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Archive for September, 2013

Two-State Solution or Illusion?  An Analysis (22 September 2013) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – The Two-State Solution

 

Peter Beinart is a “liberal Zionist” who has written a piece in the New York Review of Books of 26 September 2013 entitled “The American Jewish Cocoon.” In this essay he laments, “The organized Jewish community [is] a closed intellectual space.” By this he means that most American Zionist Jews (it is important to remember that not all Jews are Zionists) know little or nothing about those who oppose them, particularly Palestinians. They also seem to have no interest in changing this situation. For these Zionists the opposition has been reduced to an irredeemably anti-Semitic “them.”

 

Beinart goes on to tell us that such is the political clout of the organized Zionist community that this know-nothing attitude has come to characterize the “debate about Israel in Washington” and the opinions offered in the mass media as well. While Mr. Beinart does not say so, I can tell you that this has been the basic situation since the early 1920s. Beinart does note, however, that over time this situation has led Palestinians and those who support them to show less willingness to dialogue with Zionists, most of whom they consider irredeemably racist.   

 

Beinart thinks this prevailing ignorance is a disaster. Why so? Because he feels that Jews betray the lessons of their own past by failing to understand the meaning of the “dispersion and dispossession” of the Palestinians. They do not seem to care that this particular people has had its “families torn apart in war – [continue] to struggle to maintain [their] culture, [their] dignity, [their] faith in God in the face of forces over which [they] have no control.” This sort of situation, according to Beinart, is something “the Jews should instinctively understand.” 

 

Be this as it may, achieving such an understanding is, for Beinart, a means to an end. That end is realizing a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian struggle. For this to happen the Zionists have to essentially feel the pain of the Palestinians and the Palestinians have to understand their no-win situation so that everyone agrees to a Palestinian mini-state on “22 percent of British mandatory Palestine” along with “compensation and resettlement [for the] people whose original villages and homes have long ceased to exist.” 

 

Part II – The Two-State Illusion

 

An important question is whether Mr. Beinart’s two-state solution does not itself represent a goal whose practicality has “long ceased to exist”? That certainly is the opinion of Ian Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. In the Sunday Review section of the New York Times of 15 September 2013, he published an op-ed piece entitled “Two-State Illusion.”

 

According to Professor Lustick, the two-state idea has become something of a fraud behind which lies opportunistic political motives. For instance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) keeps this hope alive so that it can “get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidizes the lifestyle of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants.” The Israeli government keeps this hope alive because “it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.” Finally, the U.S. government maintains the hope of a two-state solution to “show that it is working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.”

 

Lustick believes the two-state solution is an impossible hope that has produced periodic negotiations which have always been “phony” and have prevented new ideas for positive change from being seriously entertained. This long-term stifling has also set the stage for possible “sudden and jagged” events that can send the conflict off in catastrophic directions. Oddly enough Lustick finds this prospect of heightened conflict a necessary one.   

 

He tells us that only when the “neat and palatable” two-state solution disappears – and with it the PA and its policies of collaboration – will we get the “mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel,” along with the subsequent withdrawal of unconditional U.S. support for the Zionist State. At that point 

 

“Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.” Then, finally, they will become reasonable, and something new and acceptable (a one-state solution?) will be possible. 

 

Lustick’s necessary scenario happens to be Peter Beinart’s nightmare and in the latter’s essay it is called “civil war.” Beinart’s call for greater mutual understanding is designed to prevent this violence. One can assume that, for Professor Lustick, things have gone too far for this understanding to suddenly prevail. “Peacemaking and democratic state building require blood and magic,” he tells us. Delaying the inevitable with false hopes will only make things worse.  

 

By the way, Lustick is not alone in his view that the two-state formula is a dead end. One of Israel’s very best historians, Ilan Pappe, who now is the director of the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Palestinian Studies, believes that this prospect has been dead for over a decade. What killed it, and what keeps it dead, are “Zionist greed for territory and the ideological conviction that much more of Palestine [beyond the 1967 borders] is needed in order to have a viable Jewish State.” It is worth noting that it is just this ideological conviction that renders Peter Beinart’s plea for more understanding of the Palestinian position by American Zionist Jews a nonstarter. Any ideology that can justify incessant ethnic cleansing has to make its adherents incapable feeling their victims’ pain.

 

Part III – Conclusion

 

If Beinart’s hope for mutual understanding is naive, Lustick’s hope that more “blood” will lead to the “magic” of a positive outcome is not at all assured.

 

One might ask just how much disaster is necessary before the hard-line Zionists who have long controlled Israel will compromise their ideological commitment. Keep in mind that the Israeli political elites, right and left, have always been expansionist. Even Peter Beinart is not pushing for a return to the 1967 Green Line and an evacuation of illegal settlements, as far as I can tell. In the past, the Israeli elites have judged their terror and brutality to be justified. They will do so in the future as well. Some of them will interpret any increase in Jewish emigration (a process already ongoing) as a weeding out of weak elements. Militarily the Israelis can probably maintain superiority over their neighbors even in the face of reduced American aid, and as far as world opinion is concerned, most of them care little about it. If this assessment has any validity, the Israelis could go on ethnically cleansing for a very long time. 

 

In my view, the only viable weapon against such vicious stubbornness is a worldwide comprehensive economic boycott on the South Africa model. However, even this may not be the last page in the drama. Such an economic boycott may prove strong enough to undermine the will of some Israeli ideologues, but not all of them. And then, unlike South Africa, you may need an intra-Israeli Jewish civil war to finally bring the curtain down on the tragedy of Zionism. 

Crises Today, Catastrophe Tomorrow – An Analysis (12 September 2013) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

 

Part I – Crises Both Local and Global

 

If one is inclined to make a list of worrisome trouble spots plaguing the world, there would be a lot to choose from: Syria, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Kashmir, Congo, Iran, those pesky disputed islands lying between China, Japan and the Philippines, and of course, the meddlesome behavior of the United States. I apologize if I inadvertently left out anyone’s favorite trouble spot. 

 

It is perhaps little comfort that each of these man-made problems has a finite potential to be disruptive. What I mean by this is that they are localized in both space and time. Yes, I know that some of these problems have been going on for generations, and that thousands upon thousands have lost their homes, been maimed, or been killed. However, the problems represented above will not go on for millennia. It’s likely that all of them (except perhaps Washington’s ability to meddle) will be resolved, for better or worse, within say, the next 25 to 50 years. 

 

There is another category of problems, also man-made, that seem more perennial in nature. These problems manifest themselves as universal social ailments such as crime and poverty. Such problems wax and wane in intensity, but are apparently always with us.  

 

Now we come to a truly unique problem different in nature from those above. This is the issue of global warming. This also is man-made but with extraordinary long-range impact both in space (it is planet-wide) and in time (now we are talking millennia). Yet it is a problem over which we do have control. We know what causes it and we know how to at least ameliorate the situation. That is, if we wanted to, we could begin to get global warming under control and manage its consequences for as long as it takes to minimize the threat.   

 

Here are some particulars about global warming: 

 

  • Climate scientists are 95% sure that global warming is caused by human activities that began with the industrial revolution in the mid eighteenth century and sped up enormously in the last half of the twentieth century.

 

  • The primary causes of global warming are the production of “greenhouse” gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), largely resulting from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.  

 

  • The long-term consequences of global warming will be a reduction in the polar ice caps and a subsequent rise in sea levels as well as a greater incidence in extreme weather patterns bringing on floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes and the like.

 

  • There will be disruption in food production and water supplies as the availability of fertile land shrinks. 

 

  • There will be an increase in the area of the planet covered by desert.

 

We can bring some of today’s local crises together with the eventual effect of global warming and see where, in the long run, it leaves these trouble spots.  For instance, both Jews and Muslims claim the same Israel/Palestine as their sacred God-given land. In a hundred or so years most of that divine patrimony will be unlivable without desalination and irrigation technology that may not be available in a cost-effective manner. The same can be said for much of Syria and North Africa west of the Nile, where the water table shows signs of contamination with salt water from the Mediterranean. A century from now, coastal areas of Yemen, Somalia, lower Egypt, Israel/Palestine, and the U.S. too will all be inundated. Parts of cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, Alexandria, Benghazi, Jedda, New York, among many others, are likely to be washed away. Bahrain may be under water altogether. 

 

Part II – The Role of Natural Localism

 

Today much activist energy is being directed toward the disputes of the Middle East and elsewhere, and rightly so. I myself spend a good amount of time and effort writing about U.S. foreign policy toward that region, in an attempt to influence public opinion. How about the issue of global warming? There are, of course, plenty of scientists tracking this growing crisis. There is a world appointed body, the, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created in 1988, which periodically issues fact-based public reports, highlighting the danger. Considering the potential for global (as against local) catastrophe, have the efforts of the scientists and IPCC resulted in significant movement toward at least ameliorating this problem? Not at all. Things are just steadily getting worse.  

 

Why is it that local problems can often get so much attention and this other problem, the one that threatens the entire planet, get so little? The answer may have to do with a phenomenon I call natural localism. At its simplest, natural localism says that the great majority of people (going beyond activists now) pay attention to what they perceive to impact their lives both in their immediate locale (space) and in the present or relatively near future (time).

 

The key phrase here is “what they perceive.” The present crises around the world do not get much of a rise out of Americans unless hyped by the media in a way that makes them appear to potentially intrude on their local lives. Headlines about nuclear weapons (re: North Korea, Iran), the travails of “the Holy Land” (ideologically dear to the hearts of American fundamentalist Christians and Zionist Jews), chemical weapons in Syria, WMDs in Iraq seem to be sufficient to get the attention of varying numbers of Americans who identify the problems as actually or potentially, physically or emotionally affecting them locally.  

 

 

Global warming has not reached that threshold of noticeability yet. The sea levels are not quite high enough, the natural disasters not quite often enough, the temperature levels not quite hot enough and, most significantly, the media hype not intense enough to register local concern. 

 

 

Take for instance the case of deforestation. According to the Global Canopy Program, or GCP, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists, “deforestation accounts for up to 25% of global emissions of heat-trapping gases.” This is the result of not only cutting down the rain forests of South America, Africa and Indonesia, but also of the burning of much of the felled wood. Why is this happening? Because the immediate local benefit of doing so for the creation of farmland, cattle pasture, gold mining, hardwood production, etc., is seen as much greater than the hazy probability of catastrophe sometime in an indefinite future.  

 

 

This fact is worth repeating. The latest GCP report declares, quite factually and definitively, “if we lose the forests, we lose the fight against climate change.” Yet, such is the power of natural localism to shape our perceptions and actions that the ruination of the entire planet means little when weighed against the immediate gain possible today. It is not just the poor and uneducated who will act in this way. One of the things grown in the space that used to be Brazil’s Amazon is soybeans. As a consequence, Brazil has become the second-largest exporter of this crop next to the U.S. Brazilian soybeans are bought to, among other things, feed the chickens that go into your fast-food fried-chicken sandwiches. They are also in your tofu and diesel fuel. That means that very large corporations are going for profits now even though they almost certainly know it will mean disaster later. 

 

It is no doubt the large corporate interest in this problem that has held to a minimum mass media attention to global warming. After all, it is such businesses that own of most of our information outlets. Thus, most of the TV, radio, newspapers and news magazines have not elaborated on the assured fate of the world’s grandchildren as the sea levels rise and the grain fields turn to desert. If they did, public concern would almost certainly see this as a problem that is of local import and demand government and corporate attention to it.

 

 

Actually, eventual concern might turn out to be so great that global warming could replace the proverbial invasion from outer space. That is, it could be the threat that unites all parties against a common enemy. So, if the United Nations Security Council can’t agree on Syria or Israel, maybe its members can rally together to persuade Brazil and Indonesia to stop deforestation and save the planet.

 

 

Part III – Conclusion

 

Natural localism is a universal reality that tells us that the greatest public response will be directed to those events and issues that are perceived to have the greatest immediate impact on local life. The popular reaction will decrease as the situation appears the more distant in both space and time. Of course, as suggested above, distant events or issues can be made to appear immediate and of local import through manipulated presentations by the mass media. No one in Boise, Idaho, Little Rock, Arkansas, or Piscataway, New Jersey, knew that they lived in mortal fear of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction until Condoleezza Rice evoked “mushroom clouds” and every major news outlet repeated the message for weeks on end.  

 

So we will just have to wait until we are told we are in local trouble. In other words, we will wait until things are so bad that the U.S. government and its corporate media cannot avoid the issues involved. By that time it will certainly be too late. The result will not be solutions but rather hand-wringing and finger-pointing. In the meantime hysteria will prevail over such things as those media-hyped (and therefore locally significant) mythical Iranian nuclear warheads, and the Palestinians who are portrayed as terrorists because they refuse to accept that they are occupying land that rightfully belongs to the Jews of Brooklyn, among others. 

 

What a crazy world! In fact it is so crazy that I strongly recommend not making any long-term investments in oceanfront property. 

Congress and the Imperial Presidency Debate Syria – An Analysis (3 September 2013) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – The President Goes to Congress

 

President Obama has sidestepped the political hole he had dug for himself (what we might call the “red line” hole) over his proposed attack on Syria. Having insisted there must be “consequences” for a breach of international law, specifically the alleged use of banned chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he was faced with both popular American reluctance to support military action and Congressional pique over not being included in the decision process.

 

As a consequence President Obama announced on 31 August 2013 that he now supports a Congressional debate and vote on the issue of attacking Syria. Then he told us how he sees the situation, “This [Syrian chemical] attack is an assault on human dignity…. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons…. Ultimately this is not about who occupies this [White House] office at any given time, its about who we are as a country.” 

 

Part II – The U.S. and Chemical Weapons

 

For all I know, the president really believes his own words, but I am pretty sure his implied question of “who we are as a country” is meant to be rhetorical. If one was to give an evidence-based answer to that inquiry, as it relates to chemical weapons, it would be embarrassing in the extreme. Lest we forget, the U.S. defoliated parts of Vietnam with a chemical weapon called Agent Orange and by its use killed a lot more than large swaths of jungle. Agent Orange killed and maimed an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese and an estimated half a million children have subsequently been born deformed. It also did a fatal job on many of the American troops that handled the stuff. Later, the U.S. sold chemical and biological weapons-grade material to Saddam Hussein and followed up by helping his army aim the stuff accurately at Iranian troops. Saddam also used it on the Iraqi Kurds. Then there is the fact that our “very special friend,” Israel, used phosphorous bombs (a banned chemical weapon) on the civilians of Gaza. At the time Israel did this, President Obama occupied the oval office. I don’t remember him displaying any moral angst or positioning U.S. ships in the eastern Mediterranean with cruise missiles aimed at Israeli airbases. The truth is that during all of these episodes no one in the government worried (at least publicly) about what our actions or lack thereof, said about what sort of country this is.

 

However, this question does deserve a direct answer. What sort of country is the U.S. in relation to the use of chemical weapons? The kindest answer one can give is it is a bloody hypocritical nation.  

 

Part III – Back to Congress

 

Nonetheless, sending the issue of a possible attack on Syria to Congress is a timely political move for the president. It puts off having to face the dilemma of taking military action that cannot both constitute meaningful punishment for the violation of international law and, at the same time, keep the U.S. from becoming ever more deeply embroiled in the Syrian civil war.

 

It also could be a good political move for the U.S. as a whole because it creates a good precedent. Having Congress debate and vote on the issue of military action against Syria could help resuscitate the moribund War Powers Act. Although Obama claims he has the authority to launch an attack no matter what Congress decides, he would be politically hard pressed to do so if the legislators said don’t do it. Thus the maneuver might narrow the otherwise rapidly expanding powers of the imperial presidency. Of course, none of this means that Congress can’t be scared or otherwise bamboozled into giving the president the power to do something militarily stupid. Vietnam and Iraq stand as powerful precedents in that regard.

 

There is another very interesting potential consequence of the president’s going to Congress. It might create a situation where there is a publicly noticeable difference between the express desires of a majority of the voting population and the special interests now encouraging military action against Syria. In my last analysis I laid out the idea that in the interim between elections, the influence of powerful special interests have much more to say about policy than do the voters, most of whom pay little attention to foreign policy. Now, however, we have a rare moment when the populace is paying attention and polls indicate that a healthy majority do not want further intervention in the Middle East. Who will the Congress respond to in the upcoming debate and vote, their special interest constituents or the voting kind?

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

Of course, the notion that the President of the United States, with or without Congressional approval, has the authority to act as the world’s “policeman” and punish violators of international laws, that it itself flaunts, is offensive and dangerous. There are international institutions in place such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) that, imperfect as they are, can be used to prosecute violations such as the use of banned weapons. (It is to be noted that the cause of “human dignity” would be greatly advanced if the U.S. would stop refusing to ratify the treaty empowering the ICC).  

 

How do you characterize a situation where one or a small number of community members takes it upon themselves to go outside the law to punish alleged wrongdoers? Here in the U.S. this is known as “vigilante justice.” Most often this sort of behavior  results is a “lynching” based on little or no reliable evidence. 

 

President Obama’s going to Congress will not change the vigilante nature of U.S. intentions. Let’s just hope that Congress listens to the people this time around and tells the President to keep his cruise missiles to himself. And then, lets hope he does just that.