Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Carter vs. the Israeli Lobby

Jimmy Carter recently went to Israel/Palestine. On 6 September he wrote a column for the Washington Post about his trip. I disagree with Carter on some points, especially when he speaks with slight disdain about moving towards a one state solution. I believe a one-state solution is the only feasible solution, and it will have to be a secular democratic state with full rights for all citizens. But nonetheless, my critique of Carter's column is not my purpose here. I am thrilled that Carter is visiting Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel and speaking truthfully and honestly about what he sees there.

(Enter neoconservative pundits/Israeli lobby)

Despite Carter's stories about what he saw in Palestine and what he hopes for, he is criticized by Elliot Abrams in his 7 September column in the Post. I will spend the rest of my time unpacking Abrams' column. (Reading both columns - especially Abrams' - will help this blog make more sense)
There are other ways to measure quality of life in the West Bank: The International Monetary Fund recently stated that "macroeconomic conditions in the West Bank have improved" largely because "Israeli restrictions on internal trade and the passage of people have been relaxed significantly."
I am glad the IMF is so generous towards Israel, that they are making life much easier for Palestinians (see The Shock Doctrine for a not so rosy picture of the IMF). But really this is degrees of economic strangulation. Israeli controls everything that comes in and out of the West Bank, and has much more strict regulations on the Gaza Strip. Restrictions on trade have relaxed from allowing nothing in, to allowing some things in. This is not to be applauded, not yet. Carter isn't lying when he says that, "Israel prevents any cement, lumber, seeds, fertilizer and hundreds of other needed materials from entering through Gaza's gates." That's a reality.

Abrams continues:
Carter states that Gaza is a "walled-in ghetto" and that "Israel prevents any cement, lumber, seeds, fertilizer and hundreds of other needed materials from entering through Gaza's gates." But Gaza is not an enclave surrounded by Israel; it has a border with Egypt. Every commodity that Carter says is needed can be supplied by Egypt, a point he overlooks in his efforts to blame Palestinian problems exclusively on the Jewish state.
First, Gaza is a "walled-in ghetto." Abrams is correct that Gaza does share a border with Egypt. But this is a classic pro-Israel strategy, to blame other Arab nations. If only the Arab nations would help Palestine, if only other Arab nations would accept Palestinian refugees there wouldn't be a refugee crisis. But the fact is that Israeli is occupying Palestine, not Egypt. Also, Egypt has a treaty with Israel, so I will go out on a limb and say that if Egypt opened its border completely with Gaza, the treaty would be compromised. In addition, I am guessing Egypt's status as the 2nd biggest benefactor of U.S. aid (behind Israel) would be compromised.
Similarly, he says that "[s]ome additional goods from Egypt reach Gaza through underground tunnels," phrasing that suggests the "additional goods" may help reduce shortages. In fact, they include missiles and rockets, thousands of which have been fired into Israel since its troops left Gaza in 2005. While Carter warns that a Palestinian "civil rights struggle" is in the offing, he says nothing about Palestinian violence in the real world -- in which Palestinian terrorist groups continue to attack Israel and where all of Gaza is, of course, in the hands of one such group, Hamas.
True. Additional goods to reach Gaza via the tunnels from Egypt, and those goods do help shortages. True, rockets and missiles also come through the tunnels. Why have those rockets been fired at Israel? Because Palestinians are born terrorists and are taught to hate in madrassas? No. Rather, because of 61 years of displacement and 42 years of cruel occupation. Also, Carter is the ONLY voice not mentioning Palestinian violence. In Obama's June 4 Cairo address, Obama spoke about Palestinian violence. He failed to speak about Palestinian nonviolence or Israeli violence. Palestinian violence is the largest obstacle to peace from Obama's and Abrams' perspectives. I applaud Carter for speaking about Palestinian nonviolence, because it DOES exist and it is a movement that is quickly growing in Palestinian society. Just scroll down on this blog to see some recent examples of Palestinian nonviolence.
Carter claims that the expansion of Israeli settlements is "rapidly" taking Palestinian land. Yet four years ago Israel gave up the Gaza Strip and all the settlements there (plus four small West Bank settlements); moreover, Carter presents no data suggesting that Israel's West Bank settlements are actually expanding physically.
Israeli already controls more than 50% of the West Bank, it doesn't need to 'rapidly' take Palestinian land for its control of Palestinian land to be appalling. I would like to rephrase Abrams second sentence in this paragraph. "Yet four years ago Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip (yet began a cruel and crushing siege of the territory) and gave up all the settlements (settlements which no country in the world recognized as legitimate, and which violated countless UN resolutions and humanitarian laws of which Israel was a signatory)." I cannot allow Abrams to use his tone to make Israel look so generous in removing settlers from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip and from 'four small West Bank settlements' (out of more than 200). Last point, see Al Jazeera's article from 7 September that suggests that West Bank settlements "are actually expanding." Also, I took pictures and video yesterday of 'actual' settlement expansion from the illegal outpost Havat Ma'on. Two new houses are being built, new caravans, as well as several fences to steal Palestinian privately-owned land.
Most inaccurate of all, and most bizarre, is Carter's claim that "a total freeze of settlement expansion is the key" to a peace agreement. Not a halt to terrorism, not the building of Palestinian institutions, not the rule of law in the West Bank, not the end of Hamas rule in Gaza -- no, the sole "key" is Israeli settlements.
Every world leader that has spoken with Netanyahu in the past months has told him that this is the biggest issue, even Obama said this. Are they are just bullshitting Bibi? No, it's good advice because no Palestinian group will sit down with Israel to negotiate while Israeli continues to build settlements. That is the most disingenuous practice imaginable, to build settlements while discussing the land on which settlements are being built.
The Hamas coup in Gaza
That was a fair democratic election. Hamas ousted Fatah after they won the election, after they were labeled to be a terrorist group by the U.S. and European Union. But don't paint it like it was a coup from the get-go. It was an election. Fatah lost because they were corrupt, and the people knew it.
Indeed the words "Hamas" and "terrorism" do not appear in Carter's column
True, that's not the point of the column. It's the same reason he didn't use the words "Operation Cast Lead," "Israeli state terrorism," or"white phosphorous."
Carter fantasizes about a "nonviolent civil rights struggle" that bears no relationship to the terrorist violence that has plagued Palestinian society, and killed Israelis, for decades.
I am sorry, but that is borderline racist, if not fully racist. Certain Palestinian individuals have resorted to violence because of their utter desperation and because the Israeli occupation has stripped them of any hope of a better future. Palestinian society is NOT defined by terrorist violence. In the Western media, yes it is, but in reality, no. That would be like saying the Israeli society is plagued by a desire to bomb and chemically burn suffering Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. That's racist. You cannot speak about an entire society as terrorists. What about the nonviolent resisters in Bil'in and Ni'ilin and the South Hebron hills, are they plagued by terrorist violence, have they killed Israelis for decades?

And is it really a fantasy, Elliot? Is it a fantasy that nonviolence will prevail, that it will continue to grow in popularity as a morally and strategically superior strategy? I don't believe so.