Rapper Talib Kweli Barred From Music Fest Over BDS

Bowing to a new law in Germany, the Open Source Festival in Dusseldorf rescinded its invitation to Brooklyn-born rapper Talib Kweli. In May 2019, the German government passed a law stating that the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) until it met the basic national demands of the Palestinian people was anti-Semitic. As a result, Kweli, who is a long-time advocate for the Palestinian cause, could not perform at a music festival using public funds, as this one does.

When it comes to BDS, Germany won’t tolerate “don’t ask, don’t tell” either. I have no idea whether Kweli would have said a word about the Palestinians at his show, and neither do the show’s organizers. Some of Kweli’s songs mention his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israeli policies, but it’s hardly a primary theme of his. It’s just one piece among many of his stances for social justice. He did not start this; the festival producers asked him as a litmus test for his entry.

That’s how far anti-BDS legislation goes in its quest to stifle speech that might illuminate the Palestinian case. Read more at LobeLog

Trump’s Scorched Earth Tour Of Europe

Like many other US citizens, I get very nervous every time Donald Trump goes to meet with foreign leaders. Whether they are friend, foe, competitor, or ally, it seems almost inevitable that Trump will find a creative way to come up with a negative result from the meeting.

His current trip hasn’t disappointed. He started by berating NATO allies and has now moved on to stirring an already boiling pot of political turmoil in the United Kingdom. It seems a good moment to review the trip before the really scary part—the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin—commences. Read more at LobeLog

A Proposed UNSC Ceasefire Plan For Gaza

The attempt to resolve the ongoing, albeit highly uneven, exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza has now reached the United Palestine_election_mapNations Security Council (UNSC). The draft proposal, initially pushed by the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, bears many of the same hallmarks as the most recent Egyptian ceasefire proposal. The United States came late to the game, but at least so far, it appears supportive of the idea. It remains to be seen how this will play out as the proposed resolution nears Security Council consideration.

The goals of the West are clear. One, resolve the current violence. Two, remove the difficult blight of the assault on Gaza, which is a much more powerful motivator for people to join pro-Palestinian protests than the more banal occupation of the West Bank. And three, bring the Gaza Strip back under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

This last goal implies actualizing the unity government that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw as a casus belli. The actions he has taken—especially in June with the so-called “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a massive sweep through the West Bank—were intended to destroy the agreement the PA and Hamas had struck earlier in the year.

The reason for stopping the violence is self-evident. With ongoing talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and, most especially, the new recognition that the Islamic State is a threat that cannot be ignored, the last thing the EU and US need is ongoing turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, what they really need is the return of the peace process. Peace is not necessary, but the spectacle of diplomacy tends to lower the volume on protests in the West over the plight of the Palestinians.

Why Israel Will Dislike the Resolution

Those points address the first two goals, but the real meat is in the third one. Here we need to consider what the “elements” of the proposed UNSC resolution would say. Ha’aretz reported the following:

  • The return of control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
  • Security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities.
  • The prohibition of the sale or supply of all weapons and munitions to the Gaza Strip, unless authorized by the PA.
  • A commitment to preventing the financing of terrorism.
  • The lifting of “economic and humanitarian restrictions” on the Gaza Strip in order to enable the reconstruction, economic rehabilitation and development of the territory.
  • The full reopening of all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, “taking into account the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.”
  • An international mission monitoring and verifying implementation, investigating and reporting violations to both parties and to the Security Council, facilitating the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza and serving as a liaison between the parties.
  • Asking the UN Secretary-General to draft a plan to help the PA establish “effective governance” in Gaza.
  • Urging UN member states to contribute to Gaza’s reconstruction and help the PA to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza and increase the capabilities of its security forces.
  • A call for a return to the talks aimed at a two-state solution

The resolution would seem to enable a lifting of the seven-year long blockade of Gaza while addressing Israel’s security concerns, though it’s not at all certain that the Israeli government would agree with that evaluation of the draft’s terms.

At the same time, this resolution would restore the status quo ante of years gone by when the West Bank and Gaza were regarded as a single territorial unit, the building blocks of the state of Palestine. Netanyahu would undoubtedly regard that as a serious setback, and all the more so because it would mean not only that his ambition to destroy the Palestinian unity government had utterly failed, but also that the unified PA would have some degree of international imprimatur. It would, in short, become a fact of life.

But that particular fact is one even the United States wants to actualize. Netanyahu may have a very hard time convincing the US to employ its UNSC veto power on that basis; he may just have to swallow it.

Many in Israel will recognize the sense of it, but they are represented almost entirely by the opposition, including the Labor Party. Netanyahu’s right flank will be up in arms, to an extent that could threaten his ruling coalition. But he will not be able to do much if the UNSC approves this resolution.

A Conundrum for Hamas

For Hamas, the question becomes whether or not they still want to be part of a unified Palestinian government. The pressures that led them into unity still exist, many of them intensified in the wake of the massive destruction Israel has wreaked upon Gaza. And, with the possibility of lifting the blockade, there are new reasons for Hamas to feel pressed to accept such a resolution.

But things have changed a great deal since the unity agreement was signed. The PA, under Mahmoud Abbas, continued its close cooperation with Israel in maintaining security in the West Bank throughout Israel’s massive West Bank operation in June and the bombardment and invasion of Gaza later in the summer. Abbas’ public standing was reduced to almost zero, and Hamas accordingly has reason to distrust his leadership.

Hamas can easily make the case that continued cooperation with Abbas after such collaboration would be yet another betrayal of the Palestinian people. More than that, though, they will be faced with a stark choice: abandon their identity as an armed resistance movement and hope there will be elections in the near future that will give them a secure place in the government; or, defy the will of the United Nations and escalate their struggle against not only Israel, but also the Palestinian Authority. Given the circumstances of recent events, neither of those options can be very palatable for Hamas.

Hamas’ resources and structural ability to govern Gaza have been crippled, and they simply have no means to address Gaza’s current economic and humanitarian devastation. If they refuse to cooperate with a UNSC resolution like this one, which seems to be gaining momentum, they will need to tell the Palestinian people why they are preventing the lifting of the blockade and refusing the sort of political unity that most Palestinians have considered a top priority for years.

Weakening Hamas is undoubtedly a driving force behind this resolution. If implemented, it would effectively de-fang Hamas while rescuing Abbas from political oblivion. After more than two decades of a fruitless “peace process” that only brought more destruction and Israeli settlements to the Palestinians, and Abbas’ cooperation with Israel, which has made him look like the worst kind of collaborator, the West is probably facing its last chance to keep its reliable partner in place.

Like past international peace plans for this region, the resolution is very advantageous for Israel. It omits any notion of investigations, much less charges, over Israel’s actions in Gaza, provides a solid system to ensure Israeli security, and addresses everything the Israelis have publicly said they were seeking from the bombardment of Gaza. It seems likely that, despite the Israeli public’s heavy rightward tilt, much of it would regard this plan as a good deal.

Fortunately, this resolution is also good for the Palestinian people. There are, to be sure, a huge number of pitfalls here, but an end to the territorial split between the West Bank and Gaza and to the split in the Palestinian leadership is an essential ingredient for any progress. Allowing the Gazan economy to start growing again is also imperative. Rebuilding the strip is an urgent necessity, especially since the shortage of water there, which was already a massive threat, has been greatly exacerbated by Israel’s onslaught.

It’s hard to see how those factors could outweigh the best interests of Hamas in the minds of most Palestinians. If this resolution is submitted and ultimately approved, Hamas will have to confront reality and ask whether it is fighting for itself, or for the Palestinian people.

Israel-Palestine Without A Peace Process

In the past, people have speculated about what Israel and the Occupied Territories would look like if the United States stopped trying to broker the mythical kind of solution that the Oslo process envisioned. Well, now we have an example.

The most radically right-wing government in Israel’s brief history was simply waiting for an opportunity to deliver the most intense and widespread blow to the West Bank. The kidnapping of three young Israelis provided that opportunity and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized it with a vengeance. Under the cover of searching for the kidnapped youths, Netanyahu launched a massive operation to cripple Hamas in the West Bank, further humiliate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and punish the entire Palestinian population for calling for a halt to the charade of the “peace process” and, worse, moving toward a unified leadership.

On the Palestinian side, the fundamental lack of strategy has become ever more apparent. Ditching the US-brokered process has been, for a very long time, the right move, but sloughing it off in a half-hearted way and without a substitute was unconscionably foolish. That’s especially true when you consider how much time there was to devise an alternative strategy to the US-brokered process over so many years. The result is that the Palestinian unity agreement was imperiled before it was signed by the essential incompatibility of the strategies and ideologies of Fatah and Hamas.

This is being played out on a daily basis now: Abbas appears not only weak, but like a traitor as he cooperates with Netanyahu in this massive operation that has yielded nothing with regard to the three kidnapped Israelis but has resulted in hundreds of arrested Palestinians without cause, disruption of work, school and health services throughout the West Bank, hundreds of injuries and, to date, five deaths. Hamas is fanning the flames of anger while denouncing Abbas for his quisling behavior, but it also offers no alternative, unless one foolhardily believes that yet another intifada is going to soften Israeli stances. The last intifada may have shaken up Israelis, and certainly resulted in numerous deaths and injuries in Israel, but it did no harm to Israel’s stability while killing and harming a great many Palestinians. In fact, it only hardened Israel’s positions and worsened conditions for the Palestinians. This suggests that violence, on top of being deplorable, is a foolish course for the Palestinians.

For his part, Netanyahu is playing this to the hilt. It is far from certain that Hamas, as an organization, is responsible for the kidnapping. Right now, it seems much more likely that this was a small group whose members might also have been members of Hamas, but were not acting in concert with the organization. Netanyahu, however, insists he has “unequivocal” proof that Hamas was responsible. The credibility of that claim erodes with each passing day that Bibi refuses to offer evidence for his claim.

Netanyahu’s brand of politics, like most right-wingers, functions best when the country he runs is either angry, scared, or better yet, both. The current situation creates such an atmosphere. The problem will come when and if the tension in the West Bank boils over. And that problem is going to be one that neither the United States nor much of the rest of the world will be able to ignore. They will have to choose a side.

In looking at where we’re headed right now, we must start by understanding that the US is not removed from these events. While the Obama administration has decided to take a “pause” from this conflict and certainly has other matters like Iraq and the advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to occupy its time, it is still Israel’s benefactor, providing arms and, quite likely, the omnipresent protective veto in the UN Security Council. So, the US is still there, whether it wants to be or not.

It will also be drawn further in if the Palestinian Authority collapses and violence in the West Bank is renewed. This seems very much to be the direction Israel is pressing matters towards. If that is the case, then it also stands to reason that the Israeli government intends to annex some part of the West Bank, using the violence as a pretext. Israel, especially given its budgetary constraints these days, is certainly not prepared to supplant the Palestinian Authority in administering the West Bank. The remainder of the West Bank would be surrounded by “Israel” and would be easily contained. From there, local councils or some such arrangements are probably what is envisioned for the lands Israel decides to leave to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu and his cohorts like Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya’alon are gambling that the violence of a third intifada will be enough to convince key governments — particularly, the US, UK and Germany — to tolerate the annexation. By “tolerate” I mean that they would object and “refuse to recognize” the action, much as they have with East Jerusalem, but would take no other action.

That is a huge gamble. It is far from certain that even the United States would acquiesce to such actions, and less so that Britain and Germany would. Even if they did, there would surely be a great uproar from other countries, in Europe and throughout the Muslim world, as well as from Russia, France and China. Even governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are largely indifferent to the Palestinians’ plight would be unable to stay silent.

But the gambit has a few things working in Bibi’s favor as well. First, as much as the Israeli de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 outraged many, the reality of the whole city functioning as an “undivided” capital, however restlessly, has survived for over three decades since then. And that’s Jerusalem, the hottest of hotspots in this conflict. Netanyahu surely reasons that if Jerusalem didn’t start a war, there’s a good chance that annexing the Jordan Valley in a similar manner won’t either.

Moreover, the timing is very good for the annexationists. Not only are all eyes on Iraq with a few still lingering over Ukraine, but the specter of ISIS has renewed the sense of fright that the West feels toward Arabs. These will combine, Bibi surely hopes, to encourage a similar clucking of tongues while doing nothing that has greeted the excesses, both pre- and post-election, of the al-Sisi government in Egypt. Netanyahu’s assessment that he can take an outrageous step and get away with it is thus not without recent precedent. The annexation vision, if that is what Bibi is pursuing, would require years of violence to set the stage for it, or at least many months of intense fighting and bloodshed on both sides (though, as always, the Palestinians will bleed a lot more than Israel).

Abbas, however unwittingly, is helping that process along by working with Israel. Netanyahu is not allowing the Palestinian forces to do much of anything in the current operation, but Abbas is also doing nothing to support his own people. Hamas’ strategy isn’t entirely clear yet, but its obviously trying to capitalize on the Palestinian rage that fuels its support. In Hamas’ view, escalating violence plays into its basic strategy of confrontation rather than collaboration. But the question of whether or not Hamas actually has some endgame vision of how it can make any headway against the might of Israel’s forces, let alone triumph, remains yet to be answered.

So, this is what Israel-Palestine looks like without a sham peace process. Does that mean the sham is preferable? Is it better to have a normalized occupation, with all the banality of its entrenched administration and gradual assimilation of more and more Palestinian land into Israel; or is a possibly long period of bloodshed preferable? Only Israelis and Palestinians can answer that question. That said, the shameful behavior of the US, the international community, the Quartet, the Israeli government, and the Palestinian leadership has left few other options.

Israelis can alter this situation, of course, any time they want by electing a government that wants to make a peace deal. Palestinians can also affect change by developing, organizing and executing a strategy that wins them both attention and increased support in the international arena. At this point, however, both sides seem unwilling and unable to take these paths, which increases the odds of Israel-Palestine spiraling back into extreme violence.

PRISMatic Global Surveillance

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

It’s pretty incredible that in the United States an enormous lobby exists to distort the Second Amendment to make people believe that citizens should have unfettered access to enormous firepower, but there is nothing similar to guard the right to privacy. And when someone comes along and reveals the massive extent to which the United States government is spying on private communication between ordinary citizens, the debate becomes about “national security.”

There are, to be sure, good reasons why any government must keep things secret, and why there are laws to punish those who break the confidence the government places in them when it trusts them with classified information. But even the most elementary definition of notions like liberty and democracy demands that such secrecy be restricted to absolute necessity. The PRISM program and the revelations Edward Snowden made about it don’t begin to meet that standard. And the responses from not only US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper but also President Barack Obama are extremely chilling.

Explaining why the program was classified, Clapper said, “Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a ‘playbook’ of how to avoid detection.” Put bluntly, that’s just nonsense. How many of us, before the revelations about PRISM, believed all of our electronic communications, including the telephone, were impervious to government spying? The only thing Edward Snowden revealed was the existence of the program. Does anyone seriously believe that al-Qaeda thought they could just send emails around the world with no risk of discovery by the US government? Please.

As Obama said, “There’s a reason these programs are classified.” That’s true, but it is not because of the false choice the President laid out that US citizens “can’t have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” No one is asking for that. Obama’s statement is meant to frighten us with the threat of terrorism into sacrificing more of our freedom. It speaks volumes that the PRISM program, though started by George W. Bush, has expanded exponentially under Obama. It says even more that the author of the Patriot Act (which first expanded the government’s power using the excuse of fighting terrorism after the 9/11 attacks), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Jr., a Republican, considers the program “an abuse” of the draconian law he wrote.

No, PRISM was not classified for security reasons, as the information it uncovered could be argued to have been. It was kept secret because US citizens would be angered by the breadth of the surveillance of their electronic communications. Again, many already assumed this was going on, though PRISM’s scope probably surprised them too. But the acquiescence of the internet corporations who own the servers being monitored — all the big ones, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, AOL, et al — is going to have a chilling effect on internet traffic and internet commerce. That is one reason it was kept secret. The other is that the Bush and Obama Administrations were concerned that if the breadth of the surveillance was known, the people of the United States just might object.

Can there be a clearer violation of the Constitution? Not only does PRISM directly violate the Fourth Amendment in as blatant a manner as could be conceived, it was intentionally hidden only to make sure the will of the people could not enter the conversation. Yet the streets are not filled with US citizens demanding accountability. This says a great deal about the post-9/11 US, and just how much freedom we are now willing to sacrifice for a “war on terror” that has availed us nothing.

But the issue speaks to much more than just the rights of US citizens to privacy. Almost all of the restrictions that are in place and even the more ephemeral ones that Obama and Clapper claim to be in place act only to protect some measure of US privacy. According to the leaked PowerPoint presentation on PRISM (which, it should be noted, no one has claimed is falsified), the program uses search terms to find out which of the trillions of pieces of data it has intercepted are “foreign.” That it has only a 51% level of certainty is troublesome for Americans, but the implication that every single person on the planet outside of US citizens is fair game should trouble us even more.

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is the legal basis for this program, such spying on citizens of other countries can proceed virtually unencumbered. In olden times, before the internet, the limitations of access and prohibitive cost served as barriers to wanton surveillance. It simply was too much trouble and too costly to spy on random citizens of other countries.

But now, with a global data network, where every bit of information passes through numerous servers and where US corporations that own many of the biggest servers do a lot of their business globally as well, those restrictions are absent. Yet nothing in US law changes the playing field with the new technology.

Voices of outrage have already been heard in Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand and other US allies. But the main focus of the surveillance, of course, is countries like Pakistan and Iran. But what have we said to the citizens of those countries? That’s a question we might consider the next time we start thinking “they hate us for our freedoms,” which we in the US are sacrificing because of our own fear, rather than wondering if we are not enraging “them” with our hubris.

The scandal has been prominent, and the media fallout severe. Yet the US moves along with business as usual. The US government has violated the Constitution in the most egregious way, and we have established ourselves as a state that considers it perfectly acceptable to spy on everyone else, without any control or semblance of probable cause. You wonder what it would take to bring US citizens into the streets en masse. We could, perhaps, learn something from the Turks.