Dispatches From The Edge
Israel: Warped Mirrors & White House Sofas
By Conn Hallinan
July 15, 2010
If anyone had doubts about the outcome of recent talks
between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
U.S. President Barak Obama, they were put to rest July
13 when Israeli authorities demolished three
Palestinian houses and announced the construction of 32
new homes in East Jerusalem. According to the British
Guardian, "A further 48 housing units are expected to
be approved next week."
So much for the "freeze" on evictions and settlement
building; so much for the "peace process" According to
Jeff Halper of the International Committee against Home
Demolitions, "The rule of thumb in this part of the
world is that in the run-up to the U.S. elections
Israel has a free hand. Israel is now taking advantage
The collapse of the "freeze"-which wasn't a freeze in
any case because it did not cover East Jerusalem or
"existing settlements"-will spike any negotiations
between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinians,
and accelerate Israel's take-over of the West Bank.
According to a recent study by the Israeli human rights
group, B'Tselem, that process is rapidly reaching the
point of no return.
The B'Tselem report found that settlers now control 42
percent of the West Bank, far more than was previously
thought, and much of the land seized from private
Palestinian landowners. Any settlement land in the
Occupied Territories is considered a violation of
international law, but taking privately owned land also
contravenes rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court.
"The settlement enterprise has been characterized,
since its inception, by an instrumental, cynical, and
even criminal approach to international law, local
legislation, Israeli military orders, and Israeli law,
which has enabled the continuous pilfering of land from
Palestinians in the West Bank," the report states.
Settler councils have either fenced off or designated
massive tracts of land for future expansion, and they
have seized 21 percent of the privately owned land on
the West Bank. This drive to take over the entire West
Bank has been greatly aided by Israeli government
policies, including subsidized housing, tax breaks,
bypass roads, and the seizure of scare water resources.
Israeli groups that oppose the settler expansion, or
are critical of government policies vis-à-vis Gaza, are
finding themselves increasingly under fire. In recent
months demonstrators have been arrested for peacefully
assembling and picketing, and a bill that demonizes
non-governmental organizations (NGO) that accused the
government of war crimes during the 2008-09 "Cast Lead"
operation in Gaza is working its way through the
The bill would outlaw any NGO that provides information
to foreign or international organization, like the
United Nations, that results in a charge of war crimes.
When the Israeli government refused to cooperate with
the UN's investigation of Cast Lead, groups like
B'Tselem provided about 14 percent of the information
that eventually went into the Goldstone Report. The
Report found that both Israel and Hamas had committed
According to the Forward, "The proposed legislation
would apply to NGOs that provide information directly
to accusers, or to NGOs that put information in the
public domain that leads to such accusations."
Some 17 Knesset members from the Kadima Party and other
rightwing parties have signed on to the legislation.
Some observers say it has little chance of passing, but
that will depend on the position of the government.
"Instead of defending democracy, the sponsors of this
bill prefer to reduce it to ashes," reads a statement
signed by 10 human rights NGOs.
Polls show the legislation-ram-rodded by Kadima Knesset
member Ronit Tirosh-has support. A Tel Aviv University
survey found that 57.6 percent thought that NGOs that
exposed "immoral conduct" by Israel should not be
allowed "to operate freely."
There is a growing chasm "between the slogans like,
'Israel is a great democracy,' and `the army is the
most moral in the world'-and the reality," says
Professor Daniel Bar-Tal who conducted the poll.
Israelis, he says, "do not look in the mirror" and do
not wish to be reminded by NGOs about their image. The
result, he says, is that "the foundations" of democracy
in the country are under siege.
The mood to pull the wagons in a circle has helped
revive a push by rightwing Israeli Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman to cancel Israeli citizenship for
the country's 1.3 million Arabs, and transfer them to a
"Palestinian state." The plan-which would violate
international law-was first proposed in 2003, but then
shelved. In the current atmosphere, Lieberman has
dusted it off and put it back on the agenda.
The Obama Administration says Netanyahu accepts a two-
start solution, but the Prime Minister has filled his
pledge with so many caveats that there appears little
possibility that such an entity could ever appear under
his government. Indeed, his national security advisor
and close friend, Uzi Arad, recently attacked the
"magic" of the two-state solution and told a meeting of
the Jewish Agency, "The more you market Palestinian
legitimacy, the more you bring about a detraction of
Israel has never been so isolated internationally.
Several nations recalled their ambassadors in the
aftermath of the Israeli commando raid on the Gaza
flotilla, and leading politicians, including Kadima
leader Tzipi Livini and Vice Prime Minister Mosche
Ya'alon, have decided to curb travel to Britain because
they fear an arrest warrant.
This isolation is likely to get worse with the
Goldstone Report coming before the UN's General
Assembly in late July and Turkey assuming the chair of
the Security Council in September.
The current Israeli leadership is a major part of the
problem. "Ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin
in 1995, Israel has been ruled by one of the stupidest
and least responsible leaderships in the world. Their
failings have been masked by propaganda and by Israel's
American insurance policy," says the Independent's
Cockburn points out that the last Israeli military
victory was the 1973 war against Syria and Egypt, and
that over the past 37 years Israel has lurched from one
failure to another. "Israel's only victories these
days are won on the sofa of the White House."
The reason, he argues, "is that Israelis believe their
own propaganda and their supporters abroad adopt a
skewed view of events as if it was an article of faith.
Israelis, leaders and followers alike, acquire a wholly
distorted picture of the world around them. Hubris
breeds self-righteousness and arrogance robs Israel of
friends and allies and repeatedly leads its leaders to
underestimate their enemies."
None of that is likely to be changed by refusing to
look in the mirror or by killing the NGO messenger .
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