Posted on 01/31/2012 by Juan Cole
Michael Klare writes at Tomdispatch.com
Why Closure of the Strait of Hormuz Could Ignite a War and a Global Depression
By Michael T. Klare
Ever since December 27th, war clouds have been gathering over the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow body of water connecting the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean and the seas beyond. On that day, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned that Tehran would block the strait and create havoc in international oil markets if the West placed new economic sanctions on his country.
“If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports,” Rahimi declared, “then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.” Claiming that such a move would constitute an assault on America’s vital interests, President Obama reportedly informed Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Washington would use force to keep the strait open. To back up their threats, both sides have been bolstering their forces in the area and each has conducted a series of provocative military exercises.
All of a sudden, the Strait of Hormuz has become the most combustible spot on the planet, the most likely place to witness a major conflict between well-armed adversaries. Why, of all locales, has it become so explosive?
Oil, of course, is a major part of the answer, but — and this may surprise you — only a part.
Petroleum remains the world’s most crucial source of energy, and about one-fifth of the planet’s oil supply travels by tanker through the strait. “Hormuz is the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of almost 17 million barrels in 2011,” the U.S. Department of Energy noted as last year ended. Because no other area is capable of replacing these 17 million barrels, any extended closure would produce a global shortage of oil, a price spike, and undoubtedly attendant economic panic and disorder.
No one knows just how high oil prices would go under such circumstances, but many energy analysts believe that the price of a barrel might immediately leap by $50 or more. “You would get an international reaction that would not only be high, but irrationally high,” says Lawrence J. Goldstein, a director of the Energy Policy Research Foundation. Even though military experts assume the U.S. will use its overwhelming might to clear the strait of Iranian mines and obstructions in a few days or weeks, the chaos to follow in the region might not end quickly, keeping oil prices elevated for a long time. Indeed, some analysts fear that oil prices, already hovering around $100 per barrel, would quickly double to more than $200, erasing any prospect of economic recovery in the United States and Western Europe, and possibly plunging the planet into a renewed Great Recession.
The Iranians are well aware of all this, and it is with such a nightmare scenario that they seek to deter Western leaders from further economic sanctions and other more covert acts when they threaten to close the strait. To calm such fears, U.S. officials have been equally adamant in stressing their determination to keep the strait open. In such circumstances of heightened tension, one misstep by either side might prove calamitous and turn mutual rhetorical belligerence into actual conflict.
Keep reading Tomgram: Michael Klare, No Exit in the Persian Gulf?
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Posted on 01/31/2012 by Juan Cole
The events of the past five days in Syria may be a game changer, both domestically and internationally. Last Thursday, opposition forces said, 100 people were killed. Massacres were alleged in two towns. The daily death toll has been rising. On yesterday, Monday, AFP reported another 29 persons killed, including 23 civilians and 6 members of the security forces. Troops moved into the rebel-held town of Rankus north of Damascus, after besieging and shelling it for days. Rebels blew up a gas pipeline. Rebel troops, made up of deserters, ambushed a minivan carry 6 regime military personnel on their way to quell the rebellion.
On Sunday, the al-Hayat writing in Arabic had reported that 66 persons had been killed in violence. Some 22 of the dead were regime troops. That half the dead were combatants suggests a further militarization of the conflict.
Opposition spokesmen said that on Sunday troops killed at least 5 persons inside Damascus in neighborhoods taken over by the opposition. The army then went on to rebel-held Ghuta just east of the city, where at least 26 were dead in clashes after the regime sent in 2000 troops backed by 50 tanks. The fighting neared the capital itself. They described the battles as the fiercest of the whole uprising. “It was urban warfare,” once said. “There were corpses in the streets.”
Units of the armored division were sent to some six cities over the weekend, with the army shelling places such as Homs, Hama, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib. Regime use of tanks and artillery against its own population had provoked international intervention in Libya.
On Saturday, about 50 Syrian troops in the province of Homs had defected.
The contest between the Baath Party in Syria and its opposition over the past year has been surprising in its perseverence and longevity despite a stand-off that has given neither side any real reason for optimism. Usually when a popular movement has no real successes for months on end, it gradually peters out, as happened in Iran in 2009-2010. In contrast to Tunisia and Egypt, the movement had had little success in the capital or the second largest city, Aleppo. Massive crowds in the capital are important because they can be so large that security forces can no longer control them, and they can suddenly move on the party headquarters, the Ministry of the Interior, or the presidential palace. Their lack in Damascus has allowed the regime to survive. Opposition figures argue that the security forces are simply too strong in the capital, and that if there were less repression, the crowds would be out in large numbers. This argument is not entirely convincing. Egypt’s Amn al-Dawlah or state security police were no slouches either, after all.
But the extremeness of the violence in at least part of the capital this weekend marks a new level of challenge to the regime, and the very perseverence of the uprising all these long months, with the violence now spreading to the capital, bodes ill for the survival of President Bashar al-Assad. The high officer corps is loyal to the regime, being either relatives of the president or drawn from the same Allawi, Shiite sect as he. But the more brutal his army’s tactics, the less legitimacy he retains, and the brutality necessary to repress keeps being ratcheted up.
The intensification of the violence comes, as Ian Black at The Guardian notes, as the regional and international politics of the Syrian crisis is coming to a new boil. The Arab League’s observer mission, manipulated by the regime and proven useless, has been withdrawn. Two high Arab League officials are briefing the United Nations’ Ban-ki Moon and the League may go to the UN Security Council for an intervention, as it did with Libya. Russia expressed dismay at the Arab League decision. Russia has a naval base in Syria on the Mediterranean, and has long viewed Damascus as a client, going back to Soviet times, and wants to forestall UN intervention there.
The UNSC is expected to take up the Syria issue again on Tuesday. That the Security Council may become more aggressive in seeking an international resolution of the crisis frightens Bashar al-Assad, since most likely the international community would pressure him to step down and start a transition to a new order in Syria.
So far, Russia and China have run interference for Damascus at the UN. Russia may be especially reluctant to back down on Syria given the upcoming presidential election, in Which Vladimir Putin will want to look strong against the West. The Libya intervention was extremely unpopular in Russia, where it was seen as neo-imperialism, and forestalling American and European meddling in Syria might make Putin look strong at home.
On the other hand, the more brutal the regime becomes, and the more unpopular, the more Russia risks taking a big fall in the whole Arab world if the Baath collapses. Sami Moubayed argues that Russia is now backing an Arab League/ Saudi plan calling for Bashar al-Assad to delegate most of his power to his second in command, Farouk al-Sharaa, who should form a national unity cabinet with members of the opposition Syrian National Council in preparation for moving to new elections. (This plan resembles the Gulf Cooperation Council plan for Yemen, which, while so far implemented, has not worked very well). But that Russia is planning to meet Syrian oppositionists and seems to be content with al-Assad being pushed at least somewhat aside indicates that the president’s days may be numbered.
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Posted on 01/30/2012 by Tom Engelhardt
Tomgram: Engelhardt, Iran Through the Looking Glass
Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 5:57pm, January 29, 2012.
Tom Englehardt writes at The Nation Institute‘s Tomdispatch.com:
“Iranian Aircraft Carriers in the Gulf of Mexico
It Can’t Happen Here
By Tom Engelhardt
Exclusive: New Iranian Commando Team Operating Near U.S.
(Tehran, FNA) The Fars News Agency has confirmed with the Republican Guard’s North American Operations Command that a new elite Iranian commando team is operating in the U.S.-Mexican border region. The primary day-to-day mission of the team, known as the Joint Special Operations Gulf of Mexico Task Force, or JSOG-MTF, is to mentor Mexican military units in the border areas in their war with the deadly drug cartels. The task force provides “highly trained personnel that excel in uncertain environments,” Maj. Amir Arastoo, a spokesman for Republican Guard special operations forces in North America, tells Fars, and “seeks to confront irregular threats…”
The unit began its existence in mid-2009 — around the time that Washington rejected the Iranian leadership’s wish for a new diplomatic dialogue. But whatever the task force does about the United States — or might do in the future — is a sensitive subject with the Republican Guard. “It would be inappropriate to discuss operational plans regarding any particular nation,” Arastoo says about the U.S.
Okay, so I made that up. Sue me. But first admit that, a line or two in, you knew it was fiction. After all, despite the talk about American decline, we are still on a one-way imperial planet. Yes, there is a new U.S. special operations team known as Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council, or JSOTF-GCC, at work near Iran and, according to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, we really don’t quite know what it’s tasked with doing (other than helping train the forces of such allies as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia).
And yes, the quotes are perfectly real, just out of the mouth of a U.S. “spokesman for special-operations forces in the Mideast,” not a representative of Iran’s Republican Guard. And yes, most Americans, if they were to read about the existence of the new special ops team, wouldn’t think it strange that U.S. forces were edging up to (if not across) the Iranian border, not when our “safety” was at stake.
Keep reading Tomgram: Engelhardt, Iran Through the Looking Glass
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Posted on 01/30/2012 by Juan Cole
John Robertson writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
CAN OBAMA PREVAIL AGAINST A ROMNEY-NETANYAHU TICKET?
Paul Pillar and Leslie Gelb – both of them well-respected and largely mainstream commentators on US foreign policy – have recently published essays cautioning us all – and Mr. Obama especially – to step back, breathe deeply, ask tough questions, and get sound answers before launching a military strike against Iran. And as Gelb’s piece (excerpted below) cogently notes, the silly season of presidential campaigning is going to elicit (indeed, already has elicited) a lot of tough-guy, red-blooded American bellicosity from GOP candidates eager to bash Obama and score nationally televised debate points in mega-auditoriums crammed full of lustily cheering Republican worthies:
It doesn’t take a genius to see what lies ahead in our nation’s election year. Most Republican presidential candidates are saying that Iran will never get close to nukes if they’re in the White House. The candidates are outdoing one another in outrageous commitments to sound tough. Recently, Mitt Romney put it like this: “If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon … If you’d like me as the next president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” And though we all know how careful Obama is, the dynamics of campaigns are bound to push him toward incaution to fend off charges of “weakness.” This is what happens to presidents in most elections.
One might be a bit reassured in all of this by the recent claims by Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak that Israel at this point has no intention of attacking Iran, and by recent indications that Obama’s people (including Sec of Defense Leon Panetta as well as the US intelligence establishment) have been pushing back (especially against Israel), hard, against the push to attack Iran.
But let’s also not forget that Mr. Netanyahu would like nothing better than to see Obama evicted – as ingloriously as possible – from the White House, and knows that when it comes to Israel’s interests, Congress has his back. It also stands to reason that, assuming that he becomes the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney – as Leslie Gelb notes – will continue to paint Obama as a temporizing coward unwilling to take on the Iranian leadership. (He will, of course, label the ever more stringent US-inspired sanctions against Iran as too weak a response.)
Moreover, Romney, whose social-conservative bona fides have been hammered by his GOP opponents, will be desperate to find an issue that will energize social and religious conservatives to line up behind him and flock to the polls come November. The obvious issue? Iran, and the “existential threat”/”second Holocaust” its nuclear program poses for Israel. Hyping that issue would rally to the side of this Mormon former governor of a northern liberal state (where he was also the architect of a predecessor of the reviled and despised “Obama-care”) millions of Israel-firsters - and especially, millions of white Christian-evangelical, largely southern conservatives who love Israel, have little faith in Barack Hussein Obama’s love for Israel (and, to a significant degree, cannot get their heads around the fact that a black First Family is occupying the White House).
And the “existential threat” issue is, of course, a dirge that Netanyahu has been wailing on the international stage for years, and that, Bibi knows, is a card that he – as well as AIPAC and other denizens of the Israel lobby – can play very effectively if he wants to influence the American electorate. . . . which he surely would love to do in 2012. Bibi wants Barack out of the Oval Office. Watch for him to reach out to Mitt, with both arms.
At that point, Obama may be hard pressed to resist the political expediency of a response that will entail ramping up the US military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the implied, but increasingly overt, threat to Iran.
At which point, Leslie Gelb, Paul Pillar, and millions of the rest of us will have to hope and pray that the Iranian leadership will step back, breathe deeply, ask tough questions, and get sound answers before lashing out with military action against the US, or Israel.
John Robertson is professor of ancient Near East and Modern Middle East at Central Michigan University and maintains the Chippshots blog
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Posted on 01/29/2012 by Juan Cole
Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled write in a guest column for Informed Comment
The Way Forward in the Middle East
Reversing a bi-partisan US policy in effect for the last two decades, the Republican National Committee recently endorsed the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resolving that “peace can be afforded the [Middle east] region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.” In all likelihood, this was an unintended consequence of the Republican party’s election-year pro-Israel frenzy. But, intentional or not, the RNC statement is correct. The Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” that aims at the establishment of two independent states, Israel and Palestine, bounded, more or less, by the 1967 borders, is totally bankrupt. If any evidence is needed, just look at the seventeen futile initiatives meant to revive Oslo process since its demise in 2000.
What makes the two-state solution unachievable is the fact that since 1967 Israel has settled close to three quarters of a million Jews in the territories it captured from Jordan in 1967. About one-third of those are in the area Israel defined as Jerusalem and annexed in 1967, declaring it to be non-negotiable. Of the remaining five hundred thousand, the lowest estimate of the number that would have to be removed in order for a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state to be set up in the West Bank is one hundred thousand. This is a task that no Israeli government, committed as it may be to the two-state solution, would be able to carry out, politically. To this day no Israeli government has removed even one of the West Bank “outposts” that are illegal by Israeli law (all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are illegal by international law), despite promises to the US and several decisions by Israel’s own High Court of Justice.
The declared purpose of the settlement drive in the West Bank (as in the other occupied territories) was to change demographic realities in order to make Israel’s withdrawal from those territories impossible. This purpose has been achieved. Not only are the settlers, their family members and their supporters an electoral power block that cannot be ignored, settlers and their supporters now make up a significant proportion of the command structure of Israel’s security forces, the same forces that would have to carry out a decision to remove the settlers.
To counter this argument, critics may point to the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005. That example, however, actually supports our argument. In order to remove 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza, an easily isolated region of no religious significance to Jews, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a military hero idolized by both the settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had to deploy the entire man and woman power of all of Israel’s security forces. Moreover, the Gaza withdrawal was not done in agreement with the Palestinians, or in order to facilitate peace with them. It was done unilaterally, in order to make Israel’s control of Gaza more efficient. Judging by this example, removing 100,000 settlers from the West Bank, in order to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state, would be an impossible task.
Instead of pursuing the mirage of a two-state solution, would-be peace makers should recognize the fact that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in fact constitute one state that has been in existence for nearly forty-five years, the longest lasting political formation in these territories since the Ottoman Empire. (The British Mandate for Palestine lasted thirty years; Israel in its pre-1967 borders lasted only nineteen years). The problem with that state, from a democratic, humanistic perspective, is that forty percent of its residents, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, are non-citizens deprived of all civil and political rights. The solution to this problem is simple, although deeply controversial: establishing one secular, non-ethnic, democratic state with equal citizenship rights to all in the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
Supporters of the two-state solution have always used the prospect of one state as a threat, and still do. If a two-state solution is not implemented, world leaders from President Obama on down have warned, Israel will have to face the reality of being a state that could be either Jewish or democratic, but not both. But instead of a threat this could be seen as an opportunity. The Arab Spring has, for the first time, opened up the possibility of true democratization in several Middle Eastern and North African countries. Instead of viewing this development with alarm, as it has been doing, Israel could join this process and democratize the entire territory under its effective control.
The stability of the future secular, democratic Israeli-Palestinian state would depend not only on it being truly democratic, but also on the strictest constitutional separation between state and religion. This should not mean forced secularization or placing restrictions on the free exercise of religion, but it does mean that the state will neither sanction nor subsidize religious activities and institutions, nor will it tolerate religious practices that are discriminatory towards women. In the present state of affairs this idea sounds utterly utopian, because both Israeli and Palestinian societies are becoming more and more religious and suspicious of each other. But as the young activists of Tahrir Square and elsewhere have shown, powerful liberal, democratic, emancipatory undercurrents exist underneath the placid façade of many Middle Eastern societies. These forces, we are convinced, exist in Israel and Palestine too and, given the opportunity, could transform the political reality and bring an end to the hundred-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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Yoav Peled (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches political science at Tel Aviv University.
Horit Herman Peled (email@example.com) teaches art at Oranim College.
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Posted on 01/28/2012 by Juan Cole
Hélé Béji, a prominent woman writer from an old notable family in Tunis, was outraged by an incident in early January when a small crowd of religious extremists at the airport in Tunis to greet a visiting Hamas leader chanted “Death to the Jews.” She published this cry of the heart in Le Monde on January 19, and kindly consented for it to be translated and appear at Informed Comment in English.
Tunisians do not betray the ideals of your revolution!
by Hélé Béji, writer.
Tunisians, you rose up against tyranny and injustice with true hearts: you were righteousness. You have illumined the world of the flame of your dignity: you were humanity. You made your streets ring with cries of generosity: you were fraternity. You have rekindled the sense of valor of the next generation: you were goodness itself. You have won the esteem of all by your panache: you were pride. You smiled with your million different faces: you were tolerance.
But recently at Tunisia’s Carthage International Airport, you were not fair, or fraternal, or worthy, not great, neither good nor human. By pounding your raised fists and shouting “Death to Jews!”—or worse, “Killing the Jews is a duty”– you offered the spectacle of a crazed phalanx that plunges us into stupor and affliction. Not only have you failed in your endeavor, but you have insulted the Palestinian cause, in deploying slogans as mordant as those used by their enemies. You have betrayed the message of your faith.
What? Within the space of a few months? Your peaceful nature turned fanatic? Within a few months you have changed your character? In the world of feelings, it is only a few seconds. Within seconds, the infectious bite of human wickedness turned you toward low fellowship of racist impulses. Suddenly, your friendly faces took on a gloomy mien. Your bright eyes were draped in black. You are few in number?
A tiny minority, they tell me? Maybe, but I do not want to know, I do not care. You have made possible the unbearable, by voicing the very idea of the mass murder of the Jews of Tunis. This is enough to degrade us all. You have begun to distil a dark poison in the credulous soul of a good-natured and kind people.
I do not recognize you, Tunisians, I do not recognize you. You have frozen in my veins that admiration to which you had given birth, you have spoiled the taste in my mouth of our land of birth, you have rendered me indifferent to its light, you have ruined the image of your heroism, you smothered the music of our nation that had played in my heart. Are you the same, Tunisians? Are you the ones who shouted in chorus: “Muslims, Jews, Christians, we are all Tunisians”?
Between this and that other, joyous crowd, what resemblance? Who are you, lovers of humanity or fundamentalists? Which of these portraits is most accurate? Which one will win? You made the first romantic revolution of the twenty-first century, with the inimitable skill of thwarting violence by playful and tolerant means, you are not Tunisians for nothing. And now you’re trying to glorify violence by obscure undertakings, with the torment of which you have already well acquainted.
You have caused a regime to fall, guided by an inspiration higher than ethnicity, identity, religion, or tribe. You placed yourselves above chauvinism and prejudice. Your liberty was delivered from narrow identity. Or rather, that was your identity, getting rid of the last vestiges of decolonization. You did not make your revolution against Western culture, against imperialism, against Zionism, against the infidels, against the Jews. No. You revolted against yourselves.
And now what are you doing? Behind the wall of fear that you broke, you erect ferocious sentinels, who chant odious slogans. Have you entered into a reign of dignity, only to make it so undignified? Have you embraced equality, only to better snuff it out? Have you ascended to freedom only to track it down now with a pack? Despotism, formerly concentrated in one person, has now left the head of the body politic to course through all the nerves of that body, giving it frightful shocks. The damage was limited today, but it ramifies through the branches of our being, it is the responsibility of all.
One of two things. Either: you bestow on your minorities rights just as sacred as your own, and you forbid yourselves to inflict on them the sort of exile you suffered. Then you would show that your dreams have not in vain raised the hopes of those who, throughout the world, recognized in you their conscience. Or: your reason is abandoned for the idolatry of racism, sexism and xenophobia, and you ruin your morality with infractions of a sort committed by the crudest members of society, in a primitive cacophony.
I know that victorious victims may one day go over to the executioners. This is the reproach you launch at the Israelis. But you, do not be blinded by the rage of historical revenge. Remain at the heights of the Enlightenment of your revolution. Does not endorse the guilty who are chasing innocents to degrade and persecute. Do not drive the revolution backwards, nor consign your minorities to hell. You who have known the secret police, do not be self-described agents of Heaven armed with the swords of inquisition and punishment to terrify your brothers. Journalists, academics, women, French speakers, the Jews … that’s a lot of people that you blame, denounce, assault, beat, molest. It is too much.
Remember that it only took one pariah, who was among the walking dead, for all Tunisians to be reborn. Now it only takes one Tunisian Jew to be insulted for us all to be insulted, without exception. The offense is collective, the answer is unanimous: “We are all Tunisian Jews.”
Hélé Béji is also the author of “We, the decolonized” (Arlea, 2008) and “Islamic Pride: behind the veil” (Gallimard, 2011)
Article published in the 1/19/12 edition of Le Monde.
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Posted on 01/27/2012 by Juan Cole
The Republican candidates for president once again tried to out-do the Likud Party in their devotion to the doctrine of the Iron Wall and their attempt to erase the Palestinian people from history and justify their being kept in a condition of statelessness and lack of citizenship in any state.
(The first thing the National Socialists in Germany did to the Jews was to strip them of citizenship, understanding that a stateless people is “flotsam” that no one wants and which lacks any legal standing).
Israel is in a race with time. The 11 million Palestinians are not going to go away, and those in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon have gained powerful new friends because of the Arab uprisings of 2011. Israel can only survive in some recognizable form if it achieves peace with the Palestinian people and with their supporters in the Muslim world, which means making arrangements for Palestinians to have citizenship in a state. Israel caught a break during its first 60 years because its Arab neighbors were largely peasant societies with low literacy, few modern organizational skills, and a significant technology gap.
That advantage is evaporating as Middle Easterners become more and more sophisticated. In the 2006 Lebanon War, Hizbullah and its backers (Iran and Syria) cracked Israeli communications encryption and so knew everything the Israeli army planned to do as soon as the orders were radioed. Hizbullah used micro-war techniques, including small rockets, the emplacements of which could not be easily found and destroyed, to force 1/4 of Israelis from their homes. Toward the end of the war Hizbullah was threatening to hit toxic gas storage areas in Haifa and it wasn’t clear that the Dimona nuclear facility was safe. Tiny Hizbullah, with only about 5,000 fighters, drawn from a religious group with only about 1.5 million members in Lebanon, is a harbinger of things to come. Arabs and Muslims are no longer push-overs, and will become less so over time.
It is unrealistic to think that little Israel, with about 7.5 million people (20% of them Palestinian-Israelis), can forever dominate militarily some 400 million Muslims in its neighborhood–Muslims who overwhelmingly side with the Palestinians.
The alternative is to make peace, and peace requires a settlement of the issue of Palestinian statelessness and a drawing of final boundaries in Israel’s land disputes with neighbors. (The firmest boundary is already that with Egypt, precisely because Egypt is the most militarily powerful of the neighbors).
Palestine was recognized as a Class A mandate after WW I by the League of Nations, and, like Syria and Iraq, was scheduled for statehood. League of Nations members France and Italy consistently pushed back against Lord Balfour’s attempts to interpret the Mandate as permitting the expropriation of the Palestinian majority. As late as the British White Paper of the late 1930s, the British envisaged a Palestinian state in ten years. Palestinian statehood was forestalled when the Jewish settlers (brought into Palestine by the British colonial authorities) engaged in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1947-1948 that left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians homeless and stateless.
As Hannah Arendt and SCOTUS chief Justice Earl Warren recognized, citizenship is the right to have rights. Without citizenship in a state, Palestinians never really own property or have any other civil or human rights, since if someone steals from them they have no state to back their claims. In almost all legal proceedings, they lack standing. Palestinians once given Jordanian citizenship have sometimes recently had it withdrawn. Palestinians in Lebanon cannot own property, vote, in most cases cannot get work permits or business licenses, and mostly are not permitted by other states to travel to them, since Palestinians don’t have a home country or proper passports and so are seen as an illegal immigration risk. Far from being “Arabs,” many Lebanese Christians reject that identity and they are not going to give citizenship to Sunni Arabs expelled from Mandate Palestine by the Israelis, since that would weaken the Christians’ own position in Lebanese politics. The Israeli supreme court even just declared that Palestinians married to Israeli citizens can never achieve Israeli citizenship. The stigma of being a stateless Palestinian can never be removed, and Palestinian families have no more right to stay together in Israel than the families of black slaves in the Old South (where Newt Gingrich still thinks he lives) had a right to stay together.
So here is what Romney said in the debate:
“(UNKNOWN): Abraham Hass[an] (ph) from Jacksonville, Florida.
How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian-American Republican, I’m here to tell you we do exist.
BLITZER: All right. Let’s ask Governor Romney, first of all.
What would you say to Abraham?
ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there’s not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is — in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it’s in school books that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it’s in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.
There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.
And I believe America must say — and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.
This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw –
ROMNEY: I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the ’67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend, Israel.
BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.
As Ron Kampea points out at a blog of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Obama has in fact complained about Gaza rockets hitting Israel.
And, Hamas is not the leader of the Palestinian people. The PLO has the presidency of the Palestine Authority, and it recognized Israel long ago in return for an agreement that the Israelis would stop stealing Palestinian land and allow Palestinians finally to have a state and escape the chattel-like estate of statelessness. The Israelis took the recognition but reneged on the other promises, which hasn’t encouraged other Palestinian parties to give away the bargaining chip of recognizing Israel before there are even serious negotiations.
At least, as Kampea points out, Romney got the nuance right when speaking of Obama’s statement that 1967 borders should be the basis for negotiations.
But the Republican Party now seems to have a Greater Israel position that would bestow all the West Bank on Israel, including East Jerusalem, but without saying what should be done with the millions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Alan Grayson once said that the Republican health care plan is, “Don’t get sick. If you get sick, die quickly.” The Republican plan for 11 million Palestinians is shorter. It is just, “Die quickly.”
Then Newt Gingrich weighed in (and I do mean weigh):
“BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, you got into a little hot water when you said the Palestinians were an invented people. GINGRICH: It was technically an invention of the late 1970s, and it was clearly so. Prior to that, they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese, or Egyptian, or Jordanian.
There are a couple of simple things here. There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war.
You have leadership unequivocally, and Governor Romney is exactly right, the leadership of Hamas says, not a single Jew will remain. We aren’t having a peace negotiation then. This is war by another form.
My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom. and they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we’re going to live side-by-side, now let’s work together to create mutual prosperity.
And you could in five years dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian. But the political leadership would never tolerate that. And that’s why we’re in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis.
On the first day that I’m president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we’re with Israel.
Gingrich implies that Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is responsible for the eleven rockets. Gaza is a mess, reduced by Israeli occupation to a 1.6-million person slum, where people are not even permitted by Tel Avivi to export 99% of what they make or produce, where unemployment is astronomical, and where 55% of the population is food insecure. It is a congeries of refugee camps where the families expelled by the Zionist forces in 1948 live in squalor and once-flourishing towns and villages now cut off from their markets by Israeli malevolence. Hamas doesn’t control Gaza, and radical groups, fostered by the concentration camp-like conditions of the Strip, are the ones who fire little home made rockets over the border sometimes. Since Israel has 200 nuclear warheads, you’d think it might survive somebody’s high school chemistry set and some taunts.
Gingrich asks what would happen if 11 rockets fell on Duvall County. But he doesn’t ask what would happen if Venezuelan troops pushed Floridians into Duvall County from a neighboring county, stripped them of US citizenship, then surrounded Duvall County and refused to let the people there export most of their products or import more than basic needs. What would the people of Duvall County do to those Venezuelan troops, do you think?
As for Palestinians being recently invented, Gingrich may want to consult the medieval Islamic coins inscribed with the word “Palestine,” referring to the place that the medieval Palestinians lived.
There are tens of thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and they are 35% of the Israeli-created district of Jerusalem, and the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be settled in final status negotiations. For Gingrich to forestall peace negotiations by unilaterally giving all of Jerusalem permanently to Israel would not lead to peace, but to further generations of conflict. Americans, who keep telling the Palestinians that unilateral actions at the UN cannot lead to peace, nevertheless favor Likud Party unilateral actions when it comes to Israel.
Everyone knows that Newt Gingrich is in the back pocket of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who worships Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party like a golden calf, and that Gingrich is playing for the vote of the Christian Zionists among southern evangelicals. He isn’t interested in peace or the welfare of Palestinians. Indeed, it seems unlikely he is interested in Israeli welfare, since the advice he gives Tel Aviv (yes) is likely to dig the state’s grave over the long term.
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