak in terms Americans understand like “Equal Rights” and “Freedom”.

Tragically, not enough minds will be changed by images of dead children and innocent civilians. That did not work in the 1982 Lebanon war, it did not work in the Intifada, it does not work in the dozens of West Bank towns that stage protests every week, it did not work in Gaza in 2009 or 2012 nor in 2014.

But the Palestinian cause does resonate strongly with American ideals like: “Civil Rights”, “Equal Opportunity”, “Voting Rights”, “All Men are created Equal” and “Freedom”.  “Liberty” is a term co-opted by the American right, and Bibi Netanyahu is far more effective at speaking to them than any Palestinian will ever be so it isn’t ideal. Israel’s official policies carry negative connotations, and they should described as “Jim Crow Laws”, “Separate and Unequal”, “Housing Discrimination”.

Terms such as “Right of Return”, Green Line” or “Pre-67 Borders” are not part of the American experience and we tune out when we hear them.

To have an impact, the Palestinian struggle for freedom must be presented as:

  • A Civil Rights Movement: To gain a vote in the government that controls your lives and the right to travel, live and work where you wish in your country.
  • Jim Crow on the Jordan: Palestinians and Israelis live under two sets of unequal laws that are enforced unequally, point out how similar this is to South African Apartheid or the American South prior to the 1960s. Talk about institutionalized housing discrimination and routine home invasions.
  • Native Americans in the 1900s: The treatment of the Negev bedouin is very similar.
  • American Revolution: This is perhaps the most powerful image. Come up with your own list of Israeli grievances, like the Declaration of Independence.

3. Be prepared to act.

The current Israeli administration will not easily accept a single, “bi-national” state in Israel-Palestine with equal rights for all. They will try to Palestinians that a shrunken West Bank could become San Marino and Gaza could turn into Monaco. They use every argument to limit the independence of any Palestinian state and shrink its territory.

If you do manage to change American opinion though, then Israel will be forced to negotiate and stay till there is a resolution. Before this happens, the Palestinian people have to know what they want. Do they want a state in 20% of the land your grand-fathers inhabited?

In my view, a partition will eventually lead to more bloodshed because neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be satisfied with it nor should they.

A just solution is one where all Palestinians and all Israelis are treated as human beings who have the right to live and work in their land where-ever they please. This was the original aim of the Palestinian resistance. This was the dream of many Zionists till the few who dreamed of a state with a Jewish majority became ascendant. Of course, that state had to be built on the rubble of Palestinian villages and neighborhoods, it has to be sustained by a system of inequality and a military occupation. A single state is the only for Palestinians to save themselves from oppression and rescue their Israeli brothers and sisters from becoming oppressors.

The Two-State Solution is a Zombie

As the most cursory political conversation with an Israeli or Palestinian will make clear, past is present in their minds. The “pre-1967 lines”  which conventional wisdom states are the basis for any two state solution in fact gloss over more deep rooted issues. For many Palestinians, including those living outside Israel-Palestine, it is about 1948 and the Nakba. For many Israelis it is about the Shoah and creating a “Jewish refuge”. For a few Israeli Jews it is about 586 BC. There will be no lasting peace in Israel-Palestine that does not account for these sentiments.

That is why Palestinians have always insisted on a “right of return” for their ’48 refugees. This is why Israel has a “Jewish right of return” and the Israeli right has never lost an opportunity to expand settlements in the West Bank or Jerusalem.

This is why the parties winning majorities among the Israeli and Palestinian populations clearly say their goal is to control all the territory of Israel/Palestine. We know this is Hamas’s position (i.e. the “destruction of Israel/Zionist-entity”), but Likud has held this position from the day it was created.  Here’s the relevant excerpt of Likud’s 1977 platform (which brought them into power for the first time):

The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable and is linked with the right to security and peace; therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.

This was 10 years before there was such a thing as Hamas or a “Hamas charter”. The platform then goes on to discuss the paramount importance of building settlements in the West Bank.

Successive Likud governments have continued to appropriate land for settlements and act consistently with this position. The 1,000 acre appropriation last week was consistent with their commitment to use every opportunity to appropriate land in the West Bank. Begin, Shamir, Sharon and now Netanyahu run for elections on a platform of sovereignty between the Jordan and the sea. No Likud leader has told them painful concessions of territory will need to be made. The two-state solution that would be acceptable to the party and its base is a middle-eastern version of San Marino, with Gaza as Monaco perhaps.

Not only is the two-state solution impractical, it is fatally flawed as well. It will leave the right-wing in both Palestine and Israel chafing at territorial concessions neither is willing to accept. This is why there’s been no agreemtn over 40 years of negotiations and no peace will hold between two states.

The “two-state solution” also suffers from a deeper and more insidious flaw. It is unjust to the people of Israel and Palestine. It is unjust towards Palestinians whose families were expelled from Haifa, Lydda, Beersheba and 500 small villages or communities they were intimately connected to. It will be unjust to the 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem who feel deeply, intimately connected to that land.

The only practical solution is a single, secular, democratic state in Israel-Palestine where all are equal under the law.

A single or bi-national state proposal is considered laughably naive by many. There is no dearth of voices who say there is no way for the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities of Israel-Palestine to live in peace. This prejudice has left Israelis and Palestinians wandering diplomatic deserts for the past 40 years, chasing the mirage of a “two-state peace process”.

Perhaps the time has come to think with greater creativity than the current Israeli and Palestinian leaders can muster and consider a single, secular state in Israel-Palestine. Perhaps it is time to give a Mediterranean culture that includes Jewish, Muslim and Christian elements a chance to exist under a truly secular, non-denominational government.

The beginnings will not be easy, nor will they be painless. Two people who have been told for decades they are enemies will not overnight turn into pleasant neighbors. Yet there is hope for an eventual reconciliation, and it comes from the most unexpected quarters. Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger lives on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and is part of a dialog group between settlers and their Palestinian neighbors. He was quoted last month in the Israeli daily Haaretz:

When you only live among your own and only know your own narrative, you are naturally very suspicious of the other who is just an intruder and just a thorn in your side and something that doesn’t belong there. But when you open up your heart and you see the other, you begin to see the truth is complex – that my truth is true, but it’s a partial truth and there’s another truth that’s also partial and I have to learn to put them together and make the larger truth. I believe we can do that.

The people of Israel-Palestine will have to choose between these voices and the unyielding rhetoric of Likud and Hamas. We all know, in our hearts, which points the way to a just and lasting peace.

A Modern Day Trail of Tears in Jerusalem

Trail of Tears: Painting by Robert Lindneux (1942)


If you were uncertain about the parallels between our country’s treatment of Native American peoples and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, this article in today’s Haaretz should help clarify them.  The headline is:

Israeli government plans to forcibly relocate 12,500 Bedouin.

Concentrating the Bedouin into a few permanent towns represents the culmination of a 40-year process of limiting their pasturage, restricting their migrations and refusing to let them build permanent homes in places where they have lived for decades. This process accelerated after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.Since then, the Civil Administration has issued thousands of demolition orders against Bedouin tents and shacks, to which the Bedouin frequently responded by petitioning the High Court of Justice.

Shlomo Lecker, a lawyer who represented the Bedouin in nearly 100 such cases, told Haaretz that while the court never addressed his claim that the Bedouin were being discriminated against in comparison to Jewish settlers, it did accept his argument that they can’t be evicted when they have no other place to live. That is what prompted the Civil Administration to start planning new towns for them.

The Bedouin, of course, are the semi-nomadic desert tribes. The claim that Israelis were a “people without a land for a land without people” was never really true, even for the Negev which was held up as an example of how Israel would “make the desert bloom”. Palestine also contained major population centers with long histories like Haifa, Lydda, Jaffa, Acre, etc. etc.

If you were wondering why Steven Salaita was appointed to the American Indian studies program at UIUC, this is pretty much why. His work focused on the parallels between the Palestinian and Native American experience and writing.

In 67 years of existence, Israel has built hundreds of new towns and settlements for its Jewish population. The only towns built for the Palestinian Arab population are for Bedouins who are being dispossessed of their pastoral lands. This is part of the reason most serious observers say the expulsion and cleansing of Palestinians continues to this day.

Jamil Hamadin, a member of the Jahalin tribe, told Haaretz the Civil Administration never consulted with his clan or any other Jahalin clans about the plan. He added that not only does putting different tribes into the same town run counter to Bedouin customs, but so does putting different clans from the same tribe into the same town.“We’ve replaced wool tents with tin shacks and prefab homes, but that doesn’t mean we’ve changed our customs and laws, which obligate us to live and herd at a great distance from each other, or our need to live in open spaces,” he said.

Israel’s government spares no expense or effort to re-create historical Jewish settlements, whether they’re towns or archeological parks. Not so much when its Palestinian or non-Jewish traditions and culture practiced by living people.  To deal with those, there’s an active program to erase history and replace it with pine trees.  Some people are more equal than others.

This should all remind us of our own terrible history with the native peoples of America. Netanyahu’s administration looks a lot like Andrew Jackson’s.

The Moral Equivalence between Hamas and Likud

Rockets and F-16s have stopped flying over Gaza and Israel, but the propaganda war continues. Netanyahu recently said “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas”. Israeli spokesmen have routinely asserted that Israel holds the moral high-ground even when confronted with outcomes and policies that bring this into question. For instance, the bombing of homes and killing entire families to assassinate a single Hamas operative would be morally unjustifiable unless faced with an imminent threat. Yet Israeli forces have done this repeatedly. Criticism of the Israeli administration’s conduct in Operation Protective Edge has been muted, except in the most egregious instances. I suspect this is partly because too many fear being branded “Hamas supporters”. And few among us want to be seen as supporters of a party founded by terrorists. Netanyahu and his colleagues in the Likud coalition are ill-placed to claim the moral high ground since they themselves are inheritors of a party founded by terrorists.

The specter of Hamas’ 25 year old charter and the prior actions of its leaders has been raised repeatedly to question the organization’s current stance on negotiations and commitment to compromise. Hamas is a political organization, and like many others it can and has changed its positions over time. Netanyahu’s party, Likud has also modified its positions, but we can say with virtual certainty that if Likud were placed in the same position as Hamas, its behavior would be no different. We know this because when Likud’s founders were looking to gain Palestinian territory, they did indeed turn to terrorism. Likud, like Hamas, was founded by people who used terrorism to further their political goals.

Likud was created in 1973 by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir among others. It came to power for the first time in 1977, in an election that marked a  dramatic shift from left to right in Israeli politics. So much so, that it is often called “the revolution”. Begin became Prime Minister and Shamir served as Speaker of the Knesset. This was a remarkable change of fortune for the two, who had been virtual pariahs in Israeli politics.

In the late 1940s, Begin led the Irgun, and Shamir was part of the leadership of the even more extreme splinter group Lehi. During the 1930s and 1940s, the two groups bombed hotels, markets and bus stops, killing hundreds of civilians. They had also targeted British soldiers and policemen. Most notoriously, in 1947, they kidnapped two British seargents. The parents of the two soldiers made personal appeals to Irgun leaders to release their children. Under Begin’s direct orders, both soldiers were hanged. The parallels with Hamas’ abduction of Israeli soldiers is striking.  Lehi, under Shamir, assassinated the UN appointed mediator, Folke Bernadotte in 1948 when it was clear he would recommend the unconditional return of all Palestinian refugees and a re-assessment of the UN partition plan. Bernadotte, by the way, had rescued hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews from Nazi concentration camps. That’s part of the reason Israel had agreed to his appointment as mediator. The nascent Israeli government branded Lehi a terrorist group and briefly imprisoned all its members. They were pardoned within months.

Lehi and Irgun were also responsible for some of the worst violence during the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from what was to become Israel. This included multiple instances where civilian homes were bombed while residents were inside.

On May 22, shortly after Likud’s victory, William Farrell wrote in the New York Times:

“In 1946, the [Irgun] fighters blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where British Government officials maintained offices, killing 91 persons and injuring at least 100. To this day, Mr. Begin maintains that the casualties were the fault of the British authorities who ignored a telephone warning to abandon the premises. During the fight for Jerusalem in 1948, Mr. Begin’s band was involved in a battle in the suburban Arab village of Deir Yassin. Two hundred Arabs were killed. Again, he said, a warning to evacuate all non-combatants had been ignored.”

To a modern reader, it is striking that Mr. Begin’s logic on the King David Hotel bombing is indistinguishable from Mr. Netanyahu’s assertions that he bears no responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Gaza, even that of children sleeping in their homes. I would suggest this is not accidental. It is an integral aspect of Likud’s stance, inherited from Begin and Shamir. It permits no introspection on actions deemed necessary to maintain control over the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, which Likud’s platform claims is “eternally and indisputably” a part of Israel . In the article, Mr. Farrell continued:

The Word “terrorist” incenses Mr. Begin and he chided newsmen who used the term when asking him about his experiences in the 1940’s… “Freedom Fighter” is the correct description, he insisted.

Mr. Begin’s actions in resisting the British mandate (which Irgun considered an occupation) were not that different from that of the most violent elements in the Palestinian resistance (including Hamas). Yet we can only imagine the howls of protest if we referred to Hamas activists as “freedom fighters”?

To round out the trinity, Ariel Sharon, another leading light of Likud, led the Israeli army unit responsible for the Qibya massacre in 1953. Most notoriously, it was on his watch that the massacres at Sabra and Shatila occured during the disastrous Lebanon war of 1982.

There are few political factions in this conflict whose hands have not been stained with blood. Few whose founding was not infected by vengeance of some form. We do not have to excuse or accept this, but we do have to recognize it to identify reasoning that smacks of hipocrisy.

We also have to recognize that, like most indigenous people subjected to colonization, the Palestinians have borne the brunt of the suffering in this conflict. Only once we have recognized these facts can we evaluate the actions and statements of Palestinian and Israeli factions.