Category Archives: International Law

For Israel, Annexation of the West Bank is a Long-established Goal

When Israeli prime ministers are in trouble, facing difficult elections or a corruption scandal, the temptation has typically been for them to unleash a military operation to bolster their standing. In recent years, Gaza has served as a favourite punching bag.

Benjamin Netanyahu is confronting both difficulties at once: a second round of elections in September that he may struggle to win; and an attorney general who is widely expected to indict him on corruption charges shortly afterwards.

Mr Netanyahu is in an unusually tight spot, even by the standards of an often chaotic and fractious Israeli political system. After a decade in power, his electoral magic may be deserting him. There are already rumblings of discontent among his allies on the far right.

Given his desperate straits, some observers fear that he may need to pull a new kind of rabbit out of the hat.

In the past two elections, Mr Netanyahu rode to success after issuing dramatic last-minute statements. In 2015, he agitated against the fifth of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian asserting their democratic rights, warning that they were “coming out in droves to vote”.

Back in April, he declared his intention to annex large chunks of the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law, during the next parliament.

Amos Harel, a veteran military analyst with Haaretz newspaper, observed last week that Mr Netanyahu may decide words are no longer enough to win. Action is needed, possibly in the form of an announcement on the eve of September’s ballot that as much as two-thirds of the West Bank is to be annexed.

Washington does not look like it will stand in his way.

Shortly before April’s election, the Trump administration offered Mr Netanyahu a campaign fillip by recognising Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967.

This month David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel and one of the chief architects of Donald Trump’s long-delayed “deal of the century” peace plan, appeared to offer a similar, early election boost.

In interviews, he claimed Israel was “on the side of God” – unlike, or so it was implied, the Palestinians. He further argued that Israel had the “right to retain” much of the West Bank.

Both statements suggest that the Trump administration will not object to any Israeli moves towards annexation, especially if it ensures their favoured candidate returns to power.

Whatever Mr Friedman suggests, it is not God who has intervened on Israel’s behalf. The hands that have carefully cleared a path over many decades to the West Bank’s annexation are all too human.

Israeli officials have been preparing for this moment for more than half a century, since the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza were seized back in 1967.

That point is underscored by an innovative interactive map of the occupied territories. This valuable new resource is a joint project of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and Forensic Architecture, a London-based team that uses new technology to visualise and map political violence and environmental destruction.

Titled Conquer and Divide, it reveals in detail how Israel has “torn apart Palestinian space, divided the Palestinian population into dozens of disconnected enclaves and unravelled its social, cultural and economic fabric”.

The map proves beyond doubt that Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank was never accidental, defensive or reluctant. It was coldly calculated and intricately planned, with one goal in mind – and the moment to realise that goal is fast approaching.

Annexation is not a right-wing project that has hijacked the benign intentions of Israel’s founding generation. Annexation was on the cards from the occupation’s very beginnings in 1967, when the so-called centre-left – now presented as a peace-loving alternative to Mr Netanyahu – ran the government.

The map shows how Israeli military planners created a complex web of pretexts to seize Palestinian land: closed military zones today cover a third of the West Bank; firing ranges impact 38 Palestinian communities; nature reserves are located on 6 per cent of the territory; nearly a quarter has been declared Israeli “state” land; some 250 settlements have been established; dozens of permanent checkpoints severely limit movement; and hundreds of kilometres of walls and fences have been completed.

These interlocking land seizures seamlessly carved up the territory, establishing the walls of dozens of tightly contained prisons for Palestinians in their own homeland.

Two Nasa satellite images of the region separated by 30 years – from 1987 and 2017 – reveal how Israel’s settlements and transport infrastructure have gradually scarred the West Bank’s landscape, clearing away natural vegetation and replacing it with concrete.

The land grabs were not simply about acquisition of territory. They were a weapon, along with increasingly draconian movement restrictions, to force the native Palestinian population to submit, to recognise its defeat, to give up hope.

In the immediate wake of the West Bank’s occupation, defence minister Moshe Dayan, Israel’s hero of the hour and one of the architects of the settlement project, observed that Palestinians should be made “to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave – and we shall see where this process leads”.

Although Israel has concentrated Palestinians in 165 disconnected areas across the West Bank, its actions effectively won the international community’s seal of approval in 1995. The Oslo accords cemented Israel’s absolute control over 62 per cent of the West Bank, containing the Palestinians’ key agricultural land and water sources, which was classified as Area C.

Occupations are intended to be temporary – and the Oslo accords promised the same. Gradually, the Palestinians would be allowed to take back more of their territory to build a state. But Israel made sure both the occupation and the land thefts sanctioned by Oslo continued.

The new map reveals more than just the methods Israel used to commandeer the West Bank. Decades of land seizures highlight a trajectory, plotting a course that indicates the project is still not complete.

If Mr. Netanyahu partially annexes the West Bank – Area C – it will be simply another stage in Israel’s tireless efforts to immiserate the Palestinian population and bully them into leaving. This is a war of attrition – what Israelis have long understood as “creeping annexation”, carried out by stealth to avoid a backlash from the international community.

Ultimately, Israel wants the Palestinians gone entirely, squeezed out into neighbouring Arab states, such as Egypt and Jordan. That next chapter is likely to begin in earnest if Mr Trump ever gets the chance to unveil his “deal of the century”.

• First published in The National

Kushner as a Colonial Administrator

In a TV interview on June 2, on the news docuseries “Axios” on the HBO channel, Jared Kushner opened up regarding many issues, in which his ‘Deal of the Century’ was a prime focus.

The major revelation made by Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, was least surprising. Kushner believes that Palestinians are not capable of governing themselves.

Not surprising, because Kushner thinks he is capable of arranging the future of the Palestinian people without the inclusion of the Palestinian leadership. He has been pushing his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ relentlessly, while including in his various meets and conferences countries such as Poland, Brazil and Croatia, but not Palestine.

Indeed, this is what transpired at the Warsaw conference on ‘peace and security’ in the Middle East. The same charade, also led by Kushner, is expected to be rebooted in Bahrain on June 25.

Much has been said about the subtle racism in Kushner’s words, reeking with the stench of old colonial discourses where the natives were seen as lesser, incapable of rational thinking beings who needed the civilized ‘whites’ of the western hemisphere to help them cope with their backwardness and inherent incompetence.

Kushner, whose credentials are merely based on his familial connections to Trump and family friendship with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is now poised to be the colonial administrator of old, making and enforcing the law while the hapless natives have no other option but to either accommodate or receive their due punishment.

This is not an exaggeration. In fact, according to leaked information concerning Kushner’s ‘Deal of the Century,’ and published in the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, if Palestinian groups refuse to accept the US-Israeli diktats, “the US will cancel all financial support to the Palestinians and ensure that no country transfers funds to them.”

In the HBO interview, Kushner offered the Palestinians a lifeline. They could be considered capable of governing themselves should they manage to achieve the following: “a fair judicial system … freedom of the press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”

The fact that Palestine is an occupied country, subject in every possible way to Israel’s military law, and that Israel has never been held accountable for its 52-year occupation seems to be of no relevance whatsoever, as far as Kushner is concerned.

On the contrary, the subtext in all of what Kushner has said in the interview is that Israel is the antithesis to the unquestionable Palestinian failure. Unlike Palestine, Israel needs to do little to demonstrate its ability to be a worthy peace partner.

While the term ‘US bias towards Israel’ is as old as the state of Israel itself, what is hardly discussed are the specifics of that bias, the decidedly condescending, patronizing and, often, racist view that US political classes have of Palestinians – and all Arabs and Muslims, for that matter; and the utter infatuation with Israel, which is often cited as a model for democracy, judicial transparency and successful ‘anti-terror’ tactics.

According to Kushner a ‘fair judicial system’ is a conditio sine qua non to determine a country’s ability to govern itself. But is the Israeli judicial system “fair” and “democratic”?

Israel does not have a single judicial system, but two. This duality has, in fact, defined Israeli courts from the very inception of Israel in 1948. This de facto apartheid system openly differentiates between Jews and Arabs, a fact that is true in both civil and criminal law.

“Criminal law is applied separately and unequally in the West Bank, based on nationality alone (Israeli versus Palestinian), inventively weaving its way around the contours of international law in order to preserve and develop its ‘(illegal Jewish) settlement enterprise’,” Israeli scholar, Emily Omer-Man, explained in her essay ‘Separate and Unequal’.

In practice, Palestinians and Israelis who commit the exact same crime will be judged according to two different systems, with two different procedures: “The settler will be processed according to the Israeli Penal Code (while) the Palestinian will be processed according to military order.”

This unfairness is constituent of a massively unjust judicial apparatus that has defined the Israeli legal system from the onset. Take the measure of administrative detention as an example. Palestinians can be held without trial and without any stated legal justification. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been subjected to this undemocratic ‘law’ and hundreds of them are currently held in Israeli jails.

It is ironic that Kushner raised the issue of freedom of the press, in particular, as Israel is being derided for its dismal record in that regard. Israel has reportedly committed 811 violations against Palestinian journalists since the start of the ‘March of Return’ in Gaza in March 2018. Two journalists – Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein – were killed and 155 were wounded by Israeli snipers.

Like the imbalanced Israeli judicial system, targeting the press is also a part of a protracted pattern. According to a press release issued by the Palestinian Journalists Union last May, Israel has killed 102 Palestinian journalists since 1972.

The fact that Palestinian intellectuals, poets and activists have been imprisoned for Facebook and other social media posts should tell us volumes about the limits of Israel’s freedom of press and expression.

It is also worth mentioning that in June 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted for a bill that prohibits the filming of Israeli soldiers as a way to mask their crimes and shelter them from any future legal accountability.

As for freedom of religion, despite its many shortcomings, the Palestinian Authority hardly discriminates against religious minorities. The same cannot be said about Israel.

Although discrimination against non-Jews in Israel has been the raison d’être of the very idea of Israel, the Nation-State Law of July 2018 further cemented the superiority of the Jews and inferior status of everyone else.

According to the new Basic Law, Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” only and “the right to exercise national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.”

Palestinians do not need to be lectured on how to meet Israeli and American expectations, nor should they ever aspire to imitate the undemocratic Israeli model. What they urgently need, instead, is international solidarity to help them win the fight against Israeli occupation, racism and apartheid.

Protection Of Venezuelan Embassy Continues, Opposition To US Coup Builds

While the final four inside members of the Embassy Protection Collective were arrested on May 16, 2019 (and released the next day), the Collective’s efforts to protect the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC and to end the US coup continue.

From left to right: Kevin Zeese, Margaret Flowers, David Paul and Adrienne Pine at windows of the Venezuelan Embassy. Signs below them call for a mutual Protecting Power Agreement.

A Mutual Protecting Power Agreement Still Needed For US and Venezuelan Embassies

Tell the State Department to recognize Turkey as the Venezuelan Embassy’s Protecting Power in Washington, DC.

We have consistently sought a mutual Protecting Power Agreement between the US and Venezuela so the US Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela can be protected by Switzerland and the Venezuelan Embassy in DC can be protected by Turkey. This is still the legal pathway to end the embassy crisis.

Protecting Power Agreements have existed since the time of Genghis Khan and have been embedded in international law since the 1870s. Currently they are enshrined in Article 45 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. They are used when diplomatic relations have been broken in order to protect foreign embassies. Twenty-nine Protecting Power Agreements are currently in place around the world.

When the United States government illegally invaded the Venezuelan Embassy to arrest and evict us, it violated the Vienna Convention and put all embassies around the world at risk. Federal agents assaulted the embassy with a battering ram and more than 100 officers, many armed with para-military gear even though we said we would not resist arrest or barricade ourselves in the embassy. This was after the US had illegally turned off electricity and water to the embassy and allowed a mob of coup supporters to assault the embassy and Embassy Protectors.

The violation of the Vienna Convention, a precedent set by the Trump administration, puts US embassy personnel and embassies at risk around the world. The Trump administration added to that violation of international law on May 24 when it allowed the fictional ambassador, Carlos Vecchio, of a failed US coup, to enter the embassy. This complicates negotiations for a mutual Protecting Power Agreement as the members of the coup will have to be removed from the embassy, but we still must urge the US to follow international law rather than be a rogue state.

Activists used light projection on the embassy to tell the truth about Vecchio as a fake ambassador who cannot do anything official such as issuing visas or passports but who will use the embassy as a coup-plotting center, further escalating US violations of international law.

Alex Rubinstein

✔ @RealAlexRubi

Anti-coup protesters @JasonRCharter and @backboneprog project messages onto the former Venezuelan embassy which was illegally seized by US authorities.

“D.C.’s newest coup plotting center

This is not an embassy

Vecchio can’t issue visas”@carlosvecchio

Take Action Now: Join us in telling the State Department to recognize Turkey as the Venezuelan Embassy Protecting Power

The Venezuelan Embassy with signs on it urging peace with Venezuela, end of the US coup and an end to sanctions.

Court Proceedings Against Protectors Continue While The Movement Organizes Against US Coups And Militarism

The Embassy Protectors arrested inside and outside will continue to defend themselves in court. The next hearing of the four inside Embassy Protectors has been moved to this Friday, May 31 at 9:30 am before the chief judge of the US District Court in Washington, DC, Judge Beryl A. Howell.  Ironically, as we were serving as interim embassy protectors with the permission of the democratically-elected Venezuelan government, the four were charged with violation of 18 U.S. Code §”118. “Interference with certain protective functions.” Anyone who followed the activities during the Embassy Protection Collective’s actions can see the State Department was failing to protect the embassy as it allowed pro-coup advocates to break windows and doors, break and enter into the building, deface the building and assault people outside the building while threatening those inside the building.

Other Embassy Protectors arrested outside for trying to get food and supplies into the embassy are also facing charges, including “hurling missiles at a building” (bread and cucumbers) and assault, even though they were the ones assaulted. There are currently four outside Embassy Protectors facing charges. One, an older man bringing toothbrushes, has already had the charges dropped.

In addition to these actions, we are escalating our efforts to stop the US coup and protect the embassy. We are working with other peace and justice advocates to organized national and international days of action to protect the embassies, stop the US coup attempt and end the illegal unilateral coercive measures (misnamed sanctions) and threats of military attacks on Venezuela. If you live in a country that recognizes the coup leader, Juan Guaido, we urge you to take action to protect the Venezuelan Embassy in your country and to pressure your government to recognize the democratically-elected President Nicolas Maduro.

We will be posting these actions called by Popular Resistance and other organizations on our website. Sign up for our daily digest (on the front page of PopularResisance.org) to be sure to receive the information quickly.

Popular Resistance and other organizers will tie the US actions against Venezuela to the threats of war and ongoing unilateral coercive measures against Iran and other countries as well as the never-ending war in Afghanistan and the Middle East and threats to countries like Nicaragua and Cuba. In the next decade, as US empire crumbles, this coup attempt against Venezuela and the actions of US citizens against the US coup will be seen as one of the events that led to the demise of US military domination.

We along with numerous other organizations are organizing toward a national mass mobilization in New York City on September 21 when the United Nations General Assembly is meeting. We are calling it “The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine.” It will bring tens of thousands of people together to call for the end of the US coup against Venezuela and stop regime change operations anywhere in the world. It will also oppose unilateral coercive mentions (sanctions), which the US is using against many countries and that violate the UN Charter and other international laws.

Alex Rubinstein

✔ @RealAlexRubi

Embassy protectors @KBZeese and @MFlowers8 talk about organizing a “national mass mobilization in New York City on September 21st when the United Nations General Assembly is meeting.”

They’re calling it “The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine.”

224 people are talking about this

Mark your calendar now for the national mass mobilization in New York City on September 21, the International Day of Peace, when the United Nations General Assembly is meeting.

The mass mobilization is challenging the “US War Machine” because the machine is more than just war and regime change, it has escalated militarism at home creating violence and death in black and brown communities at the hands of militarized police. US militarism is also a major cause of the climate crisis as the Pentagon is a major source for climate gases and fights wars for oil when we need to break our addiction to oil. And the war machine robs the United States of necessary funds for health, education, housing, and other necessities of the people as well as the funds needed to put in place an eco-socialist Green New Deal that confronts the climate crisis with a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy within the next decade. Challenging the US war machine links many issues and causes.

If people are organized and mobilized, we can make these issues central to the political narrative in the United States and ensure that in the upcoming election cycle no legitimate candidate can support the US coup in Venezuela and must put forward plans to end US militarism.

Showdown at the Venezuelan Embassy

Photo by Alex Rubinstein

This article describes a tense showdown that took place Monday evening between the Embassy Protectors and federal authorities, and concludes with URGENT ACTIONS people can take to resolve this dispute and stop a US-orchestrated coup.

Writing on Day 36 of the campaign to prevent a US-sponsored coup by protecting the Venezuelan Embassy from illegal takeover

Events reached a climax this Monday, as well as a new level of absurdity, when for the first time, federal authorities cut the locks and opened the embassy doors to tell us we were being evicted, based solely on orders from a fictional Venezuelan ambassador named Carlos Vecchio. (Vecchio is a member of the tiny, right-wing Popular Will Party in Venezuela, and is living in the US in exile out of fear of arrest in Venezuela for his role in organizing violent protests that resulted in over 100 deaths.)

It began around 5 or 5:30pm when the DC Metropolitan Police, along with federal authorities, began negotiating our eviction and possible arrest with our lawyer, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, outside the embassy. They presented her with an order, not signed by any US agency (or any person for that matter) on plain paper without even a letterhead, saying that we were trespassing in the building and were required to leave.

“Required by whom,” Mara asked, and maintained that we were in the embassy legally, with the permission of the elected Venezuelan government, and that we were not violating any laws.

The police refused to allow her to talk to us, but they did allow her to watch from the doorway when around 7PM, the authorities cut the chains and bike lock placed on the embassy’s front doors by the legitimate embassy staff back when diplomatic relations were severed.

When the authorities opened the door, four of us were right there in the lobby (the authors of this report, along with Adrian Pine and David Paul), and we immediately began chanting, “We are here legally! You are breaking international law!”

There were US Marshalls present, members of Federal Protective Services, and a spokesperson from the State Department. They began to read the illegal eviction order, and as soon as they mentioned Vecchio’s name, we interrupted and told them it was an illegal order, that a fictional ambassador from a non-governmental group of coup plotters cannot give legal orders regarding the legitimate Venezuelan embassy.

They then asked us if we would leave voluntarily. Each of us, in turn, said “no.” We then attempted to open a dialogue with them, to let them know we are here legally, and that the only way we would leave voluntarily is if presented with a mutual Protecting Power Agreement (PPA), signed between the US and Venezuela guaranteeing the protection of both this embassy and the corresponding, vacant US embassy in Caracas. Such PPAs are historically common when diplomatic relations break down between two countries. In that even, neutral third countries agree to maintain staff at each respective embassy, protecting it until relations can be reestablished.

They listened. Then the State Department spokesperson simply repeated, “Will you leave voluntarily?”

Again we said no. We told them that entering the embassy was in the violation of the Vienna convention, and that further action could set a precedent that would put all embassies around the world at risk, including US embassies and their personnel.

They let us continue speaking.

We explained to them that removing us and taking over the embassy would also escalate the conflict between Venezuela and the United States, and that this could lead to a military conflict, creating chaos in the region and resulting in many lost lives, including that of US soldiers. “We do not want Latin America to turn into another middle east,” we said. “This would be a quagmire and would cost the US trillions of dollars. And with Russia and China allied with Venezuela, it could potentially lead to a global conflict. So be very careful. Your actions right now are important. If you cross this threshold, your name could very well go down in history as the officers who violated international law and started World War III.”

They glanced back and forth at each other with seeming concern over what they were hearing.

But the spokesperson simply repeated, “will you leave voluntarily?”

Again we said no. We told them, “Listen. The coup plotters cut off our power. They cut off our water. The secret service outside has allowed these terrorists to surround us, to assault us, to prevent food and water from getting inside. They have tried all this on us, and we are still here. If this hasn’t forced us to leave, what do you think will? Please understand we are staying until a mutual PPA is reached between the two countries. Either that or you will have to carry us out on stretchers.”

We continued for quite some time with similar themes about the Vienna convention, and that we were concerned about the personnel in US embassies around the world. We said we hoped the State Department shared our concerns. We told them that the precedent set by violating the Vienna convention would embarrass President Trump and become his legacy. We told them that John Bolton was already making a fool of Trump by misjudging the situation in Venezuela, that the people of Venezuela will not give up their independence or their sovereignty, and that they want peace with the United States. We told them there’s no reason for the US to be enemies with Venezuela, but that if they—right here and right now—cross this threshold by removing us, they could set in motion something they might regret.”

Silence. More glances. Then once again, “will you leave voluntarily?”

We continued, presenting them with an alternative. “Why violate international law,” we asked them? “International law already provides a peaceful resolution to this conflict through what are known as mutual Protective Power Agreements, or PPAs, which have been standard diplomacy since the 1870s.” We educated them that there are currently 29 PPAs in place around the world. “When there’s a peaceful path already established,” we said, “it will be especially bad for your careers and reputations if you violate international law in such a major way that could lead to war.”

Silence this time.

For good measure we added, “Following an illegal order is no defense to criminal prosecution. So we suggest you close the door, go back to your superiors, and discuss with them what we’ve just told you.”

The officer who was acting as a spokesperson left. Another officer took his place.

“Will you leave voluntarily?” he asked us.

We explained the same things to this new officer. Ten minutes later the first officer returned. We told them both that our position hadn’t changed, that we will leave voluntarily only when presented with a mutual PPA.

The officers thought for a moment. Then they informed us that they were going to close the door behind secure it. They said they would station a federal Marshall outside the door.

We told them, “make sure the entire embassy compound is under police protection because these violent terrorists have broken in three times and have yet to be prosecuted.” He replied that they would, but added that if we changed our mind, all we had to do was knock on the front door and they would let us leave peacefully.” They then shut the door and placed plastic zip ties–the same ones typically used for handcuffs– around the handles of the door.

Mara, our attorney, walked the embassy compound with the police to ensure it was fully protected. It was.

The secret service has been removed from duty, replaced with DC Metro police and officers of Federal Protective Services, which is part of DHS. Finally, for the first time, Federal authorities are now protecting the embassy—and us—from the terrorists who have been attacking us.

Monday and Tuesday night we slept peacefully for the first time in weeks.

What Social Movements Around the World Should Do

We urge social movements around the world to show their solidarity with the Embassy Protection Collective by going to US embassies to demand respect for the Vienna convention and the rule of law, and to urge the US and Venezuela to sign a mutual Protecting Power Agreement (PPA).

Furthermore, people in the United States need to become the media, because despite this being a truly unique event in US history where US citizens have gone into a foreign embassy in DC to prevent a US-orchestrated coup, the corporate media has barely covered the story.

Lastly, people should contact their members of congress. Tell them to support a mutual Protecting Power Agreement, or PPA, the usual procedure for protecting embassies when diplomatic relations break down.

Time is of the essence. Resolution of this conflict should not be a unilateral decision by John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and Mike Pompeo. It’s up to social movements and people everywhere to elevate this issue to international dialogue.

National Mobilization at the Venezuelan Embassy in DC, Saturday May 18th at noon

A Statement from the Embassy Protection Collective

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

Solidarity With Venezuela Now! Protect The Embassy

Activists gather in front of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC in March, 2019.

We are writing to you from inside the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC where we are taking action against a US coup of the independent and sovereign Bolivarian Republican of Venezuela. The Embassy Protection Collective (Colectivos Por La Paz) is here with the permission of the Venezuelan government to show our solidarity with the Venezuelan people. The upcoming week will be a critical one, as we explain below.

The opposition, with its illegal, pretend government, say they will attempt to take over the embassy this week after the diplomats leave on Wednesday, as ordered by the US State Department. If they do, it will be a theft from the Venezuelan people who own the building. As we describe in some detail below, the opposition is acting in violation of the Venezuelan Constitution and the US is acting in violation of international law.

US and Canadian Peace Delegation organized by US Peace Council in Venezuela, 2019.

Guaido’s Power Shrinks, The Roots of Opposition are Based in Violence and US Coup Attempts

The opposition leader, Juan Guaido’s power is shrinking in Venezuela and he is often ignored. He has no transitional government, even Elliot Abrams admits he is not in power, and Guaido has been barred from running for office for financial improprieties after being investigated for illegally taking money from a foreign government. Guaido’s immunity from prosecution has been removed and he has been forbidden from leaving the country. He has announced major protests multiple times to support his takeover of the Venezuelan government on behalf of the US government, but the protests are often canceled or have small turnouts.

Mision Verdad, in “Guaido, A Laboratory Product That No Longer Works,” describes how the coup was designed in meetings in the Organization of American States (OAS) in December and January that included the convicted criminal, Leopoldo Lopez, and his protegé Juan Guaido by video link.

Lopez was convicted for his role in inciting fatal violent protests and road blockades in 2014 and 2017 that killed almost 200 people in an attempt to take over the government. He is currently under house arrest. While Lopez has tried to distance himself from the unpopular failed 2002 coup of Hugo Chavez, video and news from that time show he was one of the leaders of the Chavez coup. Lopez participated in the illegal detention of then-Minister of the Interior and Justice Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, as this video shows, as well as violent attacks against Caracas’ Cuban Embassy.

Chavez pardoned Lopez for his role in the coup in 2007, but Lopez was barred from holding political office from 2008 to 2014 for his misuse of public funds while mayor. Guarimba victims have pursued new charges against Leopoldo Lopez. Just two weeks ago, Lopez was implicated in a terrorist plot, funded by the United States and organized by Guaido’s chief of staff, where mercenaries from Central America, trained in Colombia, planned to attack infrastructure, government buildings, and assassinate political leaders, including President Maduro.

People gather at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC to prevent takeover by the opposition.

What You Can Do to Show Solidarity With the Venezuelan People and Protect Venezuelan Solidarity

In mid-March, the opposition took over the Venezuelan consulate in New York and the Military Attaché office in Washington, DC. People feared the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC would be next and so they mobilized to hold space at the embassy in support.

Since then, people have been staying at the embassy 24/7. During the day, we work, and in the evenings, we hold public events. Yesterday, the ANSWER coalition held a national webinar and then we had an art build for people of all ages and light projection provided by the Backbone Campaign. See the list of events here. We are calling ourselves the Embassy Protection Collective and people in Venezuela are referring to us as Colectivos Por La Paz (Peace Collective).

We view the struggle to prevent the takeover of the embassy as fundamental to stopping this new phase of US imperialism in which the US attempts a coup and fails, but goes ahead and acts like it succeeded. President Maduro remains in power and is actively serving as the president. Juan Guaido has no power, yet the US is giving Venezuelan assets to him. It is truly Orweillian. If the US succeeds in this farce, then no country is safe. Where will the US turn next to appoint a president and give them power and assets? Nicaragua? Cuba? Iran?

You can be an Embassy Protector by doing any or all of the following:

1.Sign on in support of the Declaration of the Embassy Protection Collective.  Hundreds of people and organizations have already signed. Show your solidarity with Venezuela. The Declaration is reprinted below.

2.Spread the word through your communities by forwarding this on email, sharing content from our Facebook page and using the hashtag #ColectivosPorLaPaz.

3.Contact your member of Congress (202-224-3121) and demand they intervene to stop the State Department from giving the embassy to Guaido’s hateful, violent forces and to investigate the US-led coup and ongoing war on Venezuela. Let them know that US citizens are staying in the embassy to defend the rule of law.

4.Join us in person during the day, evening and night. We are particularly looking for people who can join us on Wednesday night April 24 and Thursday morning April 25 because that is the earliest that the opposition will try to seize the building. There are different roles to play and different levels of risk. We need people who can video, photograph, share on social media, call media, rally on the sidewalk (all very safe), sit in on the steps (you can leave before they announce they will arrest if you need to), block the front door (you can still likely leave without arrest) or join us inside the building where we will peacefully resist their trespass (highest risk of arrest). A number of us are committed to staying in the building to defend it.

We are building for the day we anticipate the Guaido forces will try to take over the embassy. If you are interested in being an Embassy Protector, please complete this form and we’ll be in touch. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP.  The upcoming week of April 21, 2019 is a critical week. Come and join us.

Please let us know if you can join us on by writing gro.ecnatsiseRralupoPnull@ofni.

The Embassy Protection Collective after a forum on Africom, April 15, 2019. From the Embassy Protection Collective.

Sign on in support of the Declaration of the Embassy Protection Collective.

Declaration of the Embassy Protection Collective (Colectivos Por La Paz)

We have joined together as the Embassy Protection Collective to show solidarity with the people of Venezuela and their right to determine their elected government. We are staying in the Venezuelan embassy with the permission of the legitimate Venezuelan government under President Nicolas Maduro. We seek to provide a nonviolent barrier to the threatened opposition takeover of their embassy in Washington, DC by being a presence at the embassy every day of the week for 24 hours a day.

The Collective is working from the embassy, located in the heart of Georgetown in Washington, DC during the day and holding seminars and cultural events in the evenings, as well as sleeping in the embassy. Events include forums on Venezuela, its government, economy and the ongoing attempted coup. We are also holding seminars on US foreign policy toward Africa, Honduras and Iran, the prosecution of Julian Assange and other issues.

There is great cause for us to be concerned about a hostile takeover of the DC Embassy. On March 18, 2019, the Venezuelan opposition took over the military attaché building on 2409 California St in Washington DC, with the help of the DC Police and Secret Service. On that same day, the opposition also took over the Venezuelan Consulate in New York City. They have publicly threatened to take over the embassy itself.

International Law Protects Foreign Embassies Located In The United States

According to Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, foreign embassies should be protected by the United States government and their space should not be violated by the US government. Specifically, international law requires:

  • The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.
  • The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.
  • The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.

The Trump Administration is violating the Vienna Convention by not only allowing the illegal seizure of diplomatic premises but by facilitating it. The Election Protection Collective is supporting the people of Venezuela by taking responsibility to ensure that Article 22 of the Vienna Convention is followed.

The Elected Government of President Maduro Remains In Power

The government of President Nicolás Maduro was re-elected on May 20, 2018 in response to the opposition demanding an early election. The election was held consistent with the Venezuelan Constitution, in consultation with opposition parties and as determined by the National Electoral Council, an independent branch of the Venezuelan government.

Sixteen parties participated in the election with six candidates competing for the presidency. President Maduro won by a wide margin, obtaining 6,248,864 votes, 67.84%; followed by Henri Falcón with 1,927,958, 20.93%; Javier Bertucci with 1,015,895, 10.82%; and Reinaldo Quijada, who obtained 36,246 votes, 0.39% of the total. A total of 9,389,056 people voted, 46% of eligible voters.

The electoral process was observed by more than 150 election observers. This included 14 electoral commissions from eight countries among them the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America; two technical electoral missions; and 18 journalists from different parts of the world, among others, “the elections were very transparent and complied with international parameters and national legislation.”

In a letter to the European Union correcting some of the false statements made about the election, election observers wrote: “We were unanimous in concluding that the elections were conducted fairly, that the election conditions were not biased, that genuine irregularities were exceptionally few and of a very minor nature.”

Voting machines were audited before and immediately after the election. Venezuela does something no other country in the world does, of a random sample of 52 to 54% of voting machines. The Citizen’s Audit is observed by the media, the public, and all opposition parties, who sign the audits.

The Invalid Self-Appointment of Juan Guaidó Violated Venezuelan Law

Juan Guaidó’s self-appointment as interim president violated the Constitution of Venezuela. The language of the Venezuelan Constitution is clear regarding when the president of the National Assembly can become president and none of the conditions in the Constitution have been met.

The opposition relies on Article 233 of the Constitution, which allows the National Assembly president to serve as interim president only if the president-elect has not yet been inaugurated. Guaidó’s self-appointment occurred after President Maduro had been inaugurated.

Article 233 allows the president of the National Assembly to become president only if the president-elect:

become[s] permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice [equivalent of impeachment]; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.”

None of these conditions were met.

If Guaidó had met the above conditions, Article 233 allows him to serve for only 30 consecutive days pending election and inauguration of the new President. Guaidó’s self-appointment and fraudulent inauguration occurred more than 30 days ago and no election has been scheduled.

In a press briefing, Elliot Abrams, the US Special Representative for Venezuela, could not explain these violations of law by Guaidó and admitted that Guaidó is not “able to exercise the powers of the office because Maduro still is there.” Even Abrams admits that Guaidó is not the president. Therefore, he has no authority over the Venezuelan embassy.

The Role of the Embassy Protection Collective

The Embassy Protection Collective is in the embassy with the permission of the Venezuelan government. We are upholding international law and the Venezuelan Constitution and opposing a coup attempt against the legitimate government of Venezuela on behalf of the people of Venezuela who elected their government.

The Embassy Protection Collective is made up of civilians, United States citizens, who are peacefully defending the embassy. If the opposition enters, they will be trespassing. We call on the DC police, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security and any other law enforcement agency to uphold the law and prevent the opposition from trespassing.

The Collective feels a responsibility to hold our government to a standard of respecting the rule of law as well as a responsibility to stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela.

Signed
The Embassy Civilian Protection Collective

The Unfinished Gaza War: What Netanyahu Hopes to Gain from Attacking Palestinian Prisoners

The current violence targeting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails dates back to January 2. It was then that Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan declared that the “party is over.”

“Every so often, infuriating pictures appear of cooking in the terrorist wings. This party is coming to an end,” Erdan was quoted in the Jerusalem Post.

Then, the so-called Erdan’s Committee recommended various measures aimed at ending the alleged “party”, which included placing limits on prisoners’ use of water, banning food preparations in cells, and installing jamming devices to block the alleged use of smuggled cell phones.

The last measure, in particular, caused outrage among prisoners, for such devices have been linked to severe headaches, fainting and other long-term ailments.

Erdan followed his decision with a promise of the “use of all means in (Israel’s) disposal” to control any prisoners’ protests in response to the new restrictions.

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) “will continue to act with full force” against prison “riots”, he said, as reported by the Times of Israel.

That “full force” was carried out on January 20 at the Ofer Military Prison near Ramallah, in the West Bank, where a series of Israeli raids resulted in the wounding of more than 100 prisoners, many of whom sustaining bullet wounds.

The Nafha and Gilboa prisons were also targeted with the same violent pattern.

The raids continued, leading to more violence in the Naqab Prison on March 24, this time conducted by the IPS force, known as the Metzada unit.

Metzada is IPS’ ‘hostage rescue special operation’ force and is known for its very violent tactics against prisoners. Its attack on Naqab resulted in the wounding of many prisoners, leaving two in critical condition. Palestinian prisoners fought back, reportedly stabbing two prison guards with sharp objects.

On March 25, more such raids were conducted, also by Metzada, which targeted Ramon, Gilboa, Nafha and Eshel prisons.

In response, the leadership of Palestinian prisoners adopted several measures including the dismantling of the regulatory committees and any other form of representation of prisoners inside Israeli jails.

The decentralization of Palestinian action inside Israeli prisons would make it much more difficult for Israel to control the situation and would allow prisoners to use whichever form of resistance they may deem fit.

But why is Israel provoking such confrontations when Palestinian prisoners are already subjected to a most horrid existence and numerous violations of international law?

Equally important, why now?

On December 24, embattled Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders of Israel’s right-wing government dissolved the Knesset (parliament) and declared early elections on April 9.

A most winning strategy for Israeli politicians during such times is usually increasing their hostility against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, including the besieged Gaza Strip.

Indeed, a hate-fest, involving many of Israel’s top candidates kicked in, some calling for war on Gaza, others for teaching Palestinians a lesson, annexing the West Bank, and so on.

Merely a week after the election date announcement was made, raids of prisons began in earnest.

For Israel, it seemed like a fairly safe and controlled political experiment. Video footage of Israeli forces beating up hapless prisoners, accompanied by angry statements made by top Israeli officials captured the imaginations of a decidedly right-wing, militant society.

And that’s precisely what took place, at first. However, on March 25, a flare in violence in Gaza led to a limited, undeclared war.

A full-fledged Israeli war on Gaza would be a big gamble during an election season, especially as recent events suggest that the time of easy wars is over. While Netanyahu adopted the role of the decisive leader, so determined to crush the Gaza resistance, his options on the ground are actually quite limited.

Even after Israel accepted Egyptian-mediated ceasefire terms with the Gaza factions, Netanyahu continued to talk tough.

“I can tell you we are prepared to do a lot more,” Netanyahu said in reference to the Israeli attack on Gaza during a video speech beamed to his supporters in Washington on March 26.

But, for once, he couldn’t, and that failure, from an Israeli viewpoint, intensified verbal attacks by his political rivals.

Netanyahu has “lost his grip on security,” the Blue and White party leader, Benny Gantz proclaimed.

Gantz’s accusation was just another insult in an edifice of similar blistering attacks questioning Netanyahu’s ability to control Gaza.

In fact, a poll, conducted by the Israeli TV channel, Kan, on March 27, found that 53% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu’s response to the Gaza resistance is “too weak.”

Unable to counter with more violence, at least for now, the Netanyahu government responded by opening another battlefront, this time in Israeli prisons.

By targeting prisoners, especially those affiliated with certain Gaza factions, Netanyahu is hoping to send a message of strength, and to assure his nervous constituency of his prowess.

Aware of the Israeli strategy, Hamas’ political leader, Ismail Haniyeh linked the ceasefire to the issue of prisoners.

We “are ready for all scenarios,” Haniyeh said in a statement.

In truth, the Netanyahu-Erdan war on Palestinian prisoners is foolish and unwinnable. It has been launched with the assumption that a war of this nature will have limited risks, since prisoners are, by definition, isolated and unable to fight back.

To the contrary, Palestinian prisoners have, without question, demonstrated their tenacity and ability to devise ways to resist the Israeli occupier throughout the years. But more importantly, these prisoners are far from being isolated.

In fact, the nearly 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails represent whatever semblance of unity among Palestinians that transcends factions, politics and ideology.

Considering the direct impact of the situation in Israeli prisons on the collective psyche of all Palestinians, any more reckless steps by Netanyahu, Erdan and their IPS goons will soon result in greater collective resistance, a struggle that Israel cannot easily suppress.

Chasing Mirages: What Are Palestinians Doing to Combat the “Deal of the Century”?

More US measures have been taken in recent weeks to further cement the Israeli position and isolate the Palestinian Authority (PA), before the official unveiling of President Donald Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’. But while attention is focused on spiteful US actions, little time has been spent discussing the PA’s own responses, options and strategies.

The last of Washington’s punitive measures came on March 3, when the US shut down its Consulate in Jerusalem, thus downgrading the status of its diplomatic mission in Palestine. The Consulate has long served as a de-facto American embassy to the Palestinians. Now, the Consulate’s staff will merge into the US embassy in Israel, which was officially moved to Jerusalem last May – in violation of international consensus regarding the status of the occupied city.

Robert Palladino, US State Department spokesperson, explained the move in a statement, saying that “this decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations.”

Diplomatic hogwash aside, ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ have nothing to do with the shutting of the Consulate. The decision is but a continuation of successive US measures aimed at “taking Jerusalem off the table” – as per Trump’s own words – of any future negotiations.

International law, which recognizes East Jerusalem as an occupied Palestinian city, is of no relevance to the Trump administration, which has fully shed any semblance of balance as it is now wholly embracing the Israeli position on Jerusalem.

To bring Palestinians into line, and to force their leadership to accept whatever bizarre version of ‘peace’ Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has in mind, the US has already taken several steps aimed at intimidating the PA. These steps include the cutting of $200 million in direct aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and the freezing of another $300 million dollars that were provided annually to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

That, and the shutting down of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington DC, on September 10, were all the signs needed to fully fathom the nature of the US ultimatum to the Palestinian leadership: accept our terms or face the consequences.

It is no secret that various US governments have served as the financial and even political backers of the PA in Ramallah. While the PA has not always seen eye-to-eye with US foreign policy, its survival remained, till recently, a top American priority.

The PA has helped Washington sustain its claim to being an ‘honest peace broker’, thus enjoying a position of political leadership throughout the Middle East region.

Moreover, by agreeing to take part in assisting the Israeli military in policing the Occupied Territories through joint US-funded ‘security coordination’, the PA has proved its trustworthiness to its US benefactors.

While the PA remained committed to that arrangement, Washington reneged.

According to the far-right Israeli government coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu, PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is simply not doing enough.

‘Doing enough’, from an Israeli political perspective, is for Palestinians to drop any claims to occupied East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine, accept that illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank would have to remain in place regardless of the nature of the future ‘peace agreement’, and to also drop any legal or moral claims pertaining to Palestinian refugees right of return.

While the PA has demonstrated its political and moral flexibility in the past, there are certain red lines that even Abbas himself cannot cross.

It remains to be seen how the PA position will evolve in the future as far as the soon-to-be announced ‘deal of the century’ is concerned.

Yet, considering that Trump’s blind support for Israel has been made quite clear over the course of the last two years, one is bewildered by the fact that Abbas and his government have done little by way of counteracting Washington’s new aggressive strategy targeting the Palestinians.

Save for a few symbolic ‘victories’ at the United Nations and UN-related bodies, Abbas has done little by way of a concrete and unified Palestinian action.

Frankly, recognizing a Palestinian state on paper is not a strategy, per se. The push for greater recognition has been in the making since the PLO Algiers conference in 1988, when the Palestine National Council declared a Palestinian state to the jubilation of millions around the world. Many countries, especially in the global south, quickly recognized the State of Palestine.

Yet, instead of using such a symbolic declaration as a component of a larger strategy aimed at realizing this independence on the ground, the PA simply saw the act of recognizing Palestine as an end in itself. Now, there are 137 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. Sadly, however, much more Palestinian land has been stolen by Israel to expand on or build new Jewish-only colonies on the land designated to be part of that future state.

It should have been clear, by now, that placing a Palestinian flag on a table at some international conference, or even having a Palestine chair at the G77 UN coalition of developing countries, is not a substitute for a real strategy of national liberation.

The two main Palestinian factions, Abbas’ own Fatah party and Hamas, are still as diverged as ever. In fact, Abbas seems to focus more energy on weakening his political rivals in Palestine than on combating the Israeli Occupation. In recent weeks, Abbas has taken yet more punitive financial measures targeting various sectors of Gaza society. The collective punishment is even reaching families of prisoners and those killed by the Israeli army.

Without a united front, a true strategy or any form of tangible resistance, Abbas is now vulnerable to more US pressure and manipulation. Yet, instead of moving quickly to solidify the Palestinian front, and to reach out to genuine allies in the Middle East and worldwide to counter the bitter US campaign, Abbas has done little.

Instead, the Palestinian leader continues to chase political mirages, taking every opportunity to declare more symbolic victories that he needs to sustain his legitimacy among Palestinians for a while longer.

The painful truth, however, is this: it is not just US bullying that has pushed the PA into this unenviable position, but, sadly, the self-serving nature and political bankruptcy of the Palestinian leadership itself.

Once Again, the UN has failed to Name Firms that Profit from Israel’s Illegal Settlements

The United Nations postponed last week for the third time the publication of a blacklist of Israeli and international firms that profit directly from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

The international body had come under enormous pressure to keep the database under wraps after lobbying behind the scenes from Israel, the United States and many of the 200-plus companies that were about to be named.

UN officials have suggested they may go public with the list in a few months.

But with no progress since the UN’s Human Rights Council requested the database back in early 2016, Palestinian leaders are increasingly fearful that it has been permanently shelved.

That was exactly what Israel hoped for. When efforts were first made to publish the list in 2017, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, warned: “We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day.”

He added that penalising the settlements was “an expression of modern antisemitism”.

Both Israel and the US pulled out of the Human Rights Council last year, claiming that Israel was being singled out.

Israel has good reason to fear greater transparency. Bad publicity would most likely drive many of these firms, a few of them household names, out of the settlements under threat of a consumer backlash and a withdrawal of investments by religious organisations and pension funds.

The UN has reportedly already warned Coca-Cola, Teva Pharmaceuticals, the defence electronics company Elbit Systems and Africa Israel Investments of their likely inclusion. Israeli telecoms and utility companies are particularly exposed because grids serving the settlements are integrated with those in Israel.

There is an added danger that the firms might be vulnerable to prosecutions, should the International Criminal Court at The Hague eventually open an investigation into whether the settlements constitute a war crime, as the Palestinian leadership has demanded.

The exodus of these firms from the West Bank would, in turn, make it much harder for Israel to sustain its colonies on stolen Palestinian land. As a result, efforts to advance a Palestinian state would be strengthened.

Many of the settlements – contrary to widely held impressions of them – have grown into large towns. Their inhabitants expect all the comforts of modern life, from local bank branches to fast-food restaurants and high-street clothing chains.

Nowadays, a significant proportion of Israel’s 750,000 settlers barely understand that their communities violate international law.

The settlements are also gradually being integrated into the global economy, as was highlighted by a row late last year when Airbnb, an accommodation-bookings website, announced a plan to de-list properties in West Bank settlements.

The company was possibly seeking to avoid inclusion on the database, but instead it faced a severe backlash from Israel’s supporters.

This month the US state of Texas approved a ban on all contracts with Airbnb, arguing that the online company’s action was “antisemitic”.

As both sides understand, a lot hangs on the blacklist being made public.

If Israel and the US succeed, and western corporations are left free to ignore the Palestinians’ dispossession and suffering, the settlements will sink their roots even deeper into the West Bank. Israel’s occupation will become ever more irreversible, and the prospect of a Palestinian state ever more distant.

A 2013 report on the ties between big business and the settlements noted the impact on the rights of Palestinians was “pervasive and devastating”.

Sadly, the UN leadership’s cowardice on what should be a straightforward matter – the settlements violate international law, and firms should not assist in such criminal enterprises – is part of a pattern.

Repeatedly, Israel has exerted great pressure on the UN to keep its army off a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Israel even avoided a listing in 2015 following its 50-day attack on Gaza the previous year, which left more than 500 Palestinian children dead. Dozens of armies and militias are named each year.

The Hague court has also been dragging its feet for years over whether to open a proper war crimes investigation into Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as the settlements.

The battle to hold Israel to account is likely to rage again this year, after the publication last month of a damning report by UN legal experts into the killing of Palestinian protesters at Gaza’s perimeter fence by Israeli snipers.

Conditions for Gaza’s two million Palestinians have grown dire since Israel imposed a blockade, preventing movement of goods and people, more than a decade ago.

The UN report found that nearly all of those killed by the snipers – 154 out of 183 – were unarmed. Some 35 Palestinian children were among the dead, and of the 6,000 wounded more than 900 were minors. Other casualties included journalists, medical personnel and people with disabilities.

The legal experts concluded that there was evidence of war crimes. Any identifiable commanders and snipers, it added, should face arrest if they visited UN member states.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, dismissed the report as “lies” born out of “an obsessive hatred of Israel”.

Certainly, it has caused few ripples in western capitals. Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was a lone voice in calling for an arms embargo on Israel in response.

It is this Israeli exceptionalism that is so striking. The more violent Israel becomes towards the Palestinians and the more intransigent in rejecting peace, the less pressure is exerted upon it.

Not only does Israel continue to enjoy generous financial, military and diplomatic support from the US and Europe, both are working ever harder to silence criticisms of its actions by their own citizens.

As the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement grows larger, western capitals have casually thrown aside commitments to free speech in a bid to crush it.

France has already criminalised support for a boycott of Israel, and its president Emmanuel Macron recently proposed making it illegal to criticise Zionism, the ideology that underpins Israel’s rule over Palestinians.

More than two dozen US states have passed anti-BDS legislation, denying companies and individual contractors dealing with the government of that particular state the right to boycott Israel. In every case, Israel is the only country protected by these laws. Last month, the US Senate passed a bill that adds federal weight to this state-level campaign of intimidation.

The hypocrisy of these states – urging peace in the region while doing their best to subvert it – is clear. Now the danger is that UN leaders will join them.

• First published in The National

What the Press Hides From You About Venezuela

Introduction

This news-report is being submitted to all U.S. and allied news-media, and is being published by all honest ones, in order to inform you of crucial facts that the others — the dishonest ones, who hide such crucial facts — are hiding about Venezuela. These are facts that have received coverage only in one single British newspaper: the Independent, which published a summary account of them on January 26th. That newspaper’s account will be excerpted here at the end, but first will be highlights from its topic, the official report to the U.N. General Assembly in August of last year, which has been covered-up ever since. This is why that report’s author has now gone to the Independent, desperate to get the story out, finally, to the public:

The Covered Up Document

On 3 August 2018, the U.N.’s General Assembly received the report from the U.N. Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, concerning his mission to Venezuela and Ecuador. His recent travel through both countries focused on “how best to enhance the enjoyment of all human rights by the populations of both countries.” He “noted the eradication of illiteracy, free education from primary school to university, and programmes to reduce extreme poverty, provide housing to the homeless and vulnerable, phase out privilege and discrimination, and extend medical care to everyone.” He noted “that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Ecuador, both devote around 70 per cent of their national budgets to social services.” However, (and here, key paragraphs from the report are now quoted):

22. Observers have identified errors committed by the Chávez and Maduro Governments, noting that there are too many ideologues and too few technocrats in public administration, resulting in government policies that lack coherence and professional management and discourage domestic investment, already crippled by inefficiency and corruption, which extend to government officials, transnational corporations and entrepreneurs. Critics warn about the undue influence of the military on government and on the running of enterprises like Petróleos de Venezuela. The lack of regular, publicly available data on nutrition, epidemiology and inflation are said to complicate efforts to provide humanitarian support.

23. Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Tarek Saab, has launched a vigorous anticorruption campaign, investigating the links between Venezuelan enterprises and tax havens, contracting scams, and deals by public officials with Odebrecht. It is estimated that corruption in the oil industry has cost the Government US$ 4.8 billion. The Attorney General’s Office informed the Independent Expert of pending investigations for embezzlement and extortion against 79 officials of Petróleos de Venezuela, including 22 senior managers. The Office also pointed to the arrest of two high-level oil executives, accused of money-laundering in Andorra. The Ministry of Justice estimates corruption losses at some US$ 15 billion. Other stakeholders, in contrast, assert that anti-corruption programmes are selective and have not sufficiently targeted State institutions, including the military.

29. Over the past sixty years, non-conventional economic wars have been waged against Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in order to make their economies fail, facilitate regime change and impose a neo-liberal socioeconomic model. In order to discredit selected governments, failures in the field of human rights are maximized so as to make violent overthrow more palatable. Human rights are being “weaponized” against rivals. Yet, human rights are the heritage of every human being and should never be instrumentalized as weapons of demonization.

30. The principles of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States belong to customary international law and have been reaffirmed in General Assembly resolutions, notably [a list is supplied].

31. In its judgment of 27 June 1986 concerning Nicaragua v. United States, the International Court of Justice quoted from [U.N.] resolution 2625 (XXV): “no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State”.

36. The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs. To the extent that economic sanctions have caused delays in distribution and thus contributed to many deaths, sanctions contravene the human rights obligations of the countries imposing them. Moreover, sanctions can amount to crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. An investigation by that Court would be appropriate, but the geopolitical submissiveness of the Court may prevent this.

37. Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through “fake news”, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights “end” justifies the criminal means.

39. Economic asphyxiation policies are comparable to those already practised in Chile, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua and the Syrian Arab Republic. In January 2018, Middle East correspondent of The Financial Times and The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, wrote on the sanctions affecting Syria:

There is usually a pretence that foodstuffs and medical equipment are being allowed through freely and no mention is made of the financial and other regulatory obstacles making it impossible to deliver them. An example of this is the draconian sanctions imposed on Syria by the US and EU which were meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and help remove him from power. They have wholly failed to do this, but a UN internal report leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the effect of the embargo in stopping the delivery of aid by international aid agencies. They cannot import the aid despite waivers because banks and commercial companies dare not risk being penalised for having anything to do with Syria. The report quotes a European doctor working in Syria as saying that “the indirect effect of sanctions … makes the import of the medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, near impossible”.

In short: economic sanctions kill.

41. Bearing in mind that Venezuelan society is polarized, what is most needed is dialogue between the Government and the opposition, and it would be a noble task on the part of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to offer his good offices for such a dialogue. Yet, opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Julio Borges, during a trip through Europe to denounce the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called for further sanctions as well as a military “humanitarian intervention”.

44. Although the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has not yet reached the humanitarian crisis threshold, there is hunger, malnutrition, anxiety, anguish and emigration. What is crucial is to study the causes of the crisis, including neglected factors of sanctions, sabotage, hoarding, black market activities, induced inflation and contraband in food and medicines. 

45. The “crisis” in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is an economic crisis, which cannot be compared with the humanitarian crises in Gaza, Yemen, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Haiti, Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, or Myanmar, among others. It is significant that when, in 2017, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela requested medical aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the plea was rejected, because it ”is still a high-income country … and as such is not eligible”.

46. It is pertinent to recall the situation in the years prior to the election of Hugo Chávez. 118 Corruption was ubiquitous and in 1993, President Carlos Pérez was removed because of embezzlement. The Chávez election in 1998 reflected despair with the corruption and neo-liberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s, and rejection of the gulf between the super-rich and the abject poor.

47. Participatory democracy in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called “protagónica”, is anchored in the Constitution of 1999 and relies on frequent elections and referendums. During the mission, the Independent Expert exchanged views with the Electoral Commission and learned that in the 19 years since Chávez, 25 elections and referendums had been conducted, 4 of them observed by the Carter Center. The Independent Expert met with the representative of the Carter Center in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, who recalled Carter’s positive assessment of the electoral system. They also discussed the constitutional objections raised by the opposition to the referendum held on 30 July 2017, resulting in the creation of a Constitutional Assembly. Over 8 million Venezuelans voted in the referendum, which was accompanied by international observers, including from the Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America. 

48. An atmosphere of intimidation accompanied the mission, attempting to pressure the Independent Expert into a predetermined matrix. He received letters from NGOs asking him not to proceed because he was not the “relevant” rapporteur, and almost dictating what should be in the report. Weeks before his arrival, some called the mission a “fake investigation”. Social media insults bordered on “hate speech” and “incitement”. Mobbing before, during and after the mission bore a resemblance to the experience of two American journalists who visited the country in July 2017. Utilizing platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, critics questioned the Independent Expert’s integrity and accused him of bias, demonstrating a culture of intransigence and refusal to accept the duty of an independent expert to be neutral, objective, dispassionate and to apply his expertise free of external pressures.

67. The Independent Expert recommends that the General Assembly: (g) Invoke article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations and refer the following questions to the International Court of Justice: Can unilateral coercive measures be compatible with international law? Can unilateral coercive measures amount to crimes against humanity when a large number of persons perish because of scarcity of food and medicines? What reparations are due to the victims of sanctions? Do sanctions and currency manipulations constitute geopolitical crimes? (h) Adopt a resolution along the lines of the resolutions on the United States embargo against Cuba, declaring the sanctions against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela contrary to international law and human rights law.

70. The Independent Expert recommends that the International Criminal Court investigate the problem of unilateral coercive measures that cause death from malnutrition, lack of medicines and medical equipment.

72. The Independent Expert recommends that, until the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court address the lethal outcomes of economic wars and sanctions regimes, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, the Russell Tribunal and the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission undertake the task so as to facilitate future judicial pronouncements.

On January 26th, Britain’s Independent headlined “Venezuela crisis: Former UN rapporteur says US sanctions are killing citizens“, and Michael Selby-Green reported that:

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law.

Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans.

The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him.

The US Treasury has not responded to a request for comment on Mr de Zayas’s allegations of the effects of the sanctions programme.

US sanctions prohibit dealing in currencies issued by the Venezuelan government. They also target individuals, and stop US-based companies or people from buying and selling new debt issued by PDVSA or the government.

The US has previously defended its sanctions on Venezuela, with a senior US official saying in 2018: “The fact is that the greatest sanction on Venezuelan oil and oil production is called Nicolas Maduro, and PDVSA’s inefficiencies,” referring to the state-run oil body, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA.

Mr De Zayas’s findings are based on his late-2017 mission to the country and interviews with 12 Venezuelan government minsters, opposition politicians, 35 NGOs working in the country, academics, church officials, activists, chambers of commerce and regional UN agencies.

The US imposed new sanctions against Venezuela on 9 March 2015, when President Barack Obama issued executive order 13692, declaring the country a threat to national security.

The sanctions have since intensified under Donald Trump, who has also threatened military invasion and discussed a coup.

Despite being the first UN official to visit and report from Venezuela in 21 years, Mr de Zayas said his research into the causes of the country’s economic crisis has so far largely been ignored by the UN and the media, and caused little debate within the Human Rights Council.

He believes his report has been ignored because it goes against the popular narrative that Venezuela needs regime change.

The then UN high commissioner, Zeid Raad Al Hussein1, reportedly refused to meet Mr de Zayas after the visit, and the Venezuela desk of the UN Human Rights Council also declined to help with his work after his return despite being obliged to do so, Mr de Zayas claimed.

Ivan Briscoe, Latin America and Caribbean programme director for Crisis Group, an international NGO, told The Independent that Venezuela is a polarising subject. … Briscoe is critical of Mr de Zayas’s report because it highlights US economic warfare but in his view neglects to mention the impact of a difficult business environment in the country. … Briscoe acknowledged rising tensions and the likely presence of US personnel operating covertly in the country.

Eugenia Russian, president of FUNDALATIN, one of the oldest human rights NGOs in Venezuela, founded in 1978 before the Chavez and Maduro governments and with special consultative status at the UN, spoke to The Independent on the significance of the sanctions.

“In contact with the popular communities, we consider that one of the fundamental causes of the economic crisis in the country is the effect that the unilateral coercive sanctions that are applied in the economy, especially by the government of the United States,” Ms Russian said.

She said there may also be causes from internal errors, but said probably few countries in the world have suffered an “economic siege” like the one Venezuelans are living under.

In his report, Mr de Zayas expressed concern that those calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis” are trying to justify regime change and that human rights are being “weaponised” to discredit the government and make violent overthrow more “palatable”….

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and an abundance of other natural resources including gold, bauxite and coltan. But under the Maduro government they’re not easily accessible to US and transnational corporations.

US oil companies had large investments in Venezuela in the early 20th century but were locked out after Venezuelans voted to nationalise the industry in 1973.

Other than readers of that single newspaper, where has the public been able to find these facts? If the public can have these facts hidden from them, then how much trust should the public reasonably have in the government, and in the news-media?

• Here is the garbage that a reader comes to, who is trying to find online Mr. de Zayas’s report on this matter:  As intended, the document remains effectively hidden to the present day. Perhaps the U.N. needs to be replaced and located in Venezuela, Iran, or some other country that’s targeted for take-over by the people who effectively own the United States Government and control the U.N.’s bureaucracy. The hiding of this document was done not only by the press but by the U.N. itself.

• On January 23rd, Germany’s Die Zeit headlined “Christoph Flügge: ‘I am deeply disturbed’: The U.N. International Criminal Court Judge Christoph Flügge Accuses Western Nations of Threatening the Independence of the Judges“. Flügge especially cited U.S. President Trump’s agent, John Bolton. That same day, the Democratic Party and Labour Party organ, Britain’s Guardian, bannered “International criminal court: UN court judge quits The Hague citing political interference“. This news-report said that, “A senior judge has resigned from one of the UN’s international courts in The Hague citing ‘shocking’ political interference from the White House and Turkey.” The judge especially criticised Bolton: “The American security adviser held his speech at a time when The Hague was planning preliminary investigations into American soldiers who had been accused of torturing people in Afghanistan. The American threats against international judges clearly show the new political climate. It is shocking. I had never heard such a threat.” Flügge said that the judges on the court had been “stunned” that “the US would roll out such heavy artillery”. Flügge told the Guardian: “It is consistent with the new American line: ‘We are No 1 and we stand above the law’.”)

• On February 6th, a former UK Ambassador to Syria vented at an alt-news site, 21st Century Wire (since he couldn’t get any of the major-media sites to publish it), “A Guide to Decoding the Doublespeak on Syria“, and he brazenly exposed there the Doublespeak-Newspeak that the U.S. Government and press (what he called America’s “frothing neocons and their liberal interventionist fellow travellers”) apply in order to report the ‘news’ about Syria. So: how can the public, in a country such as the U.S., democratically control the Government, if the government and its press are lying to them, like that, all the time, and so routinely?)

  1. Zeid Raad Al Hussein, who “reportedly refused to meet Mr de Zayas after the visit,” is Prince Zeid Raad Al Hussein, a Jordanian Prince. Jordan is a vassal-state in the U.S. empire. But Prince Hussein is a Jordanian diplomat who served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014 to 2018 — hardly an unbiased or independent person in such a supposedly nonpartisan role.