Friday, 22 August 2014

Israel Under The Spotlight

The graphic exposure of Israel’s atrocities in the Gaza Strip has gone beyond previous incursions. Even shallow mainstream media reporting has had to concede some inconvenient truths. 

The difference this time around compared to past bombardments of Gaza is the scale of the violence coupled with a social media savvy world. Whilst the usual suspects remain indifferent in their Ivory Towers, they seem oblivious to the growing awareness that the 'truth is out there' and that the business-as-usual propaganda bubble is bursting. 

In this article I will take a holistic view of the Israeli Palestine dichotomy, with the intention of making some sense of the whole situation, whilst joining the dots on yet another page of the human condition.

There is much intrigue to resolve. Invariably fact will be stranger than fiction and some of the evidence presented here may seem inexplicable. But a new axis of evil exists that I have already hinted at in previous posts. The Israeli conflict more or less closes the loop. And it won't come as a surprise to learn that the US is the beating heart at the centre of this axis.

This article is somewhat different from the usual subject matter covered in this blog. But resources become a key factor in any conflict and inevitably environmentally related factors emerge.

Invariably history is the key to understanding the present. I'll focus here on the time-line that led to the creation of the current State of Israel and the resulting geopolitics of the region. 

The making of the State of Israel
'On May 14, 1948, on the day in which the British Mandate over a Palestine expired, the Jewish People's Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum, and approved the following proclamation, declaring the establishment of the State of Israel. The new state was recognized that night by the United States and three days later by the USSR' (Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (IMFA)).

This followed the passing of a resolution on 29th November 1947 at the United Nations General Assembly, calling for the establishment of a Jewish State. 

'The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

'We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East' (IMFA). So what happened? That's a question I'll try to find an answer to. The Jewish holocaust of World War 2 would certainly have acted as a catalyst for the creation of Israel. But the foundations were laid after World War 1.

The process begun with the British Mandate of Palestine, which had been created by the League of Nations following the defeat and breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The US recognition of the State of Israel explores the background in some detail. The Balfour Declaration, recognised Jewish support of the British against the Turks during World War I. In 1922 Britain was appointed to rule in Palestine.

In the 1930's as Nazi persecution against Jews expanded, many left for the Middle East. This created tension between Jews and Arabs, which led to Britain restricting Jewish Immigration into the area. 

Unhappy with British policy, the Jews turned their attention to the US for support. But the US was reluctant to take a definitive position. However, 'Britain and the United States, in a joint effort to examine the dilemma, established the "Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry." In April 1946, the committee submitted recommendations that Palestine not be dominated by either Arabs or Jews. It concluded that attempts to establish nationhood or independence would result in civil strife; that a trusteeship agreement aimed at bringing Jews and Arabs together should be established by the United Nations; that full Jewish immigration be allowed into Palestine; and that two autonomous states be established with a strong central government to control Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Negev, the southernmost section of Palestine.

'British, Arab, and Jewish reactions to the recommendations were not favorable. Jewish terrorism in Palestine antagonized the British, and by February 1947 Arab-Jewish communications had collapsed. Britain, anxious to rid itself of the problem, set the United Nations in motion, formally requesting on April 2, 1947, that the U.N. General Assembly set up the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). This committee recommended that the British mandate over Palestine be ended and that the territory be partitioned into two states. Jewish reaction was mixed - some wanted control of all of Palestine; others realized that partition spelled hope for their dream of a homeland. The Arabs were not at all agreeable to the UNSCOP plan. In October the Arab League Council directed the governments of its member states to move troops to the Palestine border. Meanwhile, President Truman instructed the State Department to support the U.N. plan, and, reluctantly, it did so. On November 29, 1947, the partition plan was passed in the U.N. General Assembly'.

The State of Israel was barely 24 hours old when war broke out with its neighbours. Why the immediate backlash towards the new country? The answer to this question can be traced back to the geopolitical turmoil of World War 1. 

On November 2, 1917 the Balfour Deceleration was issued. This was a statement of British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” It was made in a letter from Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary, to Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild (of Tring), a leader of British Jewry.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica gives an overview of the Declaration, whilst more depth is provided in the book The Balfour Declaration by Jonathan Schneer - reviewed here by the Wall Street Journal. The Declaration paved the way for the British mandate over Palestine 5 years later. 

Although there is some contention over the Declarations intent, it is generally understood that it was an important consequence of Jewish support - mainy via the Zionist movement - during the war. This would play a key factor in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. But there was also a colonial dimension. A settlement in Palestine of a pro-British Jewish population might help to protect the approaches to the Suez Canal in neighbouring Egypt and thus ensure a vital communication route to British colonial possessions in India.

The Declaration, as the Wall St article notes, was 'hailed as a milestone by Zionists—and still mourned in the Arab world as the first step toward what it regards as the "catastrophe" of the founding of the state of Israel'.

The Declaration was careful to avoid prejudice towards Arab populations. But the above article captures the essence of the Declaration: 'the British would "view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

'The phrase about the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine was included because some cabinet members, such as Lord Curzon, were concerned about the wisdom of imposing a Jewish homeland on a majority-Arab region. But for most of the cabinet, including Balfour (whose commitment to Zionism was lifelong), there were few qualms about neglecting the majority population. This was, after all, an age of empire, when governments thought nothing of carving up distant lands'.

There was a problem though. The Declaration conflicted with an agreement that the British had made with the Arabs. 'The McMahon-Hussein Agreement of October 1915 was accepted by Palestinians as a promise by the British that after World War One, land previously held by the [Ottoman] Turks would be returned to the Arab nationals who lived in that land'.

This effectively created a paradox that would ultimately build up tension in the Middle East:
  • 'That the British had promised Palestine to the Arabs after the war had ended in return for their support to the Allies in the war.
  • That the British had agreed to give their support to the Jews for a homeland in Palestine as laid out in the Balfour Declaration'.
Balfour had effectively given a green light to Jewish immigration into the area.
The focal point of discontent was Jerusalem - a city with great significance for both Judaism and Islam and Christianity as well. As the influx of Jews continued, the Arabs saw this as a threat to their way of life. Could the sacred religious sites in Jerusalem accommodate both Arabs and Jews? It would appear not.

As world war 2 loomed, it became apparent that Britain’s mandate over Palestine was becoming something of an albatross around it's neck.
After world war 1, Palestine was of strategic  importance to Britain. The Suez canal was a vital trade link to the East. The Palestine Mandate gave the British their colonial seat in the Middle East.  But as the 1930's beckoned, the fragile peace between Jews and Arabs deteriorated.

Jewish immigration into the area continued apace and would increase exponentially as anti Semitism rose in Europe, particularly in Germany with the rise of Nazism. The British solution to the problem was to restrict levels of immigration, but this generated anti British sentiments amongst the Jews as well as the Arabs. Both sides felt that the British had dishonoured them. Given that the situation in Palestine was becoming intractable, the only thing left was military intervention by the British.

The outbreak of world war 2 would ultimately decide the fate of the region. A useful time-line of events is covered by the History Learning Site.

Post War Pandora’s Box
As already discussed above, tensions increased in the region after world war 2. Britain was a spent force, with post war recovery paramount. The empire was of secondary importance. A new world order was beckoning that would revolve around the US and the newly created United Nations. Britain was getting fed up with the Palestinian albatross around its neck. Ironically - considering today's scenarios - Jews who had fought in the war along side the British now used their military training in terrorist attacks in order to further their aims in the region and against British control. 

The terrorists were Zionist extremists, prepared to go to any lengths in order to ensure the establishment of an Israeli homeland. Irgun Zvai Leumi, ( Hebrew: National Military Organization) was the name of the Group. They broke of from the Haganah - a Jewish militia group (forerunner to the IDF). They were anti British and anti Arab and after the creation of the State of Israel, Irgun’s last units disbanded and took the oath of loyalty to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Politically, it was the precursor of the Ḥerut (Freedom) Party, one of Israel’s most militant right-wing groups, which later merged with the Liberals into the Gaḥal Party.

It was this backdrop then that forced the British hand. In 1947 the British government announced it would withdraw from Mandatory Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. 

As noted above, the UN picked up the baton and through UNSCOP the State of Israel was eventually established.

Israel's new neighbours refused to recognise Israel. The Arabs had always opposed the UN plan for an Israeli state. So it was then that the 1948 Arab Israeli war broke out - the first of many hostilities to plague the region.

The World Zionist Organization 
Another thread of history needs to be examined in order to complete the picture of the new Jewish State. 

The Zionist Organization was founded in 1897. It became the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in 1960. Its key objective was the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The current aims of the WZO were enshrined in the Jerusalem Program 2004. (Such aims are periodically revised by the WZO).

Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, brought about the establishment of the State of Israel, and views a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel to be the expression of the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future. The foundations of Zionism are:
  1. The unity of the Jewish people, its bond to its historic homeland Eretz Yisrael, and the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the nation
  2. Aliyah [immigration] to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all immigrants into Israeli Society
  3. Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world
  4. Ensuring the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and teaching Hebrew as the national language
  5. Nurturing mutual Jewish responsibility, defending the rights of Jews as individuals and as a nation, representing the national Zionist interests of the Jewish people, and struggling against all manifestations of anti-Semitism 
  6. Settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.
Although the movement wasn't formally established until 1897, the roots were already there. The Zionists had been clamouring for a homeland for some time and this culminated in a first wave of Jewish immigration into Palestine, known as the First Aliyah. This would be followed by further waves of immigration. 

The Palestinians would take the position that their troubles began during the first wave of Jewish settlement. But it is important to make a distinction here between Zionism and Judaism.

This article from a group called Neturei Karta, defines the difference between Zionism and Judaism. It points out that 'The Zionist movement created the Israeli state. The latter is a persuasion less than one hundred years old. Its essential goal was and is to change the nature of the Jewish people from that of a religious entity to a political movement. From Zionism's inception the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people stood in staunch opposition to it.

To this day Torah Jewry remains forever loyal to its faith. Zionists want the world to believe that they are the representatives of the entire Jewish people. This is false! The Jewish people never chose them as their leaders.

The Zionists have deceived many well meaning Jewish people via terror, trickery and false propaganda. They have at their disposal the use of a nearly universally subservient media. Whoever attempts to criticize them puts his livelihood and, at times, his very life in danger'.

From a religious perspective, Jews accept that their exile from - or diaspora - from the Holy Land was because of their sins and believe that the return of the Messiah will redeem them. The State of Israel is therefore rejected as a legitimate Jewish State, as is summed up in the article: 'Torah true Jewry waits patiently for the Messianic redemption. They have nothing to do with any kind of pseudo "Jewish State" and its aggressions against other peoples. They have a deep sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians who have suffered the most from Zionism's false teachings and barbaric actions. The Zionist state is not a Jewish state. The Zionists alone are the only ones responsible for their actions. Authentic Jewry has and will continue to oppose the very existence of this blasphemous state'.

Strong words to be sure. But words that were vindicated politically and legally by the Israeli Supreme court in a landmark judgement almost a year ago. Essentially the Court decreed that Israeli Nationality does not exist. 'In its 26-page ruling, the court explained that doing so would have "weighty implications" on the state of Israel and could pose a danger to Israel's founding principle: to be a Jewish state for the Jewish people.

The decision touches on a central debate in Israel, which considers itself both Jewish and democratic yet has struggled to balance both. The country has not officially recognized an Israeli nationality'. 

This poses an interesting question. If Israeli nationality doesn't exist then can Israel be defined as a pseudo State? It also suggests that if the nationality doesn't exist then neither can democracy. An Israeli nationality would mean that ethnic minorities could define themselves as Israeli. And that would mean universal equality for all - including the Palestinians. It would appear that a lack of Israeli nationality is a decree for discrimination.

The State of Israel was founded essentially on Zionist principles - a context that would drive both domestic and foreign policy. Israel’s destiny would be determined by the 1948 and 1967 wars. It would also snap into focus some of the less desirable aspects of Zionism, leading Israel to becoming a pariah State.

Yet this would serve as a contradiction as Israel would come to enjoy the protection of the West,  Particularly with the adoption of a new 'Godfather' - namely the US. But first it would have to survive the 'War of Independence'.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict
The following map shows the partition boundaries agreed by UNSCOP prior to Israel's formation (Source: BBC):
This next map shows the territory occupied by Israel after the end of the 1948 war:
In an official cablegram from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the UN Secretary-General on May 15, 1948, the Arabs stated publicly that 'The recent disturbances in Palestine further constitute a serious and direct threat to peace and security within the territories of the Arab States themselves. For these reasons, and considering that the security of Palestine is a sacred trust for them, and out of anxiousness to check the further deterioration of the prevailing conditions and to prevent the spread of disorder and lawlessness into the neighbouring Arab lands, and in order to fill the vacuum created by the termination of the Mandate and the failure to replace it by any legally constituted authority, the Arab Governments find themselves compelled to intervene for the sole purpose of restoring peace and security and establishing law and order in Palestine.' (Clause 10(e)). 

The reason for Arab intervention in Israel is further outlined in Clause 10(b): 'Peace and order have been completely upset in Palestine, and, in consequence of Jewish aggression, approximately over a quarter of a million of the Arab population have been compelled to leave their homes and emigrate to neighbouring Arab countries. The prevailing events in Palestine exposed the concealed aggressive intentions of the Zionists and their imperialistic motives, as clearly shown in their acts committed upon those peaceful Arabs and villagers of Deer Yasheen, Tiberias, and other places, as well as by their encroachment upon the building and bodies of the inviolable consular codes, manifested by their attack upon the Consulate in Jerusalem' (links added).

At the end of the war the 1949 Armistice Agreements were set and established Armistice Demarcation Lines between Israeli forces and the forces in Jordanian-held West Bank, also known as the Green Line. 

Following this, 'On 25 May 1950 the United States, Britain, and France jointly issued the Tripartite Declaration, which guaranteed the territorial status quo determined by Arab - Israeli armistice agreements and stipulated close consultation among the three powers with a view to limiting the Arab - Israeli arms race. The aim of the Western powers was to contain the Arab - Israeli conflict in order to focus the attention of the states of the Middle East on anti-Soviet defense plans' (Source: Answers). It would also ensure the free flow of oil resources to the west. The truce held until the 1967 six day war.

The consequences of increased tension in the region following the end of World War 2, was a rise of anti-Semitism in the Holy Land. As the situation deteriorated with the rise of Zionist terrorist incursions, a situation emerged that was almost a carbon copy of the Jewish diaspora. This is explored in some detail in the Global Exchange article the Palestinian diaspora

'The Palestinian refugee population is one of the largest in the world. There are now at least 6 million refugees, the oldest of whom have been waiting for more than 50 years to return home.

The forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 resulted from the birth of the state of Israel and is a core injury at the heart of the dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. Acknowledgement and a just resolution of these injuries will be at the heart of any lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis'.

The Six Day War
Although the Suez crisis in 1956 was a flash point in Arab - Israeli relations, it was the six day war in June 1967 that would define the status of modern day Israel. 

After the Suez Crisis, Egypt agreed to the stationing of a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Sinai to ensure all parties would continue to comply with the 1949 Armistice Agreements.

A dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbours over water provisions from the River Jordan, would be the spark that would eventually lead to the six day war. The timeline is documented in the article The Disaster of 1967.

'In early 1963, Israel announced its intention to divert part of the Jordan River waters to irrigate the Naqab Desert (also known as the Negev Desert). In response, Arab leaders decided at a 1964 Cairo summit to reduce the flow of water into Lake Tiberias by diverting some tributaries in Lebanon and Syria'.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed following the Cairo summit. The PLO would become important and influential actor in the region. 

Initially the PLO harassed the Israeli's through guerilla actions, with the support of Arab countries in the region . Its aim was 'the liberation of Palestine [which] will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence...' (PLO Charter, Article 22, 1968). 

PLO incursions prompted Israeli attacks in the region in order to counter the PLO resistance. This invariably led to increased tensions and clashes in the region.

The crunch move came on May 19, 1967. In a move reminiscent of the Suez crisis, Egypt under President Nasser ejected the UNEF observers, mobilised troops in the region and implemented a blockade of Israeli shipping. 'President Nasser announced... that the United Arab Republic has decided to close the Gulf of Aqaba - Israel's southern outlet to the sea - to all ships flying Israel flags or carrying strategic materials'.

He stated that "We are now face to face with Israel and if they want to try their luck without Britain and France, we await them," he said. "The Israel flag will not pass through Aqaba Gulf and our sovereignty over the Gulf entrance is not negotiable. If Israel wants to threaten us with war they are welcome."

The stage was set - but not for the Arab nations. On June 5, Israel launched a surprise attack on Egypt. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) destroyed most of the Egyptian Air Force in the process, then turned east to destroy the Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi air forces. This strike was the crucial element in Israel's victory in the Six-Day War. At the war's end, Israel had gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Shebaa farms, and the Golan Heights. The results of the war affect the geopolitics of the region to this day. 

From a military perspective, the pre-emptive Israeli strike was a tactical masterplan. It effectively routed the Arab challenge. By June 10, Israel had completed its final offensive in the Golan Heights, and a ceasefire was signed the day after. Overall, Israel's territory grew by a factor of three, including about one million Arabs placed under Israel's direct control in the newly captured territories. The map below (BBC) shows the state of affairs after 1967. 
The political importance of the 1967 War was immense; Israel demonstrated that it was able and willing to initiate strategic strikes that could change the regional balance. Egypt and Syria learned tactical lessons and would launch an attack in 1973 in an attempt to reclaim their lost territory. 

The so-called Yom Kippur war on 6 October 1973, took Israel by surprise. But despite this initial setback, Israel held off the Arab forces. 

This conflict was significant with respect to the fact that it indirectly involved the two superpowers, with the US backing Israel and the Soviets behind the Arab states. The geopolitics of the region was taking shape. 

Eventually a ceasefire was brokered and UN peacekeepers were reinstalled in the area. This eventually led to the Camp David Accords and the signing of a peace treaty in March 1979. Under its terms, the Sinai Peninsula returned to Egyptian hands, and the Gaza Strip remained under Israeli control, to be included in a future Palestinian state. The agreement also provided for the free passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal and recognition of the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba as international waterways. 

However Camp David entailed consequences that still reverberate today. In retrospect, the Framework for Peace in the Middle East could have gone further. The Framework was rejected by the UN General Assembly on the grounds that it did not comply with the Palestinian right of return, of self-determination and to national independence and sovereignty. A second framework was developed to address peace between Israel and Egypt. 

Since 1979, US aid to Israel has increased markedly, particularly military aid. Ominously there was a significant increase during the Bush administration. This account by the PLO sums up the concerns left by Camp David. There was also the small question of a Nobel Peace prize...   

In December 1987, the First Intifada (Arabic intifāḍa, literally, the act of shaking off) began. The First Intifada was a mass Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the Palestinian territories. 

Tensions had been building up for some time. But the spark came when an IDF truck struck a civilian car, killing four Palestinians. Rumours that the crash was deliberate quickly spread throughout Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In response to general strikes, boycotts of Israeli civil administration institutions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, civil disobedience in the face of army orders, and an economic boycott consisting of refusal to work in Israeli settlements on Israeli products, refusal to pay taxes, refusal to drive Palestinian cars with Israeli licenses, graffiti, barricading, and widespread throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at the IDF and its infrastructure within the Palestinian territories. Israel, deploying some 80,000 soldiers and initially firing live rounds, killed a large number of Palestinians. 

The confrontations continued for 6 years resulting in the deaths of over 1200 Palestinians, resulting in Israel imposing more control over the occupied territories. But the intifada ended Israel's innocence. The uprising had brought into focus a reality that was perhaps less evident in the past. Pictures beamed around the Globe of Palestinian youths throwing stones a Israeli solders and then being shot with live ammunition as part of Israel's 'break the bones' policy.

The Lebanon war in 1982 had given the world a glimpse of the 'real' Israel. But by the time the intifada had ended, Israel's gradual descent to pariah state had begun. As Electric Intifada noted, 'If nothing else, the people’s non-violent mass civil disobedience strategy had attracted media coverage and journalist Thomas Friedman commented that “the presence of the foreign media really forced Israelis to look at the true brutality of their occupation.” That is, until Israel found other more sinister ways to turn around public opinion'.

During this period, Israel was strongly condemned by the UN. Israel had broken every rule in the book. It's nonchalant disregard for International law and Convention would become a routine habit. Only one country was prepared to defend Israel all the way in the face of such overwhelming evidence against it - the US.              

In 1993, following the mutual recognition of Israel by the PLO and Israel's recognition of the PLO as legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, the Oslo Peace Accords were signed by both parties. The aim of the Accords was greater autonomy for Palestinians within the occupied territories over a period of 5 years. 

The Accords eventually broke down. A combination of 'business as usual' by Israel and continued resistance by Palestinians ultimately led to the second intifada in 2000. This insightful article from Executive Intelligence Review details how Israel in cahoots with the US, systematically dismantled the entire peace process. 'The Oslo peace accord of September 1993 failed, because powerful Israeli interests and their U.S.-based allies caused it to fail. In an interview that September, U.S. Presidential pre-candidate Lyndon LaRouche forecast prophetically, that, unless immediate progress were made on the economic aspects of the peace agreements, "enemies of progress and enemies of the human race, such as Henry Kissinger and his friends, will be successful, through people like Ariel Sharon's buddies, in intervening to drown this agreement in chaos and blood."

That is, in short, what happened. By handing control over economic development programs appended to the Oslo treaty to the World Bank, Kissinger's friends ensured that no large-scale infrastructure would be built. Instead of enjoying a peace dividend in terms of better living conditions, the Palestinians would experience a deterioration of their already disastrous conditions. This would generate demoralization, and rage - the primary ingredients for radicalization - particularly among youth, rendering them vulnerable to recruitment into extremist organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are opposed to peace'.

The following paragraph effectively sums up in a nutshell the true nature of the 'peace' process in the region and the true intentions of the protagonists: 'The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995, by right-wing Israeli extremist networks, was the political inflection point, intersecting the economic crisis. Rabin's Foreign Minister, a terrified Shimon Peres then threw the 1996 elections to Likudnik Benjamin Netanyahu, who reversed whatever implementation of Oslo there had been, and embarked on a confrontation course, by expanding illegal Israeli settlements and launching provocations. His successor, Barak, continued to dismantle Oslo, which culminated in the "offer" at Camp David, that Israel should maintain sovereignty over Jerusalem, including the sites sacred to Islam - an offer that no Arab leader, no Muslim, could accept. Following the fruitless Camp David talks, the religious passions associated with Jerusalem were consciously ignited by Sharon on Sept. 28, 2000, who demonstratively took a stroll, escorted by 1,000 Israeli police, by the holiest Islamic shrine in Jerusalem, the al-Haram al-Sharif. That act, which showed just how sensitive the Jerusalem issue is (and should have clarified why Arafat could not have accepted the Camp David offer), triggered the Intifada. This act by Sharon, is omitted from any U.S. or Israeli chronologies. Sharon's provocation was also the opening salvo to his election campaign. Once elected prime minister, by an electorate panicked by the violence that his provocation had produced, Sharon proceeded post-haste to finish off what little remained of the peace process'.

The summit at Camp David was an attempt to salvage the Oslo Accords. But the process failed - as noted above - and the second Intifada broke out.

The consequences of the failed Accords would shape the geopolitical landscape of the region into the entity we see today.

The Second Intifada
Following the controversial visit by Sharon to the Islamic shrine, violence erupted. The Israeli response was similar to the First Intifada, with live ammunition being used in some of the confrontations that ensued. A report by Amnesty International Broken Lives - A Year of Intifada summed up the Israeli approach: 'Israeli forces have killed Palestinians unlawfully by shooting them during demonstrations and at checkpoints although lives were not in danger. They have shelled residential areas and committed extrajudicial executions. Palestinian armed groups and individuals have deliberately killed Israeli civilians by placing bombs in crowded places and in drive-by shootings. 

'All Palestinians in the Occupied Territories - more than three million people - have been collectively punished. Almost every Palestinian town and village has been cut off by Israeli army checkpoints or physical barriers. Curfews on Palestinian areas have trapped residents in their homes for days, weeks or
even months. In the name of security, hundreds of Palestinian homes have been demolished'.

Clearly atrocities were also committed by Palestinian extremists, but the above account makes for familiar reading. Its an account that would be repeated up until the present day.

The conflict culminated in 'Operation Defensive Shield,' the largest military operation conducted by Israel since the Six-Day War. The offensive would set a precedent for subsequent attacks against the palestinians - namely a disproportionate and extreme level of response by the IDF. A particular offensive on the Jennin refuge camp characterises the Israeli response. This article in Haaretz sums up the conflict. 

Since the second intifada there have be further attacks by Israel, each condemned by the international community and reported widely by media outlets. One of the key outcomes that emerged out of the second intifada was the emergence of Hamas. Ultimately this would lead to confrontation with other factions.

As the current offensive against Gaza rages (2014), there are other key events and conditions that contribute to the continued instability in the region. Indeed it could be argued that there is a deliberate intention by certain actors to maintain instability. But before I discuss these, there are other historical precedents that need to be put in place first. 

The rest of this article will follow in a subsequent post.       

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Ukraine - The real story behind the crisis

They're at it again! Syria, Pussy Riot, Greenpeace and now Ukraine. It seems that the Russian's are determined to throw a spanner in the works where ever they go - violating International Law in the process.

Viewing western mainstream media you are left in no doubt that the Russian's are the bad guys. Certainly Russia’s reputation and the legacy of current president Vladimir Putin doesn't help. So is Russia is playing devils advocate with the Ukraine crisis? Is there a plot by the west - similar to the revelations in Naomi Klein’s remarkable book The Shock Doctrine?

Briefly the book documents how the CIA - under a green light from the US Government - engineered and propped up coups in South America and elsewhere during the cold war. The objective was to install US branded capitalism at any cost and to ensure socialism was halted in its tracks. Ultimately it was all about the bottom line for US Corporations.

More recently a repeat performance took place in Iraq. But now it is emerging that the same could be happening in Ukraine. Of course none of this will appear in the mainstream media.  So lets now unravel the 'real story behind the crisis' by following an historical time-line initially, to find an answer to the questions posed above.

The bread basket of Europe
Historically, Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of Europe due to its vast tracts of fertile soil. Ukraine was important agriculturally during the era of the Soviet Union. Now its resources are being recognised by the west and in particular US agricultural corporations. 

Ukraine has some of the most fertile soils in the world, due to minimal impacts of the industrial farming model that is much more extensive in the west. This has made Ukraine an attractive proposition for Global agricultural interests. Investment is relatively inexpensive.

However outright ownership of Ukrainian land is restricted due to a moratorium on land sales. According to the law, foreign nationals and legal persons (private corporations) may lease land, but they are not allowed to own agricultural land. Essentially the main owners of land in Ukraine are traditional farmers.

A full background on the moratorium can be found in a report published recently by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Attitudes toward the Lifting of the Moratorium on Land Sales and the Development of Land Markets in Ukraine.

The Political Climate
In order to make sense of the current crisis in Ukraine, we have to turn the clock back 10 years and examine what happened during the so-called 'Orange Revolution'.

Prior to the elections in 2004, Ukraine had gone the way of other post Soviet regimes, with corruption and malpractice seeping into politics and the economy. This spilled over into the elections of 2004. As a result the elections were rigged and a re-vote was cast.

Viktor Yanukovych was the candidate seeking to maintain the status quo. His support came from the predominantly Russian east of the country. Contesting was the pro-western Viktor Yushchenko.

After an electoral re-run, Yanukovych was sent packing and stability was attained in Ukraine - with a little help from the west. Suffice to say - Ukraine's transition to democracy owed a great deal to behind the scenes activities that had its origins in the US. The protests that took place during the elections had its roots in US based tactics. There was nothing particularly sinister about this at the time. What transpired had assisted Ukraine in moving from a dubious past to a more stable future. The issue is covered in this article from the Washington Post. There is also a more in depth analysis in this excerpt from the book, The Colour Revolutions in the Former Soviet Republics.

However there was another unusual and unique factor at work here, which certainly influenced the outcome of the 'orange revolution,' that was the support of Yushchenko by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). As reported by the New York Times, they plotted to prevent the ascension of Yanukovych. The SBU had a clear vision of Yanukovych's links with corruption; 'Several SBU officers said the premier, who was once convicted of robbery and assault and has close links to the corrupt eastern businessmen who have acquired much of Ukraine's material wealth, was a man they preferred not to serve, especially if he were to take office by fraud'.

One of the revelations in the NYT article was the fact that the Yanukovych campaign was bugged and placed under surveillance. As such, it could be said that the final direction that Ukraine took was based on evidence from these activities.

In 2010, Yanukovych returned to prominence winning the 2010 presidential election. However it wasn't long before he became the focus of controversy again.
'On 30 March 2012 senior officials of Ukraine and the European Union initialed in Brussels [link added] the texts of an Association Agreement (AA) between the EU and Ukraine, and also the Deep and Comprehensive Free trade Agreement (DCFTA) as an integral part of the package.

'‘Initialing’ signifies that the negotiations over the text have been concluded and agreed. However thus far there is no binding commitment. With signing there is a political commitment, but only after ratification is it legally binding'.

Therein lies the reason behind the current crisis. Yanukovych's refusal to ratify the above agreements led to the widespread protests. This sealed Yanukovych's fate - again. This time though - compared to the orange revoution - there was no turning back. He absconded to Russia. 

The position now is that the future of Ukraine is uncertain. Elections in May 2014 installed a new government in Ukraine. But this is seen as a step in the right direction.

One thing is certain though. Ukraine is a vital strategic partner to both east and west. The geopolitics of the region is explored in this article from BBC online. Effectively Russia wants to establish its own economic bloc in order to secure its own interests in the region. Essentially its all about security as Russia sees encroachment from the west as a potential threat.

Much of the jockeying between east and west centred around potential financial bailouts from both Russia and the EU. But it's not just Russia and the west that has an interest in Ukraine, China is involved also. So with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) poised to bail Ukraine out - with strings attached - the Russian offer was more attractive to Yanukovych. Austerity became a dilemma. But as the BBC article above pointed out, western aid might strengthen Ukraine in the long term.

But we return to the questions posed at the beginning. Russia may well see itself as a devils advocate. It puts forward the case of legal entitlement to intervene in Ukraine. Not surprisingly an extended finger is pointed firmly in the direction of the US. 

This brings us to the next question - a question the Russians would probably give an unequivocal yes to - that the west is hatching a plot.

Refilling the Breadbasket
'As the US and EU apply sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea, JP Sottile reveals the corporate annexation of Ukraine. For Cargill, Chevron, Monsanto, there's a gold mine of profits to be made from agri-business and energy exploitation'. So opens the first paragraph of a revealing Ecologist article, Ukraine - the corporate annexation.

The article looks at how US based corporations - mainly agri companies - but lets not forget Chevron (more below) - have made inroads into Ukrainian agricultural interests.

First off the starting blocks, Cargill. They took advantage of post Soviet opportunities back in the early nineties. Since then they have consolidated significant parts the grain and animal feed market.

You may not have heard of Cargill, but they're one of the biggest agri-corporations in the world and the largest privately held corporation in the United States in terms of revenue. They also have their tarnished history. In particular, they were targeted by Greenpeace over deforestation, resulting the development of soya plantations in the Brazilian Amazon.

It appears that Cargill was not put off by the crisis in Ukraine. Just as the storm of protests began, Cargill bought a 5% stake in UkrLandFarming, the world’s eighth-largest land cultivator. Prior to that - as The Ecologist notes - 'On 13th December 2013, Cargill announced the purchase of a stake in a Black Sea grain terminal at Novorossiysk on Russia's Black Sea coast.
'The port - to the east of Russia's strategically and historically important Crimean naval base - gives them a major entry-point to Russian markets and adds them to the list of Big Ag companies investing in ports around the Black Sea, both in Russia and Ukraine'.

Meanwhile - hovering patiently in the background - is the US-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC), which sports Big Ag luminaries: Melissa Agustin, Director, International Government Affairs & Trade for Monsanto and Cargill's Van A. Yeutter - amongst others. So lets take a closer look at the USUBC and its current president, Morgan Williams.

The US embassy in Ukraine has an interesting insight into US - Ukraine relations: 'U.S. Commercial Service Ukraine: The U.S. Commercial Service offers valuable assistance to help U.S. business export goods and services to markets worldwide. We can help you pursue your business goals in Ukraine with a wide range of services to meet your needs. Whether you are looking for trading partners or joint venture partners, or if you need the advocacy of the U.S. Embassy to help level the playing field, our highly regarded trade professionals are ready to work with you to achieve your business objectives'. It also goes out of its way to mention that 'The U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC) is a private, non-profit trade association representing the interests of US businesses active in Ukraine' (above emphases added).

Following the successful instalment of Ukraine's new president, the USUBC was quick to offer its congratulations. In a statement, the USUBC 'congratulates the new President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and looks forward to a Comprehensive Dialog Between the Government of Ukraine and International Investors to ENHANCE prosperity and the European integration of Ukraine'.

And just to emphasise the 'enthusiasm' of the USUBC, this is how Poroshenko's ascension was presented on the USUBC website!

As for Morgan Williams. Well, his CV is explored by Liberty Voice: 'Ukraine business council leader, Morgan Williams, is a U.S. agricultural industry MVP. Williams is the CEO and president of the joint U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC) and has supported the vital interests of U.S. companies like Monsanto and Cargill in Ukraine’s agricultural resources'.

Liberty quotes from an interview with International Business Times about U.S. corporate involvement in Ukraine’s agriculture business. Williams states that the opportunity's in Ukraine represents a 'gold mine'. 

'Williams was asked what he would do to transform Ukraine’s business climate if he were elected the country’s president. His remark about his wish to “center around getting the government out of business, set fair and transparent rules, an honest legal system and drastically reduce opportunities for bribes and corruption,” contrasts his support of companies like Monsanto who do not abide by any of the codes Williams declares as integral to a fair economy and government. Williams’ tactical leadership position at the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council is the reason why he is the U.S. agricultural industry’s MVP'.

Liberty goes on to note that 'Morgan Williams’ market opinions about the Ukraine are biased and nonobjective, because he represents Monsanto and Cargill. Williams exposed his questionable intentions when he proposed that the Ukrainian government should stay out of big business.

He apparently forgot that he represents several of the corporate parties that dabble in trading their former employees with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration. Williams is the MVP of the U.S. agricultural industry because his leadership position in the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council gives legitimacy to Monsanto and Cargill’s suspicious growing investments in Ukraine'.

Enter stage East Monsanto. Any agricultural expansion anywhere would not be complete without Monsanto's involvement. And Ukraine is no exception. 

Monsanto's announced recently that it will invest $140m in a non-GM corn seed plant. Reuters notes that 'Ukrainian laws bar local farmers from growing genetically modified crops'. Vitaliy Fedchuk, representing Monsanto was asked whether Monsanto expected changes in regulations. He said: "Indeed, in Ukraine only conventional seeds are allowed for production and importation, thus we will be working with conventional seeds only."

Do we believe Monsanto? Have a look at their website - it makes for entertaining reading! In particular I was impressed by the fact that 'we’re focused on sustainable agriculture, which, very simply, is producing more with fewer resources while improving the lives of farmers'. They go on to say 'As agriculture expands in Ukraine, so, too, do our operations and the job opportunities we provide. Last year the number of our employees doubled' and 'We’re an active member and supporter of the communities where we operate, and we’re strongly committed to conducting our business in a responsible and transparent way'.

One of the commitments that Monsanto has stressed is the expansion of non GM crops in Ukraine. But no Monsanto statement is ever complete without a measured dose of doublespeak: 'I also want to stress the importance of creating a favorable environment that encourages innovation and fosters the continued development of agriculture. Ukraine has the opportunity to further develop the potential of conventional crops, which is where we are currently concentrating our efforts. We also hope that at some point biotechnology is a tool that will be available to Ukrainian farmers in the future' (emphasis added).

It appears that if Monsanto has its way - it will fill the Breadbasket, or should that be the 'Grain Basket of the Future'. 

Another common touch that Monsanto uses is to dangle a (non GM in this case!) carrot. Who could possibly back off from Monsanto's unbridled generosity: 'The program offers rural Ukrainians the opportunity to apply for a grant of up to $25,000 to help them develop a program that provides educational opportunities, community empowerment, or small business development'.

As we've seen time and time again from Monsanto, as soon as the carrots are gone the sticks come out. So in answer to the question - Monsanto's legacy dictates that they shouldn’t be trusted and given the fragility of the country, there's no doubt that Ukraine is ripe for exploitation.

Foot on the gas
Beneath Ukraine’s pristine soil there's another 'gold mine' waiting to be exploited - shale gas. And Chevron is in pole position to tap into the resource - with Shell also getting in on the act. 

The New York Times offers an interesting overview of a 50 year deal that could see as much as $10 billion worth of investment. 

Most of the gas used by Ukraine comes from Russia, leaving Ukraine 'highly dependent on Russia’s Gazprom, which cut off its supplies in 2006 and 2009 in pricing disputes. As a result, Ukraine pays exceptionally high prices for natural gas, making the economics of shale gas extraction even more attractive for companies like Chevron'. 

'If the companies find and produce gas, “it would reduce dependency on foreign imports significantly,” said Menno Koch, a gas analyst at Lambert Energy Advisory in London. If Ukraine or other Eastern European countries became prolific producers, that “would be a game changer,” Mr. Koch said, by creating competition for the big suppliers to Europe, not only Russia but also Norway and Algeria'. 

Ironically from the Russian perspective, 'Gazprom maintains that shale gas drilling inherently causes pollution and is more expensive than gas extracted from traditional deposits that are abundant in Russia. It also argues that shale gas wells are quickly depleted and that rising gas prices expected to accompany a European economic recovery will again make Gazprom’s long-term contracts appear competitive'. 

Clearly there is no doubt that Russia perceives a threat from the possibility of a shale gas boom in Ukraine. But that very much depends on whether Ukraine will endorse widespread fracking on its pleasant green fields and whether the potential for shale gas is as lucrative as chevron believes. However Russia is making contingency plans by constructing a pipeline route that bypasses Ukraine.

In another twist, Russia has also banned the cultivation of GMO's. Although this is supposed to be a temporary measure over 3 years, it is likely that Russia will move against GMO's completely. The reasons behind this are explored in an engaging article from GlobalResearch. Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as saying “if the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.”

The article points out how countries like Afghanistan have had their food systems undermined by Monsanto: 'Corporate interests and technology, coupled with Western aid organizations, backed by NATO’s military force, helped transform Afghanistan’s agricultural landscape through the systematic poisoning of traditional crops and their replacement with genetically modified soybeans (a crop previously alien to Afghan agriculture and cuisine).

'The roots Monsanto sank into Afghanistan will be deep and lasting. Farmers dependent on patented genetically modified soybeans will be dependent on Monsanto and other Western biotech/big-ag giants indefinitely, and in turn, so will the people who depend on those farmers for daily sustenance. The very sovereignty of Afghanistan as an independent nation has been undermined at the most basic and fundamental level, its food security which now resides in the hands of foreigners'.

The article also makes this observation: 'The West’s mega agricultural monopolies seek to infiltrate and overrun national food supplies worldwide, while it aims crippling sanctions at nations it seeks to influence or control geopolitically. A nation made dependent on the West’s mega agricultural monopolies, if ever targeted by sanctions or other means to undermine and overthrow its existing political order, will be particularly vulnerable. Thus, going organic is not just a means to keep a nation’s population healthy and therefore more productive, but also a fundamental means to protect national sovereignty'.

The stage is set then for what looks like a Mexican stand-off between East and West. As for the notion of Russia being Devils Advocate, it could be argued that perhaps Mr Putin does have a point.