Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Ehud Barak Challenged on War Crimes at Labour Party Conference

Richard Burden MP last night confronted Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Labour Party Conference.

Mr Burden called on him to respond to the findings of the recent UN report that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza during ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Mr Burden, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, also presented the Israeli Minister with a copy of the group’s report of a fact-finding visit to Gaza earlier this year.

The report highlights the impact of Israel’s actions in deepening the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Mr Barak’s appearance at Labour’s conference in Brighton had already attracted widespread protest. As Defence Minister in the current and previous Israeli Government, Ehud Barak was directly involved in planning and executing Israel’s attack on Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009.

Mr Barak is named in the report by Judge Richard Goldstone which is being discussed this week at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. Speaking from Brighton today, Mr Burden said: “Israel chose not to cooperate with the UN investigation, even though it was conducted by someone as eminent as Judge Goldstone. “Now Israel is trying to rubbish Goldstone’s conclusions before the ink in his report is barely dry. They even say the United Nations had no mandate to investigate allegations of war crimes in Gaza in the first place. That is just not good enough. If the United Nations has no mandate to uphold international law, then what does it have a mandate to do?

“Goldstone’s findings are serious and the international community cannot ignore them. If war crimes were committed in Gaza – by whatever side – they must be held accountable. It is not acceptable for Israel to demand the international community takes action against attacks on civilians by Palestinians but refuse to face up to its own responsibilities for the atrocities in Gaza last winter and for the continuing humanitarian crisis caused by the ongoing blockade.

“If Israel continues to refuse to face up to its own responsibility to investigate these things properly and to bring those responsible to justice, the UN Security Council must do so itself – by referring the issue to the International Criminal Court. The UK’s commitment to human rights means we should be at the forefront of making that happen.”

In February Mr Burden led the first UK Parliamentary delegation to Gaza to see first hand the results of the conflict there. A copy of the delegation’s report is available online here:

Arrest Ehud Barak for War Crimes

Afua Hirsch writes in ther Guardian today of attempts to have Ehud Barak arrested when he visits the UK.

"The attempt to obtain an international arrest warrant for deputy Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak is the latest development in what lawyers describe as a rapidly growing area of law – "universal jurisdiction".

Under this principle, the most abhorrent crimes – such as genocide, torture and war crimes – can be prosecuted in the national courts of countries other than where they were committed. Customary international law and treaties such as the torture convention now place obligations on states to ensure that alleged perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice, even it means trying them in their own courts.

The UK has not been as active as other European countries in implementing universal jurisdiction. In 2001 Belgium convicted four Rwandans for genocide committed in Rwanda, while Spain has prosecuted numerous human rights crimes committed abroad, particularly in South America.

However, the 1999 House of Lords judgment in the case of General Augusto Pinochet marked a major turning point for universal jurisdiction, eroding for the first time the principle that a former head of state could not be subject to trial in the courts of another country.

Experts say that since the Pinochet case, officials fearful of prosecution for torture and other serious crimes have avoided travelling to European countries where prosecution has been made more likely. Yet many states still practise a doctrine of restricted immunity – distinguishing between officials who travel in respect of their governmental acts as opposed to for commercial or private reasons.

In the only previous case in which the prosecution of a senior Israeli officer was attempted in the UK, a warrant was issued in 2005 for the arrest of Major General Doron Almog for the alleged destruction of 59 houses in the Rafah refugee camp on 10 January 2002. Almog, who had flown to the UK in 2005 for social and charitable visits, escaped arrest after a tip-off led him to remain on board his plane on the Heathrow airstrip. Officers from the Metropolitan police anti-terrorist and war crimes unit did not board the plane to arrest him.

Sources say that Israeli officials who face possible arrest are now careful to arrange state visits before arriving in the UK, building a pre-emptive defence that their presence falls under the immunity of a serving official performing government acts. Lawyers for Barak are already arguing along these lines, as he prepares to meet the prime minister, Gordon Brown, and foreign minister, David Miliband, during his trip to the UK.

However lawyers acting for the Palestinians seeking the warrant argue that further developments to the law since the Pinochet case have diminished the defence of state immunity. The recent arrest warrant issued by the international criminal court for the serving president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, marked a turning point in international law as Bashir became the first serving head of state to be indicted by the court."

Read more here

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Polish Priest Fined for Comparing Abortion to Holocaust, Saying Abortion is “Killing”

KATOWICE, Poland, September 23, 2009 ( –

In a ruling that Church leaders are calling a serious infringement of freedom of speech, a Polish judge has accused the Archdiocese of Katowice and the priest-editor of their Catholic weekly newspaper of comparing a woman who sought an abortion to the Nazis, and has ordered them to publish a court-dictated apology.

Judge Ewa Solecka, further, fined the Gosc Niedzielny (Sunday Visitor) paper $11,000, objecting to comments from editor-in-chief Fr. Marek Gancarczyk that she deemed offensive, such as his statement that in seeking to get an abortion, the woman sought to ‘kill’ her child.

Fr. Gancarczyk was writing in an October 2007 editorial about the European Court for Human Rights’ earlier ‘wrongful birth’ ruling in favor of Alicja Tysiac.

Ms. Tysiac, who suffers from an eye condition, has become something of a symbol for the Polish abortion rights movement, following her failed attempt to abort her third child after she became pregnant in 2000. Claiming that her condition would be exacerbated by the continuation of her pregnancy, she sought permission for an abortion.

Poland, which is largely Catholic and pro-life, permits abortion only in cases of rape, serious handicap in the baby, or serious health risk to the mother.

In Tysiac’s case, her doctors concluded that, while she was "significantly disabled," her condition was not serious enough to warrant the death of her unborn child. Thus she was not given permission for abortion, and the baby was born.

In 2005, Tysiac took the Polish government to the European Court. The court ruled in March 2007 that Poland’s laws resulted in a ‘wrongful birth’, ordering the government to pay her 25,000 Euros in damages. The government appealed but the decision was upheld in September 2007.

Subsequently, Fr. Gancarczyk published an editorial condemning the court’s decision. While he did draw the connection between the horrors committed by the Nazis and the horror of abortion, he nowhere compares Ms. Tysiac to the Nazis, but rather compares the judges who ruled against the Polish government to the Nazis, contrary to Judge Solecka’s Wednesday determination.

"[The Nazis] got used to murders committed behind the camp fence," wrote Fr. Gancarczyk. "And what is it like today? Different, but equally scary."

"The European Tribunal of Justice in Strasbourg just rejected the appeal from the Polish government on the well-known by now case of Alicja Tysiac," he continued. "In consequence, Ms. Tysiac will receive 25,000 euro damages, plus the costs of proceedings, for not being able to kill her child."

"In other words, we are living in a world where a mother is granted an award for the fact that she very much wanted to kill her child, but was forbidden to do so," he said.

In the final paragraph, he applies actions to the judges that he had previously attributed to the Nazis. "And what about the judges, who issued this improbable verdict?" he asked. "They surely spend weekends in different picturesque destinations. They are laughing and relaxed. They got used to it."

Based on her reading of the editorial, the judge has ordered the Archdiocese and Fr. Gancarczyk to publish the following apology:

"The Katowice Archdiocese as the publisher, and Marek Gancarczyk as editor in chief of Gosc Niedzielny weekly apologize to Ms. Alicja Tysiac for unlawful comparison of Ms. Alicja Tysiac to Nazi criminals responsible for the Holocaust of Jews in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, as well as for the martyrdom of Jews in the ghettos.

"The Katowice Archdiocese as the publisher, as well as Marek Gancarczyk, as editor in chief of the Gosc Niedzielny weekly express their regret, that through the unlawful violation of personal interests of Ms. Alicja Tysiac and using hate speech, they caused pain and harm to Alicja Tysiac."

Calling Fr. Gancarczyk’s comments "particularly contemptuous," she insisted that references to abortion as ‘killing’ must be made in a general way without applying it to individual persons.

She also determined it was untrue when Fr. Gancarczyk stated that Tysiac had been awarded damages because she had wanted an abortion and was forbidden to obtain it. "This claim is false," she said. "Presenting it in Gosc Niedzielny misled the readers and caused a false impression, which could lead to developing conclusions unfavorable to the plaintiff."

However, rather than making the court-mandated apology, which would require the priest to state a falsehood, the newspaper has asserted its intention to continue publishing the truth about abortion, and has indicated that they will appeal the ruling. In a statement following the verdict, Fr. Gancarczyk said, "We treat [this verdict] as an attempt to censure the public debate, which can be used by leftist circles as an encouragement to use the judiciary for the purpose of imposing their worldview on the rest of society."

"We do not intend to agree with a verdict which breaks constitutional rights and constitutes an attempt at censuring the public debate," he says further on. "The verdict will not cause us to denounce our right to judge abortion from the moral point of view and in accordance with the unchangeable teaching of the Church. We are not going to stop striving for freedom of speech and we will continue to voice views, which we hold, as our conscience obliges us to."

Polish Civil Rights Commissioner (Ombudsman) Janusz Kochanowski has said the verdict is "controversial and raises many doubts," and he has indicated that he will ask the Katowice court to send him a written explanation of the ruling. "Depending on the contents of this explanation, we may take steps," he said. "If doubts are confirmed, some action on the part of the Civil Rights Commissioner may be expected."

Numerous Church leaders and public personalities have spoken out strongly against what they call an infringement of Catholics’ freedom of speech. The Polish Conference of Bishops, expressing "solidarity" with the newspaper, called the verdict "an unacceptable limitation of the Church’s mission," and "an attempt against freedom of speech and the right of the Church to moral judgement of human behavior."

Contact Information:

Justice Stanislaw Dabrowski, Head of the National Council of the Judiciary
ul. Rakowiecka 30
02-528 Warszawa, Poland

Tel: (22) 3-792-792
Fax: (22) 3-792-794

Send a CC of your letter to:

Archbishop Damian Zimon (Metropolitan of Katowice):
Archbishop Józef Michalik (Head of the Polish Episcopate):
The Katowice court which issued the verdict:
Gosc Niedzielny newspaper:
Janusz Kochanowski (Civil Rights Commissioner):

Archbishop Atallah Hanna: Israel targets Mosque today, Church tomorrow

From Ma'an News Agency

Archbishop Atallah Hanna, one of the highest-ranking Christian clergymen in Jerusalem, declared Sunday's violence near the Al-Aqsa Mosque a dark premonition of what he said were Israel's plans for the city.

"What is being planned for Jerusalem is very dangerous," the archbishop said in a statement. "What happened today at the Al-Aqsa yard is a dangerous indicator of what Israeli authorities intend to work toward on Al-Aqsa, in particular, and in Jerusalem, in general."

Dozens of Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces were injured in clashes after a group of reportedly right-wing religious Jews entered the Al-Aqsa compound ahead of the holy day of Yom Kippur. Jerusalem police used stun grenades and batons to disperse stone-throwing protesters inside and near the mosque.

"We, as Christian Palestinians and Jerusalemites, cannot keep watching with our hands folded in the face of what happened today," Hanna continued. "Today it was Al-Aqsa; tomorrow it will be the Church of the Holy Sepulcher." "The [Israeli] occupation and its racism does not exclude anyone."

Hanna was ordained Archbishop of Sebastia in 2005 for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which Orthodox Christians consider the mother church of all of Christendom.

The archbishop reaffirmed "the solidarity of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem and all of the Holy Land with their comrades, the Muslims… Targeting them is the same as [targeting] us; attacking them is attacking us."

"We are not strangers in our city. We are not guests. The stranger is the one who came and colonized this country," Hanna added. "We are the owners of this land and we will stay on it because this is our homeland, this is our Jerusalem, and these are our holy sites."

Monday, 28 September 2009

Getting Away with Murder: Is the UK Government complicit in Gaza War Crimes?

Amnesty have just sent this information out to supporters. I feel ashamed of the UK government's stance.

There is a real danger that the best chance for accountability and justice for civilians in Gaza and Israel could be lost in the next few days - we need as many people as possible to email David Miliband right now to prevent this from happening.

An independent UN fact-finding mission into the Gaza conflict has just published its findings. This major report outlines powerful evidence of war crimes and other violations of international law on both sides, consistent with the results of Amnesty's own investigations.

And the UK Government is reviewing it right now. The UN Human Rights Council will debate the report next Tuesday (29 September), when a vote will be taken on how its recommendations should be acted upon.

Alarmingly, we understand that the UK Government (a member of the council) is not planning to support key recommendations, which Amnesty believe offer the best chance of ensuring justice and accountability, as a well as a deterrent to future conflicts.

Instead, they appear to be taking a lead from the US Government in dismissing the findings. War criminals are literally getting away with murder.

Act now There can be no long-term peace and security in the Middle East without an end to impunity - please email David Miliband today and urge him to support the Goldstone Report.

During the 22-day conflict from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, some 1,400 Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed. Most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children. Indiscriminate Palestinian rocket attacks killed three Israeli civilians and six soldiers.

The UN-mandated International Independent Fact Finding Mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, has published its findings on the 22-day conflict in Gaza and southern Israel in December 2008-January 2009.

The carefully argued report, which is consistent with the findings of Amnesty International, concludes that both the Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations of international law including war crimes and, possibly, crimes against humanity.

Background information

The President of the Human Rights Council, which mandated the UN Mission, made it unequivocally clear that it was "to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law" during the conflict. In carrying out that broad mandate, Justice Goldstone went to great lengths to ensure that both the Israeli and Palestinian sides were heard, despite Israel's refusal to cooperate, and that alleged violations of international law by both sides are comprehensively addressed in his report. The UK government is reviewing this major report, and for the sake of justice and accountability, we are calling on them to welcome the report and support its recommendations.

It is of crucial importance that the report's pertinent recommendations to UN bodies to establish accountability for these grave crimes are acted upon. Amnesty International is convinced that ending prolonged impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the Israeli and the Palestinian side is essential: not only for human rights and justice, but also if long term peace and security is to be achieved in the Middle East. As a member of the Human Rights Council, we seek the UK Governments support to make that happen by ensuring that Justice Goldstone's recommendations are acted upon. Simply put, they offer the best hope for justice and accountability in the Middle East conflict.

Despite powerful evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law which emerged during and in the aftermath of the conflict - including that gathered and published by Amnesty International and now detailed in the UN Fact Finding report - both Israel and Hamas have to date failed to carry out credible investigations and to prosecute those responsible. The UN report also reaches this conclusion but argues that the Israeli and the Palestinian side must be given a last chance to ensure justice for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators. As a last resort, the report recommends, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) if no credible investigations have been conducted by both the Israeli government and the authorities in Gaza within a set time period. State Parties to the Geneva Conventions are urged to exercise universal jurisdiction where there is sufficient evidence that grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions have been committed. Amnesty International fully supports these recommendations.

Read Amnesty's press release on the Goldstone report

Call on the UK government to spare no efforts to ensure war criminals do not get away with murder

Just Peace for Palestine

Just Peace for Palestine: Garth Hewitt from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Garth Hewitt talks about a new interfaith initiative committed to justice for Palestine and peace and security for Israel and Palestinians. He explains how the two are complimentary and not mutually exclusive.

Just Peace for Palestine will be a multi agency campaign for those keen to be involved in supporting a just resolution to the Israel – Palestine crisis.

We will be asking churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, unions, to sign up to the ‘Just Peace for Palestine’ campaign. We will ask those who join to take certain actions to keep the issue at the forefront of the agenda, continuing to raise awareness and thus encouraging politicians to help bring about a just and peaceful resolution.

Just Peace for Palestine seeks an end to the ongoing conflict by calling and campaigning for:
  • The right of the Palestinian people to self determination
  • An end to Israel’s military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • The removal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
  • The dismantling of the Separation Wall
  • An end to the siege of the Gaza Strip
Please get in touch:
To find out how the group you are a part of can join this exciting new campaign please contact: or visit

Just Peace for Palestine, Amos Trust, 83 London Wall, London, EC2M 5ND, 020 7 588 2638

Full website and more information coming soon

A just peace for Palestine means peace and security for Israelis


Sunday, 27 September 2009

Resolving Conflict at Work

You either love it or hate it but The Office is one of the most successful TV Comedy series of the 21st Century. Called a ‘mockumentary’, its filmed as a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary and set in the offices of Wernham Hogg, a paper merchant in Slough, ironically not far from here. The faster paced US spin-off follows the mundane daily interactions of a group of idiosyncratic office employees at another paper company this time in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and starring Gervais, The Office catapulted him to stardom in 2001, winning two Golden Globes, one for his acting and one for the show itself.[1] Jago Wynne in Working without Wilting, writes,

“The humour is very simple. It comes from observations about mundane office life, humour basically at the expense of all the different types of people working in the office. In fact, just as the TV series Friends was called Friends because it is about the relationships between different friends, so The Office could just as easily have been called Colleagues, because its about all the relationships between different colleagues.[2]

Read the rest here

Jeff Halper to Speak at Labour Party Conference

Jeff Halper, Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and one of the strongest critics of Israeli Government policy towards the Palestinians, has been invited to address members of the Labour Party in Brighton on Monday, 28 September.

For over thirty years Jeff Halper, professor of anthropology, has been one of the leading figures in the Israeli peace movement and is credited with pioneering the use of nonviolent action and civil disobedience to resist the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes.

Since 1967, more than 24,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the Occupied Territories and Gaza in violation of international law. Halper was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Jeff Halper will speak at a meeting organised by the Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East at 12:45, The Queen's Hotel, 1-5 Kings Road.

Halper says, “If the Labour government does not help Obama cut the Gordian Knot of Occupation, it will be impossible to achieve an equitable two-state solution. Only a complete withdrawal of Israel from all the Occupied Territories and the sharing of Jerusalem with no restrictions on movement can avert a Palestinian Bantustan.”

Jeff Halper will be in England from 28-30 September. For further information please contact: Linda Ramsden, Director, ICAHD UK.

For photos of Jeff Halper see here.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Shooting the Messenger: Israel Arrests Human Rights Activist

Mohammad Othman is a human rights activist who was detained by Israelis when he came in from Jordan earlier this week after a visit to Norway where he had pushed for boycott. His arrest is evidently part of a new pattern of Israel cracking down on the very idea of human-rights monitoring. Note that a Palestinian who helped the Goldstone commission prepare its report for the UN Human Rights Council was also arrested by the Israelis, his case is mentioned in the report.

Here’s a petition to release Othman, with over 1,100 signatures. War on Want reports:

Mohammad Othman, a prominent Palestinian activist and advocate of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, has been arrested and is currently being detained without charge by the Israeli authorities. With only three days before his military hearing, it is urgent that we act on his behalf.

Here are three things you can do right now to help secure his release.


On 22 September 2009 Israeli authorities arrested Mohammad Othman, a 33-year-old Palestinian human rights activist. Mohammed was detained by the Israeli police on his way home from Norway, where he had been promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Israeli authorities have scheduled his hearing for 29 September 2009 in a military court. He has not been informed of the charges against him.

Mohammad is involved with Stop the Wall, the grassroots anti-Apartheid Wall campaign and War on Want partner organisation, and has dedicated the last 10 years of his life to the defence of Palestinian human rights. His village, Jayyous, in the occupied West Bank, has lost most of its fertile agricultural land to Israel's illegal Wall and settlements.

It is believed that Othman is the first Palestinian to be imprisoned by Israel in response to BDS advocacy activity.

Mohammad's ability to talk passionately about the effects of Israel's illegal Occupation, combined with his warmth and good humour, has made him a popular activist in Palestine and with internationals alike.

Source: Philip Weiss and War on Want

Friday, 25 September 2009

Spot the Unhappy Bunny

Mark Levine writes, " It lasted only for a moment, but in that brief instant their faces said it all. On stage right sat Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, grinning. In the middle was Barack Obama, the US president, smiling as camera flashes went off.

On stage left sat Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), looking sullen and abandoned, wondering why he was even there."

His article entitled Netanyahu outmanoeuvres Obama? is a damning assessment of President Obama's failed first attempt at a peace plan for Israel and Palesine.

Ali Abunimah, on The Electronic Intifada is just as skeptical. In a piece entitled, Obama's peace effort has failed but our struggle continues, he writes (and get to the last sentence...),

"The New York meeting produced yet another image of an American president cajoling reluctant Israeli and Palestinian leaders to shake hands, a kitschy and tiresome reprise of the famous 1993 White House lawn handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin with President Clinton looking on, that sealed the ill-fated Oslo accords. Unsatisfied by its failures to date, the Obama Administration apparently craves more. It aims for a resumption of "negotiations" within weeks, to be inaugurated with what a US official called a "launch event." Ideas under discussion, the unnamed US official told the Israeli daily Haaretz, include "a meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt."

That this is the level of thinking within the Obama Administration is utterly depressing. I can see it now -- as we have so many times before -- another meeting at the Egyptian resort attended by all the usual suspects: Israeli and Palestinian leaders (except of course Hamas), "moderate" leaders of repressive US client regimes like Jordan's King Abdallah and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, and the whole pack of peace process parasites led by Quartet representative Tony Blair and EU "High Representative" Javier Solana. We can expect more statements that there is a "window of opportunity," that this is "the only game in town," and that "time is running out."

If this is not absurd enough, consider what the US is really saying to the Palestinians in the wake of Mitchell's failure: "We, the greatest superpower on Earth, are unable to convince Israel -- which is dependent on us militarily, economically and diplomatically -- to abide by even a temporary settlement freeze. Now, you Palestinians, who are a dispossessed, occupied people whose leaders cannot move without an Israeli permit, go and negotiate on much bigger issues like borders, refugees, Jerusalem and settlements, and do better than we did. Good luck to you."
Read more of Ambumina here

The Obama Peace Plan: Partition is Over

"consider what the US is really saying to the Palestinians in the wake of Mitchell's failure: "We, the greatest superpower on Earth, are unable to convince Israel -- which is dependent on us militarily, economically and diplomatically -- to abide by even a temporary settlement freeze. Now, you Palestinians, who are a dispossessed, occupied people whose leaders cannot move without an Israeli permit, go and negotiate on much bigger issues like borders, refugees, Jerusalem and settlements, and do better than we did. Good luck to you."

Ali Abunimah, over at the The Electronic Intifada, has written a devastating critique of the failed Obama Peace Process - failed before it has been published - like an abortion. Philip Weiss comments on the article, "Obama has failed... New York just proved it, and "the high priests of partition" folks are putting off the real business of envisioning the binational state that already exists."

"There is the old joke about a man who is endlessly searching on the ground beneath a street light. Finally, a neighbor who has been watching him asks the man what he is looking for. The man replies that he lost his keys. The neighbor asks him if he lost them under the streetlight. "No," the man replies, pointing into the darkness, "I lost them over there, but I am looking over here because here there is light!"

The intense focus on the "peace process" is a similarly futile search. Just because politicians and the media shine a constant light on it, does not mean that is where the answers are to be found.

The meeting hosted by US President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel on 22 September signaled the complete and terminal failure of Obama's much vaunted push to bring about a two-state solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict.

To be sure, all the traditional activities associated with the "peace process" -- shuttle diplomacy, meetings, ritual invocations of "two states living side by side," and even "negotiations" -- will continue, perhaps for the rest of Obama's time in office. But this sterile charade will not determine the future of Palestine/Israel. That is already being decided by other means.

Before coming to that, let's recall those heady days in May when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set out the Obama Administration's firm policy on Israel's colonization of the West Bank: "We want to see a stop to settlement construction -- additions, natural growth, any kind of settlement activity -- that is what the president has called for."

Obama's envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, traveled to the region almost a dozen times to convince Israel to implement a freeze. Every proposal he took, the Israelis rejected. And to emphasize the point, the Israeli government accelerated the approval of major new settlement plans. Instead of threatening consequences for such intransigence, Mitchell simply diluted American conditions to meet Israeli objections until finally there was little left of the American demands -- or credibility.

So it was that in his remarks at New York, Obama's call for a total construction freeze was reduced to a polite request to Israel merely to "restrain" itself from devouring more Palestinian land.

Speaking to reporters after the New York meeting, Mitchell dropped the demand for a settlement freeze and made the US surrender official. "We are not identifying any issue as being a precondition or an impediment to negotiation," Mitchell said, adding, "We do not believe in preconditions. We do not impose them and we urge others not to impose them."

This is of course completely untrue. The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, continues to boycott Hamas (which has a legitimate electoral mandate to represent Palestinians under occupation) on the grounds that Hamas has refused to meet one-sided American preconditions!

The next day in his UN speech, Obama repeated the call for negotiations without preconditions. He did not explain why such negotiations would be any more fruitful than the 200-odd negotiating sessions held between the PA and the previous Israeli government headed by Ehud Olmert. Obama may have told the UN that the peace process must "break the old patterns," but he is simply repeating them.

The New York meeting produced yet another image of an American president cajoling reluctant Israeli and Palestinian leaders to shake hands, a kitschy and tiresome reprise of the famous 1993 White House lawn handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin with President Clinton looking on, that sealed the ill-fated Oslo accords. Unsatisfied by its failures to date, the Obama Administration apparently craves more. It aims for a resumption of "negotiations" within weeks, to be inaugurated with what a US official called a "launch event." Ideas under discussion, the unnamed US official told the Israeli daily Haaretz, include "a meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt."

That this is the level of thinking within the Obama Administration is utterly depressing. I can see it now -- as we have so many times before -- another meeting at the Egyptian resort attended by all the usual suspects: Israeli and Palestinian leaders (except of course Hamas), "moderate" leaders of repressive US client regimes like Jordan's King Abdallah and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, and the whole pack of peace process parasites led by Quartet representative Tony Blair and EU "High Representative" Javier Solana. We can expect more statements that there is a "window of opportunity," that this is "the only game in town," and that "time is running out."

If this is not absurd enough, consider what the US is really saying to the Palestinians in the wake of Mitchell's failure: "We, the greatest superpower on Earth, are unable to convince Israel -- which is dependent on us militarily, economically and diplomatically -- to abide by even a temporary settlement freeze. Now, you Palestinians, who are a dispossessed, occupied people whose leaders cannot move without an Israeli permit, go and negotiate on much bigger issues like borders, refugees, Jerusalem and settlements, and do better than we did. Good luck to you."

Even if Israel agreed to a settlement freeze and negotiations resumed, there is no chance for a viable two-state solution or any just resolution coming out of such talks. So like its predecessors, this administration is substituting process and gimmicks for substance.

If the "peace process" is not driving events, then what is? Israeli colonization -- as Obama initially understood -- is the major factor determining the present and future of Palestine/Israel. Geographer and former Israeli deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, has observed that Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip effectively ended the 1948 partition. "The decades since the war have proved that 1967 was not a disjunction but quite the opposite, a union, and that the preceding period was merely a reprieve," Benvenisti wrote in 2007.

After more than 40 years, Benvenisti views the "occupier/occupied paradigm" as too limited and misleading to describe the post-1967 reality. It is, he writes, an "anachronism that hides behind the portrayal of a temporary condition." He proposes instead that we call the situation in Palestine/Israel a "de facto binational state ... because it describes the mutual dependence of both societies, as well as the physical, economic, symbolic and cultural ties that cannot be severed except at an intolerable cost."

Repartition of Palestine would only change the shape of the conflict, not solve it. Even if Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were given a state, an unreformed, ultranationalist "Jewish state" of Israel would be more likely to turn its aggression and ethnic cleansing against its own 1.5 million Palestinian citizens than live in peace. After all, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has asked repeatedly, what is the point of a two-state solution that doesn't produce an exclusively Jewish state?

The 1967 boundary may have legal and political salience, but it does not demarcate geographically compact, ethnically homogenous and economically independent geo-political units. Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may harbor fantasies about creating a "de facto" Palestinian state in the West Bank, but the close collaboration between Israel and the PA only confirms the trend towards binationalism -- of the wrong sort to be sure.

Isn't it ironic that the most enthusiastic boosters of the ugly collaboration between the Israeli occupation army and US-trained PA militias to suppress resistance to the occupation, simultaneously insist that it is implausible for Palestinians and Israelis to build a joint society under conditions of equality? Apparently Palestinians and Israelis can collude to maintain oppression and injustice but not to transcend them!

Read more here

Morning has Broken

I took some photos early yesterday morning while walking Dilly on the Wentworth Golf Course. View them here

The Street Child World Cup: Durban 2010

The Street Child World Cup 2010: Garth Hewitt from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Garth Hewitt explains about the Street Child World Cup taking place in Durban, South Africa in 2010 during the Football World Cup.

For further interviews see here

For more information see Street Child World Cup, and

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Episcopal Church Solicits Donations to Sue Anglicans

Greg Griffith over at Stand Firm has published an audacious letter from the Revd Susan McCone, Director of the Mission Fund Initiative of the Episcopal Church appealing for funds to initiate litigation against faithful Anglicans. Entitled '815 Appeals for Donations to Sue Christians' he writes,

"This letter (posted with permission) was sent from TEC's national headquarters to an attorney in Mississippi last week, soliciting donations to fund lawsuits against departing dioceses and parishes.

That's right... St. Ives, the Patron Saint of Property Litigation. Who no doubt was beatified so things like this might result from invoking his name."

See here for more...

Robert Fisk on the West in the Middle East

Sun Apologises for “Threat to UK Jews” Story

Richard Bartholomew, the ace sleuth, has this update on the 'Threat to UK Jews' story

Patrick Mercer MP two years ago: “[Jenvey] and I have done quite a lot of work together, and he is a sourse of reference for me”

Patrick Mercer MP in September: “My office certainly received information from [Jenvey] but never worked with him. This was a damaging lie.”

January, front page of the Sun:


September, somewhere inside the Sun:

OUR story on January 7 about a ‘hit list’ of top British Jews on the website was based on claims by Glen Jenvey who last week confessed to duping several newspapers and Tory MP Patrick Mercer by fabricating stories about Islamic fundamentalism.

Following Mr Jenvey’s confession, we apologise to for the article which we now accept was inaccurate.

By “following Mr Jenvey’s confession”, they mean “following the publicity given to Mr Jenvey’s confession on BBC Radio last week“. The confession was actually in August; Mercer had announced misgivings about Jenvey in March; and the evidence that the story had been fabricated was first revealed by Tim Ireland in January. The BBC report mentioned in passing that Tim’s blog Bloggerheads had “accused” Jenvey, and that this may have played a role in the confession; however, the only person in the mainstream media to actually give a decent amount of credit to Tim has so far been Hugh Muir of the Guardian. A reporter for Private Eye, by contrast, shamefully used Tim’s research uncredited and declared him to be a “nutter” when he protested.

Read more here.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

360 Degree Leadership

360 Degree Leadership from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

A couple of weekends ago I went a delightful morning sailing on Strangford Lough, the largest inlet in the British Isles. It is a stark, beautiful, open stretch of water, surrounded by the rolling hills of County Down, in Northern Ireland. It was the first time I have been sailing since I was a teenager and learnt all about maritime navigation at school. Coming from a coastal town, I would often listen to the daily BBC shipping forecast the weather conditions around the British coastline. Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger Bank, Humber, Thames, Dover, White, St Catherine’s Head. Now sitting in the stern of the yacht, waiting for my turn to steer, I was surprised at how sophisticated sailing has become. There was a digital compass and an impressive TV monitor displaying a real-time digital maritime map of Strangford Laugh. There was a depth gauge monitoring the river bed, and there was a speed gauge. There is a lot more to sailing these days than sticking a wet finger in the air, hoisting the sail and letting the wind take you where ever it wills.

If you have a specific destination in mind, or want to come back, you have to take account of the numerous forces intent on driving you in other directions. There are the wind, the currents and the tide. But there are also the weather conditions to consider, forecasts, the time, high tide, the current, the length of day light, the time of year, known underwater hazards, reefs, wrecks and cables. There are safety instructions, emergency procedures, maritime regulations and directions from the coastguards. You must also consider the location, speed, heading and experience of other boat users. You must employ 360 degree vision at all times. Now you may consider that all these dials, charts, regulations, hazards and threats, take the fun out of sailing, but considering them ensure you will more likely make it to your destination alive. These days you have to be a 360 degree sailor.

You need to be mindful of what is above you, what is below you and beside you, to the north, to the south, the east and the west.

Read more here

View photos of Strangford Lough here

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Episcopal Dam has Burst: Texas Judge Rules Dioceses are free to Secede

George Conger, writing in the Church of England Newspaper, reports the decision of a Texas judge who ruled this week that there is nothing in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church that prevents a diocese from seceding from the national church.
On Wednesday Judge John Chupp of Texas’ 141st District Court handed the Episcopal Church a major setback in its campaign to seize the assets of breakaway dioceses, stating that of the two entities holding themselves out as the “Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth”---Bishop Jack Iker and his diocese affiliated with the Province of the Southern Cone and Bishop Edwin Gulick and his Episcopal Church-affiliated diocese---Bishop Iker’s diocese was the lawful holder of that name, corporate seal and property.

The court’s actions were not a total victory for Bishop Iker, as it did not dismiss as illegitimate the loyalist’s Feb 2009 convention called by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, nor quash their property suit. However, in his comments to the parties Judge Chupp rejected the Episcopal Church’s central legal premise that while people may leave the Episcopal Church, dioceses may not.

The 80 per cent of the delegates who voted to at the 2008 diocesan convention to quit the Episcopal Church for the Province of the Southern Cone “took the diocese with them,” Judge Chupp said.

With the backing of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, a loyalist faction within the diocese held a special convention on Feb 7, electing officers and inviting the Bishop Edwin Gulick of Kentucky to serve as interim bishop of Fort Worth. On April 14, the loyalists, styling themselves as the “Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth” brought suit against the secessionists seeking possession of the diocese’s assets.

On Aug 19 the secessionists filed a Rule 12 motion asking the court to require the attorneys for the loyalists to show that they had the legal authority to bring suit in the name of the “Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth.”

“Those individuals” bringing the lawsuit “claim to hold offices in the Diocese to which they have never been legally elected,” Bishop Iker argued.
Read more here

See also Anglican Mainstream Both Sides Debate Significance of Fort Worth Ruling

and High Noon in Fort Worth

Authority of Katherine Jefferts Schori Questioned

The Anglican Communion Institute has published a major report questioning the authority of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katheroine Jefferts Schori, to initiate litigation to seize church property and assets from orthodox Anglican parishes and Dioceses.

Entitled, Litigation against Disaffiliating Dioceses, is it Authorized and what does Fiduciary Duty Require? the paper exposes the moral as well as financial bankruptcy of this strategy.

This paper examines whether the Presiding Bishop is authorized to initiate and conduct recent property litigation and finds no source for such authority in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Arguments based on a presumed equivalence of the roles of the Presiding Bishop and Executive Council to those of a corporate CEO and board of directors are found not to be valid. The paper also examines claims that pursuit of litigation is necessitated by fiduciary duty. It concludes that no convincing case has been made that this is so. First, no person is under a fiduciary duty to undertake something that has not been authorized. Putting aside the issue of authorization, several factors relevant to a proper fiduciary duty analysis suggest refraining from litigation such as has been commenced against disaffiliating dioceses. In this connection, relevant fiduciary duties are not limited to those that may be owed to TEC as an organization, but also include duties owed to its member dioceses. Claims that a member diocese cannot disaffiliate and retain ownership of its property implicate the latter set of duties. The paper presents a case that the duties to dioceses include duties to those that have withdrawn because the claims against them are based on alleged consequences of their having been dioceses of TEC rather than the actions of an unaffiliated third party.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and others have maintained that pursuit by The Episcopal Church of property litigation is required by fiduciary duty. For example, in October 2007 the Presiding Bishop gave deposition testimony in the Virginia litigation against several congregations, saying, “I have a responsibility both in a fiduciary sense and an ecclesiastical sense to protect the assets of the Episcopal Church and to protect the integrity of the Episcopal Church” and also that “I believe I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the assets of the Episcopal Church for the mission of the Episcopal Church.” In the same testimony, asked about her refusal to suspend litigation in response to the requests of the Anglican Communion Primates in the Dar es Salaam communiqué, she responded, “I cannot suspend what I have a fiduciary duty to protect.” In connection with the San Joaquin litigation, Bishop Jerry Lamb said the litigation was required by “a canonical, fiduciary and moral duty to protect the assets and property of the church for the church’s mission.”


The Episcopal Church Loses More Than Court Case in South Carolina

Anglican Curmudgeon reported yesterday on the decision by the Supreme Court of South Carolina which delivered a most welcome unanimous decision in the oldest still-pending court dispute involving the application of ECUSA's Dennis Canon to a parish's property: All Saints Parish Church Waccamaw v. the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina (No. 29724, September 18, 2009).

The opinion presents a clear and thoroughly common-sense refutation of ECUSA's outlandish claims: that as a hierarchical Church, it has the power (1) to decide which congregation/vestry is the "true" congregation/vestry in a given parish; and (2) to override State law by imposing a trust on all parish property everywhere in its Dioceses without its being the owner of any of that property.

The opinion is so clear and well-written, in fact, that there is scarcely any need to translate the greater part of it for a lay person.

Read more here and comments on Stand Firm here

Cindy T in Texas offers this wise observation on Stand Firm:

"...the Morning Prayer readings in recent weeks included the disastrous decision of Solomon’s heir to listen to bad advisers (his inner circle of pals) and maintain harsh demands on the people - whose only demand was that he lighten up a bit.

So I think Sarah is right - what happens next in many parishes will depend on whether or not the PB clique backs off from its uncanonical and ahistorical assertion of a central hierarchy in TEC. If memos to redraft bylaws start coming down, expect more defections.

When Solomon’s kid tried to go all hard on the people, he lost 10 of 12 tribes."

Friday, 18 September 2009

Charles Raven Defends + Michael Nazir Ali in Church of England Newspaper

This week, rather than write an article, I am sending out the text of a letter to the Church of England Newspaper (CEN) which has been published today.

It is a response to an article by regular columnist Bishop Paul Richardson, assistant Bishop of Newcastle, (which can be accessed as a free download at rebuking what he sees as Bishop Michael Nazir Ali’s preference for confrontation.

He also questions Nazir Ali’s recent claim in Standpoint magazine that Archbishop Rowan Williams’ criticism of those who uphold marriage as intrinsically and necessarily heterosexual has contributed to the breakdown of the family unit (for comment on the Standpoint article see

To have published this rather negative assessment last weekend as Michael Nazir Ali gave up the See of Rochester to pursue God’s continued call on his life seems ill judged. It reflects a chronic failure among much of the Church of England’s leadership to recognise the extent to which the ‘Christian mind’ of their Church has itself been softened by accommodation with secular values.

They are likely to find that the faithful will look increasingly to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans for effective spiritual leadership in England and the British Isles. Sir, Paul Richardson’s portrayal of Bishop Michael Nazir–Ali as confrontational (Defending our Values Today, September 11) in contrast to Archbishop Rowan Williams’ more constructive preference for dialogue betrays a misunderstanding of both.

The real issue is not about a choice between dialogue and confrontation, but discernment, exercising the Christian mind in an aggressively secular society. Concluding his July/August Standpoint article, Michael Nazir Ali actually calls for a ‘grand assembly’ in the hope that ‘a national consensus may emerge’ on how to respond to the collapse of Judaeo-Christian values.

This call to dialogue flows from a strong grasp of the apostolic Christian faith rooted in the biblical revelation to which he has demonstrated a courageous commitment. The kind of dialogue favoured by Rowan Williams is much more slippery.

His writings, such as ‘The Body’s Grace’ and ‘Is there a Christian sexual ethic?’ in ‘Open to Judgement’ have done much to provide theological respectability for the dissolution of the fundamental Judaeo-Christian concept of marriage as exclusively heterosexual over the past twenty years, yet last month he was willing to affirm orthodox teaching on same sex unions, completely contrary to his personal views, in order to maintain some semblance of unity through a ‘two track’ Communion.

It would be easy to conclude that the Archbishop was simply being pragmatic, or worse, but his willingness to split his personal judgements from the views required by office points to a deeper difficulty.

Paul Richardson observes, as an example of the merits of dialogue, that Christians have learnt from Marxism about structural injustice, while rejecting much else, including the ‘dialectical process’ of class warfare. Unfortunately, our Archbishop has not rejected Hegel’s underlying dialectic. He is strongly attracted to the idea that the best protection against self serving theology is to allow it to emerge tentatively through the holding together of opposing ideas in what he sometimes refers to as the ‘hermeneutical spiral’.

Faced with the current concerted assault upon Christian faith in the public square, this approach to dialogue, for all its sophistication, is dangerous because it dulls the sensitivity of the Christian mind to the authority of Scripture.

Michael Nazir Ali has repeatedly spoken of the need to ‘go against the grain’, at significant personal cost. For the future perhaps he will be able to help develop a greater sense of partnership with our brother and sister Anglicans of the Global South.

This would no doubt be a much better guard against self-serving interpretations of Scripture than the interminable conversations which the Archbishop still seems to hope will put his own house in order.

Rev’d Charles Raven
Bewdley, Worcestershire.

US Piece Plan

Over at the Palestine Centre an "elected Palestinian official" spills the beans on the long-awaited Obama upgrade peace plan billed as a "permanent peaceful solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict." If what has been leaked bears any resemblance to the real thing then don't hold your breath. The US Administration might as well have invited Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman to write it for them. You will probably need a strong coffee before reading further.

An elected Palestinian official unveiled today details of a U.S. peace plan for a "permanent peaceful solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict." It was recently drafted by U.S. President Barack Obama, who intends to officially declare it soon, according to Hassan Khraisha, deputy speaker of the Palestinian parliament.

Xinhua reported that according to Khraisha, the plan includes:
  • Statehood: the establishment of Palestinian statehood first in the West Bank by 2011. Later, the Gaza Strip will be integrated.

  • Normalization: Full recognition of and relations with by the Arab states.
  • No Authority Over East Jerusalem: "The plan puts parts of East Jerusalem under the full Israeli sovereignty without any actual Palestinian control on it. But the holy sites will be under Arab and Islamic administration," said Khraisha.

  • Security: Intensifying the Israeli-Palestinian security coordination in the West Bank.

  • Palestinian Foreign Policy: It prevents the Palestinian state from making any foreign military alliances in the region, according to Khraisha.

  • Limited Refugee Resettlement: Resettling "a limited number of Palestinian refugees in the Jordan valley and other areas in the West Bank" between Nablus and Ramallah, Khraisha said.

  • Refugee Financial Assistance: "An international fund association to help the Palestinian refugees" would be set up.

  • Not Clear on Refugees in Arab World: The "plan did not show what would be the fate of the Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other Arab and foreign countries."

  • Settlements: the plan talks about keeping big settlements in the West Bank, and to start negotiations on smaller settlements within three months.

  • Demilitarization: The Palestinian state would be demilitarized.

  • Airspace: Israel exercises control of the airspace above the Palestinian state.

  • Factions as Parties: "The new U.S. plan calls for turning the different armed Palestinian factions into political parties which condemn the use of violence against Israel," said Khraisha.

  • Palestinian prisoners: The plan includes an Israeli release of a number of prisoners from its jails as soon as a permanent peace agreement is signed between Israel and the PNA. The prisoners' release would take three years.
Khraisha, who declined to say from where he got the draft, said that the U.S. administration had finalized the plan with the assistance of some Jewish figures specialized in the Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

Khraisha opposes the U.S. plan, saying "it means to dwarf the Palestinian political project and smashes the legitimate rights of the Palestinians in two basic issues, Jerusalem and the refugees return."

"The plans and declarations of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to start building up the establishments and the institutions of the future Palestinian statehood might be made in accordance with the U.S. peace plan," said Khraisha.

He said that the PNA "might deal with the plan, which is very dangerous and it comes in a status of Palestinian weakness due to the current political rift between Hamas and Fatah."

Dismantling the Matrix of Control

Dismantling the Matrix of Control by Jeff Halper

September 11, 2009

Almost a decade ago I wrote an article describing Israel's "matrix of control" over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It consisted then of three interlocking systems: military administration of much of the West Bank and incessant army and air force intrusions elsewhere; a skein of "facts on the ground," notably settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but also bypass roads connecting the settlements to Israel proper; and administrative measures like house demolitions and deportations. I argued in 2000 that unless this matrix was dismantled, the occupation would not be ended and a two-state solution could not be achieved.

Since then the occupation has grown immeasurably stronger and more entrenched. The first decade of the twenty-first century has so far seen the steady constricting and fragmentation of Palestinian territory through still more wholesale expropriation of Palestinian land, checkpoints and other physical restrictions on freedom of movement, settlement construction, more and more massive highways intended for Israeli settlers, control over natural resources and, most visibly of all, the erection of the separation barrier in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since December 2000, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem, the settler population of the West Bank has grown by 86,000 and that of East Jerusalem by 50,000. Gaza was evacuated of settlers and soldiers in 2005, but Israel retains near complete control over egress and exit of people and goods to and from the coastal strip, regularly cuts supplies of fuel and other necessities to punish the residents and mounts military incursions at will. All the Palestinian territories are subject, to one degree or another, to the measures of house demolitions, "closures" that halt economic activity, administrative restrictions on movement, deportation, induced out-migration and much more.

Indeed, the matrix has reconfigured the country to such an extent that today it seems impossible to detach a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state from an Israel that has expanded all the way to the Jordan River. Anyone familiar with Israel's "facts on the ground," perhaps first and foremost the settlers, would reach the conclusion that, in fact, the matrix cannot be taken apart in a piecemeal fashion, leaving a few settlements here, a road there and an Israeli "greater" Jerusalem in the middle. The matrix has become far too intricate. Dismantling it piece by piece, with Israel stalling by arguing for the security function of each "fact on the ground," would be a frustrating series of confrontations that would eventually exhaust itself. The only way to a genuine two-state solution and not a cosmetic form of apartheid is to cut the Gordian knot. The international community, led by the United States, must tell Israel that the occupation must be ended entirely. Israel must leave every inch of the Occupied Territories. Period.

And now, at this critical juncture, as the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse disappears under the weight of Israeli settlements, there is a great imponderable: Is President Barack Obama genuinely serious about reaching such a solution or is he merely going through the motions familiar from previous administrations?

The Tea Leaves
Many Palestinian, Israeli and international proponents of a just peace took heart in Obama's early gestures. Beginning with the appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell as special envoy and continuing through the president's June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, these proponents allowed themselves, after years of disappointment and struggle, a cautious hopefulness. Some of the speech's formulations, like the nods to the "pain of dislocation" felt by Palestinians and the "daily humiliations" of occupation, had been heard before. But one sentence had not been: Obama said that a two-state solution "is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest and the world's interest." Obama seemed to "get it," that is, he seemed to understand that the US is isolated politically by its unquestioning backing of Israel, which is seen as obstructing a solution to the conflict. And, for the first time, a US president actually said that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the vital national interest, not just a nice thing to do. These words significantly raise the bar. Framing the conflict in this way makes it easier for the administration to win Congressional support for tougher demands upon Israel while undermining the ability of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to mount an effective resistance, given American Jewish sensibilities about suspicions of dual loyalty.

Since the Cairo speech, however, fundamental doubts about US efforts have resurfaced. The only demand made by Obama upon Israel has been for a settlement "freeze," a welcome symbolic gesture, to be sure, yet irrelevant to any peace process. Israel has enough settlement-cities in strategic "blocs" that it could in fact freeze all construction without compromising its control over the West Bank and "greater" Jerusalem, the Arab areas to the north, south and east of the city where Israel has planted its flag. Focusing on this one issue -- which, months later, is still being haggled over -- has provided Israel with a smokescreen behind which it can actively and freely pursue more significant and urgent construction that, when completed, will truly render the occupation irreversible. It is rushing to complete the separation barrier, which is already being presented as the new border, replacing the "Green Line," the pre-June 1967 boundary to which Israel is supposed to withdraw, by the terms of UN Security Council resolutions, but on which even the most ardent two-staters have long since given up. Israel is demolishing homes, expelling Palestinian residents and permitting Jewish settlement throughout East Jerusalem, measurably advancing the "judaization" of the city. It is confiscating vast tracts of land in the West Bank and "greater" Jerusalem and pouring bypass road asphalt at a feverish pace so as to permanently redraw the map. It is laying track on Palestinian land for a light-rail line connecting the West Bank settlement-city of Pisgat Ze'ev to Israel. It is drying up the main agricultural areas of the West Bank, forcing thousands of people off their lands, while instituting visa restrictions that either keep visiting Palestinians and internationals out of the country altogether or limit their movement to the truncated Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank.

"Quiet," behind-the-scenes diplomacy is surely taking place, but the few details that have emerged are far from reassuring. The State Department has mocked as "fiction" a ten-point document given to the Arab press by Fatah figure Hasan Khreisheh that promises an "international presence" in parts of the West Bank and US backing for a Palestinian state by 2011. The component of this alleged plan that seems more likely is that the US wants a partial freeze on settlement activity from Israel in exchange for a pledge from Washington to push for more stringent sanctions upon Iran for its nuclear research. On August 25, 2009, the Guardian quoted "an official close to the negotiations" saying: "The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not." By all indications, if the Obama administration does present a regional peace plan, which it is expected by many to do around the time of the UN General Assembly meeting on September 20, 2009, it will be nothing more than a "rough draft." It is no exaggeration to say a two-state solution will rise or fall on the outlines of this draft -- and may perhaps fall forever if no concrete plan is presented at all, which is also possible. Although the two-state solution has been eulogized many times in the past, Obama represents a best-case scenario. If he presents, in the end, a disappointing peace plan that offers no genuine breakthrough, then the shift to a one-state solution on the part of the Palestinian people and their international supporters will be inescapable.

Sovereignty and Viability
So how can Obama's plan be judged if and when it is unveiled? Its chance of success can be predicted by how well it addresses the fundamental needs, grievances and aspirations of the peoples involved. An effective approach to ending the conflict, as opposed to shopworn posturing, rests on at least six elements: national expression for both peoples; economic viability for Palestine; a genuine addressing of the refugee issue; a regional approach; security guarantees; and conformity with human rights norms, international law and UN resolutions.
Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are not simply ethnic groups, like, for example, American Jews or Arab-Americans. They are two peoples who, like national groups everywhere, demand self-determination. This reality actually lends credence to a two-state solution, but only if the Palestinian state is truly sovereign and economically viable. One should not forget that, in the days of apartheid, South Africa established ten "bantustans," small and impoverished "homelands" on 11 percent of South African land, seemingly to address the demand of the black population for self-determination but actually to ensure a "democracy" for the white population on 89 percent of the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's notion that the Palestinians should get "autonomy with certain characteristics of a state" on about 15 percent of historic Palestine -- "autonomy plus-independence minus," as he called it -- is reminiscent of apartheid.

If the Obama administration's plan does not cut the Gordian knot that is Israel's matrix of control -- something no plan or initiative has yet succeeded in doing -- it will simply fail to achieve an equitable two-state solution. Only a complete withdrawal of Israel from all the Occupied Territories and the sharing of Jerusalem with no restrictions on movement can avert a Palestinian bantustan.

Obama's plan, like its predecessors, seems destined to leave the major Israeli settlement blocs intact, including those in Palestinian East and "greater" Jerusalem. Even with so-called territorial "swaps," this measure would significantly compromise the sovereignty and economic viability of a Palestinian state. The area designated on Israeli maps for future expansion of the Ma'ale Adumim settlement reaches to the outskirts of Jericho in the Jordan Valley, while the Ariel bloc already extends between the northern West Bank town of Nablus and points south. Taken together, settlements and the highways that interlink them displace Palestinian passenger and commercial vehicles onto a few narrow routes, while the checkpoints intended to protect the settlers snarl traffic on a predictably unpredictable schedule. And then there is the towering wall. It is not a landscape made for easy economic integration.

Why, then, leave these massive settlements intact? The argument is that their residents would object to the point of a civil war in Israel. This is patent nonsense. True, these settlement blocs contain 85 percent of Israelis living in the Occupied Territories, but these are not the ideological settlers who claim the entire Land of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Instead, they are "normal" Israelis who have been attracted to the settlements by high-quality, affordable housing. They would have no objection to resettling inside Israel on the condition that their living standards do not fall, while the Israeli economy, assisted by international donors, would have no problem footing the bill for this population, about 200,000 in number.

Settlements in "greater" Jerusalem, housing another 190,000 Israeli Jews, present no problem whatsoever. Residents are free to stay where they are in a shared and integrated Jerusalem.
As for the "ideological" settlers of the West Bank, only about 40,000 in number (out of almost six million Jews altogether), they can easily be relocated inside Israel, just as were their counterparts in Gaza. Their relocation will be a test of international assertiveness, of course, because the settlers are able to mobilize the support of the right-wing parties in Israel. Since Israel can make no cogent argument as to the security necessity of these tiny settlements, however, internal opposition will simply have to be overruled; the international community cannot allow such frivolous ideological matters to destabilize the entire global system. If the legitimate concerns of the Israeli public over its security are addressed by the international community, which they can be, there is no compelling reason why Israel should not return to the pre-June 1967 border. In fact, if the Gaza episode indicates anything, it is that the Israeli public is willing to remove settlements if it is convinced that doing so will enhance its security. Reminding Israelis that leaving every inch of the Occupied Territories will still leave them sovereign over a full 78 percent of the country -- not a bad deal for what will soon become a minority Jewish population -- should seal the deal.

The Obama platform, should it see the light of day, will probably also adopt the Israeli position that Palestinian refugees can only be repatriated to the Palestinian state itself, not to their former homes inside Israel. This plank would place a weighty economic burden on that tiny prospective state, since the refugees are, by and large, a traumatized and impoverished population with minimal education and professional skills. Add to that another significant fact: Some 60 percent of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18. A Palestinian state without the ability to employ its people and offer a future to its youth is simply a prison-state.

Now the need for a viable Palestinian state is recognized and embodied in the "road map," the peace initiative propagated by President George W. Bush in 2003, and will probably be acknowledged in a plan from Obama as well. Despite its limited size, a RAND Corporation study concluded that such a state is possible, but only if it controls its territory, borders, resources and movement of people and goods. Israel must be made to understand that while it will remain the hegemonic power in the region, its own long-term security depends upon the economic well being of its Palestinian neighbors.

Eighty percent of the Palestinians are refugees, and half of the Palestinians still live in refugee camps within and around their homeland. Any sustainable peace is dependent upon the just resolution of the refugee issue. Technically, resolving the refugee issue is not especially difficult. The Palestinian negotiators, backed up by the Arab League, have agreed to a "package," to be mutually agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians, involving a combination of repatriation in Israel and the Palestinian state, resettlement elsewhere and compensation.

The "package" must contain, however, two other elements, without which the issue will not be resolved and reconciliation cannot take place. First, Israel must acknowledge the refugees' right of return; a resolution of the issue cannot depend solely on humanitarian gestures. And Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for driving the refugees from their country. Just as Jews expected Germany to accept responsibility for what it did in the Holocaust (and Israelis criticized the Pope during his summer 2009 visit for not apologizing enough), just as China and South Korea will not close the book on World War II until Japan acknowledges its war crimes, so, too, will the refugee issue continue to fester and frustrate attempts to bring peace to the region until Israel admits its role and asks forgiveness. Genuine peacemaking cannot be confined to technical solutions alone; it must also deal with the wounds caused by the conflict.

Regional Approach, Security and International Law
Obama's edge over his predecessors lies in his understanding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of -- and in some ways the symbolic epicenter of -- a wider regional problem that extends from the neighboring countries to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, indeed, throughout the entire Muslim world and beyond. This understanding lies behind his framing of the conflict's persistence as being antithetical to vital US interests, and behind his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's statements making a solution for the conflict a virtual precondition for addressing the Iran issue. It is precisely this linkage, long denied by Israel, which insists that the Palestinian issue be handled separately, that the Obama administration seems finally to have embraced. Indeed, even in the confines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself, the key issues - refugees, security, water, economic development and others -- are regional in scope. A perfect peace between Israel and Palestine, in which both countries flourish, is not a viable solution for either if they exist as prosperous islands in an impoverished, unstable region.

Israel, of course, has fundamental and legitimate security needs, as do the Palestinians and the other peoples of the region. Unlike Israeli governments, the Israeli peace camp believes that security cannot be addressed in isolation, that Israel will not find peace and security unless it enters into a lasting peace with the Palestinians and achieves a measure of integration into the Middle East region. It certainly rejects the notion that security can be achieved through military means. Israel's assertion that the security issue be resolved before any political progress can be made is as illogical as it is self-serving. Everyone, the Israeli political establishment and the military together with the peace movement and the Palestinians themselves, knows that terrorism is a symptom that can only be addressed as part of a broader approach to the grievances underlying the conflict. Israel, which also must be held accountable for its use of state terror, cannot be allowed to exploit legitimate security concerns to advance a political agenda of permanent control.

To the degree that negotiations are entered into, they must have as their terms of reference international law and UN resolutions if the Palestinians are to enjoy even minimal parity with their Israeli interlocutors. The lack of grounding in such principles was the fatal shortcoming of all the preceding attempts to reach an agreement. Once negotiations are based solely on power, the Palestinians lose, the differential being so heavily weighted on the Israeli side, which totally controls Palestinian life and territory. Indeed, a peace agreement rooted in international law and human rights -- in short, a just peace -- would offer the best prospect of working.

Trump Cards
Put simply, any plan, proposal or initiative for peace in Israel-Palestine must be filtered through the following set of critical questions: Will this plan really end the occupation, or is it merely a subtle cover for control? Does this plan offer a just and sustainable peace or merely an imposed and false quiet? Does this plan offer a Palestinian state that is territorially, politically and economically viable, or merely a prison-state? Does this plan genuinely and justly address the refugee issue? And does this plan offer regional security and development?

While one may glean optimism from the fact that a US president finally comprehends the need for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, even if solely for the sake of US interests, it is difficult to be optimistic over the prospects of such a peace. No matter what the plan, Israel will neither cooperate nor negotiate in good faith. A solution will have to be imposed, if not overtly, then in ways that make Israel's continued hold on the Occupied Territories too costly to sustain. Simply withholding Israel's privileged access to American military technology and markets, for example, would have that effect.

Any attempt to pressure Israel, however, will run into a familiar obstacle: Congress, Israel's trump card in its encounters with the administration. In the case of Obama, Israeli leaders know well that his own party has always been far more "pro-Israel" than the Republicans. Already his loss of momentum after the Cairo address (perhaps related to his difficulties over his health care plan) has emboldened the temporarily cowed AIPAC. In early August, the vaunted lobby produced a letter signed by 71 senators from both parties -- led by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Jim Risch (R-ID) -- telling the president to lay off Israel and place more pressures on the Arab states to "normalize" relations with Israel. Obama had already, in his comments introducing Mitchell as special envoy and subsequently, called for "normalization" simultaneous with Israeli moves to lessen the burdens of occupation, in contravention of the 2002 Arab League peace plan, which proposed that the Arab states establish ties with Israel after withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Now AIPAC and its backers in Congress want the administration to push for "normalization" before any Israeli overtures whatsoever. The Netanyahu government has played its part, as well. In August, its ministers, standing on the strategically crucial site of "E-1" between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, vowed that Israel would continue building settlements anywhere it pleases. On September 7, 2009, Israel announced it was beginning work on 500 new apartments in Pisgat Ze'ev and 455 in other West Bank locales. These actions essentially tell Obama to go to hell mere weeks before he is projected to launch his peace initiative. The US replied with an expression of "regret."

Any plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace that has a hope of succeeding requires both an effective marketing strategy and a level of assertiveness as yet unseen in a US president, excepting, perhaps, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter. Obama's only hope of breaking through the wall of Israeli and Democratic Party resistance is to articulate an approach to peace based on clear and accepted principles anchored in human rights and justice and then framed in terms of US interests. A cold, calculating assessment of US interests would certainly push Obama in this direction. Time will tell, though the limp response to the new settlement construction does not bode well.

In the meantime, growing opposition to the occupation on the part of the international grassroots is making it increasingly difficult for governments to support Israeli policies. The movement targeting Israel for boycott, divestment and sanctions gains strength by the day, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begins to assume the dimensions of the anti-apartheid struggle. But the Palestinians, exhausted and suffering as they may be, possess a trump card of their own. They are the gatekeepers. Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over. Until most Palestinians believe it is time to normalize relations with Israel, there will be no normalization. Israel cannot "win" -- though it believes it can, which is why it presses ahead to complete the matrix and foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. The failure of yet another peace initiative will only galvanize international efforts to achieve justice for the Palestinians. Only this time the demand is likely to be for a single binational state, the only alternative that fits the single-state, binational reality that Israel itself has forged in its futile attempt to impose an apartheid regime.

Jeff Halper is director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
He can be reached at

Published in Middle East Report Online

See also Jeff Halper on video at Amnesty International