Communities & Focus Areas :

Washington DC, April 23 — Last week, the redacted text of the Mueller Report dropped—into a Capitol Hill that will spend much of the rest of the present Congressional session dealing with its fallout.

Robert Mueller’s investigation was into allegations only of Russian interference in U.S. politics. But at one point his report highlights some highly questionable (Russia-related) contacts that people close to Trump’s transition team had with representatives of another government that has intervened massively in U.S. policymaking in recent years: the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE is a small but very wealthy federation of seven tiny emirates (princedoms) strung out along the coast of the Gulf. Through the wily hawkishness of its powerful Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the UAE has played a major role in prolonging the war in Yemen, fomenting and supporting the conflicts in Syria and Libya, overthrowing (in 2013) the elected government in Egypt—and in persuading Pres. Trump to walk out of the key de-escalation/denuclearization deal the United States concluded with Iran in 2015.

MBZ may have only the title of “crown prince”, but he has dominated the UAE’s policymaking for more than a dozen years now. And back in early 2015, when the ageing King Salman became king of neighboring Saudi Arabia, MBZ reportedly played a big role in boosting the elevation of one of Salman’s younger sons, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), to the powerful role of crown prince… and we have seen some of the ruthlessness that MBS brought to that role.

Like MBS, MBZ doubtless views himself as a very “modern” crown prince. As part of that, his pursuit of his chosen, ultra-hawkish policies in the Middle East has been accompanied by massive lobbying efforts in Washington, designed to try to keep the world’s sole remaining (if somewhat fading) superpower on his side. So if the Justice Department and relevant congressional committees want to investigate interventions that foreign entities have been making in the US political process, then the role of the UAE government– as well as the Saudi and Israeli governments—should certainly also be examined.

Muzzling the discourse

“Interventions”, in this sense, should include not only direct lobbying for or against various policies but also the attempts these outside actors make to frame, skew, or on occasion outright muzzle the elite discourse in this country. These actors accomplish this in a number of ways, including by hiring PR firms and through the investments they make in various think-tanks… those specifically Washington institutions that generate and support “experts” whose analyses and views then—if the think-tank is successful—get widely quoted in the corporate media, thus becoming part of the country’s “conventional wisdom.”

Over the past decade, the UAE became a big player in the think-tank scene in Washington DC, which had previously been dominated, on matters Middle Eastern, by the large ranks of big, pro-Israeli American funders like Haim Saban—and to a lesser extent by the Saudis.

In the early 2000s Saban, an Israeli-American entertainment mogul (and close Clinton buddy), used his money to take over the previously professional Middle East studies department at the Brookings Institution, which renamed it the “Saban Center”. Saban was the guy who once told an audience in Israel that the “three ways to be influential in American politics,” were “make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.”  He has also repeatedly said, “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Not surprisingly, when MBZ wanted to “be influential in American politics”, he followed as much as he could of Saban’s playbook. Not being an American citizen meant that following some of Saban’s three paths to success was a little harder and more complex—but he had two trusty lieutenants to help him out.

George [not Ralph!] Nader

One was George Nader, a veteran Lebanese-American fixer who has worked for MBZ for many years and who is also a close associate of big GOP fundraiser– and Trump buddy– Elliot Broidy. Section IV (B) 2 of Volume 1 of the Mueller report described how, just a week before Trump’s inauguration, Nader and MBZ had set up a meeting in the Seychelles between Putin intimate Kirill Dmitriev and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, whom Nader thought was close to the Trump transition (and who anyway had a long history of working with MBZ in the UAE.) But Erik Prince apparently demurred from playing any immediate further role in establishing a secret Trump-Putin “back channel.”

Back in the 1980s, I knew Nader as an ambitious young man who cut quite a figure as the editor and publisher of a very glossy, Washington DC-based magazine called Middle East Insight. It carried intriguing interviews with a broad range of movers and shakers in Middle Eastern politics (and was suspected by many of us actual journalists in Washington of being a CIA front.) He and the magazine then dropped out of sight. Child pornography charges were reportedly involved. Years later, he resurfaced in the Czech Republic having been convicted there on several charges of child molestation… More recently, he resurfaced again as a key bagman for MBZ, including in relation to some non-trivial arms dealing.

Last year, after investigators on Mueller’s team subpoenaed the contents of Nader’s phone, he began to sing. (Scores of the footnotes to the relevant section of Mueller’s report are attributed to texts found on Nader’s phone.)

In April 2017, however, Nader was still busy doing his influence-peddling for MBZ. As the AP would later report, that was the month that Nader wired $2.5 million to Elliott Broidy through a company in Canada. The AP’s sources indicated that Nader sent the money to underwrite efforts to win US support for the campaign Saudi Arabia and the UAE were launching against Qatar. Those efforts included a Broidy-funded, anti-Qatar conference held by the ultra-right-wing think-tank, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and campaign donations of nearly $600,000 that Broidy made to anti-Qatar political bodies and campaigns.

Yousef al-Otaiba

Another, even higher-level US bagman for MBZ has long been the UAE ambassador in Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba. He has also worked diligently to follow the Haim Saban playbook for how to win friends and influence policy in Washington—including the campaigns to control think-tanks.

Otaiba was named ambassador in March 2008. Just one month later an associate of Amb. (retd.) Wendy Chamberlain, the head of Washington’s venerable Middle East Institute think-tank, reportedlyreached out to ask Otaiba to support a major MEI capital campaign. Eight years later, Ms. Chamberlain finally got her reply: a $20 million donation from the UAE, which has now nearly finished completion of a large-scale refurbishment of its headquarters.

The past twelve years have seen numerous examples of such think-tank investments being made by rich Arab states—especially by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. Sometimes, these states followed the path of “capturing”—or, heavily investing in—existing think-tanks, as Saban had at Brookings and Otaiba did with MEI. Or sometimes, they followed the path pioneered in the 1980s by the big, pro-Israeli donor Barbi Weinberg, who worked with former AIPAC staffer Martin Indyk to create her own, wholly new think-tank: the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the FARA-reported influence operations of these three Arab states in 2017-2018 totaled $90.3 million, compared with $63.5 million reported by Israel. Influence operations funded by Israel are of course generously supplemented by those funded by US individuals and entities deeply supportive of Israel, like AIPAC. On many issues, including Iran, the campaigns of Saudi Arabia and the UAE push in the same direction as those of Israel.

In the case of the big Gulf-Arab donors, their battle for influence heated up considerably in mid-2017, after MBZ and MBS decided to try to knock the Emir of Qatar off his throne and divvy up the $320 billion-worth of assets of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund that he controlled. By then, Qatar’s own pet DC think tank, the Arab Center of Washington, was already well established. But Saudi Arabia (which had also invested in MEI, and which also owned and controlled a couple of smaller think-tanks in town) and the UAE then created two entirely new think-tanks to combat Qatar: the Arabia Foundation, and the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. The battle of narratives was royally joined!

(MBZ and MBS overlooked the fact that the largest number of US troops anywhere in the region are deployed in two massive bases in Qatar, and the Pentagon definitely doesn’t want to remove them. So though Pres. Trump expressed some initial support for the Saudi/Emirati plan to unseat Qatar’s Emir, the US government as a whole never followed through.)

Controlling the narrative on Yemen

All these shenanigans on the behalf of the Gulf-Arab super-rich are important– for a number of compelling reasons. First, the investments that all of them have made, over the past several years, have had a strong effect on public understanding of key issues in the Middle East, and on policy. As noted earlier, these issues include Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Iran.

Of these issues, Yemen is the one regarding which these Gulf Arabs have—recently—been least successful in controlling the narrative. Their argument that the Houthi alliance that has controlled the capital, Sanaa, and considerable surrounding areas for many years is illegitimate, is totally controlled by Iran, and is solely responsible for the country’s suffering—and that therefore Americans and everyone else should support the Saudi/UAE alliance that has been battling the Houthis, has finally been exposed on every count. Just last week, finally, the US Senate supported a resolution to end the support the US military has been giving to the Saudi war effort in Yemen. That was a real victory for the antiwar forces. Trump vetoed the resolution, but Sen. Sanders is hoping to win enough support to over-ride the veto. Stay tuned…

But MBS (help from MBZ and the Pentagon, under Obama) launched Saudi Arabia’s large-scale military push into Yemen back in March 2015. It has taken four years for the US Senate to get to where it is on the Yemen issue, which is a shockingly long time. In the meantime, more than 70,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed, and millions more face imminent threats of cholera and starvation.

Secondly, the capture by these ruthlessly ideological forces of so many of the Washington think-tanks that previously had long reputations for fair-minded, objective research means it is almost impossible these days for anyone reading their output—whether directly, or indirectly, through the way they get quoted in the media—to get anything like an accurate picture of the situation in the countries being described.

This applies particularly to Syria, where since 2011 the bought-and-paid-for think-tanks have rigidly suppressed any viewpoints that challenge the view that Pres. Bashar al-Asad is uniquely evil and has to be overthrown. As someone who has worked on Syria-related issues since the 1970s, I have seen this happen at first hand. In my last appearance at an MEI event on Syria, in summer 2011, I pointed out that Pres. Asad still retained considerably more support from Syria’s citizens than the “regime change” crowd claimed, and that the “opposition” was splintered and in disarray. I was right. But MEI notably never invited me back and even refused to host other experts on Syria whom I had suggested for their programing.

Bottom line: If you read something from someone billed as a “think-tank expert” look carefully at their institution’s funding before you judge the value of their work.

And a final takeaway from the whole sorry saga of these Gulf states’ ridiculously large investments in think tanks? Consider the opportunity costs involved. Imagine if these states had spent this amount of money funding some of the sorely-needed debates, studies, or other interventions on the Palestine Question! (Imagine what Mondoweiss, or Just World Educational, or Palestine Legal could do with $20 million…) But no. The institutions that have received hefty Gulf-Arab funding have done pitifully little programing on Palestine, leaving that “field of discourse” open for the Zionists’ continued domination.

So George Nader may have been just a minor bit-player in the Mueller investigation’s saga. But the phenomenon of Gulf-Arab intervention in US politics and discourse that he represented was a much more serious matter.

Helena Cobban is the President of Just World Educational (JWE), a non-profit organization, and the CEO of Just World Books. She has had a lengthy career as a journalist, writer, and researcher on international affairs, including 17 years as a columnist on global issues for The Christian Science Monitor. Of the seven books she’s published on international affairs, four have been on Middle Eastern topics. This new series of commentaries she’s writing, “Story/Backstory”, will have an expanded audio component published in JWE’s podcast series. They represent her own opinion and judgments, not those of any organization.

Article link:

https://mondoweiss.net/2019/04/influence-operations-footnote/

Dear WESPAC comrades and friends,
I’m writing to ask as many of you as possible to join us at an all-day parole justice advocacy day on Tues, Jan. 29th in Albany. The day is hosted by Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP, Parole Preparation Project and other advocates and communities across New York. We’ll march, rally and meet with legislators in support of our advocacy demands (see http://rappcampaign.com/wp-content/uploads/NEW-RAPP-Fact-Sheet.pdf). It is critical right now to show the policy-makers in Albany that our communities are watching them and will continue our fight for justice. 
RSVP HERE: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeN6blXUUhOT5jkQTBILkfF8oG-mDSdL7set3Ma-TcZYfCqAw/viewform to join us on January 29th in Albany (IF ANY LINKS don’t work, please go to RAPPCampaign.com/events – everything is available there.)
Free transportation will be provided from NYC and other regions of the state as needed. Food will also be provided.
Can we expect to work together again, as we all have in the past? If so, how many of you can attend?
We have a real chance this legislative session to ensure that all incarcerated New Yorkers have a fair and meaningful opportunity for parole release. Join us on January 29th and help us get there.  
Thanks,Laura Whitehorn
________
Laura Whitehorn
Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP
RAPPCampaign.com

Dear Friends and Members of WESPAC,

 
I write to tell you of an extraordinary opportunity to help WESPAC. As many of you know, WESPAC has been exploring different options for improving our financial independence so we can assure the continuation and expansion of our own programming, and support for our community partners, into the future. 
 
From now through the end of this year, you can help WESPAC grow its investment fund beyond the value of your own gift. A very generous supporter has agreed to match any gift to WESPAC’s investment fund of cash, stock, mutual funds or bonds up to a total of $5,000 by December 31, 2018.  The value of a gift of stock to WESPAC is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by the law (please consult your tax advisor), and there may be other benefits as well including possible capital gains tax savings that your advisor can confirm with you.  This contribution to WESPAC offers you the opportunity to release stocks that are not aligned with our social justice values so that WESPAC can sell them and re-invest in sustainable impact investing.
 
One simple way to make a charitable gift of securities is to direct a transfer from your IRA to WESPAC. You can count a transfer to a charity toward your required minimum withdrawal. There are other options as well. If you are interested in making such a gift but unsure how to proceed, please contact the WESPAC office at [email protected] or by calling 914.449.6514 and we can connect you with our investment advisor. 
 
Thank you for considering this unique opportunity to help WESPAC. Only by building our financial sustainability now can we guarantee support for the social justice struggles that lie ahead. 
 
For the WESPAC Board of Directors,
 
Natalie Kabasakalian

Statement of Solidarity on the Anniversary of Kristallnacht

by Howard Horowitz, member of the WESPAC Foundation Board

Tonight, we will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Great Pogrom, which the Nazis euphemistically dubbed ‘the Night of Crystal’ – Kristallnacht.  This anniversary comes at a moment in history when anti-Semitism is still prevalent, and we are still plagued by evil and hatred (Rabbi Josh Weinberg).

At WESPAC Foundation we remember Kristallnacht and the Holocaust with a message of “solidarity” with all those struggling for justice in these dark times.  Solidarity is uplifting, meaningful and a call to action.  In our thinking about this, let me share with you an excerpt from a post by Robert Herbst of Larchmont, a civil rights lawyer, a peace and justice activist and who identifies as Jewish:

“In the wake of Pittsburgh, there is no Jewish future in turning inward, either physically, spiritually, or politically, here in the United States, or in the Middle East. The insecurities of the nation and world we have made and live in since the Second World War are widely shared by all except those who have accumulated the money and power to escape them. Rather than locking ourselves away, it is to the Others we must turn – white, black and brown, Christian and Muslim, poor, working and middle class – if we are to have any hope of Tikkun Olam.”

There is an urgent and immediate need for a statement of solidarity.  Echoing Charlottesville, there are those among us already muddying the waters claiming “there are bad guys on all sides—left and right.”  We reject anti-Semitism in all its forms and expressions wherever and by whomever it is expressed.  What happened at Tree of Life is Trump-supported, right wing white nationalism, plain and simple.  It has nothing to do with left or anyone else and certainly not anywhere in the struggle for justice in Palestine.

Our struggles are bound up with the many communities facing violence and oppression during these dark times, and we call your attention to just a few of the statements of solidarity that are so needed as we commemorate Kristallnacht.

Out of Our Silos: To Defeat Anti-Semitism, Jews Must Unite With Others Targeted by White Supremacy (Hannah Sassaman, In These Times)

Amy Goodman Interviews Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari of Kol Tzedek synagogue

Palestine Legal Statement on Tree-of-Life-Synagogue

Jewish Voice for Peace:  Together We Heal, United We Fight

Farming While Black: Uprooting Racism, Seeding Sovereignty 

An Evening with Amani Olugbala and Soul Fire Farm
Wednesday, November 28th at 7pm at WESPAC
77 Tarrytown Road, Suite 2W
White Plains, NY 10607

 

“Stewarding our own land, growing our own food, educating our own youth, participating in our own healthcare and justice systems, this is the source of real power and dignity,” writes Leah Penniman, co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY.  Her brand new book, “Farming While Black” is the centerpiece for a special gathering at WESPAC.
 
Come hear Amani Olugbala, Assistant Director of Programs at Soul Fire Farm, tell how our most cherished sustainable farming practices – from organic agriculture to the farm cooperative and the CSA – have roots in African wisdom.  She is a gifted storyteller and food justice advocate with over 15 years of experience in youth education and community outreach and a vital part of Soul Fire Farm.

Soul Fire Farm is part of a global network of farmers working to increase farmland stewardship by people of color, restore Afro-indigenous farming practices, and end food apartheid. 
 
Books will be available for sale.  This event is free and open to the public.  Plenty of free parking on site.  Contributions to support this work will be gratefully accepted.

https://www.thenation.com/article/the-united-states-was-responsible-for-the-1982-massacre-of-palestinians-in-beirut/

13 September 2018

Twenty-five years on, analysts say Oslo didn’t fail: it offered Israel a formula to block the emergence of a Palestinian state

Jonathan Cook, Middle East Eye – 13 September 2018

There will be no anniversary celebrations this week to mark the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington 25 years ago. It is a silver jubilee for which there will be no street parties, no commemorative mugs, no specially minted coins.

Palestinians have all but ignored the landmark anniversary, while Israel’s commemoration has amounted to little more than a handful of doleful articles in the Israeli press about what went wrong.

The most significant event has been a documentary, The Oslo Diaries, aired on Israeli TV and scheduled for broadcast in the US this week. It charts the events surrounding the creation of the peace accords, signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington on 13 September 1993.

The euphoria generated by the Norwegian-initiated peace process a quarter of a century ago now seems wildly misplaced to most observers. The promised, phased withdrawals by Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories got stuck at an early stage.

And the powers of the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian government-in-waiting that came out of Oslo, never rose above managing healthcare and collecting garbage in densely populated Palestinian areas, while coordinating with Israel on security matters.

All the current efforts to draw lessons from these developments have reached the same conclusion: that Oslo was a missed opportunity for peace, that the accords were never properly implemented, and that the negotiations were killed off by Palestinian and Israeli extremists.

Occupation reorganised

But analysts Middle East Eye has spoken to take a very different view.

“It is wrong to think of Oslo being derailed, or trying to identify the moment the Oslo process died,” says Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority. “Oslo never died. It is still doing today exactly what it was set up to do.”

Michel Warschawski, an Israeli peace activist who developed strong ties with Palestinian leaders in the Oslo years, concurred.

“I and pretty much everyone else I knew at that time was taken in by the hype that the occupation was about to end. But in reality, Oslo was about reorganising the occupation, not ending it. It created a new division of labour.

“Rabin didn’t care much about whether the Palestinians got some indicators of sovereignty – a flag and maybe even a seat at the United Nations.

“But Israel was determined to continue controlling the borders, the Palestinians’ resources, the Palestinian economy. Oslo changed the division of labour by sub-contracting the hard part of Israel’s security to the Palestinians themselves.”

The accords were signed in the immediate aftermath of several years of a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories – the First Intifada – that had proved costly to Israel, both in terms of casualties and treasure.

Under Oslo, Palestinian security forces patrolled the streets of Palestinian cities, overseen by and in close coordination with the Israeli military. The tab, meanwhile, was picked up by Europe and Washington.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper last week, Joel Singer, the Israeli government lawyer who helped to draft the accords, conceded as much. Rabin, he said, “thought it would enhance [Israeli] security to have the Palestinians as the ones fighting Hamas”.

That way, as Rabin once observed, the occupation would no longer be accountable to the “bleeding hearts” of the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s active human rights community.

Less than statehood

The widespread assumption that Oslo would lead to a Palestinian state was also mistaken, Buttu says.

She notes that nowhere in the accords was there mention of the occupation, a Palestinian state, or freedom for the Palestinians. And no action was specified against Israel’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Instead, the stated goal of the Oslo process was implementation of two outstanding United Nations resolutions – 242 and 338. The first concerned the withdrawal of the Israeli army from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war, while the second urged negotiations leading to a “just and durable peace”.

“I spoke to both Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas [his successor as Palestinian president] about this,” said Buttu. “Their view was that clearer language, on Palestinian statehood and independence, would never have got past Rabin’s coalition.

“So Arafat treated resolutions 242 and 338 as code words. The Palestinian leadership referred to Oslo as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Their approach was beyond naïve; it was reckless. They behaved like amateurs.”

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University and expert on Palestinian nationalism, said the Palestinian leadership was aware from the outset that Israel was not offering real statehood.

“In his memoirs, Ahmed Qurei [one of the key architects of Oslo on the Palestinian side] admitted his shock when he started meetings with the Israeli team,” says Ghanem.

“Uri Savir [Israel’s chief negotiator] said outright that Israel did not favour a Palestinian state, and that something less was being offered. The Israelis’ attitude was ‘Take it or leave it’.”

Sympathy with settlers

All the analysts agreed that a lack of good faith on Israel’s part was starkly evident from the start, especially over the issue of the settlements.

Noticeably, rather than halt or reverse the expansion of the settlements during the supposed five-year transition period, Oslo allowed the settler population to grow at a dramatically accelerated rate.

The near-doubling of settler numbers in the West Bank and Gaza to 200,000 by the late 1990s was explained by Alan Baker, a legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry after 1996 and a settler himself, in an interview in 2003.

Most of the settlements were portrayed to the Israeli public as Israeli “blocs”, outside the control of the newly created PA. With the signing of the accords, Baker said, “we are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations.”

Recent interviews with settler leaders by the Haaretz newspaper hint too at the ideological sympathy between Rabin’s supposedly leftist government and the settler movement.

Israel Harel, who then headed the Yesha Council, the settlers’ governing body, described Rabin as “very accessible”. He pointed out that Zeev Hever, another settler leader, sat with Israeli military planners as they created an “Oslo map”, carving up the West Bank into various areas of control.

Referring to settlements that most had assumed would be dismantled under the accords, Harel noted: “When [Hever] was accused [by other settlers] of cooperating, he would say he saved us from disaster. They [the Israeli army] marked areas that could have isolated settlements and made them disappear.”

Israel’s Oslo lawyer, Joel Singer, confirmed the Israeli leadership’s reluctance to address the issue of the settlements.

“We fought with the Palestinians, on Rabin and [Shimon] Peres’ orders, against a [settlement] freeze,” he told Haaretz. “It was a serious mistake to permit the settlements to continue to race ahead.”

Rabin’s refusal to act

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel’s south, said the critical test of Rabin’s will to tackle the settlements came less than a year into the Oslo process. It was then that Baruch Goldstein, a settler, killed and wounded more than 150 Palestinians at worship in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

“That gave Rabin the chance to remove the 400 extremist settlers who were embedded in the centre of Hebron,” Gordon said. “But he didn’t act. He let them stay.”

The lack of response from Israel fuelled a campaign of Hamas “revenge” suicide bombings that in turn were used by Israel to justify a refusal to withdraw from more of the occupied territories.

Warschawski said Rabin could have dismantled the settlements if he had acted quickly. “The settlers were in disarray in the early stages of Oslo, but he didn’t move against them.”

After Rabin’s assassination in late 1995, his successor Shimon Peres, also widely identified as an architect of the Oslo process, changed tactics, according to Warschawski. “Peres preferred to emphasise internal reconciliation [between Israelis] rather than reconciliation with the Palestinians. After that, the religious narrative of the extremist settlers came to dominate.”

That would lead a few months later to the electoral triumph of the right under Benjamin Netanyahu.

Demographic differential

Although Netanyahu campaigned vociferously against the Oslo Accords, they proved perfect for his kind of rejectionist politics, said Gordon.

Under cover of vague promises about Palestinian statehood, “Israel was able to bolster the settlement project,” in Gordon’s view. “The statistics show that, when there are negotiations, the demographic growth of the settler population in the West Bank increases. The settlements get rapidly bigger. And when there is an intifada, they slow down.

“So Oslo was ideal for Israel’s colonial project.”

It was not only that, under the pressure of Oslo, religious settlers ran to “grab the hilltops”, as a famous army general and later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, put it. Gordon pointed to a strategy by the government of recruiting a new type of settler during the initial Oslo years.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sharon and others had tried to locate Russian-speaking new immigrants in large settlements like Ariel, in the central West Bank. “The problem was that many of the Russians had only one child,” Gordon said.

So instead, Israel began moving the ultra-Orthodox into the occupied territories. These fundamentalist religious Jews, Israel’s poorest community, typically have seven or eight children. They were desperate for housing solutions, noted Gordon, and the government readily provided incentives to lure them into two new ultra-Orthodox settlements, Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit.

“After that, Israel didn’t need to recruit lots of new settlers,” Gordon said. “It just needed to buy time with the Oslo process and the settler population would grow of its own accord.

“The ultra-Orthodox became Israel’s chief demographic weapon. In the West Bank, Jewish settlers have on average two more children than Palestinians – that demographic differential has an enormous impact over time.”

Palestinian dependency

Buttu pointed to another indicator of how Israel never intended the Oslo Accords to lead to a Palestinian state. Shortly before Oslo, from 1991 onwards, Israel introduced much more severe restrictions on movement, including an increasingly sophisticated permit system.

“Movement from Gaza to the West Bank became possible only in essential cases,” she said. “It stopped being a right.”

That process, Ghanem noted, has been entrenched over the past quarter century, and ultimately led to complete physical and ideological separation between Gaza and the West Bank, now ruled respectively by Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah.

Gordon observed that Oslo’s economic arrangements, governed by the 1995 Paris Protocol, stripped the Palestinians of financial autonomy too.

“The Palestinians did not get their own currency, they had to use the Israeli shekel. And a customs union made the Palestinians a dependent market for Israeli goods and empowered Israel to collect import duties on behalf of the PA. Refusing to transfer that money was a stick Israel has regularly wielded against the Palestinians.”

According to the analysts, those Palestinian leaders like Arafat who were allowed by the Oslo process to return from exile in Tunisia – sometimes referred to as the “outsiders” – were completely ignorant of the situation on the ground.

Gordon, who was at that time head of Israel’s branch of Physicians for Human Rights, recalled meeting young Palestinian-Americans and Canadians in Cairo to discuss the coming health arrangements the PA would be responsible for.

“They were bright and well-educated, but they were clueless about what was happening on the ground. They had no idea what demands to make of Israel,” he said.

“Israel, on the other hand, had experts who knew the situation intimately.”

Warschawski has similar recollections. He took a senior Palestinian recently arrived from Tunis on a tour of the settlements. The official sat in his car in stunned silence for the whole journey.

“They knew the numbers but they had no idea how deeply entrenched the settlements were, how integrated they were into Israeli society,” he said. “It was then that they started to understand the logic of the settlements for the first time, and appreciate what Israel’s real intentions were.”

Lured into a trap

Warschawski noted that the only person in his circle who rejected the hype around the Oslo Accords from the very beginning was Matti Peled, a general turned peace activist who knew Rabin well.

“When we met for discussions about the Oslo Accords, Matti laughed at us. He said there would be no Oslo, there would be no process that would lead to peace.”

Ghanem said the Palestinian leadership eventually realised that they had been lured into a trap.

“They couldn’t move forward towards statehood, because Israel blocked their way,” he said. “But equally, they couldn’t back away from the peace process either. They didn’t dare dismantle the PA, and so Israel came to control Palestinian politics.

“If Abbas leaves, someone else will take over the PA and its role will continue.”

Why did the Palestinian leadership enter the Oslo process without taking greater precautions?

According to Buttu, Arafat had reasons to feel insecure about being outside Palestine, along with other PLO leaders living in exile in Tunisia, in ways that he hoped Oslo would solve.

“He wanted a foot back in Palestine,” she said. “He felt very threatened by the ‘inside’ leadership, even though they were loyal to him. The First Intifada had shown they could lead an uprising and mobilise the people without him.

“He also craved international recognition and legitimacy.”

Trench warfare

According to Gordon, Arafat believed he would eventually be able to win concessions from Israel.

“He viewed it as trench warfare. Once he was in historic Palestine, he would move forward trench by trench.”

Warschawski noted that Arafat and other Palestinian leaders had told him they believed they would have significant leverage over Israel.

“Their view was that Israel would end the occupation in exchange for normalisation with the Arab world. Arafat saw himself as the bridge that would provide the recognition Israel wanted. His attitude was that Rabin would have to kiss his hand in return for such an important achievement.

“He was wrong.”

Gordon pointed to the early Oslo discourse about an economic dividend, in which it was assumed that peace would open up trade for Israel with the Arab world while turning Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East.

The “peace dividend”, however, was challenged by an equally appealing “war dividend”.

“Even before 9/11, Israel’s expertise in the realms of security and technology proved profitable. Israel realised there was lots of money to be made in fighting terror.”

In fact, Israel managed to take advantage of both the peace and war dividends.

Buttu noted that more than 30 countries, including Morocco and Oman, developed diplomatic or economic relations with Israel as a result of the Oslo Accords. The Arab states relented on their boycott and anti-normalisation policies, and major foreign corporations no longer feared being penalised by the Arab world for trading with Israel.

“Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan [in 1994] could never have happened without Oslo,” she said.

“Instead of clear denunciations of the occupation, the Palestinians were saddled with the language of negotiations and compromises for peace.

“The Palestinians became a charity case, seeking handouts from the Arab world so that the PA could help with the maintenance of the occupation rather than leading the resistance.

“Thanks to Oslo, Israel became normalised in the region, while paradoxically the Palestinians found themselves transformed into the foreign object.”