Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cooperating with Israel: sacred or sinister?

p>For Mahmoud Abbas, cooperating with Israel’s military occupation is “sacred.”


It is so sacred that Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, apparently bragged about jailing the intellectual and resistance fighter Bassel al-Araj less than a year before his assassination.


Contrary to what Abbas may infer, he does not have a divine duty to enforce the occupation. Rather, he is following a game plan hatched by governments in the West a couple of decades ago.


During the first six months of 1998, Britain held the European Union’s rotating presidency. As part of that work, diplomats based in Brussels drew up a proposal for “security cooperation” between Israel and the PA.


The proposal was drafted ahead of a visit by Tony Blair, Britain’s then prime minister, to the Middle East in April that year. It recommended that an EU “security” specialist and the heads of “preventive security” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza would meet every two weeks or “at time of crisis.”


The purpose of these discussions would be to allow the EU to identify what “practical assistance” it would provide the Palestinian Authority. The assistance would contribute towards fulfilling the PA’s “security obligations to combat terrorism.”


Those “obligations” were elaborated on in the Wye River Memorandum, a document signed by Yasser Arafat – predecessor to Abbas as the PA’s leader – and Benjamin Netanyahu, then (as now) Israel’s prime minister, in October 1998.


Under the “memorandum,” the PA was required to take a “zero tolerance” approach towards “terror and violence.” That would involve arresting all those suspected of violence and banning “terrorist” groups.


Capitulation


The PA was also told to “issue a decree prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence and terror” – terms which when defined by Israel have been used to suppress a wide range of political activity against the occupation.


The Wye River Memorandum, in effect, made the PA’s forces subservient to Israel.


It required that Israel be given details of all the PA’s police officers – as if to emphasize that Israel was ultimately their master. The US was given responsibility for supervising such “cooperation” – though perhaps capitulation would be a better word.


Britain and the US have been willing to hold the keys for the jailers of Palestine.


That was literally the case during the second intifada. In 2002, Israel approved a deal under which six Palestinians were locked up by the PA in the West Bank city of Jericho.


Part of the deal was that Britain and the US would provide guards to oversee the detention. One of the detainees – Ahmad Saadat, a prominent figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – had not been charged with a recognizable offense.


Eleven years ago this week, Israel raided the Jericho jail where the six were being held.


The raid was enabled by Britain and the US. Israel was given advance notice that they had decided to withdraw the prison guards (supposedly for the guards’ safety).


All six of the men were seized by Israel and are still behind bars today.


Britain has subsequently been a key player in an EU operation to mentor the Palestinian police. Most of the men who have headed this operation to date previously served in the British police and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the north of Ireland.


They include its first chief, Jonathan McIvor. He was the most senior uniformed officer on duty in Plumstead, the area of London where the Black teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993.


An official inquiry into that crime found there was a culture of “institutional racism” in the London Metropolitan Police. The inquiry criticized McIvor for failing to meet his responsibilities on the night of the murder and for lacking sufficient knowledge about racist violence in the area.


Tools of repression


The criticism did not stop the British government from nominating McIvor for the EU job.


Britain proved its commitment to McIvor by paying most of the bills during the first year he managed the EU operation. McIvor quickly began assessing how to equip the PA’s police with tools of repression like batons, tear gas and rubber bullets.


The operation’s tacit objective was to make Israel happy. That goal has been attained.


Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesperson for the Israeli police, has credited the EU with boosting cooperation between Israel and the PA.


A related initiative was launched by the US in 2005. It involved appointing a US military general as a “security coordinator” to train the PA’s forces.


Britain and Canada have supplied personnel to that initiative, too.


Keith Dayton, the security coordinator from 2005 to 2010, promoted disunity among Palestinians. He facilitated the mass round-up of people suspected of Hamas connections in the West Bank during 2007.


Dayton was also a key figure behind a botched plan hatched by the administration of George W. Bush. The plan involved arming and training Palestinian proxies in Gaza to overthrow the Hamas-led administration, after the party won Palestinian Authority elections in 2006.


The US intervention provoked deadly battles between supporters of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party in 2007 and led to the ongoing political division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Later, Dayton gloated about the success he enjoyed in convincing the PA to “allay Israeli fears.” Some Israeli troops stationed in the West Bank joined Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. They left their usual posts, Dayton has claimed, because “they could trust” the PA’s forces.


Those forces did not let the Israeli oppressor down. The PA suppressed protests held in the West Bank against the Israeli invasion of Gaza.


It is continuing to suppress protests.


Palestinians have taken to the streets of Ramallah in the past week, denouncing the PA’s complicity in Bassel al-Araj’s killing and the persecution of other activists. The demonstrators have been met by police officers wielding batons and firing tear gas.


Bassel’s father, Mahmoud al-Araj, was among those beaten.


It is disgraceful that a man who has just lost his son could be treated with such brutality. That is what happens when the Palestinian Authority strives to please the oppressor by copying its tactics.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 16 March 2017.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Who funds Irish4Israel?

Each time Israel’s supporters in Ireland decide to smear the Palestine solidarity movement, there is a strong likelihood that a man called Barry Williams will be quoted in the media.


Williams and his group Irish4Israel have featured prominently in two recent stories.


First, they objected to a conference on Israeli “exceptionalism” which is being organized by professors at University College Cork. And next, they depicted a protest against a visit by the Israeli ambassador to Trinity College Dublin as a denial of free speech.


Despite the group’s persistent claims that the Dublin media harbor a pro-Palestinian bias, Irish4Israel has enjoyed an easy ride from journalists. The mainstream press has not bothered to ask who Williams represents or to examine how his arguments are riddled with contradictions.


Irish4Israel only demands free and uninterrupted speech for Israel’s apologists, not its critics. Responding to the Trinity College protests last week, Williams declared it “sad” that police and security guards “didn’t do enough.”


What exactly did he mean? Did he want a peaceful protest to be broken up aggressively?


Inconsistent


Williams’ championing of free expression is inconsistent with other positions taken by Irish4Israel.


Last year, the group took pleasure in how Bank of Ireland had decided to close down the account of the country’s main Palestine solidarity group. “This is amazing news,” stated Irish4Israel in a message to its supporters. “Without a bank account their work is extremely restricted.”


Irish4Israel, meanwhile, has made the spurious claim that a slogan chanted during the Trinity protest was “genocidal.” The slogan in question was “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”


The claim reflects a well-worn tactic of the pro-Israel lobby: infer that there is an anti-Semitic motive behind a simple call for equality and justice.


The irony is that Williams has responded in a tepid manner when Israel’s supporters have displayed a lust for extreme violence.


In November 2012, Israel bombed Gaza for eight consecutive days. When a Facebook page was set up for a pro-Israel demonstration in Dublin, one man posted his opinion that Muslims “must be destroyed or at least driven out of Israel.”


Williams replied by writing: “Sorry guys, this forum is public and is probably being looked at by those who would love to demonize us. Comments supporting driving Muslims out don’t help. We must always put our best side out for Israel.”


The 2012 demo was organized by Naomi Dara Gibson. The previous year, she had commented on Facebook that her dream would be to see God destroy Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque – one of Islam’s holiest sites.


Williams has himself expressed a desire for Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a document seen by The Electronic Intifada. And his insistence on putting “our best side out for Israel” sits uneasily with a willingness to defend the most outrageous pronouncements of that state’s diplomats.


In December 2012, Israel’s embassy in Dublin issued a Christmas message, which read: “If Jesus and mother Mary were alive today, they would, as Jews without security, probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians.”


The message spawned many unwelcome headlines, yet Irish4Israel argued that the embassy was “stating the truth.”


Secretive


That willingness to go to bat for Israel might explain why Williams is the embassy’s favorite lobbyist, judging by how eagerly it promotes his group on Facebook and Twitter.


Until a few years ago, Tom Carew of the Ireland-Israel Friendship League was regarded as the top pro-Israel lobbyist in the country. Carew resigned as chair of that organization in 2013, after publicly opposing an assault by Israeli troops on a French diplomat.


Williams has filled the niche that Carew used to occupy.


From its modest beginnings as Williams’ hobby in 2010 – when he was a Cork-based student – Irish4Israel has morphed into what looks like a slick propaganda machine.


BlueStar, a US-based organization, is known to have raised funds for Irish4Israel. Yet Williams is generally secretive about how his activities are financed.


He did not reply to a request for comment.


At the moment, Irish4Israel is running an essay competition for students, with the prize of a free trip to the Middle East.


An earlier version of this competition was won by Sean Tyrrell, a candidate in 2014 elections to Ireland’s local authorities.


I was told by a reliable source that Tyrell is now working for the Israeli embassy in Dublin.


When I called the embassy asking to speak to him, a receptionist asked me who I was. After I identified myself as a journalist, the receptionist said “where did you get Sean’s name?”


“From a contact, I cannot say who,” I replied. I, then, enquired “You do have a gentleman by that name working at the embassy, yes?” “No, we don’t,” the receptionist said.


I have also emailed the embassy, asking how much money it gives to Irish4Israel. My request has gone unanswered.


The embassy’s reticence looks uncharacteristic. Last weekend, the embassy responded rapidly when I and others challenged it – via Twitter – about Israel’s bombings of Palestinian hospitals.


Last September, lawyers in Israel filed freedom of information requests asking the government to reveal its covert financial support to foreign organizations and individuals assisting Israel in its propaganda efforts.


A documentary broadcast by Al Jazeera in January revealed how Israeli diplomats in London were courting students.


Something similar is happening in Ireland.


Last autumn, Irish4Israel notified its supporters that the country’s first pro-Israel student society had been formed in Maynooth University. Alan Lyne, one of the group’s founders, had gone on an Irish4Israel junket to the Middle East.


In a recent message to its supporters, Irish4Israel indicated that it hopes to facilitate more such trips for students. Participants in previous delegations have been selected “for their potential to be future leaders, politicians or journalists,” the message added.


Can groups like Irish4Israel have an influence on policy? The short answer is yes.


Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s current foreign minister, is among a number of Irish politicians who are openly sympathetic to Israel. During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, Williams said that Ireland’s ruling coalition had been more “even-handed” than previous governments had been in comparable situations. The foreign ministry, Williams added, was “not trying to lecture Israel.”


His comments were revealing. Even though there is widespread public affinity with the Palestinians in Ireland, elite figures are willing to accommodate Israeli apartheid.


Barry Williams is trying to convince the elite that it should hug Israel even tighter.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 1 March 2017.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Israel lobby's squirming over settlements won't fool anyone

The task of Israel’s advocates has become a lot more complicated.


At least, that is the argument which one such lobbyist has been making. Alex Benjamin, head of the organization Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA), recently lamented that his friends and acquaintances in Brussels weren’t enamored by moves towards annexing most of the West Bank.


Even the “occasional barman” has been voicing his displeasure at how Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, authorized the large-scale theft of Palestinian land, Benjamin has suggested. In a blog post, he asked if there was nobody available to rein in the Israeli government and say that the Knesset bill was “nakedly hostile, unnecessary and wrong.”


Does his mini-rant herald a split in the Israel lobby? Is Benjamin’s EIPA about to rupture its connections to Israel’s settler movement in protest at these “nakedly hostile” activities?


I very much doubt it.


EIPA – which styles itself as a leading pro-Israel group working inside the Brussels bureaucracy – has made no attempt before now to distance itself from politicians who favor annexing Area C, a zone comprising more than 60 percent of the West Bank.


Menachem Margolin, EIPA’s founder, has stated that he wishes to “do great things together” with Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister. Bennett was already a vocal advocate of annexation when Margolin expressed that desire.


Bennett has also personally boasted of killing “lots of Arabs,” while his Jewish Home party colleague justice minister Ayelet Shaked, has become notorious for disseminating a call for genocide of the Palestinians.


EIPA cannot have been caught by surprise that Bennett was jubilant when the Knesset bill was approved earlier this month.


Playing by the rules?


Although Benjamin described the recent bill as “wrong,” his post exemplifies how he is more troubled with image and perception than morality and legality.


For the EU, he writes, the settlement issue has become the “principal impediment to peace” and “whether we like it or not these are the rules of the game here.”


The rules to which he refers are tacit.


Every Israeli government since 1967 has been involved in colonizing the West Bank. Some have been a little more subtle than others.


The EU’s favorite Israeli politicians tend to be “liberals,” who succeed in camouflaging their approval for land theft with rhetoric about a “two-state solution.”


By taking that approach, Tzipi Livni and the late Shimon Peres could strike up a warmer rapport with EU representatives than more brazen hawks like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.


Ironically, EIPA does not actually play by the rules of the game.


EIPA spends much of its time engaging with members of the European Parliament. Its strongest supporters belong to that fringe within the parliament that is prepared to either defend all of Israel’s settlement activities or seek to downplay their significance.


Bas Belder, a veteran lawmaker from the Netherlands, sits on EIPA’s advisory committee. Belder is an unapologetic Christian Zionist.


On a TV program earlier this year, he argued that it was unfair that Israel gets criticized when there are “settlements for so-called Bedouins” in Area C that are “quite clearly against international law.”


That reasoning was absurd. Bedouins are not building settlements; they are struggling to survive.


In a fresh act of belligerence, the Israeli military issued 40 demolition orders to Bedouins living in Khan al-Ahmar village on Sunday. Unlike the neighboring Maaleh Adumim – Israel’s largest settlement in Area C – that Bedouin village lacks any infrastructure.


Gung ho


Another politician on EIPA’s advisory board is Fulvio Martusciello, a stalwart of Forza Italia – the party synonymous with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.


Martusciello is also chair of the European Parliament’s committee for relations with the Knesset. That committee – delegation in official parlance – has displayed a considerable degree of sympathy towards the settler movement, as well as to firms that operate in the settlements.


Earlier this month, it hosted a visit to Brussels by Sydney Knafou, CEO of Casimex, a French company that imports wines from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights.


Casimex labels produce from those settlements as “wine of Israel.” That is a flagrant violation of EU law, which prohibits firms from misleading consumers by suggesting that food or drink are from present-day Israel if they originate from the West Bank or Golan.


Furthermore, EIPA has appeared happy to cooperate with other lobby outfits that are gung ho in the manner with which they endorse Israel’s settlement activities.


In January, EIPA played a lead role in organizing a conference aimed at smearing the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic – an aspersion that Israel casts against its critics by default. That event was also sponsored by Israel’s EU embassy and European Coalition for Israel.


European Coalition for Israel is a Christian Zionist group. Its legal counsel, Andrew Tucker, has made one of the most outlandish comments yet recorded about Palestine. He has called Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “the key to peace and prosperity in the Middle East.”


This week EIPA disclosed details of its annual budget for the first time. A statement it provided to the EU’s “transparency register” suggests that it had $370,000 at its disposal in 2015, the year it was established.


Menachem Margolin is now listed as the organization’s treasurer. He also heads the European Jewish Association, which has a stated yearly budget of around $1.7 million.


EIPA’s money – all from unnamed donors – enables it to have an office opposite the Justus Lipsius building, where European Union summits are held.


The lobby group’s efforts to combine proximity to power with deception should not go unchallenged.


Alex Benjamin is posing as someone moderate and reasonable. In truth, he is entangled with extremists.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 February 2017.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Was Blair's "sweatshops for Palestine" agenda shaped by a Labour donor?

It is eerily apt that the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum coincides with Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president.


The business leaders and their political lackeys who huddle together in Davos, Switzerland each January write and then dispense prescriptions that have caused inequality levels to soar. Eight men possess as much wealth as the poorer half of the globe’s population, according to a new analysis by Oxfam.


Trump’s ascent can be directly attributed to the disillusionment that ensues when the wealth gap widens – notwithstanding the irony that Trump epitomises the super-rich and all its vulgarity.


The establishment figures against which Trump pitted himself were very much identified with what the writer and activist Susan George has dubbed the “Davos class.” Trump’s campaign team even zoomed in on comments made by Hillary Clinton at the forum when ranting against trade policies that her husband implemented and that she had favored. (Bill Clinton became the first sitting US president to attend the Davos jamboree in 2000 and has been a frequent participant since then.)


Palestine has not been spared from the World Economic Forum’s activities.


Conflict of interests?


In 2012, the forum established an initiative called Breaking the Impasse. Its ostensible goal was to hook up Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs with major corporations so that they could discuss how to prime-pump the economy of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.


Responsibility for a follow-on initiative was given to Tony Blair the next year. Blair was supposed to represent the Middle East Quartet – the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia – at that time.


Yet he was given this responsibility by the most powerful of those four players – the US; Blair’s assignment was announced by John Kerry, then secretary of state.


Blair, in turn, appears to have recommended to Kerry that Kito de Boer, a director of the consulting firm McKinsey, should steward the whole scheme. The recommendation raises ethical questions, which have not previously scrutinized.


Before being recommended by Blair, de Boer had worked on a project about private sector investment in Palestine run by the Portland Trust, a London-based organization. Portland is headed by Ronald Cohen, a venture capitalist who had been a major donor to Britain’s Labour Party when Blair was its leader.


In an interview published by the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) – a corporate club – de Boer said that Blair “knew of the work” he had undertaken for Portland. De Boer was “approached” when Kerry asked Blair “for an economic strategy for rebuilding the Palestinian economy,” according to that interview.


Those comments indicate that Blair’s work for the quartet was influenced by Ronald Cohen.


Cohen had been a Labour donor when Blair was the party’s boss (and prime minister). So Blair has, to put it mildly, some explaining to do here.


Was de Boer headhunted by Blair based on Cohen’s advice? If so, is this a case of jobs for the boys? Is there a conflict of interests?


I contacted de Boer, enquiring if Cohen had introduced him to Blair. I also enquired if he was aware that Cohen had helped bankroll Labour when Blair was in Downing Street.


De Boer sent me a convoluted reply, which did not answer those questions directly. He did, however, confirm that Blair had been aware of his work for Cohen.


He confirmed, too, that Blair had “steered” Kerry to McKinsey when the secretary of state wished to have a blueprint for the Palestinian economy drawn up. “I also led that work,” he stated.


Neither Blair nor Cohen replied to requests for comment.


Exploitation


The blueprint which de Boer was tasked with drawing up was titled the “Initiative for the Palestinian Economy” and published in 2014. De Boer has confirmed that he was appointed by Kerry to oversee the blueprint’s implementation that same year.


One proposal made by de Boer’s team was that industrial estates in the areas nominally under Palestinian Authority control should be designated as “special economic zones.”


The “special” ingredients of this recipe have not been spelled out in detail. But there is enough evidence from how “special economic zones” have functioned elsewhere to regard the proposal as highly problematic.


“Special economic zone” is a euphemism for a sweatshop. Generally, such a designation allows companies within the zones to pay lower wages and less taxes than those applying in the wider economy.


A de facto ban on trade union activism, for example, has been introduced in Cambodia’s “special economic zones,” according to a 2016 investigation by the magazine In These Times.


Put simply, de Boer’s blueprint would, if put into practice, potentially enable corporations to reap vast profits, while paying no more than a pittance to Palestinian workers. It should really be called the “sweatshops for Palestine” initiative.


Blair stepped down as the Quartet’s representative in 2015. But the operation he led in Jerusalem is still in place.


When Blair resigned, de Boer took over as head of the office. Because Blair has not been replaced, that means de Boer is now running the show, although he told me: “I am not the [Quartet] representative because I am not a politician.”


De Boer is still intent on putting his plan into practice and has assembled an outfit named Shurook for that purpose.


“Our mandate is economic not political,” de Boer stated.


Who does he think he is kidding? A plan to increase exploitation of workers in an area subject to a brutal military occupation is inherently political – and extremely dangerous.


It is the kind of plan likely to win approval within the Davos bubble and inflict great harm in the real world.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 18 January 2017.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Who pulled Tony Blair's strings?

Tony Blair “believes that the arc of history still bends towards progress and enlightenment,” a recent profile in the New Statesman proclaimed.


The former prime minister’s casual attire and views on the popular TV show “Strictly Come Dancing” were carefully noted by the London weekly, eager to publicize his re-engagement in British politics. Blair’s reverential interviewer did not shy away completely from the Iraq war, yet seemed more concerned about its effects on Blair’s own wellbeing than about its actual victims.


By using the phrase “arc of history,” the interviewer was probably invoking Martin Luther King’s aphorism “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” A reputedly serious magazine twisted the words of a civil rights leader to laud a war criminal.


With just a few exceptions, the mainstream press has failed to properly scrutinize Blair’s activities. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, phony intelligence was treated as incontrovertible by stenographers masquerading as journalists. After Blair left Downing Street, the stenographers labeled him a “Middle East peace envoy.”


Blair stepped down as an “envoy” last year. There are still many questions about his post that have not been properly examined. Here is one such question: who precisely did he serve?


Formally, Blair was a representative of the Middle East Quartet – the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia. In reality, many of his activities appear to have either been directed from or closely watched by Washington officials.


That fact was implicitly acknowledged now and then – such as when John Kerry, the secretary of state, tasked Blair with drawing up a plan for boosting investment in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.


Blair was not a full-time envoy; his lucrative activities as a corporate lobbyist meant he was often away from his quartet desk. Who, then, was running his office in Jerusalem?


Penchant for praise


As well as being the largest donor to the Quartet envoy’s office – providing $13.5 million between 2007 and 2013 – the US supplied some of its top personnel.


Robert Danin was head of Blair’s office from 2008 to 2010. Danin, who had previously worked in both the State Department and the National Security Council, shared Blair’s penchant for praising Israel when it did not deserve any praise.


For example, when Israel agreed in 2010 that a small number of trucks carrying goods could be allowed into Gaza, Danin claimed there had been a “positive step forward.” Danin avoided saying publicly that Gaza was under an Israeli siege.


Today, Danin makes his living as an “expert” with the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.


He has used that position to advocate that the relationship between Israel and the US should be properly consummated. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs earlier this year, Danin recommended that the Israeli government seek a formal pact with the US.


Entering into a treaty-based alliance with the US would “not necessarily have a significant practical effect on Israeli freedom of maneuver,” he argued. That is a fancy way of saying that Israel would still be able to behave with impunity in oppressing the Palestinians and bombing its neighbors.


Hugging Israel tighter


Another career diplomat, Gary Grappo, succeeded Dannin as Blair’s head of office. Grappo’s bio states that he had previously led the “super-sized political division” at the US embassy in Baghdad.


Grappo’s faith in imperial aggression remains strong – despite being exposed to its messy consequences. In a 2014 opinion piece, he advocated that the US be more forceful in “fighting and defeating terrorism, especially the jihadist-kind that pervades much of the Middle East.”


By displaying greater vigor “US foreign policy might also regain the moral and political high ground, where America and its friends want it to be,” he added. Unless I missed something, Grappo did not state when the US last commanded the moral high ground.


Grappo has now moved on to manage his own firm, Equilibrium International Consulting. Its website promises “sober, balanced and insightful perspectives” on the Middle East to firms and institutions dealing with the region.


For their sake, I hope that there is more balance and insight in what he tells his clients than in what he writes. Many of his comments parrot official US and Israeli propaganda – such as his patently absurd allegation that Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza was “launched” by Hamas.


Grappo, who has also served in Riyadh, pays particularly close attention to Saudi Arabia. Last year, he suggested that Saudi Arabia and Israel should liaise on security and intelligence matters.


The case admittedly has a perverse logic: the Israeli and Saudi ruling elites are both proficient in abusing human rights, so they might as well swap notes. The ongoing Saudi war crimes in Yemen bear some similarities to Israel’s offensives against Gaza and Lebanon.


Grappo, however, did not express himself in such crude terms. Instead, he tried to convey the impression that his motives were altruistic. Greater cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel would “set the stage for the first-ever meaningful and constructive dialogue about the Palestinian question,” he wrote.


He also wants the US to have the same kind of bond with Saudi Arabia that it has with Israel. His rationale – based on observations he made while working for Blair – is that “the US was always far more succesful in getting the Israelis to do things that they felt uncomfortable doing” when it embraced them as tightly as possible.


Alas, Grappo has not specified what results American hugging can yield.


Under Barack Obama’s presidency, the US embrace of Israel has become tighter than ever. The awarding of a $38 billion military aid package to Israel is the most tangible manifestation of that embrace.


Tony Blair was included within that embrace and never showed any desire to be released from it.


・First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 December 2016.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Europe's "turbo boost" for war industry will benefit Israel

White supremacists are about to take up residency in the White House. Climate change deniers are mapping out the future of environmental policy. A man who seems to be constantly losing his temper on Twitter will – in less than two months from now – lead a nuclear-armed superpower.


And what are Europe’s top politicians doing in preparation for Donald Trump’s presidency? Are they asserting an alternative worldview to the heady blend of imperialism and capitalism that has intoxicated Trump’s entourage?


No, they are still parroting the old idea that the US should be constantly copied.


A new paper by the European Commission is particularly repugnant. Lamenting that the EU “lags behind” the US in military strength, it recommends steps to rectify that apparent problem.


The most troubling of the proposals would involve setting up a new scheme under which taxpayers’ money would be splurged on developing more advanced weapons. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president, covets a “defense fund” to, in his words, “turbo boost [military] research and innovation.”


Juncker is a right-wing ideologue, who has strong-armed Greece into introducing painful and far-reaching economic reforms.


There is no public clamor in Europe for bolstering the weapons industry. Juncker and his – largely unaccountable – colleagues are driving through their proposals on military research in much the same way as they foisted austerity on Greece.


The new paper is the latest in a series of EU blueprints on military research. And Israel’s war strategists have helped shape the underlying agenda.


Juncker’s suggestion of a “defense fund” chimes with the recommendations previously made by the European Security Research and Innovation Forum (ESRIF). Bringing together lobbyists from major weapons producers with sympathetic civil servants, that club was assembled by the EU authorities in 2007.


Why catch up?


Though Israel is not a member of the European Union, ESRIF was eager to avail of the “expertise” it had gained from oppressing the Palestinians. Nitzan Nuriel, a retired Israeli brigadier general, took part in the forum’s activities.


Nuriel has an impressive career history – for those who find cruelty impressive. He won promotion after it emerged that he had ordered troops serving in a battalion he commanded to torture Palestinian detainees in 1987.


He went on to hold senior positions in military units occupying both the West Bank and Gaza and play a prominent role in Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon.


Following that invasion, Nuriel joined Israel’s National Security Council, a body that advises the Israeli prime minister, and soon became director of its “counter-terrorism bureau.” He sat on ESRIF in that capacity.


The forum advocated that the EU’s activities on “security” research – a euphemism for innovation which may have military applications – should grow. Israel’s war industry has soaked up numerous grants from those activities until now.


Juncker’s new effort to “turbo boost” weapons innovation is essentially a sequel to a “security” research scheme which came into effect in 2007.


It is too early to say if Israel will directly get money should Juncker’s dream of a “defense fund” materialize. There can be little doubt, however, that these kinds of proposals stand to benefit Israel’s arms manufacturers.


Israel has carved out a lucrative niche for itself in the global weapons market by investing heavily in drones and cybersecurity software, both of which feature in the European Commission’s new paper.


The EU’s governments have committed themselves to the objective of having drones made in Europe’s factories by 2025. Attaining that goal will almost certainly require some Israeli technology or expertise.


France and Britain are the two EU countries to have made the greatest use of drones to date. Drones flown by both the French and British militaries were Israeli-designed.


Israel has deployed the same type of drones as those used by France in Mali and Libya and Britain in Afghanistan during its major operations against Gaza.


Contrary to the impression conveyed by the Brussels elite, none of this is necessary.


If Europe lags behind the US in military might, then why should it catch up? Why should Europe’s leaders be part of a contest to prove they can fetishize the war industry just as much as their American counterparts?


And if catching up requires cooperation with Israel, that’s all the more reason to quit the contest.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 2 December 2016.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How EU secretly embraced Israeli ministry in East Jerusalem

European Union representatives secretly decided to cooperate with an Israeli ministry based in occupied East Jerusalem, it has been revealed.


The decision is at odds with the EU’s official stance that it does not recognize Israel’s colonization of the territories captured in 1967.


Dating from 2013 but not previously reported, the decision relied on a loophole in an EU paper on cooperation with Israel.


The paper received a hostile response from the Israeli government. It stated that activities undertaken in the settlements Israel is building in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, were not eligible for EU funding.


Although the paper was dry and insipid, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, publicly condemned it by saying Israel would “not accept any external edicts on our borders.”


Often referred to as the “guidelines,” the paper was prepared in anticipation of Israel’s involvement in Horizon 2020, the EU’s latest program for scientific research. Amid the controversy, however, a salient fact was overlooked: Israel’s science and technology ministry has its headquarters in East Jerusalem.


That point was raised in a 2013 briefing document drafted for Catherine Ashton, then the EU’s foreign policy chief.


The briefing, obtained under EU freedom of information rules, effectively told Ashton not to worry about this matter as a loophole had been inserted into the guidelines to ensure that they did not cover public authorities.


The location of Israel’s science ministry in East Jerusalem “will not obstruct” cooperation with it, the document stated.


Tainted


The science ministry is part of the Israel-Europe R&D Directorate, a body that coordinates Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020. A formal accord setting out the terms of Israel’s involement in the program was signed between the EU and Yaakov Perry, then Israel’s science minister, in 2014.


The loophole means that the entire program – for which almost €80 billion ($85 billion) has been earmarked between 2014 and 2020 – is tainted.


The EU cannot seriously claim to oppose Israel’s gobbling up of East Jerusalem if it has embraced an Israeli ministry that is ensconced in East Jerusalem.


The European Commission, which oversees Horizon 2020, trotted out a typically bureaucratic excuse when asked for an explanation as to why it cooperates with Israel’s science ministry. Pointing to the aforementioned loophole in the guidelines, a Commission spokesperson said that, as a public authority, the science ministry was “exempted” from their scope.


Different from Trump?


To all intents and purposes, the EU’s stance differs little to that of Donald Trump, the newly-elected US president, and the Republican Party.


In the platform on which they fought the recent election, the Republicans undertook to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital if Trump won the presidency. By embracing Israeli institutions in East Jerusalem, the EU is essentially doing the same.


At least, the Republicans have been more transparent about their objectives.


The EU stands accused of saying one thing in public and something quite different behind closed doors.


During her five years as foreign policy chief, Ashton issued a number of statements against how Israel was tightening its grip on East Jerusalem. Her objection to the demolition of Shepherd’s Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city, for example, was covered extensively by the Israeli press.


Her willingness to approve an accord with the science ministry – which is located near Sheikh Jarrah – indicates that her concern was insincere.


Worse, Ashton was hugely accommodating to firms which profited from Israel’s crimes against humanity.


Towards the end of 2013, she negotiated a deal with Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister at the time. The deal enabled Israeli weapons producers to receive grants under the Horizon 2020 program.


As a result of that deal, the makers of drones and surveillance equipment tried out on Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank are currently being subsidized by the EU. Stop the Wall, a Palestinian campaign group, has documented how a major EU scheme nominally concerned with airport security may be utilizing technology that has been tested in settlements built by Israel in violation of international law.


Israel is treated as equal to the EU’s own member countries in the research program.


That Israel’s arms industry has been adept at soaking up subsidies is especially alarming given that there is a concerted push within the EU’s institutions to reserve part of a future research program for developing new weapons.


The only positive thing that can be said about that push is that it might usher in a modicum of honesty. Until now, the EU’s representatives have insisted that they only allow funding for civilian research.


That claim has become increasingly implausible as Israel’s war profiteers grab every grant they can get their bloodstained hands on.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 November 2016.