Ray Close

Ray Close is from a long line of Middle East experts. From the outset of the Iraq campaign, he fearlessly organized fellow colleagues from the CIA to speak out against the misuse of intelligence. He has been a relentless campaigner to return professionalism to our intelligence community and to rebuild the firewall separating it from politics. Here is a short bio: Ray Close comes from a family with deep roots in the Middle East. He and many of his immediate relatives have been teachers, diplomats or businessmen in the Arab Middle East for four generations, since his maternal great-grandfather arrived in 1853 and began establishing schools in southern Lebanon. His father, Harold Close, was a professor and later Dean of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Beirut from 1910 until 1955. His mother's brother, Colonel William Eddy, served as the interpreter between President Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud at their historic meeting aboard a US Navy cruiser in the Suez Canal immediately following the Yalta Conference in February 1945. After graduating from Princeton University in 1951, Ray served for 26 years as a Middle East specialist with the Operations Directorate of the CIA. During his career, he served under cover as a political officer at American Embassies in Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. For seven years before his retirement in 1977, he was the CIA's senior representative in Saudi Arabia. Source: http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/2004/05/more-dubious-def-dept-allegations.htm

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Revelant history

Dear Friends:

A propos President Obama’s Middle East policy speech yesterday,  and the vigorous reaction that it provoked from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, I have recalled an Op-Ed of mine that was published in the International Herald Tribune in November 2002, a few months before the Iraq invasion.  I believe it retains striking relevance in today’s situation.  It reveals, among other things, how short Washington’s institutional memory can be, especially when it comes to presidential commitments regarding the Palestine-Israel issue.  A slightly abbreviated version of that Op-Ed is reproduced below.  (It also contains some insights into the personal diplomatic style [and spelling ability] of former president Richard Nixon, which are both revealing and amusing.)  Most importantly: We Americans must remember always that other players on the world’s stage often have much longer memories than those who deal with current U.S. policy matters down in Foggy Bottom!


It’s time to keep American promises

By Raymond Close, International Herald Tribune, 29 November 2002

The Mideast linkage factor

. . . . . . . . . . . The connection between other American regional foreign policy objectives and U.S. dedication to the Arab-Israel peace process has traditionally been referred to as the “linkage factor.”

Valuable lessons in understanding the linkage phenomenon can be drawn from a brief review of events as far back in history as the early 1970s, before, during and after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Starting in late 1972, about 10 months before the outbreak of the 1973 war, the late King Faisal began warning President Richard Nixon that other Arab states, led by Iraq and Libya, were beginning to put heavy pressure on him to join them in utilizing what became known as the “oil weapon” against the United States unless the Nixon administration took a more active interest in resolving the Palestine problem. These warnings from Faisal were earnest, and they were urgent. Washington ignored them. Faisal never gave up. He sent his oil minister, Ahmed Zaki Yamani, and others to Washington several times in the next few months to convey that message to everyone who would listen, inside and outside of government. The warning was ignored in most cases. In other instances the messenger was publicly denounced as a crude practitioner of “blackmail.”

On April 17, 1973, several months before the Yom Kippur War began, I was informed by my official Saudi intelligence counterparts that Anwar Sadat had reached a decision to begin preparing for a major military assault across the Suez Canal, and that he had informed King Faisal of this decision in a letter received that day.

Sadat acknowledged unashamedly in this letter that he did not expect to win a war against Israel, but he explained that only by restoring Arab honor and displaying Arab courage on the battlefield could he hope to capture the attention of Washington and persuade Henry Kissinger to support a peace process.

The letter was read to me with King Faisal’s express permission. In reporting this information, I included news that Prince Saud al Faisal, the king’s son and present foreign minister, was being sent to Washington to convey again his father’s deep concern, made much more urgent by the message from Sadat, that only a vigorous American peace initiative, urgently undertaken, could avert a regional Middle East war that would inevitably include the imposition of an oil embargo.

King Faisal considered including this message again in written form in a personal letter to Nixon, but he then thought better of the idea. He was tired of writing letters to the American president, he explained, recalling that the last time he had done so it had been three months before he received a reply. Prince Saud was therefore instructed to convey the message verbally.

Again, as usual, Washington paid no heed to this admonition from a wise and dignified gentleman, a proven friend of America for many years.

It was no surprise, then, that when the dire predictions came true six months later, Faisal stood resolutely, shoulder to shoulder, with his Arab brothers. Washington had again failed, through arrogance and ignorance, to appreciate the significance of linkage. Another significant episode took place several weeks after the Yom Kippur War had ended, but while the oil embargo was still in effect. In a personal letter to King Faisal dated Dec. 3, 1973, President Nixon included the following remarkable passages:

“Looking back over recent years, I recall the many times Your Majesty has written to me of your concern and of your conviction that we should do more to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. You have always given me wise counsel, and in retrospect your advice was well taken and should have been heeded.

“The latest war, and the shadow it has cast over our relations with many of our friends in the Middle East, has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the situation which has existed for so long can no longer be permitted to remain unresolved. The American people, while they feel a strong commitment to the security and survival of Israel, also harbor friendly feelings toward the Arab world and are well disposed to give responsible Arab views the attention they deserve. The American people have even understood how, in the heat of the recent war, the need to demonstrate solidarity with your Arab compatriots led Your Majesty to institute certain measures with respect to the production and supply of oil.

“With Your Majesty’s cooperation, I am prepared to devote the full energies of the U.S. to bringing about a just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on the full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, in the adoption of which my government played a major part. You have my total personal committment to work toward that goal.”

NOTE:  The last sentence was added by President Nixon in his personal handwriting, with the word “total” underlined twice (and the word “commitment” misspelled.) 

Richard M. Nixon
President of the United States

Mr. Close was the CIA Chief of Station in Saudi Arabia from 1970 to 1977.

[End of IHT article]

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/05/20/revelant-history/

Been there, done that

Good advice.

Been there; done that (1957).  Seemed like a good idea at the time, according to Eisenhower and two good old Presbyterian Princetonians named Dulles. Bad idea, however.  We don’t do intervention very well. Result: more harm than good!  Still paying the price!


Leave Syria to the Syrians

By Charles Glass, May 02, 2011

This is not a good time to be running the Middle East desk at the State Department. If you happen to be him or her, take my advice: Do nothing. Especially in Syria. Let all the think tanks and lobbyists submit their recommendations. Ask the CIA for the usual analysis. Tell the Israelis, which you would anyway, that you’ll put their suggestions at the top of the pile. Stack that pile high, then burn it. If you stick your hand into this particular tar baby, you will never get out.

Think back to when this mess began, which was a long time before young Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death in Tunisia. It was about the time the British and the French decided to save the Arabs from the Ottoman Empire’s oppression. They convinced a few Arabs, who would have remained loyal to their sultan if they had not lost out in one power struggle or another, to overthrow their oppressor. This was only a couple of generations after Britain and France protected the Turks’ empire from encroachment by that other evil empire—the Russian one—in the Crimea. By 1917, when the Turk was looking vulnerable, the time came to rescue his subjects from harsh treatment that the Anglo-French entente had not noticed for a couple of centuries. Soon after the Turks were driven out, the Iraqis were fighting for their lives against the British and the Syrians risked their all to expel the French. Both failed until the Second World War made the maintenance of Levantine and Mesopotamian protectorates too expensive.

“Syria is a complex and diverse society in which outside do-gooders risk destroying all they claim to support.”

Liberation from outside is as dangerous a game as revolution. With neither can the outcome be predicted. The Poles were liberated from the Nazis in 1945, only to find themselves under the Red Army. Many Iraqis wanted to depose Saddam Hussein in 2003, but the American Army turned out to be a blunt instrument that made their lives more hellish than Saddam had. I remember when Palestinians in the West Bank complained about Jordanian rule. I suspect that having since 1967 been occupied by Israel’s army and displaced by Israel’s settlers, they would give anything to have the Jordanians back. So before Uncle Sam rides to the rescue in Syria, give it some thought.

There are two people whose analysis of matters Syrian I respect. Both are British journalists and scholars who have lived in the region, speak Arabic, and are at least seventy-five. One is David Hirst, formerly of the Guardian. The other is Patrick Seale, who used to write for the Observer. Seale’s 1965 The Struggle for Syria is the starting point for any serious understanding of the country’s politics. His 1988 Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East tells all you need to know about Syria since Assad père became president in 1970. Hirst’s The Gun and the Olive Branch renders most other histories of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict irrelevant, and his recent Beware of Small States brings the drama up to date by doing the impossible: explaining Lebanon.

Hirst wrote on March 22 in the Guardian that protestors in Dera’a, the southern border town where the anti-regime demonstrations began, burned down the office of a cell-phone company owned by the president’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, and the local headquarters of the Ba’ath Party. The party and the company represent monopoly—one economic, the other political. Many Syrians believe that their lives would be better if they could share in the economy and the government. Those who control both monopolies refuse to share wealth and power, so the contest is on. Hirst writes:

Never would the army and police leaderships abandon the political leadership as they did in Egypt and Tunisia. For them all, so incestuously linked, overthrow is simply not an option.

Civil war, however, is an option.

Seale divides Syria into the regime’s defenders and opponents. Defenders include the

Alawi-led army and security services…the Sunni merchants of Damascus…[and] several thousand of the new affluent bourgeoisie….To these different groups should be added those Syrians of all classes who, having observed the slaughter and destruction across the borders in Lebanon and Iraq, prefer to opt for stability and security, even at the cost of harsh repression and a lack of political freedom.

Among the opponents are

The young working-class poor, who protest in the street because they see no possibility of a better life…the new middle class poor—that is to say, educated or semi-educated young people who, on graduation, find that there are no jobs for them….Intellectuals…small businessmen whose ability to make money has been blocked by the corrupt and greedy men at the top….And then there are the Islamists.

Syria is a complex and diverse society in which outside do-gooders risk destroying all they claim to support.

There may well be interference already, as there is no indication that the Obama Administration has shut down the Bush-era program to finance and promote Syrian exile oppositionists. A Reuters report, published in the Guardian on March 11, indicated that someone was preparing the ground for an armed insurrection in Syria.

The first victims of a war in Syria will be the religious minorities. These include the Alawites and the Christians, who comprise about ten percent of the population and have prospered under the Assad regime. The government, despite the Ottoman-era practice of defining citizens by religious sect, is explicitly secular. Gregory III Laham, the Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, in an interview with Asia Today, praised young Muslim demonstrators in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs who “offered to protect churches, providing security cordons around the buildings to prevent criminal acts.” He nonetheless fears the “criminals and even fundamentalist Muslims who cry for jihad. This is why we fear that giving way to violence will only lead to chaos.”

As in Iraq, chaos would mean the mass emigration of the Christian communities who have lived there for two millennia. Syria, following the American invasion of Iraq with its concomitant anarchy and sectarian conflict, took in over a million Iraqi refugees, including more than 300,000 Christians. Where would they and Syria’s indigenous Christians find refuge? Do Washington’s holy warriors want them to leave and for Syria to be as purely Sunni as its favorite Mideast statelet, Saudi Arabia?

The Syrians would be wise not to make their ancestors’ mistake of accepting military help from foreigners who have never done them any good. If the West wants parliamentary democracy in Syria, why did the CIA and Britain’s MI6 support the 1949 military coup that destroyed it in the first place? America’s would-be Lawrences of Arabia who believe they can liberate the Syrians would do well to remember that this rebellion began in Dera’a. It was in Dera’a that Lawrence himself was captured and tortured. He wrote that “in Dera’a that night the citadel of my integrity had been irrevocably lost.”

The US is doing enough harm in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya without burying itself in the Syrian tar as well. As the old French saying goes, it is urgent to do nothing.

Charles Glass was ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent from 1983 to 1993. His books include Tribes with Flags (Atlantic Monthly Press,1990) and Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation (Penguin Press, 2010).

http://takimag.com/article/leave_syria_to_the_syrians or http://bit.ly/k6Erfw or http://tinyurl.com/689v8q2

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/05/07/been-there-done-that/

Paradigm shift in Palestine-Israel situation?


Note: John Whitbeck is a Harvard-educated American lawyer, now resident in Paris, whose international practice has focused primarily on the Middle East.

– Ray Close

Finally, some hope for a game-changing turn of events in the Palestine-Israel situation

TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck

Today’s ARAB NEWS editorial, transmitted below, notes, with justified optimism, the recent strong endorsements by the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund of Palestine’s readiness for sovereign statehood, which are themselves indicative of the enthusiasm of virtually every country other than Israel and the United States for actuallyachieving a two-state solution.

It should be clearly understood that, if the State of Palestine, within its full, defined pre-1967 borders, is admitted as a state member of the United Nations in September, the two-state solution will have been achieved, even if one of the two states, for the time being, is under military occupation by the other. 

This would not be an unprecedented situation. It happened 20 years ago, when Iraq militarily occupied Kuwait. Kuwait did not then cease to exist as a sovereign state or as a member state of the United Nations. Quite simply, an inadmissible situation of the military occupation of a UN member state by a neighboring UN member state could not be permitted to endure — and it lasted only seven months. 

While no one would expect the now almost 44-year-old Israeli occupation of the post-1948 remnants of Palestine to end that quickly — or that the United States would permit the UN Security Council to authorize member states to use “all necessary means” to end it — UN membership for the State of Palestine would instantly make the end of the occupation a question of “when”, no longer of “whether”. 

Once the two state-solution has been achieved and the legal borders of each state with the other have been defined by the United Nations, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine could negotiate, in the context of a radically different balance of power, the limited land swaps and cooperative arrangements for sharing an open city of Jerusalem which will finally permit Israelis and Palestinians to physically end the occupation and to live together in peace, security and mutual respect. 

Once the two-state solution has been achieved, Israel would no longer have any incentive to continue stalling and faking an interest in peace, and the true “international community” would not tolerate its doing so if it did. Israel would, finally, have every incentive to sincerely seek peace. 

One may hope — even if only feebly — that some prominent people in the executive branch of the U.S. government might be capable of grasping how profoundly in the best interests of the United States and the American people it would be for this course of events to be permitted to play out — and of daring to act (or at least get out of the way) accordingly. 

In the 1950’s, future president John F. Kennedy published a small volume of popular history entitled “Profiles in Courage”, in which he recalled the few (perhaps ten) instances in American history in which American politicians had actually put the interests of their country and people ahead of their own personal and career self-interest. 

In September, Barack Obama will have the opportunity to write a new chapter.

Editorial: A “birth certificate”

Published: April 17, 2011 

EU’s report card is reflective of growing support for Palestinian independence

When Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told donor nations in Brussels that the building blocks of a modern Palestine state were now in place, he was not exaggerating but simply echoing what the donors themselves had said, and more. Their view was that the institutions developed by the Palestinian Authority were now “above the threshold for a functioning state.” 

The donors were citing reports prepared by the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. They were endorsing a UN report which says that in six key areas in the West Bank — rule of law, the economy, education, health, social protection and infrastructure — “government functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state.” In particular, the IMF noted decreased dependence on aid and increased budgetary transparency. 

This is hugely important. That Palestinians have been praised as ready for independent rule accelerates their drive toward statehood recognition. With peace talks with Israel dead, Palestinians have been pursuing a UN vote on statehood in September — a goal that seems more likely after this upbeat assessment of the PA’s ability to govern a sovereign state. 

The Palestinians chose September 2011 as their day of judgment, and did not do so haphazardly; the date is a pointed rebuff to the United States. Five months from now, statehood could be announced on the very date President Barack Obama chose as his finishing line for a peace agreement. The Palestinians might get there, but upon their own initiative, and after having taken an entirely different route. They are bypassing Washington and Tel Aviv and directly seeking the blessings of the international community. 

This unprecedented potential unilateral declaration of independence has Israel in anxious mood and mode. As such, whether out of desperation or in line with its usual policy to grab land, Israel continues to perform the one major act that stopped the peace talks in the first place: It has continued its settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The UN report issued in Brussels noted that since September 2010 Israel has given the green light to 1,700 Jewish settlement units while continuing demolitions of Palestinian homes and evictions of Palestinian families, especially in east Jerusalem. Fearing the worst, fearing the Palestinian side will unilaterally declare independence, and win its case, Israel is going flat out trying to turn as much Palestinian land into Israeli territory, so that come September, a possible state will be that much smaller. 

Naturally, what Israel opposes, so does the United States. Thus, the US blocked a meeting of the Quartet that had been tentatively scheduled to take place Friday in Berlin to discuss, and hopefully endorse, the outlines of a peace settlement proposed by Britain, France and Germany. And in February, the US vetoed the Security Council resolution that would have condemned illegal Israeli settlements and demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building.

Fortunately, the Palestinians are not going it alone. The veto spurred Britain, France and Germany, who supported the measure, to issue a joint statement expressing serious concern about the stalemate in the Middle East peace process. And now the EU’s glowing report card is reflective of growing support for Palestinian independence.

Ahead of the possible UN vote on statehood, the Palestinians have gained a crucial boost from the IMF and World Bank. They are calling the endorsement a “birth certificate” for statehood. 

Perhaps sooner than anyone expected, the nascent state shall indeed be born.

© 2010 Arab News

 http://arabnews.com/opinion/editorial/article362812.ece or http://bit.ly/exlcI0 or http://tinyurl.com/3rlxudk

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/04/17/paradigm-shift-in-palestine-israel-situation/

Hizbullah’s man

From: Oliver Miles
Sent: Mon, Jan 31, 2011 9:07 pm
Subject: Lebanon

MEC Analytical Group
1 February 2010

The Lebanese president has appointed Najib Miqati, former prime minister and billionaire, as Prime Minister after he received 68 votes in support in the Lebanese parliament including those of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and his party, against 60 for Saad Hariri. Like all Lebanese Prime Ministers, under the conventions of the National Pact, Miqati is Sunni, but Sunnis in Tripoli (Lebanon) denounced his appointment as a “coup” and “Persian tutelage over Lebanon”, burnt tyres, blocked roads, attacked media outlets, and clashed with the police, with smaller disturbances in Beirut and Sidon. Miqati is reported to want to form an all-party government, but cabinet making is likely to be a long business.

We circulate below a comment by Rami Khouri of the Beirut Daily Star.

Hizbullah’s Government

31 Jan 2011, BEIRUT  

The new Lebanese Prime Minister-designate, Najib Mikati, has been widely portrayed in the international media as “Hizbullah’s man,” and his mandate to form the next government has generated considerable speculation about the consequences of a government formed in the shadow of Hizbullah, which means Iran and Syria to most people. Indeed, critics of Hizbullah and the Mikati appointment — especially Sunni supporters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri — speak disdainfully of Mikati as the wilayet el-faqih prime minister, referring to the formal title (“rule of the jurisprudent”) of the Iranian supreme leader system. Hariri and many of the Lebanese Sunnis he represents see the events of the past weeks as a successful coup by Hizbullah to take over the government.

All of this is incredibly significant in Middle Eastern terms, but the exact significance and consequences remain rather hazy to most observers. We have to wait and see the composition and the political program of the Mikati government before judging the full meaning of what is going on. Several important aspects of this process can be identified already, though, and, like most political developments in Lebanon, they relate simultaneously to local, regional and global issues — because Hizbullah itself is an organization that operates at all three levels.

I would first point out that if Mikati’s appointment indeed means that we now have a Hizbullah-named government in Lebanon, the most sensible thing to do it to wait and see what it does before judging it prematurely simply on the basis of whether one likes or dislikes Hizbullah. This is especially true for the United States, which has consistently made the wrong decision in recent years in opposing and fighting leading Islamist movements that enjoy strong support and considerable legitimacy in their own countries. The combination of Hizbullah’s reputation for efficiency and diligence, on the one hand, and Mikati’s personal integrity, respect and business success, on the other, suggests that this government may actually start to address some of the pressing issues and threats facing all Lebanese, including inadequate electricity supplies, declining water quality, rising prices, environmental degradation, corruption and severe developmental disparities across the country. Hizbullah, and its main Christian ally Michel Aoun have repeatedly raised these domestic governance issues in their criticisms of the Hariri and previous governments, alongside other divisive matters such as relations with the United States, or the role of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) that will indict and try in court those individuals, organizations or governments that it believes killed Rafik Hariri and 22 others.

This indicates to me that perhaps the most important thing about the change of government that Hizbullah and its allies have forced is that they now will face the pressures of accountability that heretofore they have largely avoided at the national level. Hizbullah has always disdained domestic Lebanese politics, in favor of its self-appointed primary role as the “resistance” movement that protects Lebanon from the two main dangers it sees: Israeli aggression and American-led Western cultural assault. This process today is the culmination of 20 years of its gradual movement into Lebanese domestic politics — from local government, to national parliament, to the cabinet, and now, indirectly, to the prime ministry — making it the single most powerful political group in the country to go along with its being the most important military force.

The problem with all this is that Hizbullah is not an ordinary political party or sectarian-based movement like most other Lebanese political groups. Its primary role is anti-Israeli military resistance or deterrence and anti-American political-cultural resistance, and protecting that role through political means; and its most significant relationships include links with Iran and Syria. This means that for many of its Lebanese and other critics, Hizbullah is a danger to Lebanon, rather than an asset. Its movement into the heart of Lebanese politics is an opportunity for Hizbullah both to reformulate its image and diversify its core mission — via the Mikati link — to include domestic good governance and equitable service delivery that would allow more and more Lebanese to relate to it as something more than an instigator of catastrophic war with Israel or a problematic Trojan Horse for Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon.

This is largely uncharted territory for such Islamist and militant movements in the Middle East. Hamas is a poor cousin to Hizbullah in this respect, and the successful and now governing Justice and Development Party in Turkey lacks Hizbullah’s military dimension or ethno-pluralism national context. The STL is the immediate issue that challenges Lebanon and the government-formation process, but this is a transient issue that will be just one of the criteria by which Hizbullah’s historic move into the heart of Lebanese political governance will be judged. The others are socio-economic management, reducing corruption, promoting equitable development, and stabilizing sectarian relations at home, and regional issues such as ties to Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/02/01/hizbullahs-man/


Dear Friends:

Below is the full text of an excellent (make that superior) speech delivered last week in Washington by Kathleen Christison to the annual meeting of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) on the subject of current U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestine problem.

Most of you will recall that Kathy is a retired senior Middle East analyst at the CIA, who writes and speaks often, and very effectively, on this issue.  The speech below is blunt and hard-hitting.  She pulls no punches is describing why the United States is on its way to another dismal failure in its efforts to keep the Middle East Peace Process alive.  Conveniently,  Kathy has produced here a very useful summary of the current situation —  one that is ideal for sharing with friends and acquaintances who are interested in keeping informed about this complex and frustrating issue.  You will find it highly informative and powerfully presented — but (sorry!) not encouraging.




Kathleen Christison
NCUSAR Conference
October 22, 2010

When Benjamin Netanyahu, then out of office, was caught on video talking back in 2001 to a family of settlers in the West Bank, he boasted about having undermined the Oslo agreement when he was prime minister in the mid-1990s.  And, speaking about the United States, he said “I know what America is.  America is a thing that you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.”

I would have to say that this little truism uttered by Netanyahu has never been more accurate than it is today.  The so-called “peace process” in which President Obama is currently mired is, of course, only the latest of a multitude of U.S. attempts to ignite the search for a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis over the last several decades.  And it has to be said that each attempt is a little more hopeless, and each time, the United States is a little more blind to why it is hopeless.

The hard reality, I think, is that, because of that blindness, it is the United States itself that is blocking any possibility of reaching a just, equitable, and lasting peace.  The United States itself is ultimately the party that is impeding the search for justice and equity in Palestine-Israel.

There has been, and still is to a considerable degree, a disturbing amount of enthusiasm for this current round of talks from what I would describe as those who have an investment of reputation in the two-state solution.  This includes, first and foremost, policymakers from the Obama administration, as well as many former policymakers from the Clinton administration, moderate Zionists such as the relatively new pro-Israel lobby group J Street, and a great many commentators in the mainstream media.

The danger in this push for a two-state solution and in the fact that these people have invested their reputation in its achievement is that they are pursuing it for the wrong reasons — because it is politically expedient, or to save Israel from the demographic problems of a too-high Palestinian population growth, or simply because this is what they’ve staked their reputations on — and they fail or deliberately refuse to recognize the substantial obstacles to the actual realization of a peace agreement that will result in a real, viable Palestinian state.

They don’t examine the realities on the ground that stand in the way of full sovereignty for the Palestinians.  They refuse to see that Israel, whether under Netanyahu or under any other conceivable government, will never agree to genuine Palestinian independence or to ending the occupation.  They don’t in fact generally even acknowledge that there is an occupation — that one party to the negotiations occupies and totally controls the other-and therefore that the two parties are in no way equal or equally able to press their demands for a peace agreement.  This is a road to disaster — meaning, most likely, disaster for the Palestinians.

These two-state enthusiasts are locked in to this particular solution no matter what — no matter that Israel continues to devour the territory where the small Palestinian state would be located; no matter that the U.S. and Israel are forcing the Palestinians to negotiate over an occupied territory that by international law should not be negotiable; no matter that the negotiations, and the proposed solution, ignore Gaza, where over one-third of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories lives; no matter that the United States arms one side in the negotiation and enables its territorial advances and all of its oppressive policies.

This is really the crux of the issue: because the United States gives Israel at least $3 billion in military aid every year, and usually more, as part of a 10-year, $30-billion arms package agreed to by the Bush administration, and because the U.S. and Israel are in so many ways geopolitical partners, the United States is in fact an interested party on one side of peace negotiations rather than a neutral mediator or honest broker.  U.S. military aid, and the fact that it is essentially a signed and sealed commitment running through the year 2017, removes virtually any leverage that the United States might have to induce Israel to make concessions for peace.  The U.S. is powerless to cajole or force Israel to move, and Israel lacks any incentive to do so.

I think we’ve seen how this works in reality throughout the dispute over Israeli settlements and the so-called settlement freeze.  The United States demanded; Israel made a show of complying but did not; Obama covered for the Israelis, telling them they were making unprecedented concessions; and then, when we wanted an extension of the freeze, Israel said flatly “no.”  And so instead of exerting pressure on the Israelis, we have offered them more aid and more concessions.  Israel is never held accountable, always rewarded.  But we do exert pressure on the Palestinians to be more accommodating to Israel.

Which raises another critical effect of this U.S.-Israeli partnership: the glaring power imbalance at work in negotiations and in all other aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli situation.  This partnership places an almost totally powerless people, the Palestinians, on one side of the negotiating table opposite their very powerful occupier and the occupier’s arms provider.

The power imbalance dramatically skews not only the relative strength of the parties, but the very terms they are negotiating.  The Palestinians have already recognized Israel’s existence inside the 1967 borders, constituting 78 percent of Palestine.  (And it should be clear that even Hamas is willing to agree to a long-term truce with Israel and live with a two-state situation, if Israel moves back inside its own borders and withdraws from the occupied territories.)  Palestinians are now being asked to negotiate over the remaining 22 percent of Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem).  But Israel is determined to retain the large settlement blocs inside that 22 percent, as well as the territory on its side of the Separation Wall, much of the road network connecting settlements, and all or most of the Jordan Valley.  And it has the military power and the U.S. support necessary to impose its demands on the disposition of territory.

If the Palestinians gain a “state” (quote-unquote) at the end of this process, it will be a state in name only, little more than a disconnected set of tiny enclaves with no real sovereignty or independence or viability, and without Gaza, which will be left to drift.  A state in pieces.  I think it’s vital that we recognize that this totally unacceptable outcome, which is probably the best that can be expected any time in the near future, will be the responsibility of those two-state enthusiasts, including in the Obama administration, who are ignoring the grim realities that stand in the way of a solution.

The noted Israeli historian Avi Shlaim recently made an important point about the power imbalance in an article in the London Guardian.  “The prospects for reaching a permanent status agreement are poor,” he said, “because the Israelis are too strong, the Palestinians are too weak, and the American mediators are utterly ineffectual.  The sheer asymmetry of power between the two parties militates against a voluntary agreement, …like putting a lion and a lamb in a cage and asking them to sort out their own differences….In order to bridge the huge gap separating the two sides, America must first redress the balance of power by putting most of its weight on the side of the weaker party.”

I would guess we are nowhere near the day when the United States is prepared to put most of its weight on the side of the weaker party in this conflict.

And so we come to the reasons for the identity of interests that binds the United States to Israel and prevents any meaningful U.S. pressure on Israel.

I happen to be an advocate of the school of thought that holds that the pro-Israel lobby plays a vitally important role in determining the direction of policy in the Middle East, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and that the lobby cements the U.S.-Israeli relationship.  The U.S. has its own imperial interests that also play a critical part in policy formulation, and the military/industrial complex obviously also has a voice in policymaking.  But I believe that the influence the Israel lobby exerts has been critically important, and I think there’s a mountain of evidence to support this view.

I don’t have time to go into a lot of detail, but I think it’s fair to say that almost everything President Obama has done during his almost two years in office demonstrates the profound power of the lobby to move policy in a pro-Israel direction.  This phrase-to move policy in a pro-Israel direction — comes from the two scholars, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who wrote a ground-breaking book on the lobby three years ago and essentially broke the taboo on discussing the lobby.

It’s a critical phrase.  It certainly doesn’t mean the lobby controls all foreign policy, or even all Middle East policy.  It simply means that the lobby has a profound effect on how policy is made in this area.  One of the most important aspects of this impact, I think, is the state of public discourse that has formed around the Palestinian-Israeli situation over the years.  This is a mindset and a set of assumptions that determine how we all automatically think about Israel when we hear the name mentioned, and what we all think when we hear the name “Palestinians” mentioned.  This is a public discourse, a mindset that has been building and being shaped-and being internalized-for almost a century.  And it’s all the Zionist-Israeli narrative

Public discourse has a huge impact on how a policymaker approaches the Arab-Israeli issue and particularly the Palestinian-Israeli issue.  I’m talking about every policymaker in every administration since the Zionist enterprise began promoting itself in the United States around World War I.  It’s important to realize that pro-Zionist activists have been working to mold U.S. opinion since well before there was an Israel-and the effort continues.

This has been done repeatedly over the decades through a multipronged effort simultaneously to shape the views of the media through frequent, well placed media stories; of Congress through direct lobbying that has resulted in pro-Zionist, pro-Israeli resolutions and legislation going back to the 1920s; of the political establishment through more direct lobbying that has produced pro-Zionist or pro-Israeli statements in both the Republican and the Democratic party platforms in every election year since the 1920s; of the public through media placement and demonstrations that have continually brought the Zionist project and Israel to public attention, and in recent years through think tanks and Israeli hasbara or propaganda campaigns; and finally, at the top of the heap, of key policymakers, including presidents, through all of this manufactured discourse and through close personal contact.

Policymaker thinking has been directly affected in this way.  Over the years since Israel’s creation, there has been a pervasive atmosphere in which Israel is simply assumed to be so close to the United States, its interests so closely intertwined with American interests, that it is accepted almost as a part of the U.S.  The lobby reinforces this sentiment, maintaining it in a myriad of ways and channeling it into institutional ways of involving ordinary Americans in supporting Israel.

In this atmosphere, criticism of Israel is silenced, and this silencing has a direct impact on policy formulation.  It also has a longer term, more indirect but equally critical impact, because  this is the atmosphere in which future policymakers grow up — an atmosphere of ignorance and denial in which it is virtually impossible, first of all, to learn anything about the situation and, secondly, to speak out without incurring the organized wrath of Israel’s supporters.

This is where Barack Obama and the United States are today — caught in an induced ignorance and blindness.  I actually believe that Obama fumbled so badly on the settlement freeze issue precisely because he and his advisers are almost totally ignorant of the actual situation in Palestine and Israel.  I don’t believe they understand the situation on the ground in Palestine and what the occupation means for Palestinians, and they do not care.  They’re also basically ignorant, I think, about Israel and its objectives.  They did not really realize how important the settlements are to Israel and its ambitions.  I think they thought they could get away with asking for a freeze because they thought Israel didn’t care that much about the settlements.  Their ignorance is the work of the Israel lobby.

Obama’s subservience to Israel — on the settlement freeze, on the appointment of officials in the U.S. government whom Israel and its supporters don’t like, on the Goldstone report about Israel’s assault on Gaza last year, which the U.S. has repudiated — all this has occurred not because of U.S. imperial ambitions but purely and simply because the Israel lobby has such a powerful influence on policymaking in this critical area.

I don’t need to tell this audience how very dismal is the U.S. image throughout the Arab and Muslim world because of our unquestioning support for everything Israel does.  The tragedy of the present situation is that the United States and all U.S. politicians appear trapped in a web that they do not even recognize — in a mindset that dominates both political parties in the U.S. and a web in which it is impossible to separate U.S. from Israeli ambitions.

This perceived convergence of interests has a profound effect on U.S. policy choices in the Middle East, and I believe we are seeing this all too clearly today as President Obama attempts, always unsuccessfully, to induce Israel to work toward a peace agreement.  Commentators and former policymakers are using some very damning language to describe Obama’s handling of Netanyahu — strong words like “humiliating,”  “pandering,” “pathetic.”  That last is from a former policymaker.  If the United States is unable to do better than this and unable to distinguish its own real needs from those of another state, then it simply cannot say that it always acts in its own best interests.  In the face of the massive human rights violations being committed against Palestinians today, the failure to recognize this reality is extremely dangerous.

Ambassador Freeman told us yesterday that there will never be a peace agreement until there’s a reversal of policy by the United States.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid he’s right, but I don’t see such a reversal coming.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/10/30/dismal/

No solution

“There can be no elegant solution to a poorly defined problem.”

Dear Friends:

This past summer I was privileged to participate in a very small retreat with four friends who came from totally different professional backgrounds and walks of life — one a Christian minister who is president of a small liberal arts college, one the athletic director of a major Division I university, and two highly successful business executives from entirely different sectors of the corporate world.  As a long-retired USG Middle East specialist, I expected to be the odd man out, but we all came to realize very quickly how much we had in common when sharing our personal concerns about the present state of American society and our country’s role in the world today.  At the end of three days of completely candid discussion, we discovered that even when viewed from our distinctly different perspectives, the most fundamental problems that we could each identify in our respective areas of expertise were amazingly similar, and that we could all benefit greatly from each other’s individual insights and experience.  In summarizing our conclusions at the end of our mini-conference, we agreed on one general rule of life that fit all of us equally: do not expect to make wise decisions unless and until you have taken the time and trouble to understand the underlying fundamentals of the issues to which you are seeking a solution.  Stated more succinctly, it comes across best as this tidy little maxim:  “There can be no elegant solution to a poorly defined problem.”

That simple message came home to me again last week, and provided an opportunity to illustrate how appropriate the advice can be — even when applied to U.S. national policy at the highest level.  I hope you will find the following little essay interesting and informative.


Last week, I attended a large meeting in Washington of an organization called The National Council on US-Arab Relations.  One of the keynote speakers was Ryan Crocker, who retired last year after serving as our top diplomat in Iraq following similar appointments in Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon — making him surely one of the most experienced and knowledgeable experts on the Middle East who ever served our government.  He is now Dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

In his speech last week, Ambassador Crocker stated that an eventual new Iraqi government headed by present Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is likely to request an extension of a US military presence in Iraq beyond the year 2011, and that he expected the Obama administration to be receptive to this request.  The clear implication was that a Maliki regime, lacking adequate trained manpower and sophisticated defense capabilities, would necessarily be dependent to a significant degree on US military power to defend itself effectively against both foreign and domestic opponents.

I was stunned by this statement, and double checked with several people to confirm that I had heard Ambassador Crocker accurately.  I had indeed.  The following message to you summarizes my reactions to that information.

To me, it is astonishing and troubling that our government would even consider placing US military power (and therefore commensurate American national prestige) to any degree whatsoever, and even if only implicitly, under obligation to a government headed by an Iraqi leader whose political agenda and personal ambitions can never be confidently relied upon to support objectives consistent with American interests, either inside Iraq or regionally.

I take this to mean, in short, that until we have completed the training and equipping of Iraq’s national security forces to the point of self-reliance, the United States will be willing to assume some as-yet-unspecified level of responsibility to defend the Iraqi homeland against external enemies and protect the incumbent regime from internal challenges.

Some clarification is definitely called for.

Against whom, and in response to what types of threats, would the Iraqis contemplate calling for US military assistance?  Who, and by what decision-making process, would the leaders of both parties reach agreement as to the identity of the “enemy” that we Americans would be called upon to oppose?  Who would decide what level of military action was appropriate, and who would determine when American intervention should begin and when its mission could be declared “accomplished”?  What if reinforcements were required in cases where US forces met unexpectedly heavy resistance or suffered unacceptable numbers of casualties?  (Surely not another surge?)  Those questions, and many more in the same vein, make me extremely uncomfortable.  The same goes, I’m sure, for my congressman, my grandchildren, and the relatives of every man and woman in the US armed forces.

How could President Obama, considering the other staggering problems he faces domestically and internationally, possibly justify (much less implement) an indefinite and highly controversial expansion and extension of our military and political commitments in Iraq?

How can anyone expect the American people (i.e. you and me, and Congress) to accept the high degree of risk that our forces would be drawn into any of the numerous ethnic, sectarian or regional conflicts that will obviously remain unresolved for at least the next decade in Iraq?  What would be the rules of engagement when US combatants were caught in the middle of spontaneous and tactical-level “fog of war” incidents — that will frequently and inevitably occur in Iraq over the next decade or more?  On a strategic level, would we refuse an urgent demand from the Maliki government that we intervene to forestall a Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk?  Would we help government security forces suppress a potentially violent Sunni protest movement demanding a more equitable division of political and economic resources — considering that our refusal to take sides might mean endangering the survival of the central government and/or increasing the likelihood of uncontrolled sectarian conflict and civil war?  Who would pay the costs of maintaining our forces in Iraq for years to come?  (Not my tax dollars, please!)  How would Iraq’s neighbors react to a startling reversal of Obama’s repeated pledge to bring American military forces home next year?  Might this provocative new posture not incentivize Iran to instigate violent attacks against other US interests in the region?  (To say nothing of the certainty that Al-Qa’ida would also rise to the challenge in similar fashion.)  The list of hideous potential repercussions goes on and on.

Ambassador Crocker’s explanation that without long-term American support Iraq’s armed forces will continue to lack the air power, artillery, armor and intelligence capabilities with which to defend their homeland against external attack (and to maintain internal unity and stability) is undeniably a valid consideration, and one that we have worried about for seven long and expensive years already.  But for the United States to leave behind a cadre of essentially non-combatant military trainers is not what is being considered here, as I understand the issue.  I believe Ryan Crocker meant precisely what he implied — that we will respond positively to an Iraqi Government request that the US reverse its present drawdown plans and retain in Iraq for an indefinite period a level of combat-ready forces sufficient to act as guarantor of the Iraqi state against external and internal threats.  What other meaning could he have intended to convey?

Commitment of US armed forces in an entirely new combat mission like this in Iraq today would be, in my view, the legal equivalent in every respect of launching a completely separate and distinct new military intervention in the Arab Middle East — one that should only be undertaken with the broad domestic and international approval and support that were so tragically lacking before the original invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Yet another aspect of the problem:  Have we blissfully ignored the uncomfortable truth that any large and effective internal security apparatus that we organize and train in Iraq (and likewise in Afghanistan, for that matter), will eventually become the dominant instrument of power in the country — to be employed at the whim of a government over whose actions and policies we will have no control and virtually no influence?  Today, before Iraqi forces are ready to take over full responsibility for their own security, we are apparently willing to commit our own military forces, under some vaguely-defined agreement, to augment and support the actions of an Iraqi regime that we not only cannot control, but one which we know perfectly well is corrupt, repressive, unstable and unreliable.  (Read Afghanistan if you will.)  Is it not utterly foolhardy to commit the lives of untold numbers of American men and women to what could easily evolve into another long, costly and probably futile new war?  Once we are in, how do we get out?  That’s the ill-defined foundation of decision-making that gives me heartburn.

For someone with Ryan Crocker’s experience at the policy-making level of our government to casually announce that, at this late date, the United States will probably accept an Iraqi government request that we reverse ourselves and agree to maintain a large military presence in Iraq for many more years, with the dangerously imprecise mission described above, is extremely hazardous and irresponsible, in my opinion —- especially considering that there has been (to my knowledge) absolutely no effort yet planned or initiated to obtain clear popular and governmental mandates to enact this policy in either Baghdad, the United Nations, Congress or Main Street, USA.

After suffering the terrible costs of ignoring expert advice before blundering into Iraq, should we not expect this government of ours to pay closer attention to experienced veterans advising us to keep out of yet another potential quagmire?

Ray Close

Monsieur d’Nalgar’s note:  This was emailed by Ray Close on October 29, 2010 under the subject heading “Dangerous escalation of US military commitment in Iraq?”

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/10/29/no-solution/

Sowing evil

People who cultivate the land and produce food for their fellow men share a special bond with all other “sons of the soil” who practice the same life’s work.  In all cultures and traditions, the farmer enjoys is a unique place in society, accorded a particular kind of dignity and considered worthy of a special degree of respect.  By the same token, any farmer who would steal the fruit of his neighbor’s fields, or, worse still, who would ruin or poison his neighbor’s crops, is universally condemned as guilty of a grave sin against humanity.  The two articles below confirm the increasingly disturbing reality that an ugly culture has developed among many of the most aggressive members of Israel’s “settler” class that is mean, racist and deeply inhumane.


From: Ilene Cohen
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 9:18 AM
Subject: occupation update, October 13, 2010: stealing the olives, poisoning the olive trees, gettting away with it

October 13, 2010

As always, the settlers do what they can to sow evil.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Abu Aliya, who has lost about half of his 300 olive trees, made a promise. “The moment the settlers leave,” he said, “I’ll make a big celebration. I’ll slaughter a buffalo.”

The departure of the settlers from occupied Palestine (when that blessed day comes) should set off celebration, not only among Palestinians who will reclaim their stolen land, but also worldwide. What horrors they have wrought in the name of Judaism—and with the support of the all Israeli governments and their friends abroad. Shame.

The second article tells the Haaretz version of the story. My quibble: the notion that settlers need to “circumvent” the IDF in committing their crimes against Palestinians is misleading. The settlers and the IDF have perfected a decades-long pas de deux by which settlers attack Palestinians and Palestinian property with impunity. This is the same IDF, by the way, that knows the names and whereabouts of every Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza. Don’t believe this tale of settlers needing to circumvent anything. There is full complicity and collaboration with the IDF.


In West Bank, Peace Symbol Now Signifies Struggle

By Isabel Kershner, October 12, 2010 (Turmus Aya Journal)

TURMUS AYA, West Bank — Palestinians from villages like this one in the West Bank governorate of Ramallah still remember when the olive harvest was a joyous occasion, with whole families out for days in the fall sunshine, gathering the year’s crop and picnicking under the trees.

“We considered it like a wedding,” said Hussein Said Hussein Abu Aliya, 68.

But when Mr. Abu Aliya and his family from the neighboring village of Al-Mughayer — 36 of them in all, including grandchildren — drove out to their land this week in a snaking convoy of cars and pickup trucks with others from Turmus Aya, they found scores of their trees on the rocky slopes in various stages of decay, recently poisoned, they said, by Jewish settlers from an illegal Israeli outpost on top of the hill.

Branches drooped, the once lush, silver-green leaves were turning brown and the few olives still clinging on, which should have been plump and green or purple by harvest time, were shriveled and black. Dozens of trees nearby that Mr. Abu Aliya contended were similarly poisoned with chemicals last year stood like spindly skeletons, gray and completely bare.

Religious Jewish settlers consider the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, as their biblical birthright. For the 2.5 million Palestinians of the West Bank, it constitutes the heartland of a future independent state. While the Americans and Palestinians wrangle with the Israeli government over continued Israeli construction in the West Bank settlements — an issue that has stalled the embryonic peace talks — the competition for control of each acre of land here is being played out day by day.

And the olive tree, an ancient symbol of peace and plenty that has also long been a Palestinian emblem of steadfastness and commitment to the land, has increasingly become a symbol of local, almost intimate, struggle and strife.

Husniya al-Araj, 60, said she was born in a cave nearby, in an orchard of olive and almond trees. But when she reached her family lands this week, she cried out in shock. She pointed to a newly plowed field in front of her that she said was part of her family property, but that seemed to have been taken over by the settlers. It was now surrounded by a shiny new barbed-wire fence and planted with young vines.

Mahmud Ahmad Hazama, a relative who takes care of the Araj family property, said the barbed-wire fence went up in July. Folded in his wallet was a handwritten record of every change and every complaint Mr. Hazama had made to the Israeli Army and police since 1995.

“They ask me for documents,” he said. “We have all of them. The last thing they asked for was a topographic map.” He said he had received no answers so far.

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said the police were aware of the problems. Every complaint is investigated, he says, but sometimes the culprits turn out not to be settlers, and sometimes there is not enough evidence to know. In some cases, the complaints do lead to arrests of settlers, he says.

Tamar Asraf, spokeswoman for the Binyamin Council, which represents the settlers in this region, said that for the most part the olive harvest passes peacefully, but that there were Palestinians and settlers who cause damage to one another. “We condemn them both,” she said.

Mr. Hazama’s relatives, like many other families, found their olive trees intact but empty of fruit. They argued that the olives must have been stolen by settlers, though they had no proof.

In other villages to the north, like Yanoun, Jit and Imatin, olives were stolen from hundreds of trees in the past few days, according to Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization that helps Palestinians farm lands in trouble spots year-round.

This was the first time the villagers of Turmus Aya and Al-Mughayer had been able to have access to their lands in six months. To do so, they need permission and protection from the Israeli Army, for a few days for plowing in springtime and a few days for picking in the fall. In the past, unprotected visits to the land ended with many stories of attacks by extremist settlers and burned cars.

This time, soldiers were guarding the villagers from the hilltop where the outpost, Adei Ad, sits. Three soldiers in khaki uniforms were sitting under one of Mr. Abu Aliya’s trees, almost camouflaged among its iridescent leaves while mountain gazelles sprang across the hills.

Adei Ad was established in the late 1990s on state and private Palestinian land, according to Israeli records. Though it was established without any official authorization, the Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction provided financing for some of the infrastructure.

About 30 families live in trailers at Adei Ad, which has been scheduled for removal for seven years. The settlers have now put up an “eruv,” an elevated string on poles that encircles a community and allows observant Jews to carry objects within the proscribed area on the Sabbath. Mr. Abu Aliya has no idea what the string is for, but he says it runs right through his land.

This year, the harvest was less of a celebration, and more a show of perseverance. The Palestinian Authority governor of the Ramallah district, Laila Ghannam, joined the olive pickers and ate breakfast with the mayor of Turmus Aya under a tree.

“Our presence here is proof that this is our land and we will never give it up,” she said.

Members of a new unit from the authority’s Ministry of Agriculture were also out in the fields with notebooks, documenting the villagers’ complaints and counting the poisoned trees. They took samples of wilting branches to send to an Israeli laboratory for testing in the hope that the results could be used as future evidence in an Israeli court.

Mr. Abu Aliya, who has lost about half of his 300 olive trees, made a promise. “The moment the settlers leave,” he said, “I’ll make a big celebration. I’ll slaughter a buffalo.”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 13, 2010, on page A6 of the New York edition.

From http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/world/middleeast/13olives.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=olive%20trees&st=cse or http://nyti.ms/9I7nxX or http://tinyurl.com/2g999za

Settlers learn how to circumvent IDF to strike at Palestinian olive harvest

Settlers are believed to be entering Palestinian olive groves before IDF can send troops to protect the harvesters.

By Avi Issacharoff and Anshel Pfeffer, 02:35 13.10.10 (Haaretz.com)

Settlers from the northern West Bank have reportedly been circumventing attempts by the Israel Defense Forces to protect Palestinian farmers as they harvest their olives. The settlers are believed to be entering Palestinian olive groves before the army can send troops to protect the harvesters – and taking the olives or destroying the trees.

The residents of the village of Burin near the settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West bank said a group of settlers had tried to keep them away from their land and had thrown stones at them. Afterward, the security forces intervened, and there were no injuries.

However, there are apparently far fewer violent clashes between settlers and Palestinian farmers than in years past.

As of last year’s harvest, the Civil Administration contacted Palestinian farmers with lands near settlements with which there had been friction to offer them protection during the harvest. Companies of Border Police and IDF officers are moving gradually from north to south and providing protection to farmers so they can harvest their crops unhindered by settlers.

The number of clashes between settlers and Palestinians dropped off sharply as a result.

This year, the harvest began about 10 days ago, and according to IDF officers, there have been cases where settlers knew ahead of time which days the army was going to be guarding which orchards. It is believed that the settlers arrived before guards could be posted, and under cover of darkness harvested most of the olives themselves.

In the orchards near the outpost of Havat Gilad in the central northern West Bank, an officer said an IDF patrol had seen two settlers coming with two sacks of olives to one of the houses in the outpost.

In two cases, Civil Administration personnel found the thieves, confiscated the stolen olives and returned them to their rightful owners.

However, security sources say it is very difficult to prevent theft and the district police do not treat thieves harshly when they are caught.

According to Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for B’Tselem, which is monitoring the olive harvest, said the settlers are believed to have a “new strategy” and that rather than resorting to physical violence, they were taking advantage of the fact that everyone knows the times when the guards are to be posted.

“In a number of places where the Palestinians are not allowed for the rest of the year, when they come on the days allocated to them, they find the olives have disappeared,” Michaeli said. About 100 trees had been bored into and ruined near the village of Turmus Aya north of Ramallah, Michaeli said. “In the village of Deir al-Hatab, south of Eilon Moreh, a B’Tselem field worker found a group of young Jewish men with their teacher, harvesting olives on privately owned Palestinian land” she said.

Also near Turmus Aya, Palestinian farmers found that some 400 trees had been harvested before they could get there.

Itai Zer, the leader of Havat Gilad, denies that anyone at the outpost had been involved in the theft of olives. “One of our guys was harvesting olives on our land,” he said. “Then the Civil Administration came and said it was not sure that was our land. But its a disputed area now before the court,” he said.

The Civil Administration has distributed written instructions to soldiers involved in guarding the orchards, ordering them to act decisively against harassment of Palestinians harvesting their olives. “Soldiers are not permitted to stand idly by and must act within the framework of their function to prevent the offense and to restore order. Soldiers on the scene must also prevent offenders from fleeing and preserve the evidence, if possible,” the instructions say.

From http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/settlers-learn-how-to-circumvent-idf-to-strike-at-palestinian-olive-harvest-1.318748 or http://bit.ly/9lVLar or http://tinyurl.com/2dlgbnj

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2010/10/13/sowing-evil/