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Subscriberthon guest post: Antony Loewenstein on the state of the peace process

Antony Loewenstein is a prominent blogger, and the author of the oft-reprinted My Israel Question and the more recent Blogging Revolution. He also delivered, not so long ago, an Overland lecture on oil and the Middle East. Here, offers a provocative guest post on the state of the peace process under Rudd and Obama.

There are some who argue that the Middle East is a constantly evolving train-wreck. In fact, with notable exceptions, the last decades have been remarkably consistent in going in the wrong direction.

One year after the election of US President Barack Obama provides us with a perfect opportunity to assess his progress. The reality on the ground in Palestine has never been so grim. South Africa said in late November that the expansion of settlements near Jerusalem was comparable to the ‘forced removals’ of the apartheid era. Settlers in the West Bank have filed a petition with Israel’s High Court to demolish a nearly completed stadium near Ramallah. Some colonists are almost begging for the right to live on occupied land. ‘In short, we are looking for a hill-top’, one writes, seemingly hoping for sympathy.

America’s leading newspaper, The New York Times, continues to minimise the deleterious effects of Israel’s occupation. Times columnist Thomas Friedman even wrote this week that the Muslim world should be grateful for a ‘US foreign policy that has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny.’ Tell that to the millions killed with US missiles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

Prominent Zionists claim that Israel is the eternal victim of hatred by Europe and the Arab world. Jews in Israel are desperate for peace, we’re told, if only Palestinians would give up their wish to extinguish the flames of hope.

It is a narrative that has sustained Israel for decades. Frame your enemies as irrational, milk global sympathy for the Holocaust and hold the ‘anti-Semitic’ tag over friend and foe. Western elites regularly talk about an Israel that doesn’t exist; a country conjured in their minds. And yet, as even Obama’s National Security Advisor Jim Jones acknowledged during the recent J Street conference in Washington DC, resolution of the Israel/Palestine would ripple across the world. Acknowledging the importance of Hamas to the process would be a positive start.

It’s a travesty, therefore, that Washington is reverting to typical postures that only allow the occupation to deepen and make a two-state solution even more impossible. I personally back a one-state equation, but Western governments claim to believe in viable Jewish and Palestinian states living side by side. Australia’s Rudd government simply operates like business as usual, oblivious to the reality of Israel driving itself off a cliff. Public opinion in Australia is slowly turning against Israel and yet this position is barely acknowledged in public discussion.

Israelis are undoubtedly feeling under attack from America and the international community but it’s hard to have sympathy for a people continually voting for political parties that enrich the settlement movement.

Political inaction has forced the hand of global activists to pressure Israel non-violently in other ways. The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) is gaining traction (even ABC Radio’s PM featured a story last week about protests against products from the West Bank).

A major conference took place recently at America’s Hampshire College that focused on increasing the co-ordinated movement against apartheid in the occupied territories (http://mondoweiss.net/2009/11/reflections-on-the-bds-conference-at-hampshire.html). Blogger and writer Phil Weiss attended and wrote the following:

“There were remarkably few older people around. Yes it is a campus-organizing event, but it strikes me that on Israel/Palestine, these young people don’t trust us at all. They have lost faith in their elders as oppressive hypocrites on this issue. You have given us 62 years of Palestinian statelessness and war against Muslims; meanwhile you cheer a black man for president here and Jim Crow and the charade of the “peace process” there. These young people have great faith in the possibility of change. They were almost every one impressive, thoughtful serious leaders with a purity of belief that I can’t match (and don’t wish to; I’m not young). They are leading themselves, without the need for a lot of older guides.”

Established “liberals” in the US such as Rabbi Michael Lerner oppose such stringent measures as unfairly pressuring the Israel, but surely we are long past worrying about offending sensibilities. Currently visiting Australia, Lerner told us at an inter-faith dinner in Sydney this week that BDS would only be successful if enough Americans believed in the wrongness of Israeli behaviour and they currently do not. Fair enough, but the campaign is growing and inaction seems like a morally weak position.

The alternative is indefinite occupation, supported by America, Australia, and far too many countries that should know better.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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