Hagada Hasmalit

a critical review of israeli culture and society

Posted by רני On September - 11 - 2009 0 Comment

How important and how meaningful are the words of politicians and prime ministers? Can they be believed? With regard to the rest of the world, I really am not competent to judge.  But here in the Middle East the situation is clear.  As a matter of fact, I think we can almost formulate a new law in political science: every declaration by a political leader produces results that are the polar opposite of what was supposedly intended.
Since 1967 there have been never-ending negotiations with the Palestinians while at the same time the Israeli colonization of the Occupied Territories has continued, unabated.. One can conclude that negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and the Israeli colonization of the Palestinian territories are a simultaneous process. It could even be said that more negotiations equal more settlement and land-theft.
 
And now there is a new American president. The world has invested great hopes in him, and everyone is waiting with bated breath upon his every word. The president stood before the world and declared: Construction in the settlements must stop!
 
A few months have passed since then and we can now read in Haaretz a report by Israel’s Civil Administration of the Territories noting that the number of settlers in the West Bank [not counting East Jerusalem – trans.] has passed the 300,000 mark. That report also points out that in the first half of 2009 the settler population grew by 2.3 percent, compared to less than 2 percent for Israel as a whole. Assuming that the new residents are not all being housed on enclosed balconies, one can also assume that home construction has proceeded apace up to now — according to plan.
 
I must confess that from the beginning, I did not attach much importance to any of Obama’s pronouncements. They are similar to the pronouncements of the head of any empire: rhetoric that reassures and acts that divide and conquer. The Arab world was assuaged with a few harsh words directed towards Israel, while Israel was reassured behind the scenes, once the president had left the podium.
 
We have been reading daily in the press that despite Obama’s emphatic declaration that “construction in the Territories must stop,” the subject is now “under discussion.”  Should the 2500 new units already under construction be allowed to continue or should they be halted for six months or a year?  Hillary Clinton has announced that an agreement for the cessation of construction in the settlements is near. One must examine the words “agreement for the cessation.”  What exactly does this mean?  We were under the impression that the president had said that it should stop, period!  But, apparently, Obama’s world-shaking statement is dissolving before our very eyes and being quietly prepared for burial behind closed doors. Meanwhile, we have nearly forgotten that after all is said and done, it is the dismantlement of the settlements that is the issue; not the cessation of construction within them.
 
There is nothing new about duplicity on the part of emperors. Obama’s conciliatory speech in Cairo addressed to the Muslim world was greeted with a great deal of excitement internationally. The applause of the Egyptian elite nearly brought down the house. But, as Azmi Bishara reminded us:
 
At the beginning of his expedition against Egypt in 1798, Napoleon addressed the sheikhs and scholars of Al-Azhar and opened what he had to say with the declaration of faith. According to the Egyptian chronicler Abdel-Rahman Al-Jibarti, Napoleon proclaimed: “In the name of God, the Just, the Merciful; there is no God but He; He was not begotten, nor has He begot; no partner hath He in his kingdom…. O Egyptians! You have been told that I have come to this land with the intention of eradicating your religion. But that is a clear lie; do not believe it [...]. I [...] worship God, glory be to Him, and respect His Prophet and the great Quran [...] O you sheikhs, judges, imams, and leading men of the country, tell your people that the French are also sincere Muslims. [... The French] entered Rome and destroyed the throne of the Pope, who had always urged Christians to combat Islam.”*
 
One might recall another similar declaration:
 
We wish especially to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Muslim societies. We say to you forthrightly: We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies we have so much in common. We know that for some of you mistrust of us is high, and we know that we Americans are partly responsible for that mistrust.**
 
No, that was not from Obama’s speech in Cairo. That message was signed by sixty famous intellectuals, most of them neo-conservatives, including Francis (End of History) Fukuyama and Samuel (Clash of Civilizations) Huntington. The purpose of the message, which was sent out during the tenure of the previous Administration, was to justify the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. It is hard to tell whether the Afghan people were indeed convinced, or what the Egyptians though of Napoleon’s words over 200 years ago. Today, it would appear that the Egyptians were convinced. It was reported in the press that after their last meeting in Washington, President Mubarak said that President Obama had allayed all (no less!) the doubts that the Muslim world had about the United States.
 
Thus, it would seem that Obama did not actually break new ground in his speech in Cairo. The American intellectuals who were so intoxicated with his speech in Cairo are no different from those who surrounded the previous president, George W. Bush.
 
Obviously, Obama is not the first leader to promise great things and fail to deliver. The truth of the matter is that the history of the settlement enterprise is replete with promises to stop it, and it was not only after Obama’s declaration that  the promise was disregarded. It was the same after the Oslo Accords, when despite all the lofty words about peace with the Palestinians, the settlement process was vigorously continued.  (In retrospect, it is hard to understand why the Palestinians signed an accord that did not explicitly bar the construction of settlements.) Ehud Barak too, when he was elected prime minister in 1999, on the basis of a ticket that promised an agreement with the Palestinians, accelerated the pace of settlement construction. Nor was construction halted after Camp David, nor even during the government of the former prime minister Ehud Olmert, whose speech about the end of the dream of a Greater Israel and “convergence” back to the 1967 borders was the most daring speech made on that subject by an Israeli prime minister so far.
 
 
The picture that emerges, therefore, is that the content of the accords are unimportant. Those declarations and plans have always served as a verbal cover for the continued theft of lands and the expansion of settlements – “legal” or otherwise. The slogans have been changed from the Labor Party’s “territorial compromise” to the “autonomy” of the Likud and now the “economic peace” of Netanyahu. But the situation on the ground remains the same.
 
Obama’s words did not bring peace or the evacuation of the settlements any closer. Instead they did succeed in strengthening Israeli national unity. Netanyahu was right when he said that his response to Obama on a Palestinian state enhanced Israel’s national unity. Now we are all seekers of peace.  We are all in favor of a Palestinian state.  Our conscience is clear. Thus, the vision of the left has been realized, and even some of the commentators who have been the most critical over the years (such as Zvi Barel and Akiva Eldar), were blown away by Netanyahu’s declaration and now claim that the ball is in the Palestinians’ court.
 
The nationalist centre, just like the right, has always understood that the phrase “Palestinian state” is nothing to be afraid of. They understand very well that bantustans can be established behind such a slogan. Indeed, for many years now Netanyahu has been speaking of Andorra as a model for a Palestinian state. During his first government his spokesman, David Bar Ilan, said that it made no difference to him whether the Palestinians called the remnant of Palestine that remained to them “The State of Palestine” or “Fried Chicken.”
 
But still, Israel is taking no chances. Successive generations of Israeli governments have presented the Palestinians with conditions for the establishment of a state that no Palestinian could possibly accept. The “Road Map,” for example, includes no fewer than 14 such conditions. The latest formulations intended to foreclose any agreement are for a “demilitarized state” and the recently-added, ultimate condition of Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Demilitarization means a state that lacks the means to defend itself against its neighbor, which is said to be the fourth most powerful state in the world militarily. The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state means final Palestinian recognition of the Zionist victory over the Palestinians, implying that the establishment of Israel and the expulsion of the Palestinians was just, and that the Palestinians’ right of return for the refugees is null and void. That, of course, is an unacceptable condition for the achievement of peace or, as Shimon Shamir, a noted scholar of Middle East studies and former ambassador to Egypt, expressed it so astutely in Haaretz: that condition demands of the Palestinians that they exchange their own narrative for that of the Zionists.
 
In conclusion, it can be said that the first half-year of the Obama Administration has enhanced Israel’s power and strengthened its government of occupation. It has allowed Israel to recoup the international status it lost after Operation Cast Lead. And this has been achieved thanks to a completely vacuous statement about a demilitarized state, to which the Palestinians certainly cannot agree. (I believe, by the way, that despite the impression that was previously created about a supposed “rift” between Obama and Netanyahu, they probably agreed on that formula at their first meeting.) 
 
Netanyahu’s declaration about two states presents Israel to the world as a state that seeks compromise and peace. Add to that an American propaganda campaign with the personal participation of Obama, who declared to Mubarak last week in Washington that Israel was “on the right track.”  In the eyes of Washington’s supporters at least, including most of Europe, Israel now appears as a member of Obama’s peace front.  Obama’s demand of the “moderate” Arab states that they renew their relations with Israel is part of that same campaign. And all that has been achieved without Israel budging an inch.  Israel has not withdrawn from even a single millimeter of the Occupied Territories nor has it stopped construction there. 
 
Obama’s strategic objective in our region is the creation of an alliance or front between the “moderate” Arab states and Israel. Netanyahu’s declaration about two states would seem to be a negligible price for Israel to pay for such an alliance. That front is being established to help the United States in its struggle against Iran and in its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and maybe Pakistan as well. It is also an alliance against the Arab nationalist movements in the region, against Hamas and Hizbollah and anyone who is not willing to submit to American hegemony, such as Syria and maybe even Turkey.
 
Obama is a “friend of Israel” and he is integrating it into his strategic plans. In the context of his broad global plans, the small project of Israeli colonialism does not deprive him of any sleep. It can be assumed that the Israeli elites and a substantial part of the Israeli public are happy with such a situation.. But anyone who rejoices at the prospect of war must be reminded that the recent American war plans have brought nothing but disaster to those who have taken part in them. It suffices to look around and to see what is going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Millions of people have been killed or wounded, and have lost their homes and their property in those wars. Israel is too small for such wars and these modern means of warfare threaten us as well. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, integration into these plans involves a commitment to a permanent war against the Arab world. Neither the Israelis nor the Arabs can expect any peace or security as a result. There really is no substitute for peace!
 
 
* “From Cairo With Love”, by Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, 11-17 June 2009. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/951/sc04.htm
 
** Jean Bricmont, “Humanitarian Imperialism”. Monthly Review Press. 2006

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