Category Archives: Land Use

The American Dream Is Alive and Well – in China

Home ownership has been called “the quintessential American dream.” Yet today less than 65% of American homes are owner occupied, and more than 50% of the equity in those homes is owned by the banks. Compare China, where, despite facing one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, a whopping 90% of families can afford to own their homes.

Over the last decade, American wages have stagnated and U.S. productivity has consistently been outpaced by China’s. The U.S. government has responded by engaging in a trade war and imposing stiff tariffs in order to penalize China for what the White House deems unfair trade practices. China’s industries are said to be propped up by the state and to have significantly lower labor costs, allowing them to dump cheap products on the U.S. market, causing prices to fall and forcing U.S. companies out of business. The message to middle America is that Chinese labor costs are low because their workers are being exploited in slave-like conditions at poverty-level wages.

But if that’s true, how is it that the great majority of Chinese families own homes? According to a March 2016 article in Forbes:

… 90% of families in the country own their home, giving China one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. What’s more is that 80% of these homes are owned outright, without mortgages or any other liens. On top of this, north of 20% of urban households own more than one home.

Due to their communist legacy, what Chinese buyers get for their money is not actually ownership in perpetuity but a long-term leasehold, and the quality of the construction may be poor. But the question posed here is, how can Chinese families afford the price tag for these homes, in a country where the average income is only one-seventh that in the United States?

The Misleading Disparity Between U.S. and Chinese Incomes

Some commentators explain the phenomenon by pointing to cultural differences. The Chinese are inveterate savers, with household savings rates that are more than double those in the U.S.; and they devote as much as 74%of their money to housing. Under China’s earlier one-child policy, many families had only one heir, who tended to be male; and home ownership was a requirement to score a wife. Families would therefore pool their resources to make sure their sole heir was equipped for the competition. Homes would be purchased either with large down payments or without financing at all. Financing through banks at compound interest rates doubles the cost of a typical mortgage, so sidestepping the banks cuts the cost of housing in half.

Those factors alone, however, cannot explain the difference in home ownership rates between the two countries. The average middle-class U.S. family could not afford to buy a home outright for their oldest heir even if they did pool their money. Americans would be savers if they could, but they have other bills to pay. And therein lies a major difference between Chinese and American family wealth: In China, the cost of living is significantly lower. The Chinese government subsidizes not only its industries but its families—with educational, medical and transportation subsidies.

According to a 2017 HSBC fact sheet, 70% of Chinese millennials (ages 19 to 36) already own their own homes. American young people cannot afford to buy homes because they are saddled with student debt, a millstone that now averages $37,000 per student and will be carried an average of 20 years before it is paid off. A recent survey found that 80% of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Another found that 60% of U.S. millennials could not come up with $500 to cover their tax bills.

In China, by contrast, student debt is virtually nonexistent. Heavy government subsidies have made higher education cheap enough that students can work their way through college with a part-time job. Health care is also subsidized by the government, with a state-run health insurance program similar to Canada’s. The program doesn’t cover everything, but medical costs are still substantially lower than in the U.S. Public transportation, too, is quite affordable in China, and it is fast, efficient and ubiquitous.

The disparity in incomes between American and Chinese workers is misleading for other reasons. The “average” income includes the very rich along with the poor; in the U.S., the gap between those two classes is greater than in China. The oversize incomes at the top pull the average up.

Even worse, however, is the disparity in debt levels, which pulls disposable income down. A survey after the 2008-09 credit crisis found that household debt in the U.S. was 136% of household income, compared with only 17% for the Chinese.

Another notable difference is that 70% of Chinese family wealth comes not from salaries but from home ownership itself. Under communism, all real property was owned by the state. When Deng Xiaoping opened the market to private ownership, families had an opportunity to get a home on reasonable terms; and as new homes were built they traded up, building the family asset base.

Deng’s market liberalization also gave families an income boost by allowing them to become entrepreneurs. New family-owned businesses sprang up, aided by affordable loans. Cheap credit from state-owned banks subsidized state-affiliated industries as well.

“Quantitative Easing With Chinese Characteristics”

All this was done with the help of China’s federal government, which in recent decades has pumped massive amounts of economic stimulus into the economy. Unlike the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, which went straight into big bank reserve accounts, the Chinese stimulus has generated new money for productive purposes, including local business development and infrastructure. Sometimes called “qualitative easing,” this “quantitative easing with Chinese characteristics” has meant more jobs, more GDP and more money available to spend, which in turn improves quality of life.

The Chinese government has done this without amassing a crippling federal debt or triggering runaway inflation. In the last 20 years, its M2 money supply has grown from just over 10 trillion yuan to 80 trillion yuan ($11.6T), a nearly 800% increase. Yet the inflation rate of its Consumer Price Index (CPI) has remained low. In February of this year, it was just 1.5%. In May it rose to 2.7% due to an outbreak of swine fever, which drove pork prices up; but this was a response to shortages, not to an increase in the money supply. Radically increasing the money supply has not driven consumer prices up because GDP has increased at an even faster rate. Supply and demand have risen together, keeping consumer prices low.

Real estate prices, on the other hand, have skyrocketed 325% in the last two decades, fueled by a Chinese shadow banking system that is largely beyond regulatory control. Pundits warn that China’s housing is in an unsustainable bubble that will pop, but the Chinese housing market is still more stable than the U.S. subprime market before 2008, with its “no-doc no-down” loans. Chinese buyers typically put 40 to 50% down on their homes, and the demand for houses remains high. The central bank is also taking steps to cool the market, by targeting credit so that it is steered away from real estate and other existing assets and toward newly-produced goods and services.

That central bank intervention illustrates another difference between Chinese-style qualitative easing and Western-style QE. The People’s Bank of China is not trying to improve banking sector liquidity so that banks can make more loans. Chinese economists say they don’t need that form of QE. China’s banks are already lending, and the central bank has plenty of room to manipulate interest rates and control the money supply. China’s central bank is directing credit into the local economy because it doesn’t trust the private financial market to allocate credit where local markets need it. True to its name, the People’s Bank of China seems actually to be a people’s bank, geared to serving the economy and the public rather than just the banks themselves.

Time for More QE?

 In early April, President Trump said in one of his many criticisms of the U.S.  central bank that he thought the Fed should be doing more quantitative easing (expanding the money supply) rather than quantitative tightening (shrinking the money supply). Commentators were left scratching their heads, because the official U.S. unemployment rate is considered to be low. But more QE could be a good idea if it were done as Chinese-style qualitative easing. A form of monetary expansion that would allow Congress to relieve medical and educational costs, grant cheap credit to states to upgrade their roads and mass transit, and support local businesses could go a long way toward making American workers competitive with Chinese workers.

Unlike the U.S. government, the Chinese government supports its workers and its industries. Rather than penalizing China for that “unfair” trade practice, perhaps the U.S. government should try doing the same. China’s legacy is socialist, and after opening to international trade it has continued to serve the collective good, particularly of its workers. Meanwhile, the U.S. model has been regressing into feudalism, with workers driven into slave-like conditions through debt. In the 21st century, it is time to upgrade our economic model from one of feudal exploitation to a cooperative democracy that recognizes the needs, contributions and inalienable rights of all participants.

• Article was first published on Truthdig.org.

Why Do We Think We Own The Earth?

We are now in climate crisis.  Almost every week another major scientific study hits the news, telling us we are losing this, destroying that and completely obliterating the other; whole ecological systems under threat while those with the power to take the hard decisions twiddle their thumbs and set ‘to-do’ dates that will be all too late to have any impact.  As a recent report notes: ‘Much scientific knowledge produced for climate policy-making is conservative and reticent.’  Policy makers do not want to face the inconvenient truth.

The trouble is that, even if we could somehow halt catastrophic climate change – now looking unattainable – we are also, by the way we live, destroying the ecological systems that keep us and all the earth alive, something equally catastrophic.  Plastic in the sea has nothing to do with climate change.  The loss of topsoil and soil degradation is mostly to do with industrial farming methods.  The destruction of forests is due to financial greed and while it will greatly exacerbate climate change, satisfying the desire for more money comes first.

People who think they ‘own’ the earth are those destroying it.  They are also often the ones who do not believe in climate change.  Surely the rich will always have enough money to buy what they want.  But you can’t buy what you have destroyed.

Many people understand the word ‘environment’ as being something ‘green’ when it is simply a term for our surroundings.  Of course, we should protect green/natural environments, but what we must really protect is the ecology of those areas.

Ecology is the way things work; it is how all life combines to support itself; it is true biodiversity, the balancing of living systems to the benefit of those systems.  It is a whole thing, or it should be, but we keep destroying bits here, there and everywhere. Then wonder why the whole doesn’t seem to work any more.

We can’t pick and choose with Nature.  We can’t say ‘I want to protect that species because it’s useful, but exterminate this one because it gets in my way.’  We accept all of Nature, or we accept nothing.  And we should include ourselves in that, yet we prefer to stand outside – and rule.

How did we arrive at this state of an arrogant claim of ‘ownership’ of the earth?  Let us go back to the ‘beginning’ – Genesis, in particular Genesis 1, verses 27 and 28.

  1. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
  2. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

This, of course, is the Authorised Version of the English Bible, also known as the King James Bible, published in 1611.  Probably the most printed book in the world, the writing, though now very old fashioned, is beautiful.  It has affected and added greatly to the English language.  No modern translations can equal its power.  More importantly, people remember the words and unfortunately it has done a far better job than subliminal advertising.

Consider those words ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over…’  How many people over the last 4 centuries have been taught them, read them, heard them in church?  Missionaries have carried them across the world, spreading the underlying message: ‘We humans own the earth.’

The Authorised version has been updated and put into modern language many times, but out of 27 bibles in English, 23 still use the word ‘subdue’; 13 use the phrase ‘have dominion over’.  The alternatives for subdue and dominion are ‘govern’, ‘rule’, ‘rule over’, ‘reign over’, ‘be masters over…’, ‘be its master’ or bring the earth ‘under control’.  The more recent American bibles make the message clear.  The Contemporary English Version, published in 1995, says:

Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all use Genesis in their thinking, but this isn’t just about monotheistic religions.  Pretty well all religions put humanity first.  That’s what they’re there for, to help us believe in ourselves as a species; to believe that some higher being or beings will look after us, the humans; put us, the humans, first.

It is easy to see how the West, propelled by men whose lives, regardless of their appalling acts, were based on the bible, has fulfilled the message.  Human population has been, for many years, expanding.  We do cover the earth and there are too few places left that are not under our control.  And our expanding population means an ever-growing demand that the earth must provide for us, even as we destroy the ability of the earth to provide what we need, let alone what we want.

In modern secular society people can be too wrapped up in consumerism to think about whether humans have the right to own the earth.  There is a lot of angry (and justified) discussion about how a very few people own most of the earth.  ‘How unfair!’ we cry.  But if we take that money, power and property away from the ultra rich, we will not give it to the earth where it belongs, but to ourselves, the common man.

It shows up in all shades of political thinking.  Most political parties (barring the alt-right) will claim some desire to help protect the environment, by which they mean ‘manage’.  Take this example from a Socialist Party’s leaflet, with the headline ‘There is only one world’:

… the world’s natural and industrial resources must become the common heritage of all humanity so that they can be used to directly meet the needs of the world’s population…

How did ancient man arrive at this attitude, this arrogance that became the rule so precisely displayed in Genesis?  It wasn’t always like this.

Hunter-gatherer societies, as described by anthropologist Douglas Fry, were small nomadic groups leading relatively stress-free lives, and they did not struggle to find the food they needed.  Then farming took over, in what Jared Diamond called ‘the worst mistake’ in history.

If you grow your food you have to stay in one place in order to care for your crop – your crop, and therefore, perhaps, your land.  That one simple act changed how humans thought and lived.  It created tribes with chiefs; it created ‘territories’ and fights over land; it created civilisations with growing populations, armies and a land bled dry by overuse; civilisations that inevitably collapsed.

Growing food certainly meant more people could be fed but, as Diamond points out, ‘Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.’

The modern world believes it has a ‘right’ to the earth and all it contains, while native peoples believe they have obligations towards the earth that feeds them.  Being indigenous does not mean being perfect in the way humans treat their environment.  Despite having an intimate relationship with their environment, and a deep sense of reverence for the earth, indigenous people still altered the land to enable the way they lived.

For the Algonquin peoples, living in the northeast states of America, ‘natural resources were not just passively foraged; they were actively managed, through such practices as regular burning to clear deadwood, produce pasture, and encourage the growth of nut trees and fresh browse.

Their sometime neighbours, sometime enemies, the Iroquois farmed as well as hunted, but ‘when cornfields lost their fertility or wood and game became scarce, every decade or so’, the people moved to another location.  Really?  Ten years to empty your environment?  There was room enough to do that then.  There isn’t now.

Time and again civilisations have collapsed, often for the reasons that possibly ended the Mayan culture: overpopulation and overuse of the land, endemic warfare and drought.  The Chaco Canyon culture died, it seems, not just because of environmental stress, but of a rigid belief system: ‘the Puebloan people survived only by letting go of tradition’.

But now our civilisation is global and we are collapsing on a global scale.  This time we have nowhere to move and start again.  Forget that dream of relocating to another planet.  We haven’t the time or resources left to go wholesale into space to live on another earth-like planet.  And if we haven’t learnt from our mistakes here, another planet would be trashed.

We humans are proud of our intelligence, our inventiveness, our technology.  That pride in ownership, that greed for more control, and that push to provide more and more goods for ever-eager consumers, using resources that become less and less, has led to the ruination of the planet and now, more than likely, to our own extinction.

Now universities are studying possible technical fixes, geo-engineering, in the hope that we can bring climate change under our ‘control’.  But the danger there is that if some of these fixes appear to work, then everyone will say ‘that’s alright then’, and carry on as before in our earth-damaging way.

In humanity’s desire to own the earth, there are several things we won’t own.  We won’t own the waste we create.  We won’t own the carbon emissions emitted by other countries on our behalf.  We won’t own our mistakes, or the misery they create – and we won’t own our responsibilities.

We are losing the topsoil all across the earth.  Soon, the soil that grows our food (and the food of many other life forms that populate this little planet) will be dead.  This is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

Rivers are struggling.  Some will dry up as the glaciers that feed them melt. There will come a day when there are no more glaciers and the earth will lose its major source of fresh water.  This is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

Left alone, rivers have clean water, are full of life and their regular flooding has benefits.  The Nile Delta, now endangered, once owed its reputation as ‘the bread basket of the world’ to its annual floods.  But the majority of the world’s great rivers are no longer free-flowing.  We have rerouted them, dammed them, constrained them, polluted them with antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides and poured human and animal sewage into them or drained them of their waters to irrigate ‘our’ land.  We have done everything except to allow them to act naturally.  This is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

With a possible major sea level rise, the oceans, poisoned and stripped of most life, will take over land that the human race has claimed as its own.  This also is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

All life has its own form of intelligence which allows it to survive by fitting in to the whole ecological system.  The natural environment should be a thing of beauty, full of busy life, something that both inspires and calms.  It has become a bleak and empty place, where you return from a walk over the hills with a mental list of the things you haven’t seen – because our collective ego has killed them.

For far too long, humanity has regarded itself as ‘outside’ Nature.  We think we are exceptional.  Our ‘intelligence’ rarely produces long-lasting benefits to anything but ourselves.  God forbid that we should be just one form of life among many, with no more ability to survive than the rest of life.  How could we, being who we have become, face that loss of importance?  There is only one thing that makes humanity truly exceptional; our desire to own and control everything, partnered by our horrible ability to destroy what we try to control.

Can we learn from Chaco Canyon and the Pueblo people?  Is it too late to ditch our rigid world view, our superiority, our belief in our ‘right’ to own and control our world?  Can we, before our much-vaunted ‘civilisation’ crashes and we die, learn instead to live kindly with this earth?

From Glyphosate to Front Groups: Fraud, Deception and Toxic Tactics

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written to the Editor-in-Chief of the British Medical Journal and the British Medical Association Council Chairman, Chaand Nagpaul.

Her purpose is to not only draw attention to the impact of biocides, not least that of glyphosate, on health and the environment but also to bring attention to the corruption that allows this to continue.

Along with her letter, she enclosed a 13-page document. Readers can access the fully referenced document here: European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage. It is worth reading in full to appreciate the conflicts of interest and the corruption that has led to the rise in certain illnesses and the destruction of the natural environment.

By way of a brief summary, the key points raised by Dr Mason and her claims include the following.

  • The European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage. There has been a massive increase in the use of glyphosate in recent years. An increase in cataracts has been verified by epidemiological studies in England and by a 2016 WHO report.
  • There are shockingly high levels of weed killer in UK breakfast cereals. After testing these cereals at the Health Research Institute in Iowa, Dr Fagan, director of the centre, said: “These results are consistently concerning. The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).”
  • The amount of glyphosate in tap water in South Wales has increased tenfold in a very short period.
  • Glyphosate is largely responsible for the destruction of biodiversity and an increase in the prevalence of many serious health conditions.
  • There are massive conflicts of interest throughout various agencies in the EU that ensure harmful agrochemicals like glyphosate come to market and remain there.
  • In fact, a global industry has emerged to give ‘advice’ on biocides regulation. This results in regulatory bodies effectively working to further the commercial interests of the pesticide industry.
  • The European Food Safety Authority sanctioned increased maximum pesticide residue levels (MRL) at the request of industry (Monsanto in this case, to 100 times the previously authorised MRL).
  • The Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is used by corporate backers to counter public health policies. Its members have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels. It is, however, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity. The ILSI describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”. But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence peddling.
  • ILSI Vice-President, Prof Alan Boobis, is currently the Chairman of the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (CoT) (2015-2021). He was directly responsible for authorising chemicals such as glyphosate, chlorothalonil, clothianidin and chlorpyrifos that are destroying human health and creating a crisis in biodiversity. His group and others have authorised glyphosate repeatedly. He and David Coggon, the previous Chairman of CoT (2008-2015), were appointed as experts on Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA), a group allied with the agrochemical industry and is fighting for higher pesticide exposure.
  • Jean-Claude Juncker the President of the European Commission who, against a petition from more than 1.5 million European citizens, re-authorised glyphosate in December 2017 for a further five years. He set up the Science Advisory Mechanism, aiming to put industry-friendly personnel on various committees.

There are many more claims presented by Rosemary Mason in her report. But the take-home point is that the reality of the agrochemical industry is masked by well-funded public relations machinery (which includes bodies like the UK’s Science Media Centre). The industry also subverts official agencies and regulatory bodies and supports prolific lobby organisations and (‘public scientists’) which masquerade as objective institutions.

When such organisations or figures are exposed, they frequently cry foul and attempt to portray any exposure of their lack of integrity as constituting an attack on science itself; no doubt many readers will be familiar with the ‘anti-science’ epithet.

The industry resorts to such measures as it knows its products are harmful and cannot stand up to proper public scrutiny. And under a system of sustainable agroecology that can produce plentiful, nutritious food, it also knows its markets would disappear.

Motivated by fraud and fear of the truth emerging, it therefore tries to persuade politicians and the public that the world would starve without it and its products. It co-opts agencies and officials by various means and embeds itself within the policy agenda, both nationally and internationally.

And now, with increasingly saturated markets in the West, from Africa to India the industry seeks to colonise new regions and countries where it attempts to roll out its business model. Whether, say, through trade agreements, the WTO or strings-attached loans, this again involves capturing the policy ground and then trapping farmers on a financially lucrative chemical (-GMO)-treadmill, regardless of the consequences for farmers’ livelihoods, food, public health and the environment.

Resurrecting the PLO is Palestine’s Best Response to the “Deal of the Century”

Palestinian groups, Fatah, Hamas and others should not confine themselves to simply rejecting the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. Instead, they should use their resistance to the new American-Israeli plot as an opportunity to unify their ranks.

Leaked details of the ‘Deal of the Century’ confirm Palestinians’ worst fears: the ‘Deal’ is but a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for over a decade.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, a demilitarized state, ‘New Palestine’ will be established on territorial fragments of the West Bank, as all illegal Jewish settlements would permanently become part of Israel. If Palestinians refuse to accept Washington’s diktats, according to the report, they will be punished through financial and political isolation.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, but an egregious act of bullying. However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of ‘peace-making,’ where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Israel to account. Washington has never refrained from supporting Israeli wars against Palestinians or even conditioned its ever-generous aid packages on the dismantling of the illegal Jewish settlements.

The only difference between the US ‘peace process’ of the past and today’s ‘Deal of the Century’ is in the style and tactics as opposed to the substance and details.

Undoubtedly, the ‘Deal’, championed by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, will fail. Not only will it not deliver peace – this is not the intention – but it is most likely to be rejected by Israel. The formation of Israel’s new government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership is centered round far-right and religious parties. It is no longer politically correct in the new Israeli lexicon to even discuss the possibility of a Palestinian state, let alone agree to one.

Netanyahu, however, is likely to wait for Palestinians to reject the deal, as they certainly should. Then, with the help of pro-Israel mainstream western media, a new discourse will evolve, blaming Palestinians for missing yet another opportunity for peace, while absolving Israel from any wrongdoing. This pattern is familiar, highlighted most starkly in Bill Clinton’s Camp David II in 2000 and George W. Bush’s Road Map for Peace in 2003.

In 2000, the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, rejected then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak’s ‘generous offer’, an entirely manufactured political hoax that, to this day, defines official and academic understanding of what had transpired in the secret talks then.

All Palestinians must reject the ‘Deal of the Century’, or any deal that is born out of a political discourse which is not centered on Palestinian rights as enshrined in international law, a political frame of reference that is agreed upon by every country in the world, save the US and Israel. Decades of fraudulent American ‘peace making’ prove that Washington will never fulfil its self-designated title as an ‘honest peacemaker.’

However, rejection per se, while going back to business as usual, is inadequate. While the Palestinian people are united behind the need to resist the Israeli Occupation, challenge Israeli apartheid and employ international pressure until Israel finally relents, Palestinian factions are driven by other selfish priorities. Each faction seems to rotate within the political sphere of foreign influence, whether Arab or international.

For example, Fatah, which is credited for ‘igniting the spark of the Palestinian revolution’ in 1965, has been largely consumed with the trappings of false power while dominating the Palestinian Authority, which itself operates within the space allocated to it by the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

Hamas, which began as an organic movement in Palestine, is forced to play regional politics in its desperation for any political validation in order to escape the suffocating siege of Gaza.

Whenever both parties verge on forming a united leadership in the hope of resurrecting the largely defunct Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), their benefactors manipulate the money and politics, thus resuming disunity and discord.

The ‘Deal of the Century’, however, offers both groups an opportunity, as they are united in rejecting the deal and equally perceive any Palestinian engagement with it as an act of treason.

More importantly, the steps taken by Washington to isolate the PA through denying Palestinians urgently needed funds, revoking the PLO’s diplomatic status in Washington and shunning the PA as a political ally  provide the opportunity to open the necessary political dialogue that could finally accomplish a serious Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.

Israel, too, by withholding tax money collected on behalf of the PA, has lost its last pressure card against Mahmoud Abbas and his government in Ramallah.

At this point, there is little else that the US and Israel could do to exert more pressure on the Palestinians.

But this political space available for Palestinians to create a new political reality will be brief. The moment the ‘Deal of the Century’ is discarded as another failed American scheme to force a Palestinian surrender, the political cards, regionally and internationally, will be mixed again, beyond the ability of Palestinian factions to control their outcome.

Therefore, it is critical that Palestinian groups at home and in the diaspora push for Palestinian dialogue, not simply for the sake of forming a unity government in Ramallah, but to revitalize the PLO as a truly representative and democratic body that includes all Palestinian political currents and communities.

It is only through the resurrection of the PLO that Palestinians could finally return to their original mission of devising a national liberation strategy that is not manipulated by money and not subjected to regional politicking.

If history is any indication, the ‘Deal of the Century’ is another sinister American attempt to manage the situation in Palestine in order to assert political dominance in the region. This ‘Deal’ is essential for American reputation, especially among its disgruntled regional allies who feel abandoned by the progressive American military and political retreat from the region.

This latest charade does not have to be at the expense of Palestinians, and Palestinian groups should recognize and grasp this unique opportunity. The ‘Deal of the Century’ will fail, but efforts to achieve Palestinian unity could finally succeed.

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

France and the EU: Recognizing Yet Supporting Apartheid Reality in Palestine

A recent statement made by the outgoing French Ambassador to the US regarding the nature of Israeli apartheid accentuates a larger ailment that has afflicted the European Union foreign policy.

The EU is simply gutless when it comes to confronting Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

Ambassador Gerard Araud was, of course, right when he told the US magazine, The Atlantic, that Israel is already an apartheid state.

Noting the “disproportion of power” between Israel and the Palestinians, Araud said, “The strongest (meaning Israel) may conclude that they have no interest to make concessions.”

And since Israel “won’t make (Palestinians) citizens of Israel  … they will have to make it official, which we know the situation, which is apartheid.” Araud added, “There will be officially an apartheid state. They are in fact already.”

The fact that Araud has only divulged such obvious truths at the end of his five-year diplomatic assignment is expressive of the nature of politics, in general, and European politics, in particular.

The unpleasant truth is that the EU has served as an American lackey in the Middle East and has consistently operated within Washington’s acceptable margins. EU diplomacy rarely ventures away from this maxim. The fact that Araud dared to speak out is the exception, not the rule.

But Araud’s revelations are unlikely to translate into anything substantive. Moreover, they will not inspire a serious rethink in the EU’s position regarding the Israeli occupation or the US’ blind support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s militant and racist policies towards the Palestinians.

Some had hoped that the advent of an erratic and abrasive president in the White House could jolt the Europeans into action. They were encouraged by the January 2017 Paris Middle East summit that took place, despite American protests.

More than 70 countries added their voices to that of their French host, declaring their opposition to the illegal Jewish settlements and calling for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as “the only way” to achieving peace.

The summit’s final statement urged Israel and the Palestinians to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution.” Then-French President, François Hollande, explained that his country’s motive was to merely ensure the ‘two-state solution’ is the frame of reference for future negotiations.

But what good did that do? Israel and the US ignored the summit as if it never took place. Tel Aviv continued to pursue its Apartheid policies, crowning these efforts with the Nation-state Law in July, which declared Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.

Trump, too, ignored the French and the EU altogether. On December 15, 2016, he selected an ardent Israeli supporter, David Friedman, to be his Ambassador to Israel. Friedman opposes the two-state solution and still refers to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in some ancient biblical designations, Judea and Samaria.

Nor did Trump consider the French position when he moved his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last May.

How did the EU respond to the concrete, albeit illegal, American actions? With more redundant statements that merely emphasized its political position but lacked any mechanism for serious action.

Last December, eight EU ambassadors, including that of France, issued a statement at the UN that was clearly aimed at the US. “We, the European Union members of the (UN Security) Council, would like to reiterate once more and emphasize the EU’s strong continued commitment to the internationally agreed parameters for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on international law, relevant UN resolutions and previous agreements,” the statement read, in part.

Again, words and no action. The same pattern was repeated after Trump took it upon himself to grant the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights to Israel, defying the UN, the EU and, needless to say, the aspirations of millions of Arabs.

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, countered with another statement, on behalf of 28 EU states that Europe “does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.”

So what? While the US defies international law with concrete steps, the EU settles for mere words, emphasizing a status quo that, even when it was embraced by Washington itself, wrought nothing but misery for Palestinians.

EU ineptness is only matched by its hypocrisy. Israel still enjoys advantageous trade privileges with Europe, and diplomatic ties between Israel and most EU member countries are at an all times high.

The only collective European initiative that seemed to matter at the time was in 2013, when the EU requested that Israeli products made in illegal Jewish settlements be labeled as such. After years of haggling, the EU admitted that monitoring Israeli trade practices as far as labeling is concerned has proven “impossible”.

The French position on trade with the illegal settlements was particularly disgraceful. While the Irish Senate had voted on December 5 to end the import of settlement-produced goods, in October 2018 the French did the exact opposite by suspending the special labeling rules.

In truth, the ineffectiveness of EU policies is nothing new, nor can it be blamed on Trump’s unilateral measures, either.  In fact, the words of French Ambassador Araud are consistent with the frustration felt by other EU diplomats throughout the years.

In February 2013, a report issued by EU diplomats described illegal Jewish settlements as “the biggest single threat to the two-state solution”, calling on Brussels to take decisive measures to stop Israel’s “deliberate and provocative” settlement enterprise.

It has been over six years since the report was issued. The EU did nothing to stop the illegal settlements, which have grown in leaps and bounds since then.

Worse, in the latest elections won by Netanyahu, he promised to annex the illegal Jewish settlements into Israel.

Considering the unconditional American support regarding Israel’s previous illegal annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan, this, too, could be a tangible reality in the near future. After all, the Jewish Nation-state law recognized Jewish settlements as “national value” and the state “will labor to encourage and promote (their) establishment and development.”

In the face of the US backing of Israel, EU foreign policy is inconsistent, weak and, ultimately, a failure. Alas, the idea which gained momentum during the early months of Trump’s presidency that the EU can develop a truly independent foreign policy position on Israel and Palestine has proven wrong.

To change all of that, EU members should heed the words of the French Ambassador, recognize the apartheid reality in Palestine and act against it as forcefully as the world acted against South African apartheid, which led to its final, irreversible collapse in 1994.

As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?

In 1830, British colonial administrator Lord Metcalfe said India’s villages were little republics that had nearly everything they could want for within themselves. India’s ability to endure derived from these communities:

Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.

Metcalfe was acutely aware that to subjugate India, this capacity to ‘endure’ had to be broken. Since gaining independence from the British, India’s rulers have only further served to undermine village India’s vibrancy. But now a potential death knell for rural India and its villages is underway.

There is a plan for the future of India and most of its current farmers don’t have a role in it. Successive administrations have been making farming financially unviable with the aim of moving farmers out of agriculture and into the cities to work in construction, manufacturing or the service sector, despite these sectors not creating anything like the number of jobs required.

The aim is to displace the existing labour-intensive system of food and agriculture with one dominated by a few transnational corporate agribusiness concerns which will then control the sector.  Agriculture is to be wholly commercialised with large-scale, mechanised (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms that help sustain hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods, while feeding the urban masses.

So why would anyone set out to deliberately run down what is effectively a productive system of agriculture that feeds people, sustains livelihoods and produces sufficient buffer stocks?

Part of the answer comes down to India being the largest recipient of World Bank loans in the history of that institution and acting on its ‘advice’. Part of it results from the neoliberal-driven US-Indo Knowledge Agreement on Agriculture. Either way, it means India’s rulers are facilitating the needs of (Western) capitalism and all it entails: a system based on endless profit growth, crises of overproduction and market saturation and a need to constantly seek out and expand into new, untapped (foreign) markets to maintain profitability.

And as a market for proprietary seeds, chemical inputs and agricultural technology and machinery, India is vast. The potential market for herbicide growth alone, for instance, is huge: sales could reach USD 800 million this year with scope for even greater expansion. And with restrictions on GMOs in place in Europe and elsewhere, India is again regarded as a massive potential market.

A few years ago, influential ‘global communications, stakeholder engagement and business strategy’ company APCO Worldwide stated that India’s resilience in weathering the global downturn and financial crisis has made governments, policy-makers, economists, corporate houses and fund managers believe that the country can play a significant role in the recovery of the global economy in the years ahead.

Decoded, this means corporations moving into regions and nations and displacing indigenous systems of production and consumption. And where agriculture is concerned, this predatory capitalism hides behind emotive, seemingly altruistic rhetoric about ‘helping farmers’ and the need to ‘feed a burgeoning population’ (regardless of the fact this is exactly what India’s farmers have been doing).

Prime Minister Modi is certainly on board. He has proudly stated that India is now one of the most ‘business friendly’ countries in the world. What he really means is that India is in compliance with World Bank directives on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’: facilitating environment-destroying policies and forcing working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on ‘free’ market fundamentalism.

None of this is a recipe for national sovereignty, let alone food security. Renowned agronomist MS Swaminathan recently stated:

Independent foreign policy is only possible with food security. Therefore, food has more than just eating implications. It protects national sovereignty, national rights and national prestige.

Despite such warnings, India’s agrarian base is being uprooted. In a recent interview, Director of Food First Eric Holt-Giménez notes that when Cargill, Bayer or Syngenta say they need to expand the use of GMOs or the other latest technologies so they can feed the world, they’re really talking about capturing the market that’s still controlled by peasant agriculture. To get those markets they first must knock out the peasantry.

Looking at the Industrial Revolution in England, historian Michael Perelman has detailed the processes that whipped the English peasantry into a workforce ‘willing’ to accept factory wage labour. Peasants were forced to leave their land and go to work for below-subsistence wages in dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of industrial capitalists. Perelman describes the policies through which peasants were forced out of agriculture, not least by the barring of access to common land. A largely self-reliant population was starved of its productive means.

Today, we hear seemingly benign terms like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’. But behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric lies the hard-nosed approach of modern-day capitalism that is no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was for English peasants.

GDP growth has been fuelled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers: the gap between farmers’ income and the rest of the population has widened enormously. While underperforming corporations receive massive handouts and have loans written off, the lack of a secure income, exposure to international market prices and cheap imports contribute to farmers’ misery.

Farmers must also contend with profiteering seed and chemical companies, corrupt middlemen, high interest loans and debt and the overall impacts of the corporate-inspired US-Indo Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture that flung open the sector to US agribusiness. Up to 400,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and millions more are experiencing economic distress.

As independent cultivators are bankrupted, the aim is that land will eventually be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation. Those who remain in farming will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Even the scaling up of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) across Andhra Pradesh is a cause for concern. For instance, the involvement of BNP Paribas Bank (which has funded numerous questionable projects, including in India), the Gates Foundation (with its staunch commitment to GMOs and gene editing technology and its cosy relationship with global agribusiness) and the potential illegal accessing of agrobiodiversity and traditional knowledge by foreign entities does not bode well.

There are also serious concerns about farmer’ interests being ignored. In effect, ZBNF seems to be focused more on global export chains, the further commodification of agriculture, facilitating consumerism and the involvement of unethical international finance. Even here it seems Western interests are being handed the reins.

If British rule, the impacts of the Green Revolution and neglect and mismanagement of the countryside since independence all served to undermine rural India and its inhabitants, Western agricapital now seems intent on delivering a knock-out blow. The timely reminder as voting in the 2019 Indian General Election gets underway is that certain leading politicians have been all too willing to facilitate the process.

Earth Day, Planetary Boundaries, and the Green New Deal

As we celebrate Earth Day in 2019, we need to recognize that more than climate change threatens our environment and our very existence. We have passed or are approaching several Planetary Boundaries outside of which human society may not survive.

Environmental scientists have developed the concept of Planetary Boundaries to identify Earth system processes that human activity is disrupting. They have tried to identify boundaries beyond which that disruption will trigger radical planetary environmental changes that endanger the survival of human society.

Of the nine planetary boundaries these scientists have identified, they say that we have already passed four of them:

Climate Change: At 412 ppm atmospheric carbon last month, we have already passed the safe zone of below 350 ppm that would keep global temperature rise to under 1ºC and within the range of the current interglacial Holocene climate in which agriculture, the material foundation for human civilization, developed.

Biogeochemical Cycles: Earth’s biogeochemical nitrogen and phosphorus cycles have been disturbed even more than the carbon cycle. Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers pollute waterways and coastal zones overwhelm ecosystems’ capacity to absorb and recycle them, resulting in ecosystem collapse and low-oxygen dead zones.

Biodiversity: The 6th Mass Extinction in Earth’s history is underway and threatening to collapse ecosystems and hence agriculture and food production. For example, scientists recently reported that insects have declined at a 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years, a reduction of 80% of insect biomass. Insects are at the base of every terrestrial ecosystem food web and energy pyramid. Agricultural pesticides, along with climate change and habitat destruction, are killing off the insects.

Land Use: Forests, wetlands, and biomes have been converted to industrialized agriculture and urban sprawl to the degree it is disrupting biogeochemical cycles and reducing biodiversity.

The other five boundaries these scientists identify are:

Ocean Acidification: Oceans are acidifying as atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves into the water as carbonic acid. Acidification is already killing off the corals, threatening the ability of shellfish to form their shells, and thus threatening the stability of ocean ecosystems. The greatest danger is posed by the threat of acidification to phytoplankton. Recent scientific reports warn that by 2100, ocean heating and acidification could so reduce phytoplankton, the source of two-thirds of atmospheric oxygen, that it may result in the suffocation of animal life on Earth. If we have not passed this planetary boundary, we are fast approaching it.

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: We have good news here thanks to the Montreal Protocol adopted in 1987 by the world’s nations to ban the production of the chemicals that depleted stratospheric ozone. This ozone layer that protects life from excessive ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the Sun is recovering. The Montreal Protocol is a model for the kind of binding international agreements we must forge to address climate change and other environmental threats

Freshwater: Intense water use by industrialized agriculture and urban systems is depleting fresh water faster than it is naturally replenished. Pollution, aquifer depletion, and water-conserving habitat destruction are the causes. At present trends, half of the world’s people and agriculture will face water shortages by 2050.

Atmospheric Aerosols: Microscopic particles in the atmosphere affect the climate and living organisms. Some aerosols warm and others cool the planet, with a slight net cooling affect so far, though it is far from overriding the warming effect of greenhouse gases released by human activity. But aerosols have a negative affect on human respiratory organs, resulting in an estimated 4 million premature deaths annually.

Novel Chemicals and Materials: These include chemical pollutants, heavy metals, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics. Barry Commoner, the late environmental scientist and Citizens Party presidential candidate in 1980 (which German Green Petra Kelly called America’s Green Party), warned us in his book Making Peace with the Planet (1990) that these novel entities disrupt the biosphere in which every new chemical created in the course of evolution co-evolved with enzymes to break them down to be recycled in the web of life. Without these enzymes for biodegradability, these novel entities bioaccumulate in the ecosystems and organisms, with potentially dangerous consequences to ecosystems and human health. While it is debatable how close we are to overshooting this planetary boundary, there is no debate that microplastics, for example, are now in our food and our organs.  Of the over 80,000 novel chemicals created for commercial use, only 200 have been tested for safety by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Expanded Green New Deal

What the Planetary Boundaries analysis means is that a Green New Deal must do more than build a clean energy system by 2030. It must be expanded into a full-scale Green Economy Reconstruction Program that not only transforms energy production to renewables, but transforms all our production systems to ecological sustainability. We can’t even get to 100% clean energy without reconstructing all of our production systems, from agriculture to transportation.

Industrial corporate agriculture must be converted to regenerative organic agriculture to eliminate pesticides and draw atmospheric carbon into living soils. Manufacturing must be converted to processes that rely on biodegradable or recyclable chemicals and materials. Transportation must be electrified, powered by clean renewables, with more emphasis on freight rails, high-speed rails, and urban light rails than trucking, personal vehicles, and air travel for intermediate distances. Urban systems must be reconfigured around walkable communities where homes, work, shopping, and mass transit are within a short walk of each other.

The vast majority of the military-industrial complex must be converted to ecological civilian production. The U.S. should be the world’s humanitarian superpower, not its sole military superpower. We should be helping poor countries meet basic needs and jump over the fossil fuel age into the solar age. We should be making friends with a Global Green New Deal instead of enemies with endless wars and a military empire of over 800 military bases placed in other countries to make the world safe for exploitation by global corporations instead of safe for the world’s peoples.

Ecosocialist Green New Deal

Conversion to an ecologically sustainable and just economy cannot happen under the capitalist system. Capitalism’s competitive structure drives blind, relentless growth that is consuming and destroying the biosphere. Its competitive international structure breeds wars for resources, markets, cheap labor, and geopolitical military advantages. With the nuclear weapons of the nuclear powers on hair-trigger alert and a new nuclear arms race now underway, the capitalist system will annihilate us if we don’t replace it with an ecosocialist system first.

We need an ecosocialist Green New Deal in order to coordinate the conversion of all production systems to sustainability. We need social ownership of key industries, like the energy sector. Exxon and the Koch Brothers are not going to reinvest their fossil fuel earnings in renewables. We must nationalize big oil. We need a bottom-up democratic process of economic planning so the public sector—public enterprises, infrastructure, and services—is responsive to the people in their communities.

We need a Just Transition to a green economy so no one is harmed in the process. The Green New Deal must include an Economic Bill of Rights that guarantees to all a living-wage job, an income above poverty, decent housing, comprehensive health care, and a good tuition-free public education from pre-K to college.

We need system change, not business as usual.

Annexation may provide the Key to Unlocking Netanyahu’s Legal Troubles

After winning the Israeli election with a slim majority, in a campaign that grew more sordid and vilifying by the day, Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to begin his fifth term as Israeli prime minister.

The culmination of his dirty tricks campaign was an election-day stunt in which his Likud party broke regulations – and possibly the law – by arming 1,200 activists with hidden cameras, to film polling stations in communities belonging to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

Netanyahu justified the move by saying it would ensure the election was “kosher”. Yet again, Israel’s prime minister made it clear that the country’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens were unwelcome interlopers in what he regards as an exclusively Jewish political process.

The PR firm behind the stunt admitted another motive. The goal was for the cameras to be quickly discovered by police and thereby scare the one in five citizens who are Palestinian into staying home. A low turnout by Palestinian voters in Israel would ensure a stronger parliamentary majority for Netanyahu’s coalition.

In fact, slightly less than half of the minority cast a ballot, although the reason was probably as much down to their exasperation at a series of ever more right-wing Netanyahu governments as it was a fear of surveillance at polling stations.

When coalition negotiations this week are complete, Netanyahu is likely to head the most ultra-nationalist government in Israel’s history – one even more extreme than his last one.

His coalition, comprising settler factions and religious fundamentalists, will even include a party hosting political refugees from the previously outlawed Kach party – anti-Arab racists banned in the US as a terror organisation.

The official opposition will be the Blue and White party led by a group of hawkish former generals – assuming Netanyahu doesn’t try to lure former army chief of staff Benny Gantz into a national unity government of the right.

In Washington, Netanyahu can rely on the full-throated support of Donald Trump’s administration.

In other words, Netanyahu will face no serious domestic or international obstacles as he implements the agenda of the right. He will entrench control over the last fragments of what was once assumed to be an emerging Palestinian state and he will step up attacks on the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, in line with the Nation-State Basic Law he passed last summer.

The biggest trouble facing Netanyahu once he forms a new government will not be political but legal.

During the election campaign, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, announced that Netanyahu would soon be indicted on a series of corruption charges.

The delay is largely a formality, giving the prime minister a final chance to defend himself at a special hearing. In the meantime, Netanyahu hopes he can find a way to ride out the charges.

One option is simply to drag out any trial, insisting it be deferred indefinitely on the grounds that he needs to focus on pressing matters of state. At the same time, he can rile up supporters and intimidate the judiciary by claiming that the courts are trying to overturn the will of the people.

The other option is to arm-twist his coalition partners into agreeing a retroactive immunity law making it impossible for prosecutors to indict the prime minister while in office. Some of his coalition partners are already on board.

How he might achieve this feat is through an “annexation for immunity” deal. In other words, Netanyahu gives the far-right and the settlers what they want – annexation of parts or all of the West Bank – and in return, they back immunity legislation.

That was why Netanyahu made an unexpected statement in favour of annexation shortly before polling.

Asked about the pressure for annexation from his coalition partners, he told the media: “We will move to the next stage. I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”

Netanyahu has previously rejected formally annexing the West Bank, but not on moral or ideological grounds.

He demurred largely because annexation would bring him grief in western capitals and risk provoking a Palestinian civil rights struggle that might attract global sympathy. In any case, he regards such a step as unnecessary, given that Israel has already annexed the West Bank in all but name.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu would prefer to stay out of the dock. And of late, the stars have been aligning in favour of some kind of annexation.

The world is losing interest in the Palestinian cause, given that it has been presented as intractable by western leaders and there are battles closer to home for many of them.

Trump has shown he will sanction just about any Israeli violation of Palestinian rights if it panders to his Christian evangelical base. And the US president has set a useful precedent for Netanayhu in recently recognising Israel’s illegal annexation of the occupied Golan Heights. The principle of victor-takes-all has been established in Washington.

The question, therefore, is increasingly not whether, but what kind of, annexation Netanyahu plans.

It will most likely be done in stages and not referred to as annexation but rather, “extending Israeli sovereignty”. Large settlements close to Jerusalem such as Maale Adumim and the Gush Etzion bloc might be first.

But ultimately, Netanyahu’s political allies want most of Area C, the two-thirds of the West Bank designated in the Oslo accords as under temporary Israeli control.

This is the most prized territory, including water aquifers and agricultural land. And better still for the Israelis, after decades of administrative ethnic cleansing, it has few Palestinians left there.

Trump was shameless in helping Netanyahu during the election campaign and there is no reason to believe he will get tougher now. His so-called peace plan, if it is finally unveiled after the election, as promised, might make annexation of parts of the West Bank its centrepiece, dressed up as a solution to final-status issues.

Was the Golan Heights debacle a warm-up act, laying the groundwork for an even more audacious move from Trump to save Netanyahu’s skin? We may find out soon enough.

• First published in The National

Netanyahu Reigns Supreme, and all Opposition has been Crushed

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged from Tuesday’s Israeli election tied with the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz and other high-powered generals. Although each party has 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament, Netanyahu is now firmly in the driving seat.

The small far-right and religious extremist parties that are needed to make up a parliamentary majority lost no time in declaring their support for Netanyahu. That will allow him to establish his fourth consecutive government.

Netanyahu now enjoys the luxury of choosing between a narrow government of these far-right parties, and a right-wing national unity government embracing Gantz. The latter option would potentially command four-fifths of the seats in the Israeli Knesset.

Whatever his decision, Netanyahu is now set this summer to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, beating the record set by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Demand for “immunity” law

The only obstacle on the horizon – a set of corruption indictments against Netanyahu, announced by the attorney-general during the campaign – is certain to be swept away once Netanyahu has been formally installed as head of the next government by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Netanyahu’s coalition partners are already insisting on the passing of special “immunity” legislation – which would make it impossible to indict a sitting prime minister – as a condition for their support.

Bezalel Smotrich, of the far-right Union of Rightwing Parties, said such a law would “build trust among coalition members that the next government can rule for a full term”.

They understand that Netanyahu, given his track record, is their best meal ticket to a long-term place in government.

And Netanyahu’s own voters have demonstrated that they care not a whit whether he is corrupt, as long as he continues to promote a Jewish supremacist agenda.

Extolling Gaza rampage

Gantz’s success in matching Netanyahu’s tally of seats is impressive, given that he presided over a brand new party whose only policy seemed to be: “It’s time to get rid of Netanyahu.”

That showed there is a significant section of Israeli society fatigued by a decade of Netanyahu rule and the political and personal corruption he embodies.

But it also emphasised the continuing veneration by Israeli Jews of the army and their desire to find exclusively military solutions to political problems – not least, how to reach an accommodation with Palestinians and their claim to statehood.

It certainly does not, as some observers have claimed, signify an appetite among Israeli Jews for left-wing politics. Gantz and his fellow generals are not doves of any kind.

After all, the Blue and White party’s main selling point was Gantz’s pulverisation of Gaza in 2014, when he was army chief of staff overseeing a military operation that killed more than 500 Palestinian children.

Collapse of opposition

Netanyahu’s victory is underscored by the two most dramatic trends of the election. Those relate to the collapse of the opposition to the right – both among the Jewish electorate, and among voters belonging to the Palestinian minority, a fifth of Israel’s population.

In many ways, the most shocking result is the diminishment of the Labor Party, which founded Israel and ruled it for decades, to just six seats. That turns it into a marginal, special-interest party.

Combined with the four seats of the dovish Meretz party, that reduces what is commonly referred to in Israel as the “centre-left” to just 10 seats. According to a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, only about 12 percent of Israeli Jews are still prepared to describe themselves as left-wing.

It is hard to see Labor ever recovering. If the trend continues, Labor and Meretz may need to merge in future elections to ensure they pass the polling threshold.

The ‘leftwing threat’

The mistaken description of Labor as belonging to the left is a legacy of its early connections to European socialist parties and its development of a centrally planned economy in Israel’s first decades.

Labor’s emphasis on ethnic politics and communal segregation – the idea that Jewish and Palestinian citizens should live and learn apart – would have earned it a classification as an ultra-nationalist party anywhere but Israel.

Nonetheless, Labor has in the past signalled that it wants to separate from parts of the occupied Palestinian territories, chiefly as a way to ensure that an expanded Israel – one that includes some of the larger, illegal settlements – remains overwhelmingly Jewish. Its policies have also been constrained, relative to the right, by concerns about Israel’s image abroad.

By shifting the political centre of gravity ever further rightwards, however, Netanyahu has clearly established the idea in most Israeli voters’ minds that Labor is an extremist left-wing party that threatens to bring about the end of a Jewish state.

‘Eliminating the Israeli state’

That was highlighted in the previous election, when Netanyahu not only fearmongered among Jewish voters that Palestinian citizens were coming out to vote “in droves”, but falsely blamed the left for “bussing” them to polling stations.

This process reached new levels of absurdity – and danger – in the current election campaign.

Netanyahu repeatedly warned that Gantz’s party – dominated by generals and extolling its security record in crushing Palestinians – was part of the centre-left.

Netanyahu argued that a vote for Gantz would result in Israeli-Palestinian parties acting as kingmakers in the next government and thereby help to “eliminate” the state of Israel.

Historic low turnout

The four Palestinian parties in the election race, running this time on two slates rather than as a single Joint List, have also struggled. They looked set to scrape through with between six and 10 seats, down from 13 in the last Knesset.

That is because turnout among Israel’s Palestinian citizens hit a historic low in this election, hovering around the  50 percent mark. This was the most lacklustre campaign ever seen in Palestinian communities in Israel.

The polling figures contrast sharply with voting rates among the minority of close to 90 percent back in the 1960s, and of 75 percent just two decades ago, as well as a turnout of 85 percent in local authority elections just a few months back.

The collapse of the vote marks the minority’s near-complete disillusionment with Israeli national politics, and their conclusion that a fundamental and irreversible rift has taken place with the Jewish majority.

Hidden cameras spy on voters

That was made clear last summer, when Israel passed the nation-state law, which made explicit that Israel was a state belonging exclusively to Jews, rather than to all Israeli citizens – thereby cementing the minority’s status as unwelcome spectators in a “Jewish democracy”.

As one Palestinian analyst noted to the daily Haaretz newspaper, Israeli politics is now like a perverse football game, in which there are two Jewish teams and Palestinian citizens serve as the ball. “Everybody’s kicking us and neither team wants us,” he said.

Netanyahu underscored that point on election day itself, when he pulled another of his incitement stunts against the Palestinian minority. He sent more than 1,000 activists armed with hidden video cameras to monitor polling stations in Palestinian communities.

It was a gross violation of Israel’s election laws. But publicity over the cameras’ confiscation by police was another coup for Netanyahu’s fear-based politics. He defended the move as ensuring the election’s conduct was “kosher”, the term used to denote food that accords with strict Jewish dietary laws.

Like his earlier “droves” comment, it sent a clear message that the very presence of Palestinian voters subverts a democratic process intended for Jews only, and that the extreme right he represents is uniquely prepared to take the necessary action to defend a Jewish state.

Palestinian parties ostracised

Netanyahu, however, cannot be solely blamed for this state of affairs. Previously the Labor Party, and now Gantz’s party of generals, actively conspired in Netanyahu’s carefully crafted narrative, presenting Palestinian citizens as a fifth column.

Gantz repeatedly distanced himself from the Palestinian parties in response to Netanyahu’s incitement, vowing to sit only with “Jewish and Zionist” parties.

Effectively, with that promise, he not only shot the Palestinian minority in the head, but himself in the foot. It meant he never stood a hope of having enough seats to provide an alternative government to Netanyahu.

Now, it seems, Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens have fully absorbed the lesson: that all the Jewish parties, bar the four-seat Meretz party, have stripped them of a legitimate claim to political rights inside a Jewish state.

Haggling over annexation

There are a few other significant take-homes from the results.

Religious extremist parties are now the kingmakers on the right. Between them, they won more than a sixth of the parliament. Netanyahu will almost certainly need them in the government, and they will demand socially influential ministries, further accelerating the shift to religious fundamentalism in Israel.

In the run-up to the coalition-building negotiations, one such party representing religious settlers has already demanded that it be given the education and justice ministries.

Netanyahu is also in a weak position to resist – assuming he wished to – the demands of the far-right parties to begin the process of formally annexing significant parts of the West Bank.

Media reports are already suggesting that post-election haggling will focus on demands from these far-right parties for some form of annexation, in return for their agreeing to pass immunity legislation to shield Netanyahu from corruption indictments.

That explains his comments in the last days of the campaign, in which he promised to annex swaths of the West Bank where the settlements are located.

As Netanyahu’s hold on power became clear on Tuesday, he made a speech encapsulating his style of speaking with a forked tongue. He told the crowds: “I intend to be the prime minister of all the citizens of Israel, right and left, Jews and non-Jews.”

To outsiders, it may have sounded conciliatory. To those in Israel who know Netanyahu, it sounded more like a threat from a man who understands that there is no one in Israel – right or left, Jew or non-Jew – in a position to resist his dictates.

• First published in Middle East Eye