Israel Launches Mideast Escalation; Is Aim to Preempt UN
Vote?; JVP Statement on Israel's "Pillar of Defense"
1. Israel Escalates Gaza Attack with Assassination (Phyllis
Bennis in The Nation)
2. Will Obama Back Israeli Punishment of Palestinians for
U.N. Overture? (Carl Bloice in Foreign Policy in Focus)
3. Jewish Voice for Statement on Israel's Operation "Pillar
Israel Escalates Gaza Attack with Assassination
by Phyllis Bennis
November 14, 2012
Yesterday's Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Gaza and Israel collapsed today when Israel launched a major escalation. In airstrikes almost certainly involving US-made F-16 warplanes and/or US-made Apache helicopters, Israel's air force assassinated Ahmad Jaabari, the longtime military leader of Hamas. As the Israeli airstrikes continued today, seven more Palestinians were killed and at least thirty were injured, ten of them critically.
Jaabari had been chief negotiator with Israel in the deal that led to the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners held illegally in Israeli jails. He had negotiated the cease-fire that had mostly held over much of the last year or more. The attack, code-named "Operation Pillar of Defense" [sic], also killed someone else in Jaabari's car, and quickly expanded with additional airstrikes against Palestinian security and police stations in Gaza, making it impossible for Palestinian police to try to control the rocket-fire.
So why the escalation? Israeli military and political leaders have long made clear that regular military attacks to "cleanse" Palestinian territories (the term was used by Israeli soldiers to describe their role in the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza) is part of their long-term strategic plan. Earlier this year, on the third anniversary of the Gaza assault, Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Army Radio that Israel will need to attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called its power of "deterrence." He said the assault must be "swift and painful," concluding, "we will act when the conditions are right." Perhaps this was his chosen moment.
It is an interesting historical parallel that this escalation - which almost certainly portends a longer-term and even more lethal Israeli assault - takes place almost exactly four years after Operation Cast Lead, the last major Israeli war on Gaza, which left 1,400 Gazans dead in 2008-09. Then, as now, the attack came shortly after the US presidential elections, ending just before President Obama's January 2009 inauguration.
But the timing for this escalation is almost certainly shaped more by Israel's domestic politics than by the US election cycle. The most likely timeline is grounded in Netanyahu's political calendar - he faces re-election in January, and having thoroughly antagonized many Israelis by his deliberate dissing of President Obama, needs to shore up the far-right contingent of his base. With regional pressures escalating, particularly regarding the expanding Syrian crisis, Netanyahu needs to reassure his far-right supporters (an increasing cohort) that even if he doesn't send bombers to attack Damascus, he still can attack, bomb, assassinate Arabs with impunity.
There is a US connection, of course - however much domestic politics motivated Tel Aviv's attack, Israel's backers in Congress (lame-duck and newly elected) will still demand public US support for the Israeli offensive. Netanyahu will get that backing - there is no reason to think the Obama White House is prepared yet to challenge that assumption. But it's unlikely that even Netanyahu believes it will somehow recalibrate his tense relationship with US by forcing Washington's hand to defend Israel's so-called "right of self-defense." They will do that - but Obama will still be pretty pissed off at Netanyahu.
As is always the case, history is shaped by when you start the clock. In the last several days, US media accounts have reported increasing violence on the Gaza-Israel border, most of them beginning with a Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers on Thursday, November 8. What happened before that Palestinian attack?
For starters, the soldiers, part of an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) squad that included four tanks and a bulldozer, were inside the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF spokeswoman, Palestinians fired at "soldiers while they were performing routine activity adjacent to the security fence." Really. What kind of activities inside the supposedly not-occupied Gaza Strip, by a group of armed soldiers, tanks and a bulldozer (almost certainly an armored Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer manufactured in the United States and paid for with US taxpayer military aid to Israel), could possibly be defined as anything close to "routine"? Unlike the illegal Palestinian rockets fired against civilian targets inside Israel, using force to resist an illegal military force in the context of a belligerent military occupation is lawful under international law.
Later that day, an 11-year-old child was killed. Israel was "investigating the boy's death." Not many US media outlets reported that within the next seventy-two hours the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights documented five more Palestinians killed, including three children, and fifty-two other civilians, including six women and twelve children, wounded in Israeli airstrikes. Four of the deaths and thirty-eight injuries resulted from a single Israeli attack on a football playground in a neighborhood east of Gaza city. Twelve Israelis, four of them soldiers, were injured by Palestinian rockets fired into Israel.
The cross-border clashes continued, until Egypt was able to negotiate a ceasefire on Wednesday. Today, that fragile ceasefire was violently breached as Israel sent warplanes to assassinate a Hamas leader and destroy key parts of Gaza's barely functional infrastructure.
This is primarily about Netanyahu shoring up the right wing of his base. And once again it is Palestinians, this time Gazans, who will pay the price. The question that remains is whether the US-assured impunity that Israel's leadership has so long counted on will continue, or whether there will be enough pressure on the Obama administration and Congress so that this time, the United States will finally be forced to allow the international community to hold Israel accountable for this latest round of violations of international law.
[Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. She is active in the US and global Palestinian rights and peace movements, and her books include Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy US Power and Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer.]
Will Obama Back Israeli Punishment of Palestinians for U.N.
If the General Assembly approves Palestine's application
for non-member status, Israel's isolation from the
international community would only grow.
By Carl Bloice
Foreign Policy in Focus
November 15, 2012
The arrogance of the man seemingly has no bounds but still
it seems highly presumptuous for Israeli Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman to claim to speak for the United States.
However, according to AFP, last week, on the eve of the U.S.
Presidential election, he said the U.S. would subject the
Palestinians to "severe measures" if their leaders go ahead
and seek non-member status at the United Nations General
Assembly. Israeli television Channel 10 reported that the
rightwing minister said the U.S. would join Tel Aviv in
assuring that the Palestinian Authority would "collapse" if
the initiative proceeded.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is planning to take the
bid for recognition and admission to the UN assembly
November 29. The body's approval by majority vote in the
193-member body is considered a foregone conclusion.
The strange irony of all this is that for months now the
Israeli leaders and their supporters in the U.S. and Europe,
and most of the major media in this country, have insisted
that a UN vote in favor of the Palestinians would be
meaningless, have no effect on the situation in the region,
and that a Middle East settlement can only be secured
through negotiations between the Israelis and the
Palestinians. Somehow that view doesn't mesh with the near
hysterical response and threats emanating from the Israeli
government in response to the decision by Palestinian
President Abbas to seek UN recognition. What is obvious,
however, is that the Israelis are aware that the UN action
would only increase the growing isolation of Tel Aviv in the
international community, and lay bare the opposition to the
continuation of Israel occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
and the unrelenting Israeli colonial settlement expansion.
On November 9, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that
Lieberman has also threatened to accelerate settlement
building in the occupied territories should the Palestinians
go to the UN.
Much media attention in the U.S. over the past couple of
weeks has centered on the consequences of the re-election of
U.S. President Barack Obama on U.S. -Israeli relations and
the outlook for moving ahead with the "peace process." It
appears the right- wing Israeli government of Benjamin
Netanyahu was badly misled by its supporters in the U.S.
Sensing some diplomatic advantage, the Israeli Prime
Minister injected himself into U.S. politics on behalf of
defeated candidate Republican Mitt Romney. Now that Obama
has returned to the White House, the Israeli leadership has
- at least in public - adopted a more conciliatory attitude
toward the Administration. Supporters of the Netanyahu
government, both in Israel and here, appeared to have
concluded the prime minister's bold intrusion into U.S.
politics was unwise.
However, the official Israeli response to the prospect of a
vote at the UN remains unchanged. "Only in direct
negotiations can the real positions be clarified," Netanyahu
says. Adding that if the Palestinians are serious about a
peaceful settlement they would agree to sit down together
"immediately" and negotiate. A bid for UN membership will
"only push peace back and will only produce unnecessary
instability," Netanyahu says.
Not all the hawks in the Netanyahu's Likud party government
are being restrained. Last week, Danny Danon, deputy speaker
of Israel's Knesset, reacted to Obama's re-election by
telling reporters that "Obama's victory demonstrates that
the state of Israel must take care of its own interests."
"We cannot rely on anyone but ourselves. Obama has hurt the
United States by his naive leadership in foreign policy,
which prefers the Arab world over the Western world, along
with Israel." Dayan continued, "The state of Israel will not
capitulate before Obama."
"Recent second-term presidents, most tantalizingly Bill
Clinton, turned their attention to the Middle East," the
British newspaper The Independent said editorially November
8. "Mr. Obama, faced with the complexities of the Arab
Spring, a civil war in Syria that threatens to destabilize
the whole region, and pressure to use force to prevent Iran
acquiring a nuclear bomb, may have a unique opportunity,
post-Afghanistan, to address Israel-Palestine in a wider
On the day of the U.S. election the Netanyahu government's
nine senior ministers were scheduled to discuss the
Palestinian Authority's decision to request an upgrade of
its status at the United Nations. According to Haaretz, they
were to "consider a range of retaliatory actions against the
Palestinian leadership," an official in Jerusalem said.
"This unilateral step has broken the rules and crossed a red
line," Lieberman said before heading to Vienna to attend a
gathering meeting of Israeli ambassadors to Europe where,
according to the Jerusalem Post, they were to "discuss ways
to lobby European governments not to support the plan and to
pressure the Palestinian Authority to either delay, or drop,
A Palestinian official recently told Reuters that the votes
of 12 states of the 27-member European Union states are
committed to vote for the admission of Palestine and that
some were still undecided. Among the European delegations
expected to vote "no" on the admission of Palestine are the
Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Georgia. Palestinians
can expect overwhelmingly support from the delegates of
Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The ambassadors evidently won't have to spend much effort on
France. Last month Netanyahu met with President Francois
Hollande in Paris after which the Israeli leader slammed the
Palestinian efforts toward international recognition,
saying, "Going to the UN with unilateral declarations is not
negotiations. It's the opposite of negotiations." The
Socialist Party President called for an "unconditional"
resumption of peace talks between Israel and the
Palestinians. According to the Israel media, he added that
France was still committed to a two-state solution in the
Middle East but warned the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas
against trying to force the issue unilaterally.
Following Netanyahu's visit to France, Hollande called for
an "unconditional" resumption of Israeli- Palestinian
negotiations. "There is the temptation of the Palestinian
Authority to seek at the UN General Assembly that which it
fails to obtain through negotiation," he said. However,
without at least a settlement freeze the likelihood of a
resumption of talks is remote.
Following announcement last week that the Israeli government
intends to build 1,200 new houses in East Jerusalem and on
the West Bank, Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high
representative for foreign affairs, expressed Europe's "deep
regrets." She wrote, "Settlements are illegal under
international law. The EU has repeatedly urged the
government of Israel to immediately end all settlement
activities in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, in
line with its obligations under the roadmap." German Foreign
Minister Guido Westerwelle called the Israeli decision a
"hindrance" to the peace process
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn this week told
Spiegel Online that the Palestinian application to the UN
"is an absolutely justified request and not a provocation.
It is often forgotten that the United Nations Partition Plan
for Palestine of 1948 provided for two states -- Israel next
to an Arab state," said Asselborn. "After the Palestinians
failed in their bid last year to be recognized as a state by
the UN Security Council, Abbas announced he would follow the
Vatican model and apply for the status of an observer state
at the General Assembly. He even offered to formulate the
resolution together with the Israelis, but Netanyahu
The real question is whether the Israelis are committed to a
"two-state" solution, or any solution, or whether their
strategy is to continue to establish "facts on the ground"
through continued settlement expansion in the occupied West
On November 12, Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of the
Palestinian team working on the UN bid, said President Obama
had voiced his opposition to the UN move, but that the
Palestinian leader made it clear the decision was final. "I
find it extremely shocking that the US and Israel would
oppose this step," Shtayyeh was quoted by Prensa Latina as
saying. "What did we do to deserve this punishment? Did we
Another Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, told official
Voice of Palestine radio, "Obama did not utter any threats
but there are threats from the [US] Congress, which has a
draft bill, according to which it would demand closing the
PLO office in Washington and cutting off aid if the
Palestinian leadership pursues any move at the UN and its
This week the U.S. stepped up efforts to defer the
Palestinians from going to the UN, including sending a
special envoy to Europe to meet with Abbas. "We've been
clear in the past about what some of the consequences that
this would generate, or engender," State Department
spokesperson Mark Toner said November 13.
"The stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the
lack of prospects for their resumption anytime soon has
persuaded the Palestinian Authority (PA) to chart its own
course by applying to the United Nations General Assembly
(U.N.G.A.) as a non-voting member state," wrote Alon Ben-
Meir, a senior fellow at New York University, at the
Huffington Post October 31. "However uncertain the prospect
of such a move may be from the PA's perspective, there is
very little to lose at this juncture and perhaps much to
gain in taking such a unilateral step.
"The Palestinians are counting on Israel's increasing
isolation in the international community and the
overwhelming political support for their cause, which is
also the official policy of the U.S. The forthcoming
elections in the U.S. as well as in Israel, regardless of
their outcome, will provide the Palestinians with an
opportune time to thrust the nearly forgotten Palestinian
problem into the Israeli and American political agendas
while ensuring that the conflict returns to the forefront of
the international community's attention."
Ben-Meir pointed to the recent uniting of Netanyahu's Likud
Party with the Yisrael Beytenu group, led by Lieberman,
seriously suggests that coalition government "will hold onto
even more extremist views than the current one, which will
further diminish any hope for achieving a peaceful solution
if Netanyahu wants to legalize settlements."
Lieberman's threats to harm Palestinians have included
withholding from the Palestinian Authority government the
tax and tariff revenues Israel collects and canceling
working permits of Palestinians who are in Israel. "If the
Palestinians go to the UN General Assembly with a new
unilateral initiative, they must know they will be subject
to severe measures by Israel and the United States,"
Lieberman said, adding, "If they persist with this project,
I will ensure that the Palestinian Authority collapses." So
far, there has been no word as to whether the Obama
Administration will go along with what would amount to not
only collective punishment but action taken against a whole
people for an action that involves no violence.
The U.S. State Department is trying to twist the arms of the
Europeans to induce them to act against the Palestinians at
the UN and Washington's seeming willingness to let the far
right in Israel speak for it in the international arena and
make threats on behalf of the Obama Administration is not a
pretty sight. Carrying out such threats would be ugly. It is
not in the interest of peace in the Middle East. It would be
a mockery of the lofty pledges the President made at Cairo
University three years ago and it is not the kind of thing
the people who gave Obama the Nobel Peace prize had in mind.
[Carl Bloice, is a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy
and Socialism. He is also a columnist for the Black
Commentator and serves on its editorial board. Carl is one
of the moderators of Portside.]
Jewish Voice for Peace Statement on Israel's Operation "Pillar of Defense"
November 14, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Rabbi Alissa Wise, [log in to unmask]
As Israel launches operation "Pillar of Defense" in Gaza,
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) calls for an immediate
cessation of the air strikes and naval bombardment into Gaza
and an end to the ongoing siege of Gaza. JVP urges Israel
not to exploit its asymmetric power to exacerbate the
instability in the region. We urge President Obama to take
a stand against these attacks and to use the power of the
United States to insist that Israel pursue all diplomatic
measures possible for the sake of life, safety and security
on all sides. JVP opposes all attacks on civilians, and
urges the end of rocket attacks from Gaza into civilian
communities in Israel, which only serve to derail efforts
for a just resolution to the conflict.
This operation is named in reference to a biblical passage
in which a pillar of cloud protects the Israelites as they
wandered in the desert after leaving bondage in Egypt.
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud,
to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to
give them light; that they might go by day and by night.
It is unseemly to invoke the protection afforded the
Israelites wandering in the desert when Israel is the
dominant military power in the region. JVP rejects the
possibility that such a military operation and escalation of
violence will be of any protection for Israelis or
Palestinians. As Israel continues to control Gaza by air,
land and sea, Israel holds responsibility for the well-being
and safety of Palestinian civilians in Gaza who will be
traumatized, injured and killed through this escalation of
JVP calls on our chapters, members, and supporters to join
us in redoubling our efforts to advocate for an end to the
U.S.'s unconditional military aid to Israel and to intensify
our calls for divestment from all companies that profit from
this escalation of violence and Israel's ongoing siege of
You can follow live updates from Gaza here:
Jewish Voice for Peace is a national organization dedicated
to promoting a US foreign policy in the Middle East based on
peace, democracy, human rights and respect for international
With offices in New York and California, over 100,000
supporters and 30 chapters, a Rabbinic Cabinet, and a youth
wing, JVP's board of advisors includes Tony Kushner, actor
Ed Asner, writer Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and other
respected rabbis, artists, scholars and activists.
Jewish Voice for Peace
1611 Telegraph Ave, Suite 550, Oakland, CA 94612
510.465.1777 - [log in to unmask]
Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.
Submit via email: [log in to unmask]
Submit via the Web: http://portside.org/submittous3
Frequently asked questions: http://portside.org/faq
Search Portside archives: http://portside.org/archive
Contribute to Portside: https://portside.org/donate