Archive for the ‘HAMAS’ Tag



John Chuckman

Only the other day, Benjamin Netanyahu earned a small note of immortality when he said the peace talks were ended by the new arrangements between the Palestine Authority and Hamas: Netanyahu’s announcement bundled a record number of lies into one mouthful of words.  There, of course, never was anything properly called peace talks with Israel. There has been only a long series of closed-door personal, and security-scrambled telephonic, exchanges with America’s superbly ineffectual John Kerry, exchanges in which the Palestinians played virtually no role and in which Mr. Netanyahu had absolutely no interest, Netanyahu always setting an impossible set of conditions as prerequisites to anything happening precisely because he does not want anything to happen, while undoubtedly periodically raging with one of his mind-numbing harangues which are impossible to answer rationally for the simple reason they are not rational.

Netanyahu’s announcement is larded with layers of lies much like layers of rock in stratigraphic formations. Perhaps the chief of these being that Hamas – that democratically elected party led by middle-class professionals whose only concerns have been to obtain a fair deal for Palestinians and to provide clean government after the long-term corruption of Fatah – is a dreadful terrorist organization. Of course, you do have to say something along those lines to excuse your warring on civilians, blockading their needs (starting with a viciously-calculated minimal calorie allowance per person), cutting off services, piracy on the high seas, denying fishing rights, kidnapping and murdering politicians, and constant menaces. You wouldn’t do all that to people just trying to run a democratic, clean government, now would you? You might if you viewed the Palestinians in Gaza as a nightmare (a past Israeli prime minister’s actual word), as a source of constant fear, resembling fears in the Old South of revolt in the slave quarters some dark night, something which caused uneasy sleep for plantation families with pistols and knives tucked under their pillows.

Israel, despite the meaningless outpourings and rages of Netanyahu, is not looking for clean government and it certainly isn’t looking for democracy in any of its neighbors’ arrangements. Israel loved thirty years of corrupt and completely undemocratic government in Egypt, and it is Israel’s silent influence with the United States that has returned Egypt’s eighty million people, after one year of democratic government, to tyranny and openly corrupt arrangements. Israel also likes the absolute government of Saudi Arabia because it makes many secret deals with the Saudi princes, eager themselves to suppress democratic tendencies in the region. Saudi Arabia, with its Islamic fundamentalism, once was viewed as an implacable enemy of Israel, but the less-than-idealistic gritty interests of both states have nicely, quietly meshed in recent years with the fabulously wealthy aristocracy of Saudi Arabia viewing democracy and clean government through the same lens as the Middle East’s Crusader garrison state.

Israel is not even looking for peace, peace as any thoughtful, disinterested person in the world would define it. I believe Netanyahu has given new ferocity to an old strategy towards what every past leader of Israel regarded as the problem of the Palestinians, and that involves the goal either of making them so miserable that they will leave en masse or become so compliant they will agree to arrangements which assure their perpetual isolation, inferiority, and servitude. Either or any combination of those two outcomes is what Netanyahu understands as peace. I don’t see any other way of interpreting years of appallingly abusive behavior and law-breaking and injustice on a scale affecting millions. And there is no other way to interpret the American government’s tolerance for the abuse and law-breaking and injustice beyond its secretly sharing the same hopes as Israel’s malevolent leaders, being sick and tired of having to hear about and deal with a grotesque situation involving a few million people in a world where it tries to direct the destinies of billions.

Israel’s limited dealings with the Palestinian Authority – a kind of quasi-government formed out of the Oslo Accords of 1993 for the purpose of managing basic local services and negotiating with Israel – are themselves built on lies. The existing head of that quasi-government, Mahmoud Abbas, was last elected to serve as president until 2009, but with the connivance of the United States and Israel he regularly extends his term, never receiving the least recrimination for doing so, another demonstration of Israel’s love for democracy and clean government. His democratic credentials are further enhanced by the fact that he “governs” only in the West Bank – at least in those portions not yet seized by Israel – having been driven out of Gaza. Yet he is the only one of the Palestinians even admitted to symbolic membership in the “peace talks.” The reason for this is simple: up until very recently, Abbas has been a passive figure who offers Israel no open challenge to the huge injustices of the status quo, very much in contrast to the late Yasser Arafat, who is believed by many to have been assassinated by Israel after an extended period of abuse and threats including the shelling of his house and denying his even attending religious services. Netanyahu, by the way, is on record as having vigorously denounced as unworkable the now pretty much failed Oslo Accords, a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Analyzing “the peace talks,” discovering their rotten construction and the dishonest motives of those involved, yields unpleasant surprises much like those from stumbling accidentally upon a rotten timber and seeing a myriad of critters scrambling and flying off in all directions. John Kerry carries on his charade in the Middle East while at the same time lying about Russian news sources and threatening a red line for Russia to make it pay dearly for its “transgressions” in Ukraine. And there is still the hypocritical pretence about the induced horrors of Syria for which Mr. Kerry along with his boss bear direct responsibility.

Russia Today, the newspaper Kerry recently publicly criticized, can have nothing to its shame to compare with The New York Times which one day published images supposedly proving Russian soldiers were active in Eastern Ukraine and shortly after retracted when the lie was hurled in its face. The same New York Times, it was revealed, passes its reportage on Israel through Israeli censors before publication, providing a standard of journalistic integrity it would be hard to match. What Kerry and Company are actually upset about is Russia’s new, sophisticated use of the press and broadcasting. Gone are the not-believable voices of the Soviet era, words by apparatchiks featuring such colorful expressions as “running dogs.” Instead we find thoughtful reportage and analysis reaching out to people in the West, correcting misrepresentations imposed by their own leaders through outlets like The New York Times and America’s major networks. America’s Cold War era monopoly on “credible press” is gone (in fact, it never was that credible, only seeming so by contrast to the old Soviet efforts). With the monopoly’s disappearance, America’s unrestricted ability to “get a story out there,” as someone from the CIA might say, also has suffered, and Mr. Kerry clearly isn’t happy about the fact.

As for Kerry’s comments about red lines and making Russia pay, it would be difficult to come up with a poorer example of diplomacy from America’s supposed chief of diplomacy. Of course, the last time we heard the expression “red line” concerned the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government, something that never happened, but the American official words about a red line served as a kind of segue to the actual, totally-immoral use of such chemicals by some of the fanatics America secretly supports. And just a short while before that use of “red line,” we had the world’s most predictable liar talking about red lines for Iran, a country he threatened and continues to threaten but which has never threatened him.

Kerry’s public face on the situation in Ukraine is just as rankly dishonest as his “peace talks” in the Middle East and his words about Syria. The fact is that Ukrainian groups America has supported secretly for years with almost unlimited amounts of CIA-infiltrated money overthrew an elected government, and they did so before previously-agreed arrangements for new elections which were intended to appease the divided factions in Ukraine. Part of the way these groups seized power was through the dirty work of right-wing thugs, who, among other acts, served as snipers shooting many hundreds of people dead in the streets of Kiev. Now, we see this self-proclaimed government receiving visits by America’s CIA Director and Vice President for unexplained reasons. Was there ever a less honest effort at pretending democratic forces are at work in a crisis? Please, Mr. Kerry, who is it that you think you are convincing of anything, beyond your own dishonesty and remarkably limited diplomatic skills?

Posted April 26, 2014 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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John Chuckman

How is it that the people of Egypt, after a successful revolution against the repressive 30-year government of President Mubarak, a revolution involving the hopes and fears of millions and a substantial loss of life, have ended up almost precisely where they started?

After Mubarak’s fall, there were many comments from prominent citizens of one of Egypt’s neighbors, the one styling itself “the Middle East’s only democracy,” expressing great concern over the end of decades of brutal dictatorial rule for eighty million neighbors. The comments, from many prominent Israelis, were disturbing in tone and certainly did not welcome the idea of an expansion of democracy in the region.

But the revolution continued, with some starts and stops, and Egyptians voted in their first free election. By all accounts, it was a cleaner election than many in that other great defender of democracy, the United States, but democracy as Winston Churchill famously said is “the worst form of government, except for all the others,” and the majority went to a religious-affiliated party, the Muslim Brotherhood, a party which had been persecuted and suppressed for years by Mubarak, an activity which endeared him to democracy-loving Israeli governments.

Now, that name, Muslim Brotherhood, undoubtedly sounds ominous to many in a post-9/11 world, a world where fears and disinformation about Muslims have become a daily, unavoidable part of the news in much of the Western world. But the truth is that the Muslim Brotherhood was not radical, and in many respects the religious note in Egyptian politics was not altogether different from that of a long history of Christian-affiliated parties in Western Europe or Latin America, such as the Christian Democrats.

Indeed, Egypt’s good democratic neighbor itself has been ruled in many aspects of its national life by ultra-orthodox religious parties needed to make a governing coalition in its heavily-splintered political system. And these Israeli fundamentalist parties do not reflect anything like the mild religious traditions of Europe’s Christian Democrats. These Israeli parties are composed of people who believe in theocratic rule, in the superiority of one group over others, in the unique truth of one set of ancient writing, in ancient views of women’s rights, and in legalizing many practices violating principles of the Enlightenment. As political analysts know, small parties can exert inordinate leverage on a society where they absolutely are required to form a government, that leverage necessarily seeming quite undemocratic to most citizens living under its shadow.

Well, Egypt’s new government did do some things that strict secularists such as myself do not like to see, its new constitution being chief among them. No liberal-minded person wants to live under a constitution giving special place to one religious group over another, but then that is nothing unusual in the world, and it is especially the case for emerging countries with many years of political experimenting in democratic institutions ahead of them.

So Egyptians unhappy with Morsi’s brief time in government started demonstrating against him. In doing so, they unwittingly weakened the foundations of a fragile set of democratic institutions and played into the hands of those who wanted the military coup we have now witnessed, with members of an elected government under arrest and many hundreds of people on both sides, for and against the Morsi government, killed in the streets, and a distressing return to where Egypt was about three years ago.

The truth is that the road to a fully-functioning democracy is always a very long one. The United States from its founding took a couple of hundred years to achieve even the semblance of democracy we see today. America started – despite the high-sounding words of its constitution – as a place where the people did not elect the president (the elites of the electoral college did), where the Senate was appointed (not changed until the 20th century), where a massive industry in human slavery legally flourished, where no women or blacks or even most men (those without specified amounts of property) could vote, and where the Bill of Rights served as a mere advertising slogan because its list of rights could not be enforced by a Supreme Court owing strict allegiance to the concept of states’ rights. The common sentimental view of early America is just that, sentimental.

The journey toward free and fair democratic government must be started somewhere, and Morsi’s government was perhaps as promising a start as is possible in a country mired in poverty and lacking democratic institutions as Egypt is, but the re-establishment of a junta is no start at all.

So, who are the people who wanted the coup and why did they want it?

To answer this we must go back to some of the acts of the Morsi government and see just who was extremely unhappy about them. One was a new general policy towards the hostages Israel holds in Gaza, by which I mean the million and a half people who also elected a new government some years back, the Hamas Party, in clean elections. There is no use repeating the fairy tale about Hamas being a terrorist organization: it most certainly is not, although through Israel’s manipulation of the severe weaknesses in America’s political structure (the acceptance of political donations in any amount as free speech, the acceptance of virtually unlimited lobbying, and the duopoly party system allowing one to be played against the other) Israel did succeed in having white declared to be red.

Morsi’s new general policy, offensive to Israel but I’m sure acceptable to most Egyptians, was not one of throwing open the border with Gaza – that would have resulted in air strikes and dire threats by Israel – but it was one of easing up on the past harshness Mubarak maintained to please Israel and the United States, and Mubarak and his military were keen to keep them pleased because the United States pays a huge annual bribe to Egypt to keep just such matters under control.

Now we have the Egyptian military returning to harsh measures: I read, for example, that they were flooding the tunnels which have served as vital supply lines for the imprisoned people of Gaza. Before its overthrow, Mubarak’s government was looking to build a kind of underground Berlin Wall along the entire border with Gaza made of special steel supplied by the United States. Perhaps now the military will take the wall-project up again, surely bringing satisfied smiles to the lips of Israel’s brutal government. You know just on the face of it that there is something very odd and unnatural in Egypt’s behaving this way towards people with whom most Egyptians sympathize for the benefit of another people with whom they do not sympathize.

I think the single most important act leading to the coup likely was Morsi’s meeting with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, a much-hated man in Israel. The meeting in fact was a perfectly natural and normal thing for these two countries to do, given their mutual interests and an ancient history of associations. They are both predominantly Muslim and both are large countries, on the order of 70-80 million people. But I know the meeting must have sent Mr. Netanyahu into a sputtering dark fury and almost certainly had him reaching for the phone to Obama within minutes.

Does Netanyahu have a special phone to the Oval Office, a version of the ‘hot line” established between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s to help avoid a disastrous nuclear misunderstanding?

One suspects so because of what surely must be the volume of calls made from one of the world’s smallest countries to one of its largest, regularly asking for things – everything from increases in American aid or access to new technologies and weapons systems or seeking support for Israeli companies trying to land a contract or asking yet again that a damaging spy like Jonathon Pollard be freed or setting new demands in foreign policy towards this or that country fallen under Mr. Netanyahu’s wrath. And we have Obama’s own words when he was caught briefly with an open microphone while talking privately with President Sarkozy of France. Raising the eyebrows of reporters, Sarkozy remarked that Netanyahu was a liar who couldn’t be trusted. Obama agreed that you couldn’t trust anything Netanyahu said, and added further that Sarkozy was lucky in his dealings with Netanyahu: imagine having to speak with him every day the way Obama had to?

Every day? A call from the leader of 1/1,000 of the earth’s population every day? No wonder they keep such things secret.

When the demonstrations by Egyptians disenchanted with Morsi began, they provided the perfect opportunity and cover for a coup. Israel undoubtedly pushed the United States – after all, Obama had intervened to support the original revolution, something not pleasing to Netanyahu and only adding to his stock of reasons for often expressing contempt of the President, and now Morsi was carrying on in “I told you so” ways. The United States in turn undoubtedly let the Egyptian military know it would not object to the overthrow of Morsi (and it hasn’t objected, has it?), reminding the generals of what was at stake here – namely, about a billion and a half in annual bribes for keeping the government of Israel from complaining.

One suspects the CIA was active in stoking the fires of discontented Egyptians, handing out money and promises and encouragement to make the crowds larger and more aggressive. After all, that is just what the CIA does when it isn’t directly overthrowing someone’s government or assassinating someone’s leader or planting false stories in the press or secretly bribing government officials in dozens of countries deemed to be “ours.”

I heard one of CBC Radio’s lesser journalistic lights speak of such a close election as the one in Egypt leaving so many people there feeling the government didn’t represent them. She apparently was unaware that Canada’s Stephen Harper is deemed a majority parliamentary government with about 39% of the vote. Or that many American presidential elections end with margins as close as that in Egypt, Kennedy having been elected by a small fraction of one percent of the popular vote. George Bush received about a half million fewer votes than Al Gore in 2000, a victorious minority made possible by America’s antiquated constitution with its anti-democratic electoral college, a result which has been repeated a number of times in American history.

But Americans and Canadians do not go into the streets to overturn the results, nor would we say anything encouraging or positive if they did. If the existing rules are followed in an election, we accept the result, and that kind of stability is absolutely crucial to maintaining any form of democracy. Yet it is somehow acceptable for our press to take that view when the topic is government in the Middle East, and a struggling new democratic government at that.

After all, there has been a steady stream of prejudiced words and carefully selected facts about Islam and the Middle East in the mainline press since 9/11. And ever since that event, much as the five Israeli Mossad agents, disguised as workers for a moving company, who were reported photographing the strikes on the twin towers from the top of their truck while dancing and high-fiving before their arrest and deportation, apologists for Israel have steadily encouraged the notion of Islamic and Arabic irrationality to excuse Israel’s bloody excesses. The notion has become a handy tool to grab whenever there are other events viewed unfavorably by Israel, as in the case of the Egyptian election and some of the democratic government’s acts.

The political future for the poor people of Egypt is not bright. Their prospects for democratic government and all the social changes that it entails over time are indeed collateral damage of Israel’s endless bristling and America’s Israeli-like sense of exceptionalism and belief that it has the right to play God with the lives of tens of millions of others to satisfy troubles in its own domestic politics.



I don’t know how anyone given the task could draw a map of Israel: it is likely the only country in the world with no defined borders, and it actually has worked very hard over many decades to achieve this peculiar state.


It once had borders, but the 1967 war took care of those. It has no intention of ever returning to them because it could have done so at any time in the last forty-three years (an act which would have been the clearest possible declaration of a desire for genuine peace with justice and which would have saved the immense human misery of occupation), but doing so would negate the entire costly effort of the Six Day War whose true purpose was to achieve what we see now in the Palestinian territories.

As far as peace, in the limited sense of the absence of war, Israel already has achieved a kind of rough, de facto peace without any help from the Palestinians. The Palestinians have nothing to offer in the matter of peace if you judge peace by the standards Israel apparently does.

Israel has the peace that comes of infinitely greater power, systematic and ruthless use of that power, the reduction of the people it regards as opponents to squatters on their own land, and a world too intimidated to take any effective action for justice or fairness.

Genuine peace anywhere, as Canadian physicist and Holocaust survivor Ursula Franklin has observed, is best defined by justice prevailing. But you can have many other circumstances inaccurately called peace; for example, the internal peace of a police state or of a brutally-operated colony.

Israel appears to have no interest or need for the kind of peace that the Palestinians can offer. What then can the Palestinians give Israel in any negotiation?

There are many “technical” issues to be settled between the Israelis and Palestinians, such as the right of return, compensation for property taken, the continued unwarranted expulsions from East Jerusalem, the Wall and its location largely on Palestinian land, but in a profound sense these are all grounded in the larger concept of genuine peace as Ursula Franklin defined it, something we have no basis for believing Israel is, or ever has been, interested in.

Israel wants recognition, not just as a country like any other, but as “the Jewish state,” whatever that ambiguous term may mean, given the facts both of Israel’s rubbery borders and the definition of Jewish, something which Israelis themselves constantly fight over – reformed, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, North African, observant, non-observant, and still other factions and divisions in what is quite a small population.

I very much think that the reasons Israel wants that particular form of recognition are not benevolent: it is the kind of term once put into a contract which opens the future interpretation of the contract to pretty much anything. After all, recognition of Israel as a state is something Arab states have long offered Israel in return for a just settlement, but Israel has never shown the slightest interest.

If recognition of Israel as “the Jewish state” were granted, what would be the status of any non-Jewish person in Israel? I think we can guess, given the awful words of Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, or the even more terrible words of Ovadia Yosef, founder of the Shas Party, a Netanyahu ally, and Israel’s former Chief Rabbi.

After all, about nineteen percent of Israeli citizens are non-Jews, mainly the descendants of Palestinians who refused to run from the terrors of the Irgun and Stern gangs in1948. They carry Israeli passports, but are not regarded as citizens in the same sense as Jewish citizens, and there are even laws and restrictions in place creating the kind of deadly distinction George Orwell wrote of in Animal Farm, “Some animals are more equal than others.”

The new talks do not include even the most basic requirement of a legitimate voice to represent the Palestinians, a desirable situation perhaps from Israel’s point of view, one Israel’s secret services have long worked towards with dark ops and assassinations. How do you negotiate with opponents you allow no voice?

Mahmoud Abbas, an almost pitifully shuffling character who is the man supposedly representing Palestinian interests, is now approaching two years of playing president without an election: he has zero legitimacy with the Palestinians and the outside world. Even at that, his assumed authority extends only to parts of the West Bank of the territories.

Hamas, despite the shortcomings found in any leadership of a heavily oppressed population (after all, it is often forgotten that the African National Congress in South Africa was communist-affiliated), is nevertheless the elected government of Gaza territory, but Israel has pressured the United States – and through it, effectively the world – to regard Hamas as a coven of witches, ready to unleash dark powers if only once Israel relaxes its stranglehold.

It would be far more accurate to talk of a settlement or an accommodation with the Palestinians than peace, but any reasonable agreement requires intense pressure on Israel, which holds all the cards, pressure which can only come from Washington. Accommodation involves all the difficult “technical” issues Israel has no interest in negotiating – right of return, compensation, the Wall, and East Jerusalem. Israel’s position on all of them is simply “no.”

But we know that Washington is contemptibly weak when it comes to Israel. The Israel Lobby is expert at working the phones and the opinion columns and the campaign donations. It even gets Washington to fight wars for it, as it did in Iraq, and as it now is attempting to do in Iran – surely, the acid test of inordinate influence on policy.

Most American Congressmen live in the same kind of quiet fear of the Israel Lobby as they once did of J.Edgar Hoover’s special files of political and personal secrets. Hoover never even had to openly threaten a Congressman or Cabinet Secretary who was “out of line.” He merely had a brief chat, dropping some ambiguous reference to let the politician know the danger he faced. It was enough to keep Hoover’s influence going for decades.

You never heard a thing in the press about the quiet power Hoover exercised in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, but it was there. Just so, the Israel Lobby today.

So where does the impetus for a fair accommodation come from?

Nowhere. Israel goes right on with its calculatedly-unfair laws taking the homes and farms of others, slowly but surely pushing out the people with whom it does not want to share space.

Anywhere else, this process would be called ethnic-cleansing, but not here, not unless you want to be called a bigot or an anti-Semite.

One says this about the impossibility of a settlement with a reservation. It is possible that the weak Abbas, locked in a room in Washington, could well be browbeaten and bribed into signing some kind of bastard agreement, giving Israel every concession it wants in return for a nominal rump Palestinian state composed of parcels Israel doesn’t want or hasn’t yet absorbed. It wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on, but Israel would then undoubtedly assume its perpetual validity and in future interpret it as it wished.

After all, the history of modern Israel involves agreements divvying up the land of others without their consent, but even those historical divisions – look at the maps attending the Peel Commission (1937) or the UN decision on partition (1947), and you see roughly equally divided territory – today are ignored by Israel or given some very tortured interpretation. So what will have changed?

There simply can be no genuine peace with justice where there is no will for it.



John Chuckman

The Annapolis Conference was, like so many political and diplomatic events of our time, highly choreographed, finely stage-managed, and heavily marketed. Yet, as soon as it was over, it was apparent little had happened, much as when a child opens a much-advertised, expensive plastic toy on Christmas, a brief, glitzy, big-eyed moment followed quickly by tedium. You might compare it to a George Bush press conference or any American presidential debate. Indeed, such choreographed non-events make up a fair portion of what Americans see on their evening news, a phenomenon we might call virtual or synthetic news.

I am reminded of a Bush summit with the oleaginous Tony Blair, both of them standing at parallel podiums, pontificating and smiling as though they regarded themselves as re-incarnations of Roosevelt and Churchill, which undoubtedly they do. When they finished saying nothing glibly (glibly, at least in Blair’s case) they turned towards each other and walked like two cuckoo-clock figures to meet and turn again, marching out in lock step along a red carpet, for all the world the just-crowned king and queen of the high-school prom leaving the dance floor. Or I recall Richard Nixon’s inspiration to have guards at the White House dressed in powder-blue uniforms complete with feathered marching-band hats and horns blaring “Hail to the Chief” each time the great man appeared. It was the court of Louis XIV as furnished by Wal-Mart.

It is actually hard to understand what precisely motivated the conference. It is clear that Condoleezza Rice, an utterly forgettable Secretary of State without an achievement worth citing, someone who likes to talk and hear herself talk, to shop for expensive shoes on Fifth Avenue, and to play the role of child prodigy up from America’s backwoods at White House soirees, hoped to do something substantial with this conference. It is a practice that’s called “leaving a legacy” by the American press. It’s a grand old tradition. All Presidents and Secretaries of State are supposed to leave some kind of legacy, just as the first female Secretary of State, Ms. Albright, left tens of thousands of children dead with sanctions on Iraq or Colin Powell left us with the lasting memory of lying through his teeth at the United Nations General Assembly in order to promote the invasion of Iraq.

It’s equally clear that something desperately needs to be done in the Middle East. It’s sinking into perpetual, bloody insanity. Israel’s near-paranoid ideas about its own security are sucking much of the planet’s resources into the political equivalent of a black hole from which nothing emerges. Israel never has enough security. Occupation, reprisals, and wars haven’t supplied enough. Arrest and torture haven’t supplied enough. Spies and assassinations haven’t supplied enough. Atomic weapons haven’t supplied enough. Walls do not supply enough.

The poor Palestinians pay a terrible price for crimes against the Jews with which they had absolutely nothing to do. The self-righteous United States is only too happy to see them paying it. After all, the greatest opportunity there was to avoid the Holocaust was for the United States to open its doors, which it adamantly refused to do for even a single boatload of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.

Well, where someone else is paying the freight, America loves assuming idealistic poses, making gestures and speeches about peace and rights and all good things human. Indeed, over decades of American posturing and blubbering, conditions in the occupied territories have become worse in many ways: more than a quarter million Israeli “settlers” now live on what can only be honestly described as stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, and a giant wall, far more massive and foreboding than the infamous wall that once separated East and West Berlin, sits on still more Palestinian land, separating families and destroying their commerce and livelihoods.

Almost certainly over time, Israel’s wall will generate a considerable dead zone even further into the West Bank, ready at some point in the future to be “re-claimed” by more settlers. It’s worth noting that the Palestinians today control just over twenty percent of Palestine, a territory that once was entirely theirs and that according to maps drawn in the international diplomacy that pre-dated modern Israel was to be divided equitably between Jews and Arabs.

Many Jews, perhaps most, subscribe to the notion that they have an ancient claim to Israel because of the Bible stories, an argument pretty much comparable to Greece making claims on the coast of Turkey because ancient Greece won the Trojan War as recorded in the Iliad and the Odyssey. This of course totally ignores history, and the many conquests of ancient Israel, a land Jews occupied only a small fraction of the time they did not over the last twenty-five hundred years or so. Moreover, if you take such an argument literally, then the land of Israel actually belongs to descendents of the ancient people, Canaanites and Philistines, of the Bible stories, whoever they may be. I suppose the Egyptians have a claim, too, since Egypt controlled some the area as part of its empire a very long time ago. Then, too, there’s the potential claim of the ancient Phoenicians whose alphabet we still use. Clearly, this kind of claim reduces to silly stuff, but it has emotional power for Jews and for Christians raised on Old Testament stories.

Well, every people is entitled to national myths, and the rest of us do not have to regard seriously the claim that George Washington never told a lie or that Rome was founded by babes raised by a she-wolf. The trouble with this particular Israeli myth is the dangerous modern extension to which it leads. Conservative Israelis and virtually every leader since the state’s foundation in fact believe they are entitled to what they regard as all of ancient Israel, something that includes the West Bank and Gaza and indeed the Southern part of modern Lebanon and a bit of Syria. Of course, there are no maps of ancient Israel on papyrus preserved in clay containers, only modern creations based either closely or loosely on Biblical scholarship, but in any event as dependable as all efforts based on scraps of ancient text which itself is full of myths and exaggerations.

I believe that dedication to the dream of ancient Israel, what is often called Greater Israel, has been the major barrier to peace since the modern founding. That is not a widely accepted proposition, but there are many reasons to regard it as a true one. Disinformation and black operations of many kinds have left the general public, at least in America, with the idea that Israel was content with its borders and that it was only the fury of “irrational” Arabs that preventing Israel’s living in peace. The truth is that virtually all Arab leaders accept the existence of Israel, have no intention of trying to destroy Israel, and, anyway, do not have the means for doing so. They would however like very much to see some justice, as would millions of others.

The example of the Six Day War is perhaps the most revealing of many instances of disinformation and black operations. We have the views of many astute contemporary observers four decades ago, including one of the world statesmen of the time, President de Gaulle of France, that Israel manipulated conditions for that war, using Arab anger over a long series of provocations to get the war it wanted, knowing well that it could win and that ultimately, in any event, its security was guaranteed by the United States. This operation was a complete success, leaving Israel with real estate it desired and leaving the world’s general public with the psychologically important (false) impression of little David standing up to the Philistines. Who doesn’t admire the gritty little guy standing up for his rights?

Forty years later, Israel still holds most of these conquests, treating the inhabitants shamefully, as badly as ever apartheid South Africa treated the people it did not want, and Israel continues to launch attacks or provocations over other areas of Greater Israel, southern Lebanon and Syria, while gradually bricking over the West Bank. It gave Egypt back the Sinai because world pressure was overwhelming after Sadat’s stunning act of statesmanship in coming to Israel. The pressure was reflected in sharing the Nobel Peace Prize earned by Sadat with an Israeli Prime Minister who was an unapologetic old terrorist associated with the Irgun (a group responsible for, among other terrors, the King David Hotel bombing, 1946, and the Deir Yassin massacre, 1948) and an ardent supporter of Greater Israel to his death, something he repeatedly reminded President Carter of at Camp David. The Sinai is not one of the world’s hottest pieces of real estate and in return for giving it up, Israel gained peace with the only Arab country capable of being a serious threat. Moreover, the United States opened its check book to cement the peace with economic assistance to Egypt now second only to the huge amount given to Israel, and Israel received several billion dollars to relocate defences in the Sinai. An equivalent set of conditions does not apply to any of the other occupied territories.

When Israel announces a “freeze” in West Bank settlements, as it routinely feels obliged to declare for a conference such as Annapolis, it does not mean a halt to road and other construction projects already underway in the last batch of property seized from others, and it does not even mean enforcement against liebensraum-crazed settlers who always charge out with their submachine guns to grab someone else’s olive grove and start some new informal settlements with beat-up trailers, flags, and razor wire.

It is ironic that the United States seems so little concerned about the settlers, matters around ownership and property in other lands always assuming overwhelming importance in American foreign policy. Wars have been fought over it. The long dirty terror war against Castro started over just such issues. The only explanation for the vast slaughter in Vietnam was that people’s choosing the wrong economic system, the leaders in America’s rump-state ally being dictators as surely as those in the North. This behavior by Israelis is as lawless as any fleecing of foreign investors in Moscow by the Russian mafia or the uncompensated nationalization of American corporate assets in what were once commonly called banana republics, this last being the cause of a whole series of secret, violent interventions by America.

The problems involved now with returning to the Green Line, as U.N. resolutions and the needs of genuine peace require, seem almost insurmountable. How do you move more than a quarter of a million people in any reasonable time? And if the people refuse to be moved, as is very much likely to be the case with many on the West Bank? The Israeli Army recently had a difficult time with a relatively small number of settlers who lived in a hopeless colony behind razor wire in Gaza. One can only imagine what a comparable change in the West Bank would involve.

I should observe here that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza is best understood as a tactic, the West Bank being a place of far greater immediate interest. Gaza has been called a giant open prison, and that description is not far from the truth. Its 139 square miles are jammed with about 1.4 million people, more than ten times the population density of Israel, and it enjoys no access by land, sea, or air without Israeli permission. No one can regard it as having any potential as an independent, viable state. The ultimate fate of Gaza in Israeli government thinking may be either to remain as an isolated, undefined entity, providing a pool of cheap labor as required, or a place to be made so uncomfortable over time that most of its people flee.

The idea of causing people to flee from a hopeless situation is an old one in Israel. We have statements going back to the late Moshe Dayan in his prime to that effect concerning the territories. As to cheap labor, the simple demographic fact is that Palestinians have birth rates comparable to certain other poor areas of the world such as West Africa. This maintains a young and growing population. Israel’s birth rates, except for the ultra-orthodox minority, compare to those in other advanced states whose populations have passed through demographic transition. No advanced Western society can replace its own population through natural increase, and that is why migration is beginning to be important in lands where once it played a small role. Gaza’s gates over the decades have been opened or closed many times to the many workers in Gaza employed in Israel according to changes in the political and security environment.

Many Israelis, not just settlers, do not want to return land recently taken from Palestinians. There is actually a wide spectrum of opinion in Israel on this matter, running from those who never want to give anything back to Arabs to those willing to return to the Green Line. Polls show this last group is not dominant and that most Israelis believe in holding onto at least some of the territories. A vision of some form of Greater Israel still holds sway over much of public opinion.

And the difficulties associated with a return to the Green Line are only heaped up with other insurmountable problems such as the right of return of Palestinian refugees early Israel terrorized into running away. United Nations’ principles supposedly assure the right of return of any people cast out in this fashion, but Israel is never going to agree with this principle because its democracy is based on an assured overwhelming Jewish majority in perpetuity.

During the same decades of adverse change in the Middle East, conditions also have changed within the United States. They have changed in several ways. First, America has become, unabashedly, an imperialist power. For many decades there was a kind of Jeffersonian fig leaf over the rise of America’s empire, which ironically began with Jefferson himself. It was always advertised as a bastion of liberty, a place of refuge, a society that embraced human rights – all arising from the revolt of a young, scrappy people against the world’s last great imperial power. But since World War II, and increasingly since the fall of the Soviet Union, Americans have started saying there’s nothing wrong with being an empire and using military muscle where they see fit. Some of the boldest words around this changing attitude, attempting to palatably market what was once considered unpalatable, come from the neo-cons who have enjoyed such great influence under the weak and ineffectual Bush. They call openly for America to assume the imperial purple of Rome on a planetary scale. You have the military power, America, use it. To hell with what the other ninety-five percent of humanity thinks or fears.

Central to the neo-con effort is a drive to make Israel what they consider more secure, the most noted neo-cons being rather intense defenders of Israel’s excesses. This security need, of course, was the major impetus behind the invasion of Iraq. It was also the impetus behind America’s support for Israel’s bloody attack on Lebanon. And it is the impetus behind all the noisy threats against Iran.

Israel is discussed by the neo-cons in terms of democracy and enlightenment in the Middle East, ignoring the fact that Israel limits its population by religious identity, which really is not quite what most of us mean by democracy. And with regard to human rights and enlightenment, holding millions in seemingly perpetual bondage is a very odd interpretation. Few Americans know that there is no such thing as a Bill or Charter of Rights in Israel. Such a document would require a great feat of imagination when your population is defined by religious identity and you hold others in bondage. While about 19% of Israel’s population is Arab, that fact alone is a source of constant unease in Israel. These people are descendents of those who refused to flee under the violence of Israel’s creation, and today in many respects they are not treated as equal citizens.

Israel has become an important component in what neo-cons see as the American Empire. It sometimes serves as a proxy actor for American interests in the region, an imperial pied-à-terre, it has been armed and equipped to resemble a miniature geo-political replica of the United States, and, perhaps most importantly, Israel has a set of ruthless policies the neo-cons would very much like the United States to adopt almost in their entirety. Under Bush, this last has come near to becoming reality.

No national American politician today speaks in anything but exquisite political correctness about the Middle East – unless he or she is talking about Iraq or Iran or Syria, in which case threats of bombs and hellfire are always deemed appropriate – never forgetting to lavishly praise Israel for its long search for peace, even when the search involves mass slaughter in Lebanon with cluster bombs or the cold-blooded murder of UN observers. Indeed, politicians of either political party today literally run a gauntlet of American Jewish organizations, attending rubber-chicken dinners wearing de rigueur yarmulkes, making pledges for Israel more solemn-sounding than anything they make about any other part of the planet.

You’d think it was a service club environment during the Cold War, and the pledges concerned the unspeakable horrors of communism, but it’s not the Cold War, and the Palestinians are not enemies, just victims fighting back with largely ineffectual means. What’s more, Israel – as it has proved so many times with its extensive and damaging spying, dirty tricks and black operations, secret projects such as those for developing nuclear weapons or assisting South Africa to do so, high-handed turns in policy, and misuse of American-supplied armaments in violation of signed agreements – is often not even a particularly good friend to the United States.

Now, American politicians do not make pledges of undying devotion out of sheer emotionalism. Emotions for American politicians generally are things only to be manipulated for effect. So why the pledges? The most important reason concerns the structure of American national politics. Lobbying is a central part of how Americans are governed, almost resembling a fourth branch of government. In addition, American politics are totally driven by money, much the way national consumer products are pushed into existence by expensive marketing and advertising campaigns. Effective advertising has been proved a profitable technique in selling products and in selling politicians. Money is literally the oxygen of American political life. Special interests supply most of this political oxygen. The better lobbyists have learned how to market their support and to lever their resources for the greatest possible effect. They use their resources to help their supporters and to hurt those who oppose them.

Every thinking American knows Israel’s lobby is today a very powerful force in American politics, no matter the endless name-calling against such a non-inflammatory and thoughtful book as Mearsheimer and Walt which only documents what people already know anecdotally. Indeed, the very size and noise of the opposition raised against that calm, scholarly, rather dull book are measures of its accuracy.

The Israeli lobby has a conventional formal face in AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), but it consists of much more than just that organization which follows along the similar lines and is subject to the same rules as hundreds of lobbies in Washington. The whole Israeli lobby involves many organizations working towards the same general goals and includes a large number of columnists and broadcasters who periodically focus on certain issues almost resembling a flock of birds landing on the same roof.

The cooperation between these group and individuals is largely informal, greatly resembling the loose structure that exists between the White House and the mainline media in the United States around foreign policy. Yes, America has freedom of the press, but that does not mean that those who actually own a press will pursue the broader public interest. It is demonstrable that they often do not. The New York Times or ABC do not call to ask the White House what they should or should not print or broadcast about Iraq or many other matters: they generally know from long association and common interests. These business organizations – and that is just what newspapers and broadcasters are, business organizations, not idealistic organizations dedicated to truth – want to keep their government sources, and they want to keep their advertisers, and they want generally to keep their credibility with establishment interests.

Israel’s total aggregate lobby has a shared informal understanding of, and intense emotional involvement with, the “King’s great matter” as Cardinal Wolsey described Henry VIII’s need for a divorce. The great matter in this case is a shared perception of Israel’s constant need for winning and appearing positive in all things from public relations to war.

One of Israel’s great supporters today in America is the Religious Right, people who are the very ones you might reasonably suspect of anti-Semitism – the authentic, virulent stuff, not the stuff of phoney accusations now routinely hurled at any critic of Israel. After all, haters are haters, and these people have leaders who rant and scream in public against anything or anyone a little different than themselves. They have a long record of being on the wrong side of nearly every important movement from civil rights to women’s rights. An earlier generation of them was among the extremely vocal against accepting Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and they were among those who flirted with Hitler and Nazism in now near-forgotten movements like the American Bund.

Perhaps nothing better represents some of the bizarre confusion associated with American policy towards Israel than the support of these people. I think we all know they are not the kind of people who would welcome a large Jewish migration to the United States even today. Their support of Israel is part of a religious mysticism in thrall to lurid nightmares from The Book of Revelations concerning the Second Coming of Christ, Anti-Christ, the “mark of the beast,” and great wars and upheavals signifying the end of time. I suspect enjoyment of this violent stew has at least something to do in part with secret cravings of anti-Semitic appetites, hardly the kind of friends for which anyone could hope. Their approach today seems to be to expedite the coming of Armageddon.

We have a great and enduring irony in that only when America pushes does Israel respond. It is an irony because the difficulty of pushing increases with the influence of the Israeli lobby, which today is almost certainly larger and better established than ever. Judging by the last half century of history, one has to say that Israel on its own has never shown much statesmanship or generosity towards its neighbors in the Middle East. Visions of Greater Israel are a large part of the explanation. The great gestures have come from others. Israel’s policy from the beginning has been best characterized by the phrase “the iron wall,” an expression coined by an early Zionist to prescribe Israel’s appropriate future posture towards Arabs.

Reports told us weeks before Annapolis that Bush had been told – by, among others, Senator Lieberman, someone who talks about Israel as though he were speaking of a neighbourhood in his Senate district – that Olmert must not be pushed at this time. His political situation is too precarious. That alone doomed any hope of genuine progress. As it proved, the conference was nothing more than a kick-off ceremony for talks that are supposed to take place over the next year between Olmert and Abbas. One hesitates to point out that were there any genuine interest in such talks, they could have occurred, without Condoleezza and without Annapolis, at any time since Arafat’s death in 2004, but Abbas has been pretty consistently ignored over that time by Israel, treated as a doorman or janitor. He has received some token gestures – a limited amount of the Palestinians own funds released and a few hundred prisoners here and there out of the nine thousand Israel illegally held – only after his convulsions with Hamas in Gaza.

Speaking of Hamas, the absence of one of the major parties to the conflict absolutely dooms the prospects of talks. Israel justifies this by saying it won’t treat with terrorists, but this is ridiculous considering the role terror played in Israel’s own founding. Judging by the number of innocent civilians killed just in recent years, I think it fair to say that the IDF qualifies as at least as great a terrorist organization as any Palestinian group or party. Something like 1,500 civilians killed with little excuse in southern Lebanon? Buildings full of civilians in Gaza blown up in efforts to assassinate one man? Punishment-slaughter expeditions like Jenin or Rafah?

Regardless, to make peace you do not have to like your neighbor. Hamas has made it clear it was ready to reach an understanding with Israel, but all such suggestions are arrogantly ignored. Such an understanding over time would have allowed Israeli and Palestinian officials to work together to solve problems. A great irony here is that Israeli secret services once subsidized Hamas to create competition for Fatah, and that is exactly what has happened now, a wasteful civil conflict has been generated between Hamas and Fatah. One feels sure Israeli leaders are more than a little amused in private at a situation they always regard with stern faces in public. Hamas is not and has never been a genuine threat to Israel’s security. The truth is that Hamas might have made a better partner in peace arrangements than Fatah with its long history of internal corruption. Of course, too, Hamas was elected in an election cleaner than that which put George Bush into office.

But you have to start by actually wanting peace. Peace is not having a neighbor who follows your every wish and whim and fulfills exactly the conditions you lay down before even talking. That isn’t peace, that’s tyranny.

Peace, following long conflict, never comes without sacrifice, but many Israeli leaders and American apologists for Israel speak as though that were not the case here. The offer Ehud Barak made to Arafat at Camp David – the offer of a perpetual Bantustan with all kinds of segregationist rules about who could travel on what road – entailed little sacrifice for Israel, unless you want to call simply accepting the idea that any Palestinians should continue to live in the West Bank and Gaza a sacrifice. And perhaps that is not an exaggeration. New settlements have been created year after year since, Israel calling the settlements “facts on the ground,” a deliberately vague phrase that could mean anything from bargaining chips to the new permanent reality. To the outside observer, it is difficult to see this growth of settlements as anything but a slow-motion version of ethnic cleansing on the relatively small part of Palestine Israel does not now call its own.

From the distance of a satellite in orbit, the settlements’ growth must somewhat resemble cancer metastasizing into a body as new clumps of buildings appear and roads and barriers form like connective webs of tissue. It is a dismal reality, and it has nothing to do with peace.