Middle East
Gandhi: The Palestine Conflict - 1938

"Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French...What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct...If they [the Jews] must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs... As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regard as an unacceptable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds."

[Editor's Note: Mahatma Gandhi, quoted in "A Land of Two Peoples" ed. Mendes-Flohr.]






by Tim Robbins

Like most New Yorkers, like most Americans, the attacks of September 11 made me very angry. In the days after the attacks I was incredibly moved by the generosity and humanity that arose as people from all over the country drove instantly toward New York to help, to work, to dig, to rebuild spirits. Still I was angry. Why New York? New York more than any other city in the world encourages diversity of faith. The peaceful coexistence of different cultures and beliefs in this city is nothing short of a miracle.
A few years ago I did a movie called Dead Man Walking. I think the reason that film led to a dialogue about the death penalty is that it didn't deligitimize the anger of the victims' families. Although I would hope to not allow revenge in my heart, I recognize the legitimacy of this human emotion. So when our government went after Al Qaeda with massive bombing in Afghanistan I had a problem with the method but understood the motivation. For the first time in my adult life my country was involved in a military action that was reactive, and I sat silent.

I do not like fundamentalism of any kind. Any movement that connects violence with God loses me, whether it's the murder of a doctor at an abortion clinic or the murder of busboys, firemen or businessmen in the World Trade Center. Radical fundamentalism at its core hates all the things I love: art, free expression, music, independent women, theater, good movies. We must be very wise in the way we frame our argument and how we proceed as we resist this new war.

This is not the chickens coming home to roost, Al Qaeda are not farmers looking for self-determination and land rights in Central America. Al Qaeda are not Vietnamese peasants dealing with the napalm from a government that purports to care about them. Al Qaeda will not stand shoulder to shoulder with those struggling to call attention to Third World sweatshop labor. In fact, Al Qaeda's actions have hurt this burgeoning and important movement more than any other.

Let us find a way to resist fundamentalism that leads to violence--fundamentalism of all kinds, in Al Qaeda and within our own government. What is our fundamentalism? Cloaked in patriotism and our doctrine of spreading democracy throughout the world, our fundamentalism is business, the unfettered spread of our economic interests throughout the globe. Our resistance to this war should be our resistance to profit at the cost of human life. Because that is what these drums beating over Iraq are really about. This is about business. The business of distracting American attention from Enron and Halliburton, the financial scandals that directly connect this Administration to the heart of what is now wrong with the American economy. These scandals have disappeared from the front pages of our newspapers as we argue about this war.

In the name of fear and fighting terror we are giving the reins of power to oilmen looking for distraction from their disastrous economic performance, oilmen more interested in a financial bottom line than a moral bottom line, oilmen ready to expand their influence with new contracts on the soil our bombers have plowed, new contracts forged with governments that do not allow democracy on their soil for fear of losing control over the oil that governs their lives, that governs our lives. The majority in America knows this. A dormant majority in America waits with anticipation for the politician who will stand in front of the American people in defiance of the oil companies and advocate alternative energy as a way to extricate ourselves from this culture of violence that threatens our future.

Let us resist this war and our impending oil war in Colombia, and let us resist fundamentalism in all its guises. Let us hate war in all its forms, whether its weapon is a US missile or its weapon is a domestic airplane. [Editor's Note: All credits to the movie author, Mr. Tim Robbins, the actor adn director.]




September 2002

As the United States gears up for an invasion of Iraq, the great unanswered question continues to be: Why is the Bush Administration so determined to topple a government that has been effectively contained by American power for eleven years?

The White House has offered several reasons to justify an attack on Iraq--Saddam Hussein is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons; an invasion is needed to prevent the transfer of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to international terrorists, and so on. Another factor, however, may be of equal importance--oil. Two key concerns underlie the Administration's thinking: First, the United States is becoming dangerously dependent on imported petroleum to meet its daily energy requirements, and, second, Iraq possesses the world's largest reserves of untapped petroleum after Saudi Arabia.

The problem of growing US dependence on imported petroleum was first raised in the National Energy Policy Report, released by the White House in May 2001. Known as "the Cheney report," after its principal author, the Vice President, the document revealed that imported supplies accounted for half of US oil consumption in 2000 and will jump to two-thirds in 2020. And despite all the talk of drilling in Alaska, the report makes one thing clear: Most of America's future oil supplies will have to come from the Persian Gulf countries, which alone possess sufficient production potential to meet ever-growing US energy requirements. Thus, the report calls on the White House to place a high priority on increasing US access to Persian Gulf supplies.

Growing worries about the stability of Saudi Arabia, principal US supplier there, heightened by revelations of Saudi extremists' involvement in the September 11 terror attacks, have prompted US strategists to seek a backup should future instability lead to a drop in Saudi oil production, which could trigger a global recession. Some strategists have proposed Russia as a backup, others the Caspian Sea states of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. But only one country has the capacity to substantially increase oil production in the event of a Saudi collapse: Iraq. With proven reserves of 112 billion barrels of oil (compared with 49 billion for Russia and 15 billion for the Caspian states), Iraq alone can serve as a backup for Saudi Arabia. At the same time, control over Iraqi oil would allow US leaders to more easily ignore Saudi demands for US action on behalf of the Palestinians and would weaken OPEC's control over oil prices.

Iraq has yet another key attraction for US oil strategists: Whereas most of Saudi Arabia's major fields have already been explored and claimed, Iraq possesses vast areas of promising but unexplored hydrocarbon potential. These fields may harbor the world's largest remaining reservoir of unmapped and unclaimed petroleum--far exceeding the untapped fields in Alaska, Africa and the Caspian. Whoever gains possession of these fields will exercise enormous influence over the global energy markets of the twenty-first century.

Knowing this, and seeking allies for his confrontation with Washington, Saddam Hussein has begun to parcel out concessions to the most promising fields to oil firms in Europe, Russia and China. According to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook for 2001, he has already awarded such contracts for fields with an estimated potential of 44 billion barrels of oil--an amount equal to the total reserves of the United States, Canada and Norway (the number-one European producer) combined. At current rates of about $25 per barrel, that makes these contracts worth an estimated $1.1 trillion.

And here's the rub: The Iraqi dissidents chosen by Washington to lead the new regime in Baghdad have threatened to cancel all contracts awarded to firms in countries that fail to assist in the overthrow of Saddam. "We will review all of these agreements," said the head of the London office of the Iraqi National Congress (a dissident umbrella group backed by the United States), and those signed by Saddam Hussein will be considered invalid unless endorsed by the new government. Not surprisingly, US oil firms are expected to be awarded most of the Hussein-era contracts voided by the successor regime.

This could prove to be the biggest oil grab in modern history, providing hundreds of billions of dollars to US oil firms--many linked to senior officials in the Bush Administration--and helping to avert a future energy crunch in the United States. But is oil worth spilling the blood of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who get caught in the way? This is the question Congress must ask if we are to have an honest debate on the merits of invading Iraq. [Editor's Note: All credits to the author listed.]





Marking a Massacre        by Roane Carey

The Palestinian Vision of Peace       by Yaseer Arafat

Is Israel More Secure Now?               by Edward Said

Cheney Endorses Israel's Assassination Policy     by Chris Marsden


Marking a Massacre


A recent anniversary passed by without receiving much notice in the mainstream media. It was twenty years ago--September 16-18, 1982, to be precise--that Lebanese Phalangist militiamen, under the watchful tutelage of their Israeli army overlords, raped, hacked and shot to death some 1,000-3,000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

No one has ever been tried for the massacre, but an official Israeli commission of inquiry found that Israel's defense minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, "bears personal responsibility" as well as "indirect responsibility." It was Sharon, after all, who had ordered the Israel Defense Forces to invade Beirut and surround the camps. This was in direct violation of a US-brokered agreement, in which American diplomats had guaranteed the safety of Palestinian civilians in return for the PLO's agreement to withdraw its armed forces from the country. And it was Sharon who arranged for the Phalangists--who had already carried out massacres against Palestinians in Lebanon's bloody civil war, and were now maddened with rage after the recent assassination of their leader, Bashir Gemayel-to enter the camps. Over the next forty-odd hours the Phalangists, aided by IDF flares and observed by IDF officers from nearby rooftops, carried out the killings.

After the commission of inquiry published its results, it was thought that Sharon's political career was over, that he would never live down the disgrace. In fact, he engineered his own resurrection when, on September 28, 2000, he convinced Prime Minister Ehud Barak to allow him to visit Jerusalem's Haram al-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam, accompanied by more than a thousand soldiers and police. That provocation, at a time of extreme tension after the failed peace talks at Camp David, ignited the new intifada. Amid the violence, public opinion in Israel shifted sharply to the right, and Sharon was elected prime minister in February 2001. Now this man of blood is hailed by President Bush as a "man of peace," and his iron-fist campaign of repression in the West Bank and Gaza has received steadfast American backing, despite worldwide condemnation for Israel's human rights violations.

New hope for some measure of justice in the Sabra/Shatila case was raised when, in June of last year, Palestinian plaintiffs brought a complaint in Belgium against Sharon and other Israeli and Phalangist leaders alleging war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, availing themselves of a recent Belgian statute that allows universal jurisdiction, even against heads of state, for such crimes. Sharon was a primary object of the indictment because of the well-known doctrine, under international customary law and specified in the Fourth Geneva Convention, that the highest-ranking military leaders involved bear "command responsibility" for war crimes.

Early this year Elie Hobeika, the notorious Phalangist militia leader whose troops are widely believed to have directly carried out the massacre, told visiting Belgian senators that he was willing to travel to Belgium to tell the court what he knew about the case. Days later, he was assassinated in a powerful car-bomb explosion. Two other Lebanese assumed to have close knowledge of the massacre have also been recently assassinated. Those murders remain unsolved. This past June the case received a blow when a Belgian appeals court threw it out, ruling that Sharon couldn't be tried if he was not present in Belgium. Amnesty International condemned the ruling, and the plaintiffs have vowed to appeal it to the country's Supreme Court. The survivors of the massacre recently received unexpected support in the form of a letter from an Israeli women's peace group, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace. The letter said, "Our hearts ache to recall the terrible massacre that took place in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps 20 years ago, which Israeli leaders allowed to take place. We condemn the brutal murderers of your loved ones and we condemn the leaders who must be held accountable for these war crimes, Ariel Sharon above all."

International humanitarian law has developed the principle of universal jurisdiction for good reason: that some crimes are so heinous they involve the responsibility of all mankind, without regard to where or when they take place. Like Pinochet and other war criminals, Sharon and his Phalangist underlings should be brought to book; if they can successfully evade justice, then it will give heart to killers everywhere.


The Palestinian Vision of Peace


RAMALLAH — For the past 16 months, Israelis and Palestinians have been locked in a catastrophic cycle of violence, a cycle which only promises more bloodshed and fear. The cycle has led many to conclude that peace is impossible, a myth borne out of ignorance of the Palestinian position. Now is the time for the Palestinians to state clearly, and for the world to hear clearly, the Palestinian vision.

But first, let me be very clear. I condemn the attacks carried out by terrorist groups against Israeli civilians. These groups do not represent the Palestinian people or their legitimate aspirations for freedom. They are terrorist organizations, and I am determined to put an end to their activities.

The Palestinian vision of peace is an independent and viable Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as an equal neighbor alongside Israel with peace and security for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. In 1988, the Palestine National Council adopted a historic resolution calling for the implementation of applicable United Nations resolutions, particularly, Resolutions 242 and 338. The Palestinians recognized Israel's right to exist on 78 percent of historical Palestine with the understanding that we would be allowed to live in freedom on the remaining 22 percent, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Our commitment to that two-state solution remains unchanged, but unfortunately, also remains unreciprocated.

We seek true independence and full sovereignty: the right to control our own airspace, water resources and borders; to develop our own economy, to have normal commercial relations with our neighbors, and to travel freely. In short, we seek only what the free world now enjoys and only what Israel insists on for itself: the right to control our own destiny and to take our place among free nations.

In addition, we seek a fair and just solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees who for 54 years have not been permitted to return to their homes. We understand Israel's demographic concerns and understand that the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a right guaranteed under international law and United Nations Resolution 194, must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns. However, just as we Palestinians must be realistic with respect to Israel's demographic desires, Israelis too must be realistic in understanding that there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the legitimate rights of these innocent civilians continue to be ignored. Left unresolved, the refugee issue has the potential to undermine any permanent peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. How is a Palestinian refugee to understand that his or her right of return will not be honored but those of Kosovar Albanians, Afghans and East Timorese have been?

There are those who claim that I am not a partner in peace. In response, I say Israel's peace partner is, and always has been, the Palestinian people. Peace is not a signed agreement between individuals — it is reconciliation between peoples. Two peoples cannot reconcile when one demands control over the other, when one refuses to treat the other as a partner in peace, when one uses the logic of power rather than the power of logic. Israel has yet to understand that it cannot have peace while denying justice. As long as the occupation of Palestinian lands continues, as long as Palestinians are denied freedom, then the path to the "peace of the brave" that I embarked upon with my late partner Yitzhak Rabin, will be littered with obstacles.

The Palestinian people have been denied their freedom for far too long and are the only people in the world still living under foreign occupation. How is it possible that the entire world can tolerate this oppression, discrimination and humiliation? The 1993 Oslo Accord, signed on the White House lawn, promised the Palestinians freedom by May 1999. Instead, since 1993, the Palestinian people have endured a doubling of Israeli settlers, expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and increased restrictions on freedom of movement. How do I convince my people that Israel is serious about peace while over the past decade Israel intensified the colonization of Palestinian land from which it was ostensibly negotiating a withdrawal?

But no degree of oppression and no level of desperation can ever justify the killing of innocent civilians. I condemn terrorism. I condemn the killing of innocent civilians, whether they are Israeli, American or Palestinian; whether they are killed by Palestinian extremists, Israeli settlers, or by the Israeli government. But condemnations do not stop terrorism. To stop terrorism, we must understand that terrorism is simply the symptom, not the disease.

The personal attacks on me currently in vogue may be highly effective in giving Israelis an excuse to ignore their own role in creating the current situation. But these attacks do little to move the peace process forward and, in fact, are not designed to. Many believe that Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, given his opposition to every peace treaty Israel has ever signed, is fanning the flames of unrest in an effort to delay indefinitely a return to negotiations. Regrettably, he has done little to prove them wrong. Israeli government practices of settlement construction, home demolitions, political assassinations, closures and shameful silence in the face of Israeli settler violence and other daily humiliations are clearly not aimed at calming the situation.

The Palestinians have a vision of peace: it is a peace based on the complete end of the occupation and a return to Israel's 1967 borders, the sharing of all Jerusalem as one open city and as the capital of two states, Palestine and Israel. It is a warm peace between two equals enjoying mutually beneficial economic and social cooperation. Despite the brutal repression of Palestinians over the last four decades, I believe when Israel sees Palestinians as equals, and not as a subjugated people upon whom it can impose its will, such a vision can come true. Indeed it must.

Palestinians are ready to end the conflict. We are ready to sit down now with any Israeli leader, regardless of his history, to negotiate freedom for the Palestinians, a complete end of the occupation, security for Israel and creative solutions to the plight of the refugees while respecting Israel's demographic concerns. But we will only sit down as equals, not as supplicants; as partners, not as subjects; as seekers of a just and peaceful solution, not as a defeated nation grateful for whatever scraps are thrown our way. For despite Israel's overwhelming military advantage, we possess something even greater: the power of justice.

Yasir Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996 and is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.  

[Reprinted from The New York Times of February 3, 2002]


Is Israel more secure now?

By Edward Said

‘The world is closing on us, pushing us through the last passage, and we tear off our limbs to pass through.’ Thus Mahmoud Darwish, writing in the aftermath of the PLO’s exit from Beirut in August 1982. ‘Where shall we go after the last frontiers, where should the birds fly after the last sky’? Nineteen years later, what was happening then to the Palestinians in Lebanon is happening to them in Palestine. Since the al-Aqsa Intifada began last September, Palestinians have been sequestered by the Israeli Army in no fewer than 220 discontinuous little ghettoes, and subjected to intermittent curfews often lasting for weeks at a stretch. No one, young or old, sick or well, dying or pregnant, student or doctor, can move without spending hours at barricades, manned by rude and deliberately humiliating Israeli soldiers. As I write, two hundred Palestinians are unable to receive kidney dialysis because for ‘security reasons’ the Israeli military won’t allow them to travel to medical centres. Have any of the innumerable members of the foreign media covering the conflict done a story about these brutalised young Israeli conscripts trained to punish Palestinian civilians as the main part of their military duty? I think not.

Yasir Arafat was not allowed to leave his office in Ramallah to attend the emergency meeting of Islamic Conference foreign ministers on 10 December in Qatar; his speech was read by an aide. The airport fifteen miles away in Gaza and Arafat’s two ageing helicopters had been destroyed the previous week by Israeli planes and bulldozers, with no one and no force to check, much less prevent the daily incursions of which this particular feat of military daring was a part. Gaza airport was the only direct port of entry into Palestinian territory, the only civilian airport in the world wantonly destroyed since World War Two. Since last May Israeli F-16s (generously supplied by the US) have regularly bombed and strafed Palestinian towns and villages, Guernica style, destroying property and killing civilians and security officials (there is no Palestinian army, navy or air force to protect the people); Apache attack helicopters (again supplied by the US) have used their missiles to murder 77 Palestinian leaders, for alleged terrorist offences, past or future. A group of unknown Israeli intelligence operatives have the authority to decide on these assassinations, presumably with the approval on each occasion of the Israeli Cabinet and, more generally, that of the US. The helicopters have also done an efficient job of bombing Palestinian Authority installations, police as well as civilian. During the night of 5 December, the Israeli Army entered the five-storey offices of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah, carried off the computers, as well as most of the files and reports, thereby effacing virtually the entire record of collective Palestinian life. In 1982 the same Army under the same commander entered West Beirut and carted off documents and files from the Palestinian Research Centre, before flattening the structure. A few days later came the massacres of Sabra and Shatila.

The suicide bombers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have of course been at work, as Sharon knew perfectly well they would be when, after a ten-day lull in the fighting in late November, he suddenly ordered the murder of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud: an act designed to provoke Hamas into retaliation and thus allow the Israeli Army to resume the slaughter of Palestinians. After eight years of barren peace discussion 50 percent of Palestinians are unemployed and 70 per cent live on less than 2 dollars a day. Every day brings with it unopposable land grabs and house demolitions. The Israelis even make a point of destroying trees and orchards on Palestinian land. Although five or six Palestinians have been killed in the last few months for every one Israeli, the obese old warmonger has the gall to keep repeating that Israel has been the victim of the same terrorism as that meted out by Bin Laden.

The crucial point in all this is that Israel has been in illegal military occupation since 1967; it is the longest such occupation in history, and the only one anywhere in the world today: this is the original and continuing violence against which all the Palestinian acts of violence have been directed. Yesterday (10 December), two children aged 3 and 13 were killed by Israeli bombs in Hebron, yet at the same time an EU delegation was demanding that Palestinians curtail their violence and acts of terrorism. Today five more Palestinians were killed, all of them civilian, victims of helicopter bombings of Gaza’s refugee camps. To make matters worse, as a result of the 11 September attacks, the word ‘terrorism’ is being used to blot out legitimate acts of resistance against military occupation and any casual or even narrative connection between the dreadful killing of civilians (which I have always opposed) and thirty plus years of collective punishment is proscribed.

Every Western pundit or official who pontificates about Palestinian terrorism needs to ask how forgetting the fact of the occupation is supposed to stop terrorism. Arafat’s great mistake, a consequence of frustration and poor advice, was to try to make a deal with the occupation when he authorised ‘peace’ discussions between scions of two prominent Palestinian families and Mossad in 1992 at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge. These discussions were all to do with Israeli security: nothing was said about Palestinian security, nothing at all, and the struggle of his people to achieve an independent state was left to one side. Indeed, Israel security to the exclusion of anything else has become the recognised international priority, which allows General Zinn and Javier Solana to preach at the PLO while remaining totally silent on the occupation. Yet Israel has scarcely gained more from these discussions than the Palestinians have. Its mistake has been to imagine that by conning Arafat and his coterie into interminable discussions and tiny concessions it would get a general Palestinian quiescence. Every official Israeli policy thus far has made things worse, rather than better, for Israel. Ask your self: is Israel more secure and more accepted now than it was ten years ago? Can its current war of attrition be any more successful than the one it lost in Lebanon?

The terrible and, in my opinion, stupid suicide raids against civilians in Haifa and Jerusalem over the weekend of 1 December should of course be condemned, but in order for the condemnation to make any sense the raids must be considered in the context of Abu Hanoud’s assassination earlier in the week, along with the killing of five children by an Israeli booby-trap in Gaza – to say nothing of the houses destroyed, the Palestinians killed throughout Gaza and the West Bank, the constant tank incursions, the endless grinding away of Palestinian aspirations, minute by minute, for the past 35 years. In the end desperation only produces poor results, none worse than the green light George W. and Colin Powell seem to have given Sharon when he was in Washington on 2 December (all too reminiscent of the green light Al Haig gave in May 1982). With their support went the usual ringing declarations turning the people under occupation and their hapless, inept leader into world-wide aggressors who had to ‘bring to justice’ their own criminals even as Israeli soldiers were systematically destroying the Palestinian police structure which was supposed to do the arresting.

Arafat is hemmed in on all sides, an ironic consequence of his bottomless wish to be all things Palestinian to everyone, enemies and friends alike. He is at once a tragically heroic figure and a bumbling one. No Palestinian today is going to disavow his leadership for the simple reason that despite all his wafflings and mistakes he is being punished and humiliated because he is a Palestinian leader, and in that capacity his mere existence offends purists (if that’s the right word) like Sharon and his American backers. Except for the health and education ministries, both of which have done a decent job, Arafat’s Authority has been a dismal failure. Its corruption and brutality stem from Arafat’s apparently whimsical, but actually very meticulous, way of keeping everyone dependent on his largesse: he alone controls the budget, and he alone decides what goes on the front pages of the five daily newspapers. He knows what’s going on and has a few people well placed to stir up a little rock-throwing in the streets. Above all, he manipulates and sets against each other the 12 or 14 – some say 19 or 20 – independent security services that he created, each of which is structurally loyal to its own leaders and to Arafat at the same time without being able to do much more for its people than arrest them when enjoined to do so by Arafat, Israel and the US. The 1996 elections were designed for a term of three years, but Arafat has shilly-shallied with the idea of calling new ones, which would almost certainly challenge his authority and popularity in a serious way.

He has had a well-publicised entente with Hamas since the latter’s June bombings; Hamas wouldn’t go after Israeli civilians if Arafat left the Islamic parties alone. Sharon killed off the entente with Abu Hanoud’s assassination: Hamas retaliated and there was nothing to stop Sharon squeezing the life out of Arafat, with American support. Having destroyed Arafat’s security network, his jails and offices, and having physically imprisoned him, Sharon made demands that he knows can’t be fulfilled (even though Arafat, with a few cards always up his sleeve, has managed, astonishingly, to half-comply). Sharon stupidly believes that, having dispensed with Arafat, he can make a series of independent agreements with local warlords and divide 40 per cent of the West Bank and most of Gaza into several non-contiguous cantons whose borders the Israeli Army will control. How this is supposed to make Israel more secure eludes me, but not, alas, the people with the relevant power.

That leaves out three players, or groups of players, two of whom in his racist way Sharon gives no weight to. First, the Palestinians themselves who are far too intransigent and politicised finally to accept anything less than unconditional Israeli withdrawal. Israel’s policies, like all such aggressions, produce the opposite effect to the one intended: to suppress is to provoke resistance. Were Arafat to disappear, Palestinian law provides for 60 days of rule by the speaker of the Assembly (an unimpressive and unpopular Arafat hanger-on called Abul Ala, much admired by Israelis for his ‘flexibility’). After that, a succession struggle would ensue between other Arafat cronies such as Abu Mazen and two or three of the leading (and capable) security chiefs – notably Jibril Rajoud of the West Bank and Mohammed Dahlan in Gaza. None of these people has Arafat’s stature, or anything resembling his (perhaps now lost) popularity. Temporary chaos is the likely result: Arafat’s presence has been an organising focus for Palestinian politics, in which millions of other Arabs and Muslims have a very large stake.

Arafat has always tolerated, indeed supported a plurality of organisations that he manipulates in various ways, balancing them against each other so that no one predominates except his Fatah. New groups are emerging, however: secular, hardworking, committed, dedicated to a democratic polity in an independent Palestine. Over these people, the PA has no control at all. It should be said that no one in Palestine is willing to accede to the Israeli-US demand for an end to ‘terrorism’, although it will be difficult to draw a line in the public mind between suicidal adventurism and resistance to the occupation so long as Israel goes on with its bombings.

The second group are the leaders in the rest of the Arab world who have a vested interest in Arafat, despite their evident exasperation with him. He is cleverer and more persistent that they are, and knows the hold he has on the popular mind in their countries, where he has cultivated both Islamists and secular nationalists. Both feel under attack even though the secular nationalists have hardly been noticed by the vast number of Western experts and Orientalists who take bin Laden – rather than the much larger number of Muslim and non-Muslim secular Arabs who detest what he does – to be the paradigm Muslim. Now that Arafat is cornered, his popularity in Palestine has shot up. But until very recently, he and Hamas were about level in the polls (hovering between 20 and 25 per cent), with the majority of citizens favouring neither. The same division, with the same significant plague-on-both-your-houses majority, exists in Arab countries where most people are put off either by the corruption and brutality of the regimes or by the extremism of the religious groups – most of whom are more interested in the regulation of personal behaviour than they are in matters like globalisation or producing electricity and jobs.

Arabs and Muslims might well turn against their own rulers were Arafat seen to be choked to death by Israeli violence and Arab indifference. So he is necessary to the present landscape. His departure will only seem natural when a new collective leadership emerges among a younger generation of Palestinians. When and how that will happen is impossible to tell, but I’m quite certain that it will happen.

The third player is Israel, where an audacious Knesset member, the Palestinian Azmi Bishara, has been stripped of his Parliamentary immunity and will soon be put on trial for incitement to violence, because he has long stood for the Palestinian right of resistance to occupation, arguing that, like every other state in the world, Israel should be the state of all its citizens not just of the Jewish people. For the first time, a major Palestinian challenge is being mounted inside Israel (not on the West Bank) with all eyes on the proceedings. At the same time the Belgian Attorney General’s office has confirmed that a war crimes case against Sharon can go forward in the country’s courts. A painstaking mobilisation of secular Palestinian opinion is underway which should slowly overtake the PA. The moral high ground will soon be reclaimed from Israel, as the occupation becomes the focus of attention, and as more and more Israelis realise that it won’t be possible to keep it going indefinitely. Besides, as the US war against terrorism spreads, more unrest is almost certain: far from closing things down, US power is likely to stir them up in ways that may not be containable. It’s no mean irony that the renewed attention on Palestine came about because the anti-Taliban coalition made it necessary.


Cheney Endorses Israel’s Assassination Policy

By Chris Marsden

LAST week, US Vice President Dick Cheney gave an extraordinary public endorsement to Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian activists. He told Fox News on Thursday, “If you’ve got an organization that has plotted or is plotting some kind of suicide bomber attack, for example, and they [the Israelis] have hard evidence of who it is and where they’re located, I think there’s some justification in their trying to protect themselves by pre-empting.”

Since the talks leading up to the Oslo Accord in 1993 under President Bill Clinton, the US has attempted to play down its traditional pro-Israeli stance, so that it can pose as an “honest broker” in seeking a political settlement to the Middle East conflict. Cheney’s statement, therefore, was a major diplomatic blunder for the US, and embarrassed many of its key Arab allies in the Middle East on whom it relies to police the working class and oppressed masses, and secure its continued access to the region’s oil reserves.

President George W. Bush was forced to defend his Middle East policy, in the face of calls from Egypt, Jordan and others for a firmer stance against Israel. During his month-long vacation in Texas this week, Bush told reporters that the onus was on “both sides to break the cycle of violence.”

Cheney’s remarks serve to expose the fact that US policy in the Middle East remains partisan towards Israel, and dedicated to securing a settlement that favours the Zionist state. But there are indications of certain divisions within the administration between the State Department and the White House concerning the degree to which the US must distance itself from the overt war mongering of the Likud-led government of Ariel Sharon in order to preserve its alliances with the Arab regimes.

The day before Cheney’s interview, Secretary of State Colin Powell had phoned the Israeli prime minister to criticise Tuesday’s attack on a Hamas office in the West Bank city of Nablus. Israeli helicopter gunships had blasted the offices, killing three Hamas leaders, Jamal Mansour, Jamal Salim and Fahim Dawabshe along with five others, including two children. The bombing provoked angry demonstrations.

To date Israel has assassinated over 50 Palestinians in such targeted attacks.The Bush administration was forced to launch a damage limitation operation, which focused on a denial of any split over US Middle East policy. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that the Bush presidency “at all levels, deplores the violence there and that includes the targeted attacks”. “It is the policy of the United States to oppose these killings. The vice president, the president, secretary of state, are all in unison about the need to stop the violence in Israel,” Fleischer said.

Some have questioned whether the claim that Powell’s more placatory position is for public consumption only, to appease America’s Arab allies and critics in the Democratic Party and in Europe. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, insisted “Cheney reflected analytical honesty, not the diplomatic posture.” But divisions within the administration over the Middle East and other major foreign policy matters are real. Powell has expressed concern over the impact on US-European relations of an increasingly unilateralist and bellicose stance regarding the planned National Missile Defence, the Kyoto protocols on fossil fuel emissions, the Balkans, China and Korea.

Powell has been repeatedly contradicted by leading figures within the Bush camp. The most high profile instances involved Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over China. When Powell spoke of improved relations with China during a recent trip to Beijing, Rumsfeld responded in an interview in which he blasted those who exhibited weakness toward China. Even before the latest outburst by Cheney, the Bush administration was already feeling the need to emphasise its unity on foreign policy and downplay allegations of unilateralism.

At the end of July, Powell emphasised that the Republicans were “committed to alliances and international agreements.” He was joined by Rumsfeld, who added, “Colin Powell and I talk every day and meet several times a week, and I don’t know that there are differences between us.”

Whatever the extent of the internal tensions within the Bush administration, Cheney’s comments gave succour to Sharon’s Likud-Labour coalition at a time when Israel’s security operations have come under sharp criticism from several European countries. This week, Sharon called a special meeting to discuss ways of preventing Israel from losing what he termed the “propaganda war” against the Palestinians, during which leading Likud members complained of a “wave of anti-Semitism” sweeping Europe, in fact a reference to deepening criticisms within the European Union concerning the Israeli policy of “extra-judicial” killings.

In Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post, the retired head of Israeli military intelligence, Shlomo Gazit, warned that whereas he believed that a “focused elimination” policy against Palestinian militants was justified, it was damaging the nation’s image. “The use of heavy weapons—attack helicopters or tanks—against a single terrorist creates the image of an Israeli Goliath fighting a Palestinian David,” he said.

Under these circumstances, Cheney’s statement will be used by Sharon to support his efforts to step up Israel’s assassinations. In an interview with Italy’s La Stampa, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Yasser Arafat said that the Israeli cabinet had approved a plan called “Oranin”, Hebrew for “inferno”, aimed at killing many leading Palestinians. Israel has denied this, but in his own interview with Fox television on Sunday, Sharon defended assassinations as a “defensive counter-terrorism measure”. He said that Israel had sent the Palestinians a list of “about 100 terrorists” it wants the PA to arrest. Sharon indicated that if this were not done, then Israel would continue to “exercise our right of self defense.”

On Monday August 6, Israel officially demanded the PA arrest seven alleged militants, and it must be assumed they are now on an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) hit list. The next day, the IDF announced that it was abandoning its supposed policy of “restraint,” in force since May, and would allow its soldiers to open fire on Palestinians without themselves first coming under attack. Sharon has described this new policy as “active self-defense.”

One further point must be stressed regarding the far-reaching implications of Cheney’s statement. His apologia for state-sponsored assassination says more about the attitude of the US ruling elite to these methods than any number of official denunciations of such practices when carried out by others. In the first instance, Cheney only acknowledged publicly what the political establishment and its military and security apparatus discuss among themselves behind closed doors. Secondly, however, his justification for Israel’s actions echoes that employed openly by the US to sanction its own political crimes abroad.

The US has routinely asserted the right to target its opponents, whether individuals, organisations or entire peoples for the ultimate sanction. In April 1986, US fighter planes bombed the palace of Libya’s Colonel Gadhaffi, killing 15 civilians including one of his daughters. In August 1998, US planes bombed civilian targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, killing over 30 people and destroying Sudan’s only medical pharmaceutical facility. These criminal incidents were justified as a legitimate response to a terrorist threat, in a manner virtually identical to that employed by Israel regarding the Palestinians. The justification offered for the bombing of Baghdad and Belgrade during the wars against Iraq and Serbia, the labelling of entire nations as “rogue states” or “terrorist nations”, falls into the same category. The US political elite is not alone amongst the imperialist powers in this regard. Britain in particular gave its full support to each of these US actions; and MI6 whistle-blower David Shayler alleges the UK attempted its own assassination of Gadhaffi.

August 10, 2001

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