Friday, October 26, 2007

Work at Palestinian Unity

Images That Shock
In The Guardian (United Kingdom),
Special Report October 25, 2007,,2198515,00.html

Occasionally the mask slips and unpalatable truths emerge. The Guardian has filmed rare scenes inside Hamas-controlled Gaza which the various players in the unfolding tragedy of the Middle East would rather we did not see - Hamas beating up Fatah dissenters, Palestinian doctors forced by their Fatah paymasters to go on strike or forfeit their salaries, the militants who log on to Google Earth to search for Israeli targets for their Qassam rockets. The images, now on the Guardian's website, affront our concept of right and wrong, but they serve our understanding of what is going on.

Gaza is a wound that is being left to fester. Fatah, Israel, the US and the international community have different motives for leaving half of the Palestinian people to rot in this prison, but they are all, for the moment, united in their attempt to isolate Hamas. What these films show is not a Gazan population turning against the gunmen who took the enclave over by force in June, but its opposite - the hatred that the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is incurring among his own people.

The Palestinian schism has been regarded not as an impediment to peace, but an opportunity for it. The brief but brutal civil war between Fatah and Hamas (in which atrocities and human rights abuses were, and still are, being committed by both sides, as a report by Amnesty International on Tuesday showed) provoked a reawakening of interest in Mr Abbas. Funds and prisoners were released, guns and training provided. The theory was that by isolating the one group that refuses to recognise Israel an opportunity was being created to get a deal with the other group that does.

This is not how it is turning out. Expectations for the forthcoming peace conference in Annapolis in Maryland are rapidly being lowered. It is no longer being called a conference, but a meeting and it may now be put back to December. The star guest, Saudi Arabia, looks less, not more likely, to turn up. Mr Abbas wants as much detail as he can extract about the future contours of a Palestinian state. The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert wants as little detail as possible in the final declaration.

What this situation demands is a strong Palestinian leader, rather than a pliant one. Strength comes from authority and Mr Abbas is in danger of losing his among his own people by tightening the screw on Gaza. One of the few levers the Fatah-controlled emergency government in Ramallah has over what happens in Gaza is paying the wages of government workers. And yet when it pulls those levers, the consequences are disastrous.

Attempting to steer funds away from Hamas's hands is one thing, but paying people on the condition they do not turn up for work just looks like an attempt to stop any government working. As it is, Mr Abbas's writ does not even run the length of the West Bank. If his title of president is to mean anything, it is that he represents all the Palestinian people and not just that part which Israel believes it can deal with. At some point, a deal with Hamas has to be struck and a new power-sharing government created. This task may be distasteful for Fatah, but it cannot be put off indefinitely. Otherwise Mr Abbas becomes the hostage of a process that makes him weaker still.

Time is not on anyone's side. The bitter memories of the second intifada which followed the collapse of Camp David seven years ago are still fresh. But the risk of failure at Annapolis is not just one of spurring another round in the conflict.

The longer the two-state solution stays on the drawing board unbuilt, the less Palestinians will believe in the scheme. This is not about tunnels, land swaps, or the status of Jerusalem, but the concept that a Jewish and a Palestinian state can ever coexist in the same space. If that idea withers, not only do the Palestinians not get the state they deserve, but that part of Israel that believed it would ever live in peace with its neighbours dies too.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Strength of Israeli Lobby Affirmed

Follow the Leader
The Open Secret About the Israel Lobby

There is an open secret in Washington. I learned it well during my 22-year tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

All members swear to serve the interests of the United States, but there is an unwritten and overwhelming exception: The interests of one small foreign country almost always trump U.S. interests. That nation, of course, is Israel.

Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue give priority to Israel over America. Those on Capitol Hill are pre-primed to roar approval for Israeli actions whether right or wrong, instead of at least fussing first and then caving. The White House sometimes puts up a modest and ineffective show of resistance before it follows Israel's lead.

In 2002, President Bush publicly ordered Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to end a bloody, destructive rampage through the Palestinian West Bank. He wilted just as publicly when he received curt word from Sharon that Israeli troops would not withdraw and would continue their military operations. A few days later President Bush invited Sharon to the White House where he saluted him as a "man of peace."

I had similar experiences in the House of Representatives. On several occasions, colleagues told me privately that they admired what I was trying to do in Middle East policy reform but could not risk pro-Israel protest back home by supporting my positions.

The pro-Israel lobby is not one organization orchestrating U.S. Middle East policy from a backroom in Washington. Nor is it entirely Jewish. It consists of scores of groups -- large and small -- that work at various levels. The largest, most professional, and most effective is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Many pro-Israel lobby groups belong to the Christian Right.

The recently released book, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," co-authored by distinguished professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, offers hope for constructive change. It details the damage to U.S. national interests caused by the lobby for Israel. These brave professors render a great service to America, but their theme, expressed in a published study paper a year ago, is already under heavy, vitriolic attack.

They are unjustly accused of anti-Semitism, the ultimate instrument of intimidation employed by the lobby. A common problem: Under pressure, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs withdrew an invitation for the authors to speak about their book. Council president Marshall Bouton explained ruefully that the invitation posed "a political problem" and a need "to protect the institution" from those who would be angry if the authors appeared.

I know what it is like to be targeted in this way. In the last years of my long service in Congress, I spoke out, making many of the points now presented in the Mearsheimer-Walt book. In 1980, my opponent charged me with anti-Semitism, and money poured into his campaign fund from every state in the Union. I prevailed that year but two years later lost by a narrow margin. In 1984, Sen. Charles Percy, then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and an occasional critic of Israel, was defeated. Leaders of the Israel lobby claimed credit for defeating both Percy and me, claims that strengthened lobby influence in the years that followed.

The result is that Members of Congress today loudly reward Israel as it violates international law and peace agreements, lures America into costly wars, and subjects millions of Palestinians under its rule to apartheid-like conditions because they are not Jewish.

It is time to call politicians to account for their undying allegiance to a foreign state. Let the Mearsheimer-Walt book be a clarion that bestirs the American people to political action and finally brings fundamental change to both Capitol Hill and the White House.

Citizen participation in public policy development is a hallmark of our proud democracy. But the pro-Israel groups subvert democracy when they engage in smear campaigns that intimidate and silence critics. America badly needs a civilized discussion of the damaging role of Israel in U.S. policy formulation.

Paul Findley represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives for 22 years. He is the author of They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront the Israel Lobby.