A Response to Steve Weissman’s “Nonviolence 101”

Steve Weissman’s article “Iran: Nonviolence 101” was profoundly inaccurate and misleading, particularly in regard to the role of Peter Ackerman and the organization he co-founded, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), for which I chair the committee of academic advisers.

All of Weissman’s arguments against US government involvement in training and related support for nonviolent resistance movements in Iran, which he put forward in his article, would be quite valid – if they were true.

They are not, however.

First of all, while the US has armed and supported Kurdish and Baluchi guerrillas in Iran and has funneled money to some other rather dubious opposition groups (primarily consisting of exiles with virtually no popular support within the country), I have never seen any evidence whatsoever of any US government involvement in the training of Iranian dissidents in strategic nonviolent action.

Secondly, while ICNC has facilitated some seminars and workshops which provide generic information on the history, theory and dynamics of strategic nonviolent action – including one in Dubai for Iranians four years ago – there was no training in Hushmail or any communications technology, as Weissman alleges, nor was any other specific training or applications part of that or any other workshop.

More significantly, ICNC’s charter prevents it from accepting any government funding. Furthermore, ICNC’s charter specifically forbids providing any guidance, direction, money or material assistance to any individual or group.

Similarly, Dr. Ackerman has never worked for the US government and does not provide that kind of practical support either. All his presentations on the topic – as with all the educational projects of ICNC, like the Dubai workshop – have simply entailed generic information on the history, theory and dynamics of strategic nonviolent action, and have not included any specific advice or any kind of logistical support.

Furthermore, no one associated with ICNC to my knowledge has ever had any conversations about “regime change” in Iran with anybody, certainly not with anyone affiliated with the US government.

Despite Weissman’s claims that Ackerman and ICNC only work with those who oppose governments Washington doesn’t like, ICNC has supported at least as many seminars and workshops for those challenging US-backed governments, including West Papuans, Western Saharans, Guineans, Azerbaijanis, indigenous Guatemalans as well as immigrants rights activists here in the United States, among many others. And, despite Weissman’s insistence to the contrary, ICNC has also worked with those engaged in nonviolent resistance in Egypt, Colombia and the Israeli-occupied territories. Dr. Ackerman himself has been to Cairo and Ramallah to speak to Egyptian and Palestinian activists on nonviolent resistance. By contrast, he has never been to Iran or engaged in workshops with Iranians.

Meanwhile, while the US government has directly and indirectly funded opposition groups in various countries, it has never provided “training for non-violent revolutions.” The US government doesn’t know the first thing about nonviolent revolutions. The US government knows a lot about invasions, coups, and other violent means of intervention, but I’m yet to find any major US official who knows anything about how to foment a successful nonviolent revolution.

Weissman’s depiction of Dr. Ackerman simply as a “Wall Street whiz kid” is rather misleading, given that he is best known for his scholarly work on strategic nonviolent action, the topic of his doctoral dissertation. His books “Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century” and “A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict” are among the best in the field, the latter of which became a three-part PBS special, which is used in peace studies programs across the country. Similarly, while quite wealthy, Ackerman is certainly not a billionaire, as Weissman claims. Personally, I’m glad someone with money has been willing to put part of his wealth into promoting the understanding of strategic nonviolent action as an alternative to both passivity and war.

Weissman quotes from Ackerman’s 2006 op-ed from the International Herald Tribune are so highly selective as to be misleading. He did not provide a link to it in his article, but if you actually read the original op-ed, you’ll find that it actually comes out against “external intervention.” While it calls on governments to try to pressure the Iranian regime to stop oppressing its people, it says that only NGOs should be involved with actively supporting Iranian civil society groups. The op-ed also stresses that these NGOS should only provide support for what the Iranians are already doing, as opposed to providing them direction or strategic advice. This is no different than what women’s groups, environmental groups, human rights organizations, trade unions, and other groups are doing in support for their counterparts in countries all around the world. Yet, Weissman makes it sound like it’s some kind of conspiracy.

In addition, rather than being part of the “hot-bed of neo-con support for American intervention” at Freedom House, Dr. Ackerman actually battled the neocons within that 68-year old organization in what was apparently an unsuccessful effort to separate it from the US government and partisan politics.

It’s also clear from his article that Weissman does not know much about the recent history of pro-democracy uprisings. Despite his claims to the contrary, there has never been an attempted “color revolution” in Venezuela. There was a short-lived military coup in 2002, which soon collapsed due to an outpouring of support for the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez; there was a temporary shut down of the oil industry a couple of years later, which folded for lack of popular support; and, there have been occasional small protests. There has never been anything like the popular nonviolent uprisings, which have resulted in the downfall of autocratic governments in the Philippines, Chile, Serbia, Mali, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Indonesia, Georgia, Nepal, Ukraine, the Maldives, and other countries over the past couple of decades.

In any case, despite Weissman’s insinuations to the contrary, neither Ackerman nor ICNC had any connections whatsoever with Georgians prior to their 2003 uprising against the corrupt and unpopular Shevardnadze regime. ICNC has provided some videos, books and simulation games to some Venezuelans and Ukrainians who requested them, as they have for Palestinians, Egyptians, Western Saharans, West Papuans, Guineans, Burmese, and people from scores of other countries, without asking any questions about their politics. The only time ICNC ever sent someone to Venezuela was when they supported a trip by me and radical pacifist David Hartsough to the World Social Forum in 2006; while there, we met with some Venezuelan government officials about how strategic nonviolent action could be used to resist a possible coup attempt against that country’s democratically-elected government, not foment one.

Not only does Weissman not know his facts, he did not even bother to interview Dr. Ackerman or anyone affiliated with ICNC in putting together his article to see if they were correct. If he had, he would have known the assertions he makes in his article are totally groundless.

Similarly, if he had bothered to do his research, he would have noted that ICNC advisers and consultants consist of such radical scholars and activists as Sonoma State political science Professor and Truthout contributor Cynthia Boaz; the noted anarcho-pacifist Swedish scholar of resistance studies Stellan Vinthagen; the veteran peace activist and sociologist Les Kurtz; Canadian activist Philippe Duhomel, a principal organizer of the anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec City; South African leftist Janet Cherry, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle in both the ANC and UDF; and, the prominent progressive New Zealand peace scholar Kevin Clements. These are hardly the kinds of people who would work with the government to advance US imperialism in Iran or anywhere else.

It is also bizarre to imply that the United States has anything to do at all with the uprising in Iran, given that the opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and the vast majority of his supporters are strongly nationalist, anti-American, anti-imperialist and would neither desire nor accept US support. Indeed, the last thing the United States would want is a popular and legitimate Islamist government in Iran, which is why neoconservatives and other hawks were hoping for an Ahmadinejad victory. It also ignores the longstanding Iranian tradition of such largely nonviolent civil insurrections against imperialist powers and autocratic rulers and that, given this history, no outside power is needed to convince the Iranian people to rebel.

With all the very real manifestations of US imperialism and interventionism out there, it is rather bizarre that Weissman would choose to write about a phony one.

http://www.truthout.org/062909A

60-Second Expert: Democracy in the Middle East

In Cairo last week, President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world, calling for a “new beginning” in the search for peace and prosperity in the Middle East. What he failed to address in this widely anticipated speech, however, were the repressive and corrupt regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. While eloquently promoting democracy, religious freedom, and women’s rights, Obama ignored the human rights abuses that have become routine under the 28-year dictatorship of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Similarly, on his visit to Saudi Arabia, the president refrained from publicly criticizing King Abdullah’s brutal theocracy.

Surely, Obama could have taken a firmer stance against the Saudi and Egyptian governments. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are heavily tied to the United States both militarily and economically, giving Obama the necessary leverage to pressure their leaders into more tolerant, democratic practices. Yet Obama remains reluctant to criticize America’s Middle Eastern allies or label their rulers as “authoritarian.” In this respect, he continues in the footsteps of the Bush administration, which turned a blind eye to human rights in the interest of maintaining geopolitical alliances.

Obama’s silence on this issue may prove to be more harmful than helpful. By alienating and inciting the anger of young, disenfranchised Arabs and Muslims — a group of people most likely to join the ranks of radical Islamists — America’s continued support for the dictatorial regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia places Americans at risk of another anti-American reaction.

Perhaps it is not America’s role to enforce top-down transitions to democracy. But it should not actively hinder the growing grassroots movements towards democracy in the Middle East by propping up tyrannical regimes.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/60-second_expert_democracy_in_the_middle_east

The Iranian Uprising is Home Grown, and Must Stay That Way

The growing nonviolent insurrection in Iran against the efforts by the ruling clerics to return the ultra-conservative and increasingly autocratic incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinjead to power is growing. Whatever the outcome, it represents an exciting and massive outpouring of Iranian civil society for a more open and pluralistic society.

Ironically, defenders of Ahmadinejad’s repression are trying to blame everyone from the U.S. government to nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp to various small NGOs engaged in educational efforts on strategic nonviolent action as somehow being responsible for the popular uprising in Iran. It appears to be based upon the rather bizarre assumption that millions of Iranians would somehow be willing to pour out onto the streets in the face of violent repression by state security forces only because they have been directed to do so by people from an imperialist power which overthrew their last democratic government and subsequently propped up the tyrannical regime they installed in its place for the next quarter century.

Even putting aside the bizarre spectacle of self-proclaimed “leftists” coming to the defense of a right-wing fundamentalist autocratic like Ahmadinejad, this claim ignores several key factors:
1) Neo-conservatives and other American hawks were hoping for a victory by the hard-line incumbent to justify their opposition to President Barack Obama’s tentative steps at rapprochement with the Islamic Republic.

2) Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and the vast majority of his supporters are strongly nationalist, anti-American, anti-imperialist, and would neither desire nor accept U.S. support.

3) There has been a longstanding Iranian tradition of such largely nonviolent civil insurrections against imperialist powers and autocratic rulers and no outside power is needed to convince the Iranian people to rebel.
The Neo-Cons Supported Ahmadinejad

The only people happier than the Iranian elites over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apparently stolen election win Friday, were the neoconservatives and other hawks eager to block any efforts by the Obama administration to moderate U.S. policy toward the Islamic republic.

Since he was elected president in 2005, Ahmadinejad has filled a certain niche in the American psyche formerly filled by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi as the Middle Eastern leader we most love to hate. It gives us a sense of righteous superiority to compare ourselves favorably to these seemingly irrational and fanatical foreign despots.

Better yet, if these despots can be inflated into far greater threats than they actually are, these supposed threats can be used to justify the enormous financial and human costs of maintaining American armed forces in that volatile region to protect ourselves and our allies, and even to make war against far-off nations in “self-defense.”

The neocons have not been subtle about their desire for Ahmadinejad to continue playing this important role. For example, right-wing pundit Daniel Pipes, at a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation just before the election, said that he would vote for Ahmadinejad if he could, because he prefers “an enemy who is forthright, blatant, obvious.”

Last week, just two days before the Iranian election, Congressional Republicans — in an apparent effort to provoke a nationalist reaction which would enhance the chances of Iranian hard liners – tried to push through a floor vote to strengthen U.S. sanctions against Iran.

It is interesting how some of the very foreign policy hawks who just last week were dismissing Mir Hossein Mousavi’s expected victory as irrelevant since, in their view, there was essentially no meaningful difference between him and Ahmadinejad, are now among the most self-righteous in denouncing the apparent fraud and the most outspoken in their pseudo-outrage at the results.

Their worst-case scenario for these American hawks would be a nonviolent insurrection that would topple Ahmadinejad and allied hard-line clerics and the development of a more pluralistic and representative Islamic Republic in Iran. . Neither the neocons nor Iran’s reactionary leadership want to see that oil-rich regional power under a popular and legitimate government. Indeed, the neocons and Iranian hard-liners need each other.

The Nationalist Nature of the Opposition

Mousavi – despite his disagreements with Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the years — has been very much part of the establishment. Indeed, Mousavi would not have even been allowed to run for president otherwise, since the Council of Guardians routinely forbids anyone who is seen to not sufficiently support the country’s theocratic system to participate.

Yet, Mousavi attracted a large and enthusiastic following during the course of the campaign which may have led the ruling clerics to fear that the momentum of his incipient victory could result not just in limited reforms, like those attempted under former president Mohammed Khatami, but revolutionary change. The size and intensity of Mousavi’s final campaign rally, in which he referred to Ahmadinejad as a “dictator” — which, by extension, implied an indictment of the system as a whole — may have tilted the clerics into believing they could not take the risk of allowing the anticipated results to be verified. Despite his candidacy displaying a personality and style closer to Michael Dukakis than Barack Obama, Mousavi came to represent the change so many Iranians, especially young people, desperately desired and appeared determined to make happen.

Even among Iranians dedicated to the principles of the Islamic Republic, many now see their country essentially as a police state, recognizing that Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics are little more than corrupt self-interested politicians who have manipulated their people’s religious faith for the sake of their own power.

However strong their opposition to the current regime, the democratic and reformist opposition simply does not trust the United States, which overthrew Iran’s last democratic government in 1953, armed and trained the Shah’s brutal security apparatus, backed Saddam Hussein in his bloody war against their country, imposed strict economic sanctions on their country, and has hypocritically obsessed about their civilian nuclear program while supporting such neighboring states as Israel, Pakistan and India despite their developing nuclear arsenals.

While Congress in recent years has approved millions of dollars in funding to support various Iranian opposition groups to promote “regime change,” most of these groups are led by exiles who have virtually no following within Iran or any experience with the kinds of grassroots mobilization necessary to build a popular movement that could threaten the regime’s survival. By contrast, most of the credible opposition within Iran has renounced this U.S. initiative and has asserted that it has simply made it easier for the regime to claim that all pro-democracy groups and activists are paid agents of the United States.

Feeling pressure from Iranian democrats and major Iranian-American groups regarding such counter-productive efforts, Obama and the Democrats have since ended this controversial program. Ironically, Republicans are now attacking the administration for having somehow abandoned Iran’s pro-democracy struggle while Ahmadinejad and his supporters are citing the now-discarded effort as proof of U.S. complicity in the current uprising.

Generations of Struggle

Most Iranians – who have traditionally been very proud of their political, social and cultural history – would find it rather bizarre to learn that some Western bloggers, ignorant of that very history, are insisting that the recent protests are a result not of their own anger at an apparent stolen election and continued autocratic rule, but simply because some Americans have told them to.

In reality, uprisings like the one witnessed in recent days have occurred with some regularity in Iran since the late 1800s. Indeed, the idea of Americans having to teach Iranians about massive nonviolent resistance is like Americans teaching Iranians to cook fesenjan.

In 1890, unpopular concessions on tobacco and other products to the British led leading Shia clerics to call for nationalist protests and a nationwide tobacco strike, which succeeded in forcing the Shah to cancel the concession in early 1892.

In 1905, in opposition to widespread corruption by the Qajar dynasty and allied regional nobles and a series of other concessions to Russian and other foreign interests, an uprising initially led by merchants and clergy ensued which would continue for the next six years. In what became known as the Constitutional Revolution, many thousands of Iranians engaged in peaceful protests, boycotts and mass sit-ins, along with occasional riots and scattered armed engagements. The result was significant political and social reforms, including the establishment of an elected parliament to share power with the Shah and anti-corruption measures.

A CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 ousted the elected nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh and his nationalist supporters and returned the exiled Shah to power as an absolute monarch. Through mass arms transfers from the United States, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi built one of the most powerful armed forces ever seen in the Middle East. His American-trained secret police, the SAVAK, had been thought to have successfully terrorized the population into submission during the next two decades through widespread killings, torture and mass detentions. By the mid-1970s, most of the leftist, liberal, nationalist, and other secular opposition leadership had been successfully repressed through murder, imprisonment or exile, and most of their organizations banned. It was impossible to suppress the Islamist opposition as thoroughly, however, so it was out of mosques and among the mullahs that much of the organized leadership of the movement against the Shah’s dictatorship emerged.

Open resistance began in 1977, when exiled opposition leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for strikes, boycotts, tax refusal and other forms of noncooperation with the Shahs regime. Such activism was met with brutal repression by the government. The pace of the resistance accelerated as massacres of civilians were answered by larger demonstrations following the Islamic 40-day mourning period. In the months that followed, Iranians employed many of the methods that would be used in the unarmed insurrections that toppled dictatorships in the Philippines, Latin America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere in subsequent years: mass demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, contestation of public space, and the establishment of parallel institutions.

Despite the bloody image of the revolution and the authoritarianism and militarism of the Islamic Republic that followed, there was a clear commitment to keeping the actual insurrection largely nonviolent. Protestors were told by the leadership of the resistance to try to win over the troops rather than attack them; indeed, thousands of troops deserted, some in the middle of confrontations with crowds. Clandestinely smuggled audio cassette tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini speaking about the revolution played a key role in the movement’s mass mobilization, and led Abolhassan Sadegh, an official with the Ministry of National Guidance, to note that “tape cassettes are stronger than fighter planes.” Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches, circulated through such covert methods, emphasized the power of unarmed resistance and noncooperation. In one speech, he said, “The clenched fists of freedom fighters can crush the tanks and guns of the oppressors.” There were few of the violent activities normally associated with armed revolutions such as shooting soldiers, setting fires to government buildings or looting. Such incidents that did occur were unorganized and spontaneous and did not appear to have the support of the leadership of the movement.

In October and November of 1978, a series of strikes by civil servants and workers in government industries crippled the country. The crisis deepened when oil workers struck at the end of October and demanded the release of political prisoners, costing the government $60 million a day. An ensuing general strike on November 6 paralyzed the country. Even as some workers returned to their jobs, disruption of fuel oil supplies and freight transit, combined with shortages of raw materials resulting from a customs strike, largely kept economic life in the country at a standstill.

Despite providing rhetorical support for an improvement in the human rights situation in Iran, the Carter administration continued military and economic support for the Shah’s increasingly repressive regime, even providing fuel for the armed forces and other security services facing shortages due to the strikes.

Under enormous pressure, the oil workers returned to work but continued to stage slowdowns. Later in November, the Shah’s nightly speeches were interrupted when workers cut off the electricity at precisely the time of his scheduled addresses. Massive protests filled the streets in major cities in December as oil workers walked out again and an ongoing general strike closed the refineries and the central bank. Despite thousands of unarmed protesters being killed by the Shah’s forces, the protesters’ numbers increased, with as many as nine million Iranians taking to the streets in of cities across the country in largely nonviolent protests. The Shah fled on January 16, 1979, and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile two weeks later. He appointed Mehdi Bazargan prime minister, thus establishing a parallel government to challenge the Shah’s appointed prime minister Shapur Bahktiar. With the loyalty of the vast majority clearly with the new Islamic government, Bahktiar resigned February 11.

One element that contributed to people’s willingness to mobilize under harsh repression was the value of martyrdom in Shia Islam. The movement’s emphasis was to “save Islam by our blood.” Indeed, there are interesting parallels between the legacy of martyrdom inspired by early Shia leader Imam Hossein with the Gandhian tradition of self-sacrifice. As demonstrated by their subsequent rule, the Iranian revolution’s leadership – unlike Mohandas Gandhi – clearly did not support nonviolence as a principle, but recognized its utilitarian advantages against the well-armed security apparatus of the Shah’s regime.

While the revolution had the support of a broad cross-section of society (including Islamists, secularists, nationalists, laborers, and ethnic minorities), Khomeini and other leading Shia clerics strengthened by a pre-existing network of social service and other parallel institutions consolidated their hold and established an Islamic theocracy. The regime shifted far to the right by the spring of 1981, purging moderate Islamists including the elected president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and imposing a totalitarian system.

A New Revolution?

Now, a new generation of Iranians is rising up in the tradition of previous generations using largely nonviolent tactics to challenge their oppression. Those out on the streets in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, and other cities are not just middle class intellectuals but also represent a broad cross-section of the poor and working class and include both the majority Persians as well as other ethnicities.

It is not clear whether the opposition can successfully organize a “people power” revolution of the kind which have succeeded in ousting autocrats who attempted to steal elections in such countries as the Philippines in 1986, Serbia in 2000, or Ukraine in 2005 or whether – as in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Mexico – the regime will remain in power.

In any case, it is clearly a home-grown indigenous struggle. Any effort by the United States (which has allowed one –and possible two–stolen elections to stand in recent years) to intervene will only hurt the pro-democracy movement. Given the history of U.S. interventionism in Iran, Obama’s cautious approach will do more to help those in the current popular struggle than anything more explicit, despite Republican demands to the contrary.

The future of Iran belongs in the hands of the Iranians and the best thing the United States can do to support a more open and pluralistic society in that country is to stay the hell out of the way.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/06/19

Serbia: 10 Years Later

Since the end of the U.S.-led war against Serbia, the country is slowly emerging from the wars of the 1990s. Despite lingering problems, Serbs appear to be more optimistic about their country’s future than they have for decades. The United States deserves little credit for the positive developments, however, and a fair amount of blame for the country’s remaining problems.

There have been elements of both the left and the right who have perpetuated a myth of American omnipotence, that the United States is somehow responsible for virtually all the good or evil in the world and that the millions of people who engage in political struggle, legitimate or otherwise, are simply pawns of great powers who have no role in their own destiny. Such myths in relation to what was Yugoslavia are still heard today. In reality, the U.S. role in the recent political history of Serbia, like the recent political history of the Balkans overall, is more complicated than it first appears.

While Serbian war-crimes against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo in the late 1990s were all too real, the 11-week NATO bombing campaign was immoral, illegal, and unnecessary. The most serious atrocities, such as the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians, took place only after the bombing began. The United States and other Western powers could have pursued diplomatic options that likely would have ended the repression without resorting to war.

Among the many misleading statements of the Clinton administration and its supporters before, during, and after the war, the most absurd was that the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign made possible Serbia’s nonviolent democratic revolution a year-and-a-half later. In fact, a large and active nonviolent movement challenged Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and his alliance with right-wing ultra-nationalists on several occasions during the 1990s. This movement, led by young people whose lives were shattered by the Serbian regime’s endless wars, supported a more pluralistic and democratic Yugoslavia, and an end to human rights abuses against both Serbs and non-Serbs. In the winter of 1996-97, for example, a mass nonviolent movement almost succeeded in overthrowing Milosevic, but it got no help or encouragement from Western government. Indeed, Richard Holbrooke, the Clinton administration’s point man for the Balkans and architect for the Dayton Accords, was among those who pressured Clinton to back Milosevic as a stabilizing influence in the region. The Serbian government crushed the pro-democracy movement (ironically, Holbrooke, who is now Obama’s special emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan, later became one of the most virulent supporters of the war two years later).

In 1999, a re-energized student-led pro-democracy movement, coalescing around a group called Otpor (“Resistance”), had emerged. Despite efforts by Milosevic to depict the opposition as Western agents, the vast majority of students involved were actually left-of-center nationalists, motivated by opposition to their government’s increasing corruption and authoritarianism. Once the United States launched airstrikes against their country, however, they suspended their anti-government activities and joined their compatriots in opposing the NATO bombing.

The U.S.-led war gave the Milosevic regime an excuse to jail, drive underground, or force into exile many leading pro-democracy activists, shutting down their independent media and seriously curtailing their public activities. Journalists were not exempt: Milosevic’s secret police murdered Slavko Curuvija, publisher of the independent Dnevni Telegraf, soon after the bombing campaign began. Most of the population, meanwhile, rallied around the flag.

Ironically, NATO bombs targeted urban areas that were mostly anti-Milosevic. Air raids struck parts of northern Serbia in the autonomous region of Vojvodina, including areas where ethnic Serbs were a minority. NATO planes also struck the Republic of Montenegro, the junior partner in the Yugoslavia federation, setting back its efforts at becoming closer to the West and more independent from Serbia. Though U.S. officials claimed that the bombing would encourage defections in the military and possibly help bring down the regime, NATO members refused to grant even temporary asylum to Serbian draft resisters and deserters.

Fortunately, a year and half later, pro-democracy forces led by Otpor was able to regroup and — when Milosovic tried to steal the election in October 2000 — a massive wave of nonviolent action succeeded in driving him from power. The people of Serbia were able to do nonviolently what 11 weeks of NATO bombs could not. As with the democratic revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989, it wasn’t the military prowess of the western alliance bringing freedom to an Eastern European country, but the power of nonviolent action by the subjugated peoples themselves.

Unfortunately, through both appeasement and war, the United States allowed Milosevic to remain in power far longer than he would have otherwise. As Milosevic’s nationalist successor Vojislav Kostunica put it, “The Americans assisted Milosevic not only when they supported him, but also when they attacked him. In a way, Milosevic is an American creation.”

U.S. Role in Serbia’s Political Transition

The Serbian opposition, on the other hand, was not an American creation. Rather than being American puppets, the Otpor leadership, as well as the political parties that have dominated Serbia subsequently, protested against the 1999 bombing of their country. They have stridently opposed Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and carry enormous resentment over U.S. policy in the region over the past couple of decades.

A number of Western NGOs, some of which received some funding from the U.S. State Department and Western European governments, provided a limited amount of financial support for Otpor and other opposition groups. These funds helped them purchase computers, fax machines, and other equipment, and covered costs for printing and other necessities. The limited contact Otpor leaders had with U.S. officials both before and after the overthrow of Milosevic, however, revealed to them an incredible lack of understanding of the dynamics of nonviolent action and the nature of their particular struggle. While they were willing to accept some Western funds during that period, they doggedly kept to their own agenda and priorities, rejecting offers of advice or more direct assistance.

Western governments also helped fund poll-watchers to observe the presidential elections. When official counts of these elections proved fraudulent, an unarmed revolt erupted that forced Milosevic out of power within days.

While such Western aid was certainly useful in Otpor’s growth and development and in helping to expose the election fraud, it wasn’t critical to the movement’s success. Rather, it was Otpor’s message — developed by the young student leaders at its helm — that captured the imagination of a Serbian population angered by years of war, corruption, oppression, and international isolation. And there was no outside support or facilitation for the October uprising itself, which actually took Western leaders by surprise.

Indeed, Otpor’s leaders tended to be decidedly left-of-center Serbian nationalists who opposed the policies not only of the Milosevic regime and the U.S. government but of the traditional opposition parties as well. The success of the populist groundswell they generated forced the once-feuding opposition groups to unite behind a single opposition candidate, a move that made Milosevic’s defeat in the election possible. When the incumbent tried to steal the election, they were able to organize the successful uprising that forced the election results to be honored. As the Times of Great Britain describes it, rather than being part of some kind of Western plot, Otpor was inspired by the “situationists of 1968 Paris, Martin Luther King, the writings of the nonviolent resistance guru Gene Sharp and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Echoing those who insisted that Ronald Reagan was somehow responsible for the democratic revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989, some supporters of the 1999 war on Yugoslavia have tried to claim that Bill Clinton deserves credit for Milosevic’s ouster 18 months later. Neither the U.S. president’s leadership nor NATO’s vast arsenal was responsible for Serbia’s dramatic transition. Credit belongs solely to the people who faced down the tanks with the bare hands — in Serbia as well as elsewhere in the region.

Strongly nationalist parties dominated the Serbian government in the years immediately after the ouster of Milosevic and immediately clashed with Washington over extradition requests, economic issues and the status of Kosovo. Despite the recent election of a government dominated by more liberal parties, relations between Serbia and the United States remain tense, particularly over the U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence last year. The Socialist Party — descendents of Marshall Tito’s partisans who established communist rule in Yugoslavia 65 years ago — has kicked out the remaining Milosevic supporters from its leadership, split with the right-wing ultra-nationalists with whom Milosevic had allied, and is now part of the current coalition government.

With the success of the democratic revolution, Otpor was unable to sustain itself as an independent movement and eventually dissolved. In 2002, some of Otpor’s former leaders founded the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). This independent NGO disseminated the lessons learned from their successful nonviolent struggle through scores of trainings and workshops for pro-democracy activists and others around the world, including Egypt, Palestine, Western Sahara, West Papua, Eritrea, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tonga, Burma and Zimbabwe as well as labor, anti-war, and immigration rights activists in the United States.

CANVAS leaders such as Srdja Popovic and Ivan Marovic have advised pro-democracy activists against taking money from U.S.-funded agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), as they did while in Otpor. Recognizing how autocratic regimes can use such funding to discredit opposition movements, Popovic and Marovic have criticized NED and similar groups as undermining pro-democracy struggles around the world, due to what they see as its political agenda on behalf of the U.S. government. They remain harsh critics of U.S. imperialism, repeatedly denouncing U.S military intervention in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as U.S. support for armed rebel groups around the world. Popovic — whose mother narrowly escaped death when U.S. forces bombed her building in 1999 — was among the CANVAS trainers for the pro-democracy movement in the Maldives prior to their victorious struggle against the autocratic U.S.-backed regime of Mahmoud Gayoom. He recently returned to the archipelago to support an effort to rescind the government’s recognition of Kosovo, during which it was revealed that government’s decision had been influenced by a $2 million bribe.

Ironically, scores of leftist websites have posted articles insisting that Popovic, Marovic, and their comrades in Otpor were simply tools of the CIA, and that their subsequent work with human rights activists through CANVAS was part of a sinister Bush administration effort at “regime change.” Along with the ongoing rationalizations for Serbian repression in Kosovo during the 1990s, such arguments revealed a profound ignorance of the complex realities of Serbian politics.

The U.S. Role in Serbia’s Economic Transition

Though the U.S. role in Serbia’s political transition was quite limited, U.S. pressure on Serbia to complete its economic transition was more direct.

The initial wave of privatization of Yugoslavia’s socialist economy, which commenced in 1990 under the leadership of Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic, largely divided shares among the workers rather than simply selling them off to private capitalists. These efforts ground to a halt within a couple years, as Milosevic and his clique realized they had little to gain. The imposition of Western sanctions in 1992 in reaction to the outbreak of war did little to limit the war-making ability of Serb forces or the material comfort of Milosevic and allied elites. The sanctions did, however, enrich his coterie of wealthy supporters who profited from the resulting black market. During the sanctions period, Milosevic initiated a second wave of privatization that essentially transferred public wealth to a small group of his cronies, allowing management of enterprises still under formal state ownerships to divert much of their capital and assets to parallel private enterprises. Some of the beneficiaries of this massive scam remain among the richest people in Serbia.

During the war 10 years ago, Clinton and other NATO leaders were clear that a major goal in the war was ending what they saw as one of the last holdouts in Europe to the neo-liberal economic order. As a former banker, Milosevic had been backed by the West earlier in his political career as someone who could guide Yugoslavia in that direction, but it was clear by 1999 that he was unwilling to play by the West’s rules. In his book Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo (Praeger 2005), John Norris, who served as communications director for Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott during the war, wrote, “It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform — not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians — that best explains NATO’s war.”

The third wave of privatization took place after the fall of Milosevic in 2000. Serbia’s new democratic government found itself under enormous foreign debt, with much of its industrial infrastructure in ruins. The United States and its allies bombed more than 300 state-owned factories and other publicly controlled industrial facilities, but didn’t target a single privately owned enterprise. Under pressure from the United States and international financial institutions, Serbia sold off most of the damaged factories for far less than their actual worth to local tycoons and foreign corporations.

Resistance to the Western model of globalization in most parts of the world has been led by progressive forces demanding a new more democratic and egalitarian order. In Serbia, however, resistance to the West was led by right-wing nationalists, reactionary clerics, corrupt magnates and bureaucrats unwilling to subject their ill-gotten gains to regulatory oversight. As a result, many Serbs were not prepared to resist this kind of encroachment. Many on the Serbian left welcomed the rise of liberal capitalism as an improvement over the crony capitalism under Milosevic. Similarly, whatever the limits of the Western European model, most Serbs viewed it as far more progressive than the reactionary ultra-nationalism of Milosevic and his allies. Still, the country is plagued by corruption, high unemployment, and growing inequality. Many Serbs on the left see integration into the European Union as perhaps the best they can realistically hope for at this point, and have allied themselves with pro-Europe liberals against the nationalist right.

And while privatization of the public enterprises was not the goal of Otpor and most of the pro-democracy activists, the democratic governments that they helped bring to power were given little choice. Western governments, the World Bank, and other Western-dominated international financial institutions offered desperately needed international aid and trade to revive the war-battered economy but at a price: namely, the country’s financial independence. The people of Serbia had found that the departing dictatorship and the damage from a two-and-a-half-month bombing campaign had left their country in such desperate financial shape that the trade-off of political freedom was economic dependency.

As with many other new democracies that have emerged elsewhere in recent decades, Serbs could now freely elect their own leaders. But these leaders would be subjected to the dictates of Western capital. Still, the Serbs’ history of resistance against both the forces of Western imperialism and reactionary ultra-nationalism leaves hope that a more progressive and democratic Serbia will emerge.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/serbia_10_years_later

Why American Neo-Cons Wanted Ahmadinejad to Win

[Huffington Post, July 18, 2009| Updated May 25, 2011] The only people happier than the Iranian elites over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apparently stolen election win Friday, were the neoconservatives and other hawks eager to block any efforts by the Obama administration to moderate U.S. policy toward the Islamic republic. Since he was elected president in 2005, Ahmadinejad has filled a certain niche in the American psyche formerly filled by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi as the Middle Eastern leader we most love to hate. It gives us a sense of righteous superiority to compare ourselves favorably to these seemingly irrational and fanatical foreign despots. Better yet, if these despots can be inflated into far greater threats than they actually are, these supposed threats can be used to justify the enormous financial and human costs of maintaining American armed forces in that volatile region… [FULL LINK]

Iran’s Stolen Election Has Sparked an Uprising — What Should the U.S. Do?

[Huffington Post, July 16, 2009] As the fraudulent outcomes in the presidential races of 2000 in the United States and 2006 in Mexico demonstrate, elections can be stolen without the public rising up to successfully challenge the results. There have been cases, however, where such attempted thefts have been overturned through massive nonviolent resistance, as in the Philippines in 1985, Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine in 2005. It is unclear as of this writing how the people of Iran will react to what increasingly appears to be the theft of their presidential election. So far, protests have been scattered, lacking in discipline and therefore easily suppressed. A general strike is planned, however, and a more cohesive and strategic resistance movement may emerge. [FULL LINK]

How Clinton and the Democrats Made Possible Israel’s Settlements Expansion

President Barack Obama has inherited a difficult challenge in pushing Israel to end the expansion of its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. With the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu categorically rejecting the idea of a freeze and with Democratic-controlled Congress ruling out using the billions of dollars of U.S. military aid to Israel as leverage, the situation remains deadlocked.

Along with many Israelis and other supporters of Israel, Obama recognizes that these settlements are one of the chief obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Given that Israel cannot be secure unless the Palestinians are also given the right to a state of their own and that a viable Palestinian state cannot be created as long as Israel continues colonizing Palestinian land on the West Bank, Obama sees a settlement freeze as critical.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign policy dilemmas facing the new administration, however, the Democrats cannot blame Obama’s challenges primarily on the legacy of George W. Bush. In the case of the Israeli settlements, much of the blame belongs to former President Bill Clinton and other Democrats who helped facilitate Israel’s dramatic expansion of its West Bank settlements in the 1990s.

The Purpose of the Settlements

Although the 1967 Israeli invasion of the West Bank, then controlled by the Kingdom of Jordan, was initially justified to create a “buffer zone” to protect Israelis, it soon became apparent that the actual goal was to expand Israeli territory.

With enough Israelis living in sizable developments throughout the occupied territory, so went the reasoning, the demographics would be altered so as to make it impossible for a contiguous Palestinian state to emerge. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan acknowledged that although the settlements did not help Israel’s security situation, they were still needed, since “without them the IDF would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population.”

Ariel Sharon, who prior to becoming prime minister served as the housing minister in earlier right-wing governments overseeing settlement expansion, bragged in 1995 that these settlements were “the only factor” that had prevented then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from agreeing to withdraw from the occupied territories entirely as part of the 1993 Oslo Agreement.

Sharon, who has been praised as a peacemaker by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democratic leaders, expressed his pride in the fact that this had “created difficulties” in the negotiations with the Palestinians. Indeed, had Israel’s Labor governments not had to worry about the domestic political consequences from such a withdrawal as a result of these illegal settlements, there would probably have been peace years ago.

Now with right-wing parties dominating Israeli politics and nearly a half-million Israeli settlers on land that was to become a Palestinian state, it will be even more difficult.

The Palestine Authority — including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his Fatah party, and the Palestine Liberation Organization — have already recognized exclusive Israeli control of 78 percent of Palestine, yet the Israelis have insisted on expanding their control over much of the remaining 22 percent through this colonization drive. While the Palestine Authority has administration over the majority of the West Bank’s Palestinian population, Israeli occupation forces still control much of the land in between these towns and cities, with hundreds of checkpoints severely restricting the movement of people and goods within the West Bank, in order to protect these settlements. Clashes between right-wing settler militias, often back by the Israeli army, and local Palestinians are common.

These settlements and the swathes of territories connecting them to each other and to Israel divide the Palestinian-controlled territory into 43 noncontiguous cantons separated by Israeli checkpoints, thereby making the creation of a viable Palestinian state virtually impossible. Indeed, this appears to be the principle reason for Israel’s colonization drive and why so many U.S. officials have supported it.

It is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention for any country to transfer its civilian population onto lands seized by military force. A landmark 2004 ruling by the World Court underscored the obligation of signatories such as the United States to make a good-faith effort to enforce such international legal obligations on countries with which they have influence, but Democratic congressional leaders joined President George W. Bush in denouncing the decision. Furthermore, under U.N. Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465 and 471, Israel is explicitly required to withdraw from these settlements, but successive Democratic and Republican administrations — with support of congressional leaders of both parties — have blocked the United Nations from enforcing these resolutions.

A History of Inaction

As part of an annex in the 1978 Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin promised a five-year settlement freeze. When the Israelis resumed construction after only three months, President Jimmy Carter refused to hold Begin to his promise, even though Carter acknowledged that these settlements were illegal and the United States was given the role of guarantor of the peace treaty. This was not the last time the Israeli government would promise to freeze settlements only to break that promise with the knowledge that the Democratic leadership in Washington would let them get away with it.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush insisted on a settlement freeze as a condition to granting a controversial $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel. In response, leading members of Congress — including the leading candidates for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination — attacked Bush from the right by calling on the president to grant the loan guarantee unconditionally.

These predominantly Democratic critics claimed that the loans were to be used for housing for Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, despite the fact that none of the money in the loan agreement was actually earmarked for such purposes and Israel had thousands of unoccupied housing units then available, even in the city of Beersheva, where most of the recent immigrants were initially being settled.

Indeed, the Israeli government acknowledged that the loans were more of a cushion than anything vital to the economy. Despite this, Democratic leaders like Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, insisted that Bush was “holding Soviet Jews hostage” and challenged the administration’s assessment that expanding Israeli settlements was an obstacle to peace.

Under pressure from the Democrats — who then controlled both houses of Congress — as well as incipient Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, Bush capitulated and approved the loan guarantee with Israel in July 2002, getting the Israelis to only limit new construction to the “natural growth” of existing settlements. By the following year, however, it became apparent that Israel, with the acquiescence of the new Clinton administration, interpreted this restriction so liberally that the number of new Israeli colonists in the occupied territories grew faster than ever.

Indeed, this infusion of billions of dollars worth of U.S.-backed loans were critical in enabling Israel to embark on the dramatic expansion of Israeli settlements in the coming years.
When the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993, the Palestinians pressed to address the settlements issue immediately. The Clinton administration, however, insisted that such discussions be delayed. By putting off such a fundamental issue as the settlements as a “final status issue,” the United States gave the Israelis the ability to continue to create facts on the ground even as the peace process slowly moved forward.

Clinton knew this would make a final peace agreement all the more difficult, yet at no point did the administration insist that Israel stop the expansion of Jewish settlements and confiscation of land that the Palestinians and others had assumed was destined to be part of a Palestinian state.

It is only because of these settlements that the boundaries for a future Palestinian state envisioned by Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the July 2000 summit at Camp David took its unviable geographic dimensions, which forced Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to reject it. Barak, with the support of Clinton, insisted on holding on to 69 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, where 85 percent of the settlers live.

Furthermore, under Barak’s U.S.-backed plan, the West Bank would have been split up by a series of settlement blocs, bypass roads and Israeli roadblocks, in effect dividing the new Palestinian “state” into four noncontiguous cantons, requiring Palestinians and much of the country’s domestic commerce to go through Israeli checkpoints to go from one part of their state to another.

In addition, according to this proposal, Israel would also control Palestinian water resources in order to give priority of that scarce resource to the settlements.

There is little question that the failure of Camp David could have been avoided had Bill Clinton used his considerable leverage to halt the settlement expansion at the start of the peace process. Even top Clinton administration officials like Robert Malley have acknowledged that the United States had not been tough enough on Israel for its settlement drive, and this failure to do so was a major factor in the collapse of the peace process.

Despite this, in October of that year, the U.S. House of Representatives, with only 30 dissenting votes, adopted a Democratic-sponsored resolution that claimed that Israel had “expressed its readiness to take wide-ranging and painful steps in order to bring an end to the conflict, but these proposals were rejected by Chairman Arafat.”

Pelosi to this day insists that Barak had made “a generous and historic proposal,” and Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, claimed during committee hearings that Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s proposal was indicative of the Palestinians’ determination “to destroy Israel.” In the view of congressional Democrats, then, if you refuse to accept the large-scale foreign colonization of your country, you are not interested in peace.

Subsidizing Colonization

Clinton did not just tolerate the expansion of settlements, he actually encouraged it. Under pressure from peace and human rights groups, Bush had attached a provision to the 1992 loan-guarantee agreement requiring the president to deduct the costs of additional settlement activity from the $2 billion annual installment of the loan.

In October 1993, the U.S. officially announced to Israel that there would be a $437 million deduction in the next year’s loan guarantee due to settlement construction during the 1993 fiscal year. However, State Department Middle East peace talks coordinator Dennis Ross (whom Obama has appointed to a key State Department post addressing regional issues) immediately let the Israeli government know that the United States would find a way to restore the full funding. Within a month, Clinton authorized Israel to draw an additional $500 million in U.S. military supplies from NATO warehouses in Europe.

A similar scenario unfolded the following year: After deducting $311.8 million spent on settlements from the 1995 loans, Clinton authorized $95.8 for help in redeploying troops from the Gaza Strip and $240 million to facilitate withdrawal from West Bank cities, based on the rather dubious assertion that it costs more to withdraw troops than to maintain them in hostile urban areas.

Clinton explicitly promised the Israelis that aid would remain constant regardless of Israeli settlement policies. What resulted, then, was that the United States began, in effect, subsidizing the settlements, since the Israelis knew that for every dollar that they contributed to maintaining and expanding their presence in the occupied territories, the United States would convert a loan guarantee into a grant.

Over 100 settlements lie outside what most observers consider could realistically be annexed to Israel under a mutually acceptable peace plan. Between the Oslo II accord in September 1995 and the start of final-status talks in March 2000, successive Israeli governments were envisioning maintaining all but the most isolated of these settlements, which would restrict the territory of a Palestinian state into a series of noncontiguous cantons.

Following Arafat’s rejection of that strategy and the subsequent outbreak of violence in Israel and the occupied territories that fall, Clinton and Barak largely abandoned this strategy by December, belatedly expressing an openness to reducing them to a much smaller number of settlement blocs. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the next few weeks came close to producing a final peace agreement, but with George W. Bush assuming office in the United States and Ariel Sharon become prime minister in Israel, they were suspended. Over the next eight years, the Israelis reverted back to the old strategy with no apparent objections from the Bush administration or congressional Democrats.

Demographics

A particular sore point for Palestinians over the settlements arose from the Oslo Accords, which refer to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a “single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.” This was essentially a prohibition against either side taking steps that could prejudice the permanent-status negotiations. As a result, the Palestinians — when they signed the agreement — assumed that this would prevent the Israelis from building more settlements.

Furthermore, as the principal guarantor of the Oslo agreement, the United States was obliged to force Israel to cease its construction if they tried to do so. However, Israel and the United States have refused to live up to their obligations, and — since the signing of the Oslo Accords — the total number of settlers in the occupied territories has nearly doubled from approximately 250,000 to close to a half-million, moving onto land that the Palestinians assumed would be returned to the three million Palestinians that already live there and the large numbers of refugees who would presumably be resettling to the new Palestinian state.

To the shock of much of the international community, the Clinton administration also insisted that the Fourth Geneva Convention and the four U.N. Security Council resolutions addressing the settlements issue were suddenly no longer relevant. In 1997, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by France, Portugal, Sweden and Great Britain calling on Israel to cease its settlement activities and come into compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Shortly thereafter, the United States vetoed a second resolution calling on Israel to cease construction of an illegal settlement in an environmentally sensitive area near Bethlehem designed to complete the encirclement of Arab East Jerusalem.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright had called on the United Nations to no longer draft resolutions dealing with settlements since “these issues are now under negotiations by the parties themselves.”

In reality, neither the Fourth Geneva Convention nor the U.N. Security Council resolutions can be superseded by a bilateral agreement, particularly when one of the two parties (in this case, the Palestinians) insist they are still relevant. Indeed, none of the other 14 members of the Security Council accepted the Clinton administration radical reinterpretation of international law in their support for Israel’s settlement policies. Furthermore, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — backed by a broad consensus of international legal scholars — repeatedly insisted that these Security Council resolutions were still valid.

Given the gross asymmetry in power between the Palestinians under occupation and the Israeli occupiers — whose primary military, economic and diplomatic supporter was also the chief mediator in the negotiations — it was rather obvious that the U.S.-led peace process would be unable to stop settlement expansion. It appears, then, that the Clinton administration’s insistence on sidelining the United Nations was to enable Israel to do just that.

It was during this period that the Israelis began building a massive highway system of 29 roads totaling nearly 300 miles, designed to perpetuate effective Israeli control of most of the West Bank.

These highways — designed to connect the settlements with each other and with Israel proper — are creating a series of borders and barriers, in effect isolating Palestinian areas into islands. In addition, since Israel has defined these highways as “security roads,” they reach a width of 350 yards (50 yards of road plus 150 yards of “sanitized” margins on each side), the equivalent of 3 1/2 football fields. This has resulted in the destruction of some of the area’s richest farmland, including olive groves and vineyards that have been owned and farmed by Palestinian families for generations.

The impact of such a massive road system in an area the size of Delaware is staggering, and has serious political, economic and environmental implications.

As part of what Clinton referred to as “implementation funding” of the 1998 Wye River Agreement, in which Israel agreed to withdraw from an additional 14 percent of the West Bank, the United States offered $1.2 billion in supplementary foreign aid to the Israeli government. Most of the funding was reserved for armaments, but much of the nonmilitary funding was apparently earmarked to build these “bypass roads” and security enhancements for Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.

Such direct subsidies for Israeli settlements placed the United States in violation of Article 7 of U.N. Security Council Resolution 465, which prohibits member states from assisting Israel in its colonization drive. So, not only has the United States allowed Israel to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions in continuing to maintain and expand its illegal settlements, Clinton placed the United States itself in violation of a U.N. Security Council mandate as well.

Once filled with enormous hope with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinians have since seen more and more of their land confiscated and more and more Jewish-only settlements and highways constructed, all under the cover of a U.S.-sponsored “peace process.”

It was frustration over the failure of the peace process to end Israel’s colonization drive that contributed to large numbers of Palestinians rejecting the diplomatic approach of Fatah and other moderate nationalists and embracing Hamas. Indeed, prior to this dramatic growth in settlements during the 1990s, Palestinian support for Hamas was less than 15 percent. Now it is close to a majority.

Ironically, the Democrats’ criticism during the 2008 election campaign of the Bush administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was that they were not engaged enough, in contrast to the Clinton administration, whose policies were widely praised. It is important, however, to remember that it was the former Democratic administration’s policies on Israeli settlements that have largely contributed to the dangerous impasse we see today.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/how-clinton-and-the-democ_b_212292.html

Biden’s Hawkish Record

When Barack Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate, he drew sharp criticism from his anti-war base because of Biden’s support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, his flagrantly false claims about the alleged Iraqi threat, and the abuse of his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to suppress antiwar testimony before Congress prior to the invasion.

A look at the senator’s 35-year record on Capitol Hill indicates that Iraq was not an isolated case and that Biden has frequently allied with more hawkish Democrats and Republicans. This was considered particularly significant since Obama and other leading Democrats have acknowledged that the choice of Biden was largely because of his foreign policy leadership.

Thus far, however, it appears that Biden has largely played the role of a loyal vice-president, which is actually consistent with his history of not making waves against the prevailing viewpoint.

Though generally seen as being on the hawkish wing of the Democratic party, Biden never consistently allied with neoconservative intellectuals or the unreconstructed militarists who so heavily influenced the foreign policies of the Bush administration. Indeed, Biden often took some rather nuanced positions and, rather than being a right-wing ideologue, was generally recognized by his colleagues as being knowledgeable and thoughtful in addressing complex foreign policy issues, even if often taking more hard-line positions than the increasingly progressive base of his party.

For example, he called for diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government and — unlike Hillary Clinton and some other Democratic senators — voted against the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was widely interpreted as potentially paving the way for war with Iran. Biden challenged the Republicans’ unconstitutional insistence that the executive has the power to wage war without consent of Congress, even going so far as to threaten impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush if he attacked Iran without congressional authorization. He also raised strong objections to some of the Bush administration’s efforts to develop new nuclear weapons systems and abrogate existing arms-control treaties. He helped lead the fight against Bush’s nomination of the far-right John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

During the 1980s, Biden opposed aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and vigorously challenged Reagan administration officials during the Iran-Contra hearings (in contrast to the tepid leadership of the special committee chairman, Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.) He was also a cosponsor of a 1997 resolution that would have effectively banned the U.S. production and deployment of landmines, an initiative taken despite objections from the Clinton administration.

Yet Biden’s progressive foreign policy positions have often been the exception rather than the norm. In fact, his positions have sometimes been so inconsistent as to defy clear explanation. For example, Biden voted against authorizing the 1991 Gulf War — which the UN Security Council legitimized as an act of collective security against the illegal Iraqi conquest of Kuwait — but then voted in favor of authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which the UN Security Council didn’t approve, and was an illegitimate war of aggression.

Center-Right Agenda

On most foreign policy issues, Biden allied with congressional centrists and conservatives. For example, despite all the recent media attention given to Biden’s working-class roots and his support for labor, and despite his more recent opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Biden largely embraced corporate-backed neoliberal globalization, particularly during the 1990s. Biden voted to ratify the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which have both proven so devastating for American workers and have so greatly contributed to increased inequality and environmental damage worldwide.

Despite Biden’s support for the principle of “free trade,” even with some governments that suppress labor rights, Biden supported tough economic sanctions against Cuba. He even opposed Obama’s restrained proposals for loosening restrictions on the right of Americans to travel to that socialist country and the right of Cuban-Americans to provide remittances for family members still living there.

Biden aggressively pushed for NATO expansion eastward. He supported NATO membership for the former Soviet republic of Georgia, despite that government’s attacks on South Ossetia and the risks that such a formal military alliance could drag U.S. forces into a war in the volatile Caucasus region. Biden correctly criticized Russia for its military incursion deep into Georgian territory and its disproportionate use of force. But in rhetoric reminiscent of the darkest days of the Cold War, he incorrectly assigned all the blame for last year’s war on the Russians, failing even to mention the Georgian assault on the South Ossetian capital that provoked it. While condemning Moscow for its efforts “to subvert the territorial integrity” of Georgia, Biden seemed to have forgotten that he was a key cosponsor (along with Senators McCain and Lieberman) of a Senate resolution introduced in 2007 that called for active U.S. support for the independence of the autonomous Serbian region of Kosovo.

Biden was perhaps the Senate’s most outspoken supporter of the 1999 U.S. war on Yugoslavia. He teamed up with McCain as one of the two principal sponsors of the resolution authorizing the 11-week bombing campaign of Serbia and Montenegro, which short-circuited efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and pro-democracy Serbian groups to resolve the crisis nonviolently. Biden’s efforts to use Serbian oppression of Kosovar Albanians as an excuse for advancing post-Cold War U.S. hegemony in Eastern Europe became apparent in his insistence that “if we do not achieve our goals in Kosovo, NATO is finished as an alliance.”

In addition to stacking his Senate committee’s hearings prior to the Iraq war vote with fabricators of WMD claims and supporters of a U.S. invasion, Biden often failed to use his platform to ask tough questions during confirmation hearings for many of the Bush administration’s more controversial nominees. For example, during John Negroponte’s three confirmation hearings Biden avoided any questions regarding the controversial official’s alleged support for right-wing death squads while ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s.

As ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee during the 1990s, Biden teamed up with the right-wing Republican chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) to try to squash efforts by Russell Feingold (D-WI) and other liberals to end U.S. military training of Indonesian counterinsurgency forces repressing occupied East Timor. Biden was among a minority of Democrats to support increasing military aid — in the name of anti-narcotics efforts but in reality for counter-insurgency operations — to Colombia’s repressive government. He even voted against an amendment that would have transferred some of the money to support effective but underfunded drug treatment programs in the United States.

Biden also was among a minority of Senate Democrats to vote against a resolution that would have required the administration to certify, prior to selling or otherwise providing cluster bombs to a foreign government, that they would not be used in civilian areas.

Despite embracing much of the Bush administration’s alarmist rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program, Biden’s actual concerns regarding nonproliferation are rather suspect. For example, he voted against a number of proposed amendments that would have strengthened provisions of the nuclear cooperation agreement with India designed to insure that U.S. assistance would not help India’s nuclear weapons program.

While opposing some Reagan-era weapons programs, such as the Pershing II missile, Biden supported full funding of the Trident D-5 Submarine Missile Program a full decade after the end of the Cold War for which it was designed. He has also voted against a series of amendments that would have redirected wasteful military spending to support domestic education programs and limited war profiteering by military contractors with links to the current administration. Biden has also been a strong advocate of increasing military spending even beyond the Bush administration’s bloated levels.

Far Right Agenda on Israel/Palestine

In addition to Iraq (on which he was among the minority of congressional Democrats who voted to authorize the illegal invasion of that oil-rich country and supported continued unconditional war funding even after most Democrats had switched to an anti-war position), the foreign policy issue with which Biden has most closely aligned himself with right-wing Republicans is Israel. Long opposed to Palestine’s right to exist as an independent country, he came around to supporting the idea of creating some kind of Palestinian state alongside Israel only after the Bush administration and the Israeli government went on record accepting the idea. Similarly, Biden has long insisted that it isn’t the Israeli occupiers, but the Palestinians under occupation, who constitute the “one…side that can impact on ending [the conflict.]”

Biden has defended extra-judicial killings by Israeli forces in the occupied territories, Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s annexation of greater East Jerusalem and other Arab territories seized by military force, and collective punishment against Palestinian civilians in retaliation for crimes committed by the radical Hamas movement.

When Bush goaded Israel into attacking Lebanon during the summer of 2006 — blocking international efforts to impose a cease fire even as civilian casualties mounted into the hundreds — Biden argued that the Bush administration didn’t back Israel quickly or vehemently enough. As the outcry from human rights groups and UN agencies mounted over the widespread devastation inflicted on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, Biden declared “we’re left with no option here, in my view, but to support Israel in what is a totally legitimate self-defense effort.”

Following the war, Biden blocked investigations into Israeli violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act despite a report provided to his Senate committee from the State Department indicating that there was considerable evidence of widespread use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs against civilian targets. His refusal to allow for such congressional oversight does not give much hope that, now that he is in the executive branch himself, he is being much of an advocate for the Obama administration upholding its legal obligations either.

Obama has pledged to make facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement a priority as president, but — as a senator — Biden argued that the United States should not take any role in the peace process that isn’t coordinated with the Israeli government. Indeed, Biden explicitly insists that that there should be “no daylight between us and Israel” and that “the idea of being an ‘honest broker’… like some of my Democratic colleagues call for, is not the answer.”

Unfortunately, there’s little to suggest that any mediating party has ever successfully facilitated a peace settlement between two hostile nations without being an honest broker. Indeed, Biden strongly objected to findings by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and widely supported by the majority of the foreign policy establishment. The Group’s report emphasized the importance of the United States pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement in order to restore its credibility in the greater Middle East.

Democrats Unify Around Biden

Even the party’s left wing largely refused to support proposals challenging the Biden nomination from the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Prominent Democratic antiwar stalwarts such as Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) — in the name of “party unity” — rejected calls by some delegates for a roll-call vote in which Biden would be pitted against an antiwar challenger for the vice-presidential nomination

The residual grumblings from antiwar Democrats, and threats to defect to the campaigns of Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney or independent Ralph Nader in response to the Biden nomination largely evaporated, however, when Republican nominee John McCain announced his choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Despite Biden’s history of notoriously poor judgment on some foreign policy issues, the veteran senator’s knowledge and experience began to look increasingly important compared with his strikingly inexperienced, unknowledgeable, and extremely right-wing Republican counterpart.

For example, in one of the few public statements Palin had made on the Iraq war, she insisted that the invasion was part of “God’s plan” and that prosecuting the war is “a task that is from God.” In contrast, the Roman Catholic church (of which Biden is a member) and virtually every mainline Protestant denomination came out in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Only the right-wing fundamentalist denominations went on record supporting it. While Biden’s support for the 2002 Iraq war resolution did put him on the side of right-wing Christian fundamentalists on the critical question of what constitutes a just war, he has never claimed the invasion of that oil-rich country was part of God’s plan.

Similarly, while Biden’s hard-line views regarding Israel also put him at odds with the moderate positions taken by the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant denominations, Palin goes so far as to embrace the dispensationalist wing of Christian Zionism. As such, she believes that a militarily dominant Israel is a necessary requisite for the second coming of Christ and the Israeli government should therefore not be pressed to withdraw from any occupied Arab lands.

Biden as Vice-President

Biden has demonstrated a greater-than-average willingness to shift to more moderate positions if the prevailing pressure is from the left. His growing skepticism over Bush policy in Iraq, his calls for the withdrawal of most American combat forces, his outspoken opposition to the surge when it was put forward last year, and his tough questioning of General David Petraeus in hearings before his committee has undoubtedly been a reflection of the growing antiwar sentiment within the Democratic Party.

When Biden first ran for the Senate in 1972, he was willing to represent the prevailing mood at the time in strongly denouncing the Vietnam War, calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, and voting against aiding the dictatorial South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Van Thieu. The following decade, his initial support for U.S. backing of the repressive junta in El Salvador was reversed in the face of growing opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America. While not among the first to endorse the proposed freeze on the research, testing, development and deployment of new nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons systems, he did throw his weight behind the initiative as the nuclear freeze campaign grew in popular support.

As a result, continued advocacy by peace and human rights activists for a more enlightened foreign policy can likely minimize the damage that Biden might otherwise have on the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

In addition, Obama may have selected the hawkish Biden as his running mate primarily as a political maneuver to enhance his chances of winning the November election rather than having him play a leading role on his foreign policy team.

Like Dick Cheney, Biden pushed for an invasion of a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to us, misled the public regarding nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction,” and sought to silence critics of the war. However, even assuming the worst regarding Biden’s hawkish worldview, he clearly is not using his office in the same manner. Though he has brought into the Obama administration a certain gravitas on foreign affairs as a result of his knowledge and experience, the fact remains that Biden — unlike his predecessor — is serving a president who is quite intelligent and who is quite capable of making his own decisions on the critical foreign policy issues facing the United States.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/bidens-hawkish-record_b_214873.html

WIll Democrats Finally End their Support for West Bank Settlements? (Part Two)

(This is the second of a two part series: click here for part one)

Recent calls by President Barack Obama for the government of Israel to freeze the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank marks a sharp reversal from Democratic Party policy toward the Israeli colonization of Palestinian land.

Indeed, for the past 20 years, Democrats in Washington have largely supported such Israeli expansionism in which Israeli occupation forces confiscate Palestinian land in territories seized in the June 1967 war to build Jewish-only communities that are increasingly interconnected through special highways from which Palestinians are largely banned.

Whether the Obama administration will choose to use its enormous leverage to actually force the right-wing Israeli government to stop the expansion of such illegal settlements, however, remains to be seen. Much may depend on the reaction of the Democratic-controlled Congress.

As outlined in my recent article, it was the Clinton administration and Democrats in Congress who were largely responsible for blocking efforts to freeze Israeli settlements in the early 1990s, when they were only half as large as they are now, and even subsidizing their expansion, policies that contributed directly to the collapse of the peace process in 2000 and the rise of Hamas.

Similarly, during the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress continued their support for Israeli settlements policy. Obama’s challenge, then, is not only to fight off Republican opposition to his calls for a settlements freeze, which they refer to as “misguided,” but fellow Democrats as well.
Democratic Opposition to Obama

Though there are some indications that some leading Democrats who have supported Israeli settlements policy in the past may be moderating their views, there are others who appear willing to fight any effort by Obama to force Israel to change its expansionist policies.

For example, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., stated, “My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” arguing against pressuring “the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.” She warned Obama, “When Congress gets back into session, the administration is going to hear from many more members than just me.”

Despite the provocative nature of these settlements and the precarious security situation they have created for Israeli forces who have to protect this patchwork of illegal outposts amidst a hostile population, Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., whom the Democrats have chosen to chair the House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, insists, “I don’t think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national-security interests.”

Four U.N. Security Council resolutions and a ruling by the International Court of Justice have formally recognized the illegality of Israel’s West Bank settlements, citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids any country from settling its civilians in territories seized by military force.

Yet Democrats who support Israel’s creeping annexation of the territory are insisting that Obama’s calls for a settlement freeze is interfering in Israel’s internal affairs. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., described Obama’s actions this way: “There’s a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line.”

Labeling the illegal colonization of someone else’s country as “a domestic policy” is nothing short of endorsement of the right of conquest. Virtually the entire international community recognizes the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as being under belligerent occupation and that what constitutes Israel is the 78 percent of historic Palestine controlled by Israel prior to June 1967.

Israel has never defined where its borders are, however, which has given Israeli leaders and their American supporters an enormous amount of leeway as to what they consider to be “Israel.”
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Secretary of State Colin Powell during a visit to Washington to discuss the future of the Palestinians and Israeli settlements policy, “We learn a lot from you Americans. We saw how you moved West using this method.”

Berkley, Ackerman and Weiner are hardly the only Democrats pressuring Obama to back off. Last month, the majority of Democratic senators signed on to a letter co-sponsored Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., supporting the Israeli right’s position that rather than recognize both sides of international legal obligations to bridge the differences, the U.S. should “work in close concert with Israel.”

The letter cites a number of areas where the senators insist the United States should pressure the Palestinians and other Arab parties to live up to their obligations in the peace process while saying nothing about a freeze on settlements or any other Israeli obligations.

Similarly, in what has been widely interpreted as a call for Obama to refrain from any public expression of concern over the settlements, a majority of House Democrats signed a letter co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., circulated last month declaring that any such disagreements between the United States and Israel should be worked out “privately.”

In an apparent effort to pressure the Obama administration to not enforce Israel’s international legal obligations regarding settlements, the letter also insists that such “details” should be negotiated only among the parties themselves, which — given the gross asymmetry in power between the Palestinians under occupation and their Israeli occupiers — appears to be a call for Obama to allow Israel to do what it will.

In addition, House Democrats insist that “the parties themselves must negotiate the details of any agreement” and that the United States must “work closely with our democratic ally, who will be taking the greatest risks in any peace agreement,” which is essentially an insistence not to pressure Israel on the settlements issue.

Signs of a Shift?

However, a number of members of Congress who have defended Israeli policies in that past, including Jewish Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Bob Filner, D-Calif., refused to sign the House letter.

In addition, some Democrats, despite having signed the letter, informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Washington last month that they do not support his position on settlements, including such traditionally anti-Palestinian stalwarts as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and senior Democrats Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

Similarly, when Netanyahu made his rounds on Capitol Hill after meeting with Obama, only House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., openly defended him on the settlements issue.

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who have signed previous letters supporting the Israeli right, refused to sign onto the recent letters supporting the right-wing Netanyahu government’s position in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, a congressional letter sponsored by Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Charles Boustany, R-La., and Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., which declares that the Israeli settlements were among the things that “threaten the window of opportunity for the two-state solution” and that “American leadership is essential to achieving meaningful progress,” has received scores of signatures from their colleagues.
Although a majority of congressional Democrats still apparently support the expansion of Israeli settlements, there have been an unprecedented number of defections from the once-solid support for the Israeli right.

There could be a number of reasons for this apparent shift: One could simply be the desire to support a Democratic president early in his term on a tough foreign policy issue.

Another could be that they could belatedly be recognizing, as does Obama, that anti-American extremism in the greater Middle East will continue to be stoked as long as there is no Israeli-Palestinian peace, that peace will not be possible without a viable Palestinian state and that such a state cannot exist as long as Israel continues to expand its settlements.

A third reason could be that polls now indicate that a solid majority of Americans support the United States “getting tough” with Israel over the settlements, including over 70 percent of Democratic voters.
Democrats and Settlements

If recent history is any indication, however, Obama may find that one of the biggest challenges in stopping Netanyahu’s settlements drive will be those in his own party on Capitol Hill.

In 2001, the Mitchell Commission — appointed by the outgoing President Bill Clinton — noted a number of minimal actions by both Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence and restart the peace process. Key among them was a call for a “freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements,” emphasizing that, “A cessation of Palestinian-Israeli violence will be particularly hard to sustain unless the government of Israel freezes all settlement activity.”

Yet when congressional Democrats have spoken about the report’s recommendations, they have consistently failed to mention the settlement freeze and talked only in terms of unilateral Palestinian initiatives.

When the Bush administration — along with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — put together a three-part “Road Map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace in 2003, the first phase included a series of obligations by both sides, such as an end to Palestinian violence, Palestinian political reform (including free elections), Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian Authority areas reconquered since 2000, and a freeze on the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, “including natural growth of settlements.”

In response, the majority of House Democrats wrote President George W. Bush insisting that rather than a pushing for a de-escalation through reciprocal and simultaneous measures, U.S. policy should insist that ending Palestinian violence and the establishment of a new Palestinian leadership should be placed “above all” Israeli responsibilities, such as freezing the expansion of settlements.

When Bush declared in March 2003 that “settlement activity in the occupied territories must end,” he was denounced by Pelosi, who said she was “seriously concerned about the timing, tone and effect of the president’s statement.”

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders’ criticism of Bush’s call for a settlement freeze appeared to be based on their insistence that the Palestinians alone were responsible for implementing the first stage of the Road Map, essentially arguing that unless and until every act of violence against Israelis ends and the militias of Hamas other extremist groups are dismantled, Israel has no obligation to freeze the settlements.

Throughout the peace process, congressional Democrats have ignored the fact that just as the Palestinians have an obligation to end terrorism regardless of whether Israel stops expanding its settlements, Israel is obliged to end the expansion of settlements regardless of whether the Palestinians end all terrorism.

Nor have they seemed to recognize that it is the expansion of settlements that has markedly
contributed to so many Palestinians giving up on a diplomatic route to a two-state solution and embracing Hamas and other radical groups instead.

When prominent Democrats have dared raised concerns about Israel’s settlements policy, they have been roundly denounced by the party’s congressional leadership. This is particularly true when the criticism has centered on the way it has created an apartheidlike situation on the West Bank through the development of Jewish-only towns and Jewish-only highways accessible only to Palestinians with special passes to do certain menial labor.

Even former President Jimmy Carter is not exempt. Pelosi and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean denounced the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s opposition to these Israeli policies, insisting that “he does not speak for the Democratic Party.” Rather than address the legitimate concerns, leading Democrats — including a spokesperson for the Obama campaign — have falsely claimed that Carter’s position was that Israel was an apartheid state.

Carter makes clear in his book, Palestine: Peace of Apartheid, that he is talking about the situation in the West Bank, not Israel itself. Carter correctly notes that despite some discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority, Israel is a democracy and does not practice apartheid within its internationally recognized borders and that he was only referring to the situation created by Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements.

Yet, in order to distract Americans from taking seriously Carter’s concerns about Israel’s settlements policy, the Democratic Party leadership has chosen to not only distort his position but to even shun him, such as when they took the unprecedented step last year of denying a former president a podium at his party’s national convention.

The Separation Barrier

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as a senator of New York, visited a number of these Israeli settlements, refusing to acknowledge their illegality or even the fact that they were in territory recognized by the international community as being under belligerent occupation. During a photo opportunity at settlement of Gilo in 2007, she claimed, while gazing over the massive wall that separates Palestinians from settlers and which bisects what used to be vineyards that had helped sustain nearby Palestinian communities, “This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists.”

In July 2004, the International Court of Justice — with only the U.S. judge dissenting (largely on a technicality) — determined that Israel’s construction of the separation barrier outside Israeli internationally recognized borders (those prior to the June 1967 war) was illegal.

The idea of a physical barrier between Israel and the new Palestinian state that would emerge from the occupied territories was originally promoted by Israeli moderates as a means of securing Israel from attack after the withdrawal of Israel’s occupation forces.

What the Israeli government has done, however, is to build most of the barrier, not along Israel’s recognized border as originally proposed, but in a lengthy, serpentine pattern through the occupied West Bank in order to incorporate illegal settlement blocs — along with large areas of Palestinian farmland — into Israel.

In its ruling, the International Court of Justice acknowledged the tragic realities that “Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population” and that the Jewish state “has the right, indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the lives of its citizens.” The court recognized, however, that such security measures “are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.”

In other words, according to the World Court, Israel — like any country — has the right to build a wall, a fence, or anything else along its borders to protect itself. The ICJ even recognized a number of U.N. resolutions specifically reiterating Israel’s right to defend its borders. The basis of the court’s ruling against the Israeli policy is that the jurists were “not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives …”

Since the barrier was not following Israel’s borders, the court simply confirmed the widespread assumption in Israel and elsewhere that the wall was being built to incorporate illegal settlements into Israel, and therefore the wall itself was illegal.

In other words, if one was simply concerned about Israel protecting itself from terrorist infiltration, there was no reason to object to the World Court’s ruling, since the only objection to the separation barrier involved the sections that went beyond Israel’s recognized borders. The only reason to oppose the ruling was if one supported the Israeli policy of building settlements in occupied territory and then erecting a wall so as to incorporate them into an illegally expanded Israel.

Democratic leaders, in an unprecedented action, denounced the World Court for its advisory opinion. Kerry defended Israel’s construction of the wall deep into the West Bank as “a legitimate response to terror that only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel.”

In effect recognizing these illegal colonies as being legitimately part of Israel, he insisted that any legal challenges to the route of the wall should go through the Israeli judiciary, “and we should respect that process” rather than referring the issue to international forums

Despite the ICJ’s clear distinction between a government’s legal right to build a protective barrier along its border for self-defense and the construction of a barrier within the occupied territory of another nation in a manner that expands the boundaries of the occupying power, the bipartisan House resolution called the court’s decision an “attempt to infringe upon Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Typical of remarks by leading House Democrats, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, falsely claimed that the ruling totally ignored Israel’s right to defend its citizens. Similarly, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada asserted that the advisory opinion was done “solely for the narrow purpose of condemning the state of Israel for its effort to protect its innocent citizens from suicide bombers.”

Then-Sen. Rodham Clinton declared, despite a whole series of resolutions against terrorism and a series of initiatives launched by the U.N. to combat it, “It makes no sense for the United Nations to vehemently oppose a fence which is a nonviolent response to terrorism rather than opposing terrorism itself.”

What motivated Clinton and these other congressional Democrats, then, was to make the case that opposing settlements was the same as supporting terrorism. They were not alone. More than 80 percent of House Democrats supported a resolution condemning the World Court’s ruling. (See my article “Attacks Against World Court by Bush and Congress Reveal Growing Bipartisan Hostility to International Law.”)

Making the Settlements Permanent

After two decades of aiding and abetting settlement expansion in the face of warnings that it could make the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel impossible, Democrats are now insisting that these demographic changes have made a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank “unrealistic.”

Indeed, this very language was incorporated into the 2004 Democratic platform. That same year, all but eight Democrats in the House supported a resolution sponsored by right-wing Republican leader Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, which stated in part that Israel should not be expected to withdraw from the settlements “in light of new realities on the ground.”

In that clause, the resolution refers to the illegal settlements euphemistically as “Israeli population centers.” More significantly, the resolution refers to these settlements as being “in Israel,” in effect recognizing their annexation.

With this kind of history, no wonder Netanyahu thinks he can get away with defying Obama’s admonition to stop expanding settlements and why he is so shocked that Obama has gone as far as he has.

Obama himself appears to have already accepted Israeli annexation of settlements containing the majority of Israeli settlers that are in and around East Jerusalem, the only ones that have already been formally annexed into Israel. These settlements are just as illegal as those elsewhere on the West Bank, according the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In addition, the four U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from its settlements specifically contain the clause “including East Jerusalem,” and there are an additional series of U.N. Security Council resolutions formally declaring Israel’s annexation of the occupied eastern half of the city and its environ “null and void.”

As problematic as Obama’s acquiescence to Israel’s illegal annexation may be, however, there are at least some scenarios for a final peace settlement in which Israel could hold onto most of the settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem in return for an equivalent area currently recognized as being within Israel south of the Gaza Strip.

By contrast, the settlements traditionally defended by congressional Democrats include not just these but settlement blocs that go far beyond even Israel’s greatly extended interpretation of what constitutes greater Jerusalem, which could realistically be exchanged in a land swap, dividing the West Bank into a series of noncontiguous cantons surrounded by Israel.

Indeed, it appears that Democratic Party strategy all along has been identical to that of the Republicans: to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and to support the Israeli right in its expansionist agenda.

In fact, Pelosi, Kerry, Berman, Hoyer and other Democratic leaders were on record explicitly opposing Palestinian statehood well into the 1990s, dropping their objections only after the Israeli government — then under the moderate Labor Party leadership — expressed its support for such a two-state solution.

The question, then, is whether the Democrats will back their president in his call for a freeze on settlements or continue to ally with congressional Republicans in opposing any U.S. efforts to enforce Israel’s international obligations and make the necessary steps for peace by withdrawing from these illegal settlements.

One of Congress’ strongest supporters of Israeli settlements is now secretary of state and appears to have changed her tune. As a senator, Clinton spoke at a pro-settlements rally in front of the United Nations and was the chief pro-settlements resolution promoter against the World Court in 2004.

On May 27, 2009, though, she declared: “With respect to settlements, the president was very clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interests of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others. And we intend to press that point.”

Whether the Obama administration will be willing to “press the point” in more than words and actually withhold aid and engage in other concrete measures to enforce this sentiment may depend on the willingness of the American public to back him up and make clear that reversal in the Democrats’ longstanding support for Israel’s settlements policy is long overdue.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/will-democrats-finally-en_b_213271.html

How Not to Support Democracy in the Middle East

President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo to the Muslim world marked a welcome departure from the Bush administration’s confrontational approach. Yet many Arabs and Muslims have expressed frustration that he failed to use this opportunity to call on the autocratic Saudi and Egyptian leaders with whom he had visited on his Middle Eastern trip to end their repression and open up their corrupt and tightly controlled political systems.

Imagine the positive reaction Obama would have received throughout the Arab and Islamic world if, instead of simply expressing eloquent but vague words in support of freedom and democracy, he had said something like this:

“Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.”

Could he have said such a thing?

Yes. In fact, those were his exact words when, as an Illinois state senator, he gave a speech at a major anti-war rally in Chicago on October 2, 2002.

Coddling Tyrants

Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. military aid, while Saudi Arabia is the number-one buyer of U.S. arms. Obama would have enormous leverage, should he choose to wield it, in pressing these two regimes to end oppression of their own people, suppression of dissent, toleration of corruption and inequality, and mismanagement of their economies. Yet he was apparently unwilling to take advantage of his highly publicized visits with the leaders of these two countries to break with his predecessors’ coddling of these tyrannical regimes.

To his credit, while in Egypt Obama did engage in a few symbolic efforts to demonstrate a concern for human rights. He didn’t praise his Egyptian host, the dictatorial president Hosni Mubarak, from the podium, as is generally customary on such occasions. Nor did he physically embrace Mubarak or Saudi King Abdullah or otherwise offer visual displays of affection, as is typical during such visits to leaders in that region. The Obama administration invited some leading critics of the regime, including both secular liberals and moderate Islamists, to witness his University of Cairo speech. However, Kefaya, Egypt’s leading grassroots pro-democracy group, boycotted the speech. It demanded that Obama show his commitment to democracy in deeds, not words.

Since his address was directed to the Muslim world as a whole, and not just to Egypt, it may not have been appropriate in that particular speech to specify particular human rights abuses in that country or explicitly call on Mubarak to release political prisoners or allow for free elections. However, it appears that there was no clear effort by Obama, at any point during his Middle East trip, to pressure the Egyptian dictator or his Saudi counterpart to end the repression in their countries.

Despite taking a conciliatory role in the Arab-Israeli conflict in recent years, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah reigns over a brutal and misogynist theocracy. The royal family, with the consultation of reactionary Wahhabi religious scholars, rules by decree. There’s no constitution and no elections (save for one male-only poll for some powerless local advisory councils in 2005.) No public non-Islamic religious observance is allowed. Political prisoners are routinely tortured and the execution rate (through beheading) is the second-highest in the world. The country is routinely ranked as one of the most repressive on the planet. During his visit to the kingdom last week, however, Obama refused to utter a word of public criticism about the family dictatorship, but did praise the king for “his wisdom and his graciousness.”

Ignoring Egyptian Repression

As with Saudi Arabia, the repressive nature of Egypt’s Mubarak dictatorship has been well-documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and other groups. This is a country where a simple gathering of five or more people without a permit is illegal. Peaceful pro-democracy protesters are routinely beaten and jailed. Martial law has been in effect for more than 28 years. Independent observers are banned from monitoring the country’s routinely rigged elections, from which the largest opposition party is banned from participating and other opposition parties are severely restricted in producing publications and other activities.

It’s well documented that the Egyptian government engages in a pattern of gross and systematic human rights abuses against perceived opponents of the regime, including massive detentions without due process, torture on an administrative basis, and extra-judicial killings. Targets of government repression have included not just radical Islamists, but leftists, liberal democrats, feminists, gay men, independent-minded scholars, students, trade unionists, Coptic Christians, and human rights activists.

It’s therefore quite disappointing that, even though the human rights situation in Egypt has actually worsened since his 2002 speech in which he advocated fighting to end repression in that country, Obama now refuses to even acknowledge that country’s authoritarianism. In an interview with the BBC just prior to his departure to the Middle East, Justin Webb asked him directly, “Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?”

Obama’s reply was “No,” insisting that “I tend not to use labels for folks.” Obama also refused to acknowledge Mubarak’s authoritarianism on the grounds that “I haven’t met him,” as if the question was in regard to the Egyptian dictator’s personality rather than his well-documented intolerance of dissent.

In further justifying his refusal to acknowledge the authoritarian nature of the Egyptian government, Obama referred to Mubarak — whom he dismissed as a “so-called” ally back in 2002 — as “a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States.” He praised Egypt’s despotic president for having “sustained peace with Israel, which is a very difficult thing to do in that region,” though — given that no Arab government has waged war with Israel for over 35 years — this is hardly so unique an accomplishment as to justify shying away from legitimate criticism of the Egyptian leader’s dictatorial rule.

Obama went on to insist that “I think he has been a force for stability. And good in the region.” Such an assessment is in marked contrast to his remarks from less than seven years ago, where he publicly acknowledged that Mubarak’s corrupt and autocratic rule was creating conditions where Egyptian youth “grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.” Since coming to Washington, Obama has surely read the intelligence reports that note many young Egyptians have been radicalized in reaction to Mubarak’s corrupt and autocratic rule, and some have gone on to play key roles in al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that have dangerously destabilized the region.

When the BBC’s Webb asked Obama how he planned to address the issue of the “thousands of political prisoners in Egypt,” he answered only in terms of the United States being a better role model, such as closing the prison at Guatánamo Bay, and the importance of the United States not trying to impose its human rights values on other countries. While these are certainly valid points, they offer little hope for the thousands of regime opponents now languishing in Egyptian prisons. Obama said nothing about the possibility of linking even part of the more than $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to the Mubarak regime on providing freedom for these prisoners of conscience.

The most negative assessment Obama could muster for Mubarak’s dictatorial regime in the interview was, “Obviously, there have been criticisms of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt.” Given that there have also been criticisms of the manner in which politics is conducted in every country of the world, including the United States, this can hardly account for a public display of disapproval. Even the Washington-based Freedom House ranks Egypt in the bottom quintile of the world’s countries in terms of political rights and civil liberties. Webb’s question was not about whether there have been criticisms of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt. The question was whether Mubarak was an authoritarian leader. Even if Obama did not feel comfortable labeling the Egyptian president himself as an authoritarian, he should have at least acknowledged that Mubarak leads an authoritarian government.

The Return of Realpolitik

In his recent speech, Obama claimed to have “an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.” Emphasizing that such concepts are not just American ideas but basic universal human rights, he pledged that the United States “will support them everywhere.”

Yet few on the proverbial Arab Main Street are going to believe the United States actually supports human rights until such noble rhetoric is matched by action, specifically an end to the arming and funding of repressive governments in the Middle East. As Shirin Sadeghi said, “Obama’s inevitable message to the Muslim world” is that “the United States will look the other way at your governments’ repressive policies because a working relationship with them is more important than a consideration of the peoples’ rights.”

Similarly, while Israel is an exemplary democracy for its Jewish citizens, that country’s U.S.-supplied armed forces have engaged in massive violations of international humanitarian law against Arab and Muslim peoples, with bipartisan support from Washington.

It appears, then, that in rejecting the dangerous neoconservative ideology of his predecessor, Obama is largely falling back onto the realpolitik of previous administrations by continuing to support repressive regimes through unconditional arms transfers and other security assistance. Obama’s understandable skepticism of externally mandated, top-down approaches to democratization through “regime change” is no excuse for arming these regimes, which then use these instruments of repression to subjugate popular indigenous bottom-up struggles for democratization (and then, in turn, justify the large-scale unconditional support for Israel because it’s “the sole democracy in the Middle East”).

Because this is the aspect of U.S. foreign policy most Arabs and Muslims experience firsthand, support for these corrupt and despotic regimes is arguably the single biggest motivation for the young disenfranchised men that join the ranks of radical Islamists against the United States, even more so than U.S. support for Israel or the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Continued support for the dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries, therefore, ultimately places Americans at risk.

Largely as a result of the longstanding bipartisan U.S. effort to prop up the Mubarak dictatorship, the percentage of Egyptians who look favorably upon the United States in recent years has plunged into the single digits, which is a significantly lower percentage than even Iranians. With more than 80 million people, Egypt is by far the world’s largest Arab country and remains the center of Arab and Islamic culture, media, and scholarship. It’s therefore not a country whose people the Obama administration should risk alienating. Like the series of administrations from Eisenhower to Carter, which insisted on supporting the despotic Shah of Iran, Obama’s insistence on continuing to arm and support the Mubarak regime could be sowing the seeds of yet another disastrous anti-American reaction.

Another problem with Obama’s apparent willingness to continue America’s strategic and economic support for these dictatorships is that it provides the neocons and other right-wing critics an opportunity to appear to seize the moral high ground. Despite the fact that U.S. military and economic support for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other repressive regimes in the greater Middle East actually increased under the Bush administration, Obama’s failure to speak out more forcefully for greater freedom and democracy in the region is now becoming a Republican line of attack. Just because Bush and his supporters disingenuously used “democracy promotion” as a rationalization for its invasion of Iraq and other reckless policies, however, it doesn’t therefore follow that supporting democracy is a bad thing.

Almost none of the dozens of successful transitions to democracy in recent decades have come from foreign intervention. The vast majority have come from democratic civil society organizations engaging in strategic nonviolent action from within. While the United States cannot instigate such “people power” movements, at least we can stop providing autocratic regimes with the means to suppress them. And there’s no better place to start than the Middle East.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/how_not_to_support_democracy_in_the_middle_east

As Obama Tries to Shift the Debate, Will Democrats Continue to Endorse Israel’s Colonization of the West Bank

President Barack Obama has inherited a difficult challenge in pushing Israel to end the expansion of its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. With the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu categorically rejecting the idea of a freeze and with Democratic-controlled Congress ruling out using the billions of dollars of U.S. military aid to Israel as leverage, the situation remains deadlocked.

Along with many Israelis and other supporters of Israel, Obama recognizes that these settlements are one of the chief obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Given that Israel cannot be secure unless the Palestinians are also given the right to a state of their own and that a viable Palestinian state cannot be created as long as Israel continues colonizing Palestinian land on the West Bank, Obama sees a settlement freeze as critical.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign policy dilemmas facing the new administration, however, the Democrats cannot blame Obama’s challenges primarily on the legacy of George W. Bush. In the case of the Israeli settlements, much of the blame belongs to former President Bill Clinton and other Democrats who helped facilitate Israel’s dramatic expansion of its West Bank settlements in the 1990s.

The Purpose of the Settlements

Although the 1967 Israeli invasion of the West Bank, then controlled by the Kingdom of Jordan, was initially justified to create a “buffer zone” to protect Israelis, it soon became apparent that the actual goal was to expand Israeli territory.

With enough Israelis living in sizable developments throughout the occupied territory, so went the reasoning, the demographics would be altered so as to make it impossible for a contiguous Palestinian state to emerge. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan acknowledged that although the settlements did not help Israel’s security situation, they were still needed since, “without them the IDF would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population.”

Ariel Sharon, who prior to becoming prime minister served as the housing minister in earlier right-wing governments overseeing settlement expansion, bragged in 1995 that these settlements were “the only factor” that had prevented then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from agreeing to withdraw from the occupied territories entirely as part of the 1993 Oslo Agreement.

Sharon, who has been praised as a peacemaker by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democratic leaders, expressed his pride in the fact that this had “created difficulties” in the negotiations with the Palestinians. Indeed, had Israel’s Labor governments not had to worry about the domestic political consequences from such a withdrawal as a result of these illegal settlements, there would probably have been peace years ago.

Now with right-wing parties dominating Israeli politics and nearly a half-million Israeli settlers on land that was to become a Palestinian state, it will be even more difficult.

The Palestine Authority — including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his Fatah party, and the Palestine Liberation Organization — have already recognized exclusive Israeli control of 78 percent of Palestine, yet the Israelis have insisted on expanding their control over much of the remaining 22 percent through this colonization drive. While the Palestine Authority has administration over the majority of the West Bank’s Palestinian population, Israeli occupation forces still control much of the land in between these towns and cities, with hundreds of checkpoints severely restricting the movement of people and goods within the West Bank, in order to protect these settlements. Clashes between right-wing settler militias, often back by the Israeli army, and local Palestinians are common.

These settlements and the swathes of territories connecting them to each other and to Israel divide the Palestinian-controlled territory into 43 noncontiguous cantons separated by Israeli checkpoints, thereby making the creation of a viable Palestinian state virtually impossible. Indeed, this appears to be the principle reason for Israel’s colonization drive and why so many U.S. officials have supported it.

It is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention for any country to transfer its civilian population onto lands seized by military force. A landmark 2004 ruling by the World Court underscored the obligation of signatories such as the United States to make a good-faith effort to enforce such international legal obligations on countries with which they have influence, but Democratic congressional leaders joined President George W. Bush in denouncing the decision. Furthermore, under U.N. Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465 and 471, Israel is explicitly required to withdraw from these settlements, but successive Democratic and Republican administrations — with support of congressional leaders of both parties — have blocked the United Nations from enforcing these resolutions.

A History of Inaction

As part of an annex in the 1978 Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin promised a five-year settlement freeze. When the Israelis resumed construction after only three months, President Jimmy Carter refused to hold Begin to his promise, even though Carter acknowledged that these settlements were illegal and the United States was given the role of guarantor of the peace treaty. This was not the last time the Israeli government would promise to freeze settlements only to break that promise with the knowledge that the Democratic leadership in Washington would let them get away with it.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush insisted on a settlement freeze as a condition to granting a controversial $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel. In response, leading members of Congress — including the leading candidates for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination — attacked Bush from the right by calling on the president to grant the loan guarantee unconditionally.

These predominantly Democratic critics claimed that the loans were to be used for housing for Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, despite the fact that none of the money in the loan agreement was actually earmarked for such purposes and Israel had thousands of unoccupied housing units then available, even in the city of Beersheva, where most of the recent immigrants were initially being settled.

Indeed, the Israeli government acknowledged that the loans were more of a cushion than anything vital to the economy. Despite this, Democratic leaders like Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, insisted that Bush was “holding Soviet Jews hostage” and challenged the administration’s assessment that expanding Israeli settlements was an obstacle to peace.

Under pressure from the Democrats — who then controlled both houses of Congress — as well as incipient Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, Bush capitulated and approved the loan guarantee with Israel in July 2002, getting the Israelis to only limit new construction to the “natural growth” of existing settlements. By the following year, however, it became apparent that Israel, with the acquiescence of the new Clinton administration, interpreted this restriction so liberally that the number of new Israeli colonists in the occupied territories grew faster than ever.

Indeed, this infusion of billions of dollars worth of U.S.-backed loans were critical in enabling Israel to embark on the dramatic expansion of Israeli settlements in the coming years.

When the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993, the Palestinians pressed to address the settlements issue immediately. The Clinton administration, however, insisted that such discussions be delayed. By putting off such a fundamental issue as the settlements as a “final status issue,” the United States gave the Israelis the ability to continue to create facts on the ground even as the peace process slowly moved forward.

Clinton knew this would make a final peace agreement all the more difficult, yet at no point did the administration insist that Israel stop the expansion of Jewish settlements and confiscation of land that the Palestinians and others had assumed was destined to be part of a Palestinian state.

It is only because of these settlements that the boundaries for a future Palestinian state envisioned by Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the July 2000 summit at Camp David took its unviable geographic dimensions, which forced Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to reject it. Barak, with the support of Clinton, insisted on holding on to 69 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, where 85 percent of the settlers live.

Furthermore, under Barak’s U.S.-backed plan, the West Bank would have been split up by a series of settlement blocs, bypass roads and Israeli roadblocks, in effect dividing the new Palestinian “state” into four noncontiguous cantons, requiring Palestinians and much of the country’s domestic commerce to go through Israeli checkpoints to go from one part of their state to another.

In addition, according to this proposal, Israel would also control Palestinian water resources in order to give priority of that scarce resource to the settlements.

There is little question that the failure of Camp David could have been avoided had Bill Clinton used his considerable leverage to halt the settlement expansion at the start of the peace process. Even top Clinton administration officials like Robert Malley have acknowledged that the United States had not been tough enough on Israel for its settlement drive, and this failure to do so was a major factor in the collapse of the peace process.

Despite this, in October of that year, the U.S. House of Representatives, with only 30 dissenting votes, adopted a Democratic-sponsored resolution that claimed that Israel had “expressed its readiness to take wide-ranging and painful steps in order to bring an end to the conflict, but these proposals were rejected by Chairman Arafat.”

Pelosi to this day insists that Barak had made “a generous and historic proposal,” and Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, claimed during committee hearings that Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s proposal was indicative of the Palestinians’ determination “to destroy Israel.” In the view of congressional Democrats, then, if you refuse to accept the large-scale foreign colonization of your country, you are not interested in peace.

Subsidizing Colonization

Clinton did not just tolerate the expansion of settlements, he actually encouraged it. Under pressure from peace and human rights groups, Bush had attached a provision to the 1992 loan-guarantee agreement requiring the president to deduct the costs of additional settlement activity from the $2 billion annual installment of the loan.

In October 1993, the U.S. officially announced to Israel that there would be a $437 million deduction in the next year’s loan guarantee due to settlement construction during the 1993 fiscal year. However, State Department Middle East peace talks coordinator Dennis Ross (whom Obama has appointed to a key State Department post addressing regional issues) immediately let the Israeli government know that the United States would find a way to restore the full funding. Within a month, Clinton authorized Israel to draw an additional $500 million in U.S. military supplies from NATO warehouses in Europe.

A similar scenario unfolded the following year: After deducting $311.8 million spent on settlements from the1995 loans, Clinton authorized $95.8 for help in redeploying troops from the Gaza Strip and $240 million to facilitate withdrawal from West Bank cities, based on the rather dubious assertion that it costs more to withdraw troops than to maintain them in hostile urban areas.

Clinton explicitly promised the Israelis that aid would remain constant regardless of Israeli settlement policies. What resulted, then, was that the United States began, in effect, subsidizing the settlements, since the Israelis knew that for every dollar that they contributed to maintaining and expanding their presence in the occupied territories, the United States would convert a loan guarantee into a grant.

Over 100 settlements lie outside what most observers consider could realistically be annexed to Israel under a mutually acceptable peace plan. Between the Oslo II accord in September 1995 and the start of final-status talks in March 2000, successive Israeli governments were envisioning maintaining all but the most isolated of these settlements, which would restrict the territory of a Palestinian state into a series of noncontiguous cantons.

Following Arafat’s rejection of that strategy and the subsequent outbreak of violence in Israel and the occupied territories that fall, Clinton and Barak largely abandoned this strategy by December, belatedly expressing an openness to reducing them to a much smaller number of settlement blocs. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the next few weeks came close to producing a final peace agreement, but with George W. Bush assuming office in the United States and Ariel Sharon become prime minister in Israel, they were suspended.

Over the next eight years, the Israelis reverted back to the old strategy with no apparent objections from the Bush administration or congressional Democrats.

Demographics

A particular sore point for Palestinians over the settlements arose from the Oslo Accords, which refer to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a “single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.” This was essentially a prohibition against either side taking steps that could prejudice the permanent-status negotiations. As a result, the Palestinians — when they signed the agreement — assumed that this would prevent the Israelis from building more settlements.

Furthermore, as the principal guarantor of the Oslo agreement, the United States was obliged to force Israel to cease its construction if they tried to do so. However, Israel and the United States have refused to live up to their obligations, and — since the signing of the Oslo Accords — the total number of settlers in the occupied territories has nearly doubled from approximately 250,000 to close to a half-million, moving onto land that the Palestinians assumed would be returned to the 3 million Palestinians that already live there and the large numbers of refugees who would presumably be resettling to the new Palestinian state.

To the shock of much of the international community, the Clinton administration also insisted that the Fourth Geneva Convention and the four U.N. Security Council resolutions addressing the settlements issue were suddenly no longer relevant. In 1997, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by France, Portugal, Sweden and Great Britain calling on Israel to cease its settlement activities and come into compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Shortly thereafter, the United States vetoed a second resolution calling on Israel to cease construction of an illegal settlement in an environmentally sensitive area near Bethlehem designed to complete the encirclement of Arab East Jerusalem.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright had called on the United Nations to no longer draft resolutions dealing with settlements since “these issues are now under negotiations by the parties themselves.”

In reality, neither the Fourth Geneva Convention nor the U.N. Security Council resolutions can be superseded by a bilateral agreement, particularly when one of the two parties (in this case, the Palestinians) insist they are still relevant. Indeed, none of the other 14 members of the Security Council accepted the Clinton administration radical reinterpretation of international law in their support for Israel’s settlement policies. Furthermore, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — backed by a broad consensus of international legal scholars — repeatedly insisted that these Security Council resolutions were still valid.

Given the gross asymmetry in power between the Palestinians under occupation and the Israeli occupiers — whose primary military, economic and diplomatic supporter was also the chief mediator in the negotiations — it was rather obvious that the U.S.-led peace process would be unable to stop settlement expansion. It appears, then, that the Clinton administration’s insistence on sidelining the United Nations was to enable Israel to do just that.

It was during this period that the Israelis began building a massive highway system of 29 roads totaling nearly 300 miles, designed to perpetuate effective Israeli control of most of the West Bank.

These highways — designed to connect the settlements with each other and with Israel proper — are creating a series of borders and barriers, in effect isolating Palestinian areas into islands. In addition, since Israel has defined these highways as “security roads,” they reach a width of 350 yards (50 yards of road plus 150 yards of “sanitized” margins on each side), the equivalent of 3 1/2 football fields. This has resulted in the destruction of some of the area’s richest farmland, including olive groves and vineyards that have been owned and farmed by Palestinian families for generations.

The impact of such a massive road system in an area the size of Delaware is staggering, and has serious political, economic and environmental implications.

As part of what Clinton referred to as “implementation funding” of the 1998 Wye River Agreement, in which Israel agreed to withdraw from an additional 14 percent of the West Bank, the United States offered $1.2 billion in supplementary foreign aid to the Israeli government. Most of the funding was reserved for armaments, but much of the nonmilitary funding was apparently earmarked to build these “bypass roads” and security enhancements for Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.

Such direct subsidies for Israeli settlements placed the United States in violation of Article 7 of U.N. Security Council Resolution 465, which prohibits member states from assisting Israel in its colonization drive. So, not only has the United States allowed Israel to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions in continuing to maintain and expand its illegal settlements, Clinton placed the United States itself in violation of a U.N. Security Council mandate as well.

Once filled with enormous hope with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinians have since seen more and more of their land confiscated and more and more Jewish-only settlements and highways constructed, all under the cover of a U.S.-sponsored “peace process.”

It was frustration over the failure of the peace process to end Israel’s colonization drive that contributed to large numbers of Palestinians rejecting the diplomatic approach of Fatah and other moderate nationalists and embracing Hamas. Indeed, prior to this dramatic growth in settlements during the 1990s, Palestinian support for Hamas was less than 15 percent. Now it is close to a majority.

Ironically, the Democrats’ criticism during the 2008 election campaign of the Bush administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was that they were not engaged enough, in contrast to the Clinton administration, whose policies were widely praised. It is important, however, to remember that it was the former Democratic administration’s policies on Israeli settlements that have largely contributed to the dangerous impasse we see today.

http://www.alternet.org/news/140414/as_obama_tries_to_shift_the_debate,_will_democrats_continue_to_endorse_israel’s_colonization_of_the_west_bank/?page=entire%0B

Telling the Lebanese How to Vote

In recent visits to Lebanon, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear that the United States would react negatively if the March 8th Alliance — a broad coalition of Islamist, Maronite, leftist, nationalist, and pan-Arabist parties — won the upcoming parliamentary elections. These not-so-subtle threats have led to charges of U.S. interference in Lebanon’s domestic affairs. What prompts U.S. concerns is that the largest member of this coalition is Hezbollah, the populist Shiite party which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization.

As senators, both Biden and Clinton insisted that this diverse coalition was somehow controlled by Iran and/or Syria. In reality, there is little evidence to suggest that Syrian and Iranian influence on the populist Shia party and its allies is any greater than U.S. influence on some of Lebanon’s other political factions. While the Iranians played a key role in the early development of Hezbollah’s militia back in the early 1980s when it was fighting the Israeli occupation of the southern part of their country, the party has subsequently emerged as an independent and popular — albeit in many respects fundamentalist and reactionary — force and the only major party not tied to the elite families which have dominated Lebanese politics for generations.

Such interference by top Obama administration officials has not been well-received by the Lebanese. Both Biden and Clinton were outspoken supporters of Israel’s devastating 2006 military offensive in Lebanon, which took the lives of up to 800 civilians and caused billions of dollars of damage to the country’s civilian infrastructure. Much of Israel’s massive bombardments struck areas many miles from any Hezbollah military activities and ended up strengthening popular support for this extremist group beyond its base in the Shia community.

Despite exhaustive empirical studies by Human Rights Watch and other groups which found no evidence that any of the civilian deaths were caused by Hezbollah using civilians as “human shields,” both Clinton and Biden — without providing any contradictory evidence — have insisted that they did and have refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the Israeli government. Even moderate and secular Lebanese, who strongly opposed Hezbollah’s provocative actions (used by the Israelis and their American supporters to launch the offensive), still harbor enormous resentment towards the Bush administration and those in Congress who supported this devastating war against their country.

There is particular anger at Biden over his support for Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which led to the deaths of up to 17,000 civilians, as well as his defense of the Israeli occupation of the southern part of that country and the shelling of nearby Lebanese towns and cities, which lasted until May of 2000. Many Lebanese — including some of Hezbollah’s bitterest opponents — wonder why those like Clinton and Biden, who have defended foreign forces wreaking such death and destruction on their country, have any right to tell them how to vote.

In addition, the United States has had a rather fickle history in its support of various factions in Lebanon’s notoriously fratricidal politics. Indeed, the United States has a history of switching sides in terms of who it views as the bad guys and the good guys.

For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, the United States backed right-wing, predominantly Maronite militias such as the Phalangists against the predominantly Druze Progressive Socialist Party. During the 1982-84 U.S. intervention in Lebanon, U.S. forces fought the Socialists directly, including launching heavy air and sea bombardments against Druze villages in the Shouf Mountains. Now, however, the U.S. supports the Socialists, who currently ally themselves with the pro-Western May 14th Alliance.

Similarly, the United States supported the Shia Amal militia in 1985-86 when it was fighting armed Palestinian groups as well as in 1988 when Amal was fighting Hezbollah forces. Today, however, the United States is strongly opposed to Amal, now part of the March 8th alliance, acting as if they are one with Hezbollah.

The United States supported Syria’s initial military intervention in Lebanon back in 1976 as a means of suppressing leftist forces and their Palestinian allies. Similarly, the U.S. supported the bloody Syrian-instigated coup in late 1990 that consolidated Syria’s political control of the country. Subsequently, however, the United States became a leading critic of Syria’s domineering role of the country’s government, which continued until a popular nonviolent uprising during the spring of 2005 forced a Syrian withdrawal from the country.

In a more recent example, as part of a U.S. policy to support hard-line Sunni fundamentalist groups as a counter-weight to the growth of radical Shia movements in Iraq and Lebanon, the U.S. encouraged Lebanese parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri to provide amnesty for radical Salafi militants, who were released from jail. As such militants began causing problems in the northern city of Tripoli in 2006 from a base in a Palestinian refugee camp, however, the U.S. then backed a bloody Lebanese army crackdown.

One of the most bizarre switches in U.S. allegiances involves former Lebanese Army General Michel Aoun, a Maronite, and his Free Patriotic Movement, the most popular Christian-led political group in the country. As an ally to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1990, the United States gave a green light to the Syrians to have Aoun overthrown as interim Lebanese prime minister in a violent coup. Not long afterward, however, the United States then switched sides to support Aoun and oppose the Syrians and their supporters. As recently as 2003, Aoun was feted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies – a neo-conservative group with close ties with the Bush administration, which includes among its leaders Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey, Jack Kemp, and Richard Perle, as well as Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Joseph Lieberman. The group declared him a champion of freedom and democracy. Aoun won similar praise from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress when he testified that year before the House International Relations Committee.

Soon after his return to Lebanon from exile, however, Aoun became one of the most outspoken opponents of the U.S.-backed political leaders and parties which dominate the current Lebanese government and he and his movement are now allied with Hezbollah in the March 8th Alliance. Not surprisingly, he is now considered once again to be one of the bad guys.

If history has proven anything, the United States has little to gain and much to potentially lose in taking sides in Lebanon. It would behoove President Barack Obama to keep hawks like Clinton and Biden on a short leash and allow the Lebanese people to determine their own destiny.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/telling-the-lebanese-how_b_211175.html

Echoes of Solidarity 20 Years after Tiananmen

Twenty years ago today, I was at Camp Thoreau in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Though I had already become a full-time academic, I was still involved in the topical folk music circles in which I had hung out for much of the previous decade and had come down from Ithaca to join this annual gathering of politically-conscious folk musicians for a weekend of workshops, jam sessions and performances.

As we were clearing our dishes from dinner, I came upon the kitchen volunteers huddled around the radio listening to incoming reports of the massacre then unfolding in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Serving as the emcee for the concert that evening, I broke the news to the 300 or so singers, songwriters, and musicians assembled. I looked out upon an audience composed of amazing performing artists – Fred Small, Betsy Rose, Charlie King, Matt Jones, Pat Humphries, and many others – who had spent their lives singing songs about such struggles for freedom and justice. The shock, anger and despair was overwhelming. .

I reminded them that, despite efforts by the corporate media to portray the student movement in China as some kind of campaign against socialism, it was in fact a campaign against the tyranny and injustice of Communist Party rule and for a more just and democratic society, a society where workers and peasants had power in reality, not only in name. Indeed, I informed them, the song most frequently sung by the student protesters during the seven weeks they had occupied the heart of China’s capital was none other than “The Internationale.”

I then asked Pete Seeger and Sis Cunningham to join me on stage. Unlike these two veteran radicals – who had sung with Woody Guthrie in the Almanac Singers back in the 1940s – few of my generation knew the words to this international socialist anthem, so I had written them up on butcher paper which I held up for the audience to see. With Pete (accompanying himself on his banjo), Sis, and I leading the chorus of mostly professional singers, nearly 300 voices came together in harmony singing

Arise, you prisoners of starvation!
Arise, you wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world’s in birth!
No more tradition’s chains shall bind us,
Arise you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations:
We have been nought, we shall be all!

As this diverse group of left-wing musicians sang out together, many of us through our tears, we were making a powerful witness in song, not just in protest of the tragedy then unfolding in Beijing, but at the betrayal of 20th century socialism by all those who, in its name, had become a new class of oppressors and exploiters.

Despite the calamity which took place in China that day, the student martyrs had given the world a glimmer of hope. While the nonviolent movement that had emerged that spring in Beijing and in towns and cities throughout China was brutally crushed, other largely nonviolent movements would emerge elsewhere in the coming years that would bring down scores autocratic regimes, ranging from monarchies to Communist dictatorships to right-wing military juntas. By the end of that year, such unarmed insurrections would usher in democratic governance in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Chile, and Kenya. During the 1990s, nonviolent movements brought down dictatorships in Mongolia, Mali, Thailand, Madagascar, Indonesia, Nigeria, and elsewhere. This decade has seen strategic nonviolent action play the pivotal role in overcoming corrupt and autocratic rule in such countries as Serbia, Nepal, Georgia, Ukraine and the Maldives.

Liberal democracy does not automatically bring social justice, but it is a necessary first step. Dictatorial rule, even in the name of “socialism,” cannot. The form democracy takes will vary based upon a given society’s history, culture and social conditions, but those in leadership must be accountable to their actions, individual freedom must be respected, and sovereignty must ultimately rest in the people.

We want no condescending saviors
To rule us from their judgment hall,
We workers ask not for their favors
Let us consult for all:
To make the thief disgorge his booty
To free the spirit from its cell,
We must ourselves decide our duty,
We must decide, and do it well.

Indeed, it is up to those in China and elsewhere still suffering under oppressive rule to lead their own struggles for liberation from tyranny. We cannot trust that the U.S. government or any other government can legitimately engage in “democracy promotion.” However, global civil society can offer the kind of international solidarity — in opposing arms transfers to human rights abusers, in providing workshops on strategic nonviolent conflict, and in raising global awareness of these struggles — that is so important for those struggling for freedom and justice.

It is a solidarity that is based not upon whether the oppressive regime being challenged is an ally or an adversary of the United States or what kind of economic system it claims to adhere to. It is a solidarity based upon nothing less than a universal respect for fundamental civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/06/04-2

Remembering Tiananmen Square

Twenty years ago, on June 4, I was at Camp Thoreau in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Though I had already become a full-time academic, I was still involved in the topical folk music circles in which I had hung out for much of the previous decade and had come down from Ithaca to join this annual gathering of politically-conscious folk musicians for a weekend of workshops, jam sessions and performances.

As we were clearing our dishes from dinner, I came upon the kitchen volunteers huddled around the radio listening to incoming reports of the massacre then unfolding in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Serving as the emcee for the concert that evening, I broke the news to the 300 or so singers, songwriters, and musicians assembled. I looked out upon an audience composed of amazing performing artists – Fred Small, Betsy Rose, Cathy Winter, Charlie King, Matt Jones, and many others – who had spent their lives singing songs about such struggles for freedom and justice. The shock, anger and despair was overwhelming.

I reminded them that, despite efforts by the corporate media to portray the student movement in China as some kind of campaign against socialism, it was in fact a campaign against the tyranny and injustice of Communist Party rule and for a more just and democratic society, a society where workers and peasants had power in reality, not only in name. Indeed, I informed them, the song most frequently sung by the student protesters during the seven weeks they had occupied the heart of China’s capital was none other than “The Internationale.”

I then asked Pete Seeger and Sis Cunningham to join me on stage. Unlike these two veteran radicals – who had sung with Woody Guthrie in the Almanac Singers back in the 1940s – few of my generation knew the words to this international socialist anthem, so I had written them up on butcher paper which I held up for the audience to see. With Pete (accompanying himself on his banjo), Sis, and I leading the chorus of mostly professional singers, nearly 300 voices came together in harmony singing

Arise, you prisoners of starvation!
Arise, you wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world’s in birth!
No more tradition’s chains shall bind us,
Arise you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations:
We have been nought, we shall be all!

As this diverse group of left-wing musicians sang out together, many of us through our tears, we were making a powerful witness in song, not just in protest of the tragedy then unfolding in Beijing, but at the betrayal of 20th century socialism by all those who, in its name, had become a new class of oppressors and exploiters.

Despite the calamity which took place in China that day, the student martyrs had given the world a glimmer of hope. While the nonviolent movement that had emerged that spring in Beijing and in towns and cities throughout China was brutally crushed, other largely nonviolent movements would emerge elsewhere in the coming years that would bring down scores of autocratic regimes, ranging from monarchies to Communist dictatorships to right-wing military juntas.

By the end of that year, such unarmed insurrections would usher in democratic governance in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Chile, and Kenya. During the 1990s, nonviolent movements brought down dictatorships in Mongolia, Mali, Thailand, Madagascar, Indonesia, Nigeria, and elsewhere. This decade has seen strategic nonviolent action play the pivotal role in overcoming corrupt and autocratic rule in such countries as Serbia, Nepal, Georgia, Ukraine and the Maldives.

Liberal democracy does not automatically bring social justice, but it is a necessary first step. Dictatorial rule, even in the name of “socialism,” cannot. The form democracy takes will vary based upon a given society’s history, culture and social conditions, but those in leadership must be accountable to their actions, individual freedom must be respected, and sovereignty must ultimately rest in the people.

We want no condescending saviors
To rule us from their judgment hall,
We workers ask not for their favors
Let us consult for all:
To make the thief disgorge his booty
To free the spirit from its cell,
We must ourselves decide our duty,
We must decide, and do it well.

Indeed, it is up to those in China and elsewhere still suffering under oppressive rule to lead their own struggles for liberation from tyranny. We cannot trust that the U.S. government or any other government can legitimately engage in “democracy promotion.” However, global civil society can offer the kind of international solidarity — in opposing arms transfers to human rights abusers, in providing workshops on strategic nonviolent conflict, and in raising global awareness of these struggles — that is so important for those struggling for freedom and justice.

It is a solidarity that is based not upon whether the oppressive regime being challenged is an ally or an adversary of the Unted States or what kind of economic system it claims to adhere to. It is a solidarity based upon nothing less than a universal respect for fundamental civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/remembering-tiananmen-squ_b_211173.html

A Reply to David Peterson: Do I really support “massive American violence” and interventionism?

David Peterson must know full well I’ve been a long-time and outspoken opponent of any U.S. interventionism in Iran. It has been a subject of scores of articles available on line, it was a major part of my doctoral dissertation, addressed in my book Tinderbox, in my speeches available on podcasts, and elsewhere. To imply otherwise is completely ridiculous. I have never ever bought into “massive American violence, and diversions onto the state of affairs inside Iran.” Peterson should know that my arguing that the United States is not being the recent protests in Iran does not mean I am not aware of the countless way the United States really has illegitimately intervened in that country to pursue its imperialist objectives… [FULL LINK]