An FAQ: How To Respond To Common Defenses of Opposition to PCUSA Resolution

There are very legitimate arguments about different kinds of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanction (BDS). Indeed, I have made many

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of them myself. This is why I do not consider myself personally connected to the so-called “BDS Movement.” But since the late 1990s I have been advocating for public, economic pressures on Israel to change its policies, because without such pressure it has no reason to do so. Like any other country, Israel makes difficult policy shifts only when the cost of the current policy clearly and unarguably outweighs the risk of change.

For these reasons, among others, I have been a strong advocate, for most of this century, for what become known as “selective divestment,” although it can encompass other actions as well. Targeted actions, rather than sweeping calls to boycott anything and everything Israeli are, in my view, both more effective and more just. I had once hoped that this strategy would take broader hold, because I feared that otherwise, the entire notion of economic action would come to be identified with one segment of the pro-Palestinian/anti-occupation crowd—the more radical and anti-Zionist strain. While BDS is employed and supported by many anti-occupation activists, including not a few who consider themselves liberal or left-wing Zionists, my fear of how BDS would be identified has indeed come to pass. That sad event can be laid at the feet both of over-zealous BDS activists and at some ostensibly anti-occupation people and groups who really should know better. Continue reading

Hope and Pessimism as Israelis and Palestinians Resume Talks

via IPS News

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators returned to the negotiating table on Thursday, ready to put claims by the United States that it will engage more forcefully in the negotiating process to the test.

The talks, which paused for the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, have been struggling amidst Palestinian complaints of Israeli foot-dragging and the lack of U.S. participation.

Yet for all the enthusiasm around the revived peace talks, there remains considerable doubt about the prospects for ultimate success.

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, a non-profit organisation working to raise funds to aid the Palestinian people, believes it unlikely that a permanent agreement will be possible.

“Ideally, all parties would like a comprehensive agreement, except Israel wants one on their terms, the Palestinians want on their terms, and the U.S. wants something that can stick,” he told IPS.

“None of these goals are really in line now. Israeli and Palestinian positions are so far apart that the U.S. may want to save face with an interim agreement. It would be in Israel’s interest at very little cost to them but at a high cost to the Palestinians. And this would be a disaster.”

Yet some see hope as dovish lobbying groups are gaining more prominence in Washington. The moderate group J Street appears to have overcome attempts by more hawkish pro-Israel groups, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to marginalise it.

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama dispatched his vice president, Joe Biden, to speak at J Street’s annual conference and rally its supporters behind the peace-making efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Biden’s appearance, along with those of Obama’s special envoy Martin Indyk, Israel’s lead negotiator Tzipi Livni and Israeli opposition leader Shelly Yachimovitch, as well as House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, offered strong evidence that J Street has established itself as a significant force here.

“It’s become an accepted notion that there is not only one mass movement lobbying org in DC, which is AIPAC,” Ori Nir, spokesperson for Americans for Peace Now (APN) told IPS.

“What J Street can do now, having been around for five years, it can authentically and credibly claim that its positions [supporting robust negotiations for peace] represent the pro-Israel community much more authentically than the traditional leadership. That puts wind in the sails of the Obama administration.”

Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel and a top Middle East policymaker under former President Bill Clinton, believes there is a real chance for success in the current talks.

“We’ve agreed to intensify the talks, and the U.S. will increase its involvement,” Indyk said at the conference. “All the core issues are on the table and our common objective is a final status agreement, not an interim one.

“The parties have agreed to resolve all the issues in nine months,” he continued. “Both sides have negotiated for years. The outline of an agreement is clear. What is needed is leadership and political decisions.”

However, Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Affairs, and former senior policy adviser to Oslo Accords architect Yossi Beilin, expressed strong scepticism about the current talks.

“I don’t see [Netanyahu] as having walked toward a realistic two-state solution,” Levy said. “From what I understand there is a refusal to present a map, not even of the borders of the settlement blocs. He wants to not remove any settlements and maintain an ongoing military presence…

“I fear that we may repeat some of the old mistakes: an over-emphasis on bilateral negotiations, lack of a frame of reference, and a fetishisation of process [over results].”

J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben Ami, laid out his vision for a two-state solution, emphasising that both sides would have to make sacrifices. On the Israeli side, this includes sharing Jerusalem and evacuating some settlements.

On the Palestinian side, it means accepting a de-militarised state, which many Palestinians see as a denial of their full sovereignty, and acknowledging that virtually no Palestinian refugees would return to Israel, a key Palestinian national aspiration.

“The two-state solution is the only solution for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people and the only way we can secure the future of the region for all their children,” Ben-Ami told his supporters.

Asked by IPS if he was concerned that the proposed solution might not prevail in referendums, which both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have conditionally set as requirements for any final agreement, Ben-Ami said, “The publics on both sides have hardened their positions in the last 20 years. So the selling of a deal is harder than it was.

“I think the ultimate deal will involve sacrifices and compromises. I don’t know what they will be but they will be hard to sell and all of us will have a tough selling job to do and we have to be ready to do that.”

But Husam Zomlot, the executive deputy commissioner for international affairs of the Palestinian Authority, spoke passionately at the conference about the rights of Palestinian refugees.

“Some of [the refugees] want to stay where they are. Some of them might want to resettle somewhere else in a third country. Some of them might want to come back to the State of Palestine. And some of them might want to return to their original homes. But all of them want one thing: full recognition of the Nakba (catastrophe, referring to the dispersion of Palestinians during Israel’s war of independence from 1947-49) that has befallen our people.”

Zomlot cushioned his point by indicating that his own father would not choose to physically return, suggesting that many Palestinian refugees would feel similarly. Still, this issue seems far from easily resolved.

As far as Palestinians are concerned the right of return is a human right,” Munayyer said. “In my view, human rights are not negotiable.”

Mideast Peace Talks Get New Lease on Life

Six months of United States diplomatic efforts have finally restarted talks between Israelis and Palestinians, yet pessimism about their potential for success persists.

On Monday, negotiators from both sides met in Washington for the first time since talks broke off three years ago, amid Israel’s refusal to concede to the Palestinian demand that construction in Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, be suspended during the talks.

The latest round of resuscitated talks was finalised when Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli prisons for decades. The first group of those prisoners is expected to be released next week, while further releases will occur periodically, depending on the progress of negotiations.

”The talks will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” a State Department statement said.

The negotiations are expected to last some nine months, at the end of which the U.S. hopes to have an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on all “final status” issues, including borders, settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and other contentious points.

To manage the process, the United States has appointed its former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, as lead negotiator. While early indications are that Indyk is an acceptable choice to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his appointment has also been controversial on all sides.

Hardline supporters of Israeli policy consider Indyk too soft on the Palestinians. When word first leaked of Indyk’s pending appointment a week ago, Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence Danny Danon, a leading opponent of peace with the Palestinians, wrote a letter to Netanyahu opposing Indyk and asking the Prime Minister to “…ask the American administration for an honest broker for these negotiations.”

He bases his opposition to Indyk’s support of the New Israel Fund, a moderate, liberal international Jewish group which has been the focus of a smear campaign, including unsubstantiated accusations of funding “anti-Zionist” programmes in Israel.

Pro-Palestinian forces have also questioned Indyk’s appointment, claiming that his background with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his years as the first head of the AIPAC-backed Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), show a strong pro-Israel bias.

Finally, many other observers question the wisdom of appointing a figure who was so central to the failed negotiations of the past, particularly in the 1990s, including the disastrous Camp David II summit of 2000, which preceded the start of the second intifada.

With the framework for the talks shrouded in secrecy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the appointment of Indyk is one of the few indicators for the direction the talks are being steered in, and therefore the main focal point of analysis. Groups which strongly support the continuation of the Oslo process and a strong and immediate push for a two-state solution have come out strongly in support of Indyk.

Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said, “Ambassador Indyk is an experienced diplomat and a brilliant analyst. He has the skills, the depth of knowledge, and the force of personality to serve Secretary Kerry as an excellent envoy.”

“He knows the issues, he knows the leaders and the negotiators, and he has a proven record of commitment to peace and to a progressive Israel that lives up to its founding fathers’ vision of a state that is both Jewish and a democracy.”

DeLee’s view was echoed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group, J Street.

“The negotiations ahead promise to be tough and will require active, determined and creative US leadership and diplomacy if they are to succeed. Ambassador Indyk can bring all these attributes to the task. Secretary of State John Kerry could not have chosen a more qualified envoy.”

But Stephen Walt, professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is dubious about Indyk’s role.

“There are obvious reasons to be concerned by Indyk’s appointment,” Walt told IPS. “He is passionately devoted to Israel, and began his career in the United States working for AIPAC, the most prominent organisation in the Israel lobby.

“He was among the team of U.S. diplomats who bungled the Oslo peace process during the Clinton administration (1993-2001). He was also a vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq, which casts serious doubt on his strategic judgment or knowledge of the region. There is no reason for the Palestinians to see him as a true ‘honest broker’.”

Yet while Indyk’s past association with the U.S. pro-Israel lobby has raised eyebrows, few doubt that he is currently much less connected to it than his predecessor as the leading interlocutor with Israel and the Palestinians, Dennis Ross. Ross, who played a central role in U.S. Middle East diplomacy in the administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is currently a counselor at WINEP.

Walt acknowledges the possibility that Indyk’s position might be different now than it was when he last engaged directly in Israel-Palestine peacemaking.

“Indyk’s views seem to have evolved over time,” Walt said. “He may understand that this is his last chance to make a genuine contribution to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is also the last chance for a genuine two-state solution, which remains the best of the various alternatives.

“Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians should all hope that he surprises us, and that the elder Indyk behaves in ways that the younger Indyk would have strenuously opposed.”

Little Support in Washington for Kerry’s Mideast Efforts

While Secretary of State John Kerry was in Israel declaring his aim to “exhaust all the possibilities of peace” to try to stop wasting the Obama Administration’s time and energy on the futile effort to find a resolution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, Congress was illustrating once again why the United States cannot play a constructive role in this conflict.

Congressional activity this month has been largely focused on Iran and, to a lesser degree, Syria. But a few events demonstrated that, despite President Barack Obama’s lofty goals and rhetoric about peace, Congress has continued its long-term, bi-partisan shift to the right on this issue. Interestingly, one of the most illustrative examples was actually a bill in support of peace and a two-state solution to the conflict.

That bill, H.Res.238, titled “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding United States efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace,” was brought by California Democrat Barbara Lee, one of the most ardent pro-peace voices in Congress. The bill is mostly unremarkable; it does nothing more than re-state what is, ostensibly, long-standing US policy. Yet, if anyone was paying any attention to the bill, they would notice that one of the provisions “calls on the Israeli Government to cease support for and to prevent further settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories.”

This is, of course, official US policy, but in practice, it is opposed by most of Congress and the Israel Lobby. Obama found out how difficult it can be to pursue US interests and enforce official US policy early in his first term when he attempted to get Israel to comply with this very idea.

The bulk of Lee’s bill, both in the preamble and the eleven “resolved” clauses, is an unequivocal praise of US peace efforts, from Ronald Reagan through Obama, and an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. Yet the bill has only four co-sponsors and was immediately referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it will quite certainly die. It is telling that on the same day Lee introduced this bill, she put out two press releases, neither of which mentions H.Res.238.

While Lee has to find a way to bulk up her pro-peace credentials quietly, so she won’t incur the wrath of AIPAC (which, despite Lee representing the very liberal areas of Berkeley and Oakland, California, is very strong in her district), those who oppose any sort of resolution of this conflict operate openly and proudly. The so-called “Israel Allies Foundation,” an ultra-right wing group which opposes any sharing of Jerusalem, will celebrate the anniversary of the Israeli occupation with an event in the Rayburn House office building of the House of Representatives. According to their announcement, the event will include speeches from Congress members while “Jewish and Christian leaders” gather with their assembled flock to pray.

As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now explains, “IAF was ‘pioneered’ by far right-wing Israeli former MK Benny Elon, a longtime opponent of the two-state solution, a strong supporter of the settlement movement, a devotee of the “Jordan is Palestine” approach, and an advocate of “transfer” of Palestinians.  Elon has authored his own “peace plan” whose first point is: “Government Decision: Declaring the Palestinian Autorithy [sic] an enemy.” He and his views have long received a warm welcome from some on Capitol Hill, including as recently as February of this year.”

It is telling that, as Kerry was preparing for his latest excursion to Israel, Congress was very quiet about Israel-Palestine peace. Aside from Lee’s meaningless bill, there was hardly a peep on Capitol Hill about Kerry’s trip. Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet was debating whether or not the two-state solution is even Israel’s position in the first place.

The situation has grown so dire that J Street, the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby”, issued an alert to its members asking them to demand that Israel “affirm the Israeli government’s commitment to two states for two peoples.” According to their alert, “For there to be any hope of progress, the Israeli government must state unequivocally that support for a two-state solution is a core principle of its foreign policy – as it has been under every Prime Minister since Yitzhak Rabin.”

This is, however, a patent falsehood. Rabin’s position was never a two-state solution. He initiated the Oslo process, but the endgame was, quite intentionally, never defined before his death. Nor did his successor, Shimon Peres, ever affirm support for a two-state solution while in office. The next Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ran for office on an explicitly anti-Oslo platform, and his party, the Likud Coalition, to this day expresses absolute opposition to a Palestinian state as part of its platform. Ehud Barak proposed a two-state solution of sorts, though its terms were clearly never going to be acceptable to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon removed Israel’s settlements from Gaza, and his closest advisor, Dov Weisglass, said that the purpose of that withdrawal was to freeze the peace process, a statement Sharon never repudiated. And, while Ehud Olmert seemed to support a two-state solution, when the Palestinians offered almost total capitulation on issues of territory, Jerusalem and refugees, his government still rejected it.

J Street is understandably grasping at straws. Without the Oslo framework of a two-state solution, it has no reason to exist, and is very likely to wither and die. It is therefore desperate to maintain the illusion that the peace process as it has existed for the past twenty years is still alive, even though it is clear to any rational observer that it’s not.

Kerry’s current blitz, whether intentional or not, is going to be the final nail in the coffin. As the entire question of Palestine slips behind an Iranian and Syrian curtain for the summer, it will take a dramatic action to bring attention back to it. But that action will not come from John Kerry or Barack Obama. It might come from an Israeli government that could feel emboldened by the lack of attention on the Palestinian Territories to take the sort of actions that Naftali Bennett, who has called for annexation by Israel of 60% of the West Bank, would recommend. It could come from the Palestinians, if they finally choose to face reality and acknowledge that the United States is incapable, due to its “unshakeable bond” with Israel and the enormous influence of the Israel Lobby, of ever pressuring Israel into even the minimal concessions needed to start talks again, let alone bring them to a conclusion.

Or it could happen because this situation, in all its hopelessness and cynicism, finally erupts into sustained violence again. But whatever the outcome turns out to be, we can be sure that in the near term, the issue will move to the back burner. In the long-term, whenever it emerges, the playing field will no longer reflect acceptance of the Oslo process and its endless negotiations to nowhere.

 

Chuck Hagel And Israel: The Wrong Question

Chuck Hagel is not exactly my kind of guy. Hagel is an old-school Conservative Republican and his voting record in the Senate lines up pretty well with that image. He was poor on civil rights, favored the rich in economic matters, generally opposed abortion, voted against campaign finance reform, and, despite later opposition, he voted for the Iraq War. Yet the dominant question around his still-only-rumored nomination for Secretary of Defense is how pro-Israel he is.

Hagel is a Realist who would have been quite comfortable on the foreign policy teams of Dwight Eisenhower or George H.W. Bush. Ironically for liberals and leftists, that conservative-Republican school is often much closer in practice to our foreign policy ideals than so-called liberal Democrats tend to be. But in 2012’s version of conservatism, that stance makes him adangerous character. This is especially true with regard to the issue of US policy toward Israel, where Hagel, while certainly being far from a peace activist, advocates an interest-based, non-ideological approach.

And that is really the nub of the issue. Even for many defenders of Hagel’s nomination, the question of what is best for Israel is a central one. It seems obvious that when considering a Cabinet position in the US government, the questions should be confined to what is best for US interests, whatever each individual thinks those interests might be. But in the bizarre world of Washington around this issue, somehow that is not the case.

President Obama’s potential nomination of Hagel as his next Secretary of Defense can be a complicated question for advocates of Palestinian rights and a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hagel represents, on this one issue, something close to the best attitude we could realistically hope for in the upper levels of Washington. He advocated that the US call for an immediate cease-fire in the 2006 war on Lebanon; he supports the US talking with Hamas; he opposed listing Hezbollah as a terrorist group so they could be spoken with openly; and he opposes military action against Iran. As far as they go, these are certainly positions most of us can agree with.

But they are also the positions that have brought sharp attacks on Hagel, and that’s not surprising; they are positions with which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently disagrees. And what Bibi disagrees with, his friends in the so-called “Israel Lobby” in Washington will zealously attack. Thus, Hagel is anti-Israel, maybe even anti-Semitic.

The tactic is tried and true. AIPAC has remained notably silent on Hagel, allowing the attacks to come from the neoconservative circles, represented by Bill KristolElliot Abrams and others of their ilk. It is a sad comment on the state of political discourse in the United States that, despite their monumental foreign policy failures during the George W. Bush administration, the neocons’ views are still given considerable weight in Washington. And against that weight is Barack Obama, who showed himself in his first term to be a weak leader who tries to avoid confrontation. A December 23 report in the National Journal indicated that Obama may be caving in to the pressure on Hagel.

This is distressingly familiar. In Obama’s first term, he nominated Chas Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. Freeman, a critic of Israeli policies but, like Hagel, a supporter of Israeli security and the alliance (although not the “special relationship) between Israel and the United States, came under fierce attack and eventually withdrew from consideration for the post. The attacks on Freeman were initially based on his views on Israel, but later were organized as well around his “close relationship” with the Saudi government and a comment he made about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China, which was made in a private e-mail and, according to Freeman, taken out of context.

Hagel, too, has come under fire for other reasons, most notably a remark he made about the 1998 appointment of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg, the first openly gay ambassador in US history. Hagel questioned the appointment, calling Hormel “openly and aggressively gay,” a remark which, as it should, angered LGBT folks everywhere. But Hagel has had fourteen years to reconsider his views, and in that time a lot of education has happened with many people. Hagel issued an apology and it is worth noting that James Hormel’s initial skepticism of the apology has received a great deal more media coverage than his subsequent statement that the apology was “significant.” Hormel, in a post on his Facebook page, said “I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal — they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted — perhaps Sen. Hagel has progressed with the times, too…Sen. Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.”

The Human Rights Campaign also recognized Hagel’s apology as significant and closed the book on the issue, but that has not made it go away. No one in Washington, whatever they might say in public, believes the controversy over Hagel has anything to do with his beliefs on LGBT rights any more than anyone here believed that the controversy over Freeman had anything to do with China. This is all about Israel, and, more to the point, the far-right Likud agenda which drives not only the majority in the Knesset but virtually the entirety of the Israel Lobby in the United States.

It is worth noting that the tiny Log Cabin Republican organization suddenly came up withenough funding to take out a full page ad in the New York Times of December 27, denouncing Hagel as “wrong on gay rights, wrong on Israel, wrong on Iran.” It’s not much of a mystery where they got the money to do this.

The Wrong Response

Some have chosen to defend Hagel by arguing that “No, no, no. he really is pro-Israel.” There is some reason for optimism on this point, as one of the leading “liberal hawk” voices on Israel, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg defended Hagel on this basis. But voices that are expected to be more liberal on this issue have also used Hagel’s pro-Israel record as the basis for their defense of him. The Center for American Progress, which has, in the past couple of years, been purged of most of its most critical voices on this issue, came up with a list of pro-Israel statements by Hagel, and J Street, naturally, based its entire defense of Hagel on this point.

While there is certainly some merit to exposing the neocons’ distortions of Hagel’s record, in opposing their efforts by claiming Hagel is really pro-Israel only reinforces the idea that Israeli approval of top US officials is a worthy litmus test for such appointments. Of course, even the neocons won’t explicitly claim that US officials should meet Israeli/Israel Lobby approval, but in practice this is not only what they believe, in practice, it may not be absolute, but the Lobby’s voice on such appointments carries a great deal of weight.

This is not a left or right, peace or war issue. Peace and Palestine solidarity activists have no illusions about the potential for individuals who share our views to be appointed to Cabinet positions in the US government. But that hardly means we need to continue to tolerate an environment, which has persisted in Washington for too many years now, where a neoconservative view of the US-Israel relationship can, if not actually exercise a veto, make appointments to Cabinet posts very difficult if they don’t approve of the candidates.

This time, the Lobby’s actions have stirred some significant responses. Americans for Peace Now managed to oppose the smear campaign against Hagel without pleading his “pro-Israel” bona fides, but on the merits of his qualifications. So did a list of retired US diplomats, including several former Ambassadors to Israel. Andrew Sullivan launched a spirited attack on the neocons’ tactics here in the Daily Beast.

In the New York Times, Tom Friedman split the difference, both defending Hagel as being good for Israel and arguing that this is not the proper basis for deciding on a Secretary of Defense. Long-time Jewish affairs DC correspondent James Besser points to the cliff the Lobby is heading towards by taking shots at people like Hagel. On the other hand, the conservative Cato Institute also blasts the Lobby’s campaign against Hagel.

All of this adds up to a strong case for Obama to stand up and pick Hagel. Several Senators, most notably Republican Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have implied that Hagel would have a difficult road to confirmation. But the reality is that there is a great deal of backing for Hagel, he is well-respected in the Senate, Republicans would look very silly if they vote en masse against one of their own and Democrats will have a tough time opposing Obama on this. In other words, the reason the Lobby is going at this so hard now is that this is when Hagel is much more vulnerable.

This is a real opportunity to deal the Lobby a big loss. One doesn’t have to like Chuck Hagel to see the value in that.