The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Nasrallah’s Latest Speech

Hizbullah SG Full Speech in International Al Quds Day
The speech delivered by Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on the occasion of Al Quds International Day at Sayyed Ashuhada Compound on Friday September 3, 2010.

I take refuge in Allah from the stoned devil. In The Name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Most Merciful. Peace be upon our Master and Prophet – The Seal of prophets – Abi Al Qassem Mohammad and on his chaste and pure Household, his chosen companions and on all prophets and messengers.

Your Eminence the scholars, deputies and ministers! Brothers and sisters! Peace be upon you and Allah’s mercy and blessing.

First, I would like to welcome you in this ceremony in which we mark a solemn, great and holy occasion in the present time, the past and the future of the nation.

The last Friday in the holy Month of Ramadan is no doubt the greatest day in the greatest month. Besides all what it stands for and what it carries from divine, earthly, moral, religious, jihadi and human concepts, Imam Khomeini (May Allah glorify his holy secret) announced it Al Quds International Day more than 30 years ago.

In many of the previous occasions, I have talked about this link, this election and this choice of time and its significance and implications. So we will not repeat. However the importance of this day is manifested year after year. With the developments, events, conspiracies, risks and threats which Al Quds and Palestine are confronting, the importance of this announcement 30 years ago is being asserted as well as the importance of this assertion after the decease of Imam Khomeini (May Allah glorify his holy secret) when Imam Sayyed Khamenai (May Allah prolong his life span) renewed and reasserted continuing on the very track, path and commitment towards Al Quds, Palestine, the conflict with the "Israeli" enemy and confronting the US-Zionist project for our region.

No matter how great and solemn causes are, it is feared they would be lost with time – in the judiciary system, there are such laws. But indeed there are not such laws in the Islamic judiciary system. In the civil judiciary system, after the passage of some time, a cause would be over. We are before a cause which we fear we will be over with time, connivance, feebleness, abandonment, international conspiracy, depression, frustration and weakness. Consequently we are before a cause as important as the Palestinian cause while Al Quds is collapsing, effacing and vanishing with time.

Our nation can’t ignore and forget this cause because it is part of our religion, our religious commitment, our culture, our civilization, our morals and values and our past history, present time and future. Thus we must remind of it always and in every occasion. We must innovate occasions to keep it present in the awareness, conscience, responsibility, project of the nation and the movements and activities of governments and peoples. This is the central goal meant by Imam Khomeini (May Allah glorify his holy secret).

Al Quds Day is the day of asserting constant positions and not announcing constant positions. The constant positions are already announced. Many martyrs, prisoners, wounded, demolished houses and millions of displaced and much blood, sacrifices and pains were offered for that. Today Al Quds Day is the day for asserting constant positions.

It’s the day of reiterating rights. As we, during the Month of Ramadan, recite the Book of Allah again and again and reiterate the very supplications and glorifications we learnt some 1400 years ago, Al Quds Day is the day of reiterating constant positions before the world peoples to tell them that the challenges, risks, difficulties and sufferings will not change one aspect of these constant positions even if some changed their positions or fell midway.

The constant positions say that Palestine from the sea to the river is the possession of the Palestinian people, the right of the Palestinian people and the right of the Arab and Islamic nation. No one have the right to give up one span of its land, one grain of its sacred sand, one drop of its water or one letter of its name.

Al Quds Day is the day for announcing this ideological, legal, historic true constant position. Anything else is but lying, falsification and distortion of history and truths. On this day we make the announcement that neither Al Quds nor even one of its streets nor even a neighborhood of its neighborhoods – and not only all of Al Quds – may be an eternal capital for the so called state of "Israel". Al Quds is the capital of Palestine, and as we have said in the past, it is the capital of earth and the capital of heaven one way or another.

One of the constant positions is that "Israel" is an illegitimate, illegal, inhumane and immoral state. It is the state of an entity that was found on usurp, killing and massacres and consequently it can’t gain legitimacy no matter whoever acknowledged it and no matter whoever recognized it.

This is the logic of Al Quds Day. It is the logic of righteousness and of saying what is right without any courtesies or comments and without submitting to the regional and international situations and without submitting or being influenced with the intellectual terrorism of the feeble and the fallen.

In as much as Al Quds Day is a day to assert constant positions, it is an international occasion to shed light on what Al Quds, Palestine and the Palestinian people are being subject to; what Al Aqsa Mosque is being subject to – namely the risks we hear of daily; the judaization Al Quds is being subject to as a holy city with Islamic and Christian holy sites; what Al Quds citizens are being subject to, to the effect of displacement and expulsion, home demolition and land confiscation; what the West Bank is being subject to, to the effect of the advance of settlement which will not be halted even through the trivial negotiations which commenced yesterday; what the territories occupied since 1948 are being subject to, to the effect of the US-"Israeli"-western attempt to impose it a pure Jewish state; what Gaza is being subject to, to the effect of the siege imposed on its people and the starvation and oppression they are suffering from; and what millions of Palestinians – who were displaced from their homes, lands and field and left in exodus – are being subject to. So it is an occasion to put these subjects before the international, Islamic and Arab public opinion so that everyone would assume his responsibility.

Al Quds Day comes this year amid two important events:

The first event is the announcement of so called direct negotiations in Washington
The second event is the US pullout from Iraq.

Some considered that the occupation of Iraq had come to an end, and indeed this is not true. Others called it a partial pullout. I believe that this is an underestimation of the Iraqi resistance which helped making this achievement. It is better to call it (a semi-pullout or a three-fourth pullout.) We must search for a term that expresses better the truth.

As for the first event, these negotiations were born dead. Their political and media aims are clear. The US political investment and the US political electoral need for these negotiations are clear. The "Israeli" need for them is clear, and unfortunately, the Arab need – the official need of some Arab nations – for them is clear. The last party with which these negotiations are concerned and to which these negotiations resort is Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people.

I say that these negotiations were born dead. The overwhelming majority of the Palestinian factions announced their refusal, condemnation and denunciation – even the factions who do not argue over the principle of negotiations. You know that as political forces in the Arab world, there are two positions over this point:

Some people have a position on the principle of negotiating with the "Israeli" enemy, and we are among them.

Others don’t have a position on the principle of negotiations. They rather argue on the authorities, ceilings, timing, representation and the like. Even the factions who do not argue the principle announced their refusal of these negotiations. All the polls that were circulated by the media showed that the majority of the Palestinian people announced their opposition and refusal of these negotiations.

So these negotiations have no value even from the internal Palestinian perspective. Disregarding the argument over the principle, the experience proved also – the experience of those who sat yesterday on the negotiation table and made by speeches on the TV – disappointing frustration of 17 years of negotiations. What new will these negotiations bring about?

Unfortunately, negotiations in particular with this haughty arrogant and tyrannical "Israeli" enemy which possesses this level of US and western support will not lead except to increasing the life span and legitimacy which is illegitimate to this entity and to this occupation.

On the second event, the US pullout from Iraq is for sure a topic of failure and defeat. No one in the US administration dared to give one speech of victory. What was delivered was rather closer to a speech of defeat as it gave pretexts for the withdrawal. Even when some talked about an achievement, they talked about a lame and humble achievement. We all know that the Americans came to Iraq to stay and to control and not to pullout after several years. Yet they were surprised.

They imagined something else. They talked about enormous blunts in the strategic reading of the Iraqi domain. They were shocked by the factor of resistance which came early. When I talk about the resistance and my Iraqi brothers listen to me, I must discriminate and say in a decisive final way: Resistance means that jihadi heroic operations which to target the occupation forces.

As for the operations that to target the Iraqi people of all factions and nationalities, mosques, churches, schools, international ministries, markets, these are criminal terrorist operations. They are organized collective killing operations. They are war crimes which cannot be mistaken by resistance operations. The resistance can’t be held responsible for such operations.

The resistance factor stunned the US occupation. The size of US losses was greater than it being tolerated by the US people and administration. The size of expenditure to confront this resistance and to assert the military presence was greater than it being assumed by the US treasury. So the only available choice before the Americans was gradual pullout. Still there is another element which is very important and in fact is not less important than the factor of resistance. It is the steadfastness, tolerance and patience of the Iraqi people.

For several years, there were many factors and very dangerous intelligence apparatuses which worked to push the Iraqi people towards a civil war, sectarian sedition, factional and racial struggles and Shiite-Sunnite, Arab-Kurd and Turk-Turkmen fighting. Here we really must salute with solemnity and admiration the endurance of the Iraqi people.

Who can tolerate such level of terrifying bombarding daily or on semi-daily basis and over several years without being dragged to fighting? They are bombardments coupled with rumors, fiery speeches, readymade accusations and media outlets that do not sprinkle salt on wounds but rather sheathe daggers on wounds. Still this oppressed Iraqi people could with awareness, will and determination and following directions from their religious authorities and religious, cultural and social leaderships frustrate this conspiracy.

The "Israelis" and the US intelligence apparatuses are linked to the bombardments that took place and are still taking place in Iraq. They are also linked to the suicidal groups. If this is the level of "Israeli" infiltration in Lebanon, what do you think is the level of "Israeli" intelligence infiltration in Iraq under the US occupation of Iraq?

Iraq today is a domain open to "Israeli" Mosad, "Israeli" Mosad station and "Israeli" recruitment. We all know that "Israel" has a red line which is a strong united integrated Iraq… an Iraq that stands along with this nation and backs the causes of this nation. This is what we all look forward from Iraq and this is an "Israeli" red line. Thus it perpetrates all these killings and disintegration.

The Iraqi people are so far steadfast. Despite all of these frightful massacres, they could transcend this stage. When the scheme of a sedition flopped and the costs of occupation became expensive, there remained no choice before the occupiers except to pull out. This is Allah’s line of conduct on earth all through history. These are the realistic and factual choices whether in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Vietnam and in every country around the world.

This issue is not related to any religion or a definite culture or civilization. It’s a divine line of conduct in any country which is occupied even if by great international forces. If this people have a will for steadfastness, challenge, resistance, giving, sacrifice, endurance and confrontation and the resistance that gathers all these topics, this people must gain victory even if the sacrifices were great.

What is taking place in Iraq is a great achievement, and the resistance choice and no other choice deserves it. Now as a presentation and to assert that many of the groups which practice suicide terrorist operations are related to the intelligence apparatuses and have nothing to do with Islam or the Islamic project, see what took place today in the Pakistani city of Queta. People were staging a demonstration. Pakistan has 20 million devastated people and 4 million people who had lost their homes and wealth. In some of the cities of devastated Pakistan, people were demonstrating in support of Palestine, Al Quds and Gaza. Then a suicide bomber blew himself up among these demonstrators.

Before I entered the studio, news was reporting 42 martyrs and more than 100 wounded. These are the martyrs or Al Quds and Palestine. They are the martyrs of setting priorities correctly. They are the martyrs of the greater cause. As for the suicide bombers they are the blind, the deaf and the dumb whom the devil has blinded their hearts and has control over them, and they are led by the intelligence bodies to kill here and there.

Yes brothers and sisters! If we examine the scene with scrutiny, no doubt we are amidst this struggle. There are difficulties in Palestine. There are difficulties facing the resistance which was re-launched and which renewed its blessed activities in the West Bank in the holy month. But if we looked from another perspective – i.e. from a wider and more comprehensive perspective – I would like to say briefly that the axis of opposition and resistance – if compared to the other axis – i.e. the western "Israeli" axis which some Arab moderate states show solidarity with – they are not compatible on the level of size, capabilities and number. Still, in the past few years – in the recent decade – this axis could make a great historic achievement on the level of the region and have its reflection on the level of the world.

In brief, following September 11, the neo conservatives in the US administration came with a project to the whole region. America which mounted the throne of the world and became the only great power in the world after the collapse of the USSR gathered its fleets and dismantled many of its military bases around the world and dispatched them to the Middle East – our Arab and Islamic region – where there is oil, gas and enormous natural resources.

America came with a project which was later called the Neo Middle East. This project was supposed to establish the "Israeli" entity in a final and eternal way on the political sense of the world through a settlement that would be imposed by the Palestinians after being sealed by a comprehensive Arab signature.

This project was brought along to the region. They brought along a project that aimed at absolutely liquidating the Palestinian resistance. So it is not only armed resistance but also the popular resistance and even the political resistance and the cultural resistance. It was supposed that an "Israeli"-Palestinian settlement be concluded, and whoever objects on it would not be silenced but would rather be beheaded.

The resistance in Lebanon was supposed to be liquidated so that Lebanon be eternally within the US-"Israeli" project. It was supposed that the resisting opposing regime in Syria be toppled. It was supposed that absolute hegemony and control be practiced on Iraq so that the Iraqi people would have no real will. It was supposed the Iran be besieged and isolated after plunging it in seditions and devastation until after all Iran be hit and the Islamic regime in Iran be toppled. Thus the entire region will be under the US-"Israeli" project.

I hope that this note would be taken into consideration. I claim that this project had enormous capacities over the past 10 years which no other hegemonic project had all through history.

I claim that: armies, the enormous military machinery, the so called international community (though it does not exist; there isn’t anything called the international community; there is America only which is leading the world behind it), money and economy, and the greatest and the most dangerous media capacity ever known in history through the evolution of communication, satellite, internet…

They exploited to this project the greatest armies, the strongest economies, the most influential psychological wars and intelligence apparatuses. However, in few years it was confronted by the resistance and opposition axis. You know what this axis is: the resistance in Palestine, the opposing resistance in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, the resistance in Iraq and the rest of the supporting political currents and forces in the Arab world. True they are few in number but they are right and Allah is with them and truthfulness is with them. Thus where is the other project if we are to evaluate it?

This project flopped. This project was defeated. When I say it flopped and it was defeated, I don’t mean that the struggle is over. We rather moved to another form, domain or viewpoint of struggle. But this project was defeated and it retreated. It flopped and is moving towards more defeat and failure. See the military and security repercussions. See its political, economic and fiscal repercussions on America and Europe on which all economic and strategic experts unanimously say all attempts to address these crises will fail, and in the coming few years we will witness great developments on this level.

America is not able anymore. It is not launching new wars because it is incapable of launching new wars and not because it amended its moral codes or because it reviewed its stances towards human rights and towards the rights of people or because it made a moral review. Never! It’s rather because it is suffering from economic, social and political crises and it is incapable because of its failure in the massive hegemonic attack it launched against this region.

Why did this axis gain victory and that project fell? It’s because of the steadfastness of the Palestinian people especially in Gaza, the steadfastness of the Resistance in Lebanon and especially during July War, the steadfastness of the national political will in Lebanon and it not being subject to US-Western dictations over five years, the steadfastness of Syria, the steadfastness of Iran, the steadfastness of the Iraqi people and the resistance of the Iraqi people. All of these factors which showed steadfastness could make this achievement.

Today we are called upon to carry on our show of steadfastness, opposition and resistance. Despite difficulties – and I said a while ago there are difficulties in more than one domain but these difficulties are but details of the general scene – we feel that we are approaching victory more than any time in the past. Let’s examine "Israel". Is "Israel" in 2010 the same Israel as on the eve of July 12th, 2006?

Is it the same "Israel" as on the eve of its aggression against Gaza? Is it the same "Israel" as on the eve of May 25th? Is it the same "Israel" as on the eve of 1982? Indeed "Israel" in 2010 is different. Great "Israel" has gone. Greater "Israel" has gone too. "Israel" which we are facing today is suffering from many crises and challenges. I don’t want to go into details now.

We are called upon to show more steadfastness, to carry on our resistance, opposition, unity and integration. We are all concerned more than any time in the past to back and support the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance. When our brethrens in Hamas staged the two bold operations in the West Bank, they became in need of every voice in the Arab and Islamic world to bless their operations which were condemned by Barak Obama, the Americans and the British.

All forms of moral and material solidarity with the resistance must carry on because the true bargain to liberate Palestine and Al Quds is on the resistance. In this framework, I would like to usher to the second part of my speech which comprise Lebanese causes which I think are closely related to this context.

In Lebanon we always stress on the equation which some call the golden equation while others call the diamond equation which is the army-people-resistance equation. I will take every aspect of this equation as a topic to comment on as briefly as possible.

I will start with the resistance first. There are two points. The first point is that few days ago was August 31rst. It was the anniversary of the kidnapping and the detention of His Eminence Imam leader Sayyed Mussa Sadr (May Allah return him safe and sound). With him were kidnapped and detained His Eminence Sheikh Mohammad Yaqoub and Mr. Abbass Badriddine. Imam Sadr is the leader of the resistance.

This is one of the many points on which Hizbollah and Amal Movement agree. We all view Imam Mussa Sadr as the leader of the resistance, the founder of the resistance as well as our father and our leader. It is he who led us to this way and pointed with his hand and sighed with beautiful eyes to Al Quds.

He taught us how to love Al Quds and fight and fall martyrs on the way of Al Quds. All of us know that Imam Mussa Sadr and his companions were hosted by the Libyan regime and that they were detained in Libya. On this cause Speaker Nabih Berri talked several days ago. Today I do not want to reiterate but rather I want to stress on every word said by Speaker Berri to this effect whether on the judicial or on the political level.

On the judicial level, the judiciary system must assume its responsibility of Lebanese citizens and even Lebanese leaders who were kidnapped and detained in an Arab country. We – i.e. all those who consider themselves concerned with the cause of Imam Sadr and on the first level his family and then all the brethrens – did not resort in the past and not even during the past few years to the option of the International Tribunal or the international investigation.

That’s because we know that the International Tribunal in this community and in this world will make the cause subject to few billions of dollars. The family of Imam Sadr and Speaker Berri were offered very high prices – money wise – to address this cause. They were offered billions of dollars. But we do not sell our leaders and not even our young children with billions of dollars. We did not resort to the International Tribunal or to the international investigation as concerning the cause of Imam Sadr.

We know how this kind of tribunals and investigations are run. The family of Imam Sadr thus resorted to the national Lebanese judiciary system which must assume its responsibility in detail as Speaker Berri mentioned several days ago.

On the political level, we strongly back boycotting any call for any Arab summit in Libya. In the previous summit there was an argument in the government what led to the participation of the ambassador or the charge d`affaire. What is the use then? How did this participation serve the cause of Imam Sadr? What did it move in the cause of Imam Sadr?

Thus as for the cause of the leader of the resistance I say we have one position on the judicial level and on the political level. We have one word: Imam Sadr and his companions are alive and are detained in Libya and they must be set free and returned to their field of jihad and to their families and people and homes. That’s it. The cause does not search for levels or deals and it can’t be neglected or forgotten or wasted. At the same time, we want them to return to their fields and we do not want to get engaged in any struggle with anyone. We want them to return, nothing more and nothing less.

The second point under the topic of resistance is the international investigation and the International Tribunal. I do not want to go into details. I only have two words: We said weeks ago that the resistance is being aimed at from this gate. We presented several ideas and several indications. Prosecutor Bellemare commented on the indications (It is good that he opened his mouth and started talking in the media) saying they are incomplete indications and there are still things which Hizbollah did not hand to us.

I want to say the following: We have said previously that we are not concerned with the International Tribunal and the international investigation. Consequently we are not concerned to answer the questions or respond to the demands of the STL General Prosecutor. We submitted the indications we have to the Lebanese judiciary system pursuant to a demand from the Lebanese judiciary system. I reiterate: in case the Lebanese judiciary had some questions and or follow up requests which concern it as the Lebanese judiciary system which it wants to investigate, we’re ready.

But in case, the role of the Lebanese judiciary was only to mediate between us and the general prosecutor of the STL, we’re not ready then because we’re not concerned with the STL and the General Prosecutor.

In case the Lebanese judiciary system is concerned and interested in these indications and data and in investigating with the collaborators and the false witnesses – and this is its job and responsibility-, we are ready for every kind of cooperation. If the general prosecutor is interested in the indications we offered or not this is his concern. But his concern or unconcern will be an important indicator which will be taken into consideration in any evaluation of the conduct and behavior of the general prosecutor and the international tribunal. (I will stop at this extent in my talk on this point).

The second part of the golden-diamond equation is the army. We have called and are still calling and we back and support the call for equipping the national Lebanese Army and enabling it to defend the Lebanese sovereignty, the Lebanese territories and the Lebanese people. We hope this file will find its serious track on application and will not remain in the framework of zealous speeches and slogans. We believe this file is taking its track seriously.

We presented a suggestion in the media and in the government. We remind that we call on the government to form ministerial delegations to ask for Arab assistance. Some said they do not need Arab assistance but we want to equip the army from our own budget. But where is this budget? It is known that you don’t have money. When we searched for the easy way they started saying so.

I am afraid some will say tomorrow that we do not want aids from anyone. We want to get the money from the Lebanese people to equip the Army. Then the political forces will show up and say the Lebanese people can’t tolerate new and more taxes. Then because we refuse having new taxes we will not equip the army.

We hope the case of equipping the Lebanese Army is a serious national moral truthful case apart from biddings and internal political disagreements which we at times feel is filthy.

What’s wrong in asking for help? It’s not shameful at all. On the contrary, it’s their duty to help Lebanon. Lebanon raised the head of the Arabs and the nation high. Lebanon is the reason making every Arab proud of his Arabic identity. What’s the problem then? It’s their duty to help us.

Consequently we must form delegations and go and ask for the arms piled in stockpiles and are about to rust or had already rusted. Let them give them to us? What are the Americans giving us except their weapons which were in their barracks in Germany and in other countries which are 20 or 30 or 40 years old? We said we will help in asking for Iranian assistance. Our brethrens in Iran made haste and announced their readiness to help pursuant a call from the Lebanese government. Indeed it must be a detailed and not a general request.

That means the Lebanese must make a definite request of this kind of weapons or that kinds of capacities or such and such systems. Consequently the brethrens in Iran say this is what we can offer. What is funny is that Lebanon on which US and western conditions to the effect of armament were imposed and despite the fact that we in Lebanon say we don’t want any armament conditions, when we talked about Iran’s arming of the Lebanese Army, some people showed up to put conditions on Iran.

That means we accept Iranian assistance but without conditions. If the condition is that the assistance is unconditional we will accept. But some started putting conditions on Iran. For example, I heard a genius saying: We accept Iranian assistance under one condition that it stops its support to the resistance in Lebanon. How great! What a genius!

The opportunity is open today before Lebanon. The Iranian government announced its readiness. Iranian President Ahmedi Nejad will come in few weeks. Let’s be ready for a serious discussion on the issue of equipping the army.

The third element in the equation is the people. When I talk about the people in Lebanon, in fact it stands for the Lebanese people and also the Palestinian refugees are also our people and dear ones and they also are present on Lebanese territories. Thus I will tackle two topics briefly as I believe I must talk about.

The first topic is the incident of Burj Abi Haidar. We have issued a joint statement with the Islamic Projects Association in which we said it was a very tragic incident. It was really tragic. These were our emotions and the emotions of all our brethrens. It was a very tragic incident. I told the brethrens not only two martyrs fell for us.

Three martyrs fell for us in the incident. What took place in Burj Abi Haidar does not need any stubbornness. In evaluation, it is absolute loss. It is absolute loss without any gain or loss anywhere. Some people tried to make some analyses to find any gains. No. Never! I am telling you it is absolute human, moral, security and human loss on all levels. Also we assert for you that it is an individual incident which developed in a grievous, unfortunate way. It also has no backgrounds.

All political analyses you heard later – those who considered the incident of Burj Abi Haidar as an expression of the Iranian-Syrian struggle – are fruitless. These people are frustrated. They have small roles in a great project. It’s not I who is saying as so about them. There are those who say so about them. One of the Lebanese leaders said about them: They are small tools in a big project.

The great project fell and nothing is left for them to bet on. In what do they want to bet? Are they to bet on the Americans who are withdrawing and pulling out and on the defeated who had become bankrupt? On whom are they betting? Are they betting on "Israel" and on an "Israeli" war which "Israelis" reconsider a thousand times and a hundred thousand times before they stage an aggression against Lebanon? On whom are they betting? Are they betting on animosity with Syria? They still have the STL, and I believe we are able to confront this challenge Inshallah. What is being left for them?

They now are waiting. Perhaps this front which gained victory in the most dangerous historic battle through the past decade might disintegrate. This is what is left for them. They say perhaps they will disintegrate. Perhaps they will disagree with each other. One day they talk about an Iranian-Syrian struggle.

I would like to tell you the Iranian-Syrian relations are now better and stronger than in any time in the past. That’s because this alliance proved its fruitfulness through all the past decades and especially in the past decade. Was it not for this alliance that project was not to be defeated and "Israel" was to be consecrated forever. Al Quds and Palestine were to be lost forever. The Iranian and Syrian leaderships are today more faithful of the necessity and rightfulness of this alliance.

As for the relation between the resistance and Syria, there are small children who want to mess with this relation. I would like to tell you: Not a day since the establishment of Hezbullah in Lebanon, the relation with the Syrian leadership and the brethrens in Syria was as firm and strong. Let them rest for a while and play another game. They want to be happy with themselves as those who sit in air-conditioned rooms and live desperate illusions and dreams. There is no problem in that.

What I like to comment on concerning this issue is the other side. First this incident was exaggerated to a great extent in the media. Even we during the first hours and on the following day were still taken by the incident. But when we discussed it and came down to the ground and formed committees and the Lebanese Army came and the investigation started and people were summoned, we realized the size of what took place. Indeed what took place is not trivial but it is not as huge as was depicted in the media.

And always they anticipate investigations and issue sentences as what took place in great and small causes instantly. That means that there are persons in Lebanon – for example after the assassination of Premier Hariri in February 14th, 2005 and an hour later they carried out their investigations, issued statements, condemned, executed, jailed and made what they wanted. The same on a smaller scale was made with Burj Abu Haidar incident.

After all, there is an investigation, there are sides which are concerned and which are responsible and no one will run away from his responsibility.

So first there is exaggeration. Second there is exploitation and investment. Here I would like to offer an advice. We remained silent on the first day and on the following day. On the third day we were completely silent too. Because we are feeling the pain, we are wounded – we and our brethrens in the Islamic Projects Association. We as a resistance in particular know the size of the loss. On the contrary, how was the conduct?

I am not talking about state men or about others. We are talking as Lebanese, as partners and as political forces. There is a minimum level of values which are demanded to control the relations between us. The incident was exaggerated to a great extent. They took it and attacked when the note was circulated. It’s the sms I talk about always. The note was circulated and they start their attack by media outlets, personalities and political forces.

Instead of saying this is a fire, let’s try to put it off, they poured oil over it to ignite it even more. Instead of viewing it as a very dangerous issue which we must work seriously to address – especially as it is a sectarian issue – they started pouring gasoline and fuel over the sectarian issue. Is this national responsibility or a dangerous exploitation? I do not want to give it other descriptions. It was a very dangerous exploitation. What took place threatens security and does not preserve security. What took place threatens peace and does not protect peace. What took place disjoints and does not gather.

I would like to express my emotions to those who made mistakes the days following the incident and did not address it in a good way. We do not blame some. But we blame others. We tell them you did not sprinkle salt on the wound. Since Tuesday we are still wounded in our hearts deep inside. You rather poured salt on the dagger and plunged it into our heart and started moving it to and fro. Let them know what they did and its size. The serious and sensitive causes in the country are not addressed as such. State men, politicians and leaders do not act as such.

This is our evaluation of the issue. From the very first moment, we told the Lebanese Army, the Police, the judiciary system and the military police: let the Lebanese judiciary system summon and investigate. Let it take all the measures and we will all cooperate with it. No one wants to mislead the truth and no one wants to cover things up. We are before a cause with losses. We are before a cause – as all the fathers of martyrs said – that touches on one of the factors of the golden-diamond equation which is the people. Instead of gathering see have they started behaving?

The last thing which I would like to say under this topic is the wrong methodology not only in this cause but in all causes which are addressed in this country. An incident takes place. We seize the incident to open a very big file. We know that we can’t address that instantly.

As for arms and the spread of arms in Lebanon, every house in Lebanon has arms. This is not limited to Hizbollah or the Islamic Projects or any side. Every house has arms. Every house has an RPJ and a PKC. There are houses which even have mortar 60 too. I am talking about houses and families and not political parties or forces. This file goes back to the 60s, the 70s or even to the 50s.

Since a long time and before many of us were born there is a thorny file called arms. This file was complicated and it became more complicated during the Lebanese civil war. It was even more complicated with the "Israeli" factor and the emergence of the resistance. Such a file with such a level of complication and regional interaction – whether the Lebanese arms or the Palestinian arms – needs to be addressed with wisdom. We can’t in two or three days take decisions and see who will challenge these decisions.

This is a wrong methodology. It’s not in such a way that the country’s files are addressed. The arms file can’t be addressed in such a way. Neither the file of the labor demands is addressed as such, nor is the file of electricity addressed as such, nor is the file of political and administrative reform addressed as such. This is a wrong methodology.

In the past, the car used to have a steering wheel which needs additional effort from the driver to change direction to the left or to the right. In case there is a stone under the car wheel, the driver would always be able to have control over the car. Today the steering wheel is greased in a way that a stone under the car wheel makes the whole car change direction. I can see that the administration in Lebanon has a greased steering wheel.

The country would be moving in one direction. Then, what is the story? The direction is changed. It goes to the right. An incident takes place and the direction is turned left. Another incident takes place and it carries on again. It all depends on reactions.

Now to meet and not to complain only, here I am calling for appeasement. Things took their time and the story is over. Still some people like to remain on the go. It’s up to them then. Today, I am announcing a unilateral initiative. I did not make an agreement with anyone. The case took its natural track.

The investigation is moving. We formed a compensation committee. We and our brothers in the Islamic Projects Association are addressing the situation, and the Lebanese judiciary system has taken hold of the file. The story is over. Let’s put the case aside. After all, the people will carry on together. No one wants to annul the other, and no one wants to transcend the other, and no one wants not to acknowledge the other.

So let’s meet and reach an agreement and put a methodology to run the files in the country. Let it be other than the methodology of reaction. Let it be the methodology of a steering wheel that knows how to drive and where to go. Let it be not a greased steering wheel. Let’s put a clear methodology to address the files and go and address them.

The last point has to do with the Palestinian rights. Allow me to say that the approach that took place recently concerning the Palestinian rights is an approach that needs discussion. The rights of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have always been a constant point in my speeches on Al Quds Day since 1992. The cause is 62 years old. In fact, I feel that lately the country was messed all over and we ran out of time.

Thus things interacted. Any file that is conquered with fears, risks and overbids, will yield results as that of the civil rights of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. That applies to all files. That did not appeal to the Palestinian refugees and our Palestinian brethrens in Lebanon. That’s true and it is really unsatisfactory. But how are we to address that? I suggest that a Lebanese group is formed but not in haste. It may be any Lebanese group that volunteers. Perhaps Hizbollah, Amal Movement, The Progressive Socialist Party, the National Party or any other party may volunteer.

As a Lebanese party, it will form a thinking cell to brainstorm ideas and approaches and meet with the Palestinian factions. Or else a Palestinian group would highlight Palestinian fears over their civil rights and the worried sides (and their worry is legitimate and not condemned). At times, some racial expressions are voiced and indeed this is condemned. So let them go and meet with these sides and discuss with them and appease and relieve them.

What was achieved in the Parliament is an important point on the way but it is not enough and unsatisfactory. Let one of the Lebanese or the Palestinians or a joint Palestinian-Lebanese group and make a discussion away from the media, the lights, political investment and political overbidding. Let a serious discussion take place in which fears are presented as well as the ways to address them and how to gather between the rights and the natural human needs and the risks and fears.

On Al Quds Day, we in the Resistance and in Lebanon and from the right position and the victorious axis feel today in 2010 that we are closer to Al Quds than in any time in the past 62 years.

The issue with the Zionist scheme as resistance movements in the region is only a matter of time, no more. According to divine, historic lines of conduct and the nature of things and the struggle equations, this entity is doomed to vanish. This is its fate with the presence of the popular will and the will of the resistance and its patience and challenge. The Palestinian people have endured for 62 years.

They will not give up; they will not be frustrated or desperate. They are not ready to give up their land, sanctities and rights. These are among the most important elements of power which are depended on to decisively settle the battle with this project Inshallah. Hundred returns and peace be upon you and Allah’s mercy and blessings.

One of the most thrilling moments of my youth

Remarkably sober and informative

Nicolas Pelham

September 2, 2010

(Nicolas Pelham is The Economist’s Palestinian affairs correspondent and a former senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. He is based in Jerusalem.)

For more on the national-religious camp, see Nicolas Pelham, “Israel’s Religious Right and the Peace Process,” Middle East Report Online, October 12, 2009.

For background on US involvement, see Mouin Rabbani and Chris Toensing, “The Continuity in Obama’s Change,” Middle East Report Online, January 27, 2009.

Every year or so the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas confounds the Western policymakers who have worked to deny it power since its electoral triumph in January 2006. If the goal of Western policy is to keep the Islamists out of sight, out of mind, then Hamas is like a jack-in-the-box, periodically jumping out of its confines to general surprise and consternation.

In June 2006, after Israel had led the international community in withholding the Islamist government’s revenues and killed its new police chief, Hamas dug a tunnel from Gaza into Israel and captured a soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit; in June 2007 it responded to Western efforts to bolster rival forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by overrunning their security bases in Gaza; in January 2008 it broke out of its quarantine by knocking down a seven-mile long wall Israel had built to separate Gaza from Egypt; in December 2008 it launched a rocket campaign designed to pressure Israel into lifting its punishing blockade of the coastal strip and precipitated the Gaza war. Each time, whether through military pummeling or political cajoling, the West and its regional allies have strained to wrestle Hamas back into its box.

On August 31, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed to Washington for a White House dinner with Abbas, an event billed by the Obama administration as the launch of a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Hamas gunmen shot dead four Jewish settlers near the isolated settlement of Beit Haggai in the West Bank’s southern Hebron hills. A second attack the following night near a settlement northeast of Ramallah underscored the point: Once again, the Islamist faction has forcibly reminded the international community that it can intrude upon the diplomatic sphere from which it is formally proscribed.

Business as Usual

The back-in-the box pattern held following Israel’s interdiction of the international aid flotilla sent to break the siege on Gaza in late May. After a seemingly botched and bloody commando raid, which killed nine passengers, Israel routed the flotilla to the port of Ashdod, redoubled its naval blockade and reestablished itself as Gaza’s gatekeeper.

To appease embarrassed allies and soothe inflamed global opinion, there have been some modifications to the strict embargo that Israel and Egypt have enforced on Gaza since 2006. Israel has publicly accepted the principle that it will allow all goods not on a black list into Gaza, rather than banning all items but those on a white list. The influx of goods has risen threefold since the flotilla raid, though it remains far short of the 500 trucks that entered each day prior to the closure. But Netanyahu has avoided succumbing to formal agreements of the type that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, hammered out with ex-Israeli premier Ariel Sharon on movement in and out of Gaza, declined European Union offers to post international monitors at the crossings, and preserved Israel’s prerogative to set its own terms. Israel’s black list or gray list of “dual-use” goods, already said to be 3,000 items long, continues to restrict the entry of raw materials vital for Gaza’s post-war reconstruction, except under the tutelage of international organizations, on the grounds that Hamas might appropriate the concrete to build bunkers.

On the evidence, many of these measures are designed more to tweak Hamas’ nose than to meet Gaza’s needs. The day after declaring the siege lifted, Israel lowered its drawbridge to allow in 1,100 gallons of oil, a commodity that already arrives in much ampler and cheaper quantities via Egypt and from which Hamas derives tax. It has lifted its ban, too, on gravel, threatening Gaza’s local production that Hamas also oversees. Insecticides, too, are now permitted, just as the Agriculture Ministry is encouraging farmers to grow organic. And while Gaza now has a glut of consumer goods, due to the multiple conduits of trade by tunnel and terminal, the prison walls enclosing Gaza stand tall. Exports are banned, stymieing a revival of Gaza’s manufacturing base, the naval blockade is as tight as ever and the population remains cut off from the rest of Palestine, and the access Israel undertook to provide in its 2005 agreement.  

Hamas’s political isolation, which the flotilla sought to puncture, also continues to hold. With Netanyahu and Abbas in Washington, the West continues to spurn consultations with the Islamist movement — not least on peace talks with Israel, despite an undertaking from Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal to halt armed resistance in the event of a two-state settlement. Israel has barred access by sea. In the wake of Israel’s interception of the flotilla, Gaza had to make do the Arab League’s Egyptian secretary-general, Amr Moussa, whose visit on June 13 only emphasized Hamas’ ostracization. To the Islamists’ chagrin, he came with a large entourage of bodyguards and asked Hamas security personnel to stay away. He met Isma‘il Haniyya not in his office as the elected prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) but in his home as a representative of one of Gaza’s many political factions. And though Egypt’s opening of the Rafah crossing into Gaza has assuaged anger among both Palestinians and Egyptians, the transit point remains closed to Hamas leaders. Egypt, too, has quietly shelved the EU’s offer to send its observers back to Rafah. Unimpeded by international monitors, doors that open can close. The sea change many expected in the wake of the flotilla episode therefore never happened.

Gaza First

But a strategy predicated on the belief that a few more humanitarian truckloads will make the problem of Gaza go away is as deeply flawed as the notion that Ramallah’s surfeit of new high-street cafés will be a sufficient sedative for the aspirants to a Palestinian state. Gaza is a political, not a humanitarian, problem.

Tellingly, the costs of putting the Islamist movement back in the box are spiraling. In 2006, when Hamas challenged the order of things, the Israeli military killed a few score Gazans; in 2010 to date, it has killed over a thousand. Israel successfully safeguarded its naval blockade, but only by easing the Egyptian and Israeli blockade on Hamas’ rule, and after leaking international political capital for the violence of its interception of the flotilla. With remarkable resiliency, Hamas has survived the straitjacket fastened to it by Israel, Western powers and their Arab allies, and growing in longevity and clout to emerge as a regional fixture.

It dug its way out of the siege with a labyrinth of tunnels that brought goods — from candy bars to concrete — into Gaza as quickly and almost as cheaply as Israel’s crossings, and with none of the bureaucracy required in maneuvering through the maze of Israeli, PA and Hamas border controls. It upgraded the electricity grid to power hundreds of hoists, and established a Tunnel Affairs Commission to regulate import growth. When Israel cut the fuel supply, relegating Gaza to the age of donkey travel, tunnels provided relief, first in sand-riddled plastic soda bottles at four times the pre-blockade cost, but soon via pipelines at a quarter of the price Israel charged. Car parts, engines and cars cut into three followed. Whole cars began arriving in 2009. So, too, did the raw materials for reconstruction that Israel had denied. Intermittent bombing by Israel and detonation by Egypt only prompted the burrowers to dig deeper and longer. The tunnels, not the terminals, became Gaza’s lungs.

Inside Gaza, Hamas used the rushed exit of foreign powers to consolidate its control.

Its security forces brutally eliminated organized opposition. PA ministries staffed with Hamas-friendly technocrats drew up ten-year programs to shift production and agriculture from servicing export markets to meeting internal needs and achieving self-sufficiency. And despite — if not because of — the departure of Palestine’s traditional donors, Gaza’s government has introduced the measures they long advocated, heavily pruning the government wage bill, enforcing tax collection, and introducing a new system of license payments and levies on fuel and cigarettes entering the tunnels.

Over time, internal stability coupled with the new trade routes triggered an economic rebirth of sorts. The tunnels absorbed about a fifth of the 100,000 workers who had once labored in Israel, and brought in the raw materials and spare parts for factories crippled by Israeli bombardments to restart production. Gaza’s large flour mill is producing two thirds of its pre-siege average of 6,000 tons per day. A plastics factory has even expanded its work force, thanks to inputs arriving from Egypt. The World Bank cites a rate of 29 percent unemployment in Gaza, significantly above the West Bank’s 19 percent. But the figure takes no account of the tunnel enterprise, Gaza’s largest private-sector employer, which the World Bank considers black-market activity despite Hamas’ efforts to formalize the supply lines.

Donor agency tales of doom also mask the signs of rejuvenation that abound. Bereft of Palestine’s traditional donors, Gaza’s government, too, is beginning to determine Gaza’s skyline itself. The masons at ‘Umayri mosque, the Holy Land’s oldest, have resumed a renovation project (first funded by Saudi Arabia under the late PA President Yasser Arafat’s rule) using materials imported through the tunnels. The beachfront resounds with the clang of cement mixers and scaffolding as builders lay steel joints for Gaza’s rising seaside hotels. The losers have been the international agencies, who are bound by their donor requirements to use only materials imported from Israel, merchants stubbornly reliant on their Israeli ties, and the mass of Gazans who have no share in the tunnel economy and are sinking ever deeper into poverty.

Ironically, many of the same people who previously advocated imposing the siege to harm Hamas now promote its relaxation to do the same. In his statement to the UN Security Council in June, the UN envoy for the Middle East peace process described the increased trade flows as “empowering moderation” against “an illicit economy…of smugglers and militants.” But so impoverished have many of Israel’s former trading partners in Gaza been by three years of biting siege that many will likely to have turn to the new bourgeoisie of tunnel traders to capitalize major reconstruction projects. To further control trade with Israel, Hamas officials require merchants to obtain prior approval for each consignment of imports arriving from Israel. If Israel’s siege strengthens Hamas by reinforcing the tunnel economy, so, too, will lifting the embargo.

West Bank Next?

A series of setbacks could lie ahead. Egypt has suspended construction of an underground steel wall at Rafah, after welders cut hundreds of perforations to allow trade to continue unfettered. It could yet flood the tunnels, though it would first have to overcome the reluctance of its security forces and Sinai’s troublesome Bedouin to let go of the lucrative underground trade. But fired by their relative success in restoring Gaza, Hamas leaders are looking further afield. For the first time in three years ideologues are again exploring scenarios for recovering the influence they lost in the West Bank. In 2007, following Hamas’ rout of his security forces in Gaza, Abbas dissolved the government of Haniyya and appointed Salam Fayyad in his stead. A relentless three-year campaign of measures then aimed at diluting the clout that propelled Hamas to win the 2006 elections in the West Bank as well as Gaza. Fayyad’s government has taken over scores of Hamas-run welfare institutions, detained hundreds of Hamas cadres and suspended the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian parliament that was intended to hold the Palestinian Authority executive to account.

After three years of hiding below the parapets, Hamas’s political leaders in the West Bank had looked to intra-Palestinian reconciliation to deliver a respite from the political onslaught. Their parliamentarians tiptoed back into mainstream politics by joining Fatah counterparts in negotiating a joint program for establishing a Palestinian state within the pre-June 1967 borders. To circumvent a ban on demonstrations, Hamas supporters joined weekly protests of “popular resistance,” Palestinian parlance for civil disobedience, against continued Israeli expropriation of West Bank land for settlement building.

But for Hamas leaders in Gaza, the rehabilitation appeared too slow, and its support of non- violence smacked dangerously of appeasement. In repeated interviews, Mahmoud Zahhar, the movement’s Gaza leader, claimed that a Hamas-led armed struggle had already pushed Israel back to the 1967 borders. While advocating a continued ceasefire in Gaza, he called for the resumption of the armed struggle in the West Bank. Few took him seriously. The consensus among observers was that the PA’s onslaught had whittled Hamas’ West Bank military wing down to a few dormant cells. Hamas parliamentarians assured interlocutors that the movement continued to uphold the tahdi’a, or calm, it had agreed upon with Israel in Cairo in March 2005. In return for a suspension of attacks on Israeli civilians in the West Bank as well as military operations inside Israel proper, diplomats say Israel halted assassinations of Hamas cadres in the West Bank.

Hamas’ decision to scuttle the calm with its August 31 killing of the four settlers, on the eve of the renewal of negotiations, left the Islamist movement’s political wisdom open to question. In forfeiting its five-year calm, Hamas risks not only the intensification of the two-pronged campaign against it in the West Bank, but also renewed strikes on the movement’s accumulating assets in Gaza. At least initially, Israel refrained from bombardment of Gaza, apparently to avoid shifting the spotlight back onto the absent chair on the opening day of negotiations. But in the West Bank, PA security forces reportedly carried out their largest roundup of the three-year campaign, detaining 250 suspected Hamas activists. It also threatened the political capital Hamas had garnered from its overtures internationally. And above all the attack appeared redundant: The Obama administration’s new peace process seemed set to sink of its own accord, without a Hamas torpedo.

But by its own reckoning, the attack has resurrected Hamas as a political player in the West Bank. In its attacks on settlers on two consecutive nights in different parts of the West Bank, Hamas demonstrated its reach despite a three-year, US-backed PA military campaign and exposed the fallacy of the PA’s claims to have established security control in the West Bank. “It’s not muqawama (resistance) against Israel,” says ‘Adnan Dumayri, a Fatah Revolutionary Council member and PA security force general. “It’s muqawama against Abbas.”  It also enabled the Islamists to catch seeping popular disaffection across the political spectrum toward a process of negotiations that appeared to Palestinians to be leading into a blind alley of continued Israeli control. Should Abbas fail to negotiate a halt to settlement growth, Hamas in its armed attacks against settlers would emerge from its three-year political wasteland to offer Palestinians an alternative.

In contrast to the international media, where the attack was roundly condemned, in Palestine the attack earned plaudits not only from Hamas’ core constituency, but also from a broad swathe of Fatah and secular activists, including some senior actors, disillusioned by 19 years of negotiations based on an ever flimsier framework. Unlike the Annapolis process or the “road map,” the twin Bush administration initiatives that the Obama administration chose to ditch, the current negotiations lack any terms of reference or agreed-upon script. Palestinians ask why Abbas agreed to meet Netanyahu given that none of the Arab targets required to turn proximity talks into direct ones were reached prior to the Obama administration’s announcement of the meeting. When American elder statesman George Mitchell presented the parties with 16 identical questions on the core issues requiring yes or no answers, Israel responded to each with a question of its own. In his August 31 press briefing before the White House meeting, Mitchell again declined to specify if Israel had agreed even to extend its (partially honored) settlement freeze past the September 26 expiration date.

Even the architects of the new process admit their concern that time is against them. Unveiling his plans for statehood within a year at a Ramallah press conference in late August, Fayyad warned that “every day that this conflict is not resolved there are more facts on the ground that make a two-state solution less likely.” Yet public incredulity is eroding confidence not only in a future peace deal, but also in the Palestinian leadership itself. The less Fayyad and Abbas deliver, the more tenuous their legitimacy, and the more Israel’s doubts about their reliability as neighbors become self-fulfilling. (Typifying the extent to which the leadership is removed from grassroots sentiment, the PA sponsored a groveling televised address from PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat to Israelis on the eve of the talks, in which he assumed Palestinian responsibility for the previous peace process failures. “Shalom to you in Israel. I know we have disappointed you,” he said. “I know that we have been unable to deliver peace for the last 19 years.”) Outside Abbas’ headquarters, Fatah activists derisively draw a distinction between the Fatah of the sulta, or regime, and that of Yasser Arafat. And away from Ramallah’s cafés, in the back streets of Jenin, which Fayyad’s proclaimed economic boom has yet to reach, talk of revolution and intifada is again in the air. Without something tangible to show for his continued pursuit of negotiations, due to resume in the rosy after-dinner glow in Washington, even the president’s advisers predict that Abbas and his political institution are finished.

Such doomsday scenarios may yet be premature. Western injections of aid, for now, prevent the ship from going under. But in the longer term, PA officials increasingly express doubts about the PA’s ability to win its beauty contest with Hamas. Negotiations aside, Fayyad’s much-hyped economic miracle appears patchy and, beyond Ramallah’s bubble of rising office blocks, sluggish. More pertinently, one year into his planned two-year preparation for a Palestinian state, Fayyad has hit a political ceiling. Unlike in Gaza, which has a menu of options due to its full internal control, the PA is just one of several competing authorities in the West Bank, lacking control over its borders, supply lines and even decision making.

To maintain stability, the president’s men have resorted to an increasingly oppressive hand. The PA’s security forces suppress not only Islamist unrest but general dissent — in late August disrupting a meeting called to protest the resumption of negotiations. Detainees emerge from prisons testifying to interrogators drilling through kneecaps. For all of Fayyad’s claims to have built institutions, in his bid to maintain power and prevent a vote of no confidence, he has neutered the most important, the Palestinian Legislative Council, Palestine’s prime expression of sovereignty. Local elections, designed to showcase the West Bank as the more democratic half of the Palestinian polity, were annulled after its main faction, Fatah, lost confidence in its ability to win, even though Hamas had declared a boycott

Hedging Bets

Hamas’ drive-by shootings galvanize not only Palestinians disillusioned by peace talks, but disaffected Israelis as well. Pressure on Netanyahu, which had been rising prior to the attack, crescendoed as settlers vowed to respond to the attack with a rash of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Though Abbas has declared such Israeli acts a red line that will prompt him to retire from the talks, Netanyahu is unlikely to jeopardize his support base. He remains bedeviled by the memory of his first term, when a hitherto supportive religious right ditched him after he bowed to US pressure by withdrawing from part of Hebron, and brought down his government. He might yet undertake a partial withdrawal from lands between Ramallah and Jericho, but substantive movement on a settlement withdrawal or a deal on Jerusalem appears fanciful. His political survival comes first, and the religious right, not Washington, is its guarantor.

Moreover, demographically, Israel is shifting further to the right. Far from shocking Israel into a reality check, the killing of nine civilians from Turkey, a purported ally, in international waters generated an outpouring of self-righteousness. Internationally isolated, Israeli Jews shared the feeling that “the whole world is against us,” and in a surge of patriotism redoubled their support for their government. According to a poll conducted a week after the Gaza flotilla incident, 78 percent of Israeli Jews backed Netanyahu’s policy. Support from Israel’s fastest-growing population sectors, the ultra-Orthodox and national-religious camps, topped 90 percent. The simultaneous news of vast natural gas finds off the coast only underscored these national-religious Jews’ sense of divine protection: They had lost one treasure at sea, gentile approval, and been blessed with another.

More trusting in God than Obama, Netanyahu’s government is not configured to sign let alone implement a two-state settlement. For all the external hopes that Kadima leader Tzipi Livni might join the ruling coalition, the prospects for a shake-up in Israel’s political map look at least an election away. Even then, without the emergence of a new, more left-leaning religious force, possibly led by the former ultra-Orthodox leader Aryeh Deri, the nationalist coalition looks set to retain power. Fearful of upsetting his national-religious base, Netanyahu — always alert to instances of Palestinian incitement — shied away from condemning Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual mentor of Shas, the coalition’s fourth largest party, who on the eve of the Washington parley called on God to kill Abbas and similarly evil Palestinians. Provided he retains the confidence of his nationalist camp, domestically Netanyahu looks secure.

Rather than risk disturbing his coalition’s fault lines, Netanyahu prefers to focus on conflict management, and not the conflict resolution that would most please the Americans. Locally, his prime concern is to ensure that neither Gaza nor the West Bank threaten Israel, and on that score, the August 31 shootings notwithstanding, Hamas’ track record in securing the territory it controls is as good as the PA’s. Though his ministers flinch at saying so, their preference for de facto over de jure arrangements (which would dispel their Greater Israel dreams) tallies more with the agenda of Hamas than that of Abbas. Only pressure from Washington has so far restrained Netanyahu from agreeing to a prisoner release that would win him kudos for recovering Cpl. Shalit, but drape Hamas with garlands for bringing home more Palestinian prisoners than has Abbas. Were it not for external factors, Netanyahu might have reasoned that economic peace stands a better chance of working in Gaza than in the West Bank. In the short term, the late summer shootouts set Israel and Hamas at loggerheads. Down the road, the interests of the rising new guard of religious nationalists in Israel and Palestine might yet converge.

Worth pondering

Muslim men and women across the world are currently observing Ramadan, a month long celebration of self-purification and restraint. During Ramadan, the Muslim community fast, abstaining from food, drink, smoking and sex between sunrise and sunset. Muslims break their fast after sunset with an evening meal called Iftar, where a date is the first thing eaten followed by a traditional meal. During this time, Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran, to give freely to those in need, and strengthen their ties to God through prayer. The goal of the fast is to teach humility, patience and sacrifice, and to ask forgiveness, practice self-restraint, and pray for guidance in the future. This year, Ramadan will continue until Thursday, September 9th. [Editor's note: This year, I invite you to submit your own Ramadan 2010 photos] (45 photos total)

With the Dome of the Rock Mosque seen in the background, a Palestinian Muslim worshiper prays during the third Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

A Bahraini man points skyward at dusk Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010, in Hamad Town, Bahrain, towards where a slim crescent moon should be visible to indicate the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time of prayer, fasting and charitable giving. Clouds hampered skywatchers in the Persian Gulf island nation. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali) #

A Musaharati, dawn awakener, strikes his drum to wake observant Muslims for their overnight ‘sahur’, last meal, before the day’s fast in Sidon’s Old City in southern Lebanon just before dawn August 11, 2010. (REUTERS/Ali Hashisho) #

Kashmiri Muslims pray on a street on the third Friday of Ramadan, in Srinagar, India, Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri) #

An Indian Muslim vendor prepares food at a roadside stall in preparation for Muslims breaking their fast at sundown in Mumbai, India on August 19, 2010. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Palestinian Muslim man decorates an alley of Jerusalem’s old city with festive lights in preparation for Ramadan on Tuesday, Aug. 10 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

The crescent moon is seen near mosques in old Cairo on the fifth day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on August 15, 2010. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih) #

A young Palestinian Muslim girl walks in an alley of Jerusalem’s old city holding a traditional Ramadan lantern while celebrating with other children the announcing of the holy month of Ramadan on Tuesday, Aug. 10 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

A Pakistani volunteer pours milk into glasses for devotees to break their fast during Muslims’ holy fasting month of Ramadan in Lahore, Pakistan on Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/K.M.Chaudary) #

Muslim girls offer prayers before having their Iftar (fast-breaking) meal during the holy month of Ramadan at a madrasa on the outskirts of Jammu on August 21, 2010. (REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta) #

Egyptians buy fruits at a shop in downtown Cairo on August 20, 2010 during Islam’s holy fasting month of Ramadan. Egyptians have been complaining from shortages of basic services during Ramadan, which began the first week of August amid sweltering summer temperatures. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images) #

A member of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, lower left, participates in an Iftar, the evening meal when Muslim break their fast during Ramadan, August 17, 2010 at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. The Islamic center invited frontline responders for Ramadan dinner to show appreciation and foster increased understanding. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) #

A Muslim man performs ablution before prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the London Muslim Centre on August 18, 2010 in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) #

A man prays during Ramadan Jummah prayer at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. on August 13, 2010. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images) #

Indonesian chefs make miniature chocolate mosques for sale during the fasting month of Ramadan, at a chocolate shop in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana) #

Muslim pilgrims pray inside the Grand Mosque, with the Mecca Clock in the background, on the second day of the fasting month of Ramadan in Mecca August 12, 2010. The giant clock on a skyscraper in Islam’s holiest city Mecca began ticking on Wednesday at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, amid hopes by Saudi Arabia that it will become the Muslim world’s official timekeeper. (REUTERS/Hassan Ali) #

Thousands of Muslims gather in the Grand Mosque, in Islam’s holiest city of Mecca and home to the Kaaba (center), as they take part in dawn (fajir) prayers on August 29, 2010, to start their day-long fast during the holy month or Ramadan. (AMER HILABI/AFP/Getty Images) #

Thousands of Muslims circle the Kaaba inside the Grand Mosque in Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, taking part in dawn (fajir) prayers on August 29, 2010. (AMER HILABI/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Palestinian vendor displays traditional pastries in his shop in the West Bank city of Nablus on the second day of the holy month of Ramadan August 12, 2010. (REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini) #

Jim Otun of Fairfield, New Jersey uses his iPad to read a dua in the Quran at Zinnur Books in Paterson, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz) #

A Palestinian boy plays with a homemade sparkler after breaking his fast during Ramadan, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, Aug. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

Flood-affected people break their fast on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in a camp in Nowshera, Pakistan on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010. Pakistani flood survivors, already short on food and water, began the fasting month of Ramadan on Thursday, a normally festive, social time marked this year by misery and fears of an uncertain future. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad) #

A Muslim man places a chart which marks the times to pray on a wall during the first day of Ramadan at a mosque in the southern Spanish town of Estepona, near Malaga August 11, 2010. (REUTERS/Jon Nazca) #

A Sudanese man reads the Koran on the first Friday of Ramadan in a mosque at Umdowan Ban village outside Khartoum, Sudan on August 13, 2010. (REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah) #

Indian Muslims take a break as birds fly around Firoz Shah Kotla Masjid after prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan in New Delhi on August 13, 2010. (PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images) #

A mahya reading “Hold the fast. find good health” hangs between the minarets of the Ottoman-era Eminonu New Mosque in Istanbul August 12, 2010. Mahya, where dangling lights suspended between minarets spell out devotional messages in huge letters, are intended to reward and inspire the faithful who have spent the daylight hours fasting. Today just a handful of Istanbul’s mosques use Mahya, the phrases dictated by Turkey’s directorate of religious affairs. (REUTERS/Murad Sezer) #

Some 200 Muslims, inmates of the Quezon city jail in suburban Manila, are seen through a fence praying at the prison courtyard on August 13, 2010. The large Muslim minority in the Philippines – a country home to 75 million Catholics – is observing Ramadan, the holy fasting month of Islam. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images) #

An Indian worker dries Seviiyan – thin vermicelli – which is used for the preparation of “sheerkhorma”, a traditional sweet dish prepared by the Muslim community during the holy month of Ramadan at a food factory in Hyderabad on August 16, 2010. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images) #

An Indian Muslim vendor separates the seeds of a pomegranate at a roadside stall in preparation for Muslims breaking their fast at sundown in Mumbai, India on August 19, 2010. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Palestinian woman’s shadow is seen on a wall as she waits while attempting to cross the Kalandia checkpoint in order to go pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. Israel loosened some restrictions on Palestinian movement between the West Bank and Israel during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill) #

Palestinian women walk past a barrier at an Israeli-controlled checkpoint on their way to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi) #

An Afghan confectioner holds a traditional sweet for Iftar, the evening meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on August 16, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images) #

Muslim men pray before Iftar, the evening meal in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the London Muslim Centre on August 18, 2010 in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) #

The shadow of a Palestinian Muslim praying at “fajr” or early morning prayer is cast on a pole, during the month of Ramadan at a mosque in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

Palestinians struggle at an access point as food rations are given out by an Islamic charity on the second day of the month of Ramadan, in the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) #

A child sits with a plate of food that was distributed as part of the holy month of Ramadan, at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi) #

Indonesian women pray during the first night of Ramadan in Jakarta on August 10, 2010. (ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Palestinian Muslim man reads from the Quran, Islam’s holy book, on “fajr” or early morning prayer, during Ramadan at a mosque in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

An Indian Muslim perfumer selects a bottle of ather (non-alcoholic perfume) for customers at his shop in Hyderabad on August 17, 2010. Muslims apply ather to their clothes as a traditional custom before going for daily prayers during the Holy month of Ramadan. Hyderabad is a well known place for selling Ather some 157 varieties of perfume available on the market. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images) #

Children run around inside the premises of Jama mosque after Friday afternoon prayers in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das) #

A Palestinian Muslim worshiper walks in an alley of Jerusalem’s Old City, on her way to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the third Friday of Ramadan on Aug. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) #

A rainbow is seen as a Palestinian sprays water on Muslim worshipers leaving the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to cool them off as the temperature rises, following the second Friday prayers of Ramadan, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, Aug. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) #

Her hands decorated with henna, an Afghan Muslim woman takes part in evening prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on August 13, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images) #

Shop owner Boualem Bensalem (left) prays in his flat with family and friends before for Iftar meal in Geneva, Switzerland on August 23, 2010. Switzerland is home to some 311,000 Muslims (4.3% of the population). (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse) #

A Syrian Muslim girl stands at the top of Mount Qassioun, which overlooks Damascus city, during sunset and prays before eating her Iftar meal on August 22, 2010. (REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri) #

Norman Finkelstein Interview on ReVolt

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On the resuscitation of the ‘peace process’

“Peace process? What peace process? That’s so nineties. After 18 years, don’t they feel silly…

There are only two scenarios. The optimistic one is more of the same. The pessimistic one is it’s going to get worse.” – Ahmad Aweidah, head of the Palestinian Stock Exchange

Ah, the ‘peace process’. Like Shimon Peres, Big Brother and Ernie the Giant Chicken, it just won’t fucking die already. What was particularly striking about the announcement of its latest iteration, due to kick-off next week, was how little anyone cared. In the stream of public and media consciousness, even in Israel, it barely caused a ripple. Apart from the real die-hards, no one can even muster the energy to pretend anymore. Whereas three years ago Bush officials were having to actively downplay hopes about the “Annapolis summit” – which was not a “peace conference”, you’ll recall, and which would not produce a “declaration of principles” but rather a “declaration of interests” – now US officials are having to make absurd promises, like claiming that a peace agreement will be reached within a year, just to get people to pay attention. Palestinians and Israelis are united in dismissing the talks as an irrelevency.If the ‘peace process’ is indeed redolent of a “soap opera”, it most resembles the relaunch of Crossroads, greeted with a collective shrug and an uneasy feeling that, looking back, the original wasn’t much cop either.

It’s not surprising that the Obama administration is attempting to play up the talks, given how much effort it expended in realising them. Not, as you might expect, because the Israeli government was unwilling to play ball. On the contrary: Netanyahu has been pushing for these talks for months. Rather, the weight of US power was brought to bear on the Palestinian Authority, as usual. Abbas, clinging to what scraps of nationalist dignity he had left, had insisted that no talks would take place without an agreement from Israel to extend its (non-existent) freeze on settlement construction. He also called for a predetermined schedule for negotiations, and for any future peace talks to be based on the principle of an Israeli withdrawal to its legal borders – that is, on the international political and legal consensus. As the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies reports, “renewal of the talks was made possible following heavy pressure leveled by the United States on Abbas to concede” all of these demands. Abbas has been duly attacked by Palestinians for this “surrender”, from within his own party as well as Hamas, but ultimately, the survival of the PA rests not on internal support but on international backing. Its capitulation was thus inevitable:

“In spite of opposition at home, Abbas knows that the bottom line is he could survive different opinions but not an end to economic aid.”

Ha’aretz is correct, then, to report the announcement of the talks as a victory for Netanyahu. But why was the Israeli Prime Minister so keen on them in the first place?

Negotiations about what?

We can discount his own explanation – that the Israeli government seeks a genuine, stable peace settlement – immediately. Netanyahu’s position hasn’t changed from the one elaborated by his communications director back in 1996: Israel will retain control over the West Bank, and

Palestinians can call whatever fragments of Palestine are left to them “a state” if they like—or they can call them “fried chicken”.

What this “fried chicken” will consist of is clear from Netanyahu’s pronouncements – he rejects the ‘67 borders as a basis for negotiations, insists on retaining control over the Jordan Valley, promises that a “united Jerusalem” will remain Israel’s eternal capital and has indicated that all the major ‘settlement blocs’ will remain annexed to Israel. (Netanyahu’s rejectionism is mild compared to that of some of his colleagues: the ‘spiritual leader’ of Shas, a member of Israel’s governing coalition, yesterday called for genocide against “these evil people”, the Palestinians.) More importantly, however, it is clear from Israel’s actions on the ground. July and August saw a “new peak” in the destruction of Palestinian homes – in July alone, 550 Palestinians lost their homes or livelihoods. In just one incident, the Israeli military destroyed “almost the entire Palestinian village of Al Farisiye in the Jordan Valley”, consistent with long-term Israeli objectives for the area, described above. The ‘Civil Administration’ has confirmed that it “received instructions from the Ministry of Defense to step up demolitions of Palestinian structures throughout Area C in the near future”. The Israeli government is refusing to freeze settlement expansion for the duration of the talks, and construction continues on the annexation wall, which functions as a “political fence” (Shimon Peres) with “implications” for Israel’s “future border” (Tzipi Livni).

In other words, a ‘peace settlement’ for the Israeli government would represent an acceptance by Palestinians of the plan Israel has been pushing since the occupation began, a formalisation of what it has already implemented on the ground, by force. In short,

“The gap between the positions held by most coalition members, including Netanyahu’s inner cabinet of seven, and those held by the Palestinians is evident – and nothing has happened to indicate it has narrowed”.

The Israeli government continues to reject the international consensus two-state settlement, which is the minimum any Palestinian leader – even Mahmoud Abbas – can accept. In these circumstances, one can only ask, along with (fucked clock) George Will, “negotiations about what?”


“Aha!”, supporters of the ‘peace process’ might say at this point. “You’re forgetting about the Obama factor!” Or trying to, at any rate. The ‘Obama factor’, always a somewhat mystical affair, is even less grounded in evidence here than usual. His administration’s record in Palestine differs from his predecessors in precisely two ways. First, US military aid to Israel has significantly increased and military ties have deepened. As recently as April the Pentagon agreed to sell Israel three Hercules aircraft in an arms deal worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Second, it has ruled out imposing significant material pressure on Israel to reverse, or even moderate, its rejectionism. As the Washington Post reports,

“The diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Israel has sent a tremor through their alliance, but one key part of the bond seems virtually untouchable: the roughly $3 billion a year in U.S. military aid”

—which ought to raise questions about the sincerity of said “diplomatic crisis”. “There has been no serious talk of using aid as a club”, the Post continued. This is critical, because while the US backs the occupation, Israel has no incentive to end it. As Alon Liel, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry while Barak was PM, explains,

“it’s not possible for the strongest kid and the weakest kid in the neighborhood to conduct talks on reconciliation and friendship when the talks are based on arm wrestling. It’s absolutely clear who will win.”

Particularly when the “strongest kid” is backed by the global military superpower.

It is true that there have been mumblings of discontent within the US establishment recently – witness, for instance, Gen. Petraeus’s averral that perceptions of US “favouritism for Israel” damage “our interests” – but this is nothing new, and they show little sign of becoming dominant.

Talks as formaldehyde

Why, then, have the US and Israel insisted on the resumption of talks, given the opposition of both to a two-state settlement? For Obama, as one Arab diplomat has noted, the announcement of talks allows him “to claim some kind of success, especially ahead of the upcoming elections and at a time when his popularity in the polls does not seem to be all that good”. One of Obama’s principle virtues for US power – what made him distinct from McCain and Bush – is his ability to put a human face on American hegemony, to consolidate the US position and try to repair some of the damage caused by Bush-era adventurism. In the Middle East that meant being seen to empathise with regional concerns, and appearing to do something to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end he engaged in a highly visible campaign to pressure ‘both parties’ (in fact, the Palestinians) to resume talks – without, as discussed above, acting to ensure that there was anything substantive to talk about.

For Israel, meanwhile, the talks represent the latest manifestation of “the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history”, a “fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land”. As the Financial Times chief international affairs correspondent writes,

“the Middle East peace process long ago turned into a tortured charade of pure process while events on the ground – in particular the relentless and strategic Israeli colonisation of occupied Palestinian land – pull in the opposite direction to peace. “We have all been colluding in a gigantic confidence trick,” is how one Arab minister puts it, “and here we go again”.

As with the “road map”, an agreement signed with much fanfare in 2003 and then obliterated a day later, when the Israeli government entered 14 “reservations” that rendered the entire process meaningless, and as with the more recent ‘Annapolis process’, which proceeded in tandem with a 60% increase in settlement construction, the point is simply to ensure that “we are forever engaged in some negotiations”. This strategy is nothing new. As Yossi Sarid recalls, “they used to say about Yitzhak Shamir that he conducted peace negotiations with our neighbors as long as they never ended”. “There are no sacred dates”, insisted Rabin. As veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn wrote of the ‘Annapolis process’,

“Conducting high-level talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; Israel’s willingness to discuss the principles for ending the conflict; and gestures such as the release of prisoners are in themselves sufficient to remove international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the territories and to end the occupation.

At the same time, as long as it’s all talk and there are no agreements or decisions that involve the evacuation of territories and the settlements, there is no internal pressure on the government either”.

Israel’s typical strategy, once a new round of fraudulent negotiations commences, is to declare that “security” and “institutional” issues must be agreed upon (and even implemented) before any ‘final status’ issues – borders, Jerusalem, the refugees – are discussed, and to focus on red herring issues like demanding recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state”. This explains the convoluted structure of Oslo and the Road Map, for instance. The effect of this is to bog the whole process down in minutiae and defer discussion of Palestinian political claims to an unspecified point in the distant future. And sure enough, right on cue:

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland is chief among essential components for a peace deal, days ahead of renewed negotiations.”


“Netanyahu says he plans to focus on security arrangements before addressing final borders … Netanyahu said during his meetings he wants to discuss security issues with the Palestinians first; only then would the two sides focus on borders of a future Palestinian state.”

This strategy of endlessly drawn-out negotiations recalls Dov Weisglass’s account of the objectives behind the Gaza “disengagement”, which was designed, he explained, to put the ‘peace process’ in “formaldehyde”. This formulation isn’t quite accurate, since the ‘peace process’ is itself a form of formaldehyde, intended to maintain the diplomatic status quo while enabling continued entrenchment of the occupation on the ground.

Netanyahu’s desire to launch a new round of ‘peace talks’, then, is explicable as a continuation of a long-running Israeli strategy to reduce the diplomatic costs of continued occupation, and as a response to the unusual level of international criticism directed at Israel following the Gaza massacre and the attack on the Gaza Freedom flotilla. “So what is Israel actually trying to achieve?”, asks Avi Issacharoff.

“Basically, nothing. There is a superficial peace process which is going nowhere but eases international pressure on Israel to reach a deal with the Palestinians”.

Better than nothing?

Despite widespread cynicism about this latest round of talks, there is an attitude, particularly prevalent among liberal Obama supporters, that despite their low probability of success they are nonetheless worth supporting on the basis that they are, after all, ‘better than nothing’. As an Economist article puts it,

“Whether Mr Obama is trying to solve the conflict or simply to manage it is hard to say, since the secret of “managing” is to maintain the pretence that the peace process will indeed one day produce. Either way, it cannot be a bad thing to get old enemies to talk”.

This approach is misguided, for reasons that should already be clear. The ‘peace process’ should be understood as an attempt to consolidate and facilitate, rather than end, Israeli occupation. It “allows Israel to pose as a willing peacemaker while carrying on with business as usual”. Participating in the charade does indeed improve the chances that the ‘peace talks’ will “succeed”, but “success” in this context represents a setback for anyone seeking a genuine negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Furthermore, as Gideon Levy points out, there is always the risk (a small one, in my view, but certainly not one worth being complacent about) that a collapse in negotiations will herald another round of bloodshed. Moreover, launching another diplomatic process from which Hamas is pointedly excluded “spells the demise of any serious dialogue between Fatah and Hamas”. Reuters reports that

“Western diplomats believe efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fatah will be off the agenda entirely for the 12-month duration of negotiations.”

Indeed, the Obama admin apparently views the talks as a method of weakening and isolating Hamas, a continuation of a Bush administration approach that produced (deliberately) internal Palestinian conflict, the administrative separation of Gaza and the West Bank and a divided, weakened Palestinian polity. All serious observers of the conflict recognise that a minimum level of cooperation between Hamas and Fatah is a prerequisite to any serious attempt at peace. The fact that the Obama admin continues to oppose this is telling.

Some people will inevitably continue to believe that Obama, despite all the evidence and historical precedents to the contrary, genuinely intends to force Israel to end its rejectionism. Fine. I won’t attempt to fight the persuasive power of that smile. Instead of disputing whether Obama – or European governments – will act on their words, what we should be doing is organising to ensure that they do. As Stephen Walt puts it, “if you think I’m being too gloomy, then do the world a favor and prove me wrong”. ‘Better than nothing’ assumes that ‘nothing’ is the only alternative. On the eve of the ‘Oslo process’ Haider Abdel-Shafi, head of the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid Conference, dismissed official “negotiations” as “not worth fighting about”. “The critical issue”, he continued,

“is transforming our own society… We must decide amongst ourselves to use all our strength and resources to develop our collective leadership and the democratic institutions which will achieve our goals and guide us in the future.” (cit. Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, pp. 539-40

Words worth paying attention to, and not only by Palestinians.

After Israel Legalizes Prostitution, High Priced Call Girls Flock to Tel Aviv

To delegitimize Israel is an affront not only to Israelis, but to those “everywhere, in every part of humanity, who share the values of a free and independent human spirit,” Quartet envoy Tony Blair said on Tuesday, in an exceptionally warm speech at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

Blair, the keynote speaker at a conference on the delegitimization of Israel, said the best answer to those who sought to delegitimize the Jewish state “lies in the character of Israel itself, in the openness, fairmindedness and creativity of the Israelis.”

“My advice,” he said, “is to guide that spirit and keep it.” Blair, who will be taking part in the launch of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Washington next week, said the last 60 years had been “remarkable for you, but what you have created is a remarkable example for the rest of us.”

In discussing the steps Israel needed to take to combat delegitimization efforts, the former British prime minister said it “should always be a staunch and unremitting advocate and actor for peace. What I mean by this is not simply that Israel should want peace, it should advocate it and act to achieve it.”

The negotiations conducted under the Olmert government “played an immensely important part in showing the world that whatever else they might say, they have to accept that the government of Israel was genuinely trying to bring about peace,” Blair said.

Likewise, he said, “the restart of direct negotiations to be launched next week is important. It is important in itself, and it is important in that it shows that Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu, on behalf of the new government of Israel, is an advocate of peace.”

Blair said the one-year time frame placed on the talks was also important because it indicated there was “a simple and sincere yearning on the part of the people” for peace with the Palestinians.

“I know some are cynical about the process,” he said.

“I know some say it is all for show. I reject that view.I think that if Israel can receive real and effective guarantees about its security, then it is willing and ready to conclude negotiations for a viable independent Palestinian state. This is a brave decision by the prime minister, and a right one to engage in the negotiations.”

Blair also said that Israel should deal with legitimate criticism, and one such piece of legitimate criticism was that more could and should be done to improve the daily life of the Palestinians.

These improvements would not only help the Palestinians, he said, but also dilute “the most potent fuel, especially in the Arab media,” for the claim that the Palestinians are not only suffering injustice, but also a form of humiliation.

“Dignity is a very important concept,” Blair said.

“Consistent with security, Israel should constantly be looking for ways to compensate for the indignity which inevitably results sometimes from security measures, and should seek to avoid any unnecessary indignity.”

There were two forms of the delegitimization of Israel, Blair said. The first was “traditional, obvious and, from certain quarters, expected,” and came from those who openly attacked Israel’s right to exist. Pointing to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an example, he said that his form of delegitimization – calling for Israel to be wiped off the map – was easier to deal with “because it is so clear.”

The more pernicious form, however, was not as open, and came from those who were unwilling to recognize that Israel had a legitimate point of view, Blair said.

“The issue of delegitimization is not simply about an overt denial of Israel’s right to exist. It is the advocating of prejudice in not allowing that Israel has a point of view that should be listened to,” he asserted.

Blair said that “a consistent conversation I have with some, but by no means all, of my European colleagues, is to argue not to apply rules to the government of Israel that they would never dream of applying to their own governments or their own countries.”