“Another Acre and Another Goat”

    I am very happy to be able to publish this essay by veteran Israeli peace activist Amos Gvirtz of Kibbutz Shefayim. The essay vividly captures the continuity in the conduct of the Zionist settlement movement in Palestine from pre-state days to the present. It also captures, as Amos puts it, “the continuation of the slow and ongoing implementation of all the components of the ‘Nakba.'” Thanks, Amos! ~HC

Another Acre and Another Goat
By Amos Gvirtz
During my childhood in the 1950s I still heard echoes of the argument (from pre-state days) between the Zionist Labor Movement and the Zionist Right. The Labor Movement people criticized the Zionist Right for declaring the intention of the Zionist Movement to inherit the Land of Israel. They argued that these declarations would arouse Arab resistance to the Zionist enterprise. In their view, the state-in-the-making should be built quietly, according to the slogan “another acre and another goat.”
When one sees and hears what’s going on in the occupied territories today, one can only conclude that the same approach characterizes our own times as well, together with the same old argument between quiet action and declared intentions. Except that today, instead of buying land, it is taken by force. Along with the building of settlements, Palestinians are expelled and their houses destroyed. All these things are done on a small scale – after all, our entire existence depends on the international community that supports us. If Israel were to act on a larger scale, that support would decline. Only in the context of a war does Israel allow itself massive action, as was the case in the “Cast Lead” operation in Gaza, where the IDF killed 1400 people and destroyed more than 4000 homes!
Whoever follows these things in the news, hears from time to time about small land confiscations near settlements, for security needs or for paving a road. The very existence of the separation barrier (“the wall”) serves as a means for stealing land. After the separation barrier is built, as the years go by, additional lands are taken from their Palestinian owners on the grounds that they are not cultivated – even if there is no possibility of cultivating them since many landowners are denied permits to cross the barrier and work their lands. And if the IDF doesn’t confiscate the land, then land-greedy settlers attack Palestinian farmers. The IDF protects the attackers and expels the farmers. After three years when Palestinians are unable to or do not dare to enter their lands, the lands are officially declared “state lands” because they have not been cultivated.
It’s the same story with home demolitions. First they confiscated the granting of building permits from Palestinians by disenfranchising the work of the Palestinian building and planning committees. After that the Israeli authorities practically stopped granting building permits to Palestinians. And then, when thousands of Palestinian families had no choice but to build without permits, they were issued demolition orders. The demolitions are carried out little by little over time, so that the media loses interest.
The policy of expulsions works in a similar way. Permanent residency is denied to people who marry local Palestinian residents, even if they live in “Area A” (the Palestinian cities) which are under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. Even after decades of married life, these non-resident spouses are required to go abroad every three months and return to their families as tourists. Sometimes they are not allowed to return at all. It seems that the State of Israel wants these families to leave their homes in the occupied territories in the wake of the spouses who are denied residency.
And so it seems that we have returned to pre-state days. Israel has eradicated its borders with the occupied territories, ignores international law and international norms, and systematically acts to annex the West Bank and the Golan Heights. For this purpose the State steals lands, builds settlements, destroys houses and expels people.
In the 1980s the country was up in arms: The racist Rabbi Meir Kahane succeeded in becoming a Knesset Member! He announced in a loud voice what Israel was doing little by little. The shock was great. Legislation against racist incitement was passed – not, of course, against racist actions – and Kahane’s party was declared illegal. If a law against racist actions had been legislated, we would be in danger of placing Israeli governments outside the law.
On the eve of Holocaust Day, the headline in the Israeli newspaper “Ha’aretz” informed us of a military order issued by the Head of the Army Central Command that would enable the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank. At this point I will take the risk of saying something that is prohibited among us: that’s how it started in Germany. They spoke about the transfer of Jews from Europe. Only when they realized that this was impossible did they decide on the “final solution.”
These days Knesset Members are busy initiating legislation that will prohibit commemorating the “Nakba” (the Palestinian catastrophe) of 1948… The only thing lacking is the initiation of legislation that would prohibit the continuation of the slow and ongoing implementation of all the components of the “Nakba.”

The new Baker initiative

Former Sec. of State James Baker has been helping to roll out a new report, issued by the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, that urges the Obama administration to put forward its own proposal for the final-status boundaries between Israel and Palestine.
The whole report is available in PDF form here. It is interesting because it is the result of a quiet, “Track 2” diplomatic effort convened by the institute over the past year and a half, in which un-named Israeli and Palestinian participants worked together to present and discuss their own proposals for where the final boundary between the two states should lie, if indeed there are to be two states.
In Haaretz yesterday, Akiva Eldar referred to a recent interview with the National Journal in which Baker– who of course is most famous in the Middle East for the hard-nosed way he dealt with Likud PM Yitzhak Shamir over the settlements issue back in 1991-92– displayed that he is still prepared to play hardball with the present Likud PM.
Eldar quoted him as saying there:

    “I would also stress that United States taxpayers are giving Israel roughly $3 billion each year, which amounts to something like $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, at a time when our own economy is in bad shape and a lot of Americans would appreciate that kind of helping hand from their own government. Given that fact, it is not unreasonable to ask the Israeli leadership to respect U.S. policy on settlements.”

Eldar also reported on a phone interview he conducted with Ed Djerejian, who’s the founding director of the Baker Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Syria, and Russia.
Djerejian told Eldar,

    “The Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially the Palestinian issue, remains one of the most contentious and sensitive issues in the entire Muslim world. Osama bin Laden exploits the plight of the Palestinians, as does [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad … This has a direct influence on the United States, which is expending its blood and treasure fighting insurgencies in overwhelmingly Muslim Iraq and Afghanistan.
    “We would be naive to think that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will eliminate the problems of terrorism and radicalization in the Islamic world, but it will go a long way toward draining the swamp of issues that extremists exploit for their own ends.”

All excellent analysis. And a very important argument that we should all keep on making…
I was intrigued, however, to read as much as I could of the report itself in order to:

    a) Figure out as well as I could at what “level” the Palestinian and Israeli participants were operating, and crucially, How close are they to actually being able to represent the positions of their respective national leaderships?
    b) Learn the content of the “U.S. compromise proposal”– actually, three different options for a “compromise proposal– that the Baker Institute people were urging.

On the first of those points, there seemed to be no evidence in the report as to who these people. I believe, based on other evidence, that Yasser Abed Rabboo, who was Abu Mazen’s long-time designated lead person in the “Geneva Initiative” process was one of the participants on the Palestinian side, which would make that team fairly authoritative vis-a-vis the Ramallah leadership.
But who were the Israelis? I don’t know. But whoever they were, on p.5 it makes clear that they were operating on the basis of “reported positions put forward by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert”– which indicates they were people far closer to Olmert’s Kadima Party than to Netanyahu’s Likud.
Which is interesting and very significant.
The initial map those Israelis put forward, which represents a swap of 7.03% of the West Bank’s land against an equal amount of land from inside post-1949 Israel, is on p. 63. On pp. 65 and 67 are maps that are described, on p. 5, as “reflecting reported positions put forward by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.” They represented a swap of 1.9% of the land of the West Bank for land inside post-1949 Israel, on the same 1:1 basis.
Interestingly, regarding the situation in occupied East Jerusalem, the “Palestinian map” presented in the report involved far fewer territorial concessions to Israel in Greater East Jerusalem than did the map that participants in the Geneva Initiative signed off on last September. (Which indicates that Abu Mazen’s position on East Jerusalem has hardened noticeably since then.)
And then, there are the three different options the Baker Institute itself proposes that the Obama administration should choose between if– as Baker and Djerejian urge– Obama moves rapidly to put forward, and hopefully also press very hard for, its own proposal for the final borders.
These three options are mapped out in full on pp. 101, 103, and 105. The first of those represents a 4.0% land swap, the second a 3.4% swap, and the third a 4.4% swap. (It is very common on U.S. diplomatic memorandums for the writer to end up presenting three options, with the hope that her or his boss will pick the “middle” one.)
Details of how these options differ in a number of sensitive areas are presented in the earlier pages.
I don’t have time to write much more about this report. I just want to close by noting three things:

    1. The Baker Institute seems to have proceeded in the continuing spirit of the disastrous April 2004 letter in which Pres. Bush assured PM Sharon that the U.S. supported a territorial outcome that would take major account of the existing facts on the ground, i.e. Israel’s completely illegal settlements, and in particular the large settlement blocs. And indeed, the way the various details are portrayed in the maps seems extremely settler-centric– i.e. just about all the maps are described as addressing the issues around this or that settlement bloc, not around the concerns of this or that large Palestinian urban center. Instead of calling an area the “Gush Etzion area”, why not call it “Greater Bethlehem”, and start from the concerns of the Palestinian Bethlehemites who are considerably more numerous than the (illegal) residents of Gush Etzion and who have suffered already for 43 years from the illegal grabbing of their lands. Where is any ethic of care or of respect for human equality in the Baker Institute’s approach?
    2. All the lines proposed on all the maps presented, by all three “parties” there, are extremely complex and sinuous… in many cases almost ridiculously so.
    3. If it was close-to-Kadima people who participated on the Israeli side, then why would we have any reason to believe Netanyahu might be interested in any part of this approach? And/or, is this all part of some plan to needle Netanyahu by trying to deal with Kadima instead of him?

On the current tipping point

    1. We really are at a tipping point.

AIPAC and its allies have really gotten their undies in a twist over last week’s confrontation between Netanyahu and Biden (and Sec. Clinton, too.)
Next week, AIPAC has its big, power-demonstrating policy conference in Washington. The list of confirmed speakers is topped by Clinton and Netanyahu. How will that go? Will it be a love-fest or some discreet form of a continued confrontation? Will one or the other find a reason not to attend? Whatever happens, it’s going to be important.
Meantime, Petraeus– along with, presumably, others in both the brass and the suits sides at the Pentagon– have started to discreetly weigh in on the real dangers Netanyahu’s current policies pose to the lives of U.S. soldiers… And in the commentatoriat even Tom Friedman has come out strongly critical of the Netanyahu government’s arrogance over Jerusalem.
AIPAC and its attack-dog allies have been fast, focused, and relentless. I’ve been receiving a stream of emailed news releases from the attack-dog group “The Israel Project”, whose head, Jennifer Mizrachi has also been robo-calling me on my cellphone to urge me to contact legislators and the Prez to urge them to reaffirm their support for Israel and back off from confronting Netanyahu over Jerusalem. The press release AIPAC itself issued Sunday publicly called on Obama TO WORK TO IMMEDIATELY DEFUSE THE TENSION WITH ISRAEL (their screech, not mine.)
And where have the alleged “counter-AIPAC” organizations like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, or even that sad little group the Council for the National Interest been all this time? Notably AWOL, compared with AIPAC, TIP, etc. J Street hasn’t put anything on their website on the Jerusalem-settlements issue, or on their email list, since March 11; APN hasn’t done anything on it March 10. And you can search CNI’s website and find nothing about it at all. Nor has the End the Occupation website.
This matters, because steering or dominating the narrative is really important in moments of crisis.
But anyway, the intense frenzy of activity from AIPAC, TIP, etc shows us that they think we are at what could well be a crisis for them. (And they are far from stupid.) After all, is the President simply going to wave away the concerns that have now, verifiedly, been voiced by the leader of Centcom about the dangers that Israel’s policies pose to the lives and wellbeing of American troops? I do not see that he can.

    2. In electoral politics, it still is ‘the economy, stupid.’

The present confrontation between an administration in Washington and a settlement-addicted Likud government in Israel harks straight back to the period in 1991-92 when Pres. George H.W. Bush and Sec. of State James Baker got into a similar confrontation with Likud leader (and lest we forget, former terrorist gunman) Yitzhak Shamir. We need to remember the political lessons from that incident– and remember them correctly.
The short version of what happened in that clash was that Bush and Baker drew their line in the sand against use of U.S. loan guarantees (however fungibly) to support the construction of settlements in the West Bank. During the Israeli elections of 1992, that principled U.S. stance persuaded Israeli voters, ever mindful of the need for good relations with Washington, to vote Shamir out and replace his government with a Labor-led coalition that enjoyed far better relations with Washington.
In the U.S. elections of later that year, however, Bush lost. The big question for us in the U.S. today, is why exactly did he lose?
The lobby people would have us believe the story that they and their allies have been spreading ever since Bush’s defeat in November 1992: that he lost precisely because he had had the temerity to confront a government in Israel. That understanding of November 1992 came to dominate many narratives and “elite” political understandings– in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
But it ain’t so!
I was here in the U.S. during that election. It was the first or second general election I voted in. Go back and read the news accounts of the time. Bush lost– and Clinton won– because of the immense power of Clinton’s slogan that “It’s the economy, stupid!” It was the terrible state of the economy then that dominated voters’ thinking– much more importantly than anything about the Middle East, including Bush’s previous set-to with Shamir. (And after all, most Jewish Americans were very happy to see Shamir replaced by Rabin.)
In the mid-term elections of November 2010, and in the presidential election of 2012, it will similarly be the state of the economy and of domestic governance in general that dominates voters’ thinking. Inasmuch as the Middle East intrudes on voters’ thinking at all– which would anyway be very trivial–only a small proportion of voters are going to end up having their behavior swayed by the screechy arguments that AIPAC and Co. make about distant Jerusalem. Many more could be persuaded by organizations or opinion leaders who take trouble to spell out the kinds of arguments about the true interests of the American people in the region, as spelled out made by Gen. Petraeus (and also, as it happens, back in November by myself.)
So we do need to underline to the President and his political advisers that they absolutely should not be be blown off course by any arguments AIPAC and and its shills might make about “Hey, don’t mess with us: Look what we did to Bush I back in 1992.” It still really is “the economy, stupid!”

    3. What Obama could do.

The administration has decided to delay, for an unstated length of time, the visit to Israel and Palestine that peace envoy George Mitchell was due to start yesterday. That’s good for starters.
The administration’s position, as described here by the WaPo’s Glenn Kessler, is that it is pressing Netanyahu to do three things:

    a. reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a “disputed” [i.e. occupied] area of Jerusalem,
    b. make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and
    c. publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, are on the agenda in the upcoming talks.

Kessler doesn’t say this, but I understand that the administration’s position is that unless Netanyahu does these things, then Mitchell won’t be launching the promised “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians any time soon.
Notice there, by the way, the degree to which these proximity talks are being treated by Washington as a boon or reward for Israel, which can be delayed or withheld by Washington as part of its diplomatic bargaining with the Netanyahu government. But actually, Netanyahu might in the abstract be very happy not to have the proximity talks. Why does it need them? Does Washington need them, actually, more than Israel? Maybe.
There are a lot of other things the Obama administration could do as well if it really wanted to demonstrate its commitment to achieving a fair and sustainable peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. In no particular order of doability or anything else it could do any or all of the following, and should consider doing at least some of them.
It could,

    A. Announce the launching of an administration-wide review of all U.S. policies that have any relationship to the Israeli settlements including policies affecting economic links and trade preferences being extended to settlements as well as to Israel proper; the activities and tax status of U.S. entities, including non-profit entities, that have dealings with or in the settlements. The terms of reference of this review should explicitly spell out that its purview includes the settlements in Jerusalem as well as elsewhere (including Golan.)
    B. Announcement of a similar review of policies and entities related in any way to Israel’s illegal Wall.
    C. Commit to a series of steps aimed at speedily ending the illegal and anti-humane siege that Israel maintains against Gaza and restoring all the rights of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
    D. Sen. Mitchell should be empowered to talk to representatives of all those Palestinian parties that won seats in the 2006 PLC election which was, let us remember, certified by all international monitors as free and fair. Obama and Co. should also inform the Egyptians and all other parties that they want and expect them to be helpful rather than obstructive in the Palestinian parties’ efforts to reach internal reconciliation.
    E. Move speedily toward giving the other four permanent members of the Security Council more real role in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. They all have a lot to offer and can help the U.S. get out of the very tight spot it currently finds itself in, in the Greater Middle East region.

4. Finally, beware of ‘dirty tricks’.
We should all be very aware that Netanyahu and the even more militantly settlerist parties who are in his ruling coalition (and now well entrenched in the leadership of many of his security apparatuses) will not necessarily “play fair” in any continuing confrontation with Washington. No doubt many of these forces are already thinking up a variety of “dirty tricks” they might employ to try to reduce Obama’s power domestically and internationally, to make him look weak, and to “punish” him for daring to stand up to their plan to Judaize the whole of Jerusalem while America looks impotently on.
Let’s remember the history of, for example, the Lavon Affair in 1954, in which, according to the well-sourced Wikipedia entry,

    Israeli military intelligence planted bombs in Egyptian, American and British-owned targets in Egypt in the summer of 1954 in the hopes that “the Muslim Brotherhood, the Communists, ‘unspecified malcontents’ or ‘local nationalists'” would be blamed.

A country whose leaders could in relatively recent history act as cynically as that, including against British and U.S. targets, might well today have leaders who might think along similar lines.
Including, perhaps, even an action as explosive as launching some kind of military provocation against Iran, whose counter-attack would almost certainly engulf far more of the Americans who are on the country’s borders, than of Israelis?
The U.S. military, obviously, need to redouble their efforts to prevent any such provocation. But other Israeli “dirty tricks” against the U.S., in a wide variety of arenas, are also very possible in the period ahead.

The ultimate in chutzpah??

Israeli citizens living quite illegally in the settlement of “Ateret” in the occupied West Bank are now protesting the Palestinian Authority’s pursuit of a project to build the first-ever Palestinian “new town” just a few miles north of Ramallah.
Some of those settlers now have the chutzpah to complain that the new Palestinian town will “be a burden on the environment” of the West Bank… that it will contribute to traffic congestion… that its effluents might flow into West Bank valleys… and even that it “will only benefit Palestinian elites.”
The new town, to be named Rawabi, will have around 5,000 housing units, for a total population of around 25,000 people.
This is the first planned new town development the West Bank’s 2.6 million Palestinians have been allowed to build in 43 years of living under Israel’s foreign military occupation. During those years, their numbers have just about doubled.
And in those 43 years, successive Israeli governments have worked hard to implant more than 500,000 settlers, quite illegally, into the West Bank (including East Jerusalem.)
Are we supposed to be touched by the concern these settlers show for the interests of the West Bank’s environment and of those Palestinians who not members of the elite???
Nah. I am not touched. Let them all go home.