Category Archives: Donald Trump

Compromise Needed to Win Relief for Undocumented Immigrants

A political compromise with the Trump administration on immigration is necessary to prevent the electorate from consolidating behind Trump thus bolstering his re-election chances. A compromise that would win legal relief for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the US. This article assesses the political and legislative possibilities and public attitudes that make a compromise possible. One that a majority of Americans would support and that would have a chance of passing congress this session. Nearly all segments of society, from leading business organizations, to trade unions and political institutions are actively seeking a resolution. Not all agree on the details, but all agree Congress needs to act.

Democrats, immigration rights advocates, progressives and the left can take this issue away from Trump. To do so, however, means compromising on measures to secure the border and to change asylum laws. Millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States have seen one deal after another falter while watching neighbors and family members deported. A compromise would relieve them from threats of deportation and millions would become eligible for social security and Medicare for which they are currently ineligible.  This would be a major win for immigrant rights. The Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have voiced a readiness to make a deal on the undocumented. Whether or not they are sincere needs to be tested.

One underlying political assumption governs this approach. Americans, particularly the working class, have a right to demand effective immigration control at the borders. For one, to prevent undo competition for jobs and the downward pressure on wages and labor standards to which undocumented labor contributes. While business may want a free flow of undocumented labor, it is not in the interest of US labor, nor even those millions of immigrants currently living and working in the US.  From this perspective, we can argue about how to manage borders, but not if we should.1 Trump will continue to win this argument, unless this is acknowledged.

Furthermore, to deny there is a crisis at the US-Mexico border, is to have ones head in the political sand. It is plain to see on the nightly news. While the reasons for it are complex, as well as tragic; this fact, not idealism should guide political tactics and proposals.

Leading Democrats say they are for border security, but have not offered any viable negotiating positions. They should not miss another opportunity to test the possibilities of winning comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). A possibility they stubbornly ignored during the government shutdown when Trump was in a more vulnerable negotiating position. Why don’t they take the lead? Political pundits from right to left, say the Democrats don’t want to give Trump a win on immigration (or anything) as the 2020 election approaches. If this is their strategy, it is sorely misguided. Inaction is a losing gambit. It will not help one undocumented immigrant. Public opinion demands action and compromise from both sides of the aisle, not petty party politics.

Some or all of the following will need to be on the negotiating table. Most of these points were agreed to in the 2013 bipartisan CIR legislation, Senate bill 744.

  1. Changing asylum laws to discourage the idea that by just be setting foot in the US allows one to apply.2
  2. Ending the visa lottery. This has little public support and acts a drain on talented and professional people from the nations from which people apply.
  3. Agreeing on a system for monitoring student visas, entering and exiting the US and instituting employment verification.
  4. Limiting what has been called, “chain migration” to a narrower set of family members.
  5. Agreeing on a means to alter the Flores Settlement (1997) that governs border patrol protocols when handling unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers with children. The settlement mandates release from detention after a period of no more than 20 days. It is clear this has induced for more families to migrate and claim asylum. Yet, 90 percent of the claims are denied, and people are deported if they can be located.

As such, Americans rightfully question how the tens of thousands arriving at the border can have credible claims. The only hope asylum seekers have of staying is to blend into the undocumented when they are released. They become permanent targets of immigration enforcement. To maintain laws and processes that erroneously convey hope in asylum is a cruel hoax on would be asylum seekers. As difficult as it is, this must be resolved.

More and more Americans lay the blame for inaction on a dysfunctional congress. If this doesn’t change, the Trump administration is likely to win more public support, not lose it. As unlikely as it may seem, it may be possible to bring Americans together around a realistic compromise for CIR. Reform that affirms the sovereignty of the border and affords border agents and immigration judges with the laws and resources to properly assess asylum applications expeditiously and fairly.

Complicating the asylum discussion is a belief that granting asylum is obligatory under international law. It is not clear cut. Those states party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, as is the US, retain the right to define and determine who meets the definition of a refuge. Sovereignty, then is assured for each country in regard to its immigration policies. And, again, on this issue, the administration is gaining support. The more it gains, the bargaining position for winning legal status for millions of undocumented will diminish.

Demands that need to be met in return

  1. The Trump administration and GOP need to agree to grant the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US legal status subject to review of their status and criminal record. Negotiations on legal background check parameters must be clearly defined so those with minor legal infractions, nonviolent crimes and immigration offenses are not automatically excluded.
  2. The target should be to include all undocumented who have been here three years or longer. Fewer than three years has little chance of passing.
  3. All Dreamer immigrants, children brought to the US by undocumented parents, as well as their parents must be granted legal status to keep families intact.
  4. All temporary status immigrants (TPS), from Liberia, Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras, many who have been living in the US for years, also need permanent legal status.

American public opinion overwhelmingly supports granting the undocumented such relief (80 percent in Gallup 2019 poll). Yet, without an agreement on border security and asylum issues public support drops off rapidly. Polling suggests Americans want to be generous, but not without tightening the border to halt illegal immigration. Polls also show that delaying congressional action risks a hardening of sentiments frustrated by the lack of congressional action. This plays into Trump’s hand.

A Gallup Poll in January this year showed 37 percent favored deporting all undocumented immigrants. Fifty percent support banning sanctuary cities, nearly 50 percent support ending immigrants from sponsoring family members, 85 percent want tighter border security and nearly that many supports hiring significantly more border patrol agents.

This is the political reality. And, it is realistic steps, not idealistic values, that are required to aid undocumented immigrants. If not, the political discord and divide is likely to become more volatile. A half a win now, is better than no win. Simply opposing Trump has proven a losing strategy. Senate bill 744 is the political center and the political possible. It was supported by many immigrant rights organizations and US labor unions. Senate Democrats were party to drafting the language.

Of course, efforts should be made to fight for improvements during negotiations and for more just solutions overtime, but the nations need a partial win now. To hope a Democratic administration and congress will enact a significantly more generous provisions than those in S.744 is Pollyannaish. They will have little choice to act. It appears they just want to claim credit for it on their watch.

A compromise approach might also lessen Trump’s support among his base. If he does not agree to negotiate or baulks at a deal that his base finds realistic it will cast doubt on his motives. If a deal is reached, it will take the issue off the table and both sides can claim victory. With this aside Democrats will have a better chance to defeat him 2020.

For activists that long for a more just solution, our struggle will continue. Our efforts must include demanding a change in the long-standing US foreign policy of interfering militarily in Central America and elsewhere. The bipartisan agreement on imperialist foreign policy is no more evident than that displayed toward Honduras under both the Obama and Trump administration. In 2009, then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, declined to call the coup in Honduras that ousted an elected government, a coup. The US sided with the elite coup makers, not the people.

Then, in 2017, the Trump administration gave a stamp of approval to a stolen election that again disenfranchised the people of Honduras. This led to protests and repression. The actions of both administrations led to a surge of asylum seekers at the US border. Our foreign policies create migration. This is not the space to review decades of mistaken, brutal US foreign policies in the region. The struggle to change US foreign policy will continue. However, the current immigration issues must be tackle now.

Leading Democrats were mum during the Obama administration as an estimated 2.5 million immigrants were deported. Some untold number led to family separations. In 2014-15, the administration paid for the Mexican police and military to close the border with Guatemala to stop unaccompanied minors from Honduras traveling to the US. Thus, it is the height of hypocrisy for Democrats to obstruct a deal that could bring relief to the undocumented. Is a deal possible? The only way to find out is to put a proposal on the table that tests whether or not the GOP and Trump are serious. If they are not, at least the American people will know who is obstructing a solution. As such, whether a deal is made or not, this approach can take the steam out of Trump’s rhetoric and dampen his re-election chances.

  1. For a US labor perspective see: “Immigration for Shared Prosperity: A Framework for Comprehensive Reform,” 2009, by Ray Marshall. A publication of the Economic Policy Institute, Washington, DC. Many features of S744 and other proposed legislation contain elements of this framework. It’s more progressive features are unlikely to pass congress, but the book is a helpful guide to working toward a compromise.
  2. GOP Senator Lindsay Graham has drafted legislation that would (1) allow families with minor children to be held for 100 days, (2) require Central Americans to apply for asylum in the home country or Mexico and (3) allow unaccompanied minors arriving at the border to be returned immediately.

Maximum Pressure in the Strait of Hormuz: The US-Iran Standoff

Hegemons are never going to sound too sensible when they lock horns or joust in spats of childish anger.  Power corrupts, not merely in terms of perspective but language, and making sense about the next move, the next statement, is bound to be challenging.  Otherwise justified behaviour can be read as provocative; retaliatory moves duly rattle and disturb.

The Iran-US standoff is finding a surge of increments, provocations and howlers.  Since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) last year, Tehran has gnawed and scratched at the arrangements.  Threats to close the Strait of Hormuz as a retaliation for frustrating Iranian oil sales have been made.  President Hassan Rouhani last week made it clear that the Islamic republic would scale back on certain JCPOA commitments.  Limits on building up stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water would be abandoned.  A 60-day period has been stipulated in the hope that the E3 (Britain, France and Germany), China and Russia provide relief for the Iranian oil and banking sector.  More suspensions of compliance orders threaten to follow if the powers do not muck in.

Despite not being part of the JCPOA anymore, the Trump administration persists in sticking its oar in the matter.  In May 3, the State Department explicitly warned it would sanction individuals and entities involved in swapping permitted uranium (enriched or natural) with Iran.  Nor would excess heavy water limits be permitted.

With such moves to strangle Iran’s economic feelers, it is little wonder that Rouhani has called on “surgery” to be performed on the JCPOA, one far more effectual than “the painkiller pills of the last year”.  Such a process, he promised, was “for saving the deal, not destroying it.”

News this week that Saudi Arabian oil tankers had been sabotaged near the Strait of Hormuz had its effect, even if the Trump administration has yet to pin its colours to the claim that Iran is responsible.  Give it time, and not much at that.  As the Wall Street Journal put it, “The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack”.

To reporters in the Oval Office, Trump was keen to make his usual remarks about happiness, or its absence, if things turned out to be darker than he thought.  “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that.”  What, pressed reporters, did the president mean by a “bad problem”?  “You can figure it out for yourself.  They know what I mean by it.”

Brian Hook, the US State Department’s special envoy on Iran, has been doing the circuit in Europe with Washington’s allies, hoping to stir some action against the meddling mullahs in a campaign of “maximum pressure”.  “Everything we are doing,” Hook tried to reason with the Sunday Times, “is defensive.”  Secretary of State Mark Pompeo also journeyed to Brussels to stir the matter.  According to Hook, “The secretary shared information and intelligence with allies and discussed the multiple plot vectors emerging from Iran.”  What a boon Iran is proving to be for the parched hawks, an endless well of threat, much of it imaginary, to draw upon in the hope of actual military engagement.

National Security Advisor John Bolton is making do with the situation, creating much mischief, turning the furniture and belongings of the entire diplomatic stable inside out like a brat in search of attention.  He blames Iran, naturally, for “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”.  As is the manner with all chicken hawks, he craves the blood of others and is not shy pushing it.  The problem with this attitude is that having a playmate such as Iran is bound to get you, and your fellow playmates, hurt on the way.  The school mistress should intervene, but her sense, and sensibility, is yet to be found.

Washington is certainly keen to make it a bad problem, a habit it has fallen into during stretches of its violent and imperial history.  At Bolton’s instigation, an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers are being deployed to the Persian Gulf on the supposedly clear grounds that Iran and its proxies are readying themselves for a strike on US forces in the region, bringing to mind similar provocations sought to stoke a potential conflict.

The planning of Operation Prairie Fire was one such ignominious example, designed to provoke Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya into a military incident in 1986.  In what seemed to be a true overegging of the pudding, US Navy Task Force 60 involved three aircraft carriers operating in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast.  They were involved in exercises falling within that most stretched of terms: freedom-of-navigation.  Prairie Fire turned out to be a bellicose affair, with Task Force 60 put on essentially a wartime footing.  Military exercises were duly conducted to stir the beast; patrols along the coast were conducted.  The beast responded with some six surface-to-air missiles.  A Libyan patrol boat was duly obliterated with some satisfaction, along with two more naval vessels and a missile site in Sirte. “We now consider all approaching Libyan forces,” claimed the White House note with some smugness, “to have hostile intent.”

US-Iran encounters in the Strait of Hormuz are also not new: the Iran-Iraq War, one which saw the US throw in its lot with Saddam Hussein’s invading armies against the Iranian Republic, featured a fair share of attacks on merchant shipping.  The importance of the Strait to shipping and international traffic is again coming into play.

Trump has remained inflexible and obstinate regarding Iran. (In his wheeler-dealer world, every crook with a silver lining must be matched by a Lucifer who will be given no quarter.)  In these calculations, the silver lining of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un shines far brighter than any the Islamic Republic of Iran might have.  But by any referee’s estimate of recent conduct by Trump and company, Washington must be seen as responsible for the most aggravating fouls.

Jerusalem Cable Car Project Passes Over Objections from Many Quarters

East Jerusalem has received new impetus from the rise of the Israeli far right and Washington’s decision to move its embassy to the city. But if completed, critics say, the long-running proposal would contribute to erasing the visibility of Palestinians in the city they hope to make their capital.

Planning for the $55 million tourism project continues despite unifying archaeologists, architects, Palestinians, and a tiny community of Jews against it – in a sign of Israel’s ever-growing confidence in making unilateral moves in occupied parts of Jerusalem.

Critics say the cable car will help hide the local Palestinian population from the roughly 3 million tourists who visit Jerusalem each year, turning the city into a “Disneyland” focused on promoting Israeli interests.

“The advantage for Israel is that visitors can be prevented from having any dealings with Palestinians,” said Aviv Tartasky, a researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation that campaigns for equal rights in Jerusalem.

“The local population will be largely erased from the experience of visiting Jerusalem. Tourists will pass over Palestinian residents, via the cable car, and then pass under them via tunnels.”

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism dismissed the criticism. In a statement to The National, the ministry said the cable car project was “a significant milestone in the promotion of Jerusalem and the strengthening of its status as a world tourism capital”.

Settler-run tours

The cable car, the largest project of its type undertaken by Israel, could be completed as early as in two years, its destination the slopes in occupied East Jerusalem just below the Old City, next to Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Some 72 cabins have the capacity to ferry up to 3,000 visitors an hour above mainly Palestinian homes.

Tourists will be channelled from the cable car into a visitor centre run by Jewish settlers in the heart of the crowded Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. They will be led by settler-approved guides underground, through tunnels under Palestinian homes to the foot of the Western Wall.

Blueprints show that visitors will be able to shop in the tunnels, bypassing local Palestinian traders in the Old City market who have long depended on tourism. Israeli officials accelerated the project by bypassing routine planning procedures, even though urban planning specialists warn that it will damage the Jerusalem skyline and archaeological sites revealing the origins of modern civilisation.

Equally important, critics say, the Benjamin Netanyahu government and settler groups view the cable car as helping block any possibility of a Palestinian state emerging with East Jerusalem as its capital. They have been emboldened by President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“It should set off alarm bells that a huge state project like this is being intertwined with a private settler organisation, physically forcing visitors to go through its visitor centre, channelling them into its attractions and activities,” Mr Tartasky said.

He said the cable car was one of the ways Israel was connecting disparate settler compounds in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied Jerusalem.

“It will physically strengthen these settler areas, and mean their organisations have an even greater influence on Israeli authorities.”

Encircling Al-Aqsa

The project has been forcefully promoted by the Israeli tourism ministry, headed by Yariv Levin, an ally of Mr Netanyahu, and Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Lion. Tenders will be issued as soon as the National Planning Council approves the project, which is expected to be a formality.

In violation of international law, Israel has treated East Jerusalem as annexed territory since it occupied the city in 1967. More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have moved there over subsequent decades

Hanna Swaid, a Palestinian planning specialist and former member of the Israeli parliament, said the cable car was illegal because international law allows major changes in occupied territory only out of military necessity or for the benefit of the population under occupation.

“Even in its own planning justifications, the Israeli authorities are clear the cable car is designed only for the benefit of tourists, Israeli developers and the settler groups overseeing it, not the local Palestinian population. In fact, it will serve to actively harm Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Mr Swaid said.

“It will parachute tourists to Jewish sites like the Western Wall, and marginalise Muslim and Christian sites,” he added.

Palestinians are concerned that the cable car will serve to tighten Israel’s control over access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the highly sensitive holy site in the Old City. For decades Israeli authorities have moved to weaken the control of Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf, on Al Aqsa, contributing to repeated clashes at the site.

Jews believe the mosque is built over the ruins of a major Jewish temple. The Western Wall, which supports the mosque compound, was originally a retaining wall of the long-lost temple.

“The cable car looks suspiciously like another means for encircling Al Aqsa, for laying siege to it,” Mr Swaid said.

Tunnels under Palestinians

According to official plans, dozens of cabins will run hourly along a 1.5-kilometre route from West Jerusalem, inside Israel’s recognised borders, to the occupied Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls and in the shadow of Al Aqsa.

Tourists will disembark in Silwan into a large visitor centre, the Kedem compound, to be run by a settler organisation called Elad that has close ties with the Israeli government.

The Kedem centre is the latest venture in the City of David complex, an archaeological site that the settlers of Elad have been using for more than two decades as a base to seize control of the Palestinian neighbourhood.

Visitors will be taken on tours to explore Jerusalem, moving through ancient sewage tunnels that run under Palestinian homes and reach to walls of Al Aqsa.

Additional plans will eventually see the cable car alight at other sites in East Jerusalem. Among them are the Mount of Olives, which includes an ancient Jewish cemetery; the Church of Gethsemane, at the reputed site where Judas betrayed Jesus; and the Pool of Siloam, a bathing area referred to in the Old and New Testaments.

Yonatan Mizrahi, the director of Emek Shaveh, a group of Israeli archaeologists opposed to the misuse of archaeology and tourism by Israel, said: “The purpose is to offer tourists a one-dimensional narrative about Jerusalem and its history. They should see all layers of the city’s rich history. Instead they will hear only the parts that relate to Jewish history.”

Mr Mizrahi has been among those leading the criticism of the project. “No other historic city in the world has built a cable car – and for very good reason,” he said.

Jerusalem ‘not Disneyland’

In March about 30 international architects – some of whom have worked on projects in Jerusalem – wrote to Mr Netanyahu urging him not to pursue what they called short-term interests.

“The project is being promoted by powerful interest groups who put tourism and political agendas above responsibility for safeguarding Jerusalem’s cultural treasures,” the letter said.

The letter followed a statement by 70 Israeli archaeologists, architects and public figures against the cable car in November, when the project was speeded up. They said: “Jerusalem is not Disneyland, and its landscape and heritage are not for sale.”

A French firm, Safege, which worked on the initial feasibility study, pulled out in 2015, reportedly under pressure from the French government over concerns that the project violated international law.

In an apparent bid to ensure the project would go through, the previous Netanyahu government changed planning laws to remove the cable car from local and regional oversight. It also ensured the public could not submit objections.

Instead the scheme is being treated as a “national infrastructure” project, similar to a new railway line or gas pipeline. The National Planning Council offered a curtailed period for organisations to lodge reservations that ended on March 31.

Mr Swaid, who is the director of the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning, drew up a list of reservations on behalf of the Supreme Religious Council of Muslims in Israel.

Other critical comments were submitted by lawyers for the Silwan neighbourhood, the archaeologists of Emek Shaveh, the planning group Bimkom, a Palestinian merchant association in the Old City, and a tour guides group.

The Karaites, a small Jewish sect whose ancient cemetery lies in the path of the cable car, in the Biblical Hinnom Valley, said the project showed “contemptuous disregard for the dignity of the deceased and the Karaite community in general”.

Benjamin Kedar, a former chairman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, lodged a protest too.

Loss of all privacy

One of the Silwan homes in the path of the cable car belongs to the Karameh family. The cabins may pass only four metres above the flat roof where toddlers play and the family of 20 hang their washing. Support columns for the cable car may end up being driven into the family’s garden, one of the few green spots in Silwan.

“Nowhere in Israel do cable cars travel over houses, let alone a few metres above,” said Mr Mizrahi. “It seems clear why in this case. Because the houses belong to Palestinians.”

Samer Karameh, a 24-year-old lorry driver, said everyone in Silwan was opposed to the cable car, as it would be helping settler groups like Elad trying to take over their neighbourhood. But he was shocked to learn that it would pass so close to his house.

“We’ll lose all privacy. We won’t be able to open the windows without being seen by thousands of strangers. And it can’t be safe to have these cars travelling just over the heads of our children,” Mr Karameh said.

“We know we won’t be the beneficiaries,” he added. “The authorities won’t give us a permit to build anything here, so all the business will go to the settlers.”

• A version of this article first appeared in The National

Is Leaked Document Trump’s “Deal of the Century”?

A report published this week by the Israel Hayom newspaper apparently leaking details of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” reads like the kind of peace plan that might be put together by an estate agent or car salesman.

But while the authenticity of the document is unproven and indeed contested, there are serious grounds for believing it paves the direction of any future declaration by the Trump administration.

Not least, it is a synthesis of most of the Israeli right’s ambitions for the creation of a Greater Israel, with a few sops to the Palestinians – most of them related to partially relieving Israel’s economic strangulation of the Palestinian economy.

This is exactly what Jared Kushner told us the “deal of the century” would look like in his preview last month.

Also significant is the outlet that published the leak: Israel Hayom. The Israeli newspaper is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a US casino billionaire who is one of the Republican party’s chief donors and was a major contributor to Trump’s presidential election campaign funds.

Adelson is also a stalwart ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His newspaper has served as little more than a mouthpiece for Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist governments over the past decade.

Netanyahu behind leak?

Adelson and Israel Hayom have ready access to key figures in both the US and Israeli administrations. And it has been widely reported that little of significance gets into print there unless it has first been approved by Netanyahu or its overseas owner.

The newspaper questioned the authenticity and credibility of the document, which has spread across social media platforms, even suggesting “it is quite possible the document is fake” and that the Israeli foriegn ministry was looking into it.

The White House had already indicated that, after long delays, it intended to finally unveil the “deal of the century” next month, after the holy Muslim month of Ramadan finishes.

An unnamed White House official told the paper the leak was “speculative” and “inaccurate” – the kind of lacklustre denial that might equally mean the report is, in fact, largely accurate.

If the document is genuine, Netanyahu looks to be the most likely culprit behind the leak. He has overseen the foreign ministry for years and Israel Hayom is widely referred to by Israelis as “Bibiton”, or Bibi’s newspaper, employing the prime minister’s nickname.

Testing the waters

The alleged document, as published in Israel Hayom, would be catastrophically bad for the Palestinians. Assuming Netanyahu approved the document’s leaking, his motives might not be too difficult to discern.

On one view, leaking it might be an effective way for Netanyahu and the Trump administration to test the waters, to fly a trial balloon to see whether they dare publish the document as it is, or need to make modifications.

But another possibility is that Netanyahu may have concluded that there could be an unwelcome price in publicly achieving most of what he is already gaining by stealth – a price he may prefer to avoid for the time being.

Is the leak designed to foment pre-emptive opposition to the plan, both from within Israel and from the Palestinians and the Arab world, in the hope of stymieing its release?

The hope may be that the leak, and the reaction it elicits, forces Trump’s Middle East team to postpone yet again the plan’s publication, or even foils its release entirely.

Nonetheless, whether or not the “deal of the century” is unveiled soon, the leaked document – if true – offers a plausible glimpse into the Trump administration’s thinking.

Given that Trump’s Middle East team appear to have begun implementing the plan over the past 18 months even without its publication – from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to the recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights – the leak helps to shed light on how a US-Israeli “resolution” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to unfold.

Annexing the West Bank

The proposed Palestinian entity would be named “New Palestine” – apparently taking a page out of the playbook of Tony Blair, a Britain’s former prime minister who became the international community’s Middle East envoy from 2007 to 2015.

Back in the 1990s, Blair filleted his own political party, Labour, of its socialist heritage and then rebranded the resulting corporation-friendly party, a pale shadow of its former self, as “New Labour”.

The name “New Palestine” helpfully obscures the fact that this demilitarised entity would lack the features and powers normally associated with a state. According to the leak, New Palestine would exist on only a tiny fraction of historic Palestine.

All illegal settlements in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel – satisfying a pledge Netanyahu made shortly before last month’s general election. If the territory annexed includes most of Area C, the 62 per cent of the West Bank Israel was given temporary control over under the Oslo accords, and which the Israeli right urgently wants to annex, that would leave New Palestine nominally in charge of about 12 percent of historic Palestine.

Or put another way, the Trump administration appears to be ready to give its blessing to a Greater Israel comprising 88 per cent of the land stolen from Palestinians over the past seven decades.

But it is far worse than that. New Palestine would exist as a series of discrete cantons, or Bantustans, surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlements – now to be declared part of Israel. The entity would be chopped and diced in a way that is true of no other state in the world.

New Palestine would have no army, just a lightly armed police force. It would be able to act only as a series of disconnected municipalities.

In fact, it is hard to imagine how “New Palestine” would fundamentally change the current, dismal reality for Palestinians. They would be able to move between these cantons only using lengthy detours, bypass roads and tunnels. Much like now.

Glorified municipalities

The only silver lining offered in the alleged document is a proposed bribe from the US, Europe, and other developed states, though mostly financed by the oil-rich Gulf states, to salve their consciences for defrauding the Palestinians of their land and sovereignty.

These states will provide $30bn over five years to help New Palestine set up and run its glorified municipalities. If that sounds like a lot of money, remember it is $8bn less than the decade-long aid the US is currently giving Israel to buy arms and fighter jets.

What happens to New Palestine after that five-year period is unclear in the document. But given that the 12 percent of historic Palestine awarded to the Palestinians is the region’s most resource-poor territory – stripped by Israel of water sources, economic coherence, and key exploitable resources like the West Bank’s quarries – it is hard not to see the entity sinking rather swimming after the initial influx of money dries up.

Even if the international community agrees to stump up more money, New Palestine would be entirely aid dependent in perpetuity.

The US and others would be able to turn on and off the spigot based on the Palestinians’ “good behaviour” – just as occurs now. Palestinians would live permanently in fear of the repercussions for criticising their prison warders.

In keeping with his vow to make Mexico pay for the wall to be built along the southern US border, Trump apparently wants the Palestinian entity to pay Israel to provide it with military security. In other words, much of that $30bn in aid to the Palestinians would probably end up in the Israeli military’s pockets.

Interestingly, the leaked report argues that oil-producing states, not the Palestinians, would be the “main beneficiaries” of the agreement. This hints at how the Trump deal is being sold to the Gulf states: as an opportunity for them to fully embrace Israel, its technology and military prowess, so that the Middle East can follow in the footsteps of Asia’s “tiger economies”.

Ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is described as a “shared capital”, but the small print reads rather differently. Jerusalem would not be divided into a Palestinian east and an Israeli west, as most had envisaged. Instead, the city will be run by a unified Israeli-run municipality. Just as happens now.

The only meaningful concession to the Palestinians would be that Israelis would not be allowed to buy Palestinian homes, preventing – in theory, at least – a further takeover of East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers.

But given that in return Palestinians would not be allowed to buy Israeli homes, and that the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem already suffers massive housing shortages and that an Israeli municipality would have the power to decide where homes are built and for whom, it is easy to imagine that the current situation – of Israel exploiting planning controls to drive Palestinians out of Jerusalem – would simply continue.

Also, given that Palestinians in Jerusalem would be citizens of New Palestine, not Israel, those unable to find a home in Israeli-ruled Jerusalem would have no choice but to emigrate into the West Bank. That would be exactly the same form of bureaucratic ethnic cleansing that Palestinians in Jerusalem experience now.

Gaza open to Sinai

Echoing recent comments from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, the plan’s benefits for Palestinians all relate to potential economic dividends, not political ones.

Palestinians will be allowed to labour in Israel, as was the norm before Oslo – and presumably, as before, only in the most poorly paid and precarious jobs, on building sites and agricultural land.

A land corridor, doubtlessly overseen by Israeli military contractors the Palestinians must pay for, is supposed to connect Gaza to the West Bank. Confirming earlier reports of the Trump administration’s plans, Gaza would be opened up to the world, and an industrial zone and airport created in the neighbouring territory of Sinai.

The land – its extent to be decided in negotiations – would be leased from Egypt.

Helpfully for Israel, as Middle East Eye has previously pointed out, such a move risks gradually encouraging Palestinians to view Sinai as the centre of their lives rather than Gaza – another way to slowly ethnically cleanse them.

Meanwhile, the West Bank would be connected to Jordan by two border crossings – probably via land corridors through the Jordan Valley, which itself is to be annexed to Israel. Again, with Palestinians squeezed into disconnected cantons surrounded by Israeli territory, the assumption must be that over time many would seek a new life in Jordan.

Palestinian political prisoners would be released from Israeli jails to the authority of New Palestine over three years. But the plan says nothing about a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees – descended from those who were expelled from their homes in the 1948 and 1967 wars.

Gun to their heads

Don Corleone-style, the Trump administrations appears ready to hold a gun to the head of the Palestinian leaderships to force them to sign up to the deal.

The US, the leaked report states, would cut off all money transfers to the Palestinians if they dissent, in an attempt to batter them into submission.

The alleged plan would demand that Hamas and Islamic Jihad disarm, handing their weapons over to Egypt. Should they reject the deal, the report says the US would authorise Israel to “personally harm” the leadership – through extrajudicial assassinations that have long been a mainstay of Israeli policy towards the two groups.

Rather less credibly, the alleged document suggests that the White House is prepared to get tough with Israel too, cutting off US aid if Israel fails to abide by the terms of the agreement.

Given that Israel has regularly broken the Oslo accords – and international law – without paying any serious penalty for doing so, it is easy to imagine that in practice the US would find work-arounds to ensure Israel was not harmed for any violations of the deal.

US imprimatur

The alleged document has all the hallmarks of being the Trump plan, or at least a recent draft of it, because it sets out in black and white the reality Israel has been crafting for Palestinians over the past two decades.

It simply gives Israel’s mass theft of land and cantonisation of the Palestinians an official US imprimatur.

So, if it offers the Israeli right most of what it wants, what interest would Israel Hayom – Netanyahu’s mouthpiece – have in jeopardising its success by leaking it?

A couple of reasons suggest themselves.

Israel is already achieving all these goals – stealing land, annexing the settlements, cementing its exclusive control over Jerusalem, putting pressure on the Palestinians to move off their land and into neighbouring states – without formally declaring that this is its game plan.

It has been making great progress in all its aims without having to admit publicly that statehood for the Palestinians is an illusion. For Netanyahu, the question must be why go public with Israel’s over-arching vision when it can be achieved by stealth.

Fearful of backlash

But even worse for Israel, once the Palestinians and the watching world understand that the current, catastrophic reality for Palestinians is as good as it is going to get, there is likely to be a backlash.

The Palestinian Authority could collapse, the Palestinian populace launch a new uprising, the so-called “Arab street” may be far less accepting of the plan than their rulers or Trump might hope, and solidarity activists in the West, including the boycott movement, would get a massive shot in the arm for their cause.

Equally, it would be impossible for Israel’s apologists to continue denying that Israel is carrying out what the late Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling called “politicide” – the destruction of the Palestinians’ future, their right to self-determination and their integrity as a single people.

If this is Trump’s version of Middle East peace, he is playing a game of Russian roulette – and Netanyahu may be reluctant to let him pull the trigger.

First published in Middle East Eye

Venezuela: A Risk to Dollar Hegemony

After the new coup attempt – or propaganda coup – Venezuela lives in a state of foreign imposed insecurity. The failed coup was executed on 30 April by Juan Guaidó, the self-proclaimed and Washington-trained and endorsed “interim President”, and the opposition leader, Leopoldo López, who was hurriedly freed from house arrest by Guaidó with a couple of dozens of armed-to-the-teeth defecting military, who apparently didn’t quite know what they were up to. Because, when all was over after a few hours, most of them asked to be re-integrated into their military units – and, as far as I know, they were readmitted.

These are Washington’s puppets and “coup-makers”. When one sees that the so-called coup was defeated in a mere few hours, without any Venezuelan military interference, one wonders whether this was really planned as a coup, or merely as a “public relations” coup, for the media to ‘recharge’ their narrative of Maduro dictatorship, of a suffering people, of famine, of lack of medication and medical supplies all due to the Maduro government’s mismanagement of Venezuela’s natural riches, the lie-slander we have been used to for the last several years.

For sure, the Venezuelan people are suffering. According to a CEPR report sanctions have killed some 40,000 Venezuelans. And this, not because of President Maduro’s squandering of Venezuelan resources, but because of a brutal, merciless outside interference, principally from the United States and to a lesser degree from Washington’s European vassals. If you listen to the ceaseless drumbeat for war against Venezuela and her democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro, by Pompeo, Bolton, Pence and Trump, you can only wonder and shake your head.  What pathological and schizophrenic world are we living in? And are we all sick to the bone, that we tolerate it, that nobody of and in power – other than Russia and China – say ‘Halt’ to this deadly fiasco?

This article by Eric Zuesse, including leaked documents from Pentagon’s southern command, SOUTHCOM, will give the non-believers plenty of reasons to change their minds.

Western humanity has reached an abject state of mental disease. We allow the slaughter of tens of millions of people by the United States and its NATO allies in US-provoked wars and conflicts around the world, indiscriminate killing for resources and monetary dominion. But we follow the same killer nation in accusing a quiet, peace-loving, fully democratic country, like Venezuela, to be utterly trampled on and punished with the most horrific monetary and economic sanctions – all illegal, by any standards of law – and our western “leaders” know it all.

These western heads of state and their chosen minions do not have the guts or political courage to say ‘STOP’. They could, if they had any conscience left. These so-called leaders (sic) of vassal states, they have it all in their sovereign power. They could together decide that enough is enough, separate themselves from the Washington horrors and form a real European Union, a union to say no to the tyrant, a union that is capable of calling its own sovereign shots, decide its own destiny, a destiny of alliance with peaceful countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, China, Iran and more, basically all those that have decided not to bend to the dictate of Washington.

Why don’t they? Have they been bought, or received death threats if they dare to deviate? All is possible, even likely, because it is unfathomable that the leaders, the political heads of all those 28 EU countries are hell-bent to believe the lies being propagated day-in and day-out, drip-by-miserable drip. It is not possible.

Back to Venezuela.

The western public at large must never be too long without devastating smear-news about a regime the empire wants to “change”. It is clear that the nefarious pair in Venezuela, Guaidó-López, followed strict Washington instructions. Guaidó would never dare do anything without prior approval and directives from his masters in Washington.

Despite threats after pompous threats and false accusations and failed coup attempts, President Maduro holds on to a solid backing of six million voters who supported him, more than two thirds of those who went to the ballots, on 20 May 2018. He also has the solid support of the military, who have a revolutionary integrity and conscience unknown to the west. And not least, he has the support of Venezuela’s solid allies, Russia and China.

Nevertheless, the United States will not let go. Why do they risk everything – even a devastating war?

Well, there are several reasons. First you may think, “It’s the Oil, stupid!”, and second, the turbo-capitalist, neoliberal turning-to-neofascist US will not tolerate a socialist state in what they still consider their ‘backyard’.  Well, all of this is true. Venezuela has indeed the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves, and it is conveniently close to The US’s Texas refineries.

However, the key reason for Washington forcing ‘regime change’ is that Venezuela has stopped selling her hydrocarbon in US dollars, and, may therefore become a risk for the US-dollar hegemony around the globe. That is a punishable violation for the empire. At least two heads of state were assassinated because they dared abandoning the unwritten and unlawful, but nevertheless US-imposed rule to sell their oil and gas in US-dollars, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi. Both had started trading their oil in other than US-dollar currencies and were strong advocates for others to do likewise.

Some three years ago, Venezuela started selling her oil and gas in other currencies than the US-dollar, a cardinal sin.

Global dollar hegemony, meaning the full control of economies throughout the globe – a control that is rapidly fading – can only be maintained by a world flooded by dollars and with a monetary system that is entirely controlled by the FED and its associated American banks, by an international transfer system, SWIFT, that channels every dollar to be moved between countries, whether it is the US or any other country – through a US bank, in either New York or London. That still being the case, the US dollar remains the key reserve currency in the world, though rapidly fading. And second, through the obligatory trading of a commodities – like hydrocarbon energy – ONLY in US-dollars. The latter also allows the empire to print as many dollars as it needs to keep the world economy under control – and punish those that do not want to bend to Washington’s rule, with sanctions and confiscation of assets abroad, because — all transactions are controlled by the US banking system.

First, the dollar as a reserve currency, is fading rapidly, as ever fewer countries entrust their reserves to a largely recognized ‘fake’, fiat and debt-based currency, the US-dollar. They convert their dollar reserve holdings gradually into other assets; i.e. gold, or the Chinese Yuan which has become high in demand over the last few years. Logically, because China is already known as the undisputable strongest economy in the world, hence, the Chinese currency has a special reserve standing. However, the mainstream media do not report on this.

Second, with a growing number of countries that do no longer respect the Washington imposed US-dollar rule for hydrocarbon trading – the demand for dollars decreases rapidly – a direct confrontation to the United States’ dollar hegemony over the world. Russia and China have years ago stopped trading in US dollars, not only hydrocarbons, but everything. India and Iran have started doing the same. Other countries will follow – and Venezuela, one of the vanguards with the world’s largest oil reserves – should, therefore, not be allowed to become a model for other nations. The Trump Administration and its Wall Street masters will do what it takes to stop Venezuela from abandoning the dollar.

Hence, regime change and taking over the vast oil assets is of the order – with war, if necessary – “all options are on the table” – all under the blatantly fakest pretexts of “humanitarian intervention” and bringing back democracy – when the world knows that anywhere the US intervenes, democracy is abolished. In fact, what the US has managed – and wantonly so – is kill any democracy that ever existed.

Under these circumstances, Venezuela’s transgression in shedding the dollar for oil trading – and for trading in general – amounts to a serious threat to the dollar hegemony and must be suffocated. That’s what these coup attempts are all about. If they succeed, the dollar-currency collapse could be postponed for a bit, and taking possession of the oil reserves would be the icing on the cake.

What’s left after the dollar dominance over the world is gone, once the key tool, economic sanctions, for manipulating nations into doing the bidding of the emperor is no longer effective?  A broken US economy, one that already today depends heavily on the war and weapons industry – in fact, for over 50% of US GDP, when all associated manufacturing and services are counted. What’s left is the overwhelming firepower of that belligerent warmongering and war-dependent nation, with which the US and NATO could pull the rest of the world into oblivion.

That’s what’s at stake with any nation that wants to kick the petro-dollar. Also, Iran, of course. But both Iran and Venezuela have strong protection from Russia and China – two countries that freed themselves from the fangs of the dollar system years ago. And they are offering a bright future with viable Eastern monetary alternatives, mostly based on the Chinese Yuan and other currencies linked to SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) members.

Venezuela – Venceremos!

The Two Narratives of Palestine: The People Are United, the Factions Are Not

The International Conference on Palestine held in Istanbul between April 27-29 brought together many speakers and hundreds of academics, journalists, activists and students from Turkey and all over the world.

The Conference was a rare opportunity aimed at articulating a discourse of international solidarity that is both inclusive and forward thinking.

There was near consensus that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement must be supported, that Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ must be defeated and that normalization must be shunned.

When it came to articulating the objectives of the Palestinian struggle, however, the narrative became indecisive and unclear. Although none of the speakers made a case for a two-state solution, our call for a one democratic state from Istanbul – or any other place outside Palestine – seemed partially irrelevant. For the one state solution to become the overriding objective of the pro-Palestine movement worldwide, the call has to come from a Palestinian leadership that reflects the true aspirations of the Palestinian people.

One speaker after the other called for Palestinian unity, imploring Palestinians for guidance and for articulating a national discourse. Many in the audience concurred with that assessment as well. One audience member even blurted out the cliched question: “Where is the Palestinian Mandela?” Luckily, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, was himself a speaker. He answered forcefully that Mandela was only the face of the movement, which encompassed millions of ordinary men and women, whose struggles and sacrifices ultimately defeated apartheid.

Following my speech at the Conference, I met with several freed Palestinian prisoners as part of my research for my forthcoming book on the subject.

Some of the freed prisoners identified as Hamas and others as Fatah. Their narrative seemed largely free from the disgraced factional language we are bombarded with in the media, but also liberated from the dry and detached narratives of politics and academia.

“When Israel placed Gaza under siege and denied us family visitations, our Fatah brothers always came to our help,” a freed Hamas prisoner told me. “And whenever Israeli prison authorities mistreated any of our brothers from any factions, including Fatah, we all resisted together.”

A freed Fatah prisoner told me that when Hamas and Fatah fought in Gaza in the summer of 2007, the prisoners suffered most. “We suffered because we felt that the people who should be fighting for our freedom, were fighting each other. We felt betrayed by everyone.”

To effectuate disunity, Israeli authorities relocated Hamas and Fatah prisoners into separate wards and prisons. They wanted to sever any communication between the prisoners’ leadership and to block any attempts at finding common ground for national unity.

The Israeli decision was not random. A year earlier, in May 2006, the leadership of the prisoners met in a prison cell to discuss the conflict between Hamas, which had won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories, and the PA’s main party, Fatah.

These leaders included Marwan Barghouthi of Fatah, Abdel Khaleq al-Natshe from Hamas and representatives from other major Palestinian groups. The outcome was the National Conciliation Document, arguably the most important Palestinian initiative in decades.

What became known as the Prisoner’s Document was significant because it was not some self-serving political compromise achieved in a luxurious hotel in some Arab capital, but a genuine articulation of national Palestinian priorities, presented by the most respected and honored sector in Palestinian society.

Israel immediately denounced the document.

Instead of engaging all factions in a national dialogue around the document, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, gave rival factions an ultimatum to either accept or reject the document in full. The spirit of the unity in the prisoners’ initiative was betrayed by Abbas and the warring factions. Eventually, Fatah and Hamas fought their own tragic war in Gaza the following year.

On speaking to the prisoners after listening to the discourse of academics, politicians and activists, I was able to decipher a disconnection between the Palestinian narrative on the ground and our own perception of this narrative from outside.

The prisoners display unity in their narrative, a clear sense of purpose, and determination to carry on with their resistance. While it is true that they all identified as members in one political group or another, I am yet to interview a single prisoner who placed factional interests above national interest. This should not come as a surprise. Indeed, these men and women have been detained, tortured and have endured many years in prison for being Palestinian resisters, regardless of their ideological and factional leanings.

The myth of the disunited and dysfunctional Palestinian is very much an Israeli invention that precedes the inception of Hamas, and even Fatah. This Zionist notion, which has been embraced by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that ‘Israel has no peace partner‘. Despite the hemorrhaging concessions by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, this claim has remained a fixture in Israeli politics to this day.

Political unity aside, the Palestinian people perceive ‘unity’ in a whole different political context than that of Israel and, frankly, many of us outside Palestine.

‘Al-Wihda al-Wataniya’ or national unity is a generational quest around a set of principles, including resistance, as a strategy for the liberation of Palestine, Right of Return for refugees, and self-determination for the Palestinian people as the ultimate goals. It is around this idea of unity that the leadership of Palestinian prisoners drafted their document in 2006, in the hope of averting a factional clash and keeping the struggle centered on resistance against Israeli occupation.

The ongoing Great March of Return in Gaza is another daily example of the kind of unity the Palestinian people are striving for. Despite heavy losses, thousands of protesters insist on their unity while demanding their freedom, Right of Return and an end to the Israeli siege.

For us to claim that Palestinians are not united because Fatah and Hamas cannot find common ground is simply unjustified. National unity and political unity between factions are two different issues.

It is important that we do not make the mistake of confusing the Palestinian people with factions, national unity around resistance and rights with political arrangements between political groups.

As far as vision and strategy are concerned, perhaps it is time to read the prisoners’ National Conciliation Document’. It was written by the Nelson Mandelas of Palestine, thousands of whom remain in Israeli prisons to this day.

The Quiet Coup

Does William Barr appear to be easily manipulated?  Do you really think he lacks inner strength?  James Comey thinks so (James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr).  How about Mike Pompeo and Stephen Miller?  Does Donald Trump have them acting out of character?  Do you think Lindsey Graham does his bidding out of fear?  Is Mike Pence really cowed into submission, or does Steve Bannon stroke Trump’s ego because he lacks intestinal fortitude?

All of the above have forceful personalities.  They didn’t arrive at their stations through lack of will or low self esteem. To suggest they’re being idealistically manipulated is nearsighted and dangerous.  William Barr, the others, and much of the Republican Congress appear sycophantic not out of fear or lack of self-control; they behave that way because they and Trump are kindred spirits.  They’re not just groveling; they like what Trump likes, they want what Trump wants, and they’re strong and willful enough to go after it, even if it requires a curtsy.

Have you heard about the coup?  There actually was one, but not the coup ballyhooed by Donald Trump.  The real “coup” started long ago in a barely noticed manner; it triggered the quiet rise of authoritarianism which now animates Trump’s presidency.  Amanda Taub laid it out in The Rise of American Authoritarianism.  The 2016 article (prior to Trump’s election) is both prescient and sobering.  It deserves a more thorough reading than what’s summed up in the following quick takeaways:

  • The authoritarian profile is characterized by the desire for order and a fear of outsiders.  It looks for a strong leader who promises necessary action to protect from outsiders and prevent feared changes.
  • Authoritarian personalities are drawn to the clearest and loudest authoritarian voice.
  • Covert authoritarian personalities (latent authoritarians) can be moved to overt authoritarian behavior.
  • The authoritarian personality increasingly sorts into the Republican Party (law and order and traditional values).
  • Authoritarians and latent authoritarians compose a large enough bloc to be politically powerful.
  • The authoritarian personality is not a new or Trump phenomenon; it will endure.

Religious institutions have authoritarian roots and thus provide low hanging fruit for aspiring autocrats (especially when spiritual morality has the depth of a bumper sticker).  Taub’s article provides inference of a religious component, but falls short of citing its paternalistic tradition and devotion to dogma and prophecy as instrumental in forging an authoritarian profile (ex. Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus).  It does go far, though, in explaining and describing what’s seen in American politics today.  It also sheds light elsewhere.  There’s instability and much to fear around the globe: immigration, economic turmoil and disparity, religious/social upheaval, climate change, famine, and the ever present reality of violence and war.  It’s an opportune time for the rise of authoritarian and despotic leadership that we see arising throughout the world.

“The Rise of American Authoritarianism” article shows that authoritarian personalities have slowly sorted into the Republican Party over the last fifty years.  That bloc now seems to have reached a controlling influence: 55% of surveyed Republicans scored high or higher on the article’s authoritarian scale.  In blunt terms, half a century ago the party began the process of culturing authoritarian minded voters that now dominate the Republican electorate (and consequently, its primary elections).  More and more Republican representatives sent to Washington (or elsewhere) are apt to be sympathetic (or owing) to authoritarian values.  The profound result of all this is the election of a president who cultivates authoritarian passion.  Perhaps more ominous, though, is a contingent happening: court appointments.  Court nominations at all levels are ideally chosen as vectors of impartiality.  Everyone knows the opposite is true: candidates are chosen that appear most likely to express perceived bias in future judicial proceedings.  Trump and the Republican Party are shaping the judicial system accordingly: two appointments to the Supreme Court (a third is likely) and record setting confirmations of judges to federal appeals courts.  They won’t all, of course, perform as expected, but a general bias will take place beyond the expected conservative/liberal slant: with or without awareness, throughout the court systems, decisions will be made that reflect sympathy with authoritarian ideals.  The judges will be in place for decades and their decisions much longer.  Each one of those sympathetic decisions will pave the way for future authoritarian inroads.

It doesn’t take all that much representation to determine our country’s direction.  Somewhere between 50% and 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in presidential elections (about 40% for midterms).  Combining the two, perhaps roughly half of all eligible voters are shaping political destiny.  In 1992 Ross Perot, a third party candidate, received nearly 20% of the popular vote.  That was an anomaly; third party votes generally have significance only as spoilers in close races between the two major parties (Republican and Democrat).  Usually the winning presidential candidate receives roughly half of all votes cast.  Because nearly half the country takes a pass on Election Day, the winning candidate receives about half of a half (one quarter) of potential votes.  Within each party are factions vying for political influence.  To gain dominance, a faction need only appear to represent half (or even less) of perceived party supporters.  If that party wins, it means roughly half of a quarter (one eighth) of the eligible voting population may dominate in determining national direction.  That’s all it takes.  A president (and more) can be politically empowered by as little as an eighth (or less) of the voting population.  In the face of voter apathy, an energized eighth of the American electorate can democratically nudge the country down the slippery slope to authoritarianism.

If it’s contended that Trump has neither the time nor the tools to actually push the country into irrevocable authoritarianism, it’s sobering to view what’s transpired in a short amount of time.  To his political base and much of the Republican Party, Trump has quite successfully delegitimized the news media, the Department of Justice, political opposition, and judiciary constraints.  Through all the fiascos of his first two years, Trump still enjoys Republican popularity and support.  It’s not just how much he’s managed to do (or undo) in a short amount of time, but how little he’s had to do it with.  He’s not the most gifted politician, but what if he was?  Trump has demonstrated that an authoritarian base is here and ready to use.  A tainted judicial system is in place; it will progressively soften to autocratic appeals over the coming years.  What if one really gifted comes along: someone cunningly intelligent, someone with a coherent plan and political savvy, someone with charisma and charm?

Donald Trump didn’t create the wave, but he adeptly rides it.  Fifty some years ago the old Republican Party sought to seduce and control the authoritarian personality.  The seduction succeeded, but not the control; the old guard lost it.  The new Republican Party is now home and voice to American authoritarianism.  It won’t be silenced through an impeachment or a single presidential election cycle.  It’s here for the long haul.  Figure heads like James Comey and Morning Joe pundits portray Donald Trump as a larger than life puppet master, a maestro manipulating those around him into groveling postures of obsequiousness.  The conjecture provides nearsighted assurance that Trump has a unique presence and those around him are uniquely weak: all will be better when Trump is gone.  It’s dangerously complacent; it’s not seeing the forest for a tree.

They’re not at the gate.  The authoritarians are in the castle.  There’s no time left for wishful thinking or complacency.

Embassy Protection Collective: We’re Still Here And We’re Staying

The Embassy Protection Collective formed on April 10, the day after the Trump administration manipulated the Organization of American States (OAS) to change the rules so they could recognize their puppet, Juan Guaido, as president of Venezuela. The OAS could not get the required two-thirds vote to recognize a government so they changed the rules to a mere majority and barely got that. By then, the US had allowed their Guaido coup forces to take the Venezuelan military attaché building in Washington, DC and three diplomatic offices in New York City.

The Trump administration is allowing extreme violent right-wing Guaido supporters to blockade the embassy. Despite a standoff in the last week, we had a series of victories over those forces and remain steadfast protectors of the embassy.

Surround the embassy with love and resistance

We adopted a theme song for the Embassy Protection Collective, “We’re Still Here” by Holly Neer. The chorus begins with:

We’re Still Here
Choosing Love Over Fear
When the Lines Are All Drawn
We’re Still Here

Challenges and Victories

We woke up on April 30 to the news that Juan Guaido was going to attempt a coup again, which made us wonder why he needs to conduct a coup if he is the “president.” We were alerted by our Venezuelan allies that this second coup attempt would be easily defeated, which it was, but to expect coup-supporters in the US to protest at the embassy.

In fact, the extremist Venezuelan coup supporters showed up that morning and tried to take over the steps in front of the building. A team of embassy protectors took a stand on the steps and stopped them from taking over the entry. More violent extremists showed up throughout the day, causing police to erect a barricade between us in front of the embassy. We sang almost non-stop to keep ourselves from engaging with them while they blew sirens and other loud noises and insulted and threatened us shouting racist and misogynist comments and using lewd gestures. Police refused to pass food and water to us or to allow our allies into the space in front of the embassy. We held that space through the night by taking shifts.

In the courtyard behind the embassy, the pro-coup forces harassed, intimidated, threatened and assaulted our allies outside who bravely prevented them from entering the building while folks inside set up reinforcements to stop them from coming in the door. This lasted until 1:00 in the morning.

The next day, May 1, we agreed to cede the front steps if the police would protect the front porch and doors from damage. We moved inside to focus on protecting the embassy from within, thinking the police would honor their duty to protect the embassy from harm. That afternoon, Carlos Vecchio, Guaido’s fake “ambassador” showed up, with the intention of taking over the embassy.

We were ready for him to enter and be forced to remove us. As he came to the front porch to speak, we stood resolute behind him holding signs and chanting, ‘No Coup.’ When he began to speak, we cut off the power to his sound system and out-shouted him. Vecchio was forced to flee, chased by reporter Anya Parampil who asked him, “Where are you going next, the White House?”  A representative vaguely told the crowd they were “working on a process to evict us.” The coup failed in Venezuela on April 30, and failed again in Washington, DC on May 1.

Parampil

✔ @anyaparampil

Anya Parampil

✔ @anyaparampil

Watch @carlosvecchio’s staff fail to answer what they plan to do from within the Maduro government’s embassy, considering they won’t even be able to issue visas.

Also can’t answer why their colleagues attended a DC think tank meeting to plan for the invasion of Venezuela. pic.twitter.com/xHXWc7bRua

The coup supporters started setting up tents around the embassy that night and blocking our people from entering the building as police stood by and did nothing. When members of CODE PINK brought food the next day, surrounded by clergy, they were stopped from delivering it. Two allies, Ariel Gold of CODE PINK and Chris Herz tossed bread and other foods onto a patio to us. They were arrested and charged with “hurling missiles” at a building.

We pushed back at police for not allowing the food in, and they provided a blockade for our members to come down and get the groceries. Coup supporters stole hundreds of dollars worth of the food. We were also able to get some medications in that day for people who required it. Since then, we have struggled to get supplies. When we lowered a rope from a window and successfully brought up four bags of food, the coup supporters rushed a barricade and assaulted our allies. It was our people who were threatened with arrest even though they were the ones who were knocked to the ground.

An older gentleman from the neighborhood wanted to bring us toothbrushes and toothpaste. He was swarmed by the violent extremists. When he tried to pass between two people to get to the door, he was thrown to the ground violently and seriously injured. He was arrested, not the ones who threw him down. It has become common for police to arrest the victims of assault, not the people who committed the assault.

These seem to be US-trained regime change operatives who use violence, psy-ops and and intimidation against us. Some are Nicaraguans and Cubans, not Venezuelans. They have unlimited resources. They are constantly bringing in more supplies. From early in the morning, we are surrounded by them and subjected to their sirens, banging of pots and pans, loud music, taunts and threats of physical harm.

They have tried to break in numerous times. They drilled through a door to the garage and damaged the lift gate with a sledgehammer. On Friday night, they banged on the doors so hard for hours that they were damaging them. We had to fortify the old wooden doors so they would not break through. The Secret Service watched while they did it and not only let them but refused to say they would protect our safety. When we called them, they said we should ask the Venezuelan government for help. It took hundreds of calls from supporters to get them to stop.

The Secret Service is allowing them to do all they can to intimidate us very likely under orders from the White House. They want the extremists to frighten us so we leave the embassy. Their actions have had the opposite effect. They have united us in our determination to protect the embassy.

Despite being barricaded in the building and cut off from access to supplies, we are victorious. We are still here and there is little chance of eviction because we are violating no laws. We have built a powerful and united community that works together to protect the embassy and to keep the violent extremists and Trump administration out.

Surrounding the Embassy with Love and Resistance

The Trump administration realizes that entering the Venezuelan Embassy in violation of the Vienna Convention would set a precedent that could put US embassies around the world at risk. As a result, they are allowing right-wing extremists to harass and threaten us and try to starve us out. That is their only hope of taking over the embassy.

We refuse to give in no matter what they do. Our lawyers are making sure there is a record of the incidents, which we have in large part due to our embedded media, Anya Parampil of The Grayzone Project and Alex Rubinstein of Mintpress News. We also have to give a shout out to TeleSur, who was embedded with us until the pro-coup forces arrived and now is providing coverage from the outside. Allies outside are identifying the pro-coup actors. We wrote to the State Department and Secret Service about the violence and have told them we will hold decision-makers and police officers responsible for their actions.  But mostly, we have responded to these intimidation tactics in solidarity and have strengthened our resolve to protect the embassy.

A highlight of the week for us, after many difficult days, was to see hundreds of Embassy Protectors show up outside yesterday. They chanted with us and sang. We ended the night with revolutionary music blasting from the second floor embassy windows and dancing together even though they were on the sidewalk across the street and we were inside the embassy. The extremists’ banging of pots, strobe lights and blasting sirens at us only added to the festive atmosphere.

Today, more Embassy Protectors returned to show solidarity and express their love. We also started receiving many messages of solidarity and appreciation from individuals and social movements in Venezuela. This means the world to us. We are surrounded by violent, right-wing, regime change forces who are trying to wear us down. These are the same actors who held violent protests in Nicaragua and Venezuela. They are making death threats, threatening women with rape and mocking us, all in a posh Georgetown neighborhood. It is surreal.

We recall the mass mobilizations in Charlottesville, Boston and New York when right-wing, racist, misogynist hate-filled people came there and urge that mass resistance to join us now. This is a critical struggle. If the embassy is overtaken, it will set us on a path to war in Venezuela, and chaos and devastation to the region. If we can continue to protect the embassy, Venezuela and the United States will have time to negotiate with third countries to serve as protectorates for their embassies and this could begin a path to peace. Perhaps Trump will even see that the Bolton-Abrams-Pompeo team has misled him and reverse the disastrous policy course he is on. There is no reason to steal Venezuela’s resources, the US should respect Venezuelan sovereignty and negotiate agreements as has been done previously.

We are asking people to come to DC to surround this embassy with love and resistance. Let’s show that love will prevail.

If you absolutely can’t come to DC, please contact your member of Congress to make them aware of the situation. Tell them:

  1. The US is required to protect embassies under the Vienna Convention, but is allowing the Venezuelan Embassy to be damaged when the Secret Service could easily protect it.
  2. The United States’ coup in Venezuela has failed. Maduro is the legitimate elected President of Venezuela and is recognized by the United Nations and over 140 countries.
  3. The Secret Service is violating the human rights of the Embassy Protectors by failing to ensure safe passage in and out of the embassy and access to supplies. We are literally under siege.
  4. Review the Declaration of the Embassy Protection Collective and sign on to show your support.

And finally, please make a donation as we have incurred many unexpected costs for this mobilization.

Venceremos!

The Palestinian Authority is No Longer Crying Wolf Over its Imminent Collapse

We have been here many times before. However, on this occasion even the principal actors understand that the Palestinian Authority is not crying wolf as it warns of imminent collapse.

The crisis is entirely of Israel and Washington’s making. Keen to pander to hawkish public opinion in the run-up to last month’s election, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a severe blow against Mahmoud Abbas and his government-in-permanent-waiting.

He announced that Israel would withhold a portion of the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and which it is obligated under the Oslo accords to pass on to the PA, based in the West Bank.

The money deducted is the sum the PA transfers as stipends to the families of political prisoners and those killed and maimed by the Israeli army.

This is an incendiary issue, as Netanyahu well knows, given that Palestinians view these families as having made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle to liberate their people from brutal Israeli occupation.

Abbas cannot be seen to back down, and so has refused to accept any of the monthly tax transfers until the full sum is reinstated, amounting to nearly two-thirds of the PA’s revenues.

Given how precarious Palestinian finances are, after decades of resource theft and restrictions on development imposed by Israel, the PA is already on the brink of bankruptcy.

The problem for Netanyahu and Washington is that the PA was established – under the 25-year-old Oslo accords – to take the pressure and costs off Israel of policing the Palestinian population under occupation.

If the PA collapses, so do the Palestinian security forces that have been keeping order in the West Bank as Israel has continued to plunder Palestinian land and resources.

Late last month the United Nations warned that the standoff had left the PA facing “unprecedented financial, security and political challenges”.

Which means that, despite his recent electoral triumph, Netanyahu is in a serious bind.

He cannot be seen by his even more right-wing coalition partners to be climbing down and restoring stipends to people Israelis view simply as “terrorists”.

Equally, he dares not risk a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. That would be a real possibility if the Palestinian economy implodes and there are no Palestinian security forces to suppress the resulting wave of popular anger.

A preview of the difficulties in store was given at the weekend, when more than 600 rockets were fired out of Gaza, threatening the cancellation of the Eurovision song contest in Israel later this month.

By Sunday evening, four Israelis were reported dead, while 20 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian fatalities included two pregnant women and a toddler.

There is also the danger, from Israel’s point of view, that if Abbas’s PA collapses, the void in the West Bank will be filled by his Hamas rivals, who run Gaza. Israel has been delighted to keep the Palestinian territories divided under feuding Fatah and Hamas leaderships.

A way out – or a change of tack – is urgently required.

Israel has tried twice to quietly make partial tax transfers to the PA’s bank account, in the hope the money would be accepted. The PA returned it.

Then, the European Union stepped in. Ostensibly an “honest broker”, it appears to be occupying a role the Trump administration has formally abandoned. The EU proposed last week that the PA accept the transfers on a “provisional basis”, until the crisis can be resolved.

PA officials were dismissive. “Let the people take to the streets,” one said. “We have our backs to the wall.” The PA line is that in the current climate, if it backtracks, Israel will simply intensify unilateral measures harming the Palestinian cause.

So now, more in desperation than any realistic prospect of achieving peace, attention is turning to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century”.

After endless delays, the US administration now seems to be preparing for its release next month, soon after the holy month of Ramadan finishes.

The plan’s main architects, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, have issued a spate of statements hinting at the contents.

Greenblatt has sought to reassure neighbouring Egypt and Jordan that they will not shoulder the burden. He discounted rumours either that Gaza’s Palestinians would be encouraged to move to the Sinai, in a land swap that would allow Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, or that Jordan would find itself recast as an alternative Palestinian homeland.

Kushner, meanwhile, has strongly suggested that the goal of a two-state solution, implied by the Oslo process, will finally be jettisoned. “New and different ways to reach peace must be tried,” he has said.

He has also stated that the plan will stress “economic benefits” for the Palestinians and “security” for Israel.

David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel and a stalwart ally of Israel’s most extreme settlers, has recently added that Israel will maintain security control of the West Bank.

According to analysts, these statements suggest the White House is preparing the ground for an offer to the Palestinians of “limited autonomy” – an outcome Arab officials confirmed to The Washington Post.

Sensing the danger, 40 former senior European officials have signed a letter opposing any plan that creates a Palestinian “entity devoid of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability”.

“Limited autonomy” would be a reformulation of Israel’s long-running ambition to thwart permanently Palestinian hopes of statehood – a policy the late Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling once termed “politicide”.

Since the late 1970s, the Israeli right has advocated hemming Palestinians into enclaves where they are denied sovereignty.

The model of disparate cantons, effectively operating as glorified municipalities and surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlers, is little different from that of “black homelands”, or Bantustans, established in apartheid-era South Africa.

Now, it seems, the Trump administration is ready to support this racist idea as a way to promote regional peace.

The Americans hope that, with a few sweeteners, the Palestinians can be made to swallow this bitter pill. It is an idea Netanyahu has advanced for some time, with his talk of “economic peace” – or what might be better termed “economic pacification”.

But the current impasse on taxes shows that buying off the Palestinians with bribes, in return for the abandonment of core national goals, may not prove so easy.

With the PA close to collapse, it is hard to see how Trump’s deal of the century can do anything other than speed up the authority’s demise.

• A version of this article was first published in The National

Saudi’Israeli’a

Only a few years ago this geo-political portmanteau would have seemed fanciful to farcical.  Saudi Arabia, that theocratic monarchy, and Israel, a Western-styled democracy?  But times have changed, and all signs point to a confluence of interest between these two ideologically opposed, Middle Eastern states.  Moreover, this curious confluence flows through the Mesopotomac swamp of Washington, D.C.

As a sign of things to kingdom come, President Trump’s first foreign foray was to Riyadh (not Moscow), for some symbolic sword-dancing and weird orb-touching.  From there, Trump dutifully flew to Tel Aviv. Trump’s trip was a tip of the hat to what his regime’s foreign policy would be:  Saudi’Israeli’a First.

Since then, the Trump Folks have gone rogue by declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, in accordance with Israeli wishes, and, most recently, recognizing Israel’s illegal 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights.  Besides such signs of fealty to a foreign power, as there was no public American call for these moves in defiance of international consensus, the Trump Team is quite recently on record defending atrocities by both its Saudi and Israeli partners.

Indeed, on the very day that the United States “recognized” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (May 14, 2018), Israeli Defense Forces shot up and massacred 60 Palestinians protesting in Gaza, leaving over 2,000 others bullet-wounded.  Bizarrely, Nikki Haley, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, responded to this mass murder by indignantly accusing the Palestinians themselves of provoking Israel’s right to self-defense against the stone-throwing; or, what’s a Goliath to do against so many Davids?  Shoot to kill, apparently.  The U.S. Press won’t ask too many questions later; neither will the Saudis, for that matter.

Speaking of the Saudis: in the case of Jamal Khashoggi (or, What the Bone Saw?!), Trump’s handlers have provided exceptional cover for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s exhibition of gangsterism. Despite some pushback from Congress (even Saudi loyalist Senator Lindsey Graham cried “Heavens to Betsy Ross!” while washing Khasoggi’s blood off his face in a huff…), the Trump regime has used the assassination to re-affirm its supporting role in Saudi Arabia’s illegal war against Yemen.  In the Death Star eyes of Team Trump, the lives of Palestinians and Yemenis are equally irrelevant, evidently.

Of course, the ongoing Guernica in Yemen has been framed as a proxy war against Iran.  For reasons known only to Jared Kushner and that weird orb, perhaps, the Trump, Saudi, and Israeli regimes are all being confluenced by some otherworldly threat from the Islamic Republic.  This state of affairs naturally poses the real-world question: What threat, Iran?  None, as far as any reasonable eye can far see.

In terms of military spending alone, the Iranian juggernaut is dwarfed by the expenditures of its “regional superpower” rivals. Moreover, while the United States heavily subsidizes the Saudi’Israelians, it sanctions Iran, further enhancing this Middle Eastern imbalance of power.  It is also notable that Saudi Arabia currently spends more on its military than any country except for China and the USA, while Israel is the only Middle Eastern state with the complete suite of WMD–a fact rarely mentioned. In this context, the very real irony emerges that Iranian defense spending is literally for the defense of Iran.

So, Iran is back in the cross-hairs of the Regime Changelings.  There’s a new “Axis” in Southwest Eurasia, as Uncle Samson strains to maintain the Twin Pillars of American Middle Eastern policy–Saudi Arabia and Israel–while hurling hoary epithets toward Iran at the behest of these two “client states”.  Things go “Bump!” in the Arabian night, but does anyone seriously believe there’s an Iranian devil in the woodpile?  In Riyadh, Tel Aviv, and Wahhabington. D.C., the answer is an emphatic, fundamentalist, “Yes!”

This USA-KSA-Israel “Axis of Roguery” certainly presents a peculiar spectacle on the world stage.  The petrodollar system–or financialization of Oil–underpins the U.S.-Saudi relationship, while an irrational enmity toward Iran binds Israel and the Kingdom, despite the fact they don’t even have official relations.  Enter the con-man Trump, who fronts for neocon-men, to grease this unlikely–and possibly rickety–wheel.  As Trump unkosherly hogs the spotlight (Wart of the Deal?), the Saudi’Israelian true believers weave new war in the shadows of Trump’s tweets.

In the neologistical case of “Saudi’Israeli’a?”, then, I think we can safely drop the question mark.  However, we should keep in mind that this geo-political symbiosis is as inherently unstable as it is real–and really whipping the U.S. War Chariot into a renewed Crusade against the recycled villain du jour, Iran.