Archive for February 16th, 2011

The Obama Administration has tried to distinguish itself from its predecessor by seeking to work with the international community rather than outside of it. The problem it encounters, though, is that when it comes to Israel, the international community pulls in one direction and Congress, under pressure from pro-Israel PACs, pulls in the other.

So, in the matter of the upcoming UNSC resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the Obama administration will veto the resolution, but would very much prefer it doesn’t come to that. So, they’re making an offer to the Palestinians (at whose behest the resolution was brought and who, if they gavce the word, can easily have it withdrawn).

The offer was reported in Foreign Policy tonight: “Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group, a bloc of Arab countries from North Africa and the Middle East. In exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.”

The offer as presented is rather vague. The US would “consider” supporting a UNSC visit to the Mideast (which would be symbolic and accomplish nothing) and would commit to “strong language” from the Quartet on settlements, which could mean anything. (more…)

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Just in case you thought that it was only Palestinians under occupation, or Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, or even Palestinian citizens of Israel who are feeling the brunt of Israel’s boot, in comes a Knesset bill that would make it a crime for any Israeli to advocate boycotts against Israel. Bear in mind that, legally, the settlements would be considered “Israel” for these purposes. The bill just passed its first reading.

That means it still has a long way to go before it becomes law, and I tend to agree with a number of analysts and colleagues who have said that the bill will probably eventually become law but in a considerably watered-down form. Still, in any form, this is obviously an attack on free speech and active dissent in Israel.

Lest you think that this bill is a product of an extreme wing of Israel’s political spectrum, of the three Knesset members who initiated the bill, two are from the two biggest parties in the country, Likud and Kadima. Those two parties occupy nearly half of the Knesset seats (55 out of 120). So this is not a product of the margins.

I hasten to add that there is also opposition to this bill in both parties, particularly Kadima. Still, just the fact that such a bill comes up speaks volumes. I’ll also add, in case I need to, that this cannot compare, of course, to the treatment of Palestinians, including citizens of Israel. But this attack on free speech is all of a piece with the state violence and all part of the degradation of Israel that is part and parcel of its occupation, its racism and its policies.

Click here to read the report on this bill from the Alternative Information Center in Israel.

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It has become something of a sad and pathetic ritual at the UN Security Council. Other countries, including European ones, try to craft a resolution to try to get Israel to change its destructive and self-destructive course and the US uses its veto power, or the threat of using it, to make sure the resolution is never passed.

The scene has been played out so many times that it is fair to ask why anyone is even making a big deal about it this time. The Palestinians conferred with other countries, some on the Security Council, and pieced together a resolution which should be uncontroversial. It condemns Israeli settlement activity as illegal and calls for a halt of such activity and renewed efforts toward ending the occupation and creating a viable Palestinian state.

US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice confers with Hillary Clinton

No country, including the United States though excepting Israel, disagrees with that stance in any measure. That, however, has been true of many resolutions the United States has vetoed in the past. And those vetoes have frequently employed the same, horribly weak excuse: “We do not feel the Security Council is the place to resolve these issues.”

That contention is absurd on its face, as MJ Rosenberg points out. The UNSC is precisely the place where violations of international law need to be dealt with, and it is also the body that bears the most responsibility for keeping the peace in the world. If this is not what the UNSC is for, then what purpose does it serve?

But this has all been true in the past. Yet there is something different in the air today as the US veto looms.

And loom it does. We hear that loud and clear in the testimony Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg gave to the House of Representatives on February 10: “We have made very clear that we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues…We have had some success, at least for the moment, in not having that arise there. And we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen.” (more…)

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When I was a kid, my family, friends, and school all passed various hats, boxes and pledge cards around to raise money for the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, or Jewish National Fund. This was all about planting trees in Israel.

As I became a teenager, and on into my early 20s, and the situation in Israel became somewhat more fraught for me, I still saw giving to the JNF as one sure way to promote something good without the political entanglements of so many other causes.

This is what a "rebuilt" home in al-Aqaba looks like and the villagers are not even allowed this. (Photo by Joseph Dana, posted at Electronic Intifada)

Boy was I wrong.

In the town of al-Araqib, in the Negev desert, a JNF bulldozer is standing poised at the village cemetery, ready to plow it down in order to make way for…wait for it…a “peace forest.”

This is the 17th time the village has been razed by the Israel Land Authority, which controls all state land, some of it in partnership with the JNF. The Bedouin claim to this land has been in dispute since 1951 when, the villagers say, they were forced out. Israel claims the land was abandoned, a very familiar claim regarding Arab lands in the wake of a war from which many families, not wanting to get shot or blown up, did flee, expecting to return.

Al-Araqib is one of many so-called “unrecognized villages” in the Negev. By definition, all construction in these villages is illegal in Israel, because the state will not grant a building permit in a village which, technically, “does not exist.” (more…)

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