A Just Peace

(The current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks engineered by Secretary of State John Kerry reminded me of similar negotiations that took place some seventy years ago.)

In a deal brokered by the American Secretary of State the German Chancellor today announced that Minister for Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop would be traveling to Warsaw in an attempt to revive the peace process with Poland, which has been occupied by German troops since the 1939 war. Chancellor Hitler repeated his commitment to the “two state solution” but cautioned that “minor adjustments” would have to be made to the pre-1939 frontiers.
The Chancellor insisted that there be no preconditions for the talks, a clear attempt to circumvent the question of the Polish Right of Return. “Everything is on the table,” said Ribbentrop, noted for his earlier arrangement of a peace agreement with the Soviet Union. “We are willing to discuss every issue, even the difficult ones, in order to secure a just and lasting peace that will provide for the security of both the German Reich and the Polish people. We will settle for nothing less.”
Ribbentrop’s enthusiasm and optimism is, however, not shared by some observers. “There are simply too many serious problems that the Poles have shown no inclination to address,” explained Governor-General Hans Frank, who is opposed to the “two state solution” because it would eliminate the Reich-supported Governorate General, which he administers. “Our construction projects in the Governorate General have produced jobs for Poles and raised their standard of living in areas such as Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belżec.”
A particularly thorny issue is the German settlement program. It is estimated that there are some two million Germans living in the occupied territories, two thirds of them brought in as new settlers. The remaining third are pre-war inhabitants rescued from Polish terrorism. The settlements are widely considered a violation of international law, particularly the fourth Hague Convention, but the Reich contends that Poland has never really been a defined national state and consequently international conventions are not applicable.
The creation of a Polish state would pose a serious problem for these Volksgenossen. Remaining in their homes would result in their being an oppressed minority, especially considering the primitive nature of Polish society and culture, which naturally views Germans with envy and hatred. But most would resist leaving their homes and land, which could only lead to violence, especially since the Poles have less regard for life than the Germans and other civilized peoples.
The case is also made that most of the territory claimed by the Poles is in fact German. The issue of West Prussia and Posen is of course clear to everyone: this obviously German territory was stolen from the Reich by the Versailles Treaty and must be returned. More controversial is the land that comprises central Poland. While this area has not been part of the modern German state, it was once German territory, as evidence by the large number of Germans living their prior to the 1939 war. It was inhabited by Germans as long ago as the third century, when the area was controlled by Vandals, Goths, Burgundians and other groups that made up “Germania,” which stretched from the Rhine to beyond the Vistula.
This is, however, an extreme view, and the Chancellor has indicated a willingness to make concessions to the Poles, such as granting them Warsaw and Lodz. In return the Poles must publically recognize the existence of the Reich as a “German” state. Any new Polish state would of course be demilitarized, and the Reich would maintain control of key strategic areas, such as the Vistula River. Such measures would be necessary to protect the Reich from any attacks emanating from Polish territory.
The Chancellor meanwhile commented on the current situation, denying emphatically that the condition in the Governorate General could be characterized as “apartheid.” He pointed out that the areas and roads restricted to Germans are solely for the purpose of protecting the population from Polish terrorism, and he explained how these measures also helped protect the Poles, who could be hurt by the high speed roads and unfamiliar machinery.
Finally, Chancellor Hitler addressed the recent bombing of Cracow. “Terrorists throwing rocks at German citizens cannot be allowed to go unpunished or the violence will only spread. If the casualties in Cracow seem disproportionately large, it is of course because the terrorist criminals were using innocent civilians as human shields.” He also noted that indefinite detention is in complete accordance with the laws of the Reich, as is the use of moderate physical pressure in obtaining information that could well save lives, both Polish and German. “We are not barbarians!”

Polish terrorist

Polish terrorist

Ambassador Ribbentrop

Ambassador Ribbentrop

Polish negotiator

Polish negotiator

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This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, unto Jacob, and unto Bibi

(Pre-blog note: We celebrate a fantastic achievement for mankind: landing a one-ton nuclear powered science vehicle on Mars, all without human direction.  Unfortunately, most writers for the general media feel compelled, perhaps inevitably, to add that it cost $2.4 billion, implying that this is perhaps too expensive.  Why then do articles about the war in Afghanistan never mention that this war costs $2 billion a week?  The $2.4 billion Curiosity will operate for at least 104 weeks and actually produce something of value to humanity, which seems like a much better deal.  Perhaps if Curiosity carried weapons no one would notice the price tag.  Three cheers for my fellow geeks at NASA and JPL!)

 

The mainstream American media typically reports news involving Israel only when the Israelis do something spectacular, like invading Lebanon, or when American politics are involved, such as Mitt Romney’s brown-nosing comments about Jerusalem and the Palestinians.   Hardly surprising then that most American newspapers and television stations made no mention of the Levy Report, despite its important implications for Palestine and American policy in the area.  To be fair, some major newspapers, such as the NY Times, carried the story, but clearly most Americans, even those who keep abreast of the news, are unaware of the report, being inundated with the apparently more interesting details of the lives of mass murderers.

Regarding their occupation and colonization of the West Bank, Israel has (when it bothered at all) traditionally excused its clear violation of accepted international law by pointing out that inasmuch as there is no Palestinian state the strictures of such international instruments as the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Charter do not apply.  This rationale of course places Israel in what should be uncomfortable company: Hitler in part justified his monstrous treatment of the Soviet Union by noting that they had never signed the Geneva Convention.

This has apparently changed.  Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a three member commission, headed by former High Court justice Edmund Levy, to investigate the legal status of the so-called “illegal” settlements, that is, those not authorized by the government.  The implication of course is that all the other settlements are legal, despite their obvious violation of basic international law.  But what the panel concluded goes way beyond the issue of the handful of “illegal” settlers, and it is breathtaking in its self-serving cynicism and implications.

Basically, they determined that that the “illegal” settlements – and thus all the settlements – are not illegal because they are not in fact in occupied territory.  This conclusion might seem a bit surprising since the Israeli army has been obviously occupying the West Bank for 45 years, and this is territory designated as part of the Palestinian state created by the same UN resolution that created Israel.  The commission, however, concluded that since Israel has been in the West Bank for such a long time that this is unique occurrence and thus not actually an occupation.  Bingo, all the settlements are perfectly legal in the light of international law.  As, I suppose, would be the German colonization of Poland if they had only hung on longer.

Israeli politicians either hailed this as a triumph of jurisprudence or remained silent, and I am unaware of an official response from the US government, which is in the midst of an election, when even the faintest criticism of Israel is viewed as political poison.  As a signatory of all the international conventions Israel is currently violating, it would be awkward for the US to officially accept the colonization of the West Bank, and our official position is that the settlements are unacceptable.  But no American president has dared take any action on the issue, and so far as I know, no administration has even publically referred to them as violations of international law.  Instead they are “obstacles to peace” or some such euphemism, despite the fact that as a High Contracting Party America is legally bound to “ensure respect” for the Fourth Geneva Convention, which the settlements blatantly violate.

The self-serving and perfectly silly arguments of the Levy Report are designed to satisfy the all-important settler block in the present extremist Likud coalition, but what are the wider implications if this position becomes the official policy of the Israeli state?  This would essentially amount to an annexation of the West Bank, and while the US has pretty much turned a blind eye to the annexation of the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem, this would be very different and disastrous for Israel and perhaps the US.

Annexing the West Bank, even if the word “annex” is avoided, would certainly create a crisis for Israel, which would be faced with only two options.  Israel could enfranchise the 2.3 million Palestinians who live there, but that would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state and is inconceivable.  The alternative is to create (or formalize what is already the case) an apartheid system, which would be the end of Israel as a democratic state.  The second solution would appeal to many religious fanatics, but it would mean the end of US support and the complete isolation of Israel unless it chooses to ally with blatantly undemocratic states like Russia and China.

Well, it would probably mean the end of American support.  American politicians of both parties have a very well established tradition of prostrating themselves before Israel for reasons that are actually becoming less compelling as relentlessly liberal American Jews reconsider their unqualified support of an increasingly illiberal and sometimes outright intolerant Israel.  Israel has become so imbedded in our political arena and its excesses so constantly ignored that it is not a certainty that American politicians, especially evangelically inclined conservatives, would actually abandon it.

We have been quite willing to call Israel a model democracy in the Middle East despite the clear evidence that Palestinian citizens are not just treated as second class but are actually legally disabled.  And in the eyes of many Americans every Arab is suspicious anyway, and the Palestinians have always been terrorists, right?  That Palestinians would be treated as American Blacks were before the civil rights legislation or as South African Blacks were under the apartheid government would clearly be no problem for many conservative Americans.  Yes, we finally severed relations with South Africa, but this is different.  Israel is vital to American security (at least that is what we have been told for a half century) and in any case this is the land the Bible says is special, the land where Jesus walked and where the end of days will take place.  Would Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann be bothered by any of this?

Many conservatives in Israel are not bothered.  Dani Dayan, head of the Yesha party, has just argued in the NY Times that because Arabs have called for the destruction of Israel and because the West Bank was the heart of ancient Israel, it is not just reasonable but actually moral for Israel to acquire this territory.  Think of it as Judea and Samaria rather than Palestine and you will see the moral imperative to annex.  American evangelicals, who seem to have an incredible capacity for ignoring the truth, especially when religion is involved, would surely endorse this idea, particularly since it involves not just their religion but also national security, which for some has become a quasi-religious concept.

To be sure, because of its unqualified support for Israel and Arab dictators and monarchs, its massive military presence in the Middle East and its expanding program of assassination by drone, America already has little credibility in the Arab world.  But accepting an apartheid Israel would surely end our credibility as leader of the democratic world and spoil our relationship with Europe, whose politicians (even in Germany) are not pathetically subservient to the interests of Israel.

For an historian this is of course all fascinating stuff, but for an American, especially one already concerned about the road we are taking, this is scarey stuff.

And Breathed in the Face of the Foe As He Passed

Nations, certainly the more democratic ones, feel compelled to engage in often blatantly hypocritical action when dealing with “friends” considered vital to national interests.  Consequently, the United States, which has constantly trumpeted to the world its support of democracy and human rights, has seen no problem in supporting and cooperating with sundry dictatorial regimes with abominable human rights records.  During the cold war this generally took the form of supporting any military dictator who claimed to be fighting a communist insurgency, which policy could actually go as far as participating in the overthrow of a democratically elected government, as in the case of Chile and Iran.  Now one only need replace the word “communist” with “terrorist” or “Islamicist” to see the same policy continuing, as recently in Yemen with Ali Abdullah Salah.  And of course there is oil and convenient military bases.  How often have you heard Washington, full of praise for the Arab Spring and condemnation of rulers like Assad and Ahmadinejad, complaining about the bloody repression of protestors in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia?

Of course, nations do not typically have friends but rather interests, and maintaining those interests, which seem inevitably to fall under the wonderfully vague term “national security,” often conflicts with the stated values of a democratic nation.  Perhaps that is simply life in the big city.  Certainly, American voters are going to be far more concerned with the price of gas than the plight of peaceful and justified demonstrators getting their heads beaten in by our friends, even if those friends operate a political and social system that is more at home in the 11th century than the 21st.  Squishy sentimentality about human rights or idealistic notions of international law cannot obstruct the business of the nation.

This all makes sense if your priority is the welfare of your own nation regardless of how the inhabitants of some other country might suffer.  What is harder to understand, however, is violating the traditional norms of international behavior and injuring the reputation of the country pursuing actions that not only do not serve national interests but in fact injure them.   And taking such action in the face of massive popular opposition, which on the face of it might seem imprudent for a democratically elected government.  But in the case of bombing Iran, apparently not.

The stated aim of this prospective madness is protecting what actually must be a friend, Israel, since it is very difficult to see how this ally has ever served American interests.  Our intelligence agencies have stated that it will be at least three years before Iran can produce even a crude deliverable weapon, and any objective analysis of the Iranian government strongly suggests that for all their sometimes bizarre behavior they are not irrational and suicidal enough to launch a nuclear device at a country that possess several hundred easily delivered nuclear bombs.  The militaries of both Israel and the US do not want to attack Iran.  The majority of the populations of both these democracies do not want to attack Iran.  Some 70% of all Americans do not want to attack Iran and want to dissuade Israel from doing so, and even 69% of Republicans agree.

So why the hell are we on the verge of doing this?  For the simple reasons that the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, faces serious domestic problems and needs to satisfy the extreme hawks and – let us be honest – aspiring fascists in his coalition and that this is a Presidential election year in the United States.  Obama is not stupid, but he is political, and despite the evidence of widespread anti-war sentiment and the fact that American Jewry is rapidly losing its traditional unquestioning commitment to Israel he nevertheless cannot resist the half century old political imperative to NEVER criticize or obstruct our “most important ally.”  It must seem particularly important to him to pander to a foreign government (which he clearly despises) since the Republican candidates have almost come to blows in their claims to be the ultimate Zionist.  They have already savaged him for throwing Israel under the bus, seemingly for not being enthusiastic about the colonization of the West Bank, despite the absence of any bus anywhere on the horizon.

Allowing your foreign policy to be determined by domestic politics is never healthy for a country, even one as powerful and militarily invincible as the United States.  But to alter your foreign policy judgments and act counter to the clear will of the voters because of a largely imaginary political advantage is incomprehensible.  The historian is reminded of the Great War, during which the political leaders of Britain, France and Germany all fell over one another making promises (which they had no intention of keeping) to the Zionists because of the completely imaginary gentile notion of an incredibly powerful and united world Jewry.

Because, at least initially, of European and American guilt, the huge American Jewish community, the astute propagandizing of the young and very western Jewish state and the intransigence and foreignness of unattractive Arab dictatorships, America allowed herself to fall into exactly the kind of “passionate attachment” George Washington warned against.  The result has been the unqualified and for us counterproductive support of a country that routinely and blatantly violates the international law this country is in fact sworn to uphold, making us look like hypocritical fools when we legitimately protest the aggressive and inhumane actions of other nations.  How can we complain about Russian and Chinese vetoes of UN action against Bashir Assad when the US, alone except for American territories and apartheid South Africa, consistently vetoed even the mildest criticism of Israeli behavior?  And remember, the deliberate Israeli attack in June 1967 on the USS Liberty, resulting in 34 dead American sailors, is still officially considered, against all evidence, an “accident.”

And now we are on the edge of the precipice, on the verge of a disastrous (and immoral) war against Iran, which would certainly disrupt oil supplies and dramatically affect the global economy, possible turning the recession into an outright depression.  Which party, I wonder, will get the blame when gasoline prices in America soar?  All this because of the political needs of a small handful of individuals in Israel and the United States.

The image of the tiny democratic David holding off with our aid the evil Arab Goliath was never quite accurate and is now a sick joke.  The most powerful military and the only nuclear weapons between France and Pakistan belong to Israel, which has now settled a half million colonists on territory belonging to the Palestinians, with no end in sight except the ultimate creation of a greater apartheid Israel.  The current government in Tel Aviv, with the seeming connivance of the judiciary, has already limited free speech in Israel and is allied with the ultra-orthodox communities, which are completely at odds with the essentially secular society of the majority.

Shortly after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War Israeli philosopher Yeshaya Liebowitz wrote: In the first stage we shall see euphoria, upon our return to our ancient sites.  Next we shall see the emergence of a messianic, radical and dangerous nationalism.  In the third stage we shall see Israeli society becoming more brutal and the emergence of a police state.

It is coming true, as Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians and its own minorities engages in a more and more convincing impersonation of the Third Reich.  We are complicit.  Worse, we are becoming Israel.

A Light Unto the Nations

The village of Shaab al-Buttum, home to hundreds of people, is in the hills south of Hebron in Palestine.  The community is made up of shepherds, formerly nomadic but forced to settle permanently in the area when the West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967.  Unfortunately for the villagers, their home is in Area C, which comprises some 60% of the West Bank and is directly administered by Israel, which requires permission for any construction projects, permission that is virtually never given to Palestinians.  The impact of this restriction is evident in the demographics of Area C: 150,000 Palestinians and 310,000 Israeli settlers.

As a consequence Shaab al-Buttum has no roads, no water and no electricity, while two nearby Israeli settlements are well supplied with all the necessities of life.  This disparity exists despite the fact that the Israel settlements are considered “illegal” by Tel Aviv, a distinction baffling to anyone outside the Israeli and American governments, since all the half million Israeli settlers in the West Bank are there illegally according to several international covenants, which in fact the United States had sworn to uphold.

Three years ago two Israeli doctors began a program of installing solar panels and wind turbines to supply electricity to Shaab al-Buttum and other communities in the area, and today some 1500 Palestinians benefit from the project, largely funded by Germany.  Not for long.  Citing the lack of building permits, Israel has declared that all the facilities are illegal and will be destroyed.  And it is probably just a coincidence that this Israeli decision comes in the immediate wake of a recent European Union report (surprisingly) critical of Israel’s settlement program.

Foreign funded projects in the West Bank and Gaza are continually being destroyed by Israel, generally under the rubric of security and military necessity, as in the case of the now obliterated Gaza airport, financed by the EU.  Lack of a building permit has been the traditional and well-used pretext for destroying Palestinian homes, but it is now apparently being employed against foreign investments as well, particularly when even the Israeli military would have trouble imagining a security threat.

Could it be that investment in the infrastructure of Palestine is at odds with the Israeli policy of colonization and that there is a message here for foreign meddlers?  Or is it just another example of the incredible pettiness that characterizes the Israeli occupation?

The plight of Shaab al-Buttum and its neighbors is far from unique or rare.  This sort of petty and destructive behavior is a sad commonplace of the half century occupation.