As Abba Eban, the distinguished Israeli diplomat, politician and writer, once said of the Arabs but true of today’s Palestinians, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
As I reported yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu proposed and has now had approved a 10 month moratorium on settlement building in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). This specifically excludes necessary building on existing settlements but also stipulates there will be no appropriation of land.
But the big omission is that Jerusalem is exempt from the moratorium, which is consistent with Israel’s position that Jerusalem is the indivisible capital of the Jewish people and it will build for Jews, Arabs and anyone else wherever it wishes within the city.
But this provided a get out clause for the Palestinian leadership as I predicted. The Jerusalem Post reports
He said Wednesday’s announcement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aimed more toward appeasing American pressure than truly trying to reconcile with Palestinians.
“At the end of the day Netanyahu needs to make peace with us, the Palestinians, he doesn’t need to make peace with Americans,” Erekat told Army Radio. “If that is what he wants, that is his business. The last I know, Washington is 6,000 miles from Jerusalem, while Jericho is 67.”
The Palestinian Authority:
Already on Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority strongly rejected Netanyahu’s plan, and reiterated its refusal to return to the negotiating table with Israel.Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that the Palestinians rejected the plan because it did not include Jerusalem.
Today the Israeli Government Press Office announced that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has proposed a 10 month suspension of new construction permits in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)
As part of the efforts to give momentum to the peace talks with the Palestinian Authority and advance Israel’s comprehensive national interests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will today (Wednesday), 25.11.09, ask the Security Cabinet to approve a ten-month suspension of new residential construction permits and new residential construction starts in Judea and Samaria.
Prime Minister Netanyahu told Security Cabinet members at the start of today’s meeting that, “In the international circumstances that have been created, this step will promote Israel’s broad national interests. This is neither simple nor easy but it has many more advantages than disadvantages. It allows us to place a simple fact before the world: The Government of Israel wants to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians, is taking practical steps in order to do so and is very serious in its intentions to promote peace.”
This follows a real bruhaha about the permits to extend the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo. Just about every newspaper outside Israel claimed Gilo was a settlement; but as Maurice Ostroff has demonstrated in the Jerusalem Post it is nothing of the sort:
THE REALITY is that Gilo is very different than the outposts in the West Bank. It is not in east Jerusalem as widely reported. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of around 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in south west Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. There is no inference whatsoever that it rests on Arab land.
But back to the point: Netanyahu has thrown down the gauntlet. He is saying we have now gone as far as is politically possible to meet US and Palestinian Authority demands. Your move.
But now let’s see what the PA thinks of next. Having received this concession it will no doubt find an excuse to reject it and demand even more. This is the usual game. Demand until Israel can no longer say yes, and then paint them as the obstacle to peace. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.
The Independent today showed a picture taken in 2004 of an alleged breach of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq.
The incident is to be investigated at a public inquiry to be announced tomorrow by Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, which will also examine evidence of one of the worst atrocities ever carried out by the British Army.
It is claimed that hours after the picture … was taken, the four men were transferred to a UK-run detention camp where they were badly beaten and where 20 other civilians were murdered by British soldiers.
It is clearly correct for the British Government to address these allegations and take appropriate action against the perpetrators if found guilty.
But wait a minute. Soldiers abusing Muslims? International Law broken? Soldiers murdering civilians? Now where have we heard this recently? Oh yes, of course. Gaza! The Goldstone Report.
So where are (or indeed were) the demonstrations on the British streets about these specific alleged atrocities? Where are the special meetings of the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council)? Where are the demonizations of the UK in the world’s press? Where the outrage in the Muslim world? Where the Channel 4 report?
Have you seen any of these in the past 5 years? General outrage about the invasion, yes, but no international pillorying of the UK per se, no condemnation of the entire British Army. Only ‘concerns’ about specific incidents.
So why when it comes to Israel are things so different? Why are Israeli internal investigations whitewashes, but British ones acceptable?
There couldn’t be bias going on by any chance? Nah! Surely not.
There have been a number of outstanding and some amusing rejoinders to the Channel 4′s “Dispatches: Inside the Israel Lobby” which illustrate, as I said yesterday, what a pile of doo-doo the programme was.
Some of these commentators point out how dangerous it is to trot out the usual tropes of shadowy rich Jews manipulating government and the media, and how close this sort of defamation is to 1930′s Nazi propaganda. Of course it is nothing like as virulent but it is, nevertheless, malign and panders to the worst type of conspiracy theorist, anti-Semite and anti-Zionist tendencies in British society whilst ignoring far more sinister and dangerous elements. In this respect, the treatment here of the Israel Lobby is the same as much treatment in the media of Israel itself: a crass, disproportionate, obsessive demonization, twisted half-truths and downright lies.
Here are some links to the responses to which I refer:
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme (Monday 16th November) about the British ‘Israel Lobby’ was very poor journalism which began with an agenda, tried as hard as it could to prove its own premise, failed to do so but reached the conclusion it set out to demonstrate: The Israel lobby works (behind the scenes) to subvert the British political class and media with money and bullying tactics and is effectively working for a foreign power.
This was a sordid piece of polemic which came pretty close to the usual canards whilst stating, just in case any accusation might come its way, that ‘there is no conspiracy’ – well that’s a relief – but there is one, of course, a conspiracy to defame Israel and (a section of) the Jews of Britain and those who try, against overwhelming media bias, to put Israel’s case to the British public.
The huge gap between reality and delusion was aptly demonstrated by Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, who could find no connection between media reporting on Israel and anti-Semitic attacks.
The accusation, which was advertised before the programme went out, that the ‘Lobby’ is working in the interests of a foreign power and against the interests of Britain, defames thousands of loyal British citizens. The programme failed to recognise the unique, deep and abiding connection between most Jews and Israel and characterised this as treasonous.
I support Israel’s right to exist and resist terrorist attacks, donate to charities that operate within Israel, write letters and emails to newspapers and the BBC, have a Zionist blog, therefore I am a traitor; a veritable latter-day Lord Haw-Haw. But much more importantly, BiCom the ZF, Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel and all other groups that are pro-Israel are treacherously working against the interests of Britain, no doubt manipulated by the deep subterranean machinations of the Elders of Zion themselves.
Following my previous post, I’d urge readers to look at the TUFI web site and read about how Israeli and Palestinian Trades Union co-operate and contribute enormously to improving conditions in the Palestinian Authority amd creating a paradigm for future co-operation and mutual respect.
Please take time, especially, to read about what TUFI says about boycotts.
Meanwhile ASLEF (train drivers’ union) supports the Left Wing Hands Off Venezuela Campaign and Hugo Chavez, friend of Iran, Libya and other nasty dictatorships. This is the base from which boycott calls against Israel arise; not from the realities but from pure ideological prejudice. This leads to obscenities such as British Trades Unions supporting obnoxious regimes directly or indirectly.
Yeah, kinda goes against your preconceptions and prejudices, doesn’t it.
Recently, TUFI ([British]Trade Union Friends of Israel) went on their own fact-finding mission to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority West Bank to meet Israeli and Palestinian Trades Unionists.
Each day one of their number wrote a short blog article about their experiences.
You can find their blog here.
Here are some of the interesting and revealing things they had to say. Yes, I know they are ‘Friends of Israel’ but the TUFI mission statement states:
TUFI was established to promote Israeli-Palestinian trade union co-operation and strengthen the links between the Israeli, Palestinian and British trade union movements.
On the every first day, Terry McCorran, clearly on a first visit to Israel says at the beginning of his blog entry:
The first thing to say is that Israel was not what I expected, at all….. I was expecting a large Israeli military presence – like there used to be in my home town of Belfast – but throughout the day we only saw a handful of soldiers walking around Jerusalem.
It is often the case that those who only know a place by media reporting and British media reporting at that, form preconceptions that are not matched on the ground. In a recent BBC programme about the Frankincense which tracked the ancient trade route from Yemen to Gaza, when report Kate Humble arrived at the Jordanian-Israeli border to enter Israel she was expecting a different reception. She told us that the Israeli Army has reputation for being formidable and she was clearly apprehensive. She was then amazed that the only person at the border post was a diminutive female border guard and instead of being delayed an interrogated by those nasty Israeli soldiers, she and her camera team entered Israel in a matter of minutes. Humble, like McCorran have be conditioned to think of Israel in the way it is represented by the media and anti-Israel propaganda.
It is hard to describe how intertwined the significant religious sites are in the Old City – Churches, Mosques and Synagogues next to each other, overlapping and sometimes even on top of one another. The proximity is astounding.
I expected to see friction and stand-offs, but people were just getting on with their lives with complete religious tolerance and freedom.
Well, yes, again, life is always different from propaganda. McCorran, no doubt, had seen and read about the problems on the Temple Mount because Muslim clerics and the Palestinian leadership have been trying to manufacture stories about Jewish plans to both undermine the Al Aqsa mosque and to storm the Temple Mount and claim it for Judaism. As a result there were tensions and incidents but it seems Israeli Arabs and Palestinians didn’t buy in to their own propaganda and despite ongoing attempts to stir things up, so far, the Third Intifada has not happened. As McCorran witnessed first-hand, people just go about their daily lives.
The thing that struck me the most was the mix of people in the different quarters – Arabs, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, Christians and secular people all walking and working freely side by side. Our Jewish guide seemed to be friends with every Palestinian in the Arab quarter and everyone was working together.
But aren’t Jews and Muslims supposed to hate each other?! This is the same Jerusalem from which every Jew was expelled by the Jordanians in 1948 and every synagogue destroyed. Those Israeli Jews are amazing: they actually allow their non-Jewish citizens to work and practice their religion in freedom and respect – like any other decent, enlightened, democratic nation.
I got the impression that if left to their own devises – if the extremists on both sides backed off – the people of Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine would have peace.
Amen to that, brother.
And so to the Knesset:
It just so happened that when we walked in an Arab Member of the Knesset was making a speech against some of the government’s policies in the West Bank.
What! Freedom of Speech! Freedom to criticise the government! Freedom to vote and organise politically! I can hardly contain myself. But Israel is worse than Iran, isn’t it? Ok, some Arab MK’s have been making very anti-Israel statements and, yes, the reaction of some Israeli MK’s (heard of Avigdor Lieberman, for example?) have been pretty extreme and, yes, Israeli Arabs do face some discrimination, but there are a whole raft of NGO’s, political groups, individuals and also the Supreme Court who are working in the interest of Arabs within Israel and the Territories. At least mechanisms exist in Israel to stand up for minorities and to try to right wrongs. Name me one Arab country where the same could be said. Go on. Still thinking are you? You’ll be thinking a very long time.
Later in the day we had a very positive meeting with a representative working for Tony Blair at the UN Quartet office in Jerusalem.
He said that although there were still many problems for people in the West Bank, there had been significant achievements in the last twelve months. He said that for the first time the Palestinian Authority was performing on the security side, which in turn has lead to improvements with security and access.
He emphasised that there was no comparison to how it was just two years ago, with checkpoints being opened up and dismantled and the economy growing dramatically in the West Bank.
Again this was another positive that has not been reported by the media. And this is my concluding point – the main eye opener of the day for me is that there seems to be little or no resemblance between what I have seen today and how Israel is sometimes portrayed in the media back home.
I don’t think any comment is necessary, just read that last sentence again.
And so it goes on. Day Two, Gerry Maloney:
One of the most surprising things about Israel is the lack of ill-well and bad sentiment between Jewish Israelis and the Israeli-Arabs.
We have visited both Jewish orthodox areas and Arab areas and found both communities mixing freely.
Each community seemed to be perfectly at ease with the other. This was the exact opposite of what I expected to see – it was certainly the opposite of what the media in the United Kingdom report….
… The media propagate Israel as being a “military state” but the reality is that there has been no military presence in evidence at all.
Now here’s the rub:
Listening to people from both communities on the subject of the proposed international trade union boycott, it is evident that all parties oppose this action. In a meeting with the Jerusalem Municipality workers, one view from the Palestinian contingent was that a boycott would be more detrimental to the Arab workforce than any other.
The reason for this was that in the event of economic sanctions, it would cause a detrimental impact on the employment levels of their community.
Are you listening Israel boycotters everywhere? THE PALESTINIANS DO NOT WANT YOU TO BOYCOTT ISRAELI GOODS. The Palestinians that really count, that is, not their leaders or the fanatics among them but every day decent Palestinians trying to earn a living. The boycotters would harm the very people they are supposed to be trying to support. But they don’t really care about that because the boycott is not about Palestinians and their rights, it is about demonizing and delegitimizing Israel. Boycotters hate Israel so much they are willing to make the Palestinians pay for it.
Finally, having spent a few days in Israel, I certainly intend to return for a holiday. …. the climate is a warm and inviting as any Mediterranean resort and, most importantly, completely safe.
Completely safe!! Yes, you heard and read right. Completely safe!!! I can vouch for the fact that in Israel you feel much safer walking at night than you do in London or Manchester. I am not saying Israel is crime-free, on the contrary there is a growing problem with crime. But attacks against the person are far less frequent than in Europe. Let’s hope it stays that way. Oh, you may scoff and ask how safe it is for a Palestinian who lives near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. How about one who lives in Gaza City under a fundamentalist Islamic regime> I know where I’d rather be.
As the delegation moved to Nablus, Mike Dixon reported on the positives but also found negativity with a Trade Unionist referring to Israel as her enemy. But even here in the heart of Palestine the boycott was not wanted. They were more concerned with the traditional trade union concerns of pay and conditions.
You can be cynical and say TUFI were pre-disposed to finding the positives in Israel and that may well be true, but they report what they saw and they spoke to both sides.
Boycotts are cynical, political, anti-Israel mechanisms which harm Palestinians and ignore the facts. Let’s hope that that lesson is learned around the world and here in the UK. Somehow, I doubt it. TUFI is a minority in the Trades Union movement and boycotts or attempts to boycott will continue to be used against one country – Israel.
Yesterday the UN General Assembly approved the Human Rights Council sponsored Goldstone Report recommendations.
The Report found that Israel and Hamas may both have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Israel refused to cooperate with the fact-finding mission because it believed that those doing the fact finding had already made up their minds that Israel (and not Hamas) had committed war crimes. The report, therefore, was biased from the start.
The report itself focused almost entirely on perceived Israeli infringements whilst barely mentioning Hamas at all. The weight of the report was firmly against Israel with accusations of disproportionality, deliberately targeting civilians and even attacked the Israel Supreme Court and its justice system, acknowledged to be one of the very best and most impartial in the world. In other words, Israel was accused of the very things it prides itself as not being.
The HRC decision to recommend to the General Assembly was made by a rag-bag of dictatorships and human rights offenders including Libya and Egypt. The HRC and, indeed, the UN General Assembly have proved to be obsessed with condemnations of Israel whilst overlooking gross injustices and crimes elsewhere in the world which dwarf even the worst accusations against Israel.
Any country which has such accusations against it must surely respond to the recommendations which would be to set up an independent body to investigate the findings of the report.
Israel (that is the IDF) had already begun and completed a number of investigations even during the conflict and these investigations are ongoing. Israel considers itself to be as capable as any Western democracy in investigating alleged crimes that it or its citizens are accused of making.
But the problem Israel has in agreeing am independent internal investigation is that it gives legitimacy to a UN and an HRC that comprise members whose sole obsession is to paint Israel as the fount of most of the evil in the world whilst ignoring the crimes of other UN members including Security Council members Russia (Chechnya, South Ossetia) and China (Tibet).
But there is some confusion about what any investigation should investigate. Goldstone did not seem to be concerned with named soldiers as much as the state itself in the areas of: proportionality including inter alia the extent of destruction to civilian infrastructure, illegal weapons use and rules of engagement including white flag infringements.
In other words it is state policy that is in the dock although, in theory of course, individuals in government and senior officers could be held accountable within Israel or abroad.
Israel has already stated that it will allow no IDF officer to be prosecuted abroad. If Israel does not hold internationally credible investigations it seems we will shortly be in a position where Israeli politicians and soldiers will be unable to travel to Europe, for example, for fear of arrest. There have already been attempts by pro-Palestinians in Britain to have Israeli politicians arrested.
So what is the ‘opportunity’ in my title. Well it is this: both Israel AND Hamas have been asked to carry out credible investigations. Despite the absurdity of a terrorist organisation investigating its own terrorism, here’s the opportunity: if Israel complies, however hard that bitter pill is to swallow, and if the conclusions of such an investigation are accepted, then there will be no need for the International Criminal Court to issue warrants or whatever it is they do. But as Hamas surely won’t investigate themselves then they will be subject to such actions and their gross violations laid bare, even in absentia, perhaps.
Is this too much to hope for? Well, the first question is: is there any way that Israel could ever satisfy the international community that their own investigations are fair when that same community is so clearly bent on the destruction of Israel and the glorification of its enemies? Probably not.
Then there is the issue of interpretation of international law. Proportionality, which lies at the heart of the accusations against Israel, depends on who is doing the proportioning. If you are a Human Rights NGO or you are predisposed to be anti-Israel for whatever motivation, then your interpretation of what is proportional will be different to that of Israel itself which is fighting an existential war against forces which are fanatically committed to its destruction and who use all and every means to further their genocidal war against Israel and the Jews. I speak of Hamas, Hizbullah AND Fatah (the latter who are seen as moderates but whose intentions ultimately are the same – destroy Israel, destroy Jewish culture and blot out and annihilate Jewish history in the Holy Land).
Israel’s definition of proportionality will depend on its interpretation of the level of threat posed by Hamas and the methods Hamas used to wage war from within a civilian population and to exploit that population and all its instruments mercilessly and cynically.
So it is likely that any putative independent Israeli investigation’s conclusions will not be accepted by an Israel-hostile world. But as I have argued before, it is still worth doing for Israel’s sake because the Goldstone Report despite its many flaws does ask serious questions about the conduct of asymmetric warfare (although it does not properly give weight to the challenge of such warfare) and an independent investigation is necessary for Israel’s moral health and will also bring to the fore some of the most important questions we face: how do you fight an enemy which hides behind the sick, women, children and the elderly; how do you fight an enemy prepared to sacrifice itself and its own civilians; how do you fight an enemy that has a cult of death; how do you fight religious fanatics; how do protect the innocent under such circumstances; what value do you put on your own life and the life of your fellow soldiers and civilians when compared to the lives of the enemy and its civilians with whom you have no quarrel.
The laws of warfare and human rights have developed apace since World War II. They were framed for a very different world order. That doesn’t make those laws any less valid, but it does mean that interpretation of them has to be nuanced and contextual. If the UN and the HRC are not even-handed when it comes to investigating nations then the HRC and the UN should be held in contempt. Sadly, as flawed as the UN is, a world without it and the opportunities it provides for dialogue among nations and even enemies, would be a lot worse.