Sunday, January 20, 2008

Let's get the candidates talking about Israel-Palestine

5 Questions On Israel For The Next Debate
01/18/08 2:06 PM

From Mother

As I've said before, there's been a vacuum surrounding Israel and Palestine this campaign season. Moderators have broached the issue only twice in the last 13 debates. And the most recent question, posed by Wendell Goler last week at the Fox News debate in South Carolina, was pretty weak. As Goler wound up—"Mayor Giuliani, President Bush is in the Middle East ... laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state"—there was, briefly, a glimmer of hope. Then he tossed this doozy of a softball: "I wonder, sir, how you would keep a Palestinian state from becoming a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism." One of several surreal assumptions behind the question seemed to be, "The Palestinians are prostrate, mightn't it be better if they're kept that way?" And that to the candidate with the Likudnik A-team advising him. Oh, well.

Since the debates have been so deficient in this area, I asked five well-informed Middle East observers what they would ask the candidates on the issue, if they could ask anything. The only ground rule was to keep it brief; no other boundaries. Here are their responses:

From Juan Cole of Informed Comment: Has Israeli colonization of the West Bank proceeded to the point where a two-state solution has become impractical? And, if so, isn't there now a choice between an Apartheid state or a one-state solution?

From Matthew Duss of TAPPED: Recognizing that Israel's settlements in the occupied territories are considered illegal under international law, and recognizing that their relentless expansion, which has continued over the last decade despite repeated Israeli assurances to the contrary, is both a source of Palestinian suffering and a major instigator of extremism and violence, as well as being deeply prejudicial to final status negotiations, are you prepared to take a firm stand against the settlements, and to carry through with real consequences if Israel does not cease settlement expansion?

From Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States: Since 1993, the United States has pursued a policy of seeking peace between Israel and Palestine by isolating Iran. As former Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk said, the two were symbiotic. Peace was necessary to isolate Iran, isolating Iran was necessary for peace. Fifteen years later, we can conclude that this strategy was an utter failure. Yet, the Bush Administration is following a similar path, seeking to create an alliance of Israel and Sunni Arab dictatorships to isolate Iran under the guise of peacemaking. In your administration, how would you approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? By repeating the Bush/Clinton policy or by pursuing a holistic approach aimed at giving all regional actors a stake in the outcome and process of peacemaking?

From Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss: Why is it that our last two presidents only made a major push on Israel/Palestine at the end of their 8-year terms, when they had nothing politically to lose? Doesn't this show that this is the big enchilada in foreign affairs and that our politics around this issue are unhealthy? What will you do differently, before your 8 years are up?

From Stephen Zunes of Foreign Policy in Focus: For Senator Clinton. During the 2006 war in Lebanon, you co-sponsored a resolution condemning Hezbollah for its alleged use of "human shields." Since then, detailed on-the-ground studies by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, while highly critical of Hezbollah's responsibility for civilian deaths in Israel, have challenged the claims by the Bush administration that Hezbollah's alleged use of "human shields" contributed to the high numbers of civilian deaths from Israeli bombardment in Lebanon. Similarly, the reports of these credible human rights organizations have placed responsibility for the vast majority of the 800 Lebanese civilian deaths on the government of Israel. Are you willing to acknowledge that Israel was culpable for most of the Lebanese civilian deaths? And, as president, would you belittle the findings of human rights groups in order to support violations of international humanitarian law by U.S. allies?

—Justin Elliott
- Mother Jones

Have a good question for the candidates on Israel? Put proposals on PIAG's comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"We are blessed -- or cursed -- to live with each other. I prefer the first."

Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim takes Palestinian citizenship
By News Agencies Haaretz - 13 January 2008

Daniel Barenboim, the world renowned Israeli pianist and conductor, has taken Palestinian citizenship and said he believed his rare new status could serve as a model for peace between the two peoples.

"It is a great honor to be offered a passport," he said late on Saturday after a Beethoven piano recital in Ramallah, the West Bank city where he has been active for some years in promoting contact between young Arab and Israeli musicians. "I have also accepted it because I believe that the destinies of ... the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked," Barenboim said. "We are blessed - or cursed - to live with each other. And I prefer the first."

"The fact that an Israeli citizen can be awarded a Palestinian passport can be a sign that it is actually possible," he continued. Former Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouthi, who helped organize Saturday's concert, said the passport had been approved by the previous government of which he was a member and which was replaced in June. The passport had actually been issued about six weeks ago, he added.

Argentine-born Barenboim, 65, is a controversial figure in his adoptive homeland, both for his promotion of 19th-century composer Richard Wagner - whose music and anti-Semitic writings influenced Adolf Hitler - and vocal opposition to Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.

Asked about U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks last week on a visit to the region that a peace could be signed this year, Barenboim warned of the danger of raising hopes too high. "It would be absolutely horrible if now, with good intentions, expectations are raised which will not be able to be fulfilled," Barenboim said. "Then we will sink into an even greater depression."

Though he dismissed any wish to play a political role, the former music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra took a dig at Bush's strikingly forceful call in Jerusalem last week for Israel to end, in the president's own words, "the occupation."

"Now even not very intelligent people are saying that the occupation has to be stopped," Barenboim said. Along with the late Palestinian academic Edward Said, he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up of young musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries.