Monday, February 21, 2011

Revolution is in the Air

Revolution is in the Air

Nobody would’ve believed just a couple months ago that protests demanding freedom and democracy would erupt across the Middle East, and that two long time dictators would be driven out of power with more to come. As it happens both were aided in their tyranny and kleptocracy by US approval and assistance but it isn’t just America’s long time ‘friends’ and promoters of ‘stability’ who are feeling the heat.

Changes in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired Libya’s people to try to end their 42-year-long nightmare with Gaddafi and Iran’s theocratic rulers are also facing demands for reform, the institution of fundamental human rights we all purport to believe in. The same freedoms America doesn’t mention much when the despised tyrant is our friend and is willing to do our bidding. Now that the people of Bahrain are clamoring for democracy you have the amazing spectacle of uprising in one of the richest countries in the area. So consider Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, in addition to Egypt and Tunisia, the two who are already down, and you have rich and poor, secular and theocratic, Arab and non-Arab, almost the entire Middle East in flux.

Moreover there should be no doubt that the people of Iraq would also be deposing Saddam if Bush and Blair hadn’t jumped the gun. Instead of the few hundred Saddam would’ve killed trying to maintain power, Western action to stop the threat of non-existent WMD’s cost a million Iraqi lives and displaced another four million. To be fair, one should also take into account the number, probably in the thousands, of Iraqis who would’ve suffered in one way or another over the eight years since Saddam was ousted, but still, that doesn’t compare much to the million who died, or maybe even the numbers who are still dying nearly every day from insurgent attacks and suicide bombers.

Just two months ago the conventional wisdom had it that the Arabs weren’t ready for democracy, or interested in electing their leaders; that they were better off with autocratic rulers. Israel could also tout itself as the only democracy in the area, though that’s not really true since Lebanon is governed by elected leaders and the Palestinians held free and fair elections in 2006. The reason why the Palestinians don’t have a legitimate democratic leadership now is that Hamas, the party they chose back in 2006 by a wide margin, didn’t meet with the approval of the US or Israel, thus began the purposeful economic and political squeezing and strangulating of the Palestinian people.

Moreover, the word democracy can only be applied very loosely to what takes place in Israel. In the first place, while Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population they hold only 5% of the seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. That’s not to say democracies have to be perfect, as anomalies are frequent. The US Senate in particular is one of the most glaring examples of inequality since a senator from California represents 70 times more people than one from Wyoming. But at least in the US there are some checks and balances. There are also countries like Malaysia where one group, the indigenous Malays, receive a lot of benefits from the state which the Chinese and Indians, though they they’ve lived in the country for more than a century and make up 40% of the population, don’t receive, but that’s not a true democracy, and neither is Israel’s. True democracy absolutely requires that all citizens have equal citizenship rights. It’s not possible for a democracy to have second class citizens as the Arabs are in Israel.

It is not possible, as far as I’m concerned, for any country based on a single religion or race to be a true democracy. America’s founding fathers understood that more than two centuries ago. They put an impenetrable (at least in theory) wall of separation between church and state and placed an absolute prohibition of a religious test for leadership or citizenship. There can be no exceptions: either all human beings are entitled to the same rights or they are not; there’s no such thing as a part democracy or sort of democracy or a democracy for one group while others are discriminated against or subjugated.

Meanwhile in the midst of clamor throughout the Middle East for freedom and democracy, the US once again comes down on the wrong side of history in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for continued settlement building in the West Bank. The resolution was sponsored by 130 countries; the Council vote was 14-1 against Israel. America’s UN rep said we too condemn settlement construction, we just don’t think this is the place to bring it up. Bullshit. Pure cowardice. Once again a light shining on America’s hypocrisy. We believe in all that human rights and stuff… but only when it suits us politically. As long as we are beholden to and afraid of Jewish donors and the right wing Jewish lobby, then humanity be damned.

What a terrible message to send to all those millions on the streets, all those people putting their lives on the line for freedom to say justice for Palestinians is not important, that protecting Israel from censure for acts that arrogantly flout international law and norms and that are almost universally disdained if not despised around the world is necessary and correct in a craven political calculation even if it’s not politically correct. The US used intense pressure to try to stop the Palestinians from bringing the measure up before the Security Council because Obama didn’t want to be shamed and embarrassed by vetoing it, but at this point the Palestinians have nothing to lose. Every day they see their land being usurped and colonized and their opportunity for a viable state diminished.

It took a long time for Apartheid to be vanquished but it had to end because it was fundamentally unfair, an affront to humanity. Israel is in the process of making a two state solution impossible so its Jews will eventually wind up with a single state they will have to share with the Arabs. It won’t come soon or easy, but there is becoming no other option. Apartheid was brought down by world pressure in the form of sanctions, boycotts and divestment. The same will happen to Israel.

On another topic, I have to bring up the case of Raymond Davis the American ‘diplomat’ who killed two ‘thieves’ in Pakistan and is being held in that country on a murder charge in spite of America insisting he has diplomatic immunity and wide ranging threats if he isn’t released into America’s custody.

In the first place, it is widely known outside America that the two ‘thieves’ were Pakistani intelligence agents who were trailing him. Also, in one account I read he shot them in the back so hardly self-defense. He had lots of spy devices on his person when arrested including a GPS that was used to designate targets for drone attacks. Two days before the incident the US embassy sent Pakistan a list of employees for the record, something they are required to do by law. Davis’ name wasn’t on the list. The day after the incident, the embassy sent Pakistan a revised list with his name on it. So hardly eligible for diplomatic immunity. In fact, he’s a security contractor. Besides, there is no immunity for serious crimes; diplomats don’t get away with murder.

To bring a personal threat from Obama demanding his release into US custody means the US is deathly afraid of what Pakistan will learn from him. So great fun as far as I’m concerned.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Palestine Papers and Arab Revolutions

The latest revelations to come from Wikileaks involve secret negotiations in the Middle East peace process. Two points in particular were revealed.

The first has to do with a breathtaking and unconscionable betrayal of the Palestinian cause by the leaders of the PLO who are in control in the West Bank. They just about gave away the farm in a futile effort to please and placate the Israelis. They offered to give up the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The right of return is enshrined in international law. Refugees must always have the right to return to their former homes.

They agreed to accept nearly all of the illegal Jewish settlements in Jerusalem. All settlements are illegal in international law. It would be very hard to have their capital in East Jerusalem if it was surrounded by Jewish settlements.

They collaborated with the Israeli secret police in the murder of their own citizens who happened to be their political opponents. The idea, I guess, being that if Israel feels more secure it’d be more likely to agree to an independent Palestinian state.

None of those concessions had the slightest impact on Israeli intransigence. Thus the other half of the revelations gave lie to the incessantly repeated Israeli mantra that they have no partner for peace; that they really want peace but the Palestinians are not interested. The Papers show that no matter how far the Palestinians went it wasn’t far enough for Israel. The reason is simple: Israel cannot agree to a viable Palestinian state because they’ve populated the West Bank with hundreds of thousands of fanatic fundamentalist Jews who will fiercely and violently object to being removed. One has only to look back at what happened in Gaza when Sharon removed the settlers from there. Though Gaza has no significance in Jewish history the 8000 Jews living there acted like their hearts were being ripped out and fed to swine. There were 8000 Jews living on 40% of Gaza, 1.5 million Arabs on 60%; for most Israeli Jews it was a perfectly reasonable and fair division of land.

Just in the last 20 years Israel has built homes in occupied Palestine for nearly 400,000 Jews. Forty percent are economic settlers; they are there because Israel subsidizes the cost of settlement housing to encourage Jews to move there. Why would they purposely want to encourage Jews to settle on stolen land? That construction has taken place under so-called left wing governments as well as right wing. They’ve spent billions of dollars colonizing Judea and Sumeria, Israel’s name for the West Bank, how could they walk away now?

This is all happening because 3000 years ago God said it belonged to the Jews. Presumably, He also implied that in securing the land for Jews it didn’t matter how mean, nasty or ruthless they had to be or how many other non-chosen people had die or have their lives ruined or how far they had to veer from basic human standards of justice or fairness. God must also have stated somewhere in the Old Testament, though I’ve never come across the actual passages, that they could set aside any thought of love, compassion or righteousness in the pursuit of their amassing of real estate.

As far as I can tell what they want Palestinians to accept is either to move to Jordan or some other country, maybe someplace in South America as Secretary of State Clinton suggested in the leaked papers, or to allow themselves to be herded into three small Bantustans in the West Bank where they have no international borders and so can ever remain under the thumb of Israel, not to mention provide a cheap labor source for the jobs Jews don’t want to do. They would effectively be third class citizens of Israel. The 1.2 million Arabs who live in Israel proper are, to all intents and purposes, second class citizens. They are not even equivalent to blacks living under segregation in the American south since in segregation there was at least the pretense of ‘separate but equal’ treatment. I’ve already detailed the institutionalized discrimination of Arab citizens of Israel so I won’t bore you with more repetition.

Meanwhile, Israel exonerated itself in the killing of nine Turks, including one who had dual Turkish/American citizenship, of any wrongdoing in the raid on the Gaza aid flotilla last year. Of course it was a totally impartial investigation. No need for an international commission, they would always be hopelessly biased against Israel. The commandos who participated in the raid were not allowed to testify, but that’s not important since we all know they have the utmost respect for the lives of all people, even the non-chosen.

Meanwhile, America’s best friend and bulwark of stability in the Arab world, Mubarak of Egypt, who’s become adept at Bush-type elections over the past 30 years he’s been in power, is having a few problems inspired by the revolution in nearby Tunisia. It seems in spite of his consistently winning elections by wide margins, the people at large actually despise him. But he’s America’s friend, so what’s a few stolen elections between allies?

A week after the start of protests it looks like Mubarak’s end is certain. The Egyptian army has said it won’t fire on protesters, so there’s nothing to stop the anti-government growth. The Tunisians called their uprising the Jasmine Revolution but a more apt term would be Facebook Revolution because it’s the young, secular and world-minded who made it happen. Same in Egypt. While it’s true that Islamicists will gain power in true democracies in those countries, the major Islamic parties have stated clearly that theirs is a moderate way on the order of Turkey, where a religious party rules but the state remains staunchly secular and democratic.

Protests have also spread to Yemen, Sudan, Algeria and Jordan so we may be seeing a 1989 Berlin Wall movement. Amazing, fantastic, heartening; history in the making.

The biggest loser in these changes will be Israel. Netanyahu has already raised the dreaded specter of Islamic terrorists taking over Egypt and that the world therefore should get behind Mubarak. They are already talking about possible war with Egypt, but the reality is far more mundane. The first thing that would happen in a democratic Egypt is that they would no longer collaborate with Israel in the strangulation of Gaza. There probably aren’t a handful of Egyptians outside of Mubarak’s ruling clique who support that policy. Just the opposite, they’d probably open the border wide so Gazans could start to rebuild their shattered infrastructure and live like human beings again. They wouldn’t start a war with Israel but would no longer be the greatest of friends either. One more plank in the international isolation of Israel. In the past few weeks several South American countries have recognized Palestine as an independent state in defiance of Israeli wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Once again the US has been on the wrong side of history, supporting hated dictatorships for simple craven political purposes. The US Coddles friendly dictatorships, castigates enemies for not being democratic. Hypocrisy at its best.

One last thought on the wrong side of history front. It looks like the Haitian government will let Jean-Bertrand Aristede back into the country. He was elected by landslides twice, deposed and exiled by US backed coups twice. His party wasn’t allowed to stand in recent elections but he would have won in a landslide if it had. There may be hope for Haiti after all.