Saturday, July 25, 2009

Israel Isolated, Alone, and Shunned by the World Regarding its Settlements

Switzerland has become the latest nation that has asked Israel to stop all its settlement activities in the occupied territories. In a statement released on Thursday July 23, 2009, the Swiss Foreign Minisrty said, "Switzerland is deeply concerned about the destruction of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem near the old town and the planned eviction of Palestinian families." It also said that East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories and under international humanitarian law Israel must protect the local civilian population, and that, "There is no military necessity that could justify the destruction of these houses or the eviction of Palestinian families. The Israeli settlement policy is not compatible with efforts to find a lasting global solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians."

On Tuesday July 21, 2009, both France and Russia asked Netanyahu to freeze settlement activities. Moscow said plans to build 20 apartments in Sheikh Jarrah should be abolished. "The settlement should be stopped immediately in line with the Roadmap," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said. And Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Tuesday that France summoned Israeli ambassador to demand halt to settlement construction in eastern part of Jerusalem. But in reply, Deputy FM Ayalon of Israel said, " Israel would continue to operate in accordance with its vital national interests. Our right to develop Jerusalem is irrefutable."

Also on Tuesday July 21, 2009, the European Union called on Israel to halt all construction in East Jerusalem, saying it obstructed the Middle East peace process.

The European Commission has criticized Israel's settlement policy. "Israel's settlement policy helps strangle the Palestinian economy and makes the Palestinian government more dependent on foreign aid. Expropriation of fertile land for Israeli settlements, roads that serve settlers only and West Bank checkpoints help constrain Palestinian economic growth and make the Palestinian government more dependent on aid."

The current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency, Sweden, has urged Israel "to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including home demolitions and evictions, as stated also by the Quartet 26 June, 2009. Such actions are illegal under international law."

At a meeting in the Italian city of Trieste last month, the Middle East Quartet - the EU, Russia, the USA and the UN - called on Israel to halt West Bank settlement expansion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration also urged Israel not to build more settlements, and warned that it risked political suicide if it continued to do so. Mr. Puprecht Polenz, the head of German Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Israel's aim of having secure borders would only be possible with a two state solution.

President Barack Obama, too, has asked Netanyahu repeatedly, and through his Middle East envoy Mr. George Mitchell, and also in person in Washington, to stop all settlement building activities.

But so far Netanyahu has resisted pressure successfully, and he hasn't budged. He has said clearly and bluntly that his government has no intention of recognizing international laws or opinions with respect to Israel's land-grab in the West Bank, which he calls "Judea and Samaria." "I wish to make this clear," he has said, "the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel."

The United Nations does not recognize the term "Judea and Samaria". People who refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria in political debate usually believe that these territories are part of Israel and should remain so.

On Thursday July 23, 2009, the Israeli government rejected France's demand to halt settlement expansion activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The settlements have been built in violation of the Fouth Geneva Convention, which says the occupying power is not allowed to transfer citizens from its own territory to the occupying territory.

It is now abundantly clear that there is a synchronized effort among the major nations of the world to put pressure on Israel to change its ways. Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the European Union, Russia, USA and the UN - all have asked Israel to freeze its settlements. India, which aspires to be a world class technology giant and economic super power, is strangely silent regarding Israel's settlements. I suppose Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is still thinking about how to respond and what to say. I wonder whether a cup of strong Darjeeling tea might help to wake him up.

But all this heat from all the corners of the world, I am sad to say, has generated no light. The peace tunnel is ominously dark and gloomy. Thousands of bombed-out Palestinians in Gaza are homeless and still living in tents.

Wahington has declared through its State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, that it is not contemplating financial or economic pressure against Israel in response to Mr. Netanyahu's intransigence. I suppose tanks, and missiles and white phosphorus bombs and other military weapons will continue to flow into Israel, and billions of American dollars will continue to fill Israeli coffers. Which raises an interesting question: Would Netanyahu change his settlement policy secure with the knowledge that President Obama wouldn't use military and economic sanctions against Israel? And if Netanyahu need not pay a price for his short-sighted policy, why would he change it and antagonize the settlers?

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “My Donkey Has Three Legs.”

In the elementary school –Annie Besant School - I attended in Mangaluru, India, when I was in the fourth grade, we had a learned, kind, patient teacher who regaled us with stories to make or illustrate a point. Each of the stories he told had a seed of wisdom, a grain of truth, a moral value, a point to remember, and a lesson to learn. We would all listen to him in silence, our mouths half agape, in awe of his abundant wisdom and vast knowledge. Among the dozens of his stories that I still remember vividly even now, one story is relevant to Israel’s Netanyahu today. It’s titled, “My donkey has three legs”.

The story is short and simple: In a school in a small village, a teacher asked his first grade pupils, “How many legs does a donkey have?” A dozen tiny hands were raised by students very eager to answer the question. There was a consensus. They all agreed that a donkey has four legs, except for a boy named Krishna, who shouted that donkeys have only three legs. “Why do you say that donkeys have three legs?” asked the teacher, and showed Krishna a picture of a donkey. “Now tell me, how many legs does a donkey have?”
“Three,” said Krishna, “because, we have a donkey at home. It has three legs.”
The teacher turned away from Krishna, and said,“A sane, wise man must not argue with a stubborn, unreasonable man, a man who refuses to see.”

To resolve the long simmering conflict between Israel and Palestine, President Obama asked Netanyahu to dismantle all illegal outposts and freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu responded, saying that Israel will not freeze the settlements, and that, instead, it would build 1450 more houses in the Adam settlement. President Obama asked Netanyahu again to freeze the settlements. Netanyahu responded by announcing that his government has decided to allow construction of 20 settler residences at the site known to the Palestinians as Karm al-Mufti (Vineyard of the Mufti) in East Jerusalem. In his Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu had pledged that his government will not be confiscating privately-owned Palestinian land anymore. But he has changed his mind again. His administration is considering confiscating privately-owned Palestinian land near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, to build a new sewage treatment plant for the residents. This announcement was made by the state prosecutor, in response to a High Court petition filed by a resident of the West Bank town Ein Yabrud and the human rights association Yesh Din.

When confronted by such obstinacy, what can President Obama do? The answer is quite simple. Cut off the almost unending flow of US tax-payer dollars into the Israeli coffers (about 3.9 billion dollars per year in economic and military aid). He will see instantaneous results, and he will even hear a change in Netanyahu’s pitch and tone. It’s time to stop the unending haggling over the settlements with the intransigent Israeli government. Mr. George Mitchell need not fly all over the world pretending to negotiate to bring peace to ME. Why waste valuable jet fuel?

Instead of wasting time negotiating with unreasonable politicians, President Obama should announce that his administration has recognized the State of Palestine as bounded by the internationally recognized 1966 (pre-1967) borders, and ask the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution recognizing the state of Palestine also. This is essentially what Mr. Javier Solana, EU High Representative and the current EU president, has suggested that President Obama should do. The old roadmap for peace died on the day Netanyahu became Israel’s Prime Minister. I believe that now Solana’s suggestion is the only road that will lead to peace in the Middle East.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Israeli Settlements: The Red Button That Could Detonate and Destroy the Peace Process

Have you seen the map lately of the West Bank and its adjacent areas – the land on which the people of Palestine are expected to establish their nation? I did, and it looked like an odd shaped, badly cut slice of a Birthday cake that has been gnawed surreptitiously not by mice, but by rats. To some it might even look like a slice of Swiss cheese with giant holes carved out to create the ever-expanding and illegal Israeli settlements and outposts.

President Obama, to his credit, has been clear and unequivocal regarding his stance on these settlements: that they are against the International laws, and UN resolutions, and that they are an obstacle for peace in the region. These outposts and settlements do not conform to, nor comply with, the Roadmap for Peace, he has stated. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, too, has been unequivocal regarding these settlements. She has said curtly, “We want to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions… That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.” Mr. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, meets mostly behind closed doors with Israeli leaders, only to emerge to shake hand with them and pose for the press photographers with a bright smile on his face, as if every thing is hunky-dory.

It’s obvious that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration loves Palestinian ancestral lands a lot more than it is willing to grant justice for Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has been adamant from the very beginning regarding the construction of more housing in the settlements. “We will not freeze the settlements,” has been his mantra. But the intense pressure he has been feeling, even from Israel’s traditional allies - Britain, France, Canada and Australia - and the universal criticism he has been facing, regarding the settlements and the encroachment of Palestinian ancestral lands, have had an impact on him, and his feet seem to be buckling a bit, and he has revised and modified his mantra to “I will agree to a temporary freeze for three to six months.” But the question remains: What will happen at the end of six months? I am astonished that few major magazines and newspapers have asked this pertinent question. Will the construction of houses in the West Bank and the demolition of houses belonging to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in East Jerusalem continue after the three month freeze expires? Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak had approved very recently the construction of 50 new houses as part of a cluster of 1450 houses soon to be built in the Adam settlement; but this fact was leaked to the press only after Mr. Barak returned to Israel after meeting with President Obama in Washington. When Mr. Barak was in Washington, he was silent regarding these fifty houses he had approved.

Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Ehud Barak have been using euphemisms and code words and fancy terminology to describe the actual and also the anticipated settlement activities: “accommodating natural growth”, “vertical growth, building vertically, adding more floors”, and “building next to or near the existing houses, but within the boundary of the established settlements”; but the boundaries of the settlements haven’t been clearly established, and they are always subject to interpretations and change. Also, illegal and unauthorized outposts which were dismantled by the military, under court orders, magically reappear within days after being dismantled.

The central fact regarding the settlements is indisputable. As a group, the settlements are akin to a glaring red button which, when pressed, could detonate and demolish the entire peace process. It’s beyond dispute that for peace to sprout, the settlements must be frozen; and for peace to endure, the settlements must remain dormant. In the last eight years of the Bush administration, seeing an unwavering friend in the White House, the Israelis went on a settlement building spree, with the aid of billions of dollars that the US happily gave; and they have been brazenly waltzing and tap-dancing around this red button. But the old band is gone now, and a new band is now playing an alien and unaccustomed tune, with a distinct Saudi Arabian lilt, which the Israelis have already felt as grating upon their pampered ears. But sooner or later, the new band, too, shall stop playing the startling and Middle-Eastern sounding music, and the settlement expansion party will be over. All parties do inevitably end. And when the music stops and the dancing ends it’s time that the dancers look in the huge mirror on the wall and ask the question, “Do we really want peace?”
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ