Sunday, July 29, 2007

The 'right' to discriminate
A new bill in the Knesset seeks to perpetuate discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens.
Richard Silverstein, Cooment is free, Guardian

July 28, 2007

A fixture in the lives of all children who have ever attended Hebrew school is the blue Jewish National Fund (JNF) pushke (or charity box), into which parents and teachers encouraged us to throw our pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. They taught us to perform a mitzvah by giving tzedakah to support the building of the Jewish homeland. Thus, the Jewish National Fund was the Red Cross of Jewish life, a "mom and apple pie" charity doing nothing but good for our people.

How times change! Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed, on first reading, the Jewish National Fund bill which allows the JNF to refuse to lease land to Arab citizens. The JNF is a quasi-public charity established to raise funds to purchase land for Jewish settlement within Israel. In 1961, the Israeli government transferred 13% of Israeli land to the JNF. Included in this were one million dunams expropriated from Arab residents who fled Israel in 1948.

The government had sold the land to the JNF at bargain-basement prices in order to remain at arm's length from the tainted process. Historically, the JNF has maintained a ban against Arab use of its land. But the Israeli supreme court, in a landmark ruling, said that the JNF can no longer discriminate against the Arab population. The Court maintained that such a ban defies the norms of a democratic state and must be ended.

The Knesset bill, co-sponsored by a ruling party Kadima Knesset member, is an attempt to get around the court ruling. While it would allow the JNF to resume discriminating against Arabs, the other 80% of Israeli land administered by the ILA would continue to be governed by the supreme court ruling. On first reading, the bill passed 64-16, with only 10 Jewish MKs voting No. One of those voting Yes was Ami Ayalon, recent candidate for Labour party leader and partner with Sari Nusseibeh in a dialogue seeking Israeli-Palestinian peace.

This bill certainly does make for strange bedfellows. Opposition within the Diaspora has been slow to develop. The only US Jewish group to protest publicly was Ameinu, which wrote a letter to Zeev Elkin, the Kadima bill sponsor. The Union for Reform Judaism is also preparing a letter expressing its opposition. MeretzUSA is circulating an online petition as is a group of Jewish bloggers - including this author, Dan Fleshler (Realistic Dove) and Jerry Haber (Magnes Zionist) - who have created an online campaign against the bill.

The other major Jewish groups like the Anti Defamation League and American Jewish Committee have sat on their hands so far. First, they cannot rock the boat against a fellow American Jewish group (the JNF); second, their rather conservative membership sees little wrong with discrimination in favour of Israeli Jews.

Haaretz excoriated the legislative effort in an editorial, A Racist Jewish State:

This bill reflects an abasement of the Zionist enterprise to lows never imagined in the Declaration of Independence. Even though the Jewish National Fund purchased the lands for the Jewish people in the Diaspora, the State of Israel has already been established and these lands must now serve all its citizens. For those living for tomorrow and not the past, the aim is to create in Israel a healthy, progressive state where the needs of the two peoples should concern the leaders and legislators. The Jewish National Fund's land policy counters the interests of the state and cannot discriminate by law against the minority living in Israel.

Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics heir and national JNF chair released a crowing statement which praised the Knesset for reaffirming the JNF's right to discriminate:

We are gratified that the government of Israel ... recognised that the land purchased by the Jewish people for the Jewish people should remain in the hands of its rightful owners. This Knesset decision reaffirms the vision and the dream of Theodor Herzl and the millions of Jews over the past 106 years who contributed and participated in the rebirth of a Jewish nation after 2,000 years. The land of Israel is part of the very existence of the Jewish people from as far back as Abraham. We are a people linked to our land. Now and forever.

Jerry Haber, a liberal Orthodox Israeli-American blogger, pointed out the bogus nature of this response in a private email to me:

This argument is invalid for two reasons: First, the vast majority of land owned by the Jewish National Fund was not purchased by Jewish individuals but rather was expropriated by the Israel government in the early years of the state from absentee Palestinian owners and transferred to the fund so that the Israel government could not itself be accused of discriminatory land leasing - a legal fiction of dubious morality. Second, no parallel mechanism for the settlement needs of Arab citizens was ever established. On the contrary, as the Or Commission set up after the Israeli Arab protests in 2000 noted, "Arab settlements have been surrounded by security zones, Jewish district councils, national parks, nature reserves, and highways, that prevent or inhibit the possibility of future expansion."

The reason this issue is so complicated is that Israel considers itself the homeland of the Jewish people. As such, it currently discriminates in many ways in favour of its Jewish citizens. But at the same time it considers itself a democracy and includes a sizable minority of Arab citizens. These two elements have always co-existed in a tense relationship. While there undoubtedly remains a high level of prejudice against Israeli Arabs, social developments - which include the High Court ruling - have been very gradually eroding some of the more odious discriminatory regulations.

This legislative attempt to restore to the JNF its right to discriminate in favour of Jews may be seen as a rump effort by the Israeli right to take back its prerogatives and return to the era when Jews predominated and there was never a doubt that Arabs were second-class citizens. Is it too much to expect a majority of the Knesset to see this and put down this attempt to enshrine Jewish dominance into the law of a state otherwise proud to call itself a democracy?

:: Article nr. 34874 sent on 29-jul-2007 01:37 ECT


:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Uruknet .

Labels: ,

Friday, July 27, 2007

Subject: The Forward: Avraham Burg’s New Zionism
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2007 19:03:36 +0000
Avraham Burg’s New Zionism
Editor’s Notebook

J.J. Goldberg | Wed. Jun 13, 2007

Zionism has meant many things to many people over the past century. To Theodor Herzl and the founders of the Zionist movement, it meant creating a national home to gather in the Jewish people — to some minds, as a refuge from antisemitism; for others, as a fulfillment of an ancient promise. To Herzl’s great critic, the essayist Asher Ginsberg, better known as Ahad Ha’am, Zionism meant building a cultural and spiritual center in Israel to enrich the lives of Jews wherever they live.

To David Ben-Gurion and generations of Israelis after him, it meant the act of settling in Israel and building it, brick by brick. To millions of Jews around the world, it meant providing material and moral backing for that effort. To Palestinians and other Arabs, it meant assault and dispossession. To much of the outside world, it has come to mean the seed of seemingly endless conflict.

To Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker, former chairman of the World Zionist Organization and son of one of Israel ’s founding fathers, it is all of those things and more. In a new book, “Defeating Hitler,” and in a much-discussed interview in Ha’aretz last week, Burg argues that the time for Herzl’s Zionism is past. Now it is time for Ahad Ha’am’s Zionism, for Israel as a spiritual beacon.

Israel has lived long enough in the shadow of trauma and fear, he argues. Now is the time for trust — trust in Israel ’s place in the world, in the possibility of coexistence, in the moral legacy of Judaism.

That, at least, is how Burg describes his message. You’d hardly know it, though, from the Ha’aretz interview and the response it’s gotten in Israel and the broader Jewish world. The interviewer, Ari Shavit, read the book and admits he detested it.

As Shavit reads it, Burg’s book rejects the very notion of a Jewish state, claims that Israel has no moral core and has become a brutal Sparta fast sliding toward Nazism. In the interview, Burg tries gamely to answer Shavit’s objections, to explain what he meant, but Shavit won’t have it. Burg is talking spiritual philosophy, and Shavit is tasting red meat.

They go at each other for 4,500 words (2,800 in the abridged English translation), but the casual reader needn’t wade through it all. Shavit and his editors sum up the main points — abandoning Zionism, rejecting Israel — in the headlines and bold print.

“He did something I’ve never experienced before in journalism,” Burg told the Forward in a telephone interview this week. “He read my book and got angry, and then sat with me for what was supposed to be an interview and argued with me.”

Reading the interview, after hearing it discussed endlessly online and in synagogues over the weekend, is an almost psychedelic experience. Shavit starts out by telling Burg that he saw the book as a “farewell to Zionism” and asks, “Are you still a Zionist?” Burg explains his belief that it’s time to move from Herzl to Ahad Ha’am.

Shavit promptly informs Burg that Zionism “means belief in a Jewish national state,” and that he, Burg, no longer believes in that.

Burg: “Not in its current definition. A state in my eyes is a tool,” not a spiritual or religious value. “To define Israel as a Jewish state and then to add the words ‘the first dawning of our redemption’” — a quote from the chief rabbis’ Prayer for the State of Israel, and the core principle of settler messianism — “is explosive. And to add to that the attempt to embrace democracy, it’s just impossible.”

Shavit: “Then you no longer accept the notion of a Jewish state?” Burg: “It can’t work.” (The English version, by the way, skips over Burg’s warning about messianism and the state as a tool, and cuts straight to “explosive” and “can’t work.”)

I phoned Burg because the interview looked fishy to me. I hadn’t read his new book, but I know Burg.

Is it true, I asked, that he believes Israel can no longer be a Jewish state?

“I think Israel should be defined not as a Jewish state, but as a state of the Jewish people,” Burg said. “What I mean is that the significance of the state’s content, its culture and ethos and so on, should be placed on the shoulders of every one of us. We shouldn’t be on automatic pilot.” “I see Israel as a state that was created by the Jewish people, as the expression of thousands of years of yearning,” he said. “Its governing structures should be democratic. Its content should be created by its people. When you create something called a Jewish state and then leave it on automatic pilot, the individual bears no responsibility for its content and character.”

Burg has harsh words for Israel ’s current character. He believes that years of confrontation and fear have spawned a militaristic spirit and a widespread contempt for universal norms like human rights. In one of his most controversial assertions, he compares Israel today to Germany in the years before the Nazi takeover. Shavit hammers him on that one.

Is Shavit exaggerating the point? “Yes and no,” Burg said. “Not every comparison to Germany means gas chambers. There is a long history to the rise of German nationalism, beginning with Bismarck .”

It’s also true, Burg said, that important elements of Israeli society and culture are drawn from German culture. “From the beginning, Max Nordau and Theodor Herzl were deeply influenced by the awakening of German nationalism.”

Still, he said, “It’s important to recognize that there are some difficult processes underway in Israel . What I’m saying is that we’re living in a society that is becoming more militaristic, and it’s important to pay attention to the process. That means looking at similarities elsewhere.”

Burg, 52, is used to raising eyebrows and stirring outrage, and he seems to get a kick out of it. The son of Yosef Burg, the longtime leader of Israel’s National Religious Party, he gained almost instant notoriety in 1982, when he helped lead a soldiers’ protest against the first Lebanon War. He quickly entered politics, serving as an aide to Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, while also hosting an improbably popular weekly biblical-portion show on television.

Elected to the Knesset in 1988, he resigned in 1995 to run for chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel , a post traditionally reserved for washed-up ex-politicians. In 1999, he returned to politics. Riding that year’s Labor Party election victory, he became speaker of the Knesset.

In the fall of 2003, a few months after leaving the speaker’s post, Burg gained international notoriety for an article that was published in Yediot Aharonot, translated by the Forward and then reprinted worldwide, in which he claimed that Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was undermining the moral foundations of Zionism. That was taken, by Israel ’s friends and enemies alike, to mean that Zionism had lost all moral justification — something he never said. Soon afterward, he left politics entirely and entered business.

His latest outing in Ha’aretz seems like a rerun of his 2003 misadventure — especially the part where his provocative thesis is circulated in a slightly garbled version and makes him a bete noire. He claims to be annoyed, but he seems at least a bit amused at the same time.

During the interview with Shavit, he recalled with a chuckle, “I got him angry when I said, ‘You have abandoned Judaism. You have an Israeli identity without Jewish content. You identify Judaism with narrow particularism and settlements. I suggest you go to see places where Judaism is a universalistic ideal. Go and learn the meaning of Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism.’”

“What I want to do is to expand the borders of Israel beyond land and location to include universalism and spiritual search,” Burg told me. “We were raised on the Zionism of Ben-Gurion, that there is only one place for Jews and that’s Israel . I say no, there have always been multiple centers of Jewish life.”

And what about Shavit’s claim — repeated in a headline — that Burg favors abolishing Israel ’s Law of Return?

“I never said ‘abolish’,” Burg replied. “I said ‘rethink.’ Look, in the parliamentary mythology of Israel , the Law of Return is an answer to the Nuremberg Laws. That’s not its actual origin, but that’s how it has come to be seen. Whomever Hitler would have killed, we will accept as a Jew. And I say Hitler will not define me and who I am.” Hence the book’s title, “Defeating Hitler.”

“If a state is Jewish,” Burg said, “it is founded on a certain measure of holiness. Moses himself defined holiness as an ongoing process of actions, of behavior toward others and toward God. I am very afraid of automatic holiness. It can lead to chauvinism, to exclusivism, to all kinds of negative ramifications in relations between individuals and between nations. The Jewish people after 60 years of statehood cannot allow itself to take its holiness for granted. It has to question itself every day.”

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 23, 2007

An Article by my son, Rashid.

More Talking-Back (Part II: Post-Peace Cafe)
July 17th, 2007 · 2 Comments
We move from the religious response to a Palestinian-American response to Pangs. Rashid is an excellent journalist and has been a pillar in our Peace Discussion community for six years. He attended the performances of My Name is Rachel Corrie and 1001, participated and spoke publicly at the Peace Discussion there under the tent, and then came to the Jewish Community Center to see Pangs of the Messiah last Thursday night. Here’s his email which speaks quite eloquently for itself.

Dear Ari,Thank you so much for inviting me to the play and the discussion afterwards. This whole past week was very enjoyable as well as educational. The key point I learned from the Peace Discussion after My Name is Rachel Corrie and with it the criticism that the play doesn’t represent in any way the Israeli point of view in the conflict is that art is not balanced. This lesson served me well as I watched Pangs of the Messiah.

If I had seen the play a month ago I would have complained at least to myself “why don’t we hear from the Palestinians who live in the village just beneath the house on stage?” A village, by the way, that looks very much like my father’s, which is encircled by two settlements. However, thanks to the discussion on Sunday, I focused on the people on the stage and found myself somewhat sympathetic to a few of the characters. And I think this demonstrates the strength of the play and its actors.

Remember, a thousand dunums of the three thousand dunums (a dunum is about a quarter of an acre) that my grandfather worked very hard to buy was grabbed by settlers just like the people in the play. Keep Reading. They built two settlements on that land with beautiful villas, new roads and giant searchlights that deny the night sky to villagers. These same people take pot shots at anyone from the village that venture a half a mile near the settlement, they burn our forests, the very trees which my grandfather planted and they release wild hogs as an insult to the Muslims down below and in the hopes that the hogs will destroy the villagers’ gardens. They tortured and killed my cousin, gauging his eyes out while he was still alive and then dumped his body under his house where his 12-year-old daughter found him the next morning.

So to say the least, it is somewhat amazing that I could feel anything for these people. In the end, I have to say that if there is to be a two state solution to this struggle, those settlements in the heart of the West Bank will have to be removed. Unfortunately, for Israel, the Palestinians and the world we are far from any chance of this occurring and are faced with more years of pain for everyone involved.

As far as the Peace Discussion after the play, I made many new friends, being the only Arab-American in the crowd, and have been asked to speak at a local synagogue. The lady who invited me thought that it was very important that American Jews have contact with rational, articulate Arab Americans (her words not mine) in order to better understand who is on the other side of the issue. I had a run in with one fellow at the Peace Discussion, but I think he would have trouble with his local grocer over the price of watermelons. Sadly he does not know how to take a breath and just listen.

Thank you again for a great evening, please invite me again.


Labels: , ,

Think Tank: Jewish Numbers in Decline
Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2007 17:34:57 +0000
Jul 12, 2007

Think Tank: Jewish Numbers in Decline


Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Jews of the United States and Israel are growing further apart, and the schism is a contributing factor to the declining numbers of Jews outside of Israel , a Jewish think tank concluded in a report released Thursday.

The Conference on the Future of the Jewish People brought together 120 leaders to address issues facing Jews. It cited intermarriage, lack of affordable Jewish education and diminishing Jewish identity in the Diaspora as the leading factors in the decline in Jewish numbers.

According to statistics presented at the conference, the world's Jewish population stands at just over 13 million. The population remains stable thanks to Israel 's natural growth, which offsets the continuing decrease in Jews elsewhere.

Jews today represent only two out of every 1,000 people in the world, compared to a ratio of 3.5 to 1,000 in 1970, 4.7 to 1,000 in 1945, and 7.5 to 1,000 in 1938.

Israel is home to 5.4 million Jews. Last year it became the largest world Jewish community, passing the U.S. with its estimated 5.3 million Jews.

Jewish leaders have long warned that the Diaspora's identity is eroding as more Jews marry non-Jews and blend into the mainstream, a phenomenon known as "assimilation." In contrast, Israel has established its own intense Jewish character.

Participants said the main priority was to quickly bridge that gap, which threatens to divide the Jewish people, creating an Israeli nation out of touch with its heritage and a diminishing Diaspora detached from its biblical land.

Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli Cabinet minister and famed Soviet Jewish dissident, said both sides needed to recognize the strengths of the other.

"In Israel , we need to have more of an understanding of our Jewish history, and in the Diaspora there has to be a greater recognition that Israel is now the center of the Jewish world," he said.

Other participants said the first steps are already in place, with projects like "birthright Israel ," which offers Diaspora Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 who have never been to Israel a free trip to the Holy Land .

"I think we are on the way to stop the bleeding of assimilation," said Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, citing "birthright" as an example. "We don't have that much time, but we have begun."

President-elect Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers, academics and Diaspora leaders addressed the conference.

The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which organized the conference, was established in 2002 by the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency as a think tank for the future of the Jewish people. This was its first major conference.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Subject: Le Monde: Palestine wrecked
Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2007 14:44:43 +0000
Le Monde Diplomatique

Behind the Fatah-Hamas confrontation
Palestine wrecked

The United States and Europe have unblocked aid to the Palestinian Authority after the eviction of Hamas. But since the Oslo peace process ground to a halt, the key question remains. Is Israel prepared to withdraw from the territory it occupied in 1967 and allow the creation of an independent Palestinian state? There seems little ground for optimism.

By Alain Gresh

The international community has decided in a rare display of unity that it must save President Mahmoud Abbas. It has offered to resume aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), relieve the suffering of civilians and reopen talks to strengthen the position of moderate Palestinians. Even the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, suddenly thinks Abbas might be a partner for peace. After ignoring years of reports on the bad situation in Gaza and the West Bank from organisations as diverse as the World Bank, Amnesty International and the World Health Organisation, have the United States and the European Union finally woken up?

It has taken an overwhelming victory by Hamas in Gaza to end the torpor. The US and Israel have not stinted their provision of military assistance to Fatah, authorising the import of weapons for the presidential guard and security forces (1). But to no avail. The flight of most of Fatah’s military leaders – Muhammad Dahlan, Rashid Abu Shabak and Samir Masharawi – who took refuge in the West Bank or Egypt rather than stand by their troops, is only one factor in the shattering defeat. Another is Fatah’s inability to reform itself, give up its status as the party of state in a non-existent state, and become a conventional political force. Nepotism, corruption and clan loyalties still blight the organisation founded by Yasser Arafat.

But the ferocity of the fighting between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza also reflects the unravelling of Palestinian society, exacerbated by 15 months of international boycott. There were summary executions, vengeance and pillaging, and each side accused the other of being in the pay of foreign forces. On 12 January, at a meeting in Gaza with Dahlan, the crowd condemned Hamas as Shia puppets (2). Hamas responded by accusing Fatah of being Israeli or US agents or kafirs (infidels). The Israeli journalist Amira Hass noted: “Both camps are turning all civilians into hostages, and sentencing them to death in their street fights, sacrificing the struggle for Palestinian liberation on the altar of their rivalry” (3). Palestine is paying a high price for bringing combat, with its cult of violence and male chauvinism, back into the political arena.

In an email on 12 June the Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad Sarraj wrote: “There is so much hatred and tribal calling for revenge. It is not just a political militaristic power struggle… We all have been defeated by Israel and that feeling of humiliation is now venting out against smaller enemies within ourselves. Israel has further brutalised us through torture and oppression and has caused so much pain and trauma that now, as before, is showing the ugly face of toxic and chronic violence.”

Children of the intifada
The Israeli journalist Gideon Levy described the legacy of 40 years of occupation: “These violent young men, whom we saw killing each other so cruelly, are the children of the winter of 1987, the children of the first intifada. Most of them have never been outside of the Gaza Strip. They saw their older brothers beaten and injured, their parents imprisoned in their homes, without jobs or hope, for years. Their whole lives have been lived in the shadow of Israeli violence (4).”

Is there any way to halt the wreck of Palestine ? It would help if, just for once, US and EU statements were followed by action and the international community imposed the creation of a Palestinian state. In June 2002 even President George Bush agreed to peace founded on two states living side by side. But nothing has been done since.

In 2003-04 the Israeli government repeatedly claimed that the only obstacle to peace was Arafat. They besieged the leader, forcing him to retreat into a small office space in his Muqata headquarters in Ramallah. Ariel Sharon accused Arafat of being “our Bin Laden”. The international community said nothing.

When Arafat died in November 2004 Abbas took over as the head of the Palestinian Authority. This most moderate of the Palestine Liberation Organisation leaders was determined to restart the peace process, but his attempts to create an opening went unnoticed. More settlements were built on the West Bank , and so was the separation wall. Checkpoints turned a short journey between two villages into an ordeal. The scene was set for a Hamas victory in the general election in January 2006.

Hamas won over voters by stressing its participation in resistance against occupation; its welfare network; and the unfailing loyalty of its officers. But Palestinians did not vote for the Islamists because they were against the idea of peace with Israel , or because they wanted suicide bombers. All opinion polls agree that a majority of Palestinians wanted a solution founded on two states. Even Hamas got the message. Its election manifesto was different from its charter, which (like the PLO equivalent in the 1960s) advocated the destruction of the state of Israel . Several Hamas leaders confirmed that, under certain conditions, the movement was prepared to accept the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

Immediately after the election the US and Israel took measures, approved by Europe and assisted by a faction of Fatah, to thwart the outcome of the poll. Hamas wanted to form a government of national unity but US pressure prevented any such agreement. Economic sanctions punished the Palestinians for voting the wrong way. But all this had no impact on Hamas’s financial and military capability, as the fighting in Gaza has demonstrated. It worsened poverty in Palestine and speeded the disintegration of its institutions.

The lessons of Iraq
The international community has forgotten the lessons of Iraq . A dozen years of sanctions against the regime of Saddam Hussein had no effect on its stability or the standard of living of its leaders but penalised ordinary people and sapped the state: officials abandoned their offices to earn a living, basic services stopped and tribal solidarity replaced the welfare state. When US forces invaded Iraq in March 2003 the state collapsed. There is no such thing as a Palestinian state, but the international boycott destroyed organisations that the PA had struggled to establish since 1993.

There was a way out of this deadlock in February when Hamas and Fatah signed the Mecca agreement brokered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia . On 12 February, in an interview with the Saudi television channel Al-Ikhbariyya, Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, explained: “This is not the programme of a particular group. Each faction has its convictions, but as a government of national unity we have reached agreement on a political platform, which defines our national aims and our aspiration towards a Palestinian state within the June 1967 borders.”

This statement, with many others, confirmed a shift in Hamas’s position (5), which could be tested by the international community. Its flexible stance was backed by renewed support for an Arab peace initiative offering to restore normal relations with Israel in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state (6).

Robert Malley, the head of the International Crisis Group’s Middle East programme and former adviser to Bill Clinton, wrote: “The success of the Mecca agreement will depend largely on the international response. Some commentators, while hypocritically hailing the efforts of the Saudi regime, are already demanding that the future government comply with previously imposed conditions. We hardly expected anything better from the Bush administration. But from Europe ? Has it learned nothing from this collective failure? An agreement was reached in Saudi Arabia because there was no injunction on Hamas suddenly to change its ideology, which it will not do, but rather an encouragement to evolve pragmatically, which it might do. Hamas’s record is such that it deserves to be put to the test: is it prepared to accept and impose a reciprocal ceasefire? Is it prepared to give a free rein to President Abbas, duly mandated as the leader of the PLO, to negotiate with Israel ? Does it agree to a referendum being held on any agreement Abbas may reach? And will it undertake to respect the result (7)?”

Oblivious to such warnings the international community blundered into a dead end. It maintained sanctions that only strengthened the most radical elements of Hamas and watched, unmoved, as Palestinian society disintegrated. The outgoing UN Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto , condemned this behaviour in a confidential report (8). The West treats Israel , with great consideration, almost tenderness. The Quartet (9) has become “a body that was all but imposing sanctions on a freely elected government of a people under occupation as well as setting unattainable preconditions for dialogue”. It has not put any pressure on the Israeli government over settlements and the separation wall.

When an Israeli soldier was taken hostage in June 2006 the international community hardly noticed Israeli reprisals, including the destruction of a power station and civilian buildings and a military offensive that killed hundreds. When Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border last July western powers sat back for 33 days while Israeli forces damaged Lebanon and its infrastructure. These, we are told, are examples of Israel ’s legitimate right to defend itself. Meanwhile the steady spread of settlements makes the creation of a Palestinian state improbable.

This chaos cannot guarantee safety for Israelis. The war in Lebanon last summer showed that they are vulnerable to well-armed, determined guerrillas. Rockets still fall on Sderot and the army’s inability to stop them is a serious setback, as Ze’ev Schiff, the (recently deceased) Haaretz military correspondent, acknowledged just before Hamas took control of Gaza . “ Israel has in effect been defeated. Israel is experiencing something in Sderot that it has not experienced since the war of independence, if ever: the enemy has silenced an entire city and brought normal life there to a halt” (10). Recent events at Nahr al-Barid and other refugee camps in Lebanon, or in Gaza, where radical units linked to al-Qaida have taken root, should remind everyone that the wreck of Palestine will lead to uncontrolled radicalisation, a disaster for Israel and all the Middle East.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 06, 2007

Subject: Al Ahram: Lost opportunity of relevance Date: Fri, 06 Jul 2007 15:11:57 +0000
Lost opportunity of relevance
The left wing in Palestine has proven historically impotent amid the Fatah-Hamas crisis, which could have been avoided, Ramzy Baroud* opines


The entire Arab world has become a scholar of law and an expert in constitutions. It has grown concerned with legality, observed regulations, and historical traditions, both those written and those not. I had thought that this trend applied only to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in whose context Arabs always throw out that valid phrase about the necessity of applying the resolutions stemming from the "legitimacy" of the international community. The world has always marvelled at how the Arabs possess this ability in the international arena but lack it in the establishment of states based on the rule of law.

Yet that age of lacking legitimacy and law has ended. Now you can look to Lebanon and find fierce competition between the 14 March group known as being "the majority" and for its loyalty, and the 8 March group, stigmatised as being a minority and in opposition. There you will find unique abilities in quarrelling and the holding of legal debates over the Lebanese constitution and the powers of the president of the republic, the prime minister, and the speaker of the House of Representatives. All of this takes place while the Lebanese state is paralysed at the level of the presidency, the cabinet, the parliament, and all other institutions, to the point that they function only enough to keep things from collapsing. The Lebanese people, meanwhile, pray night and day that civil war will not break out under their feet and the days will not roll back to their evil past when murder was committed on the basis of identity, religion and name, when any reason could send people to their death, becoming martyrs within their communities.

If you don't much care for Lebanese legal debates, you can always move on to the Palestinian arena, where the number of legal experts exceeds all global averages. As for constitutional scholars and those working in political science (focussing on politics both legitimate and otherwise), their numbers block out the sun. If talk had worth, Palestine would immediately be liberated under an effusive flood of legal rulings that would explain and clarify that missing or vague in constitutional articles and legal texts. Wherever you turned next, east or west, you would find a journalism of interpretation with an outstanding ability and acrobatic talent in transforming military coups into first class constitutional, legal, and legitimate situations. This would be true even if they had broken an agreement, fragmented a country, or turned a nation that had not yet gained independence upside down.

Wherever you go in the Arab world, you'll find the same cry. Even when the logic appears pieced together, lies seem believable thanks to their reinforcement through repetition. Look at the case of the Hamas overthrow of Palestinian legitimacy when the judge, with a boldness to be envied, looked into the extent that the measures taken by the Palestinian Authority were legal and constitutional, but not into the crime of those who imposed change with armed force. Writing placed all the actions of the Palestinian Authority under the guillotine of the law and its texts, while not a word was said about the extent to which Hamas's behaviour, Ismail Haniyeh's statements, or the actions of Khaled Meshaal, who was directing the crisis from Damascus, were in keeping with the law. It was as though all Palestinian factions were beyond judgement, and only one group was out of line.

During all of this, the Arabs forgot the crux of the issue, that the concept of "legitimacy" is essentially a political one that means public acceptance of a political authority and its ability to enforce the laws and constitutions that regulate the people's lives. It is a concept that is only applied to a political unit of some kind that is distinguished by serving as the sole authority and having the right to a legal "monopoly" over the use of armed force. In Arab contexts, this used to be the basis for the existence of the state, whether a monarchy or republic, democratic or despotic, socialist or capitalist, wealthy or impoverished. Yet recent years have seen an overstepping of this golden rule. The existence of parallel armed authorities is no longer seen as counter to legitimacy. Rather, being armed is seen by some as a source of legitimacy in itself. Under the name of the "arms of resistance", it has become the right of armed groups to impose upon society their will and vision for the struggle and for politics. This took place in Lebanon in the name of resisting Israel, and the same thing has happened in Palestine, Iraq, Somalia and wherever chaos and the rule of the jungle reign.

Yet "legitimacy" is not the only political concept left hanging. There is no legitimacy as long as a state is incapable of "penetration", meaning that it can reach, through influence or control, all of its regions. If a state cannot reach all of its regions, or if an armed group retains a region, as Hizbullah did in South Lebanon or southern Beirut, then legitimacy is lacking. What Hamas did in Gaza was to sequester a region and remove it from the reach of the political entity through armed force. After the sovereign authority was incapable of accessing it, the entire entity collapsed. This situation did not occur only after Hamas attacked Palestinian security leaders (which were legitimate to it before the attack), but rather when Hamas's armed units took control of the Palestinian street via an executive power parallel to the original authority. This, of course, is in addition to the Al-Qassam Brigades, which are another force outside the parameters of legitimacy.

There is a close tie between the concepts of "penetration" and "mobilisation", for the authority is not "legitimate" as long as it is unable to mobilise all of its region's resources through the levying of taxes or other means. In many Arab contexts, and particularly in Lebanon where there is Hizbullah and in Palestine where there is Hamas and its representative organisations, other entities remain outside the circle of mobilisation. They have their own private resources that remain beyond the reach of the political entity, and which may not even know about them. These resources do not have any kind of public circulation or transparency, even if their organisations never stop talking about corruption.

Furthermore, legitimacy is not obtained unless there is a shared identity among a group of people that motivates them to form a state or political entity. The concept of identity is the basis of the entire issue, as it provides for the right of self-determination and is thus the natural forerunner to a state that is legitimate and has a political authority. In the Palestinian case, in particular, the Palestine Liberation Organisation was founded on the basis of an identity specific to the Palestinians that distinguished them from the Israelis who plundered their land and also from other Arabs and Muslims. If it were not for this identity-based distinction, Palestine would have become an extension of other states in the region. When the Hamas movement and its peer Islamic Jihad groups came to the Palestinian arena, they halted at considering the Palestinian tie as essential to the political entity, stressing rather the connection of the Islamic nation as an alternative. Palestinian identity was no longer a basis for legitimacy, having been replaced by the extent to which the Palestinian political movements expressed an Islamic identity.

And thus talk of "legitimacy" in the Arab world is corrupt from the start. There is no legitimacy without penetration, mobilisation, and identity. In the Lebanese and Palestinian cases, where the political entity has been destroyed in the name of the resistance, such talk is approaching various forms of black comedy and terrifying nightmares.

* The writer is director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Al-Ahram Weekly Online : Located at:

See what you’re getting into…before you go there


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Subject: AP: Bush Cites Israel As Model for Iraq
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2007 14:12:48 +0000

Associated Press
Bush Cites Israel As Model for Iraq
By JENNIFER LOVEN 06.28.07, 6:25 PM ET

President Bush held up Israel as a model for defining success in Iraq, saying Thursday the U.S. goal there is not to eliminate attacks but to enable a democracy that can function despite violence.

With his Iraq policy under increasing criticism from the public and lawmakers in both parties, Bush went to the U.S. Naval War College to declare progress and plead for patience. At the same time, his top national security went to Capitol Hill to hear out Republican critics.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said this week U.S. troops should start leaving now because Bush's strategy will not have time to work.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley met with Lugar, GOP Sen. John Warner of Virginia and others. Warner said a defense policy bill expected to attract several war-related amendments in July was a main topic.

The White House thought it had until an expected September assessment by military commanders before facing a showdown on the unpopular war.

But a majority of senators now believes troops should start coming home in the next few months. House Republicans want to revive the independent Iraq Study Group to get new options.

Bush sought in his speech to put the brakes on these efforts.

He characterized the fight in Iraq, where tensions between Shiite and Sunni factions have kept the country in a cycle of violence, as primarily against al-Qaida forces and their use of grisly suicide attacks and car bombings.

"They understand that sensational images are the best way to overwhelm the quiet progress on the ground," Bush said.

The president laid out in some of his plainest terms yet how to determine when the U.S. presence in Iraq has achieved its goals. This, Bush said, is "the rise of a government that can protect its people, deliver basic services for all its citizens and function as a democracy even amid violence."

"Our success in Iraq must not be measured by the enemy's ability to get a car bombing in the evening news," he said. "No matter how good the security, terrorists will always be able to explode a bomb on a crowded street."

He suggested Israel, the frequent target of terrorist attacks and a country in a decades-long, intractable and often violent dispute with Palestinians, as a standard to strive for.

"In places like Israel, terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks," Bush said. "The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it's not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that's a good indicator of success that we're looking for in Iraq."

It was likely to be controversial - and possibly even explosive - for Bush to set out Israel as a model for a Muslim Middle Eastern nation.

Aside from Israel's security problems, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is such a sensitive issue in the Muslim world that it has become a rallying cry for many and major recruiting tool for Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaida.

The president ordered 21,500 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq in January. With those troops finally all deployed, Bush ticked through the details of operations in several areas, declaring with the aid of maps and charts on screens that flanked him that progress already is being made in many places.

He said sectarian murders, after spiking in May, are now down substantially from January levels. Car bombings and suicide attacks continue, but declined in May and June. He cited "astonishing signs of normalcy" such as soccer matches and crowded markets.

"Even as our troops are showing some success in cornering and trapping al-Qaida, they face a lot of challenges," Bush said.

The president asked lawmakers and the public to give more of a chance to his effort to create breathing room for Iraqi leaders to achieve political reconciliation.

"It's a well-conceived plan by smart military people," he said. "And we owe them the time, and we own them the support they need to succeed."

Afterward, Bush took a few questions. A woman asked "with all due respect" how much the president listens to military officers when making decisions about the war. "A lot," he replied.

Outside, about 150 anti-war protesters held signs saying "Shame," "Impeach," and "War is never the answer." It was Bush's first presidential visit to Rhode Island, a heavily Democratic state where opinion polls show he is unpopular.

The president spent about two hours later meeting privately with families of soldiers killed in Iraq. He then traveled to his family's summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he is spending the weekend and meeting on Sunday and Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Senate, meanwhile, confirmed Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute on Thursday to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the White House.

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

Make every IM count. Download Messenger and join the i’m Initiative now. It’s free.


Subject: Chris Hedges: A Declaration of Independence from Israel
Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2007 16:45:55 +0000

Published on Monday, July 2, 2007 by

A Declaration of Independence from Israel

by Chris Hedges

Israel , without the United States , would probably not exist. The country came perilously close to extinction during the October 1973 war when Egypt , trained and backed by the Soviet Union, crossed the Suez and the Syrians poured in over the Golan Heights . Huge American military transport planes came to the rescue. They began landing every half-hour to refit the battered Israeli army, which had lost most of its heavy armor. By the time the war was over, the United States had given Israel $2.2 billion in emergency military aid.

The intervention, which enraged the Arab world, triggered the OPEC oil embargo that for a time wreaked havoc on Western economies. This was perhaps the most dramatic example of the sustained life-support system the United States has provided to the Jewish state.

Israel was born at midnight May 14, 1948. The U.S. recognized the new state 11 minutes later. The two countries have been locked in a deadly embrace ever since.

Washington , at the beginning of the relationship, was able to be a moderating influence. An incensed President Eisenhower demanded and got Israel’s withdrawal after the Israelis occupied Gaza in 1956. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli warplanes bombed the USS Liberty. The ship, flying the U.S. flag and stationed 15 miles off the Israeli coast, was intercepting tactical and strategic communications from both sides. The Israeli strikes killed 34 U.S. sailors and wounded 171. The deliberate attack froze, for a while, Washington’s enthusiasm for Israel . But ruptures like this one proved to be only bumps, soon smoothed out by an increasingly sophisticated and well-financed Israel lobby that set out to merge Israel and American foreign policy in the Middle East .

Israel has reaped tremendous rewards from this alliance. It has been given more than $140 billion in U.S. direct economic and military assistance. It receives about $3 billion in direct assistance annually, roughly one-fifth of the U.S. foreign aid budget. Although most American foreign aid packages stipulate that related military purchases have to be made in the United States , Israel is allowed to use about 25 percent of the money to subsidize its own growing and profitable defense industry. It is exempt, unlike other nations, from accounting for how it spends the aid money. And funds are routinely siphoned off to build new Jewish settlements, bolster the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories and construct the security barrier, which costs an estimated $1 million a mile.

The barrier weaves its way through the West Bank , creating isolated pockets of impoverished Palestinians in ringed ghettos. By the time the barrier is finished it will probably in effect seize up to 40 percent of Palestinian land. This is the largest land grab by Israel since the 1967 war. And although the United States officially opposes settlement expansion and the barrier, it also funds them.

The U.S. has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems and given Israel access to some of the most sophisticated items in its own military arsenal, including Blackhawk attack helicopters and F-16 fighter jets. The United States also gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its NATO allies. And when Israel refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the United States stood by without a word of protest as the Israelis built the region’s first nuclear weapons program.

U.S. foreign policy, especially under the current Bush administration, has become little more than an extension of Israeli foreign policy. The United States since 1982 has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel , more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It refuses to enforce the Security Council resolutions it claims to support. These resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

There is now volcanic anger and revulsion by Arabs at this blatant favoritism. Few in the Middle East see any distinction between Israeli and American policies, nor should they. And when the Islamic radicals speak of U.S. support of Israel as a prime reason for their hatred of the United States , we should listen. The consequences of this one-sided relationship are being played out in the disastrous war in Iraq , growing tension with Iran , and the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza . It is being played out in Lebanon , where Hezbollah is gearing up for another war with Israel , one most Middle East analysts say is inevitable. The U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is unraveling. And it is doing so because of this special relationship. The eruption of a regional conflict would usher in a nightmare of catastrophic proportions.

There were many in the American foreign policy establishment and State Department who saw this situation coming. The decision to throw our lot in with Israel in the Middle East was not initially a popular one with an array of foreign policy experts, including President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, Gen. George Marshall. They warned there would be a backlash. They knew the cost the United States would pay in the oil-rich region for this decision, which they feared would be one of the greatest strategic blunders of the postwar era. And they were right. The decision has jeopardized American and Israeli security and created the kindling for a regional conflagration.

The alliance, which makes no sense in geopolitical terms, does makes sense when seen through the lens of domestic politics. The Israel lobby has become a potent force in the American political system. No major candidate, Democrat or Republican, dares to challenge it. The lobby successfully purged the State Department of Arab experts who challenged the notion that Israeli and American interests were identical. Backers of Israel have doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to support U.S. political candidates deemed favorable to Israel . They have brutally punished those who strayed, including the first President Bush, who they said was not vigorous enough in his defense of Israeli interests. This was a lesson the next Bush White House did not forget. George W. Bush did not want to be a one-term president like his father.

Israel advocated removing Saddam Hussein from power and currently advocates striking Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Direct Israeli involvement in American military operations in the Middle East is impossible. It would reignite a war between Arab states and Israel . The United States , which during the Cold War avoided direct military involvement in the region, now does the direct bidding of Israel while Israel watches from the sidelines. During the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was a spectator, just as it is in the war with Iraq .

President Bush, facing dwindling support for the war in Iraq , publicly holds Israel up as a model for what he would like Iraq to become. Imagine how this idea plays out on the Arab street, which views Israel as the Algerians viewed the French colonizers during the war of liberation.

“In Israel ,” Bush said recently, “terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks. The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it’s not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that’s a good indicator of success that we’re looking for in Iraq.”

Americans are increasingly isolated and reviled in the world. They remain blissfully ignorant of their own culpability for this isolation. U.S. “spin” paints the rest of the world as unreasonable, but Israel , Americans are assured, will always be on our side.

Israel is reaping economic as well as political rewards from its lock-down apartheid state. In the “gated community” market it has begun to sell systems and techniques that allow the nation to cope with terrorism. Israel , in 2006, exported $3.4 billion in defense products—well over a billion dollars more than it received in American military aid. Israel has grown into the fourth largest arms dealer in the world. Most of this growth has come in the so-called homeland security sector.

“The key products and services,” as Naomi Klein wrote in The Nation, “are hi-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems—precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock in the occupied territories. And that is why the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region doesn’t threaten the bottom line in Tel Aviv, and may actually boost it. Israel has learned to turn endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting, occupation and containment of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the ‘global war on terror.’ ”

The United States , at least officially, does not support the occupation and calls for a viable Palestinian state. It is a global player, with interests that stretch well beyond the boundaries of the Middle East , and the equation that Israel’s enemies are our enemies is not that simple.

“Terrorism is not a single adversary,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote in The London Review of Books, “but a tactic employed by a wide array of political groups. The terrorist organizations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States , except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or ‘the West’; it is largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonize the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel , not the other way around.”

Middle Eastern policy is shaped in the United States by those with very close ties to the Israel lobby. Those who attempt to counter the virulent Israeli position, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, are ruthlessly slapped down. This alliance was true also during the Clinton administration, with its array of Israeli-first Middle East experts, including special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, the former deputy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, one of the most powerful Israel lobbying groups in Washington. But at least people like Indyk and Ross are sane, willing to consider a Palestinian state, however unviable, as long as it is palatable to Israel . The Bush administration turned to the far-right wing of the Israel lobby, those who have not a shred of compassion for the Palestinians or a word of criticism for Israel . These new Middle East experts include Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, the disgraced I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and David Wurmser.

Washington was once willing to stay Israel’s hand. It intervened to thwart some of its most extreme violations of human rights. This administration, however, has signed on for every disastrous Israeli blunder, from building the security barrier in the West Bank, to sealing off Gaza and triggering a humanitarian crisis, to the ruinous invasion and saturation bombing of Lebanon .

The few tepid attempts by the Bush White House to criticize Israeli actions have all ended in hasty and humiliating retreats in the face of Israeli pressure. When the Israel Defense Forces in April 2002 reoccupied the West Bank, President Bush called on then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to “halt the incursions and begin withdrawal.” It never happened. After a week of heavy pressure from the Israel lobby and Israel’s allies in Congress, meaning just about everyone in Congress, the president gave up, calling Sharon “a man of peace.” It was a humiliating moment for the United Sates, a clear sign of who pulled the strings.

There were several reasons for the war in Iraq . The desire for American control of oil, the belief that Washington could build puppet states in the region, and a real, if misplaced, fear of Saddam Hussein played a part in the current disaster. But it was also strongly shaped by the notion that what is good for Israel is good for the United States . Israel wanted Iraq neutralized. Israeli intelligence, in the lead-up to the war, gave faulty information to the U.S. about Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And when Baghdad was taken in April 2003, the Israeli government immediately began to push for an attack on Syria . The lust for this attack has waned, in no small part because the Americans don’t have enough troops to hang on in Iraq , much less launch a new occupation.

Israel is currently lobbying the United States to launch aerial strikes on Iran , despite the debacle in Lebanon . Israel’s iron determination to forcibly prevent a nuclear Iran makes it probable that before the end of the Bush administration an attack on Iran will take place. The efforts to halt nuclear development through diplomatic means have failed. It does not matter that Iran poses no threat to the United States . It does not matter that it does not even pose a threat to Israel , which has several hundred nuclear weapons in its arsenal. It matters only that Israel demands total military domination of the Middle East .

The alliance between Israel and the United States has culminated after 50 years in direct U.S. military involvement in the Middle East . This involvement, which is not furthering American interests, is unleashing a geopolitical nightmare. American soldiers and Marines are dying in droves in a useless war. The impotence of the United States in the face of Israeli pressure is complete. The White House and the Congress have become, for perhaps the first time, a direct extension of Israeli interests. There is no longer any debate within the United States . This is evidenced by the obsequious nods to Israel by all the current presidential candidates with the exception of Dennis Kucinich. The political cost for those who challenge Israel is too high.

This means there will be no peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It means the incidents of Islamic terrorism against the U.S. and Israel will grow. It means that American power and prestige are on a steep, irreversible decline. And I fear it also means the ultimate end of the Jewish experiment in the Middle East .

The weakening of the United States , economically and militarily, is giving rise to new centers of power. The U.S. economy, mismanaged and drained by the Iraq war, is increasingly dependent on Chinese trade imports and on Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury securities. China holds dollar reserves worth $825 billion. If Beijing decides to abandon the U.S. bond market, even in part, it would cause a free fall by the dollar. It would lead to the collapse of the $7-trillion U.S. real estate market. There would be a wave of U.S. bank failures and huge unemployment. The growing dependence on China has been accompanied by aggressive work by the Chinese to build alliances with many of the world’s major exporters of oil, such as Iran , Nigeria , Sudan and Venezuela . The Chinese are preparing for the looming worldwide clash over dwindling resources.

The future is ominous. Not only do Israel’s foreign policy objectives not coincide with American interests, they actively hurt them. The growing belligerence in the Middle East, the calls for an attack against Iran, the collapse of the imperial project in Iraq have all given an opening, where there was none before, to America’s rivals. It is not in Israel’s interests to ignite a regional conflict. It is not in ours. But those who have their hands on the wheel seem determined, in the name of freedom and democracy, to keep the American ship of state headed at breakneck speed into the cliffs before us.

Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”

Local listings, incredible imagery, and driving directions - all in one place!

Labels: ,

Subject: LA Times: Quest for a Palestinian museum
Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2007 18:05:48 +0000,1,5997459.story

From the Los Angeles Times


Quest for a Palestinian museum

An idealistic lawyer hopes art can help forge a new identity for his people, to show the humanity overshadowed by terrorism.

By Michael Z. Wise
Special to The Times

July 1, 2007

Jerusalem — A muezzin calls to prayer from a nearby mosque as Mazen Qupty fills goblets with Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon, pops a disc of oud music into the stereo and starts to lay out his plan for the brilliantly colored paintings that fill his East Jerusalem home.

Creating a national art museum for an as-yet-nonexistent country is an ambitious if not quixotic goal. But that's what Qupty hopes to do with his growing trove of Palestinian paintings — the largest collection of its kind. The prosperous, silver-haired lawyer is also intent on emphasizing secular values at a time when the radical Islamist Hamas has gained the loyalty of many Palestinians.

"We want to show visitors and the media all over the world that we have a long heritage that goes back at least 100 years," he explains between bites of hors d'oeuvres served by his wife, Yvette, stylishly dressed in capri pants and high-heeled mules. The couple own 170 Palestinian artworks by some 50 artists from the 1920s through the present. Already Qupty has founded a nonprofit gallery with temporary exhibits and workshops in East Jerusalem and has helped create a Palestinian art academy in the West Bank city of Ramallah with European government backing.

Although Qupty and his wife have a keen aesthetic sense — they favor a diverse range of canvases created by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza , within the current boundaries of Israel and in exile around the world — he also has a clear political agenda. Qupty aims to use art to help forge a new identity for a people he fears are primarily regarded as terrorists. "In the last few years, Palestinians have been shown in the media as suicide bombers. We want to show the Palestinians have a human face through art."

Talk of creating a national art museum might sound beside the point in view of the recent open warfare between Hamas and its rival faction Fatah. Official Palestinian support for cultural initiatives fell into a deep freeze following the international embargo on aid to the transitional Palestinian Authority in response to Hamas' 2006 electoral triumph and its avowed threats to destroy Israel .

Yet operating privately, Qupty has signed a letter of intent with the National Museum of Norway to provide curatorial and other technical assistance for setting up a full-fledged museum. The British Council, the governments of Spain and France , and the U.N. Development Program are also providing support for his 2-year-old gallery, which is intended as a forerunner to the museum and counts among its trustees the esteemed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and the billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri.

"Mazen and Yvette Qupty are making a major contribution to the dissemination of Palestinian art," says Hebrew University art historian Gannit Ankori, whose book on Palestinian art was published last year. In her view, their collection is particularly noteworthy since it includes works created before Israeli independence in 1948, giving evidence that a Palestinian art scene flourished before that year, a date Palestinians call the Nakba, or "catastrophe," referring to their dispersion and exile.

Other liberal Israelis also have welcomed Qupty's plans for a museum. "This will give the Palestinians a sense of pride," says Dov Alfon, director of the Israeli publishing house Kinneret Zmora Dvir, who hosts a popular TV program on cultural affairs. "Entire families would visit a Palestinian museum. It is a huge step for the Palestinians to think about art outside of their religious dogma."

'The beauty, the humanity'

FEW of Qupty's works themselves are overtly political, he notes, getting up from a rose velvet-covered chair to approach one that is — a wall hanging crafted by Nabil Anani in 1995 after the first intifada uprising against Israeli rule. Joining in a Palestinian boycott of Israeli products, the artist forswore his customary Israeli-made oil paints to make a mixed-media work of wood, leather and henna depicting a woman who carries on her head a bowl topped by the Arabic word for Palestine. The letters were cut out of the lower part of her body — as if torn from her heart.

The less hard-hitting works in the collection are of higher caliber, such as a geometric abstraction by Ibrahim Nubani, an Israeli Arab accorded a retrospective at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2004. Others contain nostalgically rendered olive fields, orange groves and traditional garb. "These are the orange fields that we lost in Jaffa ," Qupty says of a large canvas by Sliman Mansour. Sensuality trumps politics altogether in a nearby phantasmagoric painting by Hani Zurob, a rare contemporary Palestinian nude.

Coming to a haunting painting by Asad Azi of an old Arab man riding a donkey within a minimalist field of pale yellow, Qupty urges a closer look to discern the underlay of Hebrew lettering and military boots that appear to seep through the buttery background. Azi, the collector explains, is a Druze whose father was killed in service of the Israeli army, and the painting bears witness to multiple layers of the artist's experience and identity.

Qupty exhibits cosmopolitan flair derived from his own experience navigating divergent worlds. Born in the Israeli Arab city of Nazareth , he is a Christian who holds Israeli citizenship and studied political science at Hebrew University before earning a law degree at Tel Aviv University . He next worked in an Israeli law firm. In the 1980s, he helped teach a course at Harvard Law School on legal relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

Ironically, several of the artists in Qupty's collection were trained in Israeli art schools that arose in part from a desire to reinforce the collective identity of a Jewish homeland. Well before Israel became an independent nation, Zionist leaders sought to create Jewish art centers in Palestine . The most notable institution, the Bezalel Academy , founded in Jerusalem , celebrated its centenary last year. Israel 's own national art collection, housed in the Israel Museum 's 20-acre campus in west Jerusalem , grew out of a nucleus of works that were once part of Bezalel.

Qupty's collection had a more personal genesis. Pointing to his first acquisition, a whimsical painting of children playing by Taysir Barakat, which he bought in 1986, he says, "We did not have enough money to pay for it, so we paid the artist in three installments." Now that Qupty, 52, has his own thriving practice, he leads a lonely pack of private collectors of Palestinian artworks among Arabs in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza . "Very few people know about Palestinian art, so it's a hard target to educate the new generation. When you see these works on the walls of my house, you see the beauty, the humanity of the Palestinians. This is proof that we are humans."

The brush instead of the gun

IN the 1970s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization sought to give itself a human face through art at a time when PLO factions were hijacking airliners and attacking Israeli targets. The PLO's information department put together an art collection in Beirut , including works by celebrated foreign artists supporting the Palestinian cause such as Joan Miró, Edouardo Chillida and Antonio Tapies. But according to French-based Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata, the ensemble was dispersed and partly destroyed in Lebanon 's civil war more than two decades ago.

More recently, the Palestinian Authority began work to establish an art museum after the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo peace accord in 1993. This came to an abrupt halt, however, with the second intifada against Israeli rule in 2000, says East Jerusalem curator Jack Persekian, who took part in the museum effort.

Persekian now runs the Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem 's Old City . Funded by the Ford Foundation, the European Commission and the Open Society Foundation, it maintains an artist-in-residency program and has its own collection of works by artists, including Mona Hatoum and Emily Jacir. The disputed city has a diverse array of other galleries, but none regularly showcase Palestinian artists.

Qupty shares Persekian's belief in culture as a key tool in shaping national identity, while conceding that fine art is but one medium vying for the attention of today's Palestinian youth. "We're trying to compete," he replies wearily when asked about recent children's broadcasts on Palestinian television featuring a Mickey Mouse-like character espousing jihad and lauding suicide bombers. "We cannot change the society. We can influence some of the people to see things differently."

To this end, a dozen students were selected in April for the inaugural class of the new International Academy of Art Palestine in Ramallah, whose board Qupty chairs. The Norwegian government, which helped negotiate the now-failed Oslo agreement, is providing $1.3 million. "In a few years, there will be young, talented artists, and we need to create a market with galleries and a museum to preserve their collective memory," says Henrik Placht, project manager for the academy.

Although the Hamas-led Palestinian Education Ministry recently caused an uproar by removing an anthology of folk tales from school libraries because they were deemed to contain sexual innuendo, Qupty voices confidence that Islamic militants will not succeed in stifling free expression in the arts. (The decision was later rescinded after protests by writers and other intellectuals, but only after Hamas had destroyed some 1,500 copies of the book.) "Palestinian society is strong enough to stop any intentions of this sort," Qupty says, citing the trouble-free exhibition this spring at the Al Hoash Gallery he founded, which featured a video by Mona Hatoum showing her mother's bare breasts as the older woman candidly discusses her sexuality while showering. Al Hoash, meaning "courtyard," just north of Jerusalem 's Old City , has presented over a dozen exhibitions since opening in 2005 and holds four art workshops per week for children at its modest quarters.

Qupty is looking for a larger home for the museum in East Jerusalem . In the meantime, he has registered his gallery as a nonprofit organization with the Israeli Justice Ministry. Operation of a museum would require additional approval from Israel authorities, so Qupty is keeping his distance from the Palestinian Authority, further arguing that this independence will give the museum greater credibility with both the public and potential donors.

As a counterpoint to the prevailing turmoil in the West Bank and Gaza , Qupty hopes that art can help guide young Palestinians away from the dead end of violence and hatred. "It's easier for young Palestinians to be attracted by fundamentalism and having the gun rather than the brush," he says. "Let's face the truth. Palestinians are not taken by their parents every second day to a museum. We live in the Middle East , not in the West. A museum is one way of educating the new generation about their art heritage and to be proud of that heritage. We are trying to help the new generation see that there are other things in this world, that you can do things differently."

Don't get caught with egg on your face. Play Chicktionary!

Labels: ,

Monday, July 02, 2007

Subject: LRB: Our Second Biggest Mistake in the Middle East
Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2007 20:47:36 +0000
London Review of Books
Our Second Biggest Mistake in the Middle East
Alastair Crooke
Hamas: Unwritten Chapters by Azzam Tamimi · Hurst , 344 pp, £14.95

Where Now for Palestine : The Demise of the Two-State Solution ed. Jamil Hilal · Zed, 260 pp, £17.99

Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict by Sara Roy · Pluto, 379 pp, £16.99

‘The situation in Gaza is dangerous, and the danger is that Hamas will take over and turn Gaza into “Hamastan” – into a kingdom of thugs, murderers, terrorists, poverty and despair.’ This was the reaction of Ephraim Sneh, Israel’s deputy defence minister, to Hamas’s seizure of a number of key security institutions in Gaza in the days leading up to 14 June, when Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah, dismissed the unity government. But, despite what much of the media says, this is not a ‘civil war’, and Hamas is not made up of ‘gangs beyond the control of their leaders’. Hamas’s action was conducted with the aim of removing the influence of just one of Fatah’s security forces in Gaza , the militia controlled by Muhammad Dahlan, Abbas’s national security adviser. Hamas has insisted that this has not been a conflict with Fatah in general, and it was notable that neither the Palestinian security forces – effectively the Palestinian ‘army’ – nor the police in Gaza were targets of the recent violence.

The origins of the Hamas action in Gaza lie in the reaction of the international community, and of Fatah, to Hamas’s overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections of January 2006. Fatah, Yasir Arafat’s movement, saw itself as the founder of the Palestinian Authority; it believed it was the natural party of government; and it had fought a long battle with Arab neighbours to establish itself as synonymous with the PLO, and therefore, implicitly, as the ‘sole representative of the Palestinian people’. Some within Fatah were unable to come to terms with their loss of power, or to reconcile themselves to the claim that, on the basis of the election result, an Islamist party best represented the views of the Palestinian people. At this crucial juncture, the International Quartet intervened: they pressed President Abbas not to yield to Hamas, to hang onto power; and they promised to support him if he did so.

Not only was Abbas not to yield security control to the government and its Interior Ministry, as the constitution provided, but the International Quartet also demanded that he claw back powers from the new government and embody them in the presidency: financial responsibilities would be removed from the Ministry of Finance; the salaries of government officials would be paid by the president’s office; all key policy decisions would be enacted by presidential decree. The government was to be rendered powerless. As Azzam Tamimi notes in Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, the Hamas government had no police force at its disposal, and no authority over frontier crossings.

At the same time, the West imposed financial sanctions on the government and isolated it politically, insisting on conducting business and channelling funding exclusively through Abbas. In short, instead of helping Fatah through the transition and facilitating Palestinian unity – and taking advantage of a real chance to include Hamas, Islamism’s moderates, in the political process – the international community pursued an aggressive policy of internal division that established the conditions for the recent violence in Gaza . Europeans may wring their hands at what they see on their TVs, but European policy, acting in concert with the US , bears a large measure of responsibility for what has happened.

The US and some European countries, including Britain, also chose to finance, train and arm the security apparatus led by Muhammad Dahlan, whom many Palestinians suspected – rightly – was being groomed as the ‘strong man’ who would eventually assume the presidency and restore Fatah to power. The ultimate aim was to build a Fatah militia around Dahlan that could confront Hamas militarily – and win. American officials hoped in the meantime to place Fatah in a position to depose Hamas from power – in other words, to promote a soft coup d’état against the government. A strategy document prepared by one of the US-led coalition of ‘moderate’ Arab states which was circulating among Palestinians in March 2007 said that the US objective was to have Abbas dismiss the Hamas government in August. The International Quartet endorsed these plans in principle. The support the US and Europe give to Fatah is considerable and arrives by a variety of routes: through NGOs and development agencies; through Fatah reform initiatives; through youth development programmes; through information and media projects; and – most significantly – through a large programme aimed at recruiting, training, equipping and financing Fatah security cadres, Dahlan’s chief among them. In addition, every NGO contract has a clause inserted into it by USAID requiring the organisation to pledge that it ‘will not engage in activity with groups deemed as terrorists’.

In the scathing final report he wrote before resigning in May as UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto said: ‘The US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, so much so that, a week before Mecca’ – where the two factions met in February and under the auspices of King Abdullah agreed a unity government – ‘the US envoy declared twice in an envoys’ meeting in Washington how much “I like this violence,” referring to the near civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured, because “it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”’ It was this situation that pushed Hamas into pre-emptive action. With Fatah refusing to delegate constitutional authority over the security services, and with the build-up of the Dahlan militia, the military arm of Hamas moved to seize all the key assets associated with Dahlan and his colleagues in Gaza . Having achieved complete control, the elected government is now finally in a position to provide security in Gaza .

There is a price, of course; but it has nothing to do with damage to the so-called ‘prospects for peace’. There was no peace process. And, in the view of most Palestinians, there is little prospect of one. On the contrary, the leadership of Hamas – like their colleagues in Hizbullah – are preparing for the long hot summer of regional conflict that inevitably lies ahead. The real cost of Hamas’s military putsch against the Dahlan militia is the weakening of that significant faction within Fatah which, for some time, has been uncomfortable with Dahlan’s and Fatah’s co-option by US and Israeli interests, and has – until now – advocated real co-operation between Fatah and Hamas. But now that Fatah has been humiliated the grass-roots are unlikely to be in a mood to support anyone who argues for a working partnership with Hamas. It is one thing to be perceived by fellow Palestinians as a Western proxy: to be regarded as a failed Western proxy is far worse.

It is too early to judge, but it is possible that the Hamas putsch will come to be seen by Muslims beyond Palestine as an event as significant as the outcome of the Israeli-Hizbullah war last July. The next few weeks may see the beginnings of efforts at mediation on the part of other Arab states, in an attempt to form a fresh unity government in Palestine . If this happens, the issue of security has already been decided: Hamas has settled the facts on the ground. The Americans and Europeans, however, can be expected to continue to resist any transformation of the political dispensation. What they want, and remain wedded to, is a reversion to the status quo ante of Oslo , however discredited its processes now are. But in attempting to ensure Fatah’s continued hold on power, they risk schism, renewed violence, and a fracturing of the Palestinian body politic for years to come.

A peace process with Israel , were that ever to become a reality, cannot be built on Palestinian division and internal conflict. The action of previous US envoys – such as General Zinni and George Tenet – served only to increase these divisions. The lesson has not been learned. President Abbas’s dismissal of the government on 14 June and his declaration of an emergency government – both decrees of questionable legality – brought an end to what remained of Palestinian unity. And did so at a moment when Hamas, in common with moderate Islamist movements throughout the region, is trying to deal with the radicalising of its constituency and a widespread questioning of the value of electoral participation.

The West could not have chosen a worse time to try to make Fatah a proxy dependent on Western financial subsidy and Israeli ‘concessions’ to make up for the popular support it patently lacks. The largest Hebrew newspaper, Yediot Aharnot, noted on 14 June that ‘in Nablus, Jenin, Hebron and Ramallah, the people of the Fatah al-Aqsa Brigades are in control, much thanks to the Israeli General Security Services who have jailed anyone vaguely smelling of Hamas.’ European policy-makers – to judge by their public statements – are largely oblivious to the rising tension in the region. Instability is feeding instability; and the American and European imposition of a bank freeze that left the Palestinian government unable to gain access to its funds – including those from Muslim countries – will trigger new and potentially dangerous disturbances in the region.

Western commentators – prompted by Fatah loyalists – are still inclined to see the 2006 election result as no more than a severe rap on the knuckles for the hitherto dominant Fatah on the part of an electorate angered by its corruption and mismanagement. Since 1993, Palestinians have been living under a one-party system: patronage, jobs and government have been in the gift of Fatah, and it is to its members that these benefits have been distributed. The election outcome, however, was not primarily a judgment on Fatah’s corruption, even if this was a significant factor. I recall a leader in a refugee camp in Lebanon saying: ‘You will see . . . what this victory for Hamas represents is the final rupture of the Palestinians’ faith in the international community. We no longer believe that the Americans or the Europeans ultimately can be counted on to do the right thing by us. We know that we must rely only on ourselves now.’ Hamas had recognised for some time that the Palestinian constituency that voted Fatah a monopoly of power and of armed force in 1993, following the Oslo Accords, no longer existed. Hardly any Palestinians now believe that Palestinian ‘good behaviour’ – as promised to Israel by Fatah – will induce the US to ignore its domestic Israel lobby and exert pressure on Israel to withdraw from the lands occupied in 1967. ‘Hamas had predicted all along that Israel would not fulfil its bargain,’ Tamimi writes, ‘and that it was using peacemaking in order to expropriate more land.’

Palestinians have seen their putative state in the West Bank salami-sliced away by settlements, army posts, military zones, fences and Israeli-only roads that cut the territory into enclaves in which 2.5 million Palestinians are confined, their movements heavily curtailed. A map of the West Bank recently published by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs shows that the Israeli system of settlements and protective infrastructure has rendered 40 per cent of the West Bank off-limits to Palestinians. Palestinians have seen the US and Europe do nothing about this. The US and the EU argued that Palestinian violence was the problem; but the Palestinians noted that in periods of quiet more rather than less of their land fell to the Israeli salami-slicer – yet still the international community remained silent. Any optimism from Oslo had long faded by 2006, when the Palestinians voted in Hamas. There is no longer a significant ‘peace camp’ that believes in gradual progress towards a Palestinian state.

Against this background of disenchantment, the contributors to Jamil Hilal’s Where Now for Palestine ? The Demise of the Two-State Solution point either towards a binational state in Israel/Palestine, or to a further chapter of armed resistance, or both. Ziad Abu Amr argues that the ‘Palestinian Authority is becoming a façade hiding an actual Israeli occupation, and a tool to help Israel regulate its occupation policies.’ Jamil Hilal argues that ‘ Israel ’s policy has amounted to a systematic negation of the basic conditions necessary for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state,’ and Ilan Pappe, looking for the roots of Israeli policy, concludes that ‘occupation proceeds from the same ideological infrastructure on which the 1948 ethnic cleansing was erected.’ None of these contributors thinks that the psychological and political conditions for a two-state solution any longer prevail. The adoption of demands for a new Israeli constitution by Adalah, a human rights organisation based in Israel , is a further signal of radicalisation. ‘The Democratic Constitution’ – a discussion document that has generated widespread interest among Palestinian citizens of Israel, and outrage in some parts of the Israeli press – calls for a constitution that conforms to democratic principles, is bilingual and multicultural, and which, above all, enshrines the right to complete equality of all residents and citizens, thereby making Israel no longer an exclusively Jewish state, or even a state that affords special privileges to Jewish citizens.

One reason for Fatah’s election defeat was its failure to recognise that the Bush administration was different from the Clinton administration. Fatah persisted in its assumption that, at bottom, the Bush administration shared its vision of a Palestinian state based on Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967. The leadership continued to assume that if they pleased the US they would eventually be rewarded by pressure on Israel to concede a viable Palestinian state. It has long been obvious to most Palestinians, including many in Fatah, that the vision Bush shared was not Fatah’s, but that of Tel Aviv, and it sees Israel remaining in the West Bank for ever.

Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, an institute funded by foreign governments to conduct opinion surveys in Palestine , conducted three crucial polls that affected perceptions in Washington in the early parts of June, September and December 2005. They all showed Fatah leading Hamas by a comfortable margin. In June, Shikaki showed Fatah ahead by 44 per cent to Hamas’s 33 per cent; in September Fatah’s share had gone up to 47 per cent as against Hamas’s 30; by December, one month before the election, he gave Fatah 50 per cent and Hamas 32. In the election, however, Hamas won 74 parliamentary seats and Fatah 45 in a 132-seat chamber. Hamas’s own assessment of November 2005 anticipated that they would win between 70 and 80 seats.

It is difficult to know whether it was the European and American refusal, on the basis of these polls, to acknowledge that Palestinian perceptions had changed which influenced the actions of certain Fatah leaders after the election. Or whether Europe ’s friends in Fatah, such as Dahlan, with his claim to be able to deal with Hamas, persuaded Europeans to shut their eyes to the revolution in Palestinian sentiment. Dahlan, Al-Ahram Weekly recently reported,

tacitly admits that he has been behind much of the lawlessness and security chaos in Gaza : ‘I just deploy two jeeps, and people would say Gaza is on fire . . . Hamas is now the weakest Palestinian faction. They are whining and complaining. Well, they will have to suffer yet more until they are damned to the seventh ancestor.’

Whatever the cause, Europeans embarked on one of their greatest policy mistakes in the region – second only to their support for the invasion of Iraq – with their dogged determination to isolate Hamas and attempt to return Fatah to power.

Hamas had argued during the election campaign that Fatah’s promise to Israel of an end to violence would bring Fatah only Israeli contempt for what it would perceive as Palestinian ‘weakness’. As Hamas sees it, a just solution will emerge only when Israel comes to ‘respect’ its adversaries; meanwhile Fatah’s pleading to be Israel ’s peace partner is indirectly contributing to Israel ’s hegemonic ambitions. Hamas therefore argues for continued resistance, and for a reversal of the Arafat doctrine, which held that Palestinian institutions should not be established until a state had been achieved. It believes that good governance now, and the unity it will bring, is the path to a Palestinian state. With its record of effective and corruption-free local government, it has been keen to put this into practice at the national level: it may now have its chance in Gaza .

The problem for Hamas is that its constituency – the rank and file – and the wider Islamist movement have now embarked on a period of introspection. What is apparent – and this can be ascertained on any number of Islamist websites – is that the mainstream Islamist strategy of pursuing an electoral path to reform is now being questioned. This will have an impact well beyond Palestine – most obviously in Egypt and Jordan . Three events have triggered this reassessment: the sanctions imposed on the Hamas government; last summer’s US-backed war to destroy Hizbullah in Lebanon ; and the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt , which raises not a peep of protest from Europeans. Continued Western hostility towards all Islamists, however moderate their policies, has also frustrated the grass-roots.

At a conference held in Beirut in April, the senior Hamas official present, Usamah Hamadan, was strongly criticised by Fathi Yakan, the leader of Jamaat Islamiyah in Lebanon , for having embarked on the electoral route in the first place. Yakan pointed to the failure – experienced by all Islamists without exception – of those who have participated in their national parliaments. No MP or deputy, from Islamabad to Cairo , or anywhere in between, has succeeded in bringing any significant change to their society. At the same time, young Egyptians in the Muslim Brotherhood have been debating whether their eighty-year-old movement has lost its way. Commentators have been arguing that for it to sit in parliament – while its leaders are being interned, its economic base is being attacked, and legislation is being passed aimed at excluding movements with a religious basis from elections – undermines its credibility and invites derision. The movement, it’s suggested, is too big, rigid and ungainly, and needs to be rethought – and perhaps broken up.

At issue in these discussions is whether moderate Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah will manage to retain their influence over this process of radicalisation; and whether they will survive as a cohesive, disciplined political bloc. Sunni Islamist movements are increasingly concerned at the spread of small Salafist groups that verge on the nihilistic in their disdain for political ideology and in their belief that to set fire to the remnants of colonial power is in itself enough to raise the revolutionary consciousness they hope for. Salafist groups are beginning to make inroads in Gaza , as they have already done in Iraq , Lebanon and North Africa .

What will happen is far from clear. A return to the violent vanguardism of the 1960s and 1970s, detached from popular legitimacy and support, seems unlikely. More plausibly, moderate movements such as Hamas and Hizbullah will encourage popular resistance while also striving to maintain their political presence. Hamas’s armed resistance in Gaza to what they perceive as a Western campaign to depose them is an example of the way an Islamist movement can satisfy a radicalised constituency increasingly angry at American interference in their societies in the interest of what Hassan Nasrallah has termed the ‘Western project’.

One indication of what voters now want can be gauged from Nasrallah’s speeches. ‘In our region,’ he said in Beirut in March, ‘we witness the serious threat . . . presented by the US administration to achieve its scheme for the control of our resources, countries, decisions and destiny . . . Today we no longer hear talk about elections and democracy . . . They discovered that, if free and honest elections were to take place in the Muslim world, patriots who are hostile to US policy and who refuse to succumb to US hegemony will win in every country whether they are Islamists or not due to the general mood in the Islamic world.’ In other words, the test will be whether individuals and states acquiesce to US policy, or ‘refuse to succumb’.

The activities of the US are fundamental to the present crisis. Iraq continues to radiate instability and is exacerbating tensions between the Shia and Sunni everywhere. US and EU policy in Palestine and Lebanon is driving internal tension and polarisation, and the risk of conflict involving Iran and possibly Syria overshadows everything else in the region. In all, the Americans and Europeans are engaged in six internal conflicts in Muslim societies – in Somalia , Sudan , Afghanistan , Iraq , Lebanon and Palestine – in each case providing finance and weapons for one faction to use against another. As I write, Hizbullah is preparing for the possibility of renewed conflict with Israel , and Syria and Iran have also reached the conclusion that conflict is a real and imminent prospect, and are actively preparing for it.

When all parties begin to see conflict as inevitable, then the ‘inevitable’ becomes self-fulfilling. Americans are fond of comparing the situation in the region to the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism; but perhaps Europe in 1914 is a better metaphor: the situation is such that some small, unexpected autonomous event might trigger a sequence of events that even the great powers of the region could find it beyond their ability to control. In the past, after all, a car accident (in the case of the first intifada) and a cinema fire (triggering the Iranian revolution) have unleashed consequences that no one could have foreseen.

Israel, too, seems oblivious to its position. It believes that the Palestinian conflict can be sustained, and it continues to enjoy a growing economy and a healthy tourist trade. Israelis have arrived at a modus vivendi with their peculiar circumstances: life can go on, they sanguinely presume. In Failing Peace, which charts the psychological and human costs of occupation and prolonged violence, Sara Roy warns that

prior to Oslo there was a belief among Israelis that peace and occupation were incompatible but this has changed. In recent years more and more Israelis are benefiting from the occupation. Their lives, for example, have been facilitated by the vast settlement road network built in the West Bank and by an improved economy . . . hence, Israelis no longer feel uncomfortable with the occupation at a time when the occupation has grown more repressive and perverse. This contradiction is dangerous and unsustainable.

Roy’s warning is timely. Over the middle term it is possible to predict that a greater number of Palestinian citizens of Israel will become radicalised, as well as members of the Palestinian population as a whole. Israel ’s ‘moderate’ friends among Arab leaders may disappear. It may also encounter Islamists not only in the Palestinian government, but at the Jordanian and Egyptian frontiers; and conflict with Iran , were it to occur, might finish up by sweeping away many of the region’s landmarks.

This prospect may not disturb the slumbers of the Europeans, who will dismiss it as alarmist, even if their record of reading events in the area has been less than inspired. But these are the scenarios that are being taken seriously by thoughtful Islamists in the region. We should hope – that may be all we can now do – that moderate Islamist movements manage to navigate these turbulent times, in spite of European attempts to prevent Islamism, which is clearly now the dominant regional current, from reshaping Middle Eastern societies. These attempts are opening space, not for the moderate pro-Western secularists whom Europeans seek to empower, but for those who believe that to build a new society you must first burn down the old one.

18 June

Alastair Crooke, who helped facilitate a number of ceasefires in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict between 2001 and 2003, was a member of the Mitchell Commission on the causes of the second intifada and a special adviser to Javier Solana.

Get a preview of Live Earth, the hottest event this summer - only on MSN