Category Archives: Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment

Inside the Israeli parliament and out on the streets of Jerusalem, the forces of unapologetic Jewish supremacism are stirring, as a growing section of Israel’s youth tire of the two-faced Jewish nationalism that has held sway in Israel for decades.

Last week, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, a vital partner if caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands any hope of forming a new government, issued a barely veiled threat to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

Expulsion, he suggested, was looming for these 1.8 million Palestinians, a fifth of the Israeli population who enjoy very degraded citizenship. “Arabs are citizens of Israel – for now at least,” he told his party. “And they have representatives at the Knesset [Israeli parliament] – for now at least.” For good measure, he referred to Palestinian legislators – the elected representatives of Israel’s Palestinian minority – as “our enemies sitting in the Knesset”.

Smotrich’s brand of brazen Jewish racism is on the rise, after his faction won six mandates in the 120-member parliament in March. One of those seats is for Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the neo-fascist Jewish Power party.

Ben Gvir’s supporters are now in a bullish mood. Last month, they took to the streets around the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs” and making good on promises in WhatsApp chats to attack Palestinians and “break their faces”.

For days, these Jewish gangs of mostly youngsters have brought the lawless violence that has long reigned largely out of sight in the hills of the occupied West Bank into central Jerusalem. This time, their attacks haven’t been captured in shaky, out-of-focus YouTube videos. They have been shown on prime-time Israeli TV.

Equally significant, these Jewish mobs have carried out their rampages during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Arson attacks

The visibility and premeditation of this gang violence has discomfited many Israelis. But in the process, they have been given a close-up view of how appealing the violent, anti-Arab doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – the ideological inspiration behind Jewish Power – are proving with a significant section of young Jews in Israel.

One, sporting a “Kahane was right” badge, spoke for her peers as she was questioned on Israeli TV about the noisy chants of “May your village burn down” – a reference to so-called “price-tag” arson attacks committed by the Israeli far-right against Palestinian communities in the occupied territories and inside Israel.

Olive groves, mosques, cars and homes are regularly torched by these Jewish extremists, who claim Palestinian lands as their exclusive biblical birthright.

The woman responded in terms she obviously thought conciliatory: “I don’t say that it [a Palestinian village] should burn down, but that you should leave the village and we’ll go live in it.”

She and others now sound impatient to bring forward the day when Palestinians must “leave”.

Machinery of oppression

These sentiments – in the parliament and out on the streets – have not emerged out of nowhere. They are as old as Zionism itself, when Israel’s first leaders oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from most of their homeland in 1948, in an act of mass dispossession Palestinians called their Nakba (catastrophe).

Violence to remove Palestinians has continued to be at the core of the Jewish state-building project ever since. The rationale for the gangs beating up Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are the actions pursued more bureaucratically by the Israeli state: its security forces, occupation administrators and courts.

Last week, that machinery of oppression came under detailed scrutiny in a 213-page report from Human Rights Watch. The leading international human rights group declared that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, as set out in international law.

It argued that Israel had met the three conditions of apartheid in the Rome Statute: the domination of one racial group over another, systematic oppression of the marginalised group, and inhumane acts. Those acts include forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, denial of the right to leave and return to their country, and denial of the right to a nationality.

Only one such act is needed to qualify as the crime of apartheid but, as Human Rights Watch makes clear, Israel is guilty of them all.

Dragged out of bed

What Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been documenting is equally visible to the gangs roaming Jerusalem. Israel’s official actions share a common purpose, one that sends a clear message to these youngsters about what the state – and Israel’s national ideology of Zionism – aims to achieve.

They see Palestinian land reclassified as Jewish “state land” and the constant expansion of settlements that violate international law. They see Palestinians denied permits to build homes in their own villages. They see orders issued to demolish Palestinian homes, or even entire communities. And they see Palestinian families torn apart as couples, or their children, are refused the right to live together.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians with impunity, and drag Palestinian children out of bed in the middle of the night. They man checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank, restricting the movement of Palestinians. They fire on, or “arrest”, Palestinians trying to seek work outside the closed-off ghettos Israel has imposed on them. And soldiers stand guard, or assist, as settlers run amok, attacking Palestinians in their homes and fields.

All of this is invariably rubber-stamped as “legal” by the Israeli courts. Is it any surprise, then, that growing numbers of Israeli teenagers question why all these military, legal and administrative formalities are really necessary? Why not just beat up Palestinians and “break their faces” until they get the message that they must leave?

Uppity natives

The battlefront in Jerusalem in recent days – characterised misleadingly in most media as the site of “clashes” – has been the sunken plaza in front of Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the walled Old City and the Muslim and Christian holy places that lie within.

The gate is possibly the last prominent public space Palestinians can still claim as theirs in central Jerusalem, after decades in which Israeli occupation authorities have gradually encircled and besieged their neighbourhoods, severing them from the Old City. During Ramadan, Damascus Gate serves as a popular communal site for Palestinians to congregate in the evenings after the daytime fast.

It was Israeli police who triggered the current explosive mood in Jerusalem by erecting barriers at Damascus Gate to seal the area off at the start of Ramadan. The pretext was to prevent overcrowding, but – given their long experience of occupation – Palestinians understood the barriers as another “temporary” measure that quickly becomes permanent, making it ever harder for them to access the Old City and their holy sites. Other major gates to the occupied Old City have already been effectively “Judaised”.

The decision of Israeli police to erect barriers cannot be divorced from a bigger context for Palestinians: the continuing efforts by Israeli authorities to evict them from areas around the Old City. In recent weeks, fresh waves of armed Jewish settlers have been moving into Silwan, a Palestinian community in the shadow of al-Aqsa Mosque. They have done so as Israel prepares to raze an entire Palestinian neighbourhood there, using its absolute control over planning issues.

Similarly, the Israeli courts have approved the eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, another neighbourhood under belligerent occupation close to the Old City that has been subjected to a long-running, state-backed campaign by Jewish settlers to take it over. Last month, Jerusalem officials added insult to injury by approving a plan to build a memorial to fallen Israeli soldiers in the midst of the Palestinian community.

The decision to close off the Damascus Gate area was therefore bound to provoke resistance from Palestinians, who fought police to take down the barriers. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

Those scenes – of uppity natives refusing to be disappeared back into their homes – were part of the trigger that brought the Jewish gangs out onto the streets in a show of force. Police largely let the mob rampage, as youths threw stones and bottles and attacked Palestinians.

Tired of half measures

The sight of Jewish gangs roaming central Jerusalem to hurt Palestinians has been described as a “pogrom” by some progressive US Jewish groups. But the difference between the far-right and the Israeli state in implementing their respective violent agendas is more apparent than real.

Smotrich, Ben Gvir and these street gangs are tired of the half-measures, procrastination and moral posturing by Israeli elites who have hampered efforts to “finish the job”: clearing the native Palestinian population off their lands once and for all.

Whereas Israeli politicians on the left and right have rationalised their ugly, racist actions on the pretext of catch-all “security” measures, the far-right has no need for the international community’s approval. They are impatient for a conclusion to more than seven decades of ethnic cleansing.

And the ranks of the far-right are likely to swell further as it attracts ever-larger numbers of a new generation of the ultra-Orthodox community, the fastest-growing section of Israel’s Jewish population. For the first time, nationalist youths from the Haredi community are turning their backs on a more cautious rabbinical leadership.

And while the violence in Jerusalem has subsided for the moment, the worst is unlikely to be over. The final days of Ramadan coincide this year with the notorious Jerusalem Day parade, an annual ritual in which Jewish ultra-nationalists march through the besieged Palestinian streets of the Old City chanting threats to Palestinians and attacking any who dare to venture out.

Turning a blind eye

Human Rights Watch’s detailed report concludes that western states, by turning a blind eye to Israel’s long-standing abuses of Palestinians and focusing instead on a non-existent peace process, have allowed “apartheid to metastasize and consolidate”.

Its findings echo those of B’Tselem, Israel’s most respected human rights organisation. In January, it too declared Israel to be an apartheid regime in the occupied territories and inside Israel, towards its own Palestinian citizens.

Despite the reluctance of US and European politicians and media to talk about Israel in these terms, a new survey by B’Tselem shows that one in four Israeli Jews accept “apartheid” as an accurate description of Israel’s rule over Palestinians. What is far less clear is how many of them believe apartheid, in the Israeli context, is a good thing.

Another finding in the survey offers a clue. When asked about recent talk from Israeli leaders about annexing the West Bank, two-thirds of Israeli Jews reject the idea that Jews and Palestinians should have equal rights in those circumstances.

The mob in Jerusalem is happy to enforce Israel’s apartheid now, in hopes of speeding up the process of expulsion. Other Israelis are still in denial. They prefer to pretend that apartheid has not yet arrived, in hopes of easing their consciences a little longer.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Palestine’s Moment of Reckoning: On Abbas’ Dangerous Decision to ‘Postpone’ Elections  

The decision on April 30 by Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, to ‘postpone’ Palestinian elections, which would have been the first in 15 years, will deepen Palestinian division and could, potentially, signal the collapse of the Fatah Movement, at least in its current form.

Unlike the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the big story this time was not the Fatah-Hamas rivalry. Many rounds of talks in recent months between representatives of Palestine’s two largest political parties had already sorted out much of the details regarding the now-canceled elections, which were scheduled to begin on May 22.

Both Fatah and Hamas have much to gain from the elections; the former relished the opportunity to restore its long-dissipated legitimacy as it has ruled over occupied Palestinians, through its dominance of the Palestinian Authority, with no democratic mandate whatsoever; Hamas, on the other hand, was desperate to break away from its long and painful isolation as exemplified in the Israeli siege on Gaza, which ironically resulted from its victory in the 2006 elections.

It was not Israeli and American pressure, either, that made Abbas betray the collective wishes of a whole nation. This pressure coming from Tel Aviv and Washington was real and widely reported, but must have also been expected. Moreover, Abbas could have easily circumvented them as his election decree, announced last January, was welcomed by Palestinians and praised by much of the international community.

Abbas’ unfortunate but, frankly, expected decision was justified by the 86-year-old leader as one which is compelled by Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians in Jerusalem from taking part in the elections. Abbas’ explanation, however, is a mere fig leaf aimed at masking his fear of losing power with Israel’s routine obstinacy. But since when do occupied people beg their occupiers to practice their democratic rights? Since when have Palestinians sought permission from Israel to assert any form of political sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem?

Indeed, the battle for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem takes place on a daily basis in the alleyways of the captive city. Jerusalemites are targeted in every facet of their existence, as Israeli restrictions make it nearly impossible for them to live a normal life, neither in the way they build, work, study and travel nor even marry and worship. So it would be mind-boggling if Abbas was truly sincere that he had, indeed, expected Israeli authorities to allow Palestinians in the occupied city easy access to polling stations and to exercise their political right, while those same authorities labor to erase any semblance of Palestinian political life, even mere physical presence, in Jerusalem.

The truth is Abbas canceled the elections because all credible public opinion polls showed that the May vote would have decimated the ruling clique of his Fatah party, and would have ushered in a whole new political configuration, one in which his Fatah rivals, Marwan Barghouti and Nasser al-Qudwa would have emerged as the new leaders of Fatah. If this scenario were to occur, a whole class of Palestinian millionaires who turned the Palestinian struggle into a lucrative industry, generously financed by ‘donor countries’, risk losing everything, in favor of uncharted political territories, controlled by a Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, from his Israeli prison cell.

Worse for Abbas, Barghouti could have potentially become the new Palestinian president, as he was expected to compete in the July presidential elections. Bad for Abbas, but good for Palestinians, as Barghouti’s presidency would have proven crucial for Palestinian national unity and even international solidarity. An imprisoned Palestinian president would have been a PR disaster for Israel. Equally, it would have confronted the low-profile American diplomacy under Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, with an unprecedented challenge: How could Washington continue to preach a ‘peace process’ between Israel and the Palestinians, when the latter’s president languishes in solitary confinement, as he has since 2002?

By effectively canceling the elections, Abbas, his benefactors and supporters were hoping to delay a moment of reckoning within the Fatah Movement – in fact, within the Palestinian body politic as a whole. However, the decision is likely to have far more serious repercussions on Fatah and Palestinian politics than if the elections took place. Why?

Since Abbas’ election decree earlier this year, 36 lists have registered with the Palestinian Central Elections Commission. While Islamist and socialist parties prepared to run with unified lists, Fatah disintegrated. Aside from the official Fatah list, which is close to Abbas, two other non-official lists, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Future’, planned to compete. Various polls showed that the ‘Freedom’ list, led by late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s nephew, Nasser al-Qudwa, and Marwan Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, headed for an election upset, and were on their way to ousting Abbas and his shrinking, though influential, circle.

Yet, none of this is likely to go away simply because Abbas reneged on his commitment to restoring a semblance of Palestinian democracy. A whole new political class in Palestine is now defining itself through its allegiances to various lists, parties and leaders. The mass of Fatah supporters that were mentally ready to break away from the dominance of Abbas will not relent easily, simply because the aging leader has changed his mind. In fact, throughout Palestine, an unparalleled discussion on democracy, representation and the need to move forward beyond Abbas and his haphazard, self-serving politics is currently taking place and is impossible to contain. For the first time in many years, the conversation is no longer confined to Hamas vs. Fatah, Ramallah vs. Gaza or any other such demoralizing classifications. This is a major step in the right direction.

There is nothing that Abbas can say or do at this point to restore the people’s confidence in his authority. Arguably, he never had their confidence in the first place. By canceling the elections, he has crossed a red line that should have never been crossed, thus placing himself and few others around him as enemies of the Palestinian people, their democratic aspirations and their hope for a better future.

The post Palestine’s Moment of Reckoning: On Abbas’ Dangerous Decision to ‘Postpone’ Elections   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Pogrom against the Palestinians of East Jerusalem

The immediate context that makes such shocking developments possible — indeed, inevitable — is the continuing drift of Israeli politics toward the nationalist extreme right. What was formerly considered ‘extreme right’ — Netanyahu’s Likud — is now the center, with even more extreme forces to its right. The followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose earlier party (Kach) was made illegal, are now not only in the parliament (Knesset) but inside the governing coalition (the Religious Zionism electoral bloc and in particular the Otzma Yehudit — Jewish Power party).

However, the main factor that has facilitated this drift to the extreme right is an external one — the massive political and financial support that Israel still enjoys from western governments — above all, from the United States. Several past US presidents have tried, sometimes with a measure of success, to use Israel’s reliance on American support as leverage to moderate Israeli policy. Recently, however, US support has been unconditional: it flows from the stranglehold of Zionist lobbies and does not depend on what Israel may or may not do. In this respect there is no difference between Trump and Biden. Three quarters of the members of the US Congress recently signed a letter to the House Appropriations Committee reaffirming the unconditional nature of American military aid to Israel.

In my search for a genre adequate to express my thoughts and feelings about the anti-Palestinian pogrom, I have finally settled on satire. Editors often warn writers against satire: you can always be sure that some readers will fail to recognize it as satire, misunderstand the meaning, and take offense. That is why I am labeling what follows as satire, even though it does spoil the effect a little. –SS

Special session of US Congress reaffirms support for Israel

Today the US Congress held a special joint session of both houses to reaffirm its firm support for the State of Israel in the current crisis.

“At a time of crisis like the present,” explained Speaker Duncy Febrosi, “when our cherished ally comes under attack from all sides, it is especially important that we, elected representatives of the great American people, should speak out in a single voice for all the world to hear. So if any of you have not yet signed the letter of Representatives Ted Ditch and Mike McCrawl to the chair of the House Appropriations Committee – would you please do so as you leave after this session? Tables for the purpose have been set up in the lobby.”

“Eh?” asked Representative Dozy Sludge, half-asleep as usual, “what letter is that?”

Mike McCrawl stood and addressed the gathering:

“The United States has committed itself to a military aid package for Israel worth $38 billion. To some of you that may sound like a lot of money, but actually it is the bare minimum that Israel needs for protection against homemade missiles, terror kites, and terror balloons from Hamas in Gaza. And yet some of our colleagues want to make this aid, so essential to Israel’s security, conditional on Israel maintaining a certain standard of behavior. An unrealistically and absurdly high standard. No other country, you know, is ever held to such an unrealistically and absurdly high standard. Double standards like that are a clear indicator of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic hypocrites like Representative Betty McCollum and her friends, for instance, have some sort of hang-up about Israeli soldiers shooting Arab children – children who, as everyone knows, are trained from infancy as terrorist stone throwers, often by their own parents. Don’t Israeli soldiers have a right to react to harassment and provocation? Doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself?”

He paused to calm himself before concluding, somewhat lamely: “So what our letter says, basically, is – Hands off our aid to Israel!”

Betty McCollum looked as though she wanted to say something, but her hesitant attempt at objection was sharply cut off by Febrosi.

“I propose that we demonstrate our heartfelt solidarity with Israel by chanting a few popular Israeli slogans. And it will sound even more authentic if we do it in Ivrit – that is, in Hebrew!”

    What a treat
    To learn Ivrit! 

“And so,” continued Febrosi, “I have invited my good friend Yael. She is a slogan-chanting instructor from the highly respected civic organization Lehava. She will lead the way… And perhaps I should mention that equipment has been installed to observe the degree of enthusiasm shown by each of you and forward the information to AIPAC.”

At the mention of AIPAC a stir of half-suppressed anxiety swept through the assembly. “Oh my God! AIPAC!!” – the more nervous of the politicians could be heard whispering to themselves, their hands shaking.

The Lehava instructor then gave the US Congress a short lesson in Ivrit. She started with the most basic slogan of all – one familiar to any graffiti watcher who takes a look around Eretz Israel:

    Mavet la’aravim!
    (Death to the Arabs!) 

Soon the loyal Israel-supporters were chanting away as authentically as anyone could wish. If you closed your eyes, you might even imagine that you were right there in Jerusalem, Holy City of Peace. A scattered few, however, stayed silent. They were the thirty congresspeople who were themselves of Arab origin. “What if the people around me suddenly make the connection and remember that I myself…?” they asked themselves. ”Maybe they’ll tear me limb from limb. But suppose I assure them that I too am loyal – true, in my own way – to America’s pet monster in the Middle East, will that help? Better not count on it!” So surreptitiously they slank away and went home.

Then Yael explained how other handy slogans can be generated by changing the second word of the basic slogan:

    Mavet la’shmolanim! 
    (Death to the leftists!) 

A few of the remaining politicians felt uneasy at this one. Bernie, for instance. But only a few.

Next Yael introduced another popular slogan. It was a bit longer and took the form of a rhyming couplet:

    Ha’am doresh,
    Aravim ba esh!

    (The nation demands:
    into the flames!) 

A few of the remaining politicians possessed enough of a liberal education to realize that this is a slogan rich in historical resonance.

Perhaps in their mind’s eye there appeared an image of weeping parents in ancient Carthage or Canaan hurling a beloved child into the sacrificial flames.

Or an image of Cossacks setting fire to a Jewish shtetl (townlet) and refugees fleeing into the surrounding forest (as my grandmother and her sister, sole survivors of their family, fled the pogrom in Smorgon in 1914).

Or an image of stormtroopers tossing forbidden books into a fire lit on a city square.

Or an image of a crematorium in a place with a long and sinister German and/or Polish name.

But they would have known better than openly to acknowledge any of these latter associations, for they too are treated as clear indicators of anti-Semitism.

The post Pogrom against the Palestinians of East Jerusalem first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case

Australia’s Labor Party’s recognition of Palestine as a State on March 30 is a welcomed position, though it comes with many caveats.

Pro-Palestinian activists are justified to question the sincerity of the ALP’s stance and whether Australia’s Labor is genuinely prepared to fully adopt this position should they form a government following the 2022 elections.

The language of the amendment regarding the recognition of Palestine is quite indecisive. While it commits the ALP to recognize Palestine as a State, it “expects that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government”. ‘Expecting’ that the issue would be made an ‘important priority’ is not the same as confirming that the recognition of Palestine is resolved, should Labor take office.

Moreover, the matter has been an ‘important priority’ for the ALP for years. In fact, similar language was adopted in the closing session of the Labor conference in December 2018, which supported “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders,” while adding this important clause: The ALP “calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a State”.

Unfortunately for Labor, they lost the May 2019 elections, where the Liberal Party maintained the majority, again forming a government under the leadership of Scott Morrison.

Morrison was the Prime Minister of Australia when, in 2018, the ALP adopted what was clearly a policy shift on Palestine. In fact, it was Morrison’s regressive position on Israel that supposedly compelled Labor to develop a seemingly progressive position on Palestine. Nine days after former US President, Donald Trump, defied international law by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and subsequently relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Morrison flirted with the idea as well, hoping to enlist the support of the pro-Israel lobbies in Australia prior to the elections.

However, Morrison did not go as far as Trump, by refraining from moving his country’s embassy to the occupied city. Instead, he developed a precarious – albeit still illegal – position where he recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, promising to move his country’s “embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after, final-status determination.”

Canberra, however, did take ‘practical’ steps, including a decision to establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and proceeded to look for a site for its future embassy.

Morrison’s self-serving strategy remains a political embarrassment for Australia, as it drew the country closer to Trump’s illegal, anti-Palestinian stance. While the vast majority of United Nations member states maintained a unified position regarding the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, asserting that the status of Jerusalem can only be determined based on a negotiated agreement, the Australian government thought otherwise.

As Palestinians, Arabs and other nations mobilized against Australia’s new position, the ALP came under pressure to balance out the Liberal party’s agenda, seen as blindly supportive of military occupation and apartheid.

Since the ALP lost the elections, their new policy on Palestine could not be evaluated. Now, according to their latest policy conference conclusion, this same position has been reiterated, although with some leeway, that could potentially allow Labor to reverse or delay that position, once they are in power.

Nonetheless, the Labor position is an important step for Palestinians in their ‘legitimacy war’ against the Israeli occupation.

In a recent interview with Professor Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, the international law expert explained the need to “distinguish symbolic politics from substantive politics”.

“In the colonial wars that were fought after 1945, the side that won usually was the side that won what I call the legitimacy war, which is the ‘symbolic battlefield’, so to speak, and maintain the principled position that was in accord with the anti-colonial flow of history,” Falk said.

Practically, this means that, often, the militarily weaker side which may lose numerous military battles could ultimately win the war. This was as true in the case of Vietnam in 1975 as it was in South Africa in 1994. It should also be true in the case of Palestine.

This is precisely why pro-Israeli politicians, media pundits and organizations are fuming in response to the ALP’s recognition of Palestine. Among the numerous angry responses, the most expressive is the position of Michael Danby. He was quoted by Australian Jewish News website as saying that ALP leaders, Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles, have done more than adopting the pro-Palestinian position of former British Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by also adopting “his Stalinist methods by suppressing debate on the foreign policy motions”.

Israel and its supporters fully understand the significance of Falk’s ‘legitimacy war’. Indeed, Israel’s military superiority and complete dominance over occupied Palestinians may allow it to sustain its military occupation on the ground a while longer, but it does very little to advance its moral position, reputation and legitimacy.

The fact that ALP’s position advocates a two-state solution – which is neither just nor practical – should not detract from the fact that the recognition of Palestine is still a stance that can be utilized in the Palestinian quest for legitimizing their struggle and delegitimizing Israel’s apartheid.

Falk’s theory on ‘substantive politics’ and ‘symbolic politics’ applies here, too. While calling for defunct two-states is part of the substantive politics that is necessitated by international consensus, the symbolism of recognizing Palestine is a crucial step in dismantling Israel’s monopoly over the agenda of the West’s political elites. It is an outright defeat of the efforts of pro-Israeli lobbies.

Politicians, anywhere, cannot possibly win the legitimacy war for Palestinians, or any other oppressed nation. It is the responsibility of the Palestinians and their supporters to impose their moral agenda on the often self-serving politicians so that the symbolic politics may someday become substantive. The ALP recognition of Palestine is, for now, mere symbolism. If utilized correctly, through pressure, advocacy and mobilization, it could turn into something meaningful in the future.  This is not the responsibility of Labor, but of Palestinians themselves.

The post Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel Rejects ICC Investigation: What Are the Possible Future Scenarios?

The Israeli government’s position regarding an impending investigation by the International Criminal Court of alleged war crimes committed in occupied Palestine has been finally declared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It will be made clear that Israel is a country with rule of law that knows how to investigate itself,” Netanyahu said in a statement on April 8. Subsequently, Israel “completely rejects” any accusations that it has committed war crimes.

But it won’t be so easy for Tel Aviv this time around. True, Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, according to which the ICC was established, but it can still be held accountable, because the State of Palestine is a member of the ICC.

Palestine joined the ICC in 2015, and the alleged war crimes, which are under investigation, have taken place on Palestinian soil. This grants the ICC direct jurisdiction, even if war crimes were committed by a non-ICC party. Still, accountability for these war crimes is not guaranteed. So, what are the possible future scenarios?

But first, some context …

‘Blatant Impunity’

On March 22, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, declared that “the time has come to stop Israel’s blatant impunity”. His remarks were included in a letter sent to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and other top officials at the international body.

There is modest – albeit cautious – optimism among Palestinians that Israeli officials could potentially be held accountable for war crimes and other human rights violations in Palestine. The reason behind this optimism is a recent decision by ICC to pursue its investigation of alleged war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Mansour’s letter was written with this context in mind. Other Palestinian officials, such as Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, are also pushing in this direction. He, too, wants to see an end to Israel’s lack of accountability.

Till Netanyahu’s official position, the Israeli response has been most predictable. On March 20, Israeli authorities decided to revoke Al-Maliki’s special travel permit in order to prevent him from pursuing Palestinian diplomacy that aims at ensuring the continuation of the ICC investigation. Al-Maliki had, in fact, just returned from a trip to The Hague, where the ICC is headquartered.

Furthermore, Israel is openly attempting to intimidate the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to discontinue its cooperation with the ICC, as can be easily gleaned from the official Israeli discourse. “The Palestinian leadership has to understand there are consequences for their actions,” an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on March 21.

Despite years of legal haggling and intense pressure on the ICC’s outgoing Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to scrap the investigation altogether, the legal proceedings have carried on, unhindered. The pressure was displayed in various forms: direct defamation by Israel, as in accusing the ICC of anti-Semitism; unprecedented American sanctions on ICC officials and constant meddling and intervention, on Israel’s behalf, by member states that are part of the ICC, and who are described as amici curiae.

They did not succeed. On April 30, 2020, Bensouda consulted with the Court’s Pre-trial Chamber regarding whether the ICC had jurisdiction over the matter. Ten months later, the Chamber answered in the affirmative. Subsequently, the Prosecutor decided to formally open the investigation.

On March 9, a spokesman for the Court revealed that, in accordance with Article 18 in the Rome Statute, notification letters were sent by the Prosecutor’s office to ‘all parties concerned’, including the Israeli Government and the Palestinian leadership, notifying them of the war crimes probe and allowing them only one month to seek deferral of the investigation.

Expectedly, Israel remains defiant. However, unlike its obstinacy in response to previous international attempts at investigating war crimes allegations in Palestine, the Israeli response, this time, appears confused and uncertain. On the one hand, Israeli media revealed last July that Netanyahu’s government has prepared a long list of likely Israeli suspects, whose conduct can potentially be investigated by the ICC. Still, the official Israeli response can only be described as dismissive of the matter as being superfluous, insisting that Israel will not, in any way, cooperate with ICC investigators.

Though the Israeli government continues to maintain its official position that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel and occupied Palestine, top Israeli officials and diplomats are moving quickly to block what now seems to be an imminent probe. For example, Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, was on an official visit to Germany where he, on March 18, met with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, thanking him on behalf of Israel for opposing the ICC’s investigation of Israeli officials.

After lashing out at the Palestinian leadership for attempting to “legalize” the conflict, through an international investigation, Rivlin renewed Israel’s “trust that our European friends will stand by us in the important fight on the misuse of the International Criminal Court against our soldiers and civilians.”

Unlike previous attempts at investigating Israeli war crimes, for example, the Jenin massacre in the West Bank in 2002, and the various investigations of several Israeli wars on Gaza starting in 2008-09, the forthcoming ICC investigation is different. For one, the ICC investigation targets individuals, not states, and can issue arrest warrants, making it legally incumbent on all other ICC members to enforce the Court’s decisions.

Now that all attempts at dissuading the Court from pursuing the matter have failed, the question must be asked: What are the possible future scenarios?

The Next Step

In the case that the investigation carries on as planned, the Prosecutor’s next step would be to identify suspects and alleged perpetrators of war crimes. Dr. Triestino Mariniello, member of the legal team that represents the Gaza victims, told me that once these suspects have been determined, “the Prosecutor will ask the Pre-trial chamber to issue either arrest warrants or subpoena, at least in relation to the crimes already included in the investigation so far.”

These alleged war crimes already include Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements, the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014 and Israel’s targeting of unarmed civilian protesters during Gaza’s Great March of Return, starting in 2018.

Even more ideally, the Court could potentially widen the scope of the investigation, which is a major demand for the representatives of the Palestinian victims.

“We expect more crimes to be included: especially, apartheid as a crime against humanity and crimes against Palestinian prisoners by Israeli authorities, especially torture,” according to Dr. Mariniello.

In essence, this means that, even after the investigation is officially underway, the Palestine legal team can continue its advocacy to expand the scope of the investigation and to cover as much legal ground as possible.

‘Narrow Scope’ 

However, judging from previous historic experiences, ideal scenarios in cases where Israel was investigated for war crimes rarely transpired. A less than ideal scenario would be for the scope of the investigation to remain narrow.

In a recent interview with former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Occupied Palestinian Territories, Professor Richard Falk, he told me that even if the narrow scope remains in effect – thus reducing the chances of all victims seeing justice – the investigation is still a “breakthrough”.

The reason why the investigation may not be broadened has less to do with justice and much to do with politics. “The scope of the investigation is something that is ill-defined, so it is a matter of political discretion,” Professor Falk said.

In other words, “the Court takes a position that needs to be cautious about delimiting its jurisdiction and, therefore, it tries to narrow the scope of what it is prepared to investigate.”

Professor Falk does not agree with that view but, according to the seasoned international law expert, “it does represent the fact that the ICC, like the UN itself, is subject to immense geopolitical pressure.”

Still, “it’s a breakthrough even to consider the investigation, let alone the indictment and the prosecution of either Israelis or Americans that was put on the agenda of the ICC, which led to a pushback by these governments.”

Israel’s Missed Opportunity

While the two above scenarios are suitable for Palestinians, they are a non-starter as far as the Israeli government is concerned, as indicated in Netanyahu’s recent statement in which he rejected the investigation altogether. According to some pro-Israeli international law experts, Netanyahu’s decision would represent a missed opportunity.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, international law expert Nick Kaufman had advises Israel to cooperate, only for the sake of obtaining a “deferral” from the Court and to use the ensuing delay for political maneuvering.

“It would be unfortunate for Israel to miss the opportunity of deferral which could provide the ideal excuse for reinitiating peace talks with the Palestinians,” he wrote, warning that “if Israel squanders such an opportunity it should come as no surprise if, at a later date, the Court will hint that the government has no one but itself to blame for the export of the judicial process to The Hague.”

There are other scenarios, such as even more intense pressures on the Court as a result of ongoing discussions between Israel and its benefactors, whether in Washington or among the amici curiae at the Court itself.

At the same time, while Palestinians remain cautious about the future of the investigation, hope is slowly rising that, this time around, things may be different and that Israeli war criminals will eventually be held accountable for their crimes. Time will tell.

  • Romana Rubeo contributed to this article
The post Israel Rejects ICC Investigation: What Are the Possible Future Scenarios? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Canada’s NDP Votes for Palestine

On Saturday New Democratic Party members delivered a victory for Palestinian rights and a blow to the Israel lobby in Canada.

Over 80% of convention delegates voted for a resolution calling for “Ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “Suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

A few hours after the vote CBC News Network’s ticker said NDP members “voted to sanction Israel over settlements” and a subsequent clip on their site was titled “Would Singh make delegate resolution on sanctioning Israel an NDP position?”. Numerous outlets also picked up The Canadian Press’ report that “a resolution that demands Canada suspend arms dealing with Israel and halt trade with Israeli settlements passed with 80 per cent support.”

In response, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) put out a churlish release titled “NDP resolution highlights an ongoing toxic obsession with Israel”. If anyone missed the point in the headline, the release condemned the party’s “toxic obsession with Israel”, “pathological preoccupation with Israel” and “obsessive concern with Israel”, which they labeled “shameful”. On Twitter Rabbi David Mivasair derided CIJA’s release as the “definition of hypocrisy”, adding that the “Israel lobby in Canada, whose entire raison d’etre is to push Israel on us, says NDP is ‘obsessed with Israel’.”

CIJA’s post-resolution release and reaction to the NDP convention more broadly highlights how Israel has lost progressives and its lobby is ever more reliant on intimidating those who support Palestinian rights by calling them anti-Semitic. More than a month before the NDP convention CIJA began publicly pressuring the party leadership to suppress a resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. The ferocious campaign to suppress NDP members’ ability to debate a document designed to suppress discussion of Palestinian rights succeeded in scaring the NDP leader into erasing the long-oppressed Palestinians (the IHRA resolution never made it to the debate stage). A week ago Jagmeet Singh was asked on CBC’s The House about resolutions submitted to the NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the question, he mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

The disastrous interview generated a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism and gave momentum to pro-Palestinian forces within the party prior to the convention. In a significant reversal, the morning after the convention vote Singh defended the resolution that CBC’s chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton described as “your party voted overwhelmingly to slap sanctions on settlements and to ban arms sales to Israel.” Marshaling the legitimacy of “human rights groups”, Singh said it was important to “apply pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians.” While he equivocated somewhat in fully endorsing the Palestine Resolution, Singh repeated the importance of applying “pressure” on Israel three times.

An empty vessel on this issue, Singh goes wherever pushed. That’s the case for most of the NDP caucus. Two days before the convention MP Charlie Angus tweeted, “I keep getting mentioned by some who want the NDP to oppose the international definition of anti-semitism. This is not the way to go. I support motions calling for justice for the Palestinian people. But I also remain deeply concerned about the growing threat of anti-semitism.”

As far as I can tell no one said Angus backed the anti-IHRA definition resolution. Rather they pointed out that in January a Conservative member of the Ontario Legislature and a top Israeli diplomat both used the IHRA definition to attack Angus for sharing a Guardian article critical of Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians for Covid 19. Angus’ name was raised as a concrete example of how the IHRA definition tramples on Palestinian rights. But, Angus cowardly threw those who defended him from smears under the Israel lobby bus.

Still, Angus’ formulation is worth reflecting on. With most of the backlash focused against the anti-IHRA definition resolution the Palestine Resolution seemed reasonable. Multi-pronged campaigns can be effective.

It took immense effort by a broad array of activists to get more than 30 (Palestine Resolution) and 40 (IHRA resolution) riding associations, as well as numerous other groups, to endorse these resolutions but it was worth it. The NDP convention confirms there is significant popular support for Palestinian rights. Polls have shown that Canadians are widely sympathetic to bringing pressure to bear on Israel for its colonization. My bet is that most of the 15% of NDP delegates who voted against the Palestine Resolution did so out of concern for the backlash, not the substance of the resolution.

While the Palestine resolution was a win for Palestinian rights and blow to the Israel lobby, it was also a small victory for grassroots democracy and proof that people can be mobilized by calls for justice in international affairs.

  • Image credit: Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East
  • The post Canada’s NDP Votes for Palestine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    From His Solitary Confinement, Marwan Barghouti Holds the Key to Fatah’s Future  

    If imprisoned Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, becomes the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the status quo will change substantially. For Israel, as well as for the current PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, such a scenario is more dangerous than another strong Hamas showing in the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections.

    The long-delayed elections, now scheduled for May 22 and July 31 respectively, will not only represent a watershed moment for the fractured Palestinian body politic, but also for the Fatah Movement which has dominated the PA since its inception in 1994. The once revolutionary Movement has become a shell of its former self under the leadership of Abbas, whose only claim to legitimacy was a poorly contested election in January 2005, following the death of former Fatah leader and PA President, Yasser Arafat.

    Though his mandate expired in January 2009, Abbas continued to ‘lead’ Palestinians. Corruption and nepotism increased significantly during his tenure and, not only did he fail to secure an independent Palestinian State, but the Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements have deepened and grown exponentially.

    Abbas’ rivals from within the Fatah Movement were sidelined, imprisoned or exiled. A far more popular Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, was silenced by Israel as he was thrown into an Israeli prison in April 2002, after a military court found him guilty of involvement in Palestinian resistance operations during the uprising of 2000. This arrangement suited Abbas, for he continued to doubly benefit: from Barghouti’s popularity, on the one hand, and his absence, on the other.

    When, in January, Abbas declared that he would hold three successive rounds of elections – legislative elections on May 22, presidential elections on July 31 and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections on August 31 – he could not have anticipated that his decree, which followed intense Fatah-Hamas talks, could potentially trigger the implosion of his own party.

    Fatah-Hamas rivalry has been decades’ long, but intensified in January 2006 when the latter won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories. Hamas’ victory was partly attributed to Fatah’s own corruption, but internal rivalry also splintered Fatah’s vote.

    Although it was Fatah’s structural weaknesses that partly boosted Hamas’ popularity, it was, oddly, the subsequent rivalry with Hamas that kept Fatah somehow limping forward. Indeed, the anti-Hamas sentiment served as a point of unity among the various Fatah branches. With money pouring in from donor countries, Fatah used its largesse to keep dissent at minimum and, when necessary, to punish those who refused to toe the pro-Abbas line. This strategy was successfully put to the test in 2010 when Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah’s ‘strong man’ in Gaza prior to 2006, was dismissed from Fatah’s central committee and banished from the West Bank, as he was banished from Gaza four years earlier.

    But that convenient paradigm could not be sustained. Israel is entrenching its military occupation, increasing its illegal settlement activities and is rapidly annexing Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The Gaza siege, though deadly and tragic, has become routine and no longer an international priority. A new Palestinian generation in the Occupied Territories cannot relate to Abbas and his old guard, and is openly dissatisfied with the tribal, regional politics through which the PA, under Abbas, continues to govern occupied and oppressed Palestinians.

    Possessing no strategies or answers, Abbas is now left with no more political lifelines and few allies.

    With dwindling financial resources and faced by the inescapable fact that 85-year-old Abbas must engineer a transition within the movement to prevent its collapse in case of his death, Fatah was forced to contend with an unpleasant reality: without new elections the PA would lose the little political legitimacy with which it ruled over Palestinians.

    Abbas was not worried about another setback, as that of 2006, when Hamas won majority of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)’s seats. Until recently, most opinion polls indicated that the pro-Abbas Fatah list would lead by a comfortable margin in May, and that Abbas would be re-elected President in July. With his powers intact, Abbas could then expand his legitimacy by allowing Hamas and others into the PLO’s Palestinian National Council – Palestine’s parliament in the Diaspora. Not only would Abbas renew faith in his Authority, but he could also go down in history as the man who united Palestinians.

    But things didn’t go as planned and the problem, this time, did not come from Hamas, but from Fatah itself – although Abbas did anticipate internal challenges. However, the removal of Dahlan, the repeated purges of the party’s influential committees and the marginalization of any dissenting Fatah members throughout the years must have infused Abbas with confidence to advance with his plans.

    The first challenge emerged on March 11, when Nasser al-Qidwa, a well-respected former diplomat and a nephew of Yasser Arafat, was expelled from the movement’s Central Committee for daring to challenge Abbas’ dominance. On March 4, Qidwa decided to lock horns with Abbas by running in the elections in a separate list.

    The second and bigger surprise came on March 31, just one hour before the closing of the Central Election Commission’s registration deadline, when Qidwa’s list was expanded to include supporters of Marwan Barghouti, under the leadership of his wife, Fadwa.

    Opinion polls are now suggesting that a Barghouti-Qidwa list, not only would divide the Fatah Movement but would actually win more seats, defeating both the traditional Fatah list and even Hamas. If this happens, Palestinian politics would turn on its head.

    Moreover, the fact that Marwan Barghouti’s name was not on the list keeps alive the possibility that the imprisoned Fatah leader could still contest in the presidential elections in July. If that, too, transpires, Barghouti will effortlessly beat and oust Abbas.

    The PA President is now in an unenviable position. Canceling the elections would lead to strife, if not violence. Moving forward means the imminent demise of Abbas and his small but powerful clique of Palestinians who benefited greatly from the cozy political arrangement they created for themselves.

    As it stands, the key to the future of Fatah is now held by a Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, who has been kept by Israel, largely in solitary confinement, since 2002.

    The post From His Solitary Confinement, Marwan Barghouti Holds the Key to Fatah’s Future   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Kafkaesque Politics: The Missing Lessons from Israel’s Latest Elections

    A ‘major setback’ was the recurring term in many news headlines reporting on the outcome of Israel’s general elections of March 23. While this depiction specifically referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to secure a decisive victory in the country’s fourth elections in two years, this is only part of the narrative.

    Certainly, it was a setback for Netanyahu, who has repeatedly resorted to Israeli voters as a final lifeline in the hope of escaping his ever-growing list of problems – splits within his Likud Party, the constant plotting of his former right coalition partners, his own corruption trials and his lack of political vision that does not cater to his and his family’s interests.

    Yet, as was the case in three previous elections, the outcome of the fourth was the same. This time, Netanyahu’s right-wing camp, thus potential government coalition partners, consists of even more ardent right-wing parties, including, aside from the ‘Likud’, which won 30 Knesset seats, ‘Shas’, with 9 seats, ‘United Torah Judaism’ with 7, and ‘Religious Zionism’ with 6. At 52 seats only, Netanyahu’s base is more vulnerable and more extreme than ever before.

    ‘Yamina’, on the other hand, which emerged with 7 seats, is a logical partner in Netanyahu’s possible coalition. Headed by an ardent right-wing politician, Naftali Bennett, who assumed the role of minister in various Netanyahu-led right-wing coalitions, sits, ideologically speaking, on the right of Netanyahu. A keen politician, Bennett has, for years, tried to escape Netanyahu’s dominance and to eventually claim the leadership of the right. While joining another right-wing coalition, again headed by Netanyahu, is hardly a best-case scenario, Bennett might reluctantly return to the Netanyahu camp for now, because he has no option.

    Bennett could, however,  take another radical path, like that taken by former Likudist, Gideon Sa’ar of ‘New Hope’ and Avigdor Lieberman of ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’, ousting Netanyahu, even if the alternative means forming a shaky, short-lived coalition.

    Indeed, the anti-Netanyahu camp does not seem to have much in common, neither in terms of politics, ideology nor ethnicity – a crucial component in Israeli politics – than their collective desire to dispose of Netanyahu. If an anti-Netanyahu coalition is, somehow cobbled together – uniting ‘Yesh Atid’ (17 seats), ‘Kahol Lavan’ (8), ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ (7), ‘Labor’ (7), ‘New Hope’ (6), the Arab ‘Joint List’ (6), ‘Meretz’ (6) – the coalition would still fail to reach the required threshold of 61.

    To avoid returning to the polls for the fifth time within approximately two years, the anti-Netanyahu coalition would be forced to cross many political red lines. For example, former Netanyahu’s anti-Arab allies, namely Lieberman and Sa’ar, would have to accept joining a coalition that includes the Arab ‘Joint List’. The latter would have to do the same thing, cooperating with political parties with avowedly racist, chauvinistic and anti-peace agendas.

    Despite this, the anti-Netanyahu coalition would still fail to secure the needed numbers. At 57 seats, they still need a push either from Bennet’s ‘Yamina’ or Mansour Abbas’ ‘United Arab List (Ra’am)’.

    Bennett, known for his ideological rigidity, understands that a coalition with the Arabs and the left could jeopardize his position within his ideological base: the right and the far-right. If he is to join an anti-Netanyahu coalition, it would be for the sole purpose of passing legislation at the Knesset that prevents politicians on trial from participating in elections. This has been Lieberman’s main strategy for quite some time. Once this mission is achieved, these odd coalition partners would pounce on each other to claim Netanyahu’s position at the helm of the right.

    For Mansour Abbas’ ‘Ra’am’, however, the story is quite different. Not only did Abbas betray desperately needed Arab unity in the face of an existential threat posed by Israel’s growing anti-Arab politics, he went on to suggest his willingness to join a Netanyahu-led coalition.

    However, even for opportunistic Abbas, joining a right-wing coalition with groups that champion such slogans as “Death to the Arabs” can be extremely dangerous. From the perspective of Arabs in Israel, Abbas’ politics already borders on treason. Joining the chauvinistic, violent Kahanists – who ran as part of the ‘Religious Zionism’ list – to form a government that aims at saving Netanyahu’s political career, would place this inexperienced and foolhardy politician in direct confrontation with his own Palestinian Arab community.

    Alternatively, Abbas may wish to vote in favor of the anti-Netanyahu coalition as a direct partner, or from the outside. Similar to Bennett, both options would make Abbas a potential kingmaker, an ideal scenario from his point of view and less than ideal from the point of view of a coalition that, if formed, would be unstable.

    Consequently, it is hardly sufficient to categorize the outcome of the latest Israeli elections as a ‘setback’ for Netanyahu alone. While that is true, it is also a setback for everyone else. Netanyahu failed to achieve a clear majority, but his enemies, too, failed to make a case to Israeli voters of why Netanyahu should be shunned from politics altogether. The latter remains the uncontested leader of the Israeli right and his Likud party still leads with a 13 seats difference from his closest rival.

    Though the center temporarily unified in previous elections in the form of Kahol Lavan (‘Blue and White’), it quickly disintegrated, and this is equally true for the once unified Arab parties. Disuniting just before the fourth elections, these parties squandered Arab votes and, with it, any hope that racist, militaristic and religiously zealot Israeli politics could possibly be fixed from within.

    This means that, whether Netanyahu goes or stays, the next Israeli government is likely to remain firmly within the right. Moreover, with or without Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Israel is unlikely to produce a politically unifying figure, one who is capable of redefining the country beyond Netanyahu-style cult of personality.

    As for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine, dismantling apartheid and, with it, the illegal Jewish settlements, these remain a distant hope, as these subjects were hardly part of the conversation that preceded the last elections.

    The post Kafkaesque Politics: The Missing Lessons from Israel’s Latest Elections first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu

    As 13 parties struggle with Israel’s complex post-election maths, seeking alliances that can assure them power, the most significant outcome of the vote is easily missed. The religious fundamentalists and settler parties – Israel’s far right – won an unprecedented and clear-cut victory last week.

    Even on the most cautious assessment, these parties together hold 72 seats in the 120-member parliament. For more than a decade they have underwritten Benjamin Netanyahu’s uninterrupted rule. That is why all the current talk in Israel and the western media about two equal camps, right and left, pitted against each other – implacably hostile and unable to build a majority – is patent nonsense.

    The far right has a large majority. It could easily form a government – if it wasn’t mired in a now seemingly permanent crisis over the figure of Netanyahu.

    Standing against the far right are what are loosely termed the “centrists”, equally committed to the takeover of swaths of the occupied territories, if in their case more by stealth.

    There are two parties on the “centre-right” – Yesh Atid and Blue and White – that won between them 25 seats. The “centre-left”, represented by the Labor party and Meretz, still struggling to maintain the pretence that they comprise a “peace camp”, secured 13 seats. A final 10 seats went to the various parties representing Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens.

    Both the far right and the “centrists” subscribe to versions of the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism. To outsiders, the similarities between the two camps can sometimes look stronger than the differences. Ultimately, with the possible exception of Meretz, both want the Palestinians subjugated and removed.

    The “centrists” may best be understood as the apologetic wing of Zionism. They worry about Israel’s image abroad. And that means they have, at least ostensibly, emphasised dividing territory between Jews and Palestinians – as the Oslo accords proposed – rather than visibly dividing rights. The centrists’ great fear is that they will be seen as presiding over a single apartheid state.

    Jewish Supremacy

    The 60 percent of the parliament now in the hands of extreme religious and settler parties takes the opposite view. They prefer to divide rights – to create an explicit apartheid system – if they can thereby avoid dividing the territory. They want all of the region, and ideally only for Jews.

    They care little what others think. All subscribe to an ideology of Jewish supremacy, even if they differ on whether “Jewish” is defined in religious or ethnic-nationalist terms. In 2018 Netanyahu’s government began the process of legislating this worldview through the Jewish Nation State Law.

    The far right explicitly views Palestinians, the native people whose homeland the European-led Zionist movement has been colonising for the past 100 years, as interlopers or unwelcome guests.

    Unlike the centrists, the far right places little weight on the distinction between Palestinians under occupation and the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and have degraded citizenship. All Palestinians, wherever they live and whatever their status, are seen as an enemy that needs to be subdued.

    Allying with Centrists

    So why, given the far right’s incontestible triumph last week, are the media filled with analyses about Israel’s continuing political impasse and the likelihood of a fifth election in a few months’ time?

    Why, if a clear majority of legislators are unapologetic Jewish supremacists, has Netanyahu kept courting centrists to stay in power – as he did after the last election, when he ensnared battle-hardened general Benny Gantz into his coalition? And why after this election is he reported to be reaching out for the first time to a Palestinian party for support?

    Part of the answer lies in a deep disagreement within the far right, between religious fundamentalists and its more secular components, on what “Jewish rule” means. Both sides focus on the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians and refuse to make a meaningful distinction between the occupied territories and Israel. But they have entirely different conceptions of Jewish sovereignty. One faction thinks Jews should take their orders from God, while the other looks to a Jewish state.

    Further, they disagree on who counts as a Jew.

    It is hard, for example, for Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, to break bread with the extremist rabbis of Shas and United Torah Judaism, when those rabbis don’t regard many of his supporters – immigrants from the former Soviet Union – as real Jews. To them, “Russians” no more belong to the Jewish collective than Palestinians.

    Oppressive Shadow

    But an even bigger obstacle is to be found in the figure of Netanyahu himself, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

    The far-right is largely unperturbed by Netanyahu’s trial on multiple corruption charges. Israel’s short history is full of major crimes: wars of aggression, forcible population transfer, executions and looting, land theft and settlement building. All Israeli leaders, Netanyahu included, have had a hand in these atrocities. The current focus on allegations against him of fraud and acceptance of bribes looks trivial in comparison.

    The far right’s problem with Netanyahu is more complex.

    He has been presiding over this bloc, relatively unchallenged, since the early 1990s. He has become by far the most skilled, experienced and charismatic politician in Israel. And for that reason, no other far right leader has been able to emerge from under his oppressive shadow.

    He may be King Bibi – his nickname – but the far right’s more ambitious princes are getting increasingly restless. They are eager to fill his shoes. Their knives are out. Gideon Saar, his Likud protege, created a party, New Hope, to run in last week’s election precisely in the hope of ousting his old boss. But equally, Netanyahu is so wily and experienced that he keeps outsmarting his rivals. He has managed to avoid any of his opponent’s lethal lunges by exploiting the far right’s weaknesses.

    Netanyahu has employed a twofold strategy. Despite perceptions abroad, he is actually one of the more moderate figures in the extreme religious and settler bloc. He is closer ideologically to Benny Gantz of Blue and White than he is either to the rabbis who dictate the policies of the religious parties or to the settler extremists – or even to the bulk of his own Likud party.

    Netanyahu has become a bogeyman abroad chiefly because he is so adept at harnessing the energy of the religious and settler parties and mobilising it to his own political and personal advantage. Israeli society grows ever more extreme because Netanyahu has for decades provided an aura of respectability, statesmanship and intellectual heft to the rhetoric surrounding the far right’s most noxious positions.

    In this election he even brokered a deal helping to bring Jewish Power – Israel’s most fascistic party – into parliament. If he has to, he will welcome them into the government he hopes to build.

    Wearing Thin

    But Netanyahu’s relative moderation – by Israel’s standards – means that he has, at least until recently, preferred to include centrists in his coalitions. That has helped to curb the excesses of a purely far right government that might antagonise the Europeans and embarrass Washington. And equally, it has kept the extreme right divided and dependent on him, as he plays its parties off against the centrists.

    If the princes of the settlements push him too hard, he can always tempt in a Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), or a Gantz (Blue and White), or an Ehud Barak (Labor) to replace them.

    He has been loyal to no one but himself.

    Now that strategy is wearing thin. His corruption trial and the resulting campaign he has waged to weaken Israel’s legal and judicial systems to keep himself out of jail has left a sour taste with the centrists. They are now much warier of allying with him.

    After last year’s election, Gantz only dared join a Netanyahu government after citing exceptional grounds: the urgent need to fight the pandemic in an emergency government. Even so, he destroyed his party in the process. Now, it seems, only a rookie, conservative Islamist leader like Mansour Abbas may be willing to fall for Netanyahu’s trickery.

    Sensing Netanyahu’s weakness and his loss of alternative partners, parts of the far right have grown unruly and fractious.

    Netanyahu has kept the extreme religious parties on board – but at a steep cost. He has given them what they demand above all else: autonomy for their community. That is why Israeli police have turned a blind eye throughout the pandemic as the ultra-Orthodox have refused to close their schools during lockdowns and turned out in enormous numbers – usually without masks – for rabbis’ funerals.

    But Netanyahu’s endless indulgence of the ultra-Orthodox has served only to alienate the more secular parts of the far right.

    Betrayed on Annexation

    Worse, as Netanyahu has focused his energies on ways to draw attention away from his corruption trial, he has chosen to play fast and loose with the far right’s political and emotional priorities – most especially on annexation. In the recent, back-to-back election campaigns he has made increasingly earnest promises to formally annex swaths of the West Bank.

    But he has repeatedly failed to make good on his pledge.

    The betrayal hit hardest after the election a year ago. With then-President Donald Trump’s blessing, Netanyahu vowed to quickly begin annexation of large sections of the West Bank. But in the end Netanyahu ducked out, preferring to sign a “peace deal” with Gulf states on the confected condition that annexation be delayed.

    The move clearly indicated that, if it aided his political survival, Netanyahu would placate foreign capitals – behaviour reminiscent of the centrists – rather than advance the core goals of the far right. As a result, there is a growing exasperation with Netanyahu. Sections of the far right want someone new, someone invested in their cause – not in his own political and personal manoeuvrings.

    In the fashion of Middle Eastern dictators, Netanyahu has groomed no successor. He has cultivated a learnt helplessness in his own ideological camp, and the princes of the settlements are fearful of how they will cope without him. He has been their nursemaid for too long.

    But like rebellious teenagers, they want a taste of freedom – and to wreak more havoc than Netanyahu has ever allowed.

    They hope to break free of the political centre of gravity he has engineered for himself. If they finally manage it, we may yet look back on the Netanyahu era as a time of relative moderation and calm.

    • First published in Middle East Eye

    The post Israel election: The Far-right is Triumphant: The Only Obstacle Left is Netanyahu first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem

    A Palestinian man, Atef Yousef Hanaysha, was killed by Israeli occupation forces on March 19 during a weekly protest against illegal Israeli settlement expansion in Beit Dajan, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank.

    Although tragic, the above news reads like a routine item from occupied Palestine, where shooting and killing unarmed protesters is part of the daily reality. However, this is not true. Since right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced, in September 2019, his intentions to formally and illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, tensions have remained high.

    The killing of Hanaysha is only the tip of the iceberg. In occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a massive battle is already underway. On one side, Israeli soldiers, army bulldozers and illegal armed Jewish settlers are carrying out daily missions of evicting Palestinian families, displacing farmers, burning orchards, demolishing homes and confiscating land. On the other side, Palestinian civilians, often disorganized, unprotected and leaderless, are fighting back.

    The territorial boundaries of this battle are largely located in occupied East Jerusalem and in the so-called ‘Area C’ of the West Bank – nearly 60% of the total size of the occupied West Bank – which is under complete and direct Israeli military control. No other place represents the perfect microcosm of this uneven war like that of the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.

    On March 10, fourteen Palestinian and Arab organizations issued a ‘joint urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on forced evictions in East Jerusalem’ to stop the Israeli evictions in the area. Successive decisions by Israeli courts have paved the way for the Israeli army and police to evict 15 Palestinian families – 37 households of around 195 people – in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni area in Sheikh Jarrah and Batn Al-Hawa neighborhood in the town of Silwan.

    These imminent evictions are not the first, nor will they be the last. Israel occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem in June 1967 and formally, though illegally, annexed it in 1980. Since then, the Israeli government has vehemently rejected international criticism of the Israeli occupation, dubbing, instead, Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of Israel”.

    To ensure its annexation of the city is irreversible, the Israeli government approved the Master Plan 2000, a massive scheme that was undertaken by Israel to rearrange the boundaries of the city in such a way that it would ensure permanent demographic majority for Israeli Jews at the expense of the city’s native inhabitants. The Master Plan was no more than a blueprint for a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign, which saw the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and the subsequent eviction of numerous families.

    While news headlines occasionally present the habitual evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and other parts of East Jerusalem as if a matter that involves counterclaims by Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, the story is, in fact, a wider representation of Palestine’s modern history.

    Indeed, the innocent families which are now facing “the imminent risk of forced eviction” are re-living their ancestral nightmare of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948.

    Two years after the native inhabitants of historic Palestine were dispossessed of their homes and lands and ethnically cleansed altogether, Israel enacted the so-called Absentees’ Property Law of 1950.

    The law, which, of course, has no legal or moral validity, simply granted the properties of Palestinians who were evicted or fled the war to the State, to do with it as it pleases. Since those ‘absentee’ Palestinians were not allowed to exercise their right of return, as stipulated by international law, the Israeli law was a state-sanctioned wholesale theft. It ultimately aimed at achieving two objectives: one, to ensure Palestinian refugees do not return or attempt to claim their stolen properties in Palestine and, two, to give Israel a legal cover for permanently confiscating Palestinian lands and homes.

    The Israeli military occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 necessitated, from an Israeli colonial perspective, the creation of fresh laws that would allow the State and the illegal settlement enterprise to claim yet more Palestinian properties. This took place in 1970 in the form of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law. According to the new legal framework, only Israeli Jews were allowed to claim lost land and property in Palestinian areas.

    Much of the evictions in East Jerusalem take place within the context of these three interconnected and strange legal arguments: the Absentees’ Law, the Legal and Administrative Matters Law and the Master Plan 2000. Understood together, one is easily able to decipher the nature of the Israeli colonial scheme in East Jerusalem, where Israeli individuals, in coordination with settler organizations, work together to fulfill the vision of the State.

    In their joint appeal, Palestinian human rights organizations describe the flow of how eviction orders, issued by Israeli courts, culminate into the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Confiscated Palestinian properties are usually transferred to a branch within the Israeli Ministry of Justice called the Israeli Custodian General. The latter holds on to these properties until they are claimed by Israeli Jews, in accordance with the 1970 Law. Once Israeli courts honor Israeli Jewish individuals’ legal claims to the confiscated Palestinian lands, these individuals often transfer their ownership rights or management to settler organizations. In no time, the latter organizations utilize the newly-acquired property to expand existing settlements or to start new ones.

    While the Israeli State claims to play an impartial role in this scheme, it is actually the facilitator of the entire process. The final outcome manifests in the ever-predictable scene, where an Israeli flag is triumphantly hoisted over a Palestinian home and a Palestinian family is assigned an UN-supplied tent and a few blankets.

    While the above picture can be dismissed by some as another routine, common occurrence, the situation in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has become extremely volatile. Palestinians feel that they have nothing more to lose and Netanyahu’s government is more emboldened than ever. The killing of Atef Hanaysha, and others like him, is only the beginning of that imminent, widespread confrontation.

    The post The Nakba of Sheikh Jarrah: How Israel Uses ‘the Law’ to Ethnically Cleanse East Jerusalem first appeared on Dissident Voice.