Archive for the ‘Settlements’ Category


This article originally appeared at LobeLog. There is an indispensable wealth of material there on recent events in Israel/Palestine, Iran, Egypt and others. I urge you to check it out.

Some days, it must be really difficult to be the State Department’s spokesperson. It doesn’t seem like a bad job to have at all, but on certain questions it’s impossible to not look like an idiot. A lot of those questions are connected to de facto policies which differ from de jure ones.

Look up the hill from the West Bank town of Tuwani and you see the Israeli settlement, Maon

Look up the hill from the West Bank town of Tuwani and you see the Israeli settlement, Maon

And there is no better example of that than US policy on Israeli settlements.

Back in the early years after the 1967 war, the United States made it clear that the settlements were illegal according to international law. As recently as 1978, the State Department legal adviser confirmed that all Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal, and through the Carter administration, this was explicit US policy. That policy has never been explicitly revoked, but beginning with the Reagan administration, de facto policy has been ambiguous. Reagan began the trend when he stated that while the settlements were ill-advised, provocative and that further settlement was not necessary for Israel’s security “I disagreed when, the previous Administration refereed to them as illegal, they’re not illegal.  Not under the U.N. resolution that leaves the West Bank open to all people—Arab and Israeli alike, Christian alike.”

The problematic nature of Reagan’s statement — implying that “Arab” equals “Muslim” and “Israeli” equals “Jew”, and more importantly, citing the “U.N. Resolution”, which is not the basis for the illegality of the settlements (the Fourth Geneva Convention is) — notwithstanding, this was the beginning of the US’ refusal to label settlements illegal, terming them instead, at most, “illegitimate.” (more…)

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My report for Inter Press on restarting peace talks while Israel says “Build, baby, build.”

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The idea of Israel building in E-1 has got world leaders in quite a lather. But is it really because it is the death knell for the two-state solution or is it because even raising the issue betrays the reality that there never was a serious effort to reach a two-state resolution to this conflict to begin with, despite the rhetoric? I argue it is both.

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In my latest piece for Babylon Times, hosted by Souciant, I use a recent piece by Jeffrey Goldberg to examine how it is that some ostensible two-state, anti-settlement, so-called “pro-Israel” types seriously distort the daily realities life under Israeli occupation for Palestinians, particularly on the West Bank.

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When I read about the horrifying slaughter of five members of the Fogel family, who lived in the settlement of Itamar, I had to ask myself why I reacted the way I did.

Was the rage I felt, the intense moral revulsion, due in any way because these were fellow Jews? After all, I receive daily, often even more frequently, reports from NGOs, human rights groups, the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli and Palestinian governments and a wide variety of international sources, many of which describe horrible acts of violence and killing.

The IDF has increased its presence throughout the West Bank in the wake of the murders in Itamar

The answer is no, but let me explain why I wondered. My reaction to this event was strong, and not in the least tempered by the fact that these people were settlers living in one of the most ideologically-driven settlements, a frequent boiling pot for violence against Palestinians, as well as being one of the more frequent targets of Palestinian violence when it has occurred against settlers. Thankfully, Israeli civilian casualties have become much rarer in the last few years. But Palestinian civilians are killed much more frequently.

During Operation Cast Lead, Palestinian babies were also killed, as is not unusual in war. Given the general disregard the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) showed for civilian life during that onslaught, it cannot be known how accidental those deaths were, but the sheer number of them certainly leads to a reasonable assessment that there was, at the very least, reckless and criminal disregard.

The difference, for me, and the reason for my visceral reaction to these murders (and, like an incident I discussed last year, that’s just what this was—cold-blooded murder of the foulest kind. Such an act must not be confused in any way with resistance to the occupation) might be more of a personal difference than a moral one.

The inescapable image from this incident is of a cold-blooded killer stabbing to death a 3-year old toddler and an infant of only three months of life. One can’t help but wonder what kind of a monster, no matter how much injustice he may have suffered, could bring himself to do such a thing. (more…)

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See Part I here

Last week, I detailed part of the price the US is likely to pay for this veto, the first one in over four years (seven Mideast resolutions have passed in that time). But there will surely be more.

There are two main factors that compound the effect this veto has: the rhetoric of the current President of the United States and this particular moment in history.

Americans are not going to remember this veto for very long; we rarely do. But the fishbowl Americans live in is transparent, and others, who do not have the luxury of

Mahmoud Abbas has what is likely his last chance to lead Palestinians toward progress

being able to treat international relations so lightly, have much better memories.

People still recall President Obama’s eloquent speech in Cairo in 2009. And they’ve long since realized that he is never going to live up to the pretty words. Obama expresses very noble ideals, but he is not a fighter for those ideals. He seeks at all times to avoid confrontations, whether with Republicans, members of his own party in Congress or in the international arena.

But in this case, all Obama needed to do was to stand aside on a resolution that reflects official US policy. Yes, people in the Arab world, as well as Israeli peace activists, realize that would have been a political headache. But it’s a little hard for them to muster sympathy right now for the American president.

Obama has done a shameful job of responding to the ongoing tidal wave of revolution in the Arab world. While people risk life and limb to rid themselves of dictators, some of them long-time clients of the USA, the US’ only response has been for everyone to show “restraint.” The only harsh statement was aimed at Iran, reflecting not a response to the battles for freedom, but a cynical political opportunism that completely smothers any hint of principle.

Amidst all of that, the US had a golden opportunity to reshape our badly tarnished image. Just an abstention on the UNSC resolution, just that small gesture in the one part of the Middle East where the US could, potentially, wield by far the most influence to free people from a regime which does not respect their human, much less civil rights, would have made up for quite a bit of American failure. (more…)

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The much anticipated United States veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements came about on Friday. It surprised no one, but, as I wrote last week, the repercussions of this veto are going to be much deeper than the numerous previous vetoes.

The US has vetoed a great many UNSC resolutions that dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though there have also been many, even in recent years, which the US did

Susan Rice and Barack Obama saw AIPAC coming and got the message from Congress loud and clear

not veto. But this time the resolution was not only perfectly in line with official US policy, but it dealt with an issue the current administration had confronted head-on but had failed to affect in any measurable way.

Susan Rice’s statement of explanation about the US veto is an absolute mess of double-talk and distortions. This really isn’t surprising; there is little doubt that the White House and State Department made the veto decision based not on a sober analysis of what is best for Israel or the Palestinians or for US interests in the Middle East.

No, this decision was made because of the massive congressional pressure that was brought to bear on this question. And, in turn, that congressional pressure came at the behest of AIPAC. That’s why the explanation sounds so thin, why it is based on tired clichés that we’ve heard for years and have long since been exposed as threadbare. And I say this as one who is not a subscriber to the Israel Lobby theory, who has, in fact, written extensively to the contrary. But in those writings, I never tried to deny that the Lobby has enormous power in Congress, and this is a case where that is very effective.

Let’s consider Rice’s explanation before we look at the ramifications of this decision, which I will do in part II of this piece. Rice said:

Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.

The proposed UNSC resolution would have reaffirmed that all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal. Indeed, this is the US’ official policy, as affirmed in an April 21, 1978 State Department legal opinion, which has never been revised or reversed: “While Israel may undertake, in the occupied territories, actions necessary to meet its military needs and to provide for orderly government during the occupation, for the reasons indicated above the establishment of the civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law.”(my emphasis added) Reading more excerpts from this opinion is well worth your while. (more…)

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