US Senators Press Lebanon on International Tribunal

American leaders continue to demonstrate that changes in the rest of the world, and the deep flaws in our foreign policy which they reveal, will have no impact on our thinking whatsoever. The latest case in point is the position staked out by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) with regard to Lebanon.

Remember Lebanon? Subsequent events have pushed Lebanon out of the news in the United States and even, to a lesser extent, in Israel, which has more reason to be concerned with what goes on there. But the collapse of Lebanon’s government at the beginning of this year remains at issue, and, with all the consternation these days

Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain

about where a post-Mubarak Egypt will end up, Lebanon has at least as much potential for both international intrigue and internal strife as any country in the Middle East.

Lebanon’s political situation is always precarious; it’s only a matter of degree. But with a caretaker government currently in power and the still-looming announcement of indictments by the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Lebanon is a powder keg. And it’s not happening in a vacuum.

The two competing coalitions are each in the favor of a different array of outside actors. The March 8 Alliance, which currently holds 70 of the 128 seats in Parliament, includes Hezbollah and is sympathetic to Syria and Iran. The March 14 Alliance features former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and enjoys much stronger relationships with France, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The STL was set up to investigate the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, a widely respected leader who was also opposed to the Syrian presence in his country.

Not surprisingly, the STL was, at first, expected to point the accusing finger at Syria. Now, the talk is centered on Hezbollah. The arrest and imprisonment for four years without charge of four pro-Syrian generals who were later freed for lack of evidence greatly increased the politicization of the STL, and this continued as Hezbollah went on a rhetorical offensive about it, including accusing Israel of Hariri’s murder.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s speculations about Israeli responsibility have only minimal evidentiary support, but they are not impossible either. But they served their purpose in further undermining the STL’s credibility.

Hezbollah and Syria both had motive to kill Hariri, and if both or either were involved, they would have every reason to do anything they can to discredit the STL. But the fact that supposedly key testimony has been retracted and that many accusations of false testimony have been leveled; that the direction of accusations was leaked to the public at such an early stage; that four Lebanese generals were jailed for four years without trial or charge and then freed for lack of evidence; that Hariri has publicly retracted his accusations against Syria for the killing of his father; and the campaign against it by Hezbollah and Syria, including the theory of Israeli involvement have all combined to cast the legitimacy into doubt should be giving us serious pause. It isn’t, apparently. Continue reading

Did Israel Provoke Increase in Rockets to Justify Operation Cast Lead?

Prior to Operation Cast Lead, the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-09, there had been six months of a truce which both sides claimed the other did not maintain in good faith. Still, the truce endured.

When Israel escalated the tensions on November 4, 2008, killing six Hamas men in an operation Israel said was meant to thwart a tunnel Hamas was building to abduct more Israeli soldiers, some people felt that Israel was intentionally raising the stakes because the truce was holding and Hamas was fortifying its position in Gaza.

Destroyed buildings in the the Bau'lusha family's neighborhood. Picture: B'Tselem.

Therefore, the thinking went, Israel struck hard at Hamas with an excuse knowing that Hamas would feel it had no choice but to retaliate.

Well, that line of thinking got quite a boost when Wikileaks released a cable earlier this week containing an American report on a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Here is the relevant passage: Continue reading

PA Panicked by Palestine Papers

The PLO’s spokesman, Saeb Erekat, released a statement today in response to Al Jazeera’s publication of The Palestine Papers. The release is pasted below.

The statement would seem, at least at this early stage, to reflect genuine panic on Erekat’s part. The standard denial of something having been “taken out of context,” which is often very valid, plays very badly when the full contents of the minutes of meetings and entire documents are what he is addressing.

Saeb Erekat seems to know he's in a very bad position because of the Palestine Papers

His statement that the PA position has maintained the traditional Palestinian stances — “…to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian State along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and to reach a just solution to the refugee issue based on their international legal rights, including those set out in UNGA 194…”– is clearly contradicted by the contents of the Papers.

Even more, the assertion that the PA made today, that Al Jazeera was essentially acting as a tool of the Qatar government, which is relatively friendly toward Hamas, has no foundation. It’s similar to the Israeli tactic regarding the Goldstone Report, which was to try to attack the source’s credibility rather than deal with the substance, which was largely unassailable.

Also today, a mob of Abbas supporters attacked the Al Jazeera headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank. They did some damage an no one, apparently, was injured. The crowd was said to number around 250 people. Was that staged? Who can say, though I have my suspicions. But if a lot of Palestinians really bought Erekat’s response, that number would surely have been much higher; Ramallah is a pretty packed city.

Even if the PA, with its current Fatah leadership, somehow manages to stay in power after this, the PLO’s legitimacy as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” is hopelessly compromised.  Continue reading

Danny Ayalon Plays a Losing Blame Game

While taking apart an argument made by Danny Ayalon may seem like shooting fish in a barrel, his op-ed in today’s LA Times contains so many inaccuracies or outright falsehoods, and there are enough people, both in the US and Israel, who will take this piece seriously, that it seems worth the time. Ayalon offered up a fine brew of classic myths and his own, odd version of reality, so let’s dig into it and see what the facts are.

Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, the Israeli position on the peace process has

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

constantly progressed and evolved. That has been best enunciated by the generous offers made by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Meeting nearly all of the Palestinian demands, these offers were rejected without further discussion or counteroffer.

Ayalon starts out with a classic. The so-called “generous offer” that Barak made was a take-it-or-leave-it offer that fell well short of minimal Palestinian demands and, while that particular story has been debunked many times, it still persists.

Olmert’s offer of 2008 seemed to improve on Barak’s, but it also seems not to have addressed the holy sites of Jerusalem or refugees, and whether it was a proposal to advance talks or, like Barak’s also a take-it-or-leave-it offer is unclear. The proposed borders maintained the essential problem that has dogged maps of two states for years—the Israeli insistence on keeping some far-flung settlements like Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel seriously compromises the territorial contiguity of the proposed state of Palestine.

The present Israeli government has accepted the principle of a two-states-for-two peoples solution. Israel has contributed to the improvement of the lives of Palestinian to the point where the West Bank’s economic growth is greater than almost anywhere in the world; it has removed more than two-thirds of all security checkpoints and initiated a unilateral moratorium on construction in the settlements. Continue reading

Latest US Incentives to Israel: Much Ado About Little

The US has made its offer to Israel for a 90-day “moratorium” on settlement construction in the West Bank. Some see this as a major setback in US policy. I have to say, it seems to me to be much ado about nothing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

In exchange for this moratorium, which will include a stoppage of any work begun since the end of the last “freeze” but would not include Jerusalem, the US would grant Israel the following:

  • the U.S. government would deliver 20 F-35 fighter jets to Israel, a deal worth $3 billion
  • if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is achieved, the U.S. would sign a comprehensive security agreement with Israel
  • The US would fight against “de-legitimization” of Israel, which would include:
    • curbing actions by the United Nations on the Goldstone Report
    • blocking anti-Israel UN resolutions concerning the Gaza flotilla raid
    • defeating international resolutions aimed at exposing Israel’s nuclear program at the International Atomic Energy Agency
    • strengthening pressure on Iran and Syria in regards to their nuclear and proliferation activities. Continue reading

Israeli Cast Lead Report: Yes, Virginia, There WERE Crimes

I’ve just finished reading the Israeli report updating investigations into alleged war crimes in Operation Cast Lead. The report quite clearly shows there were some serious issues in that war, and that international outrage was not unwarranted, even if Israel would still maintain it was exaggerated.

Many make the case that the report vindicates the Goldstone Report and, in some ways, it does, though I don’t think it

Gaza, during Cast Lead

quite “proves the Goldstone Commission right” as other commentators have said. But what I think is more important is that it shows that if Israel had set up a credible, independent and civilian investigation of Cast Lead as soon as the war was over, and in response to calls from its own civil society, it would be in a much better position than it is today.

The character of such an investigation is important, as is demonstrated within this Israeli report itself, when it says that

“Another challenge is that some Palestinian witnesses have refused to make any statement, even in writing, to IDF investigators. Other Palestinian witnesses have declined to provide testimony in person. While an affidavit can provide investigators with valuable information and serve as the starting point for an investigation, a written affidavit alone is generally inadmissible as evidence at trial. In the Israeli legal system, as in many others, proving a criminal case instead requires that witnesses be willing to appear in court to permit cross-examination on issues such as the witness’s ability to observe the events, whether a witness has any bias, and whether there were other relevant facts not recounted in the written statement. Hence, in some cases, the unwillingness of a complainant to cooperate in criminal investigations may deprive the investigators of the most significant evidence.”

Well, yeah, are we really surprised that the investigative team from the army that just wreaked havoc across your land, and which was previously occupying that land (by even the strictest definition) for almost 40 years would not be trusted by the victims? Continue reading

Barring Chomsky, Another Blow to Democracy

I had been wondering only recently when Israel would bar the entry of Noam Chomsky. That time has come today.

About two years ago, I recall that the controversial scholar Norman Finkelstein had been detained at Ben Gurion Airport and eventually deported. I got some heat for not wanting to raise that as an issue for Americans and American Jews. My reasoning was that a country has the right to restrict who may enter its territory. In a democratic society, we expect that the country in question hold very stringent standards for who it might bar, and that the null assumption is that a visitor with a valid passport may enter.

Noam Chomsky

In Finkelstein’s case, he had, not long before, appeared publicly in strong support of Hezbollah. Did that make him a security threat? No one in their right mind believed that, but, in my view, it gave Israel enough of an excuse to bar him from entry that I felt the issue was one that should be taken up by Israelis and Palestinians, not Americans.

In reality, of course, Finkelstein was not being barred because anyone believed him a security risk, but because of his political views and scholarship. But he also acted in a way that gave Israel an excuse to do what it did.

The same cannot be said about Chomsky. I find it interesting that Chomsky is consistently described as “anti-American and anti-Israel.” I wonder how many of those folks have actually studied the breadth and scope of Chomsky’s work. He is, above all, anti-state. I cannot imagine a single country that would consider him a supporter of their government. Continue reading