A regular reader wrote recently and asked why I write so often about Palestine and Israel.
It was a good question and after some time for reflection I have an answer for him, inspired by a 1971 Johnny Cash song, “The Man in Black”.
Cash had been asked why he always wore black. He explains that he did so because he identifies with the poor and the hungry, the prisoners, the lonely and the old, and those who are dying in a war in a distant land, at that time, the Vietnam War.
A few years later, after “The Man In Black” became a best-selling album, Cash said:
“With the Vietnam War as painful in my mind as it was in most other Americans’, I wore it ‘in mournin’ for the lives that could have been.’ … Apart from the Vietnam War being over, I don’t see much reason to change my position … The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the young are still dying before their time, and we’re not making many moves to make things right. There’s still plenty of darkness to carry off.”
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and our American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, are today providing “plenty of darkness”. Together, these wars are today’s Vietnam.
I am aware that I cannot sing, or write simple, powerful poetry as Cash has done. But I must write about the darkness that covers our nation as it continues its pursuit of empirical conquest at a tremendous cost at home, under the guise of “fighting terror”. Indeed, “terrorism” is today’s version of the Communism that Nixon and Kissinger used as their excuse for “defending” South Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
Johnny Cash originally recorded “The Man in Black” before a college audience in May, 1971, one year after the Kent State Massacre when, during a student protest against the invasion of Cambodia, Ohio national guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.
In May, 1971, Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, were still conducting a secret war, the details of which were only fully revealed on June 30, 1971, when the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times.
The story of how those Papers were finally published in the Times is vividly presented in the 2010 documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America. The title refers to Daniel Ellsberg, the Harvard professor who courageously risked his freedom to deliver the Pentagon Papers to the Times.
Henry Kissinger, who once taught with Ellsburg at Harvard, bitterly described his former academic colleague as “the most dangerous man in America.”
Ellsberg writes of his experiences in his 2002 book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.
Along with the vast majority of the American public, Johnny Cash was unaware of the Vietnam war narrative which Nixon and Kissinger tried to keep secret, when he wrote the lyrics for ”The Man in Black”. What he did know was that young Americans and many Vietnamese were dying needlessly.
The lyrics are at the end of this post.
Today, with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West Bank Bank and Gaza our military forces, and our surrogate Israeli military forces, are involved in an overall war against what a previous American president misnamed as “the global war on terror”.
This 2010 midterm election have essentially ignored the thousands and hundreds of thousands who are dying in distant lands because of our wars. Instead, public attention is riveted on the craziness of the Tea Party candidates, some of whom may very well end up in the Congress.
The American public does not know about the Israeli settlers who set fire to a Palestinian girls’ school building near Nablus this past week. Juan Cole, whose Informed Comment blog is a flashing light of warning to the American public, tells the story of the attack on the school:
The phrase “ethnic cleansing” conjures up a swift, comprehensive act of expulsion. But in reality, moving a large population off its land is the death of a thousand cuts, a slow, inexorable process of stealing property, harassment, forcing people into a condition of malnutrition.
The Native Americans in the Americas, the Aborigines in Australia, and the Palestinians in Israel/Palestine were only sometimes forced off their land suddenly and en masse. The gradual processes told, in the long run.
The amazing thing about what is being done to the Palestinians in the Palestinian West Bank by Israeli illegal aliens is that it is happening in full view of the world, reported on by wire services, and yet remains invisible to Western publics.
The world reacts in horror when the Taliban in Afghanistan torch girls’ schools. But Israeli squatters just set fire to the store room of a Palestinian girls’ school, and the whole school would have gone up in flames if that warehouse had not been near a water main. The Israeli illegals left behind graffiti saying ‘regards from the hills.’
Cole also reports that earlier in October,
Israeli squatters set fire to a Palestinian mosque in Bethlehem.
[Also this autumn] there is the seasonal vandalism against olive trees in Palestinian orchards, which reached a fever pitch this year. The Israeli authorities prosecute few of these offenses and almost never hand down a punishment to an Israeli squatter.
The 10 million olive trees in the West Bank and Gaza, occupying some 45 percent of the farmland, are the matrix of Palestinian existence. An attack on olive trees is a form of economic warfare of the first water.
The American public knows far more about the fumbling responses of the Republican candidate for Joe Biden’s old Delaware senate seat, than it does about the needless death of a 2-year-old Gaza child who was prevented by the Israeli army from traveling the short distance outside Gaza for specialized treatment. The Palestinian organization, Physicians for Human Rights, has that story on its website:
Nasma Abu Lasheen died on Saturday, October 16, 2010 in Gaza. Israel failed to issue her an urgent entry permit for life-saving medical treatment at Ha-Emek Medical Center in Afula, Israel. She was two years old.
Abu Lasheen, a young resident of Gaza diagnosed with Leukemia, was referred for emergency treatment in Israel on October 6, 2010. When requests to the Israeli Army for an entry permit went unanswered for several days, by way of B’tselem, the family contacted Physicians for Human Rights- Israel (PHR-Israel) for additional help.
That very same day, on October 13, 2010, PHR-Israel contacted the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) demanding a permit be issued immediately to the baby and her father to enable their entry into Israel. A military approval was finally granted the next afternoon, October 14, 2010.
Abu Lasheen’s medical condition had been deteriorating rapidly and by the time the permit was received, the treating doctor in Gaza, Dr. Mohammad Abu Sha’aban, said she was too sick to travel. Nasma died in the early morning hours of October 16, 2010.
Ziad Abbas works for the Middle East Children’s Alliance on a project to bring clean water to the children of Palestine. He grew up in Palestine. He writes in Counter Punch, that his work is especially personal to him because of his own childhood experiences of growing up deprived of water.
Israel controls and uses 89% of the water resources in the West Bank, leaving 11% for the 2.5 million Palestinians. The Israeli Occupation continues to limit Palestinian access to clean water as form of collective punishment by controlling the water resources and distribution and by destroying the water that we are able to get.
During Israeli military incursions, and especially during curfews, when we could not leave our homes, Israeli soldiers would shoot the water storage tanks on our roofs. Our water would pour down the sides of our buildings unused.
During the recent attack on Gaza, Israel targeted the entire water infrastructure including the largest water purification system in Gaza. They also targeted electrical generators that supported water purification and sewage treatment.
I write about these things because American churches are still hung up on not offending their Jewish neighbors, thus choosing interfaith harmony over justice.
I write about these things because major denominational meetings, like this past summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, dickered and delayed and finally decided to study further how they might best deal with the “problems” in the Middle East.
Since that Presbyterian GA meeting, two-year-old Abu Lasheen died waiting for permission to travel to an Israeli hospital. Since that meeting, Israeli settlers set fire to a Palestinian girls school, leaving behind graffiti on the wall that said, “regards from the hills”. Something about the insensitive arrogance of that graffiti implies there was not enough room on the wall to add, in Clint Eastwoodian fashion, “we’ll be back.”
I write about the American media’s blindness to the narrative of the suffering in Palestine because Tom Friedman continues to fool his liberal readers by pretending to criticize Israel when his criticism always includes the AIPAC approved list of what he insists are “facts”, but which are either outright lies or distortions of reality.
The most recent example was Friedman’s October 20 column which calls on Israel to help President Obama line up world opposition to Iran by reaching a friendly agreement with Palestinian negotiators.
Friedman opens his column with a set of “stubborn facts” which are really just a repeat of the acceptable Israeli narrative which, of course, he assures his readers are “stubborn facts”. Only, they are not.
Here is the start of Thomas Friedman’s latest column, followed by corrections:
Say what you want about Israel’s obstinacy at times, it remains the only country in the United Nations that another U.N. member, Iran, has openly expressed the hope that it be wiped off the map. And that same country, Iran, is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Israel is the only country I know of in the Middle East that has unilaterally withdrawn from territory conquered in war — in Lebanon and Gaza — only to be greeted with unprovoked rocket attacks in return.
Indeed, if you want to talk about spoiled children, there is no group more spoiled by Iran and Syria than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.
Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese — and Hezbollah’s punishment was to be rewarded with thousands more missiles and millions more dollars to do it again. These are stubborn facts.
Friedman’s “stubborn facts” are stubborn, alright. They are falsehoods or distortions he clings to “stubbornly”.
Iran’s President Ahmedinejad never used the phrase, “wipe Israel off the map”. That was an initial mistranslation into English which the media loved and never let go. The media has refused, as Friedman does here, to go back and obtain the original statement by Ahmedinejad in a speech he gave to a Persian audience.
The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, when he said that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished.
He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The “page of time” phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon. There was no implication that either Khomeini, when he first made the statement, or Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was imminent, or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about.
Another error: It is true that Israel took its military forces out of Lebanon and Gaza, but it did so because the cost in Israeli lives had become too expensive to maintain the garrisons in those two areas.
The invasions had proved to be a major loss for the vastly superior Israeli forces, a fact Friedman ignores as he praises Israel for its “unilateral withdrawal” from the two countries it had invaded and failed to control.
Friedman writes that “Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese.”
Israel did launch a massive invasion of Lebanon in 2006, but who fired the first shot has been debated. Israeli sources have confirmed that Israel’s invasion plans were already on the drawing board when a border skirmish erupted, giving Israel the excuse it wanted to launch a war that, indeed, “brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese.”
Who brought those deaths, injuries and destruction to the Lebanese? Israel, of course.
Careful research would quickly demonstrate to Friedman and every other pro-Israel pundit and politician that Friedman’s “stubborn facts” are either false or distorted.
I will continue to write on Israel and Palestine as long as pundits like Thomas Friedman have access to the pages of the New York Times, and the American public remains ignorant of the actual facts on the ground in Israel and Palestine.
The Man in Black, lyrics by Johnny Cash
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black, Why you never see bright colors on my back, And why does my appearance always have a somber tone. Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, And I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But still is there because he’s a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.
Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes, But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old, For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold, I wear the black in mornin’ for the lives that could have been, Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen’ that the Lord was on their side, And I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen’ that we all were on their side.
Well, there’s things that never will be right I know, And things need changin’ everywhere you go, But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right, You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day, To tell the world that everything’s OK, But mabe I can carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.
The photo at the top of the page is of two Bedouin girls, in school uniform, returning to their houses after a school day in Abu Farda near the West Bank city of Qalqilia on October 6, 2010. MaanImages/Khaleel Reash.
The Youtube above, and the lyrics by Johnny Cash may be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLkmC2VuXA8.
Filed under: Media, Middle East Politics | 16 Comments
With the U.S. Congress safely in his back pocket, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned his charm offensive on the Vatican. How is that working out for him?
It does not look promising. The Prime Minister forgot the first rule of charm school: Target your prey gently. Avoid all punches to the mid-section.
The international Jewish News Agency (JTA) reported on Monday’s meeting between Netanyahu and Pope Francis:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Vatican audience with Pope Francis reportedly invited the pontiff to visit Israel. No date has been set for a visit by Francis to Israel, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. Netanyahu on Monday presented the pope with a book about the Spanish Inquisition written by his father, the late historian Benzion Netanyahu.”
An invitation to drop by for a visit to Tel Aviv along with a gift to the Holy Father recalling the dark moments of the Spanish Inquisition? Bad form, Mr. Prime Minister.
The book delivered to the Pope was written by Netanyahu’s father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, who died recently at the age of 102. The pride of a son could be one justification for the gift. The book, The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain, is considered the elder Netanyahu’s finest work.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was quick to note the incongruity of a book as a gift to the Pope which denounces the sins of Pope Francis’ 15th century predecessor, one that “largely revolves about Spanish Catholics questioning, torturing, and punishing Jewish converts to Catholicism,” a practice first legally sanctioned by Pope Innocent IV in 1252.
The Seattle PI adds:
The elder Netanyahu’s impact on his politician son is well-known within Israeli circles. In 1998, David Remnick of the New Yorker wrote that while Ben-Zion Netanyahu’s opinions frequently differed from his son, the pessimism of his right wing worldview influenced his son’s hawkish policies. “His dilemma is always to what degree he can, or should, remain true to the ideals, the stubbornness, of his father,” Remnick observed. The book given to the pope, Remnich adds, “reflects that deep pessimism”.
If the Pope accepts Netanyahu’s invitation and presents his own tit-for-tat gift to Netanyahu, there is a document in the Vatican library he could copy and take with him to Tel Aviv.
From what we are learning about this new pontiff, that Vatican document is not a gift Francis is likely to consider. Tit-for-tat does not appear to be the style of this pope.
Nevertheless, the document resting in the Vatican library files is one the Pope might read closely before he engages in further dialogue with the Israeli leader.
This Vatican document is referenced in an important new book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
So important is this book that it received two laudatory views in The New York Times, one month apart.
In his Times review, Alex von Tunzelmann, capsules the narrative of the book:
Scott Anderson, a veteran war correspondent and an author of both fiction and nonfiction, gives Lawrence’s story a new spin by contextualizing him in a group biography. He weaves in the lives of three contemporary Middle Eastern spies: Curt Prüfer, a German conspiring with the Ottomans to bring down the British Empire; Aaron Aaronsohn, a Zionist agronomist of Romanian origin, settled in Palestine; and William Yale, an East Coast aristocrat and an agent of Standard Oil who ended up in the service of the American State Department.
A month later, Janet Maslin is back with her review, equally laudatory. She writes:
As to why such acclaim elevated one renegade Briton and his feat of creating a guerrilla Bedouin army, Mr. Anderson writes that the short answer may seem anticlimactic. His reason: This was a time when the seed was planted for the Arab world to define itself less by what it aspires to become than what it is opposed to: colonialism, Zionism, Western imperialism in its many forms.’”
In their reviews, both Alex von Tunzelmann and Janet Maslin avoid mentioning a key moment in Scott Anderson’s book. It is an important episode Pope Francis should be reminded of should he choose to visit Tel Aviv.
The episode, described by Scott Anderson (pages 298 to 305, your Holiness, if I may be so bold) describes a successful propaganda campaign orchestrated by, among others, Aaron Aaronsohn, described by reviewer Alex Von Tunzelmann as “a Zionist agronomist of Romanian origin, who had settled in Palestine.”
Here is how Anderson develops his narrative, summarized and quoted, in part:
In the spring of 1917, the Turkish Ottoman ruler of Syria was Djemal Pasha. When the British army was poised to strike Gaza City in February, Djemal Pasha ordered the evacuation of Gaza City’s entire population, a total of around 20,000 citizens.
He wanted to clear the area for his army to move in and defend Gaza. After defeating the British in a cleared out Gaza, Djemal Pasha and his German commanders looked north.
They suspected that the British would next attack Jaffa (now a modern Tel Aviv). The city had a population of 40,000, of which around 10,000 were Jews and around 4,000 were Arab Christians, living alongside Arab Muslims. After the defeat in Gaza, the Ottomans were afraid the British would attack Jaffa from the sea,using the city’s smooth beaches for easy access.
The British defeat at Gaza came on March 26, 1917. Two days later, assuming the British would turn north, Djemal ordered the evacuation of the entire population, Christians, Jews and Muslims. He gave the residents a week to prepare to move out.
When Jewish leaders protested that the sacred Passover holiday was about to begin, Djemal extended the evacuation order for an additional eight days.
Anderson writes: “By clearing the city, Djemal Pasha unwittingly set in motion one of the most consequential misinformation campaigns of World War I.”
Ignoring the fact that Jews were joined by Christians and Muslims in the forced evacuation, the Zionist propaganda machine went into action, building the movement of the Jaffa population into an attack on all Jews of Palestine. The British Jewish Chronicle newspaper led the way with a May 4 story that carried the subhead: “Grave Reports—Terrible Outrages—Threats of Wholesale Massacre”.
The Chronicle story continued:
“But even worse is threatened. For the Turkish Governor, Djemal Pasha, has proclaimed the intention of the authorities [sic] to wipe out mercilessly the Jewish population of Palestine, his public statement being that the Armenian policy of massacre is to be applied to the Jews”. That message swept “through Jewish communities in Britain, the United States and continental Europe and drew anguished appeals to their governments that some kind of action be taken”.
William Ormsby-Gore, a Conservative member of Parliament who had been favorably impressed with Aaron Aaronson, the Jewish spy leader in Palestine, cabled British War Cabinet member Mark Sykes (of Sykes-Pico fame) May 4:
“I think we ought to use pogroms in Palestine as propaganda. Any spicy tales of atrocity would be eagerly welcomed by the propaganda people here, and Aaron Aaronsohn could send some lurid stories to the Jewish papers.”
Aaronsohn gave Sykes the names of 50 Zionist leaders throughout the world, urging him to spread the word of the “dire threat” against the Jews of Palestine. Soon, The New York Times printed its story with this headline: “Cruelty to Jews Deported in Jaffa.”
The Turkish government was slow to respond to the false accusations, including one that claimed, falsely, that all the Jews had been evacuated from Jerusalem.
Finally, facing worldwide condemnation based on Jewish propaganda which spread rapidly, Djemal Pasha pointed out that the entire population of Jaffa, 40,000 residents, had been evacuated, only 10,000 of which were Jewish and 4,000, Christians.
Scott Anderson concludes his account of the successful misinformation campaign surrounding Jaffa’s Jewish population in 1917: (p. 304)
“Spain, Sweden and the Vatican, all neutral entities in the conflict, sent envoys to investigate what had happened [in Jaffa]. Both the Spanish and Vatican envoys quickly concluded that the reports of Jewish massacres and persecutions were without foundation, while their Swedish counterpart went even further.
“In many ways,” he wrote, “the Jewish community of Jaffa had fared far better–and certainly no worse—than the resident Moslem population in the evacuation.” Shortly afterward, the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem also reported that the accounts of violence against the Jaffa Jews were “grossly exaggerated.”
It didn’t matter, of course. In war, truth is whatever people can be led to believe and Djemal Pasha had just handed his enemies a “truth” that would change Middle Eastern history.” The fiction of what happened in Jaffa in 1917–a fiction repeated as act by most historians writing on the period since—would now become the ur-myth for the contention that the Jewish community in Palestine could never be safe under Muslim rule, that to survive it needed a state of its own.
Pope Francis does not have to make a gift to Netanyahu of either the Vatican 1917 Jaffa report or Scott Anderson’s book, should the two leaders meet in Tel Aviv. What he can do is prepare for his meeting by reading both the Vatican document and Lawrence In Arabia.
Having read the document and the book, he will be prepared to confront the Prime Minister with some hard truths about a history that is more recent, and certainly more pertinent to this moment, than the 15th century Spanish Inquisition.
The picture above of Scott Anderson, is from The New York Times.
Filed under: Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Politics in Religion, Religion and politics | 6 Comments
“The Secret Mission of William J. Burns” is a true story that begins in Amman, Jordan. The year is 1983.
William J. Burns, a 27-year-old U.S. Foreign Service officer, is on his first overseas post to Amman, Jordan.
War is raging between Iran and Iraq. Burns volunteers to drive a truck load of communications equipment across the desert from Amman to Baghdad, Iraq, a distance of 500 miles.
As soon as the freshly-minted diplomat reaches the Iraqi border, he is arrested and held for two days before being escorted to the capital by police.
As Burns would later recall, his career “didn’t exactly get off to a rocket-propelled start.” After that two-day delayed mission to Baghdad, however, the career of William J. Burns has taken off like a rocket.
Currently serving as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Burns (pictured above with President Obama) has just completed a far more significant secret mission. He has led ”a secret U.S. back channel to Iran going back to before the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani”.
Laura Rosen has the story on her Back Channel news blog for Al Monitor:
Burns was tapped to lead the US diplomatic effort to establish a bilateral channel with Iran, which gained momentum after the exchange of letters between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Rouhani in early August, US officials said.
Led by Burns, the US’s second highest ranking diplomat and a former lead US Iran nuclear negotiator, the US effort to form direct contacts with Iran also includes two officials from the Obama White House: Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, and Puneet Talwar, the National Security Staff senior director for Iran, Iraq, and Persian Gulf affairs, US officials confirmed.
The agreement reached to cover the next six months, according to Al Monitor’s Laura Rozen, “was painstakingly assembled during four days of marathon negotiations”. The agreement calls for Iran:
to halt most of its uranium enrichment efforts, eliminate its stockpiles of uranium already purified to near weapons grade quality, open its facilities to daily monitoring by international inspectors and significantly slow the construction of the Arak plutonium reactor.
Nuclear weapons can be assembled using either enriched uranium or plutonium, and the new pact is designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Iran to gain enough of either material for a bomb.
In exchange, Iran would gain some relief from the punishing economic sanctions that had been leveled by Washington and its allies in recent years, freeing up roughly $6 billion.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not know of Ambassador Burns’ bilateral channel with Iran until September 30 when he learned of it directly from President Barack Obama. After the story became public, the Israeli conservative newspaper The Times of Israel, reported how the news had reached Netanyahu:
In the confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on September 30, just after the Jewish high holidays, Obama revealed to Netanyahu that his administration had been engaged in secret, high-level diplomatic talks with the mortal enemy of the Jewish state.
Netanyahu’s immediate public reaction betrayed no surprise, but a day later he launched a full-frontal attack on Iran, delivering a blistering speech at the UN General Assembly in which he said the Islamic Republic was bent on Israel’s destruction and accused Rouhani of being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Netanyahu’s allies in the U.S. Israel Lobby, including members of Congress, led by New York Senator Charles Schumer and his Republican colleague from Illinois, Senator Mark Kirk, in concert with pro-Israel media, and conservative Jewish organizations, have all joined Israel’s side in an effort to scuttle the agreement with Iran.
This is not the first time Benjamin Netanyahu has encountered William J. Burns. Sixteen years after his first low-level posting in Amman, Burns returned to Jordan in 1998 as the U.S. ambassador.
Speaking to the Senate committee considering his nomination in 1998, Burns said:
“It is a special honor and pleasure to have been nominated to return as Ambassador to Jordan, where I began my diplomatic career sixteen years ago.”
The new ambassador began his second tour in Amman a few months after September 25, 1997, when, on a sidewalk in Amman, a team of Israeli assassins unsuccessfully tried to kill Hamas political bureau director Khalid Mishal, by injecting poison in his ear.
Burns was not serving in Jordan at the time. He was, however, the U.S. ambassador who had to deal with the diplomatic aftermath of the failed Israeli assassination attempt.
That connection calls for consideration of a book that appeared twelve years after the failed assassination attempt. Australian journalist Paul McGeough published a meticulously well-crafted account of the street attack and its aftermath, Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas. (The New Press, 2009).
In my August 2, 2009 Wall Writings posting on the book, I described it this way:
The book races along like a spy thriller, starring real-life leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, President Bill Clinton, the King of Jordan, and Khalid Mishal, whose near-death experience in Amman projected him into his current role as the leader of the Hamas political bureau.
This is a story of intrigue, deceit, plot twists, villains and heroes that cries out to be made into a movie. And yet, just as the events of 1997 were largely ignored by mainstream media, McGeough’s 2009 book has received limited attention, with a few exceptions, all available on line: Jane Adas, in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs; Adam Shatz, in the London Review; and Greg Myre, in The Washington Post.
The story itself quickly faded from western consciousness.
For this reason, it is important to recall the story of the failed Israeli assassination attempt on Hamas leadeer Khalid Mishal at this time, when William J. Burns, the former U.S. ambassador to Jordan, once again enters and troubles Benjamin Netanyahu’s tightly controlled universe.
Kill Khalid provides considerable insight into an important moment in history for anyone wishing to comprehend the unbridled passion of Benjamin Netanyahu, a passion that heats up whenever he is confronted by anyone who fails to give him precisely what he demands.
Paul McGeough’s book should also be read as background for recent findings on what is now widely accepted as the poisoning death of Palestinian President Yasir Arafat.
Note the similarities: Israel’s method of killing an opponent, which was ordered in Khalid Mishal’s case by the then Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, was planned to be carried out in secret.
The poison used on Mishal was slow working and almost impossible to detect. The plan was for Mishal to receive the poison in what was to appear to be an accidental encounter with a man on the street.
According to the Massad plan, the Palestinian Hamas leader would proceed on his way until the poison did its deadly damage far removed from the street location where he had been poisoned.
Fortunately for Mishal, Jordanian police captured two of the assassins immediately after the street attack. Jordan’s King Hussein (father of the current Jordanian King Abdullah) telephoned Netanyahu with the news that he was holding his Israeli agents, all of whom he was prepared to execute for attempted murder.
Hussein had learned from the captured Israeli team members that they had brought with them an antidote that could save Mishal. They admitted they carried the antidote in case one of the assassins was accidental poisoned.
To underscore his anger and determination to save Khalid Mishal, who was a guest in the King’s nation, King Hussein called U.S. President Bill Clinton to deliver the same warning.
The word to Washington was blunt: Israel must save Khalid or Israel’s agents will die. Clinton called Netanyahu. An humiliating (to Israel) agreement was reached. Israel would produce the antidote immediately, which it did.
Furthermore, Israel was forced to release a number of Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners, most notably Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin (1937- 2004), a founder of Hamas, who served as the spiritual leader of Hamas. The Sheikh, who was almost totally blind and wheel-chair bound, was released and returned to Gaza to great acclaim by the Palestinian public.
Netanyahu lost his reelection bid in July, 1999, defeated for Prime Minister by Ehud Barak. Netanyahu returned to politics in 2002 as Foreign Affairs Minister (2002–2003) and Finance Minister (2003–2005) in Ariel Sharon‘s governments.
It was during Netanyahu’s term as Finance Minister that Ahmed Yassin was killed in an Israeli attack on March 22, 2004. Israeli AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships fired Hellfire missiles that killed Yassin and both of his bodyguards. The attack came while he was being wheeled out of an early morning prayer session in Gaza city.
The period of time after that humiliating failure by Israel’s Massad agents to kill Khalid Mishal, was a dark period in the career of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jordan and the U.S. were the instruments of his humiliation in that dark period. And just across the Jordan River, starting a few months after Netanyahu’s humiliation, there sat William J. Burns, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, two countries that humiliated Netanyahu in 1997.
Netanyahu returned to power as prime minister in 2009. Khalid Mishal is still an Hamas leader.
In the Burns-Netanyahu story that began with a 27-year-old William J. Burns driving communication equipment across a desert to Baghdad, Benjamin Netanyahu has suffered a major political setback due in large part to the work of William J. Burns.
Burns (at right), the man who was the US. ambassador to Jordan in 1999 when Netanyahu lost his election, has now negotiated an agreement with Iran, worked out in secret, to lift crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy.
He was chosen for the assignment by Secretary of State John Kerry, who describes his Deputy this way:
“Bill is the gold standard for quiet, head-down, get-it-done diplomacy,” Kerry said of Burns.
“He is smart and savvy, and he understands not just where policy should move, but how to navigate the distance between Washington and capitals around the world. I worked with Bill really closely from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and I’m even more privileged to work with him now every single day. He has an innate knack for issues and relationships that’s unsurpassed.”
Israeli leaders are accustomed to working with U.S. presidents and their diplomats, who are expected to represent Israel’s best interests, William J. Burns does not fit that mode. He has been described as a man with a “brilliant mind, unflappable demeanor and flair for self-effacement in a field where titanic egos often clash make him the fastest-rising career diplomat of his generation,”
That accolade came from Time magazine writer David Van Biema, in a 1994 profile of Burns he wrote for the magazine’s list of 50 people under-40 who will make a difference.
Burns is a U.S. diplomat who has distressed Benjamin Netanyahu by working, initially in secret, to hammer out an agreement that is designed to relieve the suffering of the Iranian people, and curb the further spread of nuclear weapons. He did not do this to distress Netanyahu, but to save him from further humiliating himself and his nation.
One final word on William J. Burns from Shilbey Telhami, a Middle East expert with the University of Maryland:
“Bill Burns is probably and arguably the most respected and effective U.S. diplomat. Period. He is universally acclaimed in the region and within the department and by Republican and Democratic administrations.”
Who is Shilbey Telhami, this academic and author, who sings the praises of William J. Burns?
Here is an insight that should help us understand Telhami, who is the author of The World Through Arab Eyes. Before the Israeli-Palestine peace talks were resumed , Telhami wrote an essay on peace in the Middle East for Brookings. He begins:
As Secretary of State John Kerry continues to give much time and effort to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, with plans to convene negotiations in Washington this week, his critics have come from right and left: With all the pressing issues, why is Mr. Kerry focused on this one?
Critics miss the point: No issue is more central for Arab perceptions of the United States — even as Arabs are focused on their immediate local and national priorities.
America has little influence in the events unfolding in the Arab world, from Egypt to Syria. More centrally, Arab perceptions of Washington are less dependent on short-term American policy and more a product of deep-seated Arab mistrust that ties everything the United States does to helping Israel and controlling oil.
Shilbey Telhami has Arab street cred*. When did we last hear someone with authentic Arab street cred sing the praises of an American Deputy Secretary of State? These are, indeed, remarkable times.
In the picture at top, U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Diplomatic Corps holiday reception at the State Department in Washington on December 19, 2012.The picture appeared on an Atlantic blog. It was taken by Yuri Gripas for Reuters.
*Street cred: “ Commanding a level of respect in an urban environment due to experience in or knowledge of issues affecting those environments. As in: He’s been thru it all. His street cred is undeniable.
Filed under: Iran, John Kerry, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama | 7 Comments
by James M. Wall
When President Barack Obama named Senator John Kerry as his Secretary of State, he opened the door for a new chair to assume control of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: New Jersey’s Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
Menendez (at right) replaced Senator Kerry as chairman on February 1, 2013. On March 5, the new chairman spoke to the annual AIPAC policy council in Washington.
His talk concluded with this ringing promise: ”You have my hand in friendship and the power of my office. Shalom”
He is keeping that promise. This week, speaking with the “power” of his office, he took a strong position against President Obama’s effort to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.
When word went out from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. Congress, that this was the time to stand with Israel, Senator Menendez was ready with his op-ed.
Menendez wrote in USA Today, “We cannot substitute wild-eyed hope for clear-eyed pragmatism given Iran’s record of deception.”
In demeaning Iran’s “so-called charm offensive”, the Senator used a phrase initially voiced by Benjamin Netanyahu.
A so-called Iranian charm offensive is simultaneously matched by an actual offensive to cross the nuclear weapons threshold. It is incompatible for Iran to pursue true diplomacy while installing any new centrifuges, including advanced centrifuge technology, and developing a heavy water reactor in Arak in defiance of the international community, most vocally this weekend by France.
This week on the eve of another round of talks with Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany, Senator Menendez chose sides.
His op-ed drew a predictable response, published on the web site of the Iranian news agency, Press TV:
“The US Congress has recently been seeking to approve a bill to increase sanctions against Iran. It has been decided that the negotiations be suspended if the bill gets through the US Congress,” said Mohammad Hassan Asafari who sits on the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Majlis.
The Iranian lawmaker made the remarks after a meeting in which Iran’s nuclear negotiating team briefed the parliamentary committee on two rounds of nuclear talks with the [P5 plus one] nations.
The US Senate Banking Committee is mulling over whether to move ahead with a new anti-Iran sanctions bill it had delayed before the latest round of talks between Iran and the group of six world powers which was held in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 7-10.
An Act Blue fund-raising appeal for Menendez emphasized the senator’s devotion to Israel:
Senator Menendez’s work in the Senate parallels the issues of concern of the American Jewish community. Menendez recognizes the political, economic, and strategic significance of the US-Israeli alliance, and has been vocal in his support of the relationship. He is truly a friend to Israel and New Jersey’s Jews.
The senator is now acting on that friendship. He is also standing by his speech to AIPAC. The closing minutes of those remarks are here:
James Traub, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, responded to Menendez on the Foreign Policy website:
In an op-ed in USA Today, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explained why he had defied the administration’s urgent request that Congress hang fire on further sanctions:
“Iran is on the ropes because of its intransigent policies and our collective will…. Tougher sanctions will serve as an incentive for Iran to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program.”
. . . it’s an unarguable fact that sanctions on Iran’s oil sales and financial system, imposed by the European Union as well as Congress, have forced the Iranians to take the nuclear negotiations more seriously than they have in the past, and may even have helped elect the moderate president Hassan Rouhani.
So why is the White House insisting that Menendez and his colleagues on the left and right are provoking “a march to war”? The obvious answer, furnished by Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, is that Iran would view additional sanctions imposed in the middle of the most delicate negotiations as a sign of bad faith.
More to the point, a punitive response by the West would undermine the moderates on Rouhani’s team, and prove to Iranian hard-liners — including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei — that the United States and its allies are an intransigent adversary intent on humiliating Iran and ultimately overthrowing its Islamic regime.
. . .. The reason why Menendez and others really are marching on a path to war is that they are demanding an outcome which Iran manifestly will not accept: zero enrichment.
As Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, puts it, “This is a strategy based upon hope that is not supported by the evidence of Iranian actions over the past decade, its past statements, or common sense.”
On the British web edition of Guardian, Michael Cohen points to “flash points” that have “strained” U.S.-Israel relations:
The most notable flash point between the US and Israel is quite obviously Iran. Since taking office, President Obama has sought a deal to end Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapons. While this is clearly in Israel’s interest, it’s the outlines of a possible agreement that is the problem.
The Israeli position of no uranium enrichment, even for peaceful purposes, the removal of all enriched uranium from Iran and the shutting down of all enrichment facilities is a negotiation non-starter – and stands in sharp contrast to the US position. . . Netanyahu appears focused on trying to torpedo any chance of an agreement, altogether. This is a dangerous game that if successful would not only create a fundamental breach between the US and Israel, but would almost certainly increase the likelihood of Iran actually getting a clear nuclear capability.
By choosing Israel’s side in these negotiations, Senator Menendez accepts Israel’s negotiating methodology: Make impossible demands to guarantee that no agreement is possible.
This is the same method Israel uses in the second “flash point” that Michael Cohen identifies in his Guardian column, the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Israel has participated for decades in these talks while stealing Palestinian land and tightening its control of the Palestinian population.
The “impossible scenario” is Israel’s modus operandi. Will it work with Iran? Senator Menendez must believe it will.
Act Blue assures us Senator Menendez “is truly a friend to Israel”. Is promoting war with Iran a friendly act? Maybe it is time for Act Blue to tell the Senator that “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 7 Comments
by James M. Wall
This week, two intrepid American Jewish journalists, Richard Silverstein and MJ Rosenberg, reminded somnolent Americans that Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has declared diplomatic war against the White House.
It is not a new war. What is different this time is that Israel’s leader has openly enlisted the U.S. Congress in his campaign.
It is that simple, Congress and Israel on one side; Barack Obama and John Kerry on the other. On his website, Tikun Olan, Silverstein explains why this is a different level for this diplomatic war.
The Obama administration proposes to soften “some parts of the anti-Iran sanctions regime” in order to reach a workable nuclear agreement with Iran. The Israeli government has a different scenario in mind for Iran. It wants war. President Obama, John Kerry, and the American people do not want another Middle East war.
This is open diplomatic warfare, not the usual back room maneuver of Israeli lobbyists slipping copies of pro-Israel legislation to congressional staff members.
Israel’s Iranian marching orders to the U.S. Congress have been issued: Squeeze the Iranian economy with even harsher sanctions.
This new diplomatic warfare surfaced this week at a meeting of the U.S. Senate Banking committee, where, the New York Times reports:
Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pressed senators on Wednesday to give the Obama administration some breathing room to reach an accord withIran to freeze its nuclear programs, warning that a new round of sanctions could mean war instead of diplomacy.
Right on cue, one Republican member of the Banking Committee, Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk, openly embraced Israel’s side in delicate U.S. negotiations to secure a nuclear agreement with Iran. Silverstein writes:
Sen. Mark Kirk was even more forceful in criticizing the [U.S.] officials’ presentation:…“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”
Time to strike up a chord and sing the old labor union song, “Which Side are You On?”.
Silverstein has chosen his side. He is troubled by congressional dependence on Israeli sources. He continues:
There are a number of very troubling issues here: first, that Israel’s government has taken upon itself to lobby intensively for policies opposed by the current administration; second, that U.S. senators would readily attend such lobbying sessions with foreign government officials and use the briefing material offered them in order to shape their own views; third, that a U.S. senator would admit that he’d been briefed, even indirectly, by a foreign intelligence service; fourth, that a U.S. senator believes the Mossad’s views about the Iranian nuclear program represent those of a “pretty good intelligence service.”
Buzz Feed reported that Sen. Kirk drew parallels between Nazi Germany and Iran, the British and the U.S.
“Today is the day I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East,” Kirk said, also comparing the administration to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who signed away the Sudetenland to Hitler’s Germany in 1938. “How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.”
Bad joke, Senator. It even falls below AIPAC’s standard. This is not a time for a U.S. senator to undercut two important peace-oriented Obama-Kerry initiatives.
A well-known political adage speaks of foreign policy stopping at the nation’s water edge. The adage has many incarnations, the earliest of which may have originated in 1814 with Daniel Webster’s “Even our party divisions, acrimonious as they are, cease at the water’s edge”.
Senator Kirk would do well to restore any version to his senatorial playbook.
Kirk’s support for the policies of a foreign nation against that of his own president, does not measure well against Secretary Kerry’s recent candid interview with two journalists in Jerusalem where Kerry spoke of the importance of reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, an agreement forged in the best interests of, and the values of, the American people.
Kerry demonstrated his consistent diplomatic candor in his testimony on Iran before the Banking Committee. What he faced was at least one senator who takes his marching orders from beyond the water’s edge.
Buzz Feed reports:
A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”
MJ Rosenberg, a Jewish-American columnist who once worked for AIPAC, is the second intrepid American Jewish journalist to issue a warning to the American public. In this week’s column, he writes:
The President of the United States and, according to the polls, 75% of Americans, want the United States to reach a nuclear deal with Iran. That view is as universal as any can be in a democracy like ours. Americans want an Iran deal to avoid U.S involvement another monstrous war in the region. And because they know that only negotiations can prevent a nuclear armed Iran if that is the goal of its leaders.
Only one group opposes a deal. It is the Israel lobby following orders it receives from Israel’s government. Members of Congress who oppose a deal are doing so in order to please the lobby and continue to receive campaign donations from it. Writers, columnists, reporters, bloggers and media personalities who oppose a deal are all (with no exceptions) associated with the lobby. In short, American interests are all arrayed on one side and Netanyahu’s interests are on the other.
A few days before the Senate Banking Committee took up the issue of Iranian sanctions, leaders of the American Jewish Federation received their inspiration from the Man Himself, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking November 10 in Jerusalem to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, Netanyahu (pictured speaking to the Assembly above) stated his case against the U.S. on two issues, Iran and Palestine.
He repeated his demand that Palestinian leaders “recognize Israel as a Jewish state”, a deal breaker in the negotiations. He knows that, which is why he has added the demand to the talks.
He also told his American Jewish audience they must reject their own government’s move toward a nuclear compromise with Iran because the compromise is a “bad deal”.
Netanyahu received “loud cheers from the crowd” as he combined the two demands with his emotional call for Jewish worldwide unity
“When it comes to Jewish survival and the survival of the Jewish state, I will not be silenced, ever. We are the Jewish state. We are charged with defending ourselves and speaking up. All of us, all of us, have to stand up and speak up.”
“Netanyahu, like many Congress members, fears the White House may accept too lenient a deal and is urging stronger sanctions in hopes of making Tehran more willing to yield.”
The Israeli Prime Minister, “like many Congress members”? Does the Tribune’s Richter see it as a mere coincidence that the Congress and Netanyahu are reading from the same script?
Surely, he knows that Netanyahu wrote the script, delivered it to the Jewish Federation leaders last Sunday and then dispatched his agents to Washington to deliver the word directly to the U.S. Senate.
The Banking Committee will presumably vote on the Iranian “tougher” sanctions this week. Which side will it choose?
The picture of Netanyahu above, speaking at the Jewish Federation of North America is by Amos Ben Gershon for GPO/Flash. It is from the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
Filed under: Iran, Media, Middle East | 9 Comments
by James M. Wall
He did so in order to send a public message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An Israeli writer for the right-wing Jerusalem web site, Times of Israel, got the message. He did not, however, like what he heard. He relayed his negative reaction in his story:
For the first time since he managed to restart the [Israel-Palestine peace] talks in July, Kerry dropped his statesman-like public impartiality, and clearly spoke from the heart — and what emerged were a series of accusations that amounted to a forceful slap in the face for Netanyahu. It was a rhetorical onslaught that the prime minister cannot have expected and one he will not quickly forget. (emphasis added by blogger)
The writer with that perspective is Raphael Ahren, diplomatic correspondent for the Times of Israel, a Web-only, English-language Israeli newspaper, launched in February earlier this year by Seth Klarman, a wealthy American Jewish investor.
Klarman, according to Wikipedia, has also been the longtime chairman and a financial supporter of The David Project, a Boston-based group which sponsors pro-Israel advocacy programs on American college campuses.
Using words from Kerry’s TV interview, and then filtering them through the Times‘ right-wing perspective, Ahren continues:
A very frustrated Kerry basically blamed the Israeli government for stealing the Palestinians’ land and the Israeli public for living in [a] bubble that prevents them from caring much about it. If that wasn’t enough, he railed against the untenability of the Israel Defense Forces staying “perpetually” in the West Bank.
In warning that a violent Palestinian leadership might supplant Mahmoud Abbas if there was not sufficient progress at the peace table, he appeared to come perilously close to empathizing with potential Palestinian aggression against Israel.
As to tone and intent, Ahren got it about right. The problem is, what he heard as a “slap in the face” were words intended not as an insult, but as a wake-up call.
Kerry spoke as a friend of the state of Israel, but more importantly, he warned Netanyahu that his adamancy was damaging the chance for peace in the region.
In his Times story, Ahren focused on Kerry’s responses that clearly disturbed Ahren.
“If we do not resolve the question of settlements, [Kerry] continued more dramatically, “and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to non-violence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
He later elaborated, expressing apparently growing dismay over continued Israeli settlement expansion:
“How, if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? So it sends a message that perhaps you’re not really serious.”
The New York Times juggled two Netanyahu stories simultaneously, the Prime Minister’s response to Kerry’s interview, and his attack on the carefully constructed Iranian nuclear agreement.
Responding to Kerry’s interview in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said “pressure has to be put where it belongs, that is, on the Palestinians who refuse to budge.” The Times adds that Netanyahu “was in no mood to compromise”.
The Times asked Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, for her reaction to Netanyahu’s attack on Kerry’s efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Ashrawi “denounced Mr. Netanyahu’s statements on Iran as ‘arrogant,’ ‘childish” and ‘an insult’ to Mr. Kerry, and said they reflected a relentless focus on Israel’s security that has prevented progress in the peace talks.
“His temper tantrum response to an Iran agreement is just an extension of that mentality,” Ms. Ashrawi said. “I want to do what I want to do, I want to get away with everything, and I want to dictate to everyone, including the U.S., how they should behave regarding Israel’s security the way Israel exclusively defines it.”
Many other U.S. media outlets, including National Public Radio, relied on the Associated Press story of Kerry’s interview by Matthew Fox. The AP story went with the heading, ”Kerry Warns Of Violence If Peace Talks Fail”. That heading stayed with the story in its many incarnations. It began:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stark warning to Israel on Thursday, saying it faces international isolation and a possible explosion of violence if it does not make progress in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Kerry issued the blunt remarks in a joint interview with Israeli and Palestinian television channels, ensuring the message would reach its intended audience.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean does Israel want a third intifada?” Kerry said, using the term for past Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation.
The settlements and a warning to Israel that a peace agreement will not wait forever, were not the only highlights of Kerry’s Jerusalem television interview with the two journalists, Udi Segal of Israeli Channel 2 and Maher Shalabi of Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.
To move beyond the “stark warning” and pending “violence”, the full text of the interview is available here. It is posted by the U.S. State Department website, which also sent out the picture of Kerry and his two interviewers.
Selected highlights of the interview, separated by topics, and gleaned from the State Department text, are below for those who wish to have an upclose and personal view of what upset Benjamin Netanyahu. Other highlights will emerge upon close reading.
“Warning” and “violence” are not words that dominate the interview.
On the demonization of Israel
SECRETARY KERRY: I believe that if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of de-legitimization of Israel that’s been taking place in an international basis, that we if we don’t resolve the question of settlements and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have, if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to nonviolence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.
MR SEGAL (Israeli Channel 2): Mr. Secretary, you spoke about what signaling does those things send. So let me ask you this. How do you think a picture of Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, hugging murderers that killed children 20 or 30 years ago and say that they’re heroes of the Palestinian people – what kind of message do you think this is sent about peace process or peace atmosphere to the Israeli people?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s very difficult. I have no illusions. I know that the vast majority of the people in Israel are opposed. I understand that. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that, and it is a sign of his seriousness that he was willing to make this decision. The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean, does Israel want a third intifada? . . .
I know there are people who have grown used to this. And particularly in Israel – Israel says oh, we feel safe today, we have a wall, we’re not in a day-to-day conflict, we’re doing pretty well economically. Well, I’ve got news for you. Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or next year’s. Because if we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab world, the Palestinians, neighbors, others are going to begin again to push in a different way. And the last thing Israel wants to see is a return to violence.
Palestinian Economic Plan
SECRETARY KERRY: . . . . if you want to make peace with people, if you want people to believe in the possibilities of peace and the benefits of peace, you need to show them the benefits. If the life of Palestinians continues to not have opportunity, not see economic opportunity, not find jobs, not improve their lives, it’s hard for them to believe in the government, it’s hard for them to believe anything anybody says. But if their lives are beginning to improve, then they have a stake in the future, and they begin to believe in the possibilities of peace. And you have a better chance of making peace if life is improving and things are happening on the ground. . . .
We’re trying to help prove that there can be improved living conditions. More water is coming into the West Bank on a daily basis. We’re improving the Allenby Bridge movement. We’re improving the number of work permits so that more Palestinians will be able to come into Israel and be able to work. I mean, these are the ways in which you break down the barriers and you begin to show people what peace could possibly look like.
Recent agreement on prisoners and settlements
MR. SEGAL: Can you confirm that the two sides – Israeli [and] Palestinian – agreed to free murders [sic] versus building in the settlement deal as part of the resumption of the negotiation, i.e., every time that Israel will release the prisoner, there will be a wave of construction?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I cannot confirm that, because that is not true. . . . The agreement specifically was that there would be a release of the pre-Oslo prisoners, 104, who have been in prison now for many, many years, who would be released in exchange for the Palestinian Authority not proceeding to the UN during that period of time.
The Palestinian leadership made it absolutely clear they believe the settlements are illegal, they object to the settlements, and they are in no way condoning the settlements. But they knew that Israel would make some announcements. They knew it, but they don’t agree with it, and they don’t support it. . …
We do not think you [Israel] should be doing settlements. We, the United States, say the same thing. We do not believe the settlements are legitimate. We think they’re illegitimate. And we believe that the entire peace process would, in fact, be easier if these settlements were not taking place. Now, that’s our position. . . .The United States policy has always been that the settlements are illegitimate, and we believe this process would be much easier if we didn’t have the tension that is created by settlements.
One state versus two states
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there is no one-state solution. There’s no such thing as a one-state solution. You cannot have peace on any one side with the concept of a one-state solution. It just won’t happen. You can’t subsume other people into one state against their will. And it simply is not a reality. And anybody who’s talking about it doesn’t know really what – it’s just not possible. So you’ll have a perpetual state of conflict if somebody tries to achieve that. . . .
Importance of non-violence
MR. SHALABI (Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation): Maybe you know, Mr. Secretary, that in 2012 not one –
SECRETARY KERRY: I do know that. Not one Israeli in 2012 was killed in the West Bank. And that’s a huge step forward. And the reason I’m so urgent about this is because the Palestinians and President Abbas have committed themselves to nonviolence. So it is important for Israel to strengthen them, to help provide this peace so that the nonviolence is rewarded. Because if nonviolence is not rewarded, the alternative will be that people go back to the other.
You need to provide the security for Israel and you need to provide certainties about certain things, what happens with refugees, how you deal with the land.
The Palestinians need to know that they will have a real state, not a Swiss cheese, but a state that is contiguous, that allows them the opportunity to be able to have their sovereignty respected.
Kerry’s final two paragraphs have been highlighted because I believe they offer the essence of the Secretary’s goal for Israel and Palestine. He cannot achieve that goal alone. Remember his words, “a real state, not a Swiss cheese”.
A real contiguous state with respected sovereignty, is a goal that demands patience and hard work.
Filed under: John Kerry, Media, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu | 19 Comments
On December 24, 2009, the Israeli oil exploration company Givot Olam, posted two media announcements a few hours apart.
Givot Olam’s first announcement revealed that “significant quantities” of oil had been found in the mud of Meged 5, a drill site close to the Palestinian village of Rantis, north west of Ramallah.
Rantis is located close to the Green Line, the 1967 line that initially separated Israel from the West Bank. Israel had been searching for oil around Rentis since at least 2002, an action in violation of international law as well as a violation of the Oslo Agreement, which required that Israel and Palestine refrain from any unilateral exploration of national resources in the occupied territories.
Oil development in the West Bank would boost the Palestinian economy. It could also help develop a strong Palestinian nation on the east side of the Green Line.
The game Israel has played with its decade long development of an oil field that clearly extends well into the West Bank, is a game Israel intends to win.
The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), describes the village of Rantis where the game is being played.
Rantis, is a small Palestinian village located to the northwest of Ramallah district in the Palestinian West Bank. It has a total population of 2688 inhabitants and a built up area of 458 dunums (115 Acres). The village is inhabited mostly by 6 clans (Wahdan, Hallaf, Ballot, Dar Abo Salim, Al Yahee, Hawashe. Most of Rantis villagers depend on agriculture as their main source of income. . . . In 1967 the Israeli forces confiscated most of the Palestinian agricultural lands in the village for colonizing purposes, and hundreds of olive trees were uprooted.
Today, the village of Rantis is surrounded by a set of settlements and Israeli military areas, such as Ofrim and Beit Arye settlements which are located to the east of the village in addition to a military area located to the northwest of the village. Recently, the village lands became threatened by Israeli land confiscation activities for constructing the Segregation Wall.
Israel has worked hard to build its “security-focused” future. It has been constructing its segregation wall (a “security” wall in Israel’s narrative) since 2002. The segregation wall runs deep into great sections of the West Bank. The wall moves in directions that have nothing to do with security and everything to do with Israel’s long-range economic planning.
Givot Olam had been told by the IOF that those eager television crews that had rushed into the West Bank could not film in the area because the Meged 5 oil well (picture above) “is located in an IDF firing zone”.
After a few hours of excitement over Meged 5′s oil-filled mud site, a second media announcement appeared. Posting number two announced that the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) had closed the Meged 5 area to the media. For the moment at least, Meged 5 was another Dimona, Israel’s not-yet-admitted nuclear arms site, with its details hidden from public view.
Even without pictures, and no doubt to the delight of Givot Olam’s share holders, the company’s stock rose 177% by market close December 24, 2009 .
Israel’s peace negotiators have been sitting around a peace table with Palestinian leaders and U.S. mediators. Meanwhile, there is no halt to Israel’s settlement development on Palestinian land, nor its oil exploration around the village of Rantis.
Israel’s march toward total domination of the land between the sea and the river, plays like a bad dream from which the victims cannot wake up. Unfortunately, it is not a dream but a well orchestrated game of pretense designed to extend the Nakba into the 21st century.
Incremental prisoner releases by Israel’s occupying military power bring brief moments of Palestinian family reunion joy but along with the joy is the reality of a powerless Palestinian population, trapped in an open air prison, watching its land, and natural resources stolen, while too many of its young men grow old in Israeli prisons.
In August of this year, I suggested in Wall Writings that we study the ominous signs that indicate Israel seeks neither fairness nor justice in its dealings with its neighbors in the Middle East region. I suggested that Israel’s policies appear to be pushing for a carthaginian peace imposed on Palestine.
The context of that posting was the development of natural gas fields off the coast of Gaza. Israel wants control of those gas fields because, under its present government and with its current strong backing from the U.S. Congress, Israel’s economic future depends on its total destruction of a viable Palestinian state. And that is the definition of a carthagenian peace, the reduction of a defeated enemy to utter destruction.
In that posting, I suggested the possibility that Israel’s current government is pushing toward a modern day carthaginian peace. This is part of that posting:
The term, “carthaginian peace” entered history after Rome defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars, fought from 254 BC to 146 BC.
A carthaginian peace is the imposition of a very brutal peace that crushes an enemy. If such a disastrous conclusion is reached by the Kerry-run peace talks, we will face a modern version of the end of the Punic Wars, which were, according to Wikipedia:
“a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 BC to 146 BC. At the time, they were probably the largest wars that had ever taken place. The term Punic comes from the Latin word Punicus (or Poenicus), meaning “Carthaginian”, with reference to the Carthaginians’ Phoenician ancestry. The main cause of the Punic Wars was the conflict of interests between the existing Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman Republic.”
The term carthaginian peace, was most recently used to describe the peace terms the U.S. and its Allies imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, at the conclusion of World War I. Ironically, it was this unjust and vengeful carthaginian peace forced upon a defeated Germany that contributed to the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust in which six million Jews died.
If the U.S and Israel succeed in forcing Palestine to endure a carthaginian peace, it will be a peace sold to the world as necessary to protect the “security needs” of Israel, which will, on cue, claim that the peace agreement is needed to prevent the annihilation of the Jewish people, a trope that has lived well past its expiration date.
Fast forward from 2009 to Friday, January 13, 2012, when Mohammed Mar’i wrote from Ramallah for Arab News:
The Palestinian Authority Thursday accused Israel of drilling a new oil and natural gas well in the West Bank.
Jamil Al-Mutawer, vice chairman of the [Palestinian] Environmental Quality Authority, said that Israel started unilateral exploration activities in a gas and oil well near the West Bank village of Rantees (Rantis), to the west of Ramallah. He added that the Israeli security forces had beefed up presence in the area, preventing villagers from reaching their lands and farms to keep the exploration work a secret.
Al-Mutawer said the well is part of the Meged oilfield that is located alongside the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank.
Al-Mutawer added that the Israeli Givot Olam Oil Ltd company “started the exploration activities in the field in 2004 without consulting or coordinating with the PA.” He estimated that the field contains 1.5 billion barrels of oil and about 1.82 billion cubic meter of natural gas.
Givot Olam said that it discovered the Meged oilfield in 2004. The company said it produces 1,000 barrels every day and it is scheduled to develop the production by 2012.
Rantis has been on Israeli’s “security” radar screen for some time. Most recently, the website Occupied Palestine reported (June, 2013) that “Informed Palestinian official sources revealed that the Israeli occupation authority (IOA) changed the path of its segregation wall in Rantis village, northwest of Ramallah city in order to drill oil and gas wells”.
Which brings us to this first week of November, 2013, where the story of the village of Rantis enters its current chapter. Student activists in Rantis have posted pictures of oil drilling in the Rantis area.
The Middle East Monitor describes the problem Israel faces as it tries to deny its history of stealing Rantis land by using its “security wall” ploy.
The Israeli Meged-5 Oil Well is located on the edge of the Palestinian village of Rantis, which falls within the governorate of Ramallah. When the path of the Wall was amended by Israel to take in even more Palestinian land, it was supposedly done for “security reasons”.
Later it was discovered that an Israeli oil company, in cooperation with an American company, is developing and exploring the potential of an oil field which was found in the 1980s. The well was abandoned in the belief that it was not going to be commercially viable.
Givot Olam, the only Israeli company licensed for oil drilling, discovered Meged-5 in 2004 and said that it was a “commercial discovery”. In 2007 the company signed an agreement with US-owned Shire International to invest $50 million. Two years later the partnership announced that it had found signs of significant quantities of oil at the site.
On November 3, 2013, Jonathan Cook provided the economic details for Al Jazeera.
Shares in Givot Olam, an Israeli oil exploration company, rallied on reports that it had located much larger oil reserves at its Meged 5 site than previously estimated.
The company, which says it has already sold $40 million worth of oil since the Meged field went operational in 2011, now believes that the well is sitting on exploitable reserves of as much as 3.53 billion barrels – about a seventh of Qatar’s proven oil reserves.
Only one cloud looms on the horizon. It is unclear how much of this new-found oil wealth actually belongs to Israel. The well sits on the so-called Green Line, the armistice line of 1948 that formally separates Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories.
According to Palestinian officials, Israel has moved the course of its concrete and steel separation wall – claiming security – to provide Givot Olam with unfettered access to the site, between the Israeli town of Rosh Haayin and the Palestinian village of Rantis, north-west of Ramallah.
Dror Etkes, an Israeli researcher who tracks Israeli activities in the West Bank, said the Meged site was “a few dozen metres” inside the Green Line.
Israel and Givot Olam, however, have made access difficult, arguing that Meged 5 is affected by an Israeli military firing range next to it on the other side of the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory. In the past, Israeli media have been barred from filming or photographing the site.
Israel has been consistent in its exploitation of Palestinian natural resources, including its water, natural gas and oil. And it has been consistent in its expansion into Palestinian land with is steadily expanding settlements.
In an especially egregious act carried out during the U.S. mediated peace talks. Israel refused to even enter the peace talks unless Palestine and the U.S., agreed to Israeli demands that staggered releases of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons had to be “balanced” with additional illegal Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank.
That act is just one of many which suggests that what Israel seeks for its “secure future” could be a carthaginian peace with Palestine, a peace brokered by and enforced by, a compliant U.S. government.
We will not know this for sure until the peace talks reach a stopping point and the conditions for peace are announced. One Israel political leader from the Meretz party, has indicated that a final peace plan will be announced in January, 2014. So far, the conduct of Israel’s government points more to a carthaginian peace, than to a peace that is fair and just.
The picture of a returned prisoner was taken by Allison Degan in the early morning hours of October 30. Her story and her pictures appeared in Mondoweiss. The picture from Meged 5 at top is from Middle East Monitor.
Filed under: John Kerry, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, US govermemt | 4 Comments
by James M. Wall
In the rural South of the 1930s,”laying by time” usually came, according to one writer, “when the last weed-hoeing was done, marking the start of a down-time until harvest”.
It was also a time of anxiety as “farmers looked for second jobs or, as James Agee put it in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, ’hung as if on a hook on his front porch in the terrible leisure.’”
President Obama was thrust into his own foreign policy “laying by time” September 24, when he went before the United Nations General Assembly and delivered what New Republic writer John B. Judis called “his most significant foreign policy statement since becoming president”.
The UN speech also began a “time of anxiety” for the president’s foreign policy team which found itself hanging on Agee’s hook on their own “front porch in the terrible leisure”.
Susan Rice, Obama’s new national security advisor, seized the “terrible leisure” time the president gave her by setting up a series of Saturday morning policy review meetings with a small number of administration officials.
Their assignment was “to plot America’s future in the Middle East”. The New York Times’ Mark Landler describes the policy review:
At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.
That includes Egypt, which was once a central pillar of American foreign policy. Mr. Obama, who hailed the crowds on the streets of Cairo in 2011 and pledged to heed the cries for change across the region, made clear that there were limits to what the United States would do to nurture democracy, whether there, or in Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia or Yemen.
It will declare its chemical weapons arsenal and will sign up to the Chemical Weapons Convention to avoid US military action. In a statement shown on Russian state television, Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem said Syria was ready to co-operate fully with a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control and would stop producing more.
He added that Syria would place the locations of the weapons in the hands of Russian representatives, “other countries” and the UN.
Obama’s three major foreign policy agenda items—Syria’s civil war and its chemical weapons cache; the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; and nuclear talks with Iran—has the potential to make a distant bad memory of President Bush’s “shock and awe” foreign policy.
The New Republic’s John B. Judis praised Obama’s commitment to diplomacy when he wrote:
President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday [Sept 24] to the United Nations was his most significant foreign policy statement since becoming president.
It showed he had clearly learned something from the recent “red line” fiasco in Syria. The speech also displayed what has always been the most attractive feature of Obama’s foreign policy, one that clearly sets him off from his predecessor—his willingness to court erstwhile enemies and adversaries, or to put it in negative terms, his not possessing what my former colleague Peter Scoblic called an “us versus them” view of the world.
Under the headline, “Give Diplomacy a Chance”, New Yorker blogger John Cassidy, gives the Syrians (and their Russian allies) credit for enabling Obama to embrace diplomacy.
Whatever else it accomplishes, Syria’s agreement to disclose its chemical-weapons stockpiles and, eventually, destroy them, made President Obama’s address at this year’s United Nations General Assembly much easier.
Rather than having to explain why U.S. bombs had been dropping on targets in Damascus, he was afforded a friendly environment in which to talk up the diplomatic efforts that are under way to resolve the Syrian crisis, and to encourage a similar effort addressed to the Iranian nuclear question.
Mindful of the criticism that, under his leadership, U.S. foreign policy has sometimes appeared to zigzag from one crisis to another, with no common thread, he was also keen to provide an over-all rationale for U.S. actions. To some extent, he succeeded.
Cassidy concluded his posting:
Still, the larger point holds. Obama was reminding the world that for now, at least, the days of the United States engaging in foreign adventurism, and using the Pentagon to pursue political crusades, are over. In concert with others, America will do its bit for defending liberal values and preventing mass killings by repressive regimes, but its main focus will be on protecting its own economic and strategic interests. And if anybody wants to challenge that policy stance, they will have to talk to the U.S. public.
Thanks to the strong impression the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made with his visit, and speech, to the UN, Iran emerged from the world’s penalty box. The telephone call between President Obama and President Rouhani solidified that impression and gave Obama an opportunity to not-so-subtly repudiate Israel’s war-talk regarding Iran.
As expected, the diplomatic path Obama took drew U.S. congressional ire at the suggestion that Iranian sanctions could be eased through diplomacy. Nevertheless, defying Israel and the Israel Lobby, Obama’s lead negotiator in nuclear talks with Iran “called for a delay in any new sanctions on the country, in order to let negotiations take hold”.
Friday, the Guardian reported that U.S. undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman told Voice of America, the U.S. foreign media service, “”We think that this is a time for a pause, to see if these negotiations can gain traction”.
The U.S. Senate banking committee was debating “whether to take up legislation, passed by the House last July, which could end Iranian oil exports”.
The White House promptly hosted a meeting of Senate aides on Thursday, “to argue against the measure”. Sherman’s public statement ”was seen as a significant gesture to Tehran”.
Iranian officials liked what they heard.
“I thought it was a very positive statement,” said Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council. “On this particular point about the sanctions, I think that’s the most forward-leaning statement that I can recall an Obama administration official using, when discussing sanctions, at any time over the past four to five years.
“It was very specific. That not only sends a message to Congress but it also sends a message I think to the Iranians as well. That shows a certain level of seriousness to make these kinds of statements publicly.”
The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren and Michael R. Gordon reported the quiet that has settled around the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Under strict instructions from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, neither side has leaked stories on the talks to the media.
Nearly three months into the latest round of Washington-brokered peace talks in what has been the Middle East’s most intractable conflict, Mr. Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Rome on Wednesday, having said the process had “intensified” over 13 negotiating sessions, including three in the past week. Another is scheduled for Monday.
After years of stalemate, the very fact that the talks are continuing — and, perhaps even more important, that the participants have adhered to Mr. Kerry’s admonition not to disclose their content — is something of an achievement, especially in light of the turmoil raging in the region.
During the “laying by time” of these talks, mum has been the word. Not even the location of meetings have been revealed.
In contrast to previous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian talks, little has leaked from the negotiating room. Even the timing, location or duration of meetings has rarely been revealed. Several people close to the process said the sessions so far have alternated between Jerusalem and Jericho — they said they were not allowed to disclose the specific locations — and have each generally focused on a single subject, like sharing water resources, or whether Israeli or international forces should patrol the Jordan Valley.
Four people regularly attend all the meetings, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister, and Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, as well as Isaac Molho, a lawyer close to Mr. Netanyahu, and Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
Other participants join the discussions ”on an ad hoc basis depending on the agenda”. After the Palestinian side complained that “Mr. Kerry’s special envoy, Martin S. Indyk, was not sitting in on the sessions, he has attended recent ones”.
All is quiet on the negotiations front, which is what President Obama wanted. The Obama team, captained by national security advisor Rice, has been making good use of its “laying by time”.
The harvest ahead will not be easy. There are extremist forces in Israel, Iran, Syria, and the U.S. Congress, that have their own reasons for wanting to upset diplomatic efforts.
Obama knows the American public is weary of war. The Bush days of shoot first and talk later, should be behind us. At least it looks that way as we hang on Agee’s hook on our “front porch in the terrible leisure”.
Laying by time has never been easy; It has always been a pause for rest and reflection before taking up the hard work of the harvest.
The picture of President Obama speaking to the UNGA, is by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty.
Filed under: Iran, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, United Nations | 11 Comments