Israel is driving drunk toward annexing the West Bank and becoming either a bi-national Arab-Jewish state or some Middle Eastern version of 1960’s South Africa, where Israel has to systematically deprive large elements of its population of democratic rights to preserve the state’s Jewish character.
For those of you confused over the latest fight between President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, let me make it simple: Barack Obama and John Kerry admire and want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. I have covered this issue my entire adult life and have never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy.
But they are convinced — rightly — that Netanyahu is a leader who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never ready to cross it. He is unwilling to make any big, hard decision to advance or preserve a two-state solution if that decision in any way risks his leadership of Israel’s right-wing coalition or forces him to confront the Jewish settlers, who relentlessly push Israel deeper and deeper into the West Bank.
“The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements. . . . Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in [peace] talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.”
— President Ronald Reagan, 1982
Thank you, Mr. President.
Let me begin with a quote: “The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transitional period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.”
This was said in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan. He was speaking about a new proposal that he was launching to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While ultimately, of course, President Reagan’s proposal was not realized, his words are still illuminating in at least two respects.
First, because they underscore the United States’ deep and long-standing commitment to achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. That has been the policy of every administration, Republican and Democrat, since before President Reagan and all the way through to the present day.
Second, because President Reagan’s words highlight the United States’ long-standing position that Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region. Today, the Security Council reaffirmed its established consensus that settlements have no legal validity. The United States has been sending the message that the settlements must stop — privately and publicly — for nearly five decades, through the administrations of Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama. Indeed, since 1967, the only president who had not had at least one Israeli-Palestinian-related Security Council resolution pass during his tenure is Barack Obama. So our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how American Presidents have approached both the issue — and the role of this body.
“Some people feel that their stories, suffering, and lives are being exploited. I wanted them to feel that they own and would benefit from the project through their own contributions. I was overwhelmed by the support.” — Reem Abu Jaber, Executive Director of NAWA for Culture and Arts
After decades of neglect, archaeological sites in the Gaza Strip are finally receiving needed attention. The ancient Saint George Monastery, locally known as Maqam Al-Khidir (sometimes Al-Khudr), is now open to the public following extensive restoration by a local NGO in Deir Al-Balah, NAWA for Culture and Arts, an organization that provides pyschosocial support for children.
While historical information about the site are scarce, the Survey of Western Palestine, carried out by the British Corps of Royal Engineers in 1872, suggests that the ancient Greek inscriptions found at the monastery reveal it was built during the late sixth century. The site has long been revered for spiritual and meditation purposes by both Muslims and Christians. Over the centuries, however, it fell into ruins and lost its significance. Situated in the city of Deir Al-Balah, Arabic for “Monastery of the Palms,” the site extends across an area of 200 square meters. Three domes top the monastery, which is surrounded by stonewalls. The main chapel is located underground, ten paces down a small flight of stairs to an area that houses three apses, where an historic water well was once used for drinking and baptism. In addition to two ancient Greek inscriptions, a stone tomb has also been found.
Reem Abu Jaber, Executive Director of NAWA, said the site restoration idea came about almost unintentionally. Her organization, which was founded in the Spring of 2014 by a group of young people, 80% of whom are female, works to provide psychosocial support for the city’s children through a wide range of cultural activities. Once the organization received proper accreditation, “I shared a post on Facebook inviting people to donate books to establish a small reading place in the area,” Abu Jaber explained. At the height of school vacation season, NAWA received 200 children within the first week.
Since his election, President-elect Trump has been sending clear signals that his administration’s policy toward Israel, and especially the settlements, will be markedly different from that of Barack Obama, John Kerry, and, one would conclude, the previous eight American presidents since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967. The president-elect has not minced words, tweeting in response to John Kerry’s 75-minute admonition of Israel’s settlement policy: “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
Senior Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday that he will introduce legislation to effectively annex Israel’s third-largest settlement in the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumim, by the end of January. It is safe to assume, that when Bennett says “by the end of January,” he means after the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.
Bennett’s desire to incrementally annex parts of the West Bank are neither new nor secret. The chairman of the Jewish Home party has run on a platform of annexation since he first ran for office in 2013 and in every election since. Through short videos and aggressive sound bites, the Israeli education minister has attempted shift the public discourse, in Israel and around the world, toward his annexationist aims. . . .
Ayelet Shaked, also of Bennett’s Jewish Home party and now Israel’s justice minister, in the past advocated annexing the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. More recently she announced plans to apply Israeli civil law to the occupied territories, which is considered de facto annexation (the West Bank is currently subject to Israeli military law). A few months ago Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely made a direct demand of her government. Similar pleas and plans can be heard on an almost daily basis throughout the Israeli government and ruling coalition, not to mention in right-wing circles and media outside the government. And while demands from within the government to advance annexation have become the new normal in recent years, for a variety of reasons they are often dismissed as fringe or unrealistic.
In the West Bank, Israel is not the “one true democracy in the Middle East.” It is not a democracy at all. It is not a democracy because Palestinians — who comprise the vast majority of the West Bank’s inhabitants — cannot vote for the government that controls their lives: the government of Israel. . . . If Israel really were a democracy in the West Bank, and millions of West Bank Palestinians could vote in Israeli elections, Netanyahu wouldn’t be Israel’s prime minister.
Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued two public statements. When the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution criticizing settlements, Netanyahu attacked it for not condemning Syria. When Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s decision to let the resolution pass, Netanyahu attacked him for not sufficiently condemning the Palestinians.
In both responses, the Israeli leader illustrated George Orwell’s famous insight: The abuse of human beings starts with the abuse of language.
“At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria,” Netanyahu declared after the UN vote, “it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.”
The first clause is a non-sequitur. Yes, Syrians in Aleppo and elsewhere are suffering more than Palestinians in the West Bank. Yes, the UN should be doing more to relieve their plight. But the test of whether Israeli settlement policy deserves international condemnation is whether Israeli settlement policy is morally wrong, not whether other governments deserve condemnation more.
“This is breaking down into forces that believe in God and those that don’t. Largely, I would say this is a war of religion versus non-religion.” — Michael Voris, senior executive producer of ChurchMilitant.com
“[Historically,] when you heard the expression ‘the Church Militant,’ it didn’t bring to mind a call to arms or some kind of mobilized, militant action in the way we understand the term now. A lot of the struggle of the Church Militant is against interior temptations that lead you to greed and all kinds of spiritual pathologies. And it’s about engaging in acts of mercy. Part of the victory of the Church Militant is the victory of love. It didn’t have the triumphalist and militarized connotation that’s been attached to it now.” — John C. Cavadini, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame
A week after Stephen K. Bannon helped engineer the populist revolt that led to Donald J. Trump’s election, Buzzfeed unearthed a recording of him speaking to a Vatican conference of conservative Catholics in 2014.
In his presentation, Mr. Bannon, then the head of the hard-right website Breitbart News and now Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, called on the “church militant” to fight a global war against a “new barbarity” of “Islamic fascism” and international financial elites, with 2,500 years of Western civilization at risk.
While most listeners probably overlooked the term “church militant,” knowledgeable Catholics would have recognized it as a concept deeply embedded in the church’s teaching. Moreover, they would have noticed that Mr. Bannon had taken the term out of context, invoking it in a call for cultural and military conflict rather than for spiritual warfare, particularly within one’s soul, its longstanding connotation.
[Sarah Robinson is a volunteer with the World Council of Churches who has written about Israel-Palestine since 2012. On Oct 17, 2016, she was refused entry to Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and deported . — Ed.]
In my opinion, [no] solutions are viable without visionary leadership and the willingness to compromise. Recalling the experience of South Africa, bold leadership and compromise brought apartheid to an end, and I believe the same is needed in Israel and Palestine. . . . I believe the appetite of both populations indicates that they are willing to start these talks but the lack of real leadership is restraining any progress.
This week, the Israel-Palestine conflict was nudged into the international spotlight. Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted in favor of Resolution 2334 condemning the proliferation of settlement development and expansion in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Usually, the United States (US) vetoes such resolutions but on Friday they abstained from voting thereby allowing the resolution to pass. Israel was quick to respond with damning language, threatening rhetoric, and victimized aggression. Originally, Egypt put the resolution forward to the UNSC, but after receiving pressure from president-elect Donald Trump, withdrew the application. Thus, a random mix of countries, including New Zealand and Venezuela, resubmitted the resolution which went to a vote. Israel has since accused New Zealand of declaring war in their action to present Resolution 2334 to the UNSC.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry, gave a 1 hour 13-minute speech in Washington DC justifying the US choice to abstain, summarizing the history of US-Israel relations, UN resolutions, and peace negotiations, and outlining five principles to a solution and lasting peace. It was a good speech and it elicited swift condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, the speech was about twenty years too late. It rehashed positions and policies that have been ignored or bypassed for decades and although it sounded good, with less than three weeks remaining in the White House, the Obama administration is grasping at proverbial straws. Secretary Kerry pleaded with Israel to not execute the two-state solution but, in my opinion, the death of the two-state solution took place years ago, and this latest activity will not resuscitate it.
“We don’t have to stand by when the haters drive wedges of hostility between communities. We can build bridges. We can raise our voices. We can stand up for the values of decent, compassionate societies.”
The values and politics that underpin inclusive, peaceful societies “risk being swept away,” warned Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, in a statement ahead of the annual global commemoration of Human Rights Day this Saturday.
“2016 has been a disastrous year for human rights across the globe,” Zeid said in Geneva. He pointed to a world buffeted by complex crises, from the rise of violent extremism to “yawning economic disparities” to climate change and refugee crises. The inability of national governments to adequately address these challenges, Zeid said, has created space for “siren voices exploiting fears, sowing disinformation and division, and making alluring promises they cannot fulfill.”
“To play music means to spread happiness among others. I think that even the ones who used to make people suffer and were involved in killing and destruction, would not mind to have moments of joy and happiness.”
Just outside a building in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City a group of young people gather under a window to listen to the beautiful classical music coming out of the window a few meters above.
The window belongs to a small apartment used as a modest music school, which runs without proper lighting due to long hours of power cuts in Gaza. The music they’re listening to is played by Raslan Ashour, 16, who is practicing Mozart’s “Exsultate, Jubilate” on a trumpet.
As he started to play another melody, Natasha Radawn, his tutor watches closely and smiles. “His performance has improved a lot, despite some tiny mistakes,” she says.
Ashour’s passion to learn oriental and western classical music was not very welcomed by his mother who believed her son should learn “something more useful” such as management, in order to be like his father who works in the fashion business.
“[Recognizing Palestine] is the best — now, perhaps, the only — means of countering the one-state reality that Israel is imposing on itself and the Palestinian people [and] that could destroy Israeli democracy and will result in intensifying international condemnation of Israel. — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Dear President Obama:
On November 28, 2016, Jimmy Carter, the President who negotiated the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978, wrote an op ed for the New York Times titled, “America Must Recognize Palestine.” His urgent plea was directed to you to take “the vital step . . . to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership,” before you leave office on January 20, 2017.
Mr. Carter referenced your reaffirmation in 2009 of the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt and United Nations Resolution 242 when you called “for a complete freeze on settlement expansion on Palestinian territory that is illegal under international law.” He noted that in 2011 you made clear that, in your words, “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines” and that “negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”