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Jonathon Cook: Israel is regional bully with nuclear weapons

RT | July 22, 2010

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is continuing to divide the Middle East. RT sat down with journalist and author Jonathan Cook who says that Israel actually benefits from the division.

“The Jewish population in Tehran is at least 20,000, maybe 30,000 people, and when they talk about their lives there, they seem very comfortable. If Iran had a kind of racial hatred against Jews, if the Iranian regime was just a symbol of a ‘new Hitler regime’, the Nazis, why would they not be starting with their own population?” Jonathan Cook says.

“The reason why Israel can’t allow Iran to have nuclear weapons is because if Iran developed its own nuclear arsenal, it would totally change the balance of power in the Middle East,” he says. “At the moment Israel is the regional bully, it has its own nuclear weapons, it can pull them out as it has done several times in the past, most notably during the 1973 war when it threatened the US that it might use those weapons if it wasn’t rearmed and that is why the Americans had to come in and intervene. It has that kind of ability to pressure America and terrorize the rest of the neighborhood, if you like, because it has nuclear weapons.”

Jonathan Cook says that if Iran had nuclear weapons, there would be a balance of power.

“There would be this mutually assured destruction principle, which may not be an ideal principle, but at least it’s something in terms of counteracting the benefits that Israel has as the only nuclear power [in the region],” he says.

As for the possible solution to the conflict, Jonathan Cook says he would support anything that brought peace and gave Palestinians and Israeli Jews the right to live happy, contented lives.

“The question now is how you achieve that. Some people say a two-state solution could do that. I don’t actually think that it is even technically possible any longer, if it ever was,” he says. “We are talking about very small areas of land that would be left to the Palestinians. Nobody is talking about it being a militarized state that would control the borders – I mean all sorts of questions that nobody really wants to look at in any kind of depth at the moment because everybody knows the answers, that this wouldn’t really be a proper state. I don’t think it would end the conflict, I think it might postpone it very briefly, but we would just end up with the same kind of conflict.”

September 10, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Futile Peace Talks – Again

The Jewish state’s bottom line

By Jonathan Cook | Dissident Voice | August 14, 2013  

There are many flies waiting to spoil the ointment of the Middle East peace talks, not least Israel’s recent announcement of a rash of settlement-building. That triggered an angry letter to Washington last week from the Palestinian leadership, though it seems Israel’s serial humiliation of Mahmoud Abbas before the two sides meet was not enough to persuade him to pull out.

However, as the parties meet today for their first round of proper negotiations, it is worth highlighting one major stumbling block that has barely registered with observers: the fifth of Israel’s population who are not Jews but Palestinians.

The difficulty posed to the peace process by this Palestinian minority was illustrated in the defining moment of the last notable effort to reach an agreement, initiated in Oslo two decades ago.

In 1993 Yitzhak Rabin, then prime minister, assembled a 15-person delegation for the signing ceremony with the Palestinians at the White House. The delegation was selected to suggest that all sectors of Israeli society favoured peace.

When Rabin was asked why he had not included a single Palestinian, he waved aside the question: “We are going to sign a peace treaty between Jewish Israel and the PLO.”

Rabin believed his own Palestinian citizens should be represented not by their government but by the adversary across the table. The mood 20 years on is unchanged. The Palestinian minority is still viewed as a fifth column, one a Jewish state would be better off without.

Significantly, it was a matter relating to Israel’s Palestinian citizens that nearly scuppered the start of these talks. Israeli cabinet ministers revolted at a precondition from Abbas that the release of long-term political prisoners should include a handful of inmates from Israel’s Palestinian minority.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, won a majority in the cabinet only after agreeing to postpone freeing this group until an unspecified time.

Similarly, previous experience suggests there will be an eruption of outrage should Netanyahu’s promised referendum on an agreement depend for its outcome — given the likely split between Israeli Jews — on the votes of Palestinian citizens. A senior minister, Silvan Shalom, has already indicated that only Israeli Jews should decide.

But Israel’s Palestinian minority will be thrust into the heart of the negotiations much before that.

Last weekend Netanyahu picked at one of the Israeli right’s favourite sores, denouncing reported comments from Abbas that no Israeli should be allowed to remain inside a future Palestinian state. Why, asks the right, should Israelis — meaning the settlers — be expelled from a Palestinian state while Israel is left with a large and growing Palestinian population inside its borders?

A possible solution promulgated by Netanyahu’s ally Avigdor Lieberman would redraw the borders to expel as many Palestinian citizens as possible in exchange for the settlements. There is a practical flaw, however: a land swap would rid Israel only of those Palestinians living near the West Bank.

Netanyahu prefers another option. He has required of the Palestinian Authority that it recognise Israel as a Jewish state. This condition will take centre stage at the talks.

Leaders of the Palestinian minority in Israel are intensively lobbying the PA to reject the demand. According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, Palestinian officials are still undecided. Some fear the PA may agree to recognition if it clears the way to an agreement.

Why does this matter to Israel? In the event there is a deal on Palestinian statehood, Israel will wake up the next morning to an intensified campaign for equal rights from the Palestinian minority. In such circumstances, Israel will not be able to plead “security” to justify continuing systematic discrimination.

The Palestinian minority’s first demand for equality is not in doubt: a right of return allowing their relatives in exile to join them inside Israel similar to the current Law of Return, which allows any Jew in the world instantly to become a citizen.

The stakes are high: without the Law of Return, Israel’s Jewishness is finished; with it, Israel’s trumpeted democracy is exposed as hollow.

Netanyahu is acutely sensitive to these dangers. Recognition of Israel’s Jewishness would pull the rug from under the minority’s equality campaign. If you don’t want to live in a Jewish state, Netanyahu will tell Palestinian citizens, go live in Palestine. That is what Mahmoud Abbas, your leader, agreed.

Netanyahu’s visceral contempt for the rights of the Palestinian minority was alluded to in a recent parliamentary debate. When an Arab MP commented, “We were here before you and will remain [here] after you”, an indignant Netanyahu broke protocol to interrupt: “The first part isn’t true, and the second won’t be.”

Recent government moves suggest that his latter observation may not be simply an idle boast but a carefully crafted threat. Israel is preparing to expel tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens from their homes in the Negev into urban reservations as part of a forced relocation plan. This ethnic cleansing campaign sets a dangerous precedent, hinting at what may lie ahead for Israel’s other Palestinian communities.

The minority has taken to the streets in the most widespread internal Palestinian protests seen since the eruption of the second intifada. Israeli police have responded with extreme brutality, using levels of violence that would never be contemplated against Jewish demonstrators.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s government has introduced legislation to raise the threshold for parties seeking entry to the Knesset. The main victims will be the three small Arab parties represented there. The law’s aim, analysts note, is to engineer an Arab-free Knesset, guaranteeing the right’s continuing and unchallengeable domination.

Netanyahu, it seems, doubts he can rely on the PA either to supply him with the political surrender he needs from the peace process or to recognise his state’s Jewishness. Instead he is bypassing Abbas to protect against the threat posed by his Palestinian citizens’ demand for equality.

~

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books).

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Treatment of Palestinians is Apartheid by Any Other Name

By Jonathan Cook | Dissident Voice |  July 10, 2013

Were it not for the razor wire, giant concrete blocks, steel gates, watchtower and standard-issue surly teenage soldier, it would be impossible to tell at what point the barren uplands of Israel’s eastern Negev give way to the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank.

The military checkpoint of Shani vaguely marks the formal demarcation between Israel and occupied Palestinian territory, but in practical terms the distinction is meaningless. On either side of the Green Line, Israel is in charge.

In recent weeks it has been intensifying a campaign to evict Palestinian farming communities summarily from their ancestral lands to replace them with Jewish newcomers.

Israeli human rights lawyers, tired of the international community’s formulaic criticisms, say it is time to be more forthright. They call these “ethnic cleansing” zones – intended to drive off Palestinians irrespective of the provisions of international law and whether or not the Palestinians in question hold Israeli citizenship.

In the occupied South Hebron Hills, a dozen traditional communities – long ago denied by Israel the right to enjoy modern amenities such as electricity and running water – are struggling to remain in the cave-homes that sheltered them for centuries.

Israel has reclassified much of their land as a military firing range and demands that they leave for their own safety. An appeal to the Israeli courts, the latest installment in a 14-year saga to avoid eviction, is due in the next few days.

Israel’s concern for the villagers’ welfare might sound more convincing were it not encouraging Jews to live close by in illegal settlements.

Palestinians in other parts of the occupied territories coveted by Israel – such as villages next to Jerusalem and those in the fertile Jordan Valley, the territorial backbone of any future Palestinian state – are being squeezed too. Firing ranges, closed military zones and national parks are the pretexts for Israel to appropriate the farmland these rural communities need to survive.

As a result, Palestinian life is withering in the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank Israel was temporarily entrusted with – the so-called Area C – under the Oslo Accords. Endlessly harassed Palestinians have sought sanctuary in West Bank cities under Palestinian Authority control. Today the remnants in Area C, a population of about 100,000, are outnumbered three to one by Jewish settlers.

A discomfited European Union, normally mealy-mouthed on Israel’s occupation, has started to describe this as “forced transfer”. The term may sound ominous and reproving, but human rights groups say that, from a legal perspective, the terminology obscures rather than illuminates what is taking place.

“Forced transfer”, observes Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal centre for Israel’s minority of 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, usually describes uncoordinated and unofficial incidents of population displacement, often as an outcome of war.

Bishara and others argue that Israel is carrying out a systematic and intentional policy to drive Palestinians off their land to replace them with Jewish communities. This, they say, should be identified as “ethnic cleansing”, a term first given legal and moral weight in the Balkans conflict in the early 1990s.

As evidence, the lawyers point to recent developments inside Israel. The treatment of tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev, all of them Israeli citizens, is virtually identical to that of Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills.

The Bedouin too have faced a prolonged campaign to push them off their ancestral lands and into a series of “townships”, forcibly urbanising them in the country’s most deprived communities. In the disconcerting language of Israeli bureaucracy, the Bedouin need to be “concentrated”.

Israel has increased the pressure – as in the West Bank – by denying these Bedouin all public services, and demolishing any concrete homes they build. As with Palestinians under occupation, the Bedouin have found their communities reclassified as firing ranges, military zones or national forests.

The village of al-Araqib, near Beersheva, for example, has been demolished more than 50 times in recent years as Israel plants on its land – with a suitably sinister irony – the Ambassadors’ Forest, commemorating the help provided to Israel by the international community’s diplomatic corps.

Waiting in the wings are developers ready to build on the Bedouin’s land 10 new towns for Jews only. The rest of the territory is being eaten up by Jewish ranches, given swathes of land to create vineyards, offer camel rides and, in one case, provide a pet cemetery.

But, as in the West Bank, the Bedouin are refusing to budge, and pressing their historic land claims in the Israeli courts. Rather than wait for a verdict it may not like, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is rewriting the Bedouin’s citizenship rights.

The Prawer plan, which passed its first reading in parliament last month, will force 40,000 Bedouin off their land – the largest expulsions inside Israel for decades. Unlike Jewish citizens, they will have no say over where they live; they will be forcibly assigned to a township.

For the first time, Israeli citizens – the Bedouin – are to be deprived of any recourse to the courts as they are harried from their homes. Instead Israel will resort to administrative procedures more familiar from the occupied territories.

The policy is clear: Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line are to be treated like sheep, fenced into ever-smaller areas, while Jews will have unrestrained access to a Greater Israel envisioned by Mr. Netanyahu.

The international community has long criticised Israel for the “discrimination” its Palestinian citizens face and for the “oppression” of Palestinians under occupation. This terminology needs overhauling too, say the human rights lawyers.

A system that treats one ethnic group as less human than another already has a legal name: it is called apartheid.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.

July 10, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Terror Lurking in a Christmas Tree

Israel tries to ban non-Jewish celebrations

By Jonathan Cook | Dissident Voice | December 23rd, 2012

Israel’s large Palestinian minority is often spoken of in terms of the threat it poses to the Jewish majority. Palestinian citizens’ reproductive rate constitutes a “demographic timebomb”, while their main political programme – Israel’s reform into “a state of all its citizens” – is proof for most Israeli Jews that their compatriots are really a “fifth column”.

But who would imagine that Israeli Jews could be so intimidated by the innocuous Christmas tree?

This issue first came to public attention two years ago when it was revealed that Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, had banned Christmas trees from all public buildings in his northern Israeli city.

“Upper Nazareth is a Jewish town and all its symbols are Jewish,” Gapso said. “As long as I hold office, no non-Jewish symbol will be presented in the city.”

The decision reflected in part his concern that Upper Nazareth, built in the 1950s as the centrepiece of the Israeli government’s “Judaisation of the Galilee” programme, was failing dismally in its mission.

Far from “swallowing up” the historic Palestinian city of Nazareth next door, as officials had intended, Upper Nazareth became over time a magnet for wealthier Nazarenes who could no longer find a place to build a home in their own city. That was because almost all Nazareth’s available green space had been confiscated for the benefit of Upper Nazareth.

Instead Nazarenes, many of them Palestinian Christians, have been buying homes in Upper Nazareth from Jews – often immigrants from the former Soviet Union – desperate to leave the Arab-dominated Galilee and head to the country’s centre, to be nearer Tel Aviv.

The exodus of Jews and influx of Palestinians have led the government to secretly designate Upper Nazareth as a “mixed city”, much to the embarrassment of Gapso. The mayor is a stalwart ally of far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman and regularly expresses virulently anti-Arab views, including recently calling Nazarenes “Israel-hating residents whose place is in Gaza” and their city “a nest of terror in the heart of the Galilee”.

Although neither Gapso nor the government has published census figures to clarify the city’s current demographic balance, most estimates suggest that at least a fifth of Upper Nazareth’s residents are Palestinian. The city’s council chamber also now includes Palestinian representatives.

But Gapso is not alone in his trenchant opposition to making even the most cursory nod towards multiculturalism. The city’s chief rabbi, Isaiah Herzl, has refused to countenance a single Christmas tree in Upper Nazareth, arguing that it would be “offensive to Jewish eyes”.

That view, it seems, reflects the official position of the country’s rabbinate. In so far as they are able, the rabbis have sought to ban Christmas celebrations in public buildings, including in the hundreds of hotels across the country.

A recent report in the Haaretz newspaper, on an Israeli Jew who grows Christmas trees commercially, noted in passing: “hotels – under threat of losing kashrut certificates – are prohibited by the rabbinate from decking their halls in boughs of holly or, heaven forbid, putting up even the smallest of small sparkly Christmas tree in the corner of the lobby.”

In other words, the rabbinate has been quietly terrorising Israeli hotel owners into ignoring Christmas by threatening to use its powers to put them out of business. Denying a hotel its kashrut (kosher) certificate would lose it most of its Israeli and foreign Jewish clientele.

Few mayors or rabbis find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to go public with their views on the dangers of Christmas decorations. In Israel, segregation between Jews and Palestinians is almost complete. Even most of the handful of mixed cities are really Jewish cities with slum-like ghettos of Palestinians living on the periphery.

Apart from Upper Nazareth, the only other “mixed” place where Palestinian Christians are to be found in significant numbers is Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Haifa is often referred to as Israel’s most multicultural and tolerant city, a title for which it faces very little competition.

But the image hides a dirtier reality. A recent letter from Haifa’s rabbinate came to light in which the city’s hotels and events halls were reminded that they must not host New Year’s parties at the end of this month (the Jewish New Year happens at a different time of year). The hotels and halls were warned that they would be denied their kashrut licences if they did so.

“It is a seriously forbidden to hold any event at the end of the calendar year that is connected with or displays anything from the non-Jewish festivals,” the letter states.

After the letter was publicised on Facebook, Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav, moved into damage limitation mode, overruling the city’s rabbinical council on Sunday and insisting that parties would be allowed to go ahead. Whether Yahav has the power to enforce his decision on the notoriously independent-minded rabbinical authorities is still uncertain.

But what is clear is that there is plenty of religious intolerance verging on hatred being quietly exercised against non-Jews, mostly behind the scenes so as not to disturb Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” image or outrage the millions of Christian tourists and pilgrims who visit Israel each year.

~

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books).

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | 1 Comment

What Really Lies behind Israel’s ‘No Occupation’ Report

By Jonathan Cook | Middle East Online | July 18, 2012

The recently published report by an Israeli judge concluding that Israel is not in fact occupying the Palestinian territories – despite a well-established international consensus to the contrary – has provoked mostly incredulity or mirth in Israel and abroad.

Leftwing websites in Israel used comically captioned photographs to highlight Justice Edmond Levy’s preposterous finding. One shows an Israeli soldier pressing the barrel of a rifle to the forehead of a Palestinian pinned to the ground, saying: “You see – I told you there’s no occupation.”

Even Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, seemed a little discomfited by the coverage last week. He was handed the report more than a fortnight earlier but was apparently reluctant to make it public.

Downplaying the Levy report’s significance may prove unwise, however. If Netanyahu is embarrassed, it is only because of the timing of the report’s publication rather than its substance.

It was, after all, the Israeli prime minister himself who established the committee earlier this year to assess the legality of the Jewish settlers’ “outposts”, ostensibly unauthorised by the government, that have spread like wild seeds across the West Bank.

He hand-picked its three members, all diehard supporters of the settlements, and received the verdict he expected – that the settlements are legal. Certainly, Levy’s opinion should have come as no surprise. In 2005 he was the only Supreme Court judge to oppose the government’s decision to withdraw the settlers from Gaza.

Legal commentators too have been dismissive of the report. They have concentrated more on Levy’s dubious reasoning than on the report’s political significance.

They have noted that Theodor Meron, the foreign ministry’s legal adviser in 1967, expressly warned the government in the wake of the Six-Day War that settling civilians in the newly seized territory was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Experts have also pointed to the difficulties Israel will face if it adopts Levy’s position.

Under international law, Israel’s rule in the West Bank and Gaza is considered “belligerent occupation” and, therefore, its actions must be justified by military necessity only. If there is no occupation, Israel has no military grounds to hold on to the territories. In that case, it must either return the land to the Palestinians, and move out the settlers, or defy international law by annexing the territories, as it did earlier with East Jerusalem, and establish a state of Greater Israel.

Annexation, however, poses its own dangers. Israel must either offer the Palestinians citizenship and wait for a non-Jewish majority to emerge in Greater Israel; or deny them citizenship and face pariah status as an apartheid state.

Just such concerns were raised on Sunday by 40 Jewish leaders in the United States, who called on Netanyahu to reject Levy’s “legal maneuverings” that, they said, threatened Israel’s “future as a Jewish and democratic state”.

But from Israel’s point of view, there may, in fact, be a way out of this conundrum.

In a 2003 interview, one of the other Levy committee members, Alan Baker, a settler who advised the foreign ministry for many years, explained Israel’s heterodox interpretation of the Oslo accords, signed a decade earlier.

The agreements were not, as most assumed, the basis for the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories, but a route to establish the legitimacy of the settlements. “We are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations.”

On this view, the Oslo accords redesignated the 62 per cent of the West Bank assigned to Israel’s control – so-called Area C – from “occupied” to “disputed” territory. That explains why every Israeli administration since the mid-1990s has indulged in an orgy of settlement-building there.

According to Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Levy report is preparing the legal ground for Israel’s annexation of Area C. His disquiet is shared by others.

Recent European Union reports have used unprecedented language to criticise Israel for the “forced transfer” – diplomat-speak for ethnic cleansing – of Palestinians out of Area C into the West Bank’s cities, which fall under Palestinian control.

The EU notes that the numbers of Palestinians in Area C has shrunk dramatically under Israeli rule to fewer than 150,000, or no more than 6 per cent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank. Settlers now outnumber Palestinians more than two-to-one in Area C.

Israel could annex nearly two-thirds of the West Bank and still safely confer citizenship on Palestinians there. Adding 150,000 to the existing 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, a fifth of the population, would not erode the Jewish majority’s dominance.

If Netanyahu is hesitant, it is only because the time is not yet ripe for implementation. But over the weekend, there were indications of Israel’s next moves to strengthen its hold on Area C.

It was reported that Israel’s immigration police, which have been traditionally restricted to operating inside Israel, have been authorised to enter the West Bank and expel foreign activists. The new powers were on show the same day as foreigners, including a New York Times reporter, were arrested at one of the regular protests against the separation wall being built on Palestinian land. Such demonstrations are the chief expression of resistance to Israel’s takeover of Palestinian territory in Area C.

And on Sunday it emerged that Israel had begun a campaign against OCHA, the UN agency that focuses on humanitarian harm done to Palestinians from Israeli military and settlement activity, most of it in Area C. Israel has demanded details of where OCHA’s staff work and what projects it is planning, and is threatening to withdraw staff visas, apparently in the hope of limiting its activities in Area C.

There is a problem, nonetheless. If Israel takes Area C, it needs someone else responsible for the other 38 per cent of the West Bank – little more than 8 per cent of historic Palestine – to “fill the vacuum”, as Israeli commentators phrased it last week.

The obvious candidate is the Palestinian Authority, the Ramallah government-in-waiting led by Mahmoud Abbas. Its police forces already act as a security contractor for Israel, keeping in check Palestinians in the parts of the West Bank outside Area C. Also, as a recipient of endless international aid, the PA usefully removes the financial burden of the occupation from Israel.

But the PA’s weakness is evident on all fronts: it has lost credibility with ordinary Palestinians, it is impotent in international forums, and it is mired in financial crisis. In the long term, it looks doomed.

For the time being, though, Israel seems keen to keep the PA in place. Last month, for example, it was revealed that Israel had tried – even if unsuccessfully – to bail out the PA by requesting a $100 million loan from the International Monetary Fund on the PA’s behalf.

If the PA refuses to, or cannot, take on these remaining fragments of the West Bank, Israel may simply opt to turn back the clock and once again cultivate weak and isolated local leaders for each Palestinian city.

The question is whether the international community can first be made to swallow Levy’s absurd conclusion.

~

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

July 18, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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