Month: October 2016

Will Obama lift the veto?

The gap between the election of the next US president on November 8 and her (or his) inauguration on January 20 is 73 days. That is the gap in which the outgoing president has a relatively free hand to do what he wants with only a minimum of consequences.

Some commentators have believed for some time – and the Israeli government now fears they are right – that Barack Obama will use this opportunity to lift the US veto and allow a resolution calling on Israel to stop building settlements to pass in the United Nations Security Council.

Until the middle of September it looked as if Obama had decided not to make any dramatic last-minute attempt to get the peace process restarted. He tried twice and failed twice. As an Israeli commentator said:

“The one who promised ’yes we can’, was revealed at the end of two terms as not only one who cannot, but one who doesn’t even try. He appears to have thrown in the towel.”

But in the last few weeks there have been a number of hints that Obama may try one last time to reset the bearings of the Middle East peace process with the US joining in a major international effort to put sufficient pressure on the Israeli government to change course.

The first hint came in the Lotte New York Palace hotel where Obama held a 30-minute talk with Netanyahu during the UN General Assembly. Obama raised “profound concerns about the corrosive effect” of settlements on the two-state solution.

Why would he raise this issue if he was just drawing attention to his own failure? If the most powerful man in the world highlights an issue, it could be because he intends to do something about it.

One week later Obama found himself in Jerusalem, leading the tributes to the former Israeli president Shimon Peres.

Peres fought in the Haganah, started the settlements, launched Israel’s nuclear programme and presided over the occupation, so Palestinians have no fond memories of him. But towards the end of his life he became – in his public speeches if not in his actions – a leading “dove”.

Obama was not only the only speaker to mention the “unfinished business of peace” but he made a point in his tribute of quoting Peres’ most “dovish” remarks: “The Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people.” “We are against slaves and masters.” “True security comes from making peace with your neighbours.”

Most tellingly, he quoted Peres’ statement that Israel “will be best protected when Palestinians have a state of their own”.

Few people noticed that in his peroration he drew parallels between the early days of American democracy and today’s Israeli democracy. Both had flaws, he said. He didn’t specify what the flaws were, but there can be little doubt that he was talking about slavery and the occupation of Palestine.

Netanyahu’s response – as so often to Obama’s criticisms – was to announce the building of a new settlement. The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the evacuation of an illegal outpost in the West Bank and instead of relocating the settlers to Israel, Netanyahu announced that he will decant them into 300 new homes to be built elsewhere in the West Bank.

According to Israeli ministers this is just “building a few dozen homes” for the residents of the outpost and the 300 new homes “do not constitute a new settlement”, but Obama’s spokesmen have not bought these excuses.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said: “I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that’s a source of serious concern.”

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said it was “disheartening” that while the world mourned Shimon Peres, the Israelis were busy advancing plans “that would seriously undermine the prospects of the two-state solution he so passionately supported.”

The Israeli press have said it was “especially insulting” coming just a few weeks after President Obama signed a deal giving Israel $38 billion in military aid over 10 years.

Payback will start on Friday October 8th when the Security Council holds a special debate on Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank initiated by the Palestinians. The usual US defence of Israeli actions is expected to be muted, if not entirely absent.

There will be no vote on Friday, but there can be a vote on a French resolution on the settlements which is expected any time after Tuesday November 8th – the date of the US elections. The US veto – which has protected the Israelis at least 40 times in the past – may be absent this time.

The last time the veto was used was February 18th 2011 in a similar motion condemning Israeli settlements which was supported by 14 of the 15 countries on the Security Council (including the UK). Only the US using its veto against – even though the motion was in line with US policy at the time.

This time Obama is being urged to lift his veto from many different directions – including the New York Times who say the “best idea would be to have the United Nations Security Council, in an official resolution, lay down guidelines for a peace agreement, covering such issues as Israel’s security, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and borders for both states”.

Both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump have asked the President not to sign any “one-sided” motions against Israel, but in between election and inauguration they could press but not prevent him from doing so, and once the Security Council has passed the resolution they will not be able to revoke it.

Since the US veto was first used on September 10th 1972, Israel has been shielded by the US from any effective action to bring it into line with international law and with United Nations resolutions. If Obama ends Israel’s 44 years of immunity and joins with the international community in putting pressure on Israeli to comply with international law, it will be no inconsiderable legacy.


Priti Patel freezes aid to Palestine

The new International Development Secretary Priti Patel has frozen a transfer of £25 million out of the £72 million annual aid to Palestine – until the conclusion of an investigation into whether any of the money has been passed to the families of prisoners.

This follows questions from MPs from Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel targeting the UK’s aid programme to Palestine, which goes roughly in thirds to the United Nations refugee agency, the Palestine Authority and co-existence projects.

Both DfID and the Palestine Authority say none of the money from UK taxpayers is used to pay welfare benefits to prisoners’ families, but the MPs argue that UK aid allows them to use more of their own income to make these payments.

There are four answers to this:

The first is humanitarian. Welfare payments go to families of prisoners, not prisoners. In answer to similar questions former aid minister Sir Alan Duncan aid: “The PA operates social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments to households who have lost their main breadwinner. I hope you will also agree that dependent spouses or children should not be held responsible for the crimes of family members, or forced to live in poverty as a consequence”.

The second is also humanitarian. Israeli prisons refuse to provide adequate food and shelter for their 6,000 Palestinian prisoners forcing them to rely on food and clothing brought by relatives who in turn have no income. As the Jerusalem-based civil rights organisation Addameer says: “The military prison authority provides detainees with basic food rations once a month. The provided rations do not meet necessary daily requirements, both in terms of quality and nutritional value.”

The third is political. The Palestinian Authority is answerable to Palestinians and it has no intention of abandoning the families of prisoners. As Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations explained to MPs on the Commons International Development Committee: “The idea that you could have, at this stage in the conflict, a Palestinian Authority that does not treat its prisoners in a certain way, I do not think can exist with the reality we are in.

“If you asked the Northern Ireland warring parties to disavow the people of violence at the wrong moment in that process, one would have undermined that process…

“We de-Palestinianise the PA at our own peril, because the less credibility and legitimacy we impose on it vis-a-vis its own public, the less useful it is, to be honest, for the main purpose it is designed for, which is to be a vehicle for making a peace deal.” Read the Committee report

The 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails include many of the leading Palestinian politicians, such as Marwan Barghouthi, and other elected members of the Palestinian parliament.

The fourth is economic. Palestine would not need any aid from the UK or anywhere else if Israel lifted their restrictions on the Palestinian economy.

As the aid minister Sir Alan Duncan said in March 2014: “A 2011 International Monetary Fund report estimated that without movement and access restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger in terms of GDP a year, amounting to about $6.3 billion. That would remove its dependence on aid.”

Palestinians are entrepreneurial and their economy is very resilient in spite of the crippling burden of the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli theft of land, water and resources in the West Bank, which alone was estimated by the World Bank to cost $3.4 billion a year or 35% of Palestine’s GDP.

The UK’s Palestinian aid budget is a subsidy not so much to Palestinians as to the Israeli government whose obligation it is under international law to shoulder all the costs of occupation.

Sources in the British Foreign Office said: “We are not stopping aid to the Palestinian Authority overall, just delaying it to a date when we know our money won’t be going to people who do nothing in return for it.”
read more:

Friends don’t defend the indefensible

The former Labour and now independent peer Norman Warner sponsored a debate about Palestinian children in the House of Lords just as it was breaking up for the summer recess which produced many powerful speeches, not least from Lord Warner himself.

Here we reproduce a speech by the new Liberal Democrat peer Jonathan Oates as an example of how the strongest criticism of Israel can come from people who regard themselves as friends of Israel:

“My criticisms of the occupation and its inevitable and devastating impacts on Palestinian children arise not out of any hostility to Israel, but, quite the contrary, from a profound respect for the achievements of Israel and its people, and the consequent horror that its values are being so corrupted by the near 50-year occupation and consequent oppression of millions of people. Israel is the only state in the region in which I, as a gay man, could live freely and under the protection of law. I have a great respect for the values of Israel.

“Nevertheless, while there is no comparison between the Government of Israel and that of apartheid South Africa, it is unavoidable and undeniable that many conditions that pertain in the Occupied Territories are similar to those that those of us who spent time in South Africa saw under the apartheid regime: the occupation and settlement of land; the checkpoints; the bulldozing of homes; the military incursions; the detentions of minors; the disregard for legal rights; the night raids; the closed roads; the separate laws; the ongoing humiliations; the deepening anger; the loss of hope; the spread of violence; the settler retaliations; the authorities’ passive and sometimes active acquiescence in the excesses of their own settlers, with whom they inevitably side; and the steady dehumanisation of one side by the other. None of this should be surprising. Whenever one people seeks to rule another through occupation and settlement, it is inevitable that similar methods will be used and similar reactions engendered.

“In all this, children are always in the crossfire: oppressed and exploited by the vile Hamas regime in Gaza and suffering under the suffocating Israeli economic blockade and periodic and overwhelming military assaults in response to Hamas attacks. Or else they are radicalised in the West Bank from years of witnessing their parents humiliated and defeated, and their own aspirations curtailed and destroyed. Hundreds of children are killed, thousands maimed and hundreds of thousands traumatised.

“Given the occupation, it is inevitable that young people come into conflict with the occupying forces. In June 2012 the FCO funded a report into children in military custody, which found that Israel’s military detention system violated six articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and two articles under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In February 2013, as has also been alluded to, a UNICEF report described the ill treatment of children in the military detention system as “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.
“B’Tselem itself has reluctantly concluded that there is no point continuing to file complaints against the military detention system as it has no desire to give credence to a justice system in which there is no justice. A review of developments since the 2012 FCO report indicated that just one of the report’s 40 recommendations had been addressed four years later.

“All of us who passionately believe in Israel need to recognise that true friendship does not lie in defending the indefensible. It exists in having the courage to acknowledge and confront the truth. Organisations such as B’Tselem understand this. Their painstaking work does not, as some detractors suggest, give succour to Israel’s enemies. On the contrary, it bears witness to the enduring values for which Israel was created. After the 1967 war, the founding Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, presciently warned that the continued occupation and settlement of the Palestinian Territories would corrupt the valiant soul of Israel. Nowhere is that more evident than in the willingness of the Israeli authorities to countenance the terrible suffering of Palestinian children as an acceptable price of occupation and settlement.”