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Will the Afghan Surge Succeed?

By M. Shahid AlamDissident Voice

It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’

More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.

The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.

In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.

Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.

Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.

Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.

In 2001, the United States had captured Afghanistan with the loss of only twelve of its own troops. Last year it lost 316 soldiers, and the British lost another 108. The numbers speak for themselves.

The United States had occupied Afghanistan with 9000 troops. When Obama took office in January 2009, these numbers had climbed to 30,000. In October, US troop strength in Afghanistan had more than doubled. This does not include tens of thousands of foreign contractors and some 200,000 Afghan troops armed and trained by the Americans.

Yet, NATO could not deter the Taliban advance.

That is when President Obama ordered a troop surge. US troop strength will soon reach 100,000. At the same time, the United States is inviting Taliban fighters to defect in return for bribes. In tandem, President Karzai – for the umpteenth time – is offering amnesty to defecting Taliban fighters. So far, there have been no high-ranking defections.

Can the United States defeat these men – returned from the dead – it calls terrorists? It is a vital question. It should be, since the United States claims that if the Taliban come back, Afghanistan will again become a haven for Al-Qaida, their training ground and launching pad for future attacks against Western targets.

How did the Taliban stage this comeback?

Simply, the answer is: by finding strength in their handicaps. If you had compared the defeated Taliban in December 2001 to the Mujahidin in 1980, you would conclude that history had closed its books on them irrevocably.

The Mujahidin brought several advantages to their fight. All Afghan ethnicities opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They had financial, military and political support from all the Western powers. President Reagan honored them as freedom-fighters. They also had support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign fighters would join the Afghan Mujahidin.

In comparison, Taliban prospects looked quite dismal after their rout in November 2001. Nearly all the factors that favored the Mujahidin worked against the Taliban. Taliban support was confined mostly to one Afghan ethnicity, the Pashtoons. In the United States and its European allies, they faced a more formidable opponent than the Mujahidin did in the Soviet Union.

There was not a single Muslim country that could support the return of the Taliban: the US forbade it. Worst of all, the Pakistani military, partly for lucre and partly under US pressure, threw its forces against the Taliban. Under the circumstances, few Muslim fighters from outside Pakistan have joined the Taliban.

Their goose was cooked: or so it seemed.

Nevertheless, the Taliban defied these odds, and now, some eight years later, they have taken positions in nearly every Afghan province, with shadow governments in most of them. Is it possible to reverse the gains that Taliban have made in the face of nearly impossible odds?

What can the US do to weaken the Taliban? They have few vulnerabilities because the United States has been so effective in denying them any help from external sources. They have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away.

What then are some of these strengths? Unlike the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance against the United States is less fractious. The Taliban make up the bulk of the resistance. Other groups – led by Haqqani and Hekmatyaar – are much smaller. The Afghan resistance has a central leadership that the Mujahidin never had.

Unlike the Mujahidin, the Taliban do not have the technology to knock out the helicopters, drones or jets that attack them from the air. On the ground, however, they have technology the Mujahidin did not have. They have acquired suicide vests and, more importantly, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) developed by the resistance in Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban claim to have improved upon the IEDs they acquired from Iraq.

Notwithstanding their apparent lack of sophistication, the Taliban leadership have proved to be savvy in their use of videos, CDs, FM radio stations, and the internet to publicize their gains, build morale, and mobilize recruits.

Despite the satellites, drones, spies on the ground, and prize money for their capture, much of the Taliban leadership has evaded capture. In particular, Mulla Omar remains a ghost. He has not been seen or interviewed since 2001. Yet he remains in touch with his commanders through human couriers.

Afghanistan’s corrupt government is another Taliban asset. They have spawned a tiny class of Afghan nouveau riche battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism. President Karzai implicates the US occupation in the blatant corruption of his own government.

It appears that there is little that the United States can do to neutralize these elusive advantages. Instead, it tries to blame and shift the burden of the war on Pakistan. It continues to pressure and bribe Pakistan’s rulers to mount full-scale military operations against the Taliban support network in Pakistan.

More and more, Pakistan’s military leaders have been caving under these pressures, escalating their wars against their own population. This has provoked a backlash. A new faction of the Taliban has emerged to launch deadly attacks against military and civilian targets in Pakistan. These attacks are destabilizing Pakistan. In turn, the US uses these attacks to push Pakistani rulers into greater capitulation to its demands.

In addition, President Obama has dramatically escalated drone attacks against the Taliban support network in Pakistan. In tandem, Pakistan too has been launching more massive air and ground attacks against their hideouts. However, none of this has deterred the escalating Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces.

No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late eighteenth century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal, barring a few rarely mentioned exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the Mujahidin whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.

The West celebrated the Mujahidin’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the United States into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?

Once or twice, the United States has retreated from unwinnable wars and survived. It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’ Let’s hope that this stratagem works somehow, because the alternative is likely to be much worse for all parties involved in this unwinnable war.

The Navi and the Palestinians

By Bouthaina ShaabanCounterPunch

Through Avatar I lived the story of the Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese peoples and the wars waged against them

Despite the technological effects with which the director of Avatar crams his movie, the reason behind its popularity is not only these technological effects but the themes which touch every human conscience. This is in addition to the symbolism of the movie concerning the conflict between peoples and their invaders – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine. The source of all these conflicts is, as usual, the greed which is usually masked by other pretexts and justifications.

Through Avatar I lived the story of the Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese peoples and the wars waged against them; where the West treats these peoples as if they were the children of the “Navi” tribe with their blue clothes in their planet Pandora.

Settlers landed on planet Pandora driven by the greed for its wealth. Their calculations were focused on the material gains which they can only get through possessing the land and its natural resources. To be able to do that they had either to kill or expel the Navi who are tied to their land, nature, holy tree and their customs which show equal respect to human life and nature, in bleak contrast to the attitude of the invading settlers who mock sanctities and human respect for nature. They only see the things which give them large amounts of money.

This contrast between the values of two cultures is at the essence of the creation of Israel. For seventy years, it has killed the Palestinians on a daily basis, Judaized their holy places, settled their land, confiscated their water, uprooted their trees, mocked their beliefs, their commitment to their land and their way of life. Those who created this settlement armed it to the teeth with hatred, and provided it with weapons of mass destruction.

The movie needs only the Navi natives of planet Pandora to raise the Palestinian flag and the invaders to carry the Israeli flag to become a detailed reading of the Israeli settlement of Palestine with modern cinematic techniques, but also with symbolic nuance that illustrates the nature of this conflict.

I suggest that demonstrators against Israeli occupation wear the blue shirts of the Navi tribe in order to make it easier for westerners to understand their cause. Invaders always target the people’s beliefs and holy places; that is why Israel is committing another robbery by confiscating Islamic holy places in the Sanctuary of Abraham (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) in Hebron, Bilal Mosque, which like al-Aqsa Mosque, are branches of the holy tree for hundreds of millions of Muslims who defend them in as much as they defend their land.

The media machine divides people into two types: the first is definitely a native, strictly a Muslim Arab; and the second is the Israeli settler who cannot be touched by the charge of terrorism even if he committed the most heinous terrorist crime in full sight of the whole world. Otherwise, how can we explain that Muslims are accused of terrorism and assassinated on mere suspicion, while those who converged in Dubai from different capitals of the world, armed with cutting edge technology and equipped with European and Australian passports to carry out a terrorist operation are not accused of terrorism?

Avatar tells the story of the natives of planet Pandora and shows the injustice meted out by the greedy invaders against the Navi people. Who would dare produce a movie about Palestine which tells the story of Arabs’ struggle for justice and freedom on planet earth and for salvation from the oppression of Israeli settlers and their biblical pretexts.

Challenging History: Why the Oppressed Must Tell Their Own Story

By Ramzy BaroudPalestine Chronicle

History is also shaped by collective movements and popular struggles

When American historian Howard Zinn passed away recently, he left behind a legacy that redefined our relationship to history altogether.

Professor Zinn dared to challenge the way history was told and written. In fact he went as far as to defy the conventional construction of historical discourses through the pen of victor or of elites who earned the right of narration though their might, power and affluence.

This kind of history might be considered accurate insofar as it reflects a self-seeking and self-righteous interpretation of the world by a very small number of people. But it is also highly inaccurate when taking into account the vast majority of peoples everywhere.

The oppressor is the one who often articulates his relationship to the oppressed, the colonialist to the colonized, and the slave-master to the slave. The readings of such relationships are fairly predictable.

Even valiant histories that most of us embrace and welcome, such as those celebrating the legacy of human rights, equality and freedom left behind by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela still tend to be selective at times. Martin Luther King’s vision might have prevailed, but some tend to limit their admiration to his ‘I have a dream’ speech. The civil rights hero was an ardent anti-war champion as well, but that is often relegated as non-essential history. Malcolm X is often dismissed altogether, despite the fact that his self-assertive words have reached the hearts and minds of millions of black people throughout the United States, and many more millions around the world. His speech was in fact so radical that it could not be ‘sanitized’ or reinterpreted in any controllable way. Mandela, the freedom fighter, is celebrated with endless accolades by the very foes that branded him a terrorist. Of course, his insistence on his people’s rights to armed struggle is not to be discussed. It is too flammable a subject to even mention at a time when anyone who dares wield a gun against the self-designated champions of ‘democracy’ gets automatically classified a terrorist.

Therefore, Zinn’s peoples’ histories of the United States and of the world have represented a milestone in historical narration.

As a Palestinian writer who is fond with such luminaries, I too felt the need to provide an alternative reading of history, in this case, Palestinian history. I envisioned, with much hesitation, a book that serves as a people’s history of Palestine. I felt that I have earned the right to present such a possible version of history, being the son of Palestinian refugees, who lost everything and were exiled to live dismal lives in a Gaza refugee camp. I am the descendant of ‘peasants’ – Fellahin – whose odyssey of pain, struggle, but also heroic resistance is constantly misrepresented, distorted, and at times overlooked altogether.

It was the death of my father (while under siege in Gaza) that finally compelled me to translate my yearning into a book. My Father was a Freedom Fighter, Gaza’s Untold Story offered a version of Palestinian history was not told by an Israeli narrator – sympathetic or otherwise – and neither was it an elitist account, as often presented by Palestinian writers. The idea was to give a human face to all the statistics, maps and figures.

History cannot be classified by good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, moderates vs. extremists. No matter how wicked, bloody or despicable, history also tends to follow rational patterns, predictable courses. By understanding the rationale behind historical dialectics, one can achieve more than a simple understanding of what took place in the past; it also becomes possible to chart fairly reasonable understanding of what lies ahead.

Perhaps one of the worse aspects of today’s detached and alienating media is its production of history – and thus characterization of the present – as based on simple terminology. This gives the illusion of being informative, but actually manages to contribute very little to our understanding of the world at large.

Such oversimplifications are dangerous because they produce an erroneous understanding of the world, which in turn compels misguided actions.

For these reasons, it is incumbent upon us to try to discover alternative meanings and readings of history. To start, we could try offering historical perspectives which try to see the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed – the refugees, the fellahin who have been denied, amongst many rights, the right to tell their own story.

This view is not a sentimental one. Far from it. An elitist historical narrative is maybe the dominant one, but it is not always the elites who influence the course of history. History is also shaped by collective movements, actions and popular struggles. By denying this fact, one denies the ability of the collective to affect change. In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes, passive victims without a will of their own. This is of course a mistaken perception; the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel has lasted this long only because of their unwillingness to accept injustice, and their refusal to submit to oppression. Israel’s lethal weapons might have changed the landscape of Gaza and Palestine, but the will of Gazans and Palestinians are what have shaped the landscape of Palestine’s history.

Touring with My Father was a Freedom Fighter in South Africa, in a recent visit, was a most intense experience. It was in this country that freedom fighters once rose to fight oppression, challenging and eventually defeating Apartheid. My father, the refugee of Gaza has suddenly been accepted unconditionally by a people of a land thousands of miles away. The notion of ‘people’s history’ can be powerful because it extends beyond boundaries, and expands beyond ideologies and prejudices. In that narrative, Palestinians, South Africans, Native Americans and many others find themselves the sons and daughters of one collective history, one oppressive legacy, but also part of an active community of numerous freedom fighters, who dared to challenge and sometimes even change the face of history.

South Africa has; Palestine will.

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Bouthaina ShaabanDaily Star Lebanon

News of what is happening to Arabs and Muslims in terms of injustice, imprisonment, starvation and torture have been prevented from reaching international conscience

The report of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon caused a shock to all those concerned about justice and human rights. In his report to the UN General Assembly on February 5, 2010, on the Israeli war on Gaza, he says: “No determination can be made on the implementation of resolution 64/10 by the parties concerned,” pointing out that he has “called upon all of the parties to carry out credible domestic investigations into the conduct of the Gaza conflict.” Ban does not live on the moon, of course; and, unlike American officials, he visited Gaza and saw for himself the hundreds of homes and schools, some of which are UN schools, shelled by the missiles and phosphorus bombs fired by Israeli warplanes.

TV screens all over the world had shown the dead bodies of children, women and unarmed civilians killed by Israeli bombs. He saw for himself the smoke of white phosphorus in the sky over Gaza. In order to ascertain himself of the credibility of the Palestinian narrative, he only has to look at the disabled people who lost their limbs, eyes and members of their families. Putting the Israelis and the Palestinians in the same category implies a great deal of injustice; and ignoring the tragic conditions imposed on the Palestinians for 60 years as a result of occupation and blockade is an injustice and a shame that will haunt those who committed it and those who condone it.

Although human life is sacred and must not be subject to the litany of figures, it might be useful to remind Western politicians who ask idiotically “Why do they hate us?” that Gaza was destroyed a year ago, not by earthquake as in Haiti, but by a war launched by Israel that killed over 1,400 Palestinian civilians and wounded over 8,000 other civilians, most of them seriously. The war destroyed the infrastructure; agricultural land was flooded by sewage water; and Israel continues to use collective punishment and blockade on over 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza where over 300 civilians have died as a result of the blockade. Still, Western officials ignore this horrible tragedy. The same is done by the UN secretary general, who is supposed to represent international conscience. He equates Israeli generals with their unarmed civilian victims. He and Western officials ignore the testimony of Israeli soldiers who revealed that they were ordered not take any account of the life of Palestinian civilians. The Israeli organization “Breaking the Silence” has revealed new facts about Israeli practices in the West Bank and Gaza. So, why this cover up of the crimes of those generals and why equating criminals with their victims by politicians and journalists who repeat the question: “Why do they hate us?”

Ban’s report, which reveals the international community’s failure to condemn war criminals if they were not Muslim or African, came days after US President Barack Obama made the State of the Union address, in which he ignored the Middle East completely.

The fact is that hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world have for decades been watching the reactions of Western leaders toward tragedies caused by their policies, particularly their support for the Israeli occupation, settlements and blockade. They see that international institutions dominated by the West do not care about the killing and displacement of their brothers and sisters and the deprivation of their freedoms and human rights. If anyone makes a move to insure that justice takes its course, the American veto is there to thwart this effort. After all this, Western politicians still ask: “Why do they hate us?”

Even news of what is happening to Arabs and Muslims in terms of injustice, imprisonment, starvation and torture have been prevented from reaching international conscience. Here is the US, which boasts about the freedom of the press, banning satellite TV stations en masse if they try to uncover the depth of the human suffering of a people under occupation, while the occupiers enjoy unprecedented international immunity. They commit war crimes, and no one has the right to demand that they should be deterred and punished, as if the lives of Arabs and Muslims are not equal to the lives of other humans in Western standards.

Indifference to human suffering caused by occupation, injustice and oppression increases indignation against this gap between this painful reality and the double standards of the powers which control international media and politics.

The enquiry involving former British Premier Tony Blair shows the fragility of the logic which turns the lives of millions into a daily tragedy. But if Blair, like the prime minister who did not notice the racial segregation wall which is destroying the life of the Palestinians because he does not care about them, cannot see the millions of orphans, widows and handicapped produced by the war on Iraq, how is he supposed to regret supporting that disastrous war on the whole Iraqi people? Such trials have no significance and are no longer able to polish the image of Western democracy which has revealed its reality through its stances regarding the events in the Middle East.

Violence is the result of using unjust force instead of trying to achieve justice in Palestine. And whether Western politicians understand that or not, Palestine, the cradle of Jesus Christ, is the bleeding wound which will never be healed until the US, Europe and international bodies take a just position which restores to the Palestinians their freedom, rights and dignity. These countries and bodies, by funding and arming Israel, are responsible for depriving the Palestinians of their freedom and human rights; and when they grant immunity to its war criminals, they become accomplices in Israeli wars and blockades. When the American administration, and with it Europe and the highest international body, ignore atrocious documented war crimes committed by the occupation forces, only because the war criminals are Israeli, and turn a blind eye to the cruelest forms of suffering imposed on a whole people, only because they are Muslim, there will always be Jews, Christians and Muslims in America, Europe and even in Israel who will support the oppressed against their oppressors.

Israel faces Global Delegitimization Campaign

By Barak DavidHaaretz

Israel is not prepared at all to deal with the threat of delegitimization

Israel is facing a global campaign of delegitimization, according to a report by the Reut Institute, made available to the cabinet on Thursday. The Tel Aviv-based security and socioeconomic think tank called on ministers to treat the matter as a strategic threat.

The report cites anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, protests when Israeli athletes compete abroad, moves in Europe to boycott Israeli products, and threats of arrest warrants for Israeli leaders visiting London.

Reut says the campaign is the work of a worldwide network of private individuals and organizations. They have no hierarchy or overall commander, but work together based on a joint ideology – portraying Israel as a pariah state and denying its right to exist.

Reut lists the network’s major hubs – London, Brussels, Madrid, Toronto, San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley. The network’s activists – “delegitimizers” the report dubs them – are relatively marginal: young people, anarchists, migrants and radical political activists. Although they are not many, they raise their profile using public campaigns and media coverage, the report says.

The “delegitimizers” cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. They also promote pro-Palestinian activities in Europe as “trendy,” the report says.

The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists. The Western left has changed its approach to Israel and now sees it as an occupation state, the report says. To those left-wing groups, if in the 1960s Israel was seen as a model for an egalitarian, socialist society, today it epitomizes Western evil.

The delegitimization network sees the fight against the former regime in South Africa as a success model. It believes that like the apartheid regime, the Zionist-Israeli model can be toppled and a one-state model can be established.

The Reut team says the network’s groups share symbols and heroes such as the Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura, American peace activist Rachel Corrie and joint events like the Durban Conference.

Israel’s diplomats overseas, meanwhile, must counter the attempts to delegitimize the country. “The combination of a large Muslim community, a radical left, influential, English-language media and an international university center make London fertile ground for Israel’s delegitimization,” says Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador in London.

Prosor gives many interviews to the British media and lectures at university campuses throughout the country. Although he says he has encountered anti-Israel demonstrations on almost every campus, Prosor has told his people to increase their campus activity.

“What is now happening in London universities will happen, at most, in five years at all the large universities in the United States,” he says.

The Reut report says Israel is not prepared at all to deal with the threat of delegitimization. The cabinet has not defined the issue as a threat and sees the diplomatic arena as marginal compared to the military one.

“The Foreign Ministry is built for the challenges of the ’60s, not the 2000s,” the report says. “There are no budgets, not enough diplomats and no appropriate diplomatic doctrine.”

Reut recommends setting up a counter-network, in which Israel’s embassies in centers of delegitimization activity would serve as “front positions.”

The report says the intelligence service should monitor the organizations’ activities and study their methods. The cabinet should also confront groups trying to delegitimize Israel but embrace those engaged in legitimate criticism.

The report adds that Israel should not boycott these groups, as Israel’s embassy in Washington does with the left-wing lobby J Street. Boycotting critics merely pushes them toward joining the delegitimizers, Reut says.

The False Sacredness of the 1967 Border

By Hassan Abu NimahThe Electronic Intifada

The 1967 border means very little while Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territory

When the United States abandoned its demand that Israel freeze settlement construction as a prelude to restarting stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, the Obama administration urged both sides to move straight into discussions about a future Palestinian state “based on the 1967 borders.”

Setting the border first, it was hoped, would automatically “resolve” the issue of the settlements, and this is now the focus of the “indirect talks” that US envoy for the Middle East peace process George Mitchell is trying to broker.

Of course the settlements, built on occupied West Bank land in flagrant violation of international law, would not be removed. Rather, the border would simply be redrawn to annex the vast majority of settlers and their homes to Israel, and as if by magic, the whole issue of the settlements would disappear just like that. This charade would be covered up with a so-called “land swap” of which Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority often speak as a way to soften up the Palestinian public for a great surrender to Israeli diktat.

All this is based on the common, but false notion that the 4 June 1967 demarcation line separating Israel from the West Bank (then administered as part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), is the legitimate border of Israel and should therefore be the one along which the conflict is settled.

This assumption is wrong; the 1967 border has no legitimacy and should not be taken for granted.

UN General Assembly resolution 181 of 29 November 1947 called for the partition of Palestine into two entities: a state for the Jewish minority on 57 percent of the land, and a state for the overwhelming Arab majority on less than half the land. According to the 1947 partition, the population of the Jewish state would still have been 40 percent Arab. Jerusalem would have remained a separate international zone.

Rather than “resolve” the question of Palestine, partition made it worse: Palestinians rejected a partition they viewed as fundamentally unjust in principle and in practice, and the Zionist movement grudgingly accepted it but as a first step in an ongoing program of expansion and colonization.

Resolution 181, called for the two states to strictly guarantee equal rights for all their citizens, and to have a currency and customs union, joint railways and other aspects of shared sovereignty, and set out a specific mechanism for the states to come into being.

The resolution was never implemented, however. Immediately after it was passed, Zionist militias began their campaign to conquer territory beyond that which was allocated by the partition plan. Vastly outgunned Palestinian militias resisted as best as they could, until the belated intervention of Arab armies some six months after the war began. By that time it was too late — as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already been ethnically cleansed from their homes. Israel, contrary to myth, was not brought into being by the UN, but by war and conquest.

The 1949 Rhodes Armistice agreement, which ended the first ever Arab-Israeli war left Israel in control of 78 percent of historic Palestine and established a ceasefire with its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Until the second round — in June 1967 — Arabs had been calling for the abolition of the “illegal Zionist entity” planted by colonial powers like a dagger in the heart of the Arab nation. They also waitied for the United Nations to implement its many resolutions redressing the gross injustices inflicted hitherto. The UN never tried to enforce the law or to exert serious efforts to resolve the conflict, which kept escalating.

Israel’s June 1967 blitzkrieg surprise attack on Egypt, Syria and Jordan led to the devastating Arab defeat and to Israel tripling the area of the land it controlled. The parts of Palestine still controlled by Arabs — the West Bank including eastern Jerusalem and Gaza — as well as Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai fell into Israeli hands.

Defeated, demoralized and humiliated, the Arab states involved in the “setback”, as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser called it, accepted the painful compromise spelled out by Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967.

It ruled that the 4 June 1967 border would have to be the recognized border of Israel provided the latter evacuated the Arab lands it had occupied that year. In other words if the Arabs wanted to recover their lands lost in that war they had to end the “state of belligerency” with Israel — a small step short of recognition — and accept Israel’s actual existence within the pre-June 1967 borders. This eventually became the so-called “land for peace” formula.

Instead of withdrawing from land in exchange for recognition and peace, Israel proceeded to colonize all the newly occupied territories; it continues to do so 43 years later in the West Bank and Golan Heights. Meanwhile it has also become uncontested that Israel has a “right” to everything to the west of the 1967 border. The only question is how much more land will it get to keep to the east.

Astonishingly, Palestinian leaders, Arab states and the so-called international community have all submitted to the lopsided concept that Israel should have this right unconditionally without evacuating the illegally occupied Arab lands. The legitimacy of the 1967 border was tightly linked to Israeli withdrawal and should remain so.

An inherent contradiction in resolution 242 is that while it affirmed “the admissibility of the acquisition of the territory by war” it in fact legitimized Israel’s conquest of 1948, including the 21 percent of Palestine that was supposed to be part of the Arab state under the partition plan.

In other words, the UN granted Israel legitimate title to its previous conquests if it would give up its later conquests. This has set a disastrous precedent that aggression can lead to irreversible facts. Encouraged by this, Israel began its settlement project with the express intention of “creating facts” that would make withdrawal impossible and force international recognition of Israeli claims to the land.

It worked; in April 2004 the United States offered Israel a written guarantee that any peace agreement would have to recognize and accept the settlements as part of Israel. The rest of the “international community” as they always do, quietly followed the American line.

The Palestinian submission to the common demand that the large settlement blocs be annexed to Israel against a fictitious land swap is another vindication of the Israeli belief that facts created are facts accepted.

If and only if Israel adheres to all aspects of UN Security Council resolution 242 and others, could the 1967 line have any legitimacy. Until then, if Israel tells the Arabs that the West Bank settlements of Ariel and Maale Adumim are part of Israel, then the Arab position can be that Haifa, Jaffa and Acre are still part of Palestine. {RB note: We all know the Israelis will never agree to that but still even if they do it will never absolve their crimes or their theft of Palestine}

Israel: Military Investigations Fail Gaza War Victims

Human Rights Watch

"An independent investigation is crucial to understand why so many civilians died and to bring justice for the victims of unlawful attacks"

Israel has failed to demonstrate that it will conduct thorough and impartial investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations by its forces during last year’s Gaza conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. An independent investigation is needed if perpetrators of abuse, including senior military and political officials who set policies that violated the laws of war, are to be held accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

On February 4, 2010, Human Rights Watch met with military lawyers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to discuss the investigations. While the military is conducting ongoing investigations, officials did not provide information showing that these will be thorough and impartial or that they will address the broader policy and command decisions that led to unlawful civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch said.

“Israel claims it is conducting credible and impartial investigations, but it has so far failed to make that case,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “An independent investigation is crucial to understand why so many civilians died and to bring justice for the victims of unlawful attacks.”

In one case, a military investigation apparently missed an important piece of evidence: remains of an aerial bomb found in the al-Badr flour mill outside Jabalya. Israel denied targeting the mill from the air, as alleged by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. However, video footage obtained by Human Rights Watch and released today shows the apparent remains of an Israeli MK-82 500-pound aerial bomb in the damaged mill, and UN de-miners say they defused the bomb.

More than 750 Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed during the conflict, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. The UN has said that nearly 3,500 homes and 280 factories were completely destroyed.

Human Rights Watch documented 53 civilian deaths in 19 incidents in which Israeli forces appeared to have violated the laws of war. Six of these incidents involved the unlawful use of white phosphorus munitions; six were attacks by drone-launched missiles that killed civilians; and seven involved soldiers shooting civilians who were in groups holding white flags.

To date, Israeli military courts have convicted only one soldier of wartime abuse during the Gaza conflict, for theft of a credit card.

The Israeli military lawyers said the military was investigating all cases reported by Human Rights Watch. Seven of the cases are criminal investigations into the alleged shooting of civilians waving white flags, they said. The military had originally dismissed Human Rights Watch’s report on these cases as based on “unreliable witness reports.”

The Israeli military has thus far examined specific incidents but not broader policies that may have caused civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.

An independent investigation should examine the pre-operation decisions that led to civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said. These include the decision to target Hamas’s political infrastructure; the use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in populated areas; attacks on Gaza police; and the apparently permissive rules of engagement for drone operators and ground forces.

“The Israeli investigations so far have looked mostly at soldiers who disobeyed orders or the rules of engagement, but failed to ask the crucial question about whether those orders and rules of engagement themselves violated the laws of war,” Stork said. “For those decisions and policies, senior military and political decision-makers should be held responsible.”

To date, Israeli military courts have convicted only one soldier of wartime abuse during the Gaza conflict, for theft of a credit card

Hamas is not known to have prosecuted anyone for firing hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel. On January 27 it issued a news statement and report summary, saying that rockets from Palestinian armed groups had only targeted Israeli military objects and that civilian casualties were accidental – a conclusion that Human Rights Watch rejected as “legally and factually wrong.” Hamas released a full report about its conduct during the war on February 3 that Human Rights Watch is still reviewing.

In September 2009, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, determined that Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and called on both parties to conduct impartial investigations within six months.

On November 5, the UN General Assembly endorsed the Goldstone report and asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a progress report about domestic investigations. Ban gave his report on February 4, passing on documents provided to him by Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and reiterating his call for credible and impartial investigations by all sides.

“Secretary-General Ban merely passed on the parties’ claims, but he also reasserted the importance of credible investigations in conformity with international standards,” Stork said. “The pressure is still on Israel and Hamas to show that they will do it right.”

According to Israel, the military has conducted roughly 150 “investigations” of incidents in Gaza, but it has not provided a list of the cases. Nearly 90 of the 150 investigations are what the military calls an “operational debriefing” – tahkir mivza’i in Hebrew. These are after-action reports, not criminal investigations, in which an officer in the chain of command interviews the soldiers involved, with no testimony from victims or witnesses. Forty-five of these 90 cases have been closed.

The Israeli military says that military police have opened 36 criminal investigations, in which a military police investigator takes statements from soldiers and seeks testimony from outside sources. One resulted in the conviction for the credit card theft, incurring a seven and a half month prison sentence, and seven were closed due to lack of evidence or because the complainants were unwilling to testify. The remaining 28 are ongoing.

The military said it has disciplined four soldiers and officers for violating orders during the Gaza conflict. In one case, two commanders received notes of reprimand for firing high-explosive artillery shells that hit a UN compound where 700 civilians were taking shelter, despite dozens of phone calls from UN officials asking for the shelling to stop. During the same attack, artillery-fired white phosphorus set fire to a UN warehouse and injured three people in the compound. The military told Human Rights Watch that the white phosphorus aspect of the case is still under investigation and was not part of the reason for the reprimand. The only information the military has released about the other two disciplinary cases is that one resulted from an attack on UN property or personnel, and the other from an incident of property destruction.

The video Human Rights Watch released today of the al-Badr flour mill was filmed by the mill’s owners after it was damaged, on January 10, 2009. The UN fact-finding report said the Israeli military bombed the mill in a deliberate attempt to damage the civilian infrastructure of Gaza. Israel said its investigation found that the mill was a legitimate military target because of Hamas activity in the area and that it only fired a tank shell and did not bomb the mill from the air.

The UN told Human Rights Watch that de-miners visited the mill on February 11, 2009, and found the front half of a 500-pound Mk-82 aircraft bomb on an upper floor of the mill, corroborating the contents of the video.

The military lawyers told Human Rights Watch that, when provided with new evidence, they could reopen an investigation.

Israel has a poor record of military investigations into alleged violations against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Human Rights Watch said. The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din has documented the low levels of criminal investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of soldiers despite the large number of allegedly unlawful deaths.

Netanyahu: Israel to retain key West Bank settlement

By Barak DavidHaaretz

Netanyahu vowed that Israel would retain control of a large West Bank settlement under any future "peace" deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Friday that Israel would retain control of a large West Bank settlement under any future arrangement with the Palestinians.

During a tree-planting ceremony in the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel on Friday, Netanyahu reaffirmed the town’s historic and strategic significance.

“Anyone who understands the geography of the Land of Israel knows how important Ariel is,” Netanyahu said. “The settlement enterprise here is the heart of our land.”

“Here is where our forefathers dwelled and here is where we will stay and build,” the prime minister said. “We want to strengthen the peace and co-existence with our neighbors but this will not stop us from continuing with our lives here, where we’ll continue to plant trees and to build.”

“Ariel, the capital of Samaria (the northern West Bank), will be an integral, inseparable part of the state of Israel in any future arrangement,” Netanyahu said.

Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a college in Ariel to be recognized as a “university center,” thereby winning praise from the right but an outraged response from both the political left and many academics.

The decision was vehemently opposed by the Council for Higher Education, which oversees all colleges and universities inside the Green Line. But because the Ariel University Center of Samaria is located in the West Bank, it is subordinate to a different, parallel, body, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria – which, like all Israeli institutions in the West Bank, is formally subordinate to the Israel Defense Forces’ GOC Central Command, who in turn answers to the defense minister.

The CHE-JS approved Ariel’s status upgrade back in 2007, and yesterday, Barak – who is also the Labor chairman – ordered GOC Avi Mizrahi to confirm this.

Recognition as a university center moves the college closer to full recognition as Israel’s eighth university, and Barak’s approval of this step had been part of the coalition agreement between Netanyahu’s Likud party and a third coalition member, Yisrael Beiteinu.

What Comes Next

PULSE

Turkey and the Arabs are ending a century of mutual alienation

A strange calm prevails on the Middle Eastern surface. Occasionally a wave breaks through from beneath – the killing of an Iranian scientist, a bomb targetting Hamas’s representative to Lebanon (which instead kills three Hizbullah men), a failed attack on Israeli diplomats travelling through Jordan – and psychological warfare rages, as usual, between Israel and Hizbullah, but the high drama seems to have shifted for now to the east, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Arab world (with the obvious exception of Yemen) appears to be holding its breath, waiting for what comes next.

Iraq’s civil war is over. The Shia majority, after grievous provocation from takfiri terrorists, and after its own leaderhip made grievous mistakes, decisively defeated the Sunni minority. Baghdad is no longer a mixed city but one with a large Shia majority and with no-go zones for all sects. In their defeat, a large section of the Sunni resistance started working for their American enemy. They did so for reasons of self-preservation and in order to remove Wahhabi-nihilists from the fortresses which Sunni mistakes had allowed them to build.

The collapse of the national resistance into sectarian civil war was a tragedy for the region, the Arabs and the entire Muslim world. The fact that it was partly engineered by the occupier does not excuse the Arabs. Imperialists will exploit any weaknesses they find. This is in the natural way of things. It is the task of the imperialised to rectify these weaknesses in order to be victorious.

The sectarian horror has taken the wind out of Iraqi resistance. Those who fought the Americans in the past and who choose not to collaborate now have gone quiet. Moqtada Sadr, for instance, having lost control of the more thuggish elements of his Jaish al-Mahdi and therefore much of his mass popularity, has disappeared into the Qom seminaries. He will emerge at some point with Ayatullah status. What he does then will depend on what comes next, which is not at all clear.

Will the monthly round of bomb attacks reignite civil war? Will resistance mount again as Iraqis move against the permanent US megabases on their land? Will there be a further American withdrawal? And if so, what happens then? Might Saudi Arabia be committed to preventing a Shia-majority government from functioning, at any price? Would it fund and arm an anti-Shia militia more fully than it has done in the past? Its attempts to defeat the Iraqi Shia would fail, but they could spark a new war in which the Saudis face Iran by proxy or even, by a chain of mismanagement, directly. This could satisfy perverse American and Israeli strategists as much as the Iraq-Iran conflict did in the 80s.

The Saudis and Iranians may already be fighting by proxy in Yemen. Saudi military involvement in its southern neighbour is a public fact (the kingdom is heroically bombarding poverty-stricken villagers with its expensive American bombs). Its enemy is the rebellious Houthi tribe, Shias. The president of collapsing Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, preposterously tells us that the Houthis are armed by both Iran and al-Qa’ida. Saudi media describes the enemy as ‘Shia’. Iranian media describes ‘Wahhabi’ massacres. Meanwhile, Iranian pilgrims have stopped visiting Mecca until such time as the Saudi authorities guarantee their protection from intolerable Wahhabi mistreatment.

In Palestine nothing is resolved and nothing is in sight of resolution. With the cleavage between Gaza and the West Bank successfully engineered, with Gaza walled, starved and bombed, with the West Bank warned that it will suffer Gaza’s fate if it removes its collaborator government, the Palestinian liberation project is in desperate straits. For now the West Bank enjoys a somewhat improved economy and freedom of movement, quietly realises the two state dream is over, and waits. For now Gaza does its best to survive, and waits. For now.

The Gaza model applies to Lebanon too. The general message is that a future Israel-Hizbullah conflict will be ‘a hundred times worse’ in its effects on Lebanese civilians than the atrocious 2006 assault. Hizbullah is careful and quiet, but by most accounts even better dug in than it was four years ago. Lebanon, meanwhile, is more stable than it has been since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. After Hizbullah called the bluff of Hariri junior and his Saudi-US-backed militia, and with the mediation of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US have retreated to their traditional positions of influence in Lebanon. Saad Hariri has visited Damascus.

Syria has regained its strength. The Obama administration will continue to back Zionist expansion, has kept Bush-era anti-Syrian sanctions in place, and only yesterday appointed an ambassador to Damascus, but ‘regime change’ is no longer an American fantasy and, as noted above, a natural, non-militarised Syrian influence in Lebanon has been accepted. Syria’s position is again what it was under the late president Hafez al-Asad: Syria can not change the region on its own, but nobody can change the region without it.

The good news, and perhaps the what-comes-next, is Turkey.

When I lived in Turkey in the early nineties the country was surrounded by enemies. Now all of its neighbours are friends. Internal relations between Turks and Kurds are also much better than they were a few years ago. Both developments stem from a long-overdue dilution of Kemalist national chauvinism brought about by new social forces. These are the upwardly mobile Anatolian Islamic-democrats represented by Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. They aim to build an inclusive post-Ottoman society, and their economy is flourishing.

An intellectual associated with the Justice and Development Party told a friend of mine that the best things to happen to Middle Eastern Muslims in the 20th century had been Ataturk and Wahhabism, because both challenges – the militantly secularist and the sectarian literalist – had forced (and are forcing) Muslims to rethink their core values. Turkey’s Sufi-based Sunnism is an attractive model which could sap the appeal of Salafism in the ex-Ottoman Arab world. But the Turkish-led alliance that is emerging inludes the Shia world too. Turkey has defended Iran’s right to nuclear energy and, against American orders, is investing enthusiastically in the Iranian economy.

Turkey is engaging not only with Arabs but with Arab and Muslim interests too

Turkey and the Arabs are ending a century of mutual alienation. The late Ottoman state degenerated from a multicultural Muslim dominion into an empire on the European model in which nationalist Turks oppressed the Arab territories into stagnation. Arab nationalism flared in response. In what was a historical mistake – but perhaps a necessary one – in 1917 the Arabs accepted the help of the British to rid themselves of Turkish rule. The British promised an independent Arab state; what the Arabs got was the Sykes-Picot dismemberment of their homeland and the resulting irrevocably corrupt states system. Palestine was lost.

Ataturk defended the Turkish homeland from dismemberment and constructed a functioning European-style nation-state, but one run by the army. The governing ideology was fervently ethno-nationalist, precluding cooperation with non-Turks. Greeks fled to Greece while Greek Turks fled to Turkey. The Armenians had already been cleansed. Ataturk considered Turkey’s Arab and Persian neighbours to be degenerate oriental races. Official mythology taught that Turks had invented language and civilisation, that the ancient Sumerians were Turks, and that Turks had colonised India when the Indians lived in trees. Across the border in Syria, Baathist myths repeated these ideas in an Arab mirror.

The practical contention between the two countries was over Wilayat Iskenderoon, or Hatay in Turkish, which the French Mandate (mandated to guard Syria’s territorial unity) gave to Turkey in 1938 in return for a promise not to join Germany in a future war. Arab nationalists in Syria and elsewhere were outraged by the loss of ancient Antioch, of Iskenderoon, Syria’s major port, and of the green lands and markets around these cities. Syrian maps still show Wilayat Iskenderoon as part of Syria, although Syrians don’t resent the Turks like they resent the Israelis occupying the Golan. The Turks are old neighbours and they do not seek to drive out the Arabs. Now that the border is wide open, now that Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians can enter Turkey without a visa, now that Turkish-Syrian trade is burgeoning, Iskenderoon does not even feel so lost any more.

Syria gave up the Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, greatly reducing Turkish hostility. Syrian president Bashaar al-Asad and his wife Asma al-Akhras are popular figures in Turkey, and Turkish prime minister Erdogan is wildly popular in the Arab world, particularly after his public rebukes of Israel during the Gaza massacre.

The friendship with Syria shows that Turkey is engaging not only with Arabs but with Arab and Muslim interests too. Its hardening position in support of the Palestinians allows a voice of Muslim conscience to be heard in the international arena. This marks a change. The regional US-client regimes seem suddenly much less relevant, and the age of the ‘moderate camp’ versus ‘resistance front’ duality, which reigned a couple of years ago, has already passed.

Turkey has democratic stability on its side. Another military coup is highly unlikely, firstly because the miltary itself contains representatives of the new Turkish mood, and secondly because the army’s secularist hard-core would dash its hopes of moving further into the European Union’s embrace if it were to seize power. But it is Turkey’s slow realisation that the EU will never allow it to be a full member that has encouraged it to claim its place in Asia, where it belongs. In Asia it is admirably placed as the conduit of Iraqi, Iranian and Caspian Sea oil, as the bridge to Europe and Europe’s Muslims, and as a potential shield for the region against American attacks.

The Turkish-led alliance could prevent a fresh outbreak of war in Iraq. Turkey would make a sounder sponsor of Iraqi Sunni interests than Saudi Arabia, and could moderate Iranian influence in the country. An alliance is also essential for cross-border cooperation over water and fuel distribution as climate change and resource shortages loom across the region.

I have great hopes for the development of this alliance despite the potential weakness of Iran in the short to medium term (it is to be hoped that the Islamic Republic shows enough flexibility to adapt to some of the demands of its alienated portion), and despite the differences in the ruling ideologies – democratic-Islamist, theocratic, and Arabist – of its member states. In fact these differences are a good thing. They will discourage hasty leaps at union of the unthought type that Syria tried with Egypt in 1958.

What is necessary for the alliance’s growth is the long term stability of the relationship and an ongoing interchange of ideas along with people and goods. The alliance will represent Turks, Aryans and Arabs, and may eventually erase the imported nationalism which has so cursed us. It could be the first serious regional axis of the modern period, the first axis not organised by an imperial sponsor. Russia and China would be natural partners. A confident and informed power to ensure Middle Eastern rights and responsibilities would of course be in Europe’s interest too. Is it too much to hope that the emerging alliance will mark the end of Western dominance in the region? Could the alliance begin to fill the gaping hole left by the disappearance of the Caliphate?

Time for George Mitchell to resign

By Stephen M. WaltForeign Policy

The administration's early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade

If Mideast special envoy George Mitchell wants to end his career with his reputation intact, it is time for him to resign. He had a distinguished tenure in the U.S. Senate — including a stint as majority leader — and his post-Senate career has been equally accomplished. He was an effective mediator of the conflict in Northern Ireland, helped shepherd the Disney Corporation through a turbulent period, and led an effective investigation of the steroids scandal afflicting major league baseball. Nobody can expect to be universally admired in the United States, but Mitchell may have come as close as any politician in recent memory.

Why should Mitchell step down now? Because he is wasting his time. The administration’s early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade, and if Mitchell continues to pile up frequent-flyer miles in a fruitless effort, he will be remembered as one of a long series of U.S. “mediators” who ended up complicit in Israel’s self-destructive land grab on the West Bank. Mitchell will turn 77 in August, he has already undergone treatment for prostate cancer, and he’s gotten exactly nowhere (or worse) since his mission began. However noble the goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace might be, surely he’s got better things to do.

In an interview earlier this week with Time’s Joe Klein, President Obama acknowledged that his early commitment to achieving “two states for two peoples” had failed. In his words, “this is as intractable a problem as you get … Both sides-the Israelis and the Palestinians-have found that the political environments, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that” (my emphasis).

This admission raises an obvious question: who was responsible for this gross miscalculation? It’s not as if the dysfunctional condition of Israeli and Palestinian internal politics was a dark mystery when Obama took office, or when Netanyahu formed the most hard-line government in Israeli history. Which advisors told Obama and Mitchell to proceed as they did, raising expectations sky-high in the Cairo speech, publicly insisting on a settlement freeze, and then engaging in a humiliating retreat? Did they ever ask themselves what they would do if Netanyahu dug in his heels, as anyone with a triple-digit IQ should have expected? And if Obama now realizes how badly they screwed up, why do the people who recommended this approach still have their jobs?

As for Mitchell himself, he should resign because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace. Mitchell has been reduced to the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration — engaged in endless “talks” and inconclusive haggling over trivialities-and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.

The point is not that Obama’s initial peace effort in the Middle East has failed; the real lesson is that he didn’t really try. The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” — what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through. And notwithstanding the various difficulties on the Palestinian side, the main obstacle has been the Netanyahu government’s all-too obvious rejection of anything that might look like a viable Palestinian state, combined with its relentless effort to gobble up more land. Unless the U.S. president is willing and able to push Israel as hard as it is pushing the Palestinians (and probably harder), peace will simply not happen. Pressure on Israel is also the best way to defang Hamas, because genuine progress towards a Palestinian state in the one thing that could strengthen Abbas and other Palestinian moderates and force Hamas to move beyond its talk about a long-term hudna (truce) and accept the idea of permanent peace.

It’s not as if Obama and Co. don’t realize that this is important. National Security Advisor James Jones has made it clear that he sees the Israel-Palestinian issue as absolutely central; it’s not our only problem in the Middle East, but it tends to affect most of the others and resolving it would be an enormous boon. And there’s every sign that the president is aware of the need to do more than just talk.

Yet U.S. diplomacy in this area remains all talk and no action. When a great power identifies a key interest and is strongly committed to achieving it, it uses all the tools at its disposal to try to bring that outcome about. Needless to say, the use of U.S. leverage has been conspicuously absent over the past year, which means that Mitchell has been operating with both hands tied firmly behind his back. Thus far, the only instrument of influence that Obama has used has been presidential rhetoric, and even that weapon has been used rather sparingly.

And please don’t blame this on Congress. Yes, Congress will pander to the lobby, oppose a tougher U.S. stance, and continue to supply Israel with generous economic and military handouts, but a determined president still has many ways of bringing pressure to bear on recalcitrant clients. The problem is that Obama refused to use any of them.

When Netanyahu dug in his heels and refused a complete settlement freeze — itself a rather innocuous demand if Israel preferred peace to land — did Obama describe the settlements as “illegal” and contrary to international law? Of course not. Did he fire a warning shot by instructing the Department of Justice to crack down on tax-deductible contributions to settler organizations? Nope. Did he tell Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to signal his irritation by curtailing U.S. purchases of Israeli arms, downgrading various forms of “strategic cooperation,” or canceling a military exchange or two? Not a chance. When Israel continued to evict Palestinians from their homes and announced new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in August, did Obama remind Netanyahu of his dependence on U.S. support by telling U.S. officials to say a few positive things about the Goldstone Report and to use its release as an opportunity to underscore the need for a genuine peace? Hardly; instead, the administration rewarded Netanyau’s intransigence by condemning Goldstone and praising Netanyahu for “unprecedented” concessions. (The “concessions,” by the way, was an announcement that Israel would freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank “temporarily” while continuing it in East Jerusalem. In other words, they’ll just take the land a bit more slowly).

Like the Clinton and Bush administrations, in short, the idea that the United States ought to use its leverage and exert genuine pressure on Israel remains anathema to Obama, to Mitchell and his advisors, and to all those pundits who are trapped in the Washington consensus on this issue. The main organizations in the Israel lobby are of course dead-set against it — and that goes for J Street as well — even though there is no reason to expect Israel to change course in the absence of countervailing pressure.

Obama blinked — leaving Mitchell with nothing to do-because he needed to keep sixty senators on board with his health care initiative (that worked out well, didn’t it?), because he didn’t want to jeopardize the campaign coffers of the Democratic Party, and because he knew he’d be excoriated by Israel’s false friends in the U.S. media if he did the right thing. I suppose I ought to be grateful to have my thesis vindicated in such striking fashion, but there’s too much human misery involved on both sides to take any consolation in that.

So what will happen now? Israel has made it clear that it is going to keep building settlements — including the large blocs (like Ma’ale Adumim) that were consciously designed to carve up the West Bank and make creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, and other moderate forces will be increasingly discredited as collaborators or dupes. As Israel increasingly becomes an apartheid state, its international legitimacy will face a growing challenge. Iran’s ability to exploit the Palestinian cause will be strengthened, and pro-American regimes in Egypt, Jordan, and elsewhere will be further weakened by their impotence and by their intimate association with the United States. It might even help give al Qaeda a new lease on life, at least in some places. Jews in other countries will continue to distance themselves from an Israel that they see as a poor embodiment of their own values, and one that can no longer portray itself convincingly as “a light unto the nations.” And the real tragedy is that all this might have been avoided, had the leaders of the world’s most powerful country been willing to use their influence on both sides more directly.

Looking ahead, one can see two radically different possibilities. The first option is that Israel retains control of the West Bank and Gaza and continues to deny the Palestinians full political rights or economic opportunities. (Netanyahu likes to talk about a long-term “economic peace,” but his vision of Palestinian bantustans under complete Israeli control is both a denial of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations and a severe obstacle to their ability to fully develop their own society. Over time, there may be another intifada, which the IDF will crush as ruthlessly as it did the last one. Perhaps the millions of remaining Palestinians will gradually leave — as hardline Israelis hope and as former House speaker Dick Armey once proposed. If so, then a country founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust — one of history’s greatest crimes-will have completed a dispossession begun in 1948 — a great crime of its own.

Alternatively, the Palestinians may remain where they are, and begin to demand equal rights in the state under whose authority they have been forced to dwell. If Israel denies them these rights, its claim to being the “only democracy in the Middle East” will be exposed as hollow. If it grants them, it will eventually cease to be a Jewish-majority state (though its culture would undoubtedly retain a heavily Jewish/Israeli character). As a long-time supporter of Israel’s existence, I would take no joy in that outcome. Moreover, transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned. For both reasons, I’ve continued to favor “two states for two peoples” instead.

But with the two-state solution looking less and less likely, these other possibilities begin to loom large. Through fear and fecklessness, the United States has been an active enabler of an emerging tragedy. Israelis have no one to blame but themselves for the occupation, but Americans — who like to think of themselves as a country whose foreign policy reflects deep moral commitments-will be judged harshly for our own role in this endeavor.

The United States will suffer certain consequences as a result-decreased international influence, a somewhat greater risk of anti-American terrorism, tarnished moral reputation, etc.-but it will survive. But Israel may be in the process of drafting its own suicide pact, and its false friends here in the United States have been supplying the paper and ink. By offering his resignation-and insisting that Obama accept it-George Mitchell can escape the onus of complicity in this latest sad chapter of an all-too-familiar story. Small comfort, perhaps, but better than nothing.