[News] Thoughts on the Attempted Murder of Palestine

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Thu Jul 26 13:13:55 EDT 2007


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July 26, 2007

A CounterPunch Special Report



Thoughts on the Attempted Murder of Palestine


The Siren Song of Elliott Abrams

By KATHLEEN CHRISTISON
Former CIA analyst

"Coup" is the word being widely used to describe what happened in 
Gaza in June when Hamas militias defeated the armed security forces 
of Fatah and chased them out of Gaza. But, as so often with the 
manipulative language used in the conflict between the Palestinians 
and Israel, the terminology here is backward. Hamas was the legally 
constituted, democratically elected government of the Palestinians, 
so in the first place Hamas did not stage a coup but rather was the 
target of a coup planned against it. Furthermore, the coup -- which 
failed in Gaza but succeeded overall when Palestinian Authority 
President Mahmoud Abbas, acting in violation of Palestinian law, cut 
Gaza adrift, unseated the Palestinian unity government headed by 
Hamas, and named a new prime minister and cabinet -- was the 
handiwork of the United States and Israel.

The Fatah attacks against Hamas in Gaza were initiated at the whim 
of, and with arms and training provided by, the United States and 
Israel. No one seems to be making any secret of this. Immediately 
after Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006, Elliott 
Abrams, who runs U.S. policy toward Israel from his senior position 
on the National Security Council staff, met with a group of 
Palestinian businessmen and spoke openly of the need for a "hard 
coup" against Hamas. According to Palestinians who were there, Abrams 
was "unshakable" in his determination to oust Hamas. When the 
Palestinians, urging engagement with Hamas instead of confrontation, 
observed that Abrams' scheme would bring more suffering and even 
starvation to Gaza's already impoverished population, Abrams 
dismissed their concerns by claiming that it wouldn't be the fault of 
the U.S. if that happened.

Abrams has been working on his coup plan ever since with his friends 
in Israel. As part of this scheme, the U.S. also urged Abbas -- again 
making no secret of this -- to dissolve the Fatah-Hamas unity 
government formed in March this year, form a new government, and call 
for new elections. Abbas acceded to U.S. demands with embarrassing 
alacrity after Hamas took Gaza. In a further gratuitous turn of the 
screw, he has appealed to Israel to turn up the heat on Hamas in Gaza 
by stopping delivery of fuel to Gaza's power plant and keeping the 
Rafah border crossing point from Egypt closed so that none of the 
thousands of Palestinian waiting at the border to return home will be 
able to enter.

The UN's outgoing Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, whose final 
report on his two years in Palestine-Israel was recently leaked to 
the press, describes Abrams and a State Department colleague, 
Assistant Secretary David Welch, threatening immediately after the 
Hamas election victory to cut off U.S. contributions to the UN if it 
did not agree to a cutback in aid to the Palestinian Authority by the 
Quartet (of which the UN is a member, along with the U.S., the EU, 
and Russia). De Soto also describes a gleeful U.S. response to 
Hamas-Fatah fighting earlier this year. The U.S., he says, clearly 
pushed for this confrontation, and at a meeting of Quartet envoys, 
the U.S. delegate crowed that "I like this violence" because "it 
means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas."

The Israeli-U.S. strategy for Palestine is now crystal clear: 
overturn the will of the people (in this case as expressed through 
democratic elections), kill off any resistance (Hamas in this case, 
along with any civilians who might get in the way), co-opt a quisling 
leadership (Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas), push out and kill if necessary 
as many people as international opinion will allow, ultimately rid 
Palestine of most Palestinians. The cast of characters and 
organizations has changed from earlier times, but this has 
essentially been Israel's strategy from the beginning.

The Bush administration is putting a beautiful face on this strategy 
in the aftermath of the Hamas takeover of Gaza, trying to lure the 
Palestinians with empty favors to Abbas and Fatah -- a three-month 
amnesty for 178 so-called militants in the West Bank, release of 250 
prisoners (out of 11,000), $190 million in aid (most of it recycled 
from previous undisbursed allocations, and amounting in any case to a 
mere seven percent of Israel's annual subsidy from the U.S.), release 
of customs duties withheld for the 
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last year by Israel (monies stolen by Israel in the first place). The 
U.S. is also holding out the promise to Abbas, if he behaves, to be 
allowed to play with the big boys in the Middle East and be included 
among the favored "moderates." In a speech on July 16, Bush offered 
the Palestinian people a choice. They can follow Hamas, he said, and 
thus "guarantee chaos," give up their future to "Hamas' foreign 
sponsors in Syria and Iran," and forfeit any possibility of a 
Palestinian state. Or they can follow the "vision" of Abbas and his 
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, "reclaim their dignity and their 
future," and build "a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland 
for the Palestinian people." The prerequisites imposed on Abbas are, 
as before, to recognize Israel's right to exist, reject violence, and 
adhere to all previous agreements between the parties.

The promises of Bush and his neocon hucksters, led by Elliott Abrams, 
are a siren song, holding out a false hope that Abbas' surrender to 
U.S. and Israeli enticements will bring a just peace and a just 
resolution of the issues most important to the Palestinians. The 
vision of a "peaceful state called Palestine" that the U.S. holds out 
is a sham, constituting perhaps 50 percent of the West Bank (but only 
ten percent of original Palestine) in disconnected segments, with no 
true sovereignty or independence, no capital, and no justice for 
Palestinian refugees. In these circumstances, Bush's vision of a 
"reclaimed dignity" and a decent future for Palestinians is also a 
sham. Although Abbas and his Fatah colleagues are going along thus 
far, most Palestinians have not fallen for these blandishments, which 
offer nothing in return for their abject surrender to Israel.

The election of Hamas in the first instance sent a political message 
-- of resistance to Israeli occupation and extreme dissatisfaction 
with Fatah's failure to end it or even to protest it adequately and 
the international community's failure to help -- and nothing in 
recent developments gives the Palestinians any hope that their 
message has been heard. Quite the contrary, in fact. But any 
expectation that this fact will lead them now to surrender is 
premature. As Israeli activist and commentator Jeff Halper wrote soon 
after the Hamas election, the Palestinians gave notice in that 
election that they would not submit or cooperate, that they were 
resurrecting a tactic from the 1970s and '80s, of remaining sumud, 
steadfast -- not engaging in armed struggle but not caving in to 
Israel's desire that they disappear. The race now is to see whose 
strategy prevails and whether the Palestinians in their steadfastness 
can hold out against Israel's long-term strategy of apartheid, ethnic 
cleaning, and even, as honest commentators have increasingly begun to 
label it, genocide.

* * *

Last fall, in the aftermath of a summer of daily Israeli bombardment 
of Gaza, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe characterized as a deliberate 
genocide what was then an average daily death toll of eight 
Palestinians in Israeli artillery and air strikes. Following Israel's 
disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the Israeli political and military 
leadership, recognizing that Gaza's almost 1.5 million Palestinians 
were hermetically sealed into a tiny geographical prison, had come to 
view them as an extremely dangerous community of inmates, which, in 
Pappe's words, had "to be eliminated one way or another." With no way 
to escape, Gaza's Palestinians could not be subjected to the gradual 
ethnic cleansing occurring in the West Bank, and so, at a loss as to 
how to deal with this massive problem, Israel was simply implementing 
a "daily business of slaying Palestinians, mainly children," always 
using Palestinian resistance as its excuse on security grounds for 
inexorably escalating its attacks.

Palestinian resistance, Pappe noted, has always provided Israel with 
the security rationale for its assaults on the Palestinians -- in 
1948, in the late 1980s when the Palestinians belatedly began 
resisting the occupation, during the second intifada, and following 
the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. When Israel ultimately escaped 
international accountability for ethnically cleansing over half of 
Palestine's native population in 1948, it was given license to 
incorporate this policy as a legitimate part of its national security 
agenda. Pappe predicted in 2006 that, if Israel continued to avoid 
any censure from the international community for its genocidal policy 
in Gaza, it would inevitably expand the policy. Only international 
censure, and he believed only the external pressure of boycott, 
divestment, and sanctions, could stop "the murdering of innocent 
civilians in the Gaza Strip."

Writing again about Gaza only a few weeks ago in the wake of Hamas' 
defeat of Fatah forces there, Pappe notes that he received many 
uneasy reactions to his earlier use of the charged term "genocide" 
and had himself initially rethought the term, but ultimately 
"concluded with even stronger conviction" that genocide is the only 
appropriate way to describe what Israel is doing in Gaza. Again 
noting the different realities in the West Bank, where ethnic 
cleansing is proceeding, and Gaza, where this option is not possible 
and where ghettoization is also not working because the Palestinians 
refuse to accept their imprisonment docilely, Pappe says that Jews, 
of all people, know from their own history that when ethnic cleansing 
and ghettoization fail, the next stage is "even more barbaric." 
Israel has been experimenting, he says, with gradually escalating 
killing operations against Gazans. At each stage, Israel uses more 
firepower, and as the distinction between civilian and non-civilian 
targets has gradually been erased, casualties and collateral damage 
have risen. In response, Palestinians fire more rockets, thus 
providing Israel with a rationale for further escalation. So-called 
"punitive" actions, undertaken on the grounds of enhancing Israeli 
security, have now become a strategy, Pappe observes.

The experimental aspect has been in gauging international reaction. 
Israel's military leaders wanted to know "how such operations would 
be received at home, in the region and in the world. And it seems the 
answer was 'very well'; no one took interest in the scores of dead 
and hundreds of wounded Palestinians." Each Palestinian response, and 
each Israeli killing operation ignored by the world at large, enables 
Israel "to initiate larger genocidal operations in the future," Pappe 
says. For now, internal Palestinian fighting, itself fomented by 
Israel and the U.S., has given the Israelis a respite, essentially 
doing Israel's job for it. But Israel stands ready to wreak more 
havoc and death whenever it pleases. Again, Pappe asserts that the 
only way to stop Israel is through a campaign of boycotts, 
divestment, and sanctions -- the only way of cutting off the "oxygen 
lines to 'western' civilization and public opinion" on which Israel 
depends. Only such external pressure, he believes, can possibly 
thwart Israel's implementation of its "future strategy of eliminating 
the Palestinian people."

Other critical observers have begun to see a similar murderous intent 
in Israel's handling of the Palestinian issue. Richard Falk, 
professor emeritus of international law at Princeton, in a recent 
ZNet article entitled "Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust," 
also spoke forcefully of a possible coming genocide:

"[I]t is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel 
compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the 
Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an 
inflammatory metaphor as 'holocaust.'. . .

"Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of 
Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective 
atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially 
disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on 
the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human 
community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The 
suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making 
represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world 
and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these 
current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy. . . .

"Gaza is morally far worse [than Darfur], although mass death has not 
yet resulted. It is far worse because the international community is 
watching the ugly spectacle unfold while some of its most influential 
members actively encourage and assist Israel in its approach to Gaza."

Israel's strategy of "eliminating the Palestinian people," is not 
new, as Ilan Pappe has long made clear in his several histories of 
the conflict, most notably the newest, The Ethnic Cleansing of 
Palestine, on the deliberate expulsion and dispossession of 
Palestinians in 1948. But the methods and the tactics change from 
time to time, and it is clear that now that Israel is enjoying the 
full, open, and conscious backing of the United States in this 
endeavor, thanks to the neocons' hijacking of Middle East 
policymaking in the Bush administration, it is proceeding really 
quite brazenly, making little secret of its essential hostility to 
all Palestinians and of its ultimate intent to eliminate, by whatever 
means necessary, the entire Palestinian presence in Palestine.

At the same time, there is growing recognition in many quarters of 
what exactly Israel's agenda entails, as well as growing willingness 
to speak about it publicly and to label genocide and apartheid as the 
realities that they are. This recognition is growing not only among 
humanists like Pappe and Falk, but also among realists like John 
Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who startled the world in 2006 with a 
forthright critique of the extensive power of the Israel lobby over 
U.S. policymaking; among outspoken former policymakers like Jimmy 
Carter, who had the temerity last year to write a book about Israeli 
policy with the word "apartheid" in the title; among some activists 
who are ready to put forth and stand by a campaign of boycotts, 
divestment, and sanctions against Israel; and even among many 
thoughtful Jewish and Zionist commentators who have begun to 
challenge their assumptions about Israel's innocence and the benign 
nature of Zionism.

Indeed, in ways not yet fully understood or fully played out, the 
years 2006 and 2007 have been a seminal period in the conflict. 
Developments on the ground, where the genocidal policies described 
are being pursued with increasing openness, along with new trends in 
the public discourse that swirls (or pointedly does not swirl) around 
the conflict in the world outside have forced new ways of thinking, 
new pressures, new ways of dealing with the long-running tragedy that 
is Palestine. Two distinctly opposite trends have emerged: one is the 
new and revolutionary push to examine Israeli and U.S. policies 
toward the conflict openly and without artifice; the other, in large 
part a reaction to the first, is a continuation and magnification of 
the longstanding impulse to deny the realities of the situation, 
suppress knowledge, suppress debate, close discourse. The future will 
be determined by which trend gains ascendancy. For the moment, the 
second is ascendant, as always, but the undercurrents created by the 
first trend simmer strongly.

The fundamental question is whether the Palestinians will be able to 
survive an intensifying assault on their very existence by the most 
powerful nation in the region, supported and actively assisted by the 
most powerful nation in the world, until the new voices opposing this 
assault grow strong enough to be heard around the world. For 
Palestine will not be saved without a total change in the public 
discourse surrounding every aspect of the conflict -- without a far 
more widespread awakening, of the kind Richard Falk has come to, to 
the horrific oppression Israel is visiting on the Palestinians, and 
probably without the kind of serious pressure on Israel, from the 
outside, that Ilan Pappe advocates.

* * *

The Palestinians' own will and steadfastness are obviously of great 
importance. The key question is whether they can, despite the forces 
working against them, remain sumud, and regain the basic loose unity 
that had until recently kept them more or less together as a people 
through 60 years of being scattered. Or will they simply be willed 
away by the world community, left to molder and disintegrate in their 
small, confined enclaves -- including not merely in Gaza but in 
various disconnected reservations in the West Bank, in small pockets 
inside Israel, in poverty-stricken refugee camps in neighboring Arab 
states, and in isolated exile communities throughout the world? Will 
they have the strength of purpose to continue pursuing justice and 
independence, or will they merely go along with their assigned fate, 
succumbing to the classic colonial strategy, which Israel is 
pursuing, of emasculating any resistance by co-opting its leaders, 
inducing one segment of the native population to police and suppress the rest?

Over the 60 years since the Palestinian naqba, or catastrophe, which 
saw the Palestinians dispossessed and ethnically cleansed to make 
room for the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian 
history has evolved in roughly 20-year phases. The first, from 1948 
to the late 1960s, was a period of nearly helpless quiescence during 
which the Palestinians were almost extinguished as a people -- first 
dispossessed and dispersed, then totally forgotten by their Arab 
brethren and by the rest of the world. Israel and Israeli 
propagandists willed any memory of Palestinians out of the public 
consciousness and erased most remaining physical traces of the 
Palestinians' presence on the land. Palestinians themselves existed 
in a state of shock, trying to regroup but unable to devise a 
strategy for resisting and bringing their case to international 
public attention.

The second phase was an era of Palestinian resistance. Running from 
the late 1960s and spurred in great part by Israel's 1967 capture of 
the West Bank and Gaza, the remaining parts of Palestine, this period 
saw the PLO unify the geographically and politically disparate 
Palestinians around the goal of liberating Palestine and saw 
Palestinian factions employ terrorism and armed struggle in response 
to Israeli terrorism and oppression. This is the period when 
Palestinians in the occupied territories, unable to use armed 
struggle against Israel's overwhelming strength, used the strategy of 
sumud, remaining steadfastly on the land to thwart Israel's attempts 
to force them out. In 1988, a year into the first intifada, a popular 
and largely non-violent uprising that brought the Palestinians 
considerable international sympathy and gave them the confidence of 
political success, the PLO accepted the two-state formula, thus 
waiving claim to three-quarters of original Palestine by recognizing 
Israel's existence inside its pre-1967 borders and agreeing to accept 
a small Palestinian state in the remaining one-quarter. During this 
phase, the world was finally made aware, although not always 
necessarily in favorable terms, of the Palestinians' existence and 
their plight.

The third two-decade period, up to the present, began as a period of 
accommodation but, as this unreciprocated accommodation has 
increasingly been exposed as bankrupt, is ending with a renewal of 
resistance. Yasir Arafat formalized the PLO's huge 1988 concession by 
signing the Oslo accord in 1993 and agreeing to the several 
implementing stages that followed -- stages that, far from moving 
toward Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and toward 
establishment of a sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state there, 
actually consolidated Israel's control, facilitated a massive influx 
of Israeli settlers into the very territories slated for Israeli 
withdrawal, forced the Palestinian leadership into the 
collaborationist role of enforcer of Israeli security, and isolated 
the Palestinian population and Palestinian authority in the 
territories into literally hundreds of disconnected land segments.

When at the Camp David peace summit in 2000 it became clear that, as 
far as Israel and the U.S. were concerned, a limited Palestinian 
independence could be achieved only through still more concessions to 
Israel, and on such critical issues as the disposition of Arab East 
Jerusalem and the fate of approximately 4,000,000 Palestinian 
refugees scattered throughout the Arab world, Palestinian eyes were 
opened to Israel's endgame, and resistance began anew. The 
Palestinian leadership still formally supports the two-state 
solution, and even Hamas has consistently indicated a readiness to 
give Israel a long-term truce and accept Palestinian statehood in the 
West Bank and Gaza if Israel withdraws from these territories 
completely. But, as it has become increasingly obvious that Israel 
has no intention of ever making meaningful concessions to the 
Palestinians, more and more Palestinians, including the 1.3 million 
who live inside Israel as (second-class) citizens, have abandoned 
accommodation and are returning to maximum demands such as full 
implementation of the right of return for 1948 refugees and equal 
citizenship for Palestinians and Jews in a single state in all of Palestine.

After a period of armed resistance and terrorism during the second 
intifada following the peace process collapse in 2000, resistance has 
turned primarily to political means. Hamas refuses, despite major 
economic deprivation resulting from international political and 
economic sanctions, to capitulate to demands for recognition of 
Israel's right to exist unless Israel recognizes a Palestinian right 
to exist and defines where its borders and the limits of its 
expansion lie. Inside Israel, Palestinian citizens have begun to 
demand an Israeli constitution (there has never been one) that would 
mandate equal rights for Palestinians and Jews, making Israel a state 
of all its citizens rather than a state of Jews everywhere. There 
have also been increasing calls, by some few Israelis and large 
numbers of Palestinians, for establishment of a single state for 
Palestinians and Jews in all of Palestine, in which all citizens 
would have equal rights, equal dignity, and equal claims to national 
fulfillment. Finally, new calls have arisen for international 
boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it 
demonstrates that it is prepared to end its racist oppression of Palestinians.

Each of these phases has been marked by two principal features: 
Israel's consistent efforts over 60 years to eliminate the 
Palestinian presence in Palestine, and the Palestinians' determined 
and to this point successful effort to defeat this attempt to erase 
them from the landscape. Israel has varied its tactics but ultimately 
has never given up its goal of establishing "Greater Israel" as an 
exclusively Jewish state. Its methods have involved bald-faced ethnic 
cleansing as in 1948; a continual propaganda campaign attempting to 
demonstrate that Palestinians do not exist and, if they do, have no 
rights in any case; a steady expansion into more and more Palestinian 
territory; and a gradually escalating effort to make life so 
unbearable for that persistent remnant of Palestinians inside Israel 
and in the occupied territories that they will leave voluntarily. 
Most recently, Israel and the U.S. have been making a concerted 
effort to undermine Hamas, for the very reason that it represents the 
political if not the religious will of the people, and to force the 
split between Hamas and Fatah that culminated in last month's fighting in Gaza.

Israel found an eager collaborator in the Fatah-led Palestinian 
Authority, whose leadership has sought since the start of the peace 
process to cooperate with the Israeli occupier and the U.S., despite 
being repeatedly slapped in the face. The leadership's forlorn desire 
to be seen as "moderate" and "reasonable" has meant that the 
Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Yasir Arafat or by Mahmoud 
Abbas, has never registered a serious protest against Israel's 
continued consolidation of the occupation and has rarely even paid 
lip service to the right of return for Palestinian refugees. This 
attempt to curry favor is the reason today that the leadership 
cooperates openly with Israel and the U.S. against Hamas, despite 
clear evidence that Israel will never make meaningful territorial 
concessions to the Palestinians or even any real political 
concessions to Fatah, such as release of significant numbers of 
Palestinian prisoners, and despite clear evidence that the U.S. will 
never pressure it to do so. Discussions over the years with ordinary 
Palestinians, including some working inside the PA, reveal a near 
universal chagrin at the PA's accommodationist stance. Both in 
advance of the elections that brought Hamas to power and since, 
Palestinians have expressed consternation at Abbas' blind desire to 
please the U.S. in the expectation that this behavior would bring 
some political benefit to the Palestinians, despite repeated evidence 
to the contrary. There is widespread disgust not only with the PA's 
corruption but more importantly with its utter failure to defend 
Palestinian rights. Abbas is clearly still running after the U.S. and 
just as clearly getting nowhere.

Is this abysmal Palestinian situation a harbinger of things to come? 
The Palestinians are suicidally split; one segment of the leadership 
is desperately paying court to their oppressors, while the other 
stands strong in resistance but is seriously isolated; Gaza is 
impoverished and entrapped; the West Bank lies helpless on its back, 
open to the picking by territorial vultures; and no one, absolutely 
no one, in the international community seems willing seriously to 
intervene, to press for restraint by Israel, to oppose the 
unquestioning U.S. support for Israel, to recognize Palestine's 
legally constituted government, or even to offer meaningful aid to 
the Palestinians. Is this the vision of the Palestinians' next 20 
years? Most Israelis and most U.S. policymakers hope so. This is a 
Palestine molded in the neocon laboratories of the Bush 
administration, part of the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East, a 
Middle East envisioned in the corridors of the White House and the 
State Department as dominated totally by Israel, full of subservient 
Arab governments (dubbed "moderates" in the jargon of the new age) 
or, where the "moderates" do not prevail, mired in continual 
U.S.-instigated warfare.

* * *

Enter Elliott Abrams, the neocons' Dr. Frankenstein and senior 
working-level creator of much of the Middle East's current turmoil. 
Although not a main architect of the Iraq war, Abrams, who has been 
the principal Middle East adviser on the National Security Council 
staff throughout most of the Bush administration, was part of the 
pro-Israeli neocon cabal that devised and pushed for the war. He it 
was who advocated and has now largely succeeded in creating the "hard 
coup" against Hamas. Working with Vice President Cheney's Middle East 
adviser David Wurmser, another rabid Israeli supporter, and with 
Cheney himself, Abrams fully supported and may have given Israel a 
green light for Israel's war against Hizbullah in Lebanon last 
summer. This year, according to the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh and 
others, Abrams has been a key figure behind the fighting going on at 
the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon; the insane 
scheme, undertaken in cooperation with some Saudi elements, some 
powerful rightwing Christians in Lebanon, and at least indirectly 
with Israel, has involved arming and encouraging extremist Sunni 
militias in Lebanon in order to weaken Shia Hizbullah, as well as 
Iran and Syria. Finally, it almost goes without saying that Abrams 
has become a leading advocate, again according to Hersh, of an attack 
on Iran, and he has been pushing Israel to launch an attack on Syria.

Palestinian commentator Rami Khouri calls this induced chaos the 
beginning of a great "unraveling" of the current Arab state order 
established decades ago in the aftermath of World War I. At the very 
moment when Arab states -- including not only governments, but 
various groups within them, including Islamist, other sectarian, 
ethnic, and tribal movements -- are struggling to define themselves, 
Khouri says, huge external pressures led by the U.S., Israel, and 
some European governments and abetted by some Arab governments (those 
currying favor with the U.S.), are weighing down on the local 
elements to thwart them and redirect them toward fulfilling Western 
interests. Khouri calls this a formula for an explosion. Some form of 
utter turmoil, if not an outright explosion, would seem to be 
precisely the desire of Abrams and his fellow neocons, as well as of Israel.

No one should be surprised that Abrams has had a hand in creating the 
mess in the Middle East and is actively working for the dismemberment 
and emasculation of the Arab world. He did this in Central America 
before being caught lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra 
investigation and being momentarily sidelined. More to the point, 
concern for Israel's interests, and an extreme rightwing agenda, have 
long driven Abrams' actions.

He is the son-in-law of two of the original neocons and the most 
strident rightwing supporters of Israel, Norman Podhoretz and Midge 
Decter. If his relatives were not enough to incriminate him, Abrams 
has been outspoken himself, in office and outside, in opposition to 
virtually any peace process and any Israeli territorial concessions. 
In the early 1990s, according to a 2003 profile in the New Yorker, he 
co-founded the Committee on U.S. Interests in the Middle East, which 
spoke out against Israeli territorial concessions, and later in the 
'90s he was a fierce critic of the Oslo process. He has written of 
the first Palestinian intifada, which involved virtually no violence 
beyond stone-throwing, that it was no mere "uprising" but involved 
"terrorist violence" against Israelis. Since coming to the NSC staff, 
he has made it widely known that he has pushed the administration to 
line up in support of Israel. He has also made little secret of his 
strong anti-Palestinian views. Far worse than putting the fox in 
charge of the henhouse, the move that put Abrams on the NSC staff 
placed the pro-Israel lobbyist par excellence, emotional advocate for 
Israel, icn charge of making policy on a conflict of surpassing 
importance to U.S. national interests in a world far beyond Israel.

More than most policymakers past or present, Abrams wears his 
pro-Israeli heart on his sleeve. In a 1997 book on the place of Jews 
in U.S. society, Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian 
America, he took the position that Jews should "stand apart from the 
nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to 
be apart -- except in Israel -- from the rest of the population." 
Although maintaining that this stance implies no disloyalty to 
whatever nation Jews live in, he unabashedly affirmed the importance 
of the Jewish "bond" to Israel. The Jewish community in the U.S., he 
said, should conceive of itself as a religious community because 
"faith is the only ultimately reliable bond between American Jews and 
Israel." He laid out a program for change in the Jewish community 
that could not have made his commitment to Israel clearer. Describing 
Israel as a source of Jewish identity for millions of American Jews 
and "the essence of their lives as Jews," he said his program would 
mean making "the link to Israel . . . one of personal contact and 
commitment" rather than merely of financial support.

For all his affection for Israel, Abrams has shown himself to be a 
pragmatist -- in the sense of devious manipulator that describes his 
hero Ariel Sharon -- and this pragmatism has ultimately allowed him 
to accomplish more for Israel than his harder lining colleagues would 
have been able to do. One longtime friend says of him, according to 
the New Yorker profile, that he is "unusually effective at combining 
different strands of policy. It's a mark of his performance in these 
jobs -- showing an acute sensitivity to what his political opponents 
are worried about and knowing how to win them over, or neutralize 
their animosity toward him." This cold-blooded awareness of what 
politics demands enabled Abrams to maneuver through the hype 
surrounding the Roadmap peace proposal when it was first presented in 
2003, and in the end undermine the Roadmap altogether at a time when 
politics demanded that Israel appear to be going along with this 
U.S.-proposed peace plan.

While many Israelis and most of Abrams' neocon colleagues feared that 
the plan would demand real territorial concessions of Israel, Abrams 
worked closely with Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, to design 
a scheme that would make it appear that Israel had agreed to the plan 
while actually placing the onus on the Palestinians to take the first 
step by stopping all terrorist incidents and dismantling militant 
organizations. After Israel had destroyed all Palestinian security 
capability, it was clear that this would be an impossible task for 
any Palestinian leadership, but Abrams and Weisglass knew this would 
give Israel the breathing space to proceed with settlement expansion 
and consolidation of the occupation. It was an intricate maneuver 
that reassured the right wing in Israel and the U.S. that Israel was 
making no concessions but made it appear to most of the world outside 
that Israel was ready to make "painful concessions" if the 
Palestinians "showed their good will."

Weisglass later exposed the thinking behind the scheme as it began to 
evolve a year later into Sharon's plan for so-called disengagement 
from Gaza. These peace plans, he said, speaking specifically of the 
disengagement plan, supply "the amount of formaldehyde that is 
necessary so there will not be a political process with the 
Palestinians." They "freeze" the political process. "And when you 
freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian 
state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and 
Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian 
state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from 
our agenda." Weisglass boasted that this had occurred with "a [U.S.] 
presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of 
Congress." He did not openly credit Abrams, but, as a State 
Department official once told an interviewer, Abrams is "very careful 
about not leaving fingerprints."

Abrams has repeated this act multiple times -- not only over the 
Roadmap and disengagement, but over the issue of Israeli settlement 
expansion and over Israel's construction of the apartheid wall (on 
which he has helped plan such minutiae as the placement of gates and 
some parts of the wall's route) -- each time making it appear that 
Israel is making concessions, or would do so if it had a decent 
Palestinian partner for peace, but quietly manipulating the situation 
so that in the end Israel is enabled to proceed with its plans more 
or less unimpeded. By thus cooperating with Israel to fine tune its 
occupation practices, Abrams has acted as a partner of Israel rather 
than as a U.S. policymaker and has given legitimacy to virtually 
every aspect of Israel's continuing occupation.

This same pattern is apparently being repeated with the engineered 
Hamas-Fatah split. Although Israel has no more intention now than 
ever previously of making real concessions to Abbas (and indeed 
announced immediately after Bush's speech that it will not even 
discuss the central issues of borders, refugees, and Jerusalem), the 
U.S. and presumably Abrams have persuaded the Israelis to make some 
low-cost gestures to Abbas, while acting as though they are eager for 
negotiating progress whenever the "moderate" Palestinians are ready 
-- all in the hope of undermining and finally defeating Hamas.

Reports of a rift between Abrams and Condoleezza Rice are frequent, 
but it is probable that Rice has simply decided to follow Abrams' 
lead in most things Middle Eastern. She is probably more dovish than 
Abrams, and she seems to have made a serious although badly misguided 
and short-lived effort early this year to restart some kind of 
negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians, with her 
attempt to put a "political horizon" for negotiations before them, 
but she is neither as clever nor as emotionally involved in the issue 
as Abrams, and she appears content to follow along, even at the cost 
of some embarrassment when her initiatives are undermined.

There is some question in fact whether Rice truly disagrees with 
Abrams. She did, after all, learn most of what she knows about the 
Palestinian-Israeli situation at the feet of Abrams, who was the NSC 
staff's principal Middle East point person for most of her term as 
national security adviser. The fact that her principal State 
Department assistant secretary for the region, David Welch, seems to 
be actively cooperating with Abrams in efforts to stir up turmoil in 
Lebanon and travels with Abrams to Israel indicates either Rice's 
total submission to Abrams' dictates or her disinterest in taking any 
kind of policymaking lead in the Middle East. In either case, if 
there was ever a disagreement strong enough to matter, it appears by 
now to have been submerged.

Thus Abrams almost certainly has fairly free rein to fold, spindle, 
and mutilate policy on Palestine-Israel. He is obviously in his 
element, hyperactively pulling strings behind the scenes everywhere, 
wheeling and dealing with cohorts in Israel -- where he travels every 
month or two, sometimes more often -- as well as with compliant 
elements among the "moderate" Arab governments. Shortly after 
September 11 and the start of the "war on terror," according to the 
New Yorker profile, he was so enthusiastic about the prospect of 
manipulating the Arab world that he exulted that "I feel young again! 
I love all these battles -- they're so familiar to me." He was back 
in the fray, as during the era of the Central American wars. There is 
little evidence that he faces any restraints inside the U.S. He has 
obviously triumphed in whatever competition there might have been 
with Rice, he works closely with Cheney and Cheney's right hand, 
David Wurmser, and he has a coterie of admirers and supporters among 
the neocons in think tanks around Washington. He appears to be not 
only Israel's facilitator and co-conspirator on Middle East issues, 
but Bush's Middle East brain as well.

* * *

This picture of unrestrained power and extreme partisan advocacy at 
the center of Palestinian-Israeli policymaking in Washington is the 
backdrop against which any intensified anti-Zionist sentiment and any 
effort to change and broaden public discourse must struggle. The 
power that Abrams and his neocon cohorts wield is further 
strengthened by the well financed, single-focus Israel lobby. 
Together, these factors present an almost insurmountable obstacle to 
any progress toward open discussion of the Palestine-Israel reality, 
and ultimately toward real justice for Palestinians and genuine peace 
for the region. Nor is it an obstacle that will be removed after 
Abrams leaves office, even if a Democratic president is elected and 
the neocons are banished; the lobby, of which Abrams is only one, 
albeit very central part, wields such power and such control over 
discourse on Palestinian-Israeli issues that policy will not change 
significantly whichever party holds the White House and whichever 
controls Congress.

Nonetheless, there is some change underway in public discourse, at 
least enough to worry some of the lobby's movers and shakers, who 
constantly wring their hands in distress over the supposed 
"anti-Semitism" of the growing numbers of Israel's critics. It is 
impossible at this stage to foretell the outcome of what is, without 
exaggeration, an epic struggle between those fighting for pure 
justice for a dispossessed, oppressed people and those on the other 
side who, in the course of fighting to preserve the ethnic and 
religious superiority of Jews in an exclusivist state, are provoking 
a clash of civilizations and a disastrous global war with the Muslim 
world. On the one hand, it is clear that the voices of critics like 
John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Jimmy Carter, and the relatively few 
others with the courage to speak out and organize campaigns such as 
the boycott-divestment-sanctions campaign are but a small chorus 
against the lobby's huge symphony orchestra. Moreover, the chorus' 
song comes at a time when the U.S./Israeli/lobby orchestra is 
creating maximum chaos throughout the Middle East, generating more 
turmoil, manufacturing more fear, and helping drown out opposing voices.

On the other hand, Zionism is unquestionably under assault these 
days. Increasing numbers of commentators and politically aware 
individuals are finally beginning to recognize that the oppression, 
the atrocities that Israel has been committing in the occupied 
territories for the last 40 years, are not some kind of aberration 
but are merely a continuation of a campaign of ethnic erasure begun 
in 1948. Ariel Sharon himself described the conflict with the 
Palestinians that began with the second intifada in 2000 as "the 
second half of 1948." The late Israeli historian Tanya Reinhart 
recognized this reality and noted in her 2002 book Israel/Palestine: 
How to End the War of 1948 that as far as Israel's political and 
military leaders are concerned, "the work of ethnic cleansing was 
only half completed in 1948, leaving too much land to Palestinians." 
This leadership, she said, "is still driven by greed for land, water 
resources, and power," and they see the 1948 war as "just the first 
step in a more ambitious and more far-reaching strategy."

Increasingly, other thoughtful Israelis are coming to recognize this 
connection to 1948 and reject it -- to recognize that the occupation 
cannot be ended and real peace forged without looking back to the 
beginning in 1948 and rectifying the huge injustice done then to the 
Palestinians. For the Palestinians themselves, the right of return -- 
the right to return to their homes in Palestine or receive 
compensation for the loss of those homes -- has become a genie that, 
having been roused by Israel's own loud objections to recognizing the 
refugees and by Israel's constant attention to its "demographic 
problem," will not be put back in the bottle.

The next 20-year phase in Palestinian history is a chapter that 
cannot yet be foretold. The range of possibilities is wide. At one 
end is continued Palestinian accommodation and surrender to the siren 
song of empty U.S. and Israeli promises, such as is being encouraged 
today. Continued resistance, largely political but also including 
some military, along the lines of Hamas' strategy is probably more 
likely. Over the longer term, it is possible to see success in some 
measure, some form of vindication and real justice. Ultimate justice 
-- for both peoples -- would be the establishment of guaranteed equal 
rights for Palestinians in Palestine, formal establishment of a 
single state for Palestinians and Jews, and acceptance of a formula 
under which Israel recognized its responsibility for dispossessing 
the refugees and the refugees were granted the right to return if they chose.

Twenty years hence, will Israel continue to exist as a Jewish state, 
intent on maintaining Jewish supremacy at any cost? Will the 
Palestinians be further dispossessed and scattered? Despite their 
dismal situation today -- and despite over the years being repeatedly 
dispossessed, exiled, ignored, oppressed by successive conquerors, 
occasionally massacred -- the Palestinians have remained remarkably 
persistent and steadfast, and it is difficult to envision their total 
defeat. In his 1970s novel The Secret Life of Saeed, the 
Pessoptimist, on the difficult life of Palestinians in Israel, 
Palestinian novelist Emile Habiby wrote a scene that probably in some 
way describes the future of Palestine. His hero, the Pessoptimist, 
watches as an Israeli military governor drives a Palestinian woman 
and her child away from a field she is working. "The further the 
woman and child went from where we were . . . the taller they grew. 
By the time they merged with their own shadows in the sinking sun, 
they had become bigger than the plain of Acre itself. The governor 
still stood there awaiting their final disappearance. . . . Finally 
he asked in amazement, 'Will they never disappear?'"

Jeff Halper observed in a recent personal account of his own journey 
away from Zionism that "the truth is that despite [Israel's] 
desperate attempts to erase their presence and replace it with purely 
Jewish space, the Palestinians define our existence." The refugees in 
particular, despite not even being present, pose the greatest 
challenge to Jewish comfort; they "do not give us rest, [they] 
prevent us from truly taking possession of the land." The refugees 
and everything about the country that until 1948 was Palestine "are 
now a poltergeist under our feet, concealed under layers of 'Judaization.'"

This uncomfortable and highly unequal coexistence, we can probably 
all be assured, will remain in place for the foreseeable future. But 
ultimately, some combination of these narratives -- Palestinians as 
ever-present, Palestinians as the source of eternal Israeli 
discomfiture, finally Palestinians as returned, unearthed from layers 
of Judaization and living together with Jews as equal citizens -- may 
describe a better future. Halper hopes for a day when Israelis will 
exorcise their demons by doing justice to the Palestinians, "which 
means turning the Land of Israel into Israel/Palestine (or 
Palestine/Israel)." Many others are talking increasingly of a vision 
of Palestine as a land in which Palestinians and Jews are equal. It 
won't be an easy progress, but at the end of the next 20-year phase, 
it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Palestinians will be 
living in freedom, justice, and prosperity. To be meaningful, all 
three of these requirements for a decent life must be there for both 
peoples in equal measure.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked 
on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0520217187/counterpunchmaga>Perceptions 
of Palestine and 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/097125480X/counterpunchmaga>The 
Wound of Dispossession. She can be reached at 
<mailto:kathy.bill.christison at comcast.net>kathy.bill.christison at comcast.net.




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