ISRAEL: POWER & INFLUENCE
The cause of Israel, once a priority for a large tranche of the liberal world that wanted so much for this brave adventure to succeed, has become eroded over the course of time by the situation of the wretched Palestinians. Then there were the years of crude Likud-type policies and unacceptable actions such the Shatila and Sabrah massacres for which the Israeli commission set up to investigate, found Ariel Sharon bore "personal responsibility." This is the man the Israelis subsequently made their leader.
More recently, even the close association with Bush Cheney has been a factor, in which curiously the US Israel lobby may have succeeded too well. Moreover, it has become clear that Israel is in no way an underdog, it will not be swept away - it is firmly established, militarily by far the most powerful state in the middle east, indeed its economy now puts its citizens on a GNP average comparable to the economic success stories of several EU nations.
The overwhelming support of the US administration, as with previous US governments has been a cause of wonder to many onlookers but the current team in Washington enjoy such a low reputation in the world at large, that their role in the recent Lebanon violence, probably alienated once again that same international liberal opinion against the Israeli case for the large scale invasion of its neighbour. Uncritical American support, even for Israel is no longer an unmixed blessing. In this case the playing for time, 'stop the fighting but not yet,' turned into a wholly negative experience as the time so bought by weasel-worded resolutions, did not after all enable the IDF to make the final killer blow against Hezbollah. Under the eyes of the watching world in fact, it became the worst of PR as it prolonged the civilian suffering all around.
It could be said, then so much for liberal opinion - who cares? The Sharons or Cheneys would like many of their cohorts, have little but contempt for liberal opinion, and the watching world! This is a malaise of politicians securely in power, but it is perhaps surprising even there how many want to be able to look their family and friends squarely in the eye, and on a wider scale seek public approval.
Distressing scenes have been described in the world media within both Israel and Lebanon, and extensively photographed, all of this overlaid in news terms, onto the recent agonies of Gaza and the by now numbing daily events of the violent chaos in Iraq. It seemed to some that the unremitting TV and newspaper pictures of IDF bombs and shells on targeted Lebanese roads, bridges, homes, and civilian installations and the consequential civilian suffering generally, whilst legitimate objects for the media to portray, well outnumbered the nearly 4000 indiscriminate individual missiles Hezbollah fired into Israel, over the period of active fighting. That may be due to the random nature of these missiles, which were primarily aimed at gaining world publicity by showing that they can inflict 'hurt'on Israel. Being so inaccurate, in no way could they be represented as any part of a military trial of arms. But the 4000 separate explosions that must have ensued within Israel, represent a substantial destructive tonnage and has been underplayed in the public consciousness, not even mentioned in some angry accounts of the short war. ("Le Monde Diplomatique" Aug '06).
For those who are not already unswervingly committed to one side or another, the minimum that can be hoped for is truth, accuracy and balance in reporting, in which we are all in the hands of the media. In this context the web site www.honestreporting.com is dedicated it says, to ensure that Israel receives fair media coverage and to 'out' media inaccuracy or bias wherever it finds it. Laudable objectives and as can be seen, it currently shows examples of recent doctored or seriously mislabeled war pix which are infuriating, in that the conflict and horror was manifestly bad enough, without the advent of forgeries in the portrayal of this continuing tragedy.
The power of the web is well illustrated here because the function of policing the media in this way will not be done any time soon by those media causing the problems. Although it would be heartening if this web site were dedicated to fair media coverage for all parties, not Israel alone, nevertheless this trailblazing initiative is there to be picked up by other interested causes. The way in which the errant media are to be punished, apparently, is to invite HR readers (currently listed at 130,000), to individually remonstrate with the agencies/ newspapers concerned. This technique, democratic to the core, may be seen as the little man hitting back at the steamroller of the giant media corporations, but it is indeed also a key element in how the Israel lobby works and is what makes it the most successful of all 'foreign' lobbies in the US. The secret ingredient of this success would appear to be a cohesive and alert nationwide constituency, even though small in absolute numbers, well organized and motivated to exert maximum pressure through every means available.
THE ISRAEL LOBBY
Just as we extol the new power of the web to perform a function the media does not do and congratulate the sponsors of the site, so do we call attention to a fascinating study of "The Israel Lobby" by two academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. It could have been subtitled 'everything you wanted to know - but were afraid to ask', because as the report itself makes clear, no mainstream US newspaper was ever likely to feature it, (although "The New York Review of Books", did an admirably fair assessment). This is not only because it is long, but because 'they' have 'ways of making you shut-up', principal amongst which to those amongst the liberal minded is the hateful when unjustified, allegation of anti-semitism (which can now seemingly be applied to any kind of criticism). Newspapers, so badged, are subject to withdrawal of advertising revenues, although seeking tenured academic scalps, as the authors allege also happens, is probably more serious still.
The unedited version of the web article is to be found at http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011
There is also a passionate critique from a member of the same Harvard faculty as one of the co-authors.
The central point the authors make is geopolitical, that the combination of unwavering US support for Israel and the related attempt to spread 'democracy' throughout the region, has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only the security of the US but that of much of the rest of the world. It is this policy they maintain, that is at the root of the continuing world crisis with Islamic terrorism. They point out that Israel's well-being and right to exist is a given - not an issue, but nor can it be seriously suggested that any or all of its neighbours pose at this time, a serious military threat. In a rough, tough middle east it is more likely a source of Israeli pride that no one comes rougher or tougher than they do.
Professors Mearsheimer and Walt analyse at some length the way the lobby works on the Congress, the White House and critically the media. Also academia. If it is unsurprising to read the galaxy of neocon names involved with the lobby, it is startling to discover the charge that the lobby has "established a commanding presence (within such think-tanks as) the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, Center for Security Policy, The Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis...."
They fairly point out that basically the Israel lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their prominent evangelical Christian allies attempting to sway US policy. There is no conspiracy of the nonsensical 'Protocols of The Elders of Zion' variety. The authors say about this lobby that they are doing in fact, "what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better." This balanced view has not however shielded them from a nationwide storm of abuse (mainly of course personal), and other non- objective criticism from supporters of the lobby, which obviously they expected, as well as being picked up on some textual points of apparently no great significance to the central argument.
The most serious criticism they make is that the lobby's influence has made it impossible to end the Israeli -Palestinian conflict and that consequently gives extremists a powerful recruiting tool. We look at this point in more detail below. Another is that the lobby's campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy. They observe : "Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and boycotts - or by suggesting that critics are
anti-Semites, violates the principles of open debate on which democracy depends…. efforts to stifle debate by intimidation must be roundly condemned." But then it is the same Web that provides the frame for a site exposing forgeries in media pictures, that circumvents the vulnerable-to- pressure commercial print media, and ensures that this debate will NOT be stifled.
THE ROUGH AND THE TOUGH
Not only Israel, Palestine and the Lebanon, but also Iraq and Syria might be better understood by accepting the reality of the way that they are, quite distinct from conventional democratic, rule-of-law states. None of them within modern history were nation states, any more than Israel was. All of them were pieces on the board of empires, controlled from a long way away. Their frontiers are broadly artificial and non-historical. Messrs Sykes and Picot, the British and French negotiators following WW1 did, we must assume, the best job they could with the ruined Ottoman empire, within which all of the above territories were provinces. Given that in no case was there a nation, it followed that there was no such feeling of that identity, no sense of nationality, no loyalty to any such construct.
Europe sought to impose western standards of organization on these new creations, rather as the US today seeks to impose democracy upon them. Tentatively, Transjordan and Iraq were set up as kingdoms, to reward the Hashemite clan for support in bringing down the Turks, but in both cases, British Residents were present and powerful. Palestine also fell to the British but here the mandate ran through government offices in London. Iraq was welded together by taking three Ottoman provinces, roughly contiguous with the areas dominated today by the Shi-ites, the Sunni and the Kurds, with many minorities, including Christians. The French took on the mandates for Syria and Lebanon and as was normal Quai D'Orsay practice, sought to make overseas upper-class Frenchmen of the indigenous leaders and their children.
For long centuries, Lebanon had contained several communities substantial in size and influence, no single one of which could permanently dominate the others. Apart from the Sunni there are also Shi-ites who tended to be poor and numerous; and a community of Maronite Christian clans, there since the days of the Byzantine empire, who tended to be wealthy and western-looking. There is also a substantial population of Druses, another ancient mountain people also overlapping into Syria, as well as Ismaili Moslems, and many others. There are in fact seventeen registered Christian and Moslem sects in this small country.
Lebanon had tried democracy not so much because of Jeffersonian longings but because it was the only possible way to run such a patchwork collection of religious and therefore political groupings, other than by a colonial power. They had after much tribal skirmishing and occasional massacres, created a constitution which guaranteed a balance of power between tribes and sects which was doing tolerably well, until the Israel-Palestine problems over-ran their frontiers. Despite the fact that there was a parliament and ministries were allotted to different power groups, and that there was a national army and all the appurtenances of a state, each faction had its own armed militia and consequently the state had no monopoly of weapons - (the present ideal objective is to reverse that), there was always violence between different militias, or sometimes with the national army. In addition Syria had always regarded Lebanon as rightfully theirs, a province of Syria, at the least a client state, and was able to attract local allies and become involved to a considerable extent with the affairs of state.
After King Hussein expelled the organized Palestinians from Jordan, there came an influx of Palestinian refugees into UN paid-for refugee camps within Lebanon, which bred an armed militia under the control of their own leaders, therefore a new and powerful actor becoming a state within a state. Each of the political entities whether tribal, religious, or ideological, maintained their own armed militia, of which one of the two Shia versions, now become the Hezbollah with support from their co-religionists in Iran, was by no means the most powerful. The Christians had the heavy weapons and seemed mostly to control the national army. But it was at that time, the well-enough armed, rootless Palestinians with their preparedness to take casualties that came to the top.
Invasions and occupations first from Israel, and then after many years of civil war, by the incoming Syrian army tasked to finish the fighting, determined that no single home-grown Lebanese faction could control the others. At the end of any day before they were Lebanese, they were and are Sunni, or Maronites, or Shia, or Druse. Whatever was their clan or tribe would retain their loyalty and give them protection. (They were not and are not dispossessed Palestinians, fighting for a homeland. Hezbollah formed up to resist the Israeli invasion once the IDF had become an army of occupation in Lebanon).
What all of these post-colonial territories had in common was that once the Ottoman rule with which they had long been familiar was withdrawn, the community and power within it was fragmented between clans, tribes, city-dwellers, rural farmers, pastoralists from the deserts, several species of Christian, and more substantially major and minor sects and heresies of Islam. Central government for most had always been little more than the impositions of the taxman and the recruiting sergeant. The nation, to young army recruits, was whoever had come to collect them for military service. Power in day-to-day matters rested with the community elders, who often were also religious leaders, with intervention from higher external authorities at a minimum and providing taxes were paid, only rarely exercised.
The cause of the Jewish homeland as is well known, came about under the more or less benevolent gaze of the great powers in the wake of WWII - (the pre-Israeli international Jewish lobby of that time was no less influential or effective). After WWII, the Sabrah population that had shared the land with Palestinian Arabs were mightily reinforced by immigrants from Europe and from the diaspora, including many volunteer trained soldiers from various armies, who to the admiration of the non-Arab world together fought and won their very own state. Its legitimacy was endorsed by the UN, but in the process a large part of the Arab population had been forcibly evicted, ethnically cleansed in fact, many as it turned out into a hopeless refugee dependency. Then the neighbouring Arab states led by Egypt, the most powerful, made the mistake of declaring war on the fledgling nation, and as a result were thrashed on all fronts.
With the support of a worldwide diaspora and the efforts of its own people, Israel became recognisably a first-world nation, set amongst those of the third-world. Internally, within its state boundaries, any visiting European or American would recognize the democracy that it is and some parallels with their own societies. Externally it took a different and less admirable direction, giving Palestinians of the West Bank only helot status, under Israel military rule, a certain recipe for continuing disorder and nascent rebellion.
It can be seen that some neighbouring regimes were dangerous, whilst others were capable of striking diplomatic deals. Israel, born in fire, necessarily built up its forces and its strike capacity, which soon outstripped any of the neighbours. After some trials of strength inevitable in the circumstances, it became clear that no nation state could challenge Israel on the battlefield and indeed Egypt and Jordan made peace. Distant Iran and Iraq, neither of which shared a border with Israel, maintained active hostility. More seriously, the refugees who might in other circumstances have been systematically spread between the many underpopulated Arab nations in the region, were deliberately left to fester in refugee camps.
From this for the displaced Palestinians, came the notion against all the evidence, that what the Israelis had done to them they in like case could also do, which was to evict them from their land by main force. This led to a new phenomenon: Violence by Outrage! Various militias and terrorist gangs acted against Israel and the west, by means of airplane hi-jacking, explosions, spectacular assassinations (such as the Israeli Olympic team in Munich), and all manner of violent actions sharing the principal objective of keeping the worlds attention on their plight. Killing for publicity, in a word.
Generations have now come and gone but the external challenge to Israel is a constant. On the northern borders. the Shi-ite militia Hizbollah, with big time financial backing from Iran have become the lead private army within Lebanon, replacing the Palestinians who dominated there earlier. Their objectives they say were to resist Israeli occupation of any part of Lebanon and to demonstrate their ability to hurt and punish Israeli civil society as the IAF can and did hurt the Lebanon, away from the war zone.
However, if Israel no longer occupies any part of Lebanon including the disputed land called Shebaa Farms, then there should be no casus belli, no further cause for Hizbollah as an armed militia to continue to exist. That of course isn't going to happen, because Hizbollah is an arm of Iranian foreign policy, very important to them as their surrogate in that region from which they are physically a long way off. Hizbollah as a political party in Lebanon can say that is the reason for their continued existence but in reality it owes this to being a Shi-ite client of the worlds only Shi-ite theocracy, Iran. More importantly they are a trained, armed and motivated military proxy, ready to go into action, if say Iran was attacked by Israel or US airplanes, over the nuclear question.
One fundamental principle in a democratic nation state is that the elected government must have a monopoly on the use of arms. The Hizbollah militia should be incorporated into the legitimate armed forces of Lebanon, or if defiant, forcibly disarmed. That threatens civil war and without external help the Lebanese army is unlikely to achieve disarming the militia. Syria could have done it if it was in its interests to do so, and it is far from certain that an ad hoc UN force will succeed where Israel's motivated and cohesive army could not, unless Hizbollah is willing to disarm. But Hizbollah is Iran's and they will decide what happens next.
Although Israeli citizens came from many nations and cultures, they mostly adhered to some form of Judaism and if only a minority were religious Jews;- culture and ethnicity was enough to create a cohesive 'instant' society, modeled on the democracies of the west. But whilst internally the rule of law, freedom of the press, the independence of the courts and political rights, are there and seemingly established, the rights of the relict arabs who had not fled are rather those of second-class citizens, in what officially is a Jewish state. The West Bank, which the Israeli army controls by 'right of conquest', contains most of the Arab population, and here lies the fundamental problem of the state. Israel itself is fundamentally divided in what to do next!
If they follow the terms of the UN resolution of 1947, which represents the policy of one major faction, then they should facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state in what is now the West Bank (of the river Jordan), Gaza and other territories. The fundamental problem is that in the intervening period of nearly sixty years, Israel has expanded into the west bank, not just in the form of religious zealots with isolated fortified encampments out in the boonies, but more seriously in the urban sprawl into the west bank and beyond east Jerusalem, where many ordinary families have long been established. Israel is a functioning democracy. How many of those citizens will support a party that promises to hand over their communities to the Palestinians, or make their street into the new frontier?
Another major faction is particularly vociferous because it is primarily the religious parties who talk about such concepts as their 'manifest destiny' of enlarging the state, with the West Bank, Judea, Samaria and the Sinai, etc. Therefore one Jewish state;- the biblical Israel, and there is a secular faction which also supports this on the grounds of the military ability of the IDF to control these areas. The problem here in Israeli terms, is that either the Palestinians would either then have citizens equal rights, in which case it would by sheer weight of numbers no longer be a Jewish state. Or, it would be an apartheid regime with a large population of untermenschen as it is now in the West Bank, and no longer be a democracy. How many Israelis could vote for that outcome?
There is even one 'school of thought' that promotes an even more radical outcome - to expand the state to the frontiers of biblical Israel, and to forcibly expel to the outer-beyond (ethnically cleanse), the near two million Arab Palestinian population. But that is so outrageous it is not even respectable to discuss it in Israel, let alone for anyone to promote it as a party policy.
The way in the past that such negotiations (that ever took place) were leading, was towards recognizing something approaching Israel's present boundaries, having off-loaded Gaza, but retaining the suburban sprawl out of Israeli cities and giving the Palestinians a series of Bantustan-type enclaves for their own direct rule, not necessarily with their own road links. At the end of the day, outcomes depend on what the negotiating parties are prepared to agree, and the quid pro quo on offer in each case, which would be mainly dependent on their negotiating mandate what their populations would accept. Inevitably only the two populations could decide on that.
But there are no negotiations- instead there is nothing! Nothing to break the deadlock, nothing to disturb the injustice of the Israeli military rule over the Arab civilian populations, that has bred the intifadas. Nothing to stop the dispossessed Arab hatred of the west that has been a factor in the concept of Islamic martyrdom, and recruiting such from all Islamic communities to shock and shake the relatively comfortable lives of the developed world.
There is no majority in Israel for it to turn its back on democracy and become de jure apartheid. There is also no majority to expand and absorb all of the West Bank with the large numbers of new Arab citizens having equal rights with the Israelis. There is no possibility of compromise unless there are negotiations actually in progress somewhere. This is where the charges apply of the two American professors that the existence and sheer political power of the Israeli Lobby is a roadblock to a lasting peace. Simplistically, the Lobby has seemed to favour Likud-type policies. Over past years Sharon was 'King,' where the White House was concerned. Likud policies were on all fours with neo-con thinking in the US government. Hence the comfortable position the White House has taken where the Israeli government are the experts on the middle east and that therefore they shall be supported, like the travesty of "my mother drunk or sober - my country right or wrong"
Israel doesn't know, it just isn't agreed within itself on what is the solution. There seems to be no majority in the Knesset for any of the alternatives. It doesn't even agree on whether there should be negotiations with the Palestinians - certainly the religious expansionists would regard them as otiose. Now Israel has had a further shock just after losing the bullish, self-assured Sharon to illness, that they have just had a short sharp war, yet failed to achieve their objectives.
Whether that will be seen to demonstrate the obvious (to everyone else) lesson that the gun is no longer the solution to their problems and the resolution of the future of Palestine must be negotiated through compromise, remains to be seen. But until the political community in Israel itself can agree on a solution to the Palestinian problem, the lobby in the US will continue to use its very impressive leverage on Washington to ensure that this presidency at least, will appear to be entirely with them and will not pressure Jerusalem to bring their interminable indecision to an end.
That leaves us back at the situation, that because Israel cannot agree how to proceed, no daylight can be seen between the US and the Israeli positions on any major policy, that the UK coat-tailing Washington is in like case, as with other western allies, and that the Islamic insurgency will continue to recruit partly on this basis and seek to justify violence in the ways that they do.
For many who have lost the plot on the bigger issue of Palestine, it would be helpful if it were clearly understood what now are Israel's objectives in terms of its hopes and policies. They have a tidy western-style well organised state, but for nearly sixty years they have been in contention with the people whom they displaced, who through successive generations have declined to just go away. Surely to live in a state of siege, albeit threatened by poorly armed guerrillas well outclassed by the IDF, cannot be what they want for their next generation?
Similarly what do the Palestinians realistically expect after sixty years of exile? They should want more for their next generation than that they become suicidists, religious cannon-fodder, whether as human bombs or resistance fighters on the fringes of their grandparent's original land. The outrages, the bombings, the bull- dozers - all of that has certainly kept them in the public eye, the world has not been allowed to forget that they exist, but that said, what has it actually achieved for them after all this time? Even the Arab nations that have succoured them, financially at least, admit Israel's right to exist. Even without that, in defence terms, Israel is light years ahead of any possible combination of foes and has the support of the world's only superpower to boot. So any notion that Israel will fade away or be swept away is just empty rhetoric and the most dangerous juvenile nonsense. So what then do the Palestinians want, for which they can reasonably expect international support to achieve?
REMEMBER DAYTON 1995
The UN resolution of 1947 that legitimized Israel as a nation, accepted then by Israel's elected leaders also called for partitioning Palestine into two different states - one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians. Israel's then leaders could see that this compromise was indeed the best that could be obtained. Subsequent more aggressive leaders took a less conciliatory approach, yet when outside influences finally brought them together, the Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat, torn between posturing and negotiating, chose the former.
Israel when at war, is more dangerous and quite as unscrupulous as any of the rough and tough people that surround them. That has long been demonstrated. But there is no knock-out punch that can make the Palestinians just disappear, that too has been demonstrated. As ever, it takes a catalyst, a friend to constantly remind them of the negotiating table. Previous US governments have attempted this but the time perhaps was not right. For so long Bush Cheney had a middle-east policy of whatever Ariel Sharon said it would be, but with him gone, how could it be against the US interest to lead their friends towards the way of the compromise, that David Ben Gurion, the architect of the new nation, could see back in 1947?
Normally the world's greatest democracy would take the lead here and by one means or another make it happen. Just as they played critical roles in Northern Ireland, in Serbia's Kosovo and Bosnia (remember and contrast the US’s implacable insistence that the parties find a solution at Dayton, in November 1995). US involvement is taken for granted in mediating in many African situations, but in Israel, not so!
The lobby says, "hands off!" Israel itself will decide, or not decide! Washington will duly support.
Israel however has reached a sclerotic impasse amounting to stasis, in deciding on its way - on any way forward. Because of that stasis nothing happens, but terrorism happens. People suffer, including and mostly Palestinian and Israeli civilians. With the volatility of the region and terrorists always seeking a bigger bang, this lack of resolution puts the whole world at risk.
Time for a conclusion, for any conclusion acceptable to the parties negotiating, but they must first of all be led to the negotiating table – and like Dayton in 1995, be required to find a formula on which they can agree.
Publisher - Clive Lindley