Friday, 28 October 2016

To hell with the truth!


                                          To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything.
                                              – Eugene O’Neill: “The Iceman Cometh”

          Opinions and wishful thinking are not the same as provable facts. It is one thing, for example, to believe fervently that Marxism is a preferable system to capitalism, but to maintain against all the evidence that the world is a flat disc floating in space is surely unsustainable. Yet the Flat Earth Society flourishes, even in 2016. Discounting all the scientific evidence to the contrary, there are people who have convinced themselves that the world is not a globe spinning in space. As the ancient proverb has it: "There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.”

          And so, for example, there are large numbers of people who deny that the Holocaust ever occurred, choosing to ignore the overwhelming weight of historical evidence, the testimony of thousands of witnesses and participants, and the tons of documents, photographs and film footage. They can maintain this even in the face of the evidence of such Nazi officials as SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Hoess, given at his trial in Nuremberg in 1946:

          “I commanded Auschwitz [from 1 May 1940] until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning. …victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great numbers of citizens, mostly Jewish, from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944."

          Rational people do not normally turn their backs on indisputable evidence, unless they are moved by some even stronger motive. Holocaust deniers are either apologists for Hitler’s Nazi regime, or have a strong antipathy to Jews, or both. What then of the 24 nations that voted on October 13, 2016 in favor of a resolution of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) that denies the incontrovertible Jewish connection to its most holy religious sites, namely the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Jerusalem?

          A world body with UNESCO’s remit might be expected to assert that Jerusalem contains sites variously holy to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Instead, giving one token nod in that direction, it has voted to eradicate all Jewish connections to its holy places, and by extension Christianity’s too. The latest resolution describes the Temple Mount and the Western Wall as purely Islamic holy places, referring to them solely by their Muslim names of Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the Buraq Wall.

          It is an historical, geographical, archaeological and biblical fact that the first Jewish Temple stood on the Mount in about 900 BCE, and that the second Temple – built in 349 BCE and extensively reconstructed by Herod in the first century BCE – was totally destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE as they crushed a revolt of the Jewish population, leaving only the outer wall surrounding the Mount. The Arch of Titus in Rome commemorates the victory, and bas-reliefs show Roman soldiers making off with Jewish religious artefacts from the Temple.

          As for the Christian connection, the Temple features in one of the iconic incidents in Christ’s story: “Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers,,,” (Matthew 21:12).

          Islam dates its origins from the death of Mohammed some 600 years after the Romans sacked Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque were built several decades after that.

          In addition to the 24 nations that supported the UNESCO motion, political expediency clearly outweighed respect for the truth for a further 26 nations, which chose to abstain rather than vote against an obvious distortion of historical fact. The resolution had been sponsored by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan – all Arab nations intent on delegitimizing Israel as far as they could. The 26 simply lacked the moral courage to oppose them.

          Only 6 countries out of the 56 voting were principled enough to put plain truth before political expediency and vote against the resolution. They should be named: the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia.

          Also on the roll of honour arising from this episode stand the names of the retiring UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and UNESCO’s own director-general, Irina Bokova. Ban’s spokesperson said: “The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls have an undeniable link to three religions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim… Anything that is perceived as an undertaking to repudiate that fact … will only feed violence and radicalism.”

          Bokova disavowed the resolution passed by her own organization. It “runs counter to the reasons that justified [Jerusalem’s] inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said. “We have a collective responsibility to strengthen cultural and religious coexistence… to bridge the divisions that harm the multi-faith character of the Old City.”

          “Not a peep from the Pope” ran a catchy headline to a recent commentary on the UNESCO vote, noting that initially the Vatican had remained rather alarmingly silent, as if efforts to Islamicize Jerusalem did not also impinge directly on Christian history and religious interests. Finally on October 26 Pope Francis, in the midst of an address about migration, gave utterance to a typically opaque Vatican remark: “The people of Israel…walked through the desert for forty years until they reached the land promised by God” – a statement which, in the context of the UNESCO vote, could be taken as an endorsement of the Jewish God-given connection to the Holy Land.

          It is not only the Pope
who has failed to defend Christianity in the face of this UNESCO assault on historic fact and religious belief. Protestant leaders world-wide have said very little. It is incumbent on them, on the Vatican, and on national leaders the world over to speak out for truth and in support of the Judeo-Christian foundations on which Western civilization is based.

          In short, let it be said loud and clear that Jerusalem is a city containing sites revered by three world religions whose claims on them need to be respected, not deliberately obliterated in the interests of political point-scoring.

          “To hell with the truth!” is all very well as a realpolitik philosophy. But turning one’s back on the truth does not make it go away. As Shakespeare so succinctly puts it: “Truth will out!”

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 30 October 2016:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 30 October 2016 as
"UNESCO and to Hell with the Truth!":

Published in the MPC Journal, 30 October 2016:

Monday, 24 October 2016

Attenders and non-attenders at the Peres funeral


          A glance at the list of distinguished individuals who flocked to Israel at very short notice to attend the funeral of Shimon Peres on September 30, 2016 reveals several surprises, some in respect of those who came, and some of those who did not.

          The USA contingent, for example was described by one journal as “an insanely long list”. It consisted of no less than 32 people. The presence of the President, ex-President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and the US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, was appropriate and to be expected. The party, however, included no less than 19 members of Congress and a slew of Special Assistants, Assistants and Advisers.

          Among the 80 attendees, one noteworthy figure was Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, accompanied by a delegation of senior Palestinian officials. Abbas may have anticipated something of a political backlash from Hamas for his provocative initiative, but he must have been shocked at the vehemence of the attack from more extreme elements within his own party, Fatah.

          In denouncing Abbas, Hamas declared: “We condemn Abbas’s condolences for Shimon Peres, and consider it disregards the blood of the martyrs and the suffering of the Palestinian people.” On the day of the funeral people took to the streets in Gaza to attack Abbas for taking part, while the leadership of Fatah's student wing, the Shabiba movement, also condemned Abbas’s participation.

          That same day Osama Mansour, the director of public relations at the PA military liaison office, posted a Facebook message calling on Abbas not to attend. Next day he was arrested by PA military intelligence. On October 12 the Ramallah military court sentenced Mansour to a year’s imprisonment – though a few hours later Abbas pardoned him, but demanded his resignation.

          On October 4 clashes broke out in Ramallah between Palestinian security members participating in a Fatah march in support of Abbas, and members of a youth march opposed to Abbas's attendance. Khalida Jarrar, a member of the political bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said, “The attack on a peaceful march…is part of an attempt to muzzle and terrorize the people and prevent peaceful protests.” The attack, she maintained, showed that the PA and its security services failed to understand the resentment felt by those who opposed the president’s participation in Peres's funeral.

          Political author and analyst Khalil Shaheen did not mince his words. “Peres is a war criminal, and despite that, Abbas attended his funeral. This is while the PA claims that it wants Israeli war criminals to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. It makes the PA discourse unconvincing for the Palestinian public opinion.”

          In the final analysis Abbas and his delegation were indeed present at the funeral, but they were the sole Palestinian representation. The 13 Joint List members of the Knesset (MKs), the parliamentary representatives of Arabs domiciled in Israel, decided not to attend – a decision that generated just as much fervent opposition within Israel as Abbas’s did in the occupied territories.

          On the day before the funeral Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh announced in a radio interview that the party did not intend to issue an official statement of condolence on the passing of Shimon Peres. “Peres’s memory in the Arab community is different from the narrative of the past few days,” he asserted, adding that Peres’s funeral was part of a “national day of mourning in which I have no place.”

          Odeh’s statements, and the abstention from the funeral by Joint List members, drew criticism from across Israeli society, Arab and Jewish. In a poll of Arab opinion 59% of respondents claimed they were "upset" with the Joint List's position; among a group of 20 Arab mayors who came to the Peres Center for Peace to pay their respects, some said they were "furious with the Joint List's decision"; others claimed their visit "was not a criticism" of the Arab politicians, though it was scarcely an endorsement.

          Professor Riyad Agbariya, a well-known Arab academic, said: "Odeh's behavior is wrecking the bridges with Jewish society" and called on the Arab MKs in the Joint List "to resign from the Knesset or to re-learn what politics means".

         The absence from the funeral of certain other dignitaries from the Arab world aroused little or no comment, but are noteworthy nonetheless. For example. neither Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi nor King Abdullah of Jordan - countries with which Israel is at peace - were present. According to Zvi Mazel, a former Israel ambassador, if either had attended it would have been an open acknowledgement of their growing covert security and intelligence cooperation, and even greater economic exchanges, with Israel. Neither, he asserted, dared do so, because it might also have put at risk the developing momentum in favor of a “regional solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

          The case for this approach was put with conviction by Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) party, in a newspaper article in June 2015. “The only way to achieve the two-state solution,” he wrote, “…is to give up on direct talks.,, We should turn to the Arab League … to create a regional summit under the auspices of the United States, so we can conduct regional dialogue leading to an agreement.

          “The Israelis and the Palestinians cannot just sit together and find a solution…In the internal Palestinian dialogue, compromise is treason. The punishment is death. They can’t admit that publicly because it will contradict years of propaganda intended to present Israel as the sole refuser of peace." Arab states that seek to maintain the status quo like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are “forces that we can and need to work with. Those countries lead the Arab League. The Palestinian Authority, which fears the rise of Hamas, sees itself as part of them. We can and we should speak to the Arab League. The opening point for these discussions should be a regional summit.”

          If a future accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians turns on the absence of Egypt and Jordan from Shimon Peres’s funeral, that would be a price worth paying – a sentiment that Shimon Peres himself would surely have endorsed.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 25 October 2016:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 24 October 2016:

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Breaking the Israeli-Palestinian log-jam


         Discussing the current impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a recent leader in the Jerusalem Post put Israel’s dilemma in a nutshell. “The real problem is that Israel lacks a clear and decisive policy of what it wants…Israel is living in a reality of indecision.”

          Within the broad spectrum of Israeli public opinion there is no shortage of clear and decisive policies for resolving the Israel-Palestine stalemate, but the four administrations led over the years by Benjamin Netanyahu have plumped for none of them. The result, as the leader writer pointed out, is the anomaly of the government officially supporting the two-state solution while continuing to build homes in the West Bank on the very land that would be earmarked for inclusion within a sovereign Palestine.

          Recent Likud-led governments have confined themselves to managing the issue on an ad hoc basis, but in doing so they have adhered to fairly rigid guidelines. One mantra repeated endlessly has been that a resolution can be reached only through face-to-face negotiations between the principal parties – Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

          It is time that particular sacred cow was slaughtered. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA, leads a Fatah party whose constitution states quite unequivocally that Palestine, with the boundaries that it had during the British Mandate – that is, before the existence of Israel – is an indivisible territorial unit and is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people.

          Why then, one might legitimately ask, has Abbas spent the past ten years nominally supporting the two-state solution? Because, unlike Israel, the PA does have a clear and decisive policy. Pressing for recognition of a sovereign Palestine within the boundaries that existed on 5 June 1967 – that is, on the day before the Six-Day War – is a tactic inherited from Abbas’s predecessor, Yassir Arafat. It represents the first stage in a strategy ultimately designed to gain control of the whole of Mandate Palestine. This objective was spelled out by Arafat.

          "We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem," said Arafat, in a secret meeting with top Arab diplomats in Stockholm's Grand Hotel on January 30, 1996, adding that the PLO plans "to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian State.” This unchanged objective underlies everything that Abbas says in the Arabic media, but which he never mentions in his statements to the world.

          World opinion in general has elevated the two-state solution to the status of the Holy Grail, and Abbas, in nominally supporting it, has succeeded in swinging world opinion to the Palestinian cause. But from the Palestinian perspective the insurmountable obstacle lodged within the two-state solution is that one of the states must be Israel – and Israel’s very existence within Mandate Palestine is anathema.

          The time has come to acknowledge that face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the PA have been tried to destruction, and that to persist in asserting that this is the only way forward is perverse. Some alternative approach is called for.

          Speaking to the UN General Assembly in September 2014, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “A broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace.” Such a rapprochement has, in effect, been achieved, forced into existence by the growing assertiveness of Iran, following its nuclear deal, and the mayhem created by the rampant Islamic State. In today’s pragmatic Middle East, Israel collaborates on a broad range of security issues not only with Egypt and Jordan, but with Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, inter alia.

          Take Netanyahu at his word. An Arab-Israel peace conference, at which the Arab interest was represented by the Arab League, might be charged with settling the future geo-political configuration of what was Mandate Palestine, starting from the perhaps unpalatable, but nonetheless undeniable, presumption that Israel is here to stay.

          Simply to create a Palestinian sovereign state more or less on the pre-Six Day War boundaries would simply not do. Hamas, the extreme Islamist organization that seized power in Gaza, rejects the right of Israel to exist at all, and is dedicated to destroying it. It would not take long for Hamas to seize power in a new sovereign Palestine, just as it did in Gaza. The new state would then become a Gaza-type launching pad for the indiscriminate bombardment of Israel. This prospect in itself may not concern the PA leadership overmuch, but what does worry them is the likelihood of losing power to Hamas. Like it or not, they would need stronger defences against “the enemy within” than their own resources could provide. 

          Just as threatening to an independent Palestine would be Islamic State (IS) which seeks to embrace the whole region within its self-declared caliphate. IS would pounce on a new sovereign Palestine, entirely dependent on its own weak military for its defence, like a cat on a mouse. IS is already harrying both Israel and Jordan on their northern borders with Syria. Defending Jordan, Israel, and a new sovereign Palestine against the incursions of IS would be of paramount importance in any final settlement.

          An even more fundamental issue militates against the classic two-state solution. Vying with Hamas on the one hand, and extremists within its own Fatah party on the other, the PA has glorified the so-called “armed struggle”, making heroes of those who undertake terrorist attacks inside Israel, continuously promulgating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda in the media and in the schools, and reiterating the message that all of Mandate Palestine is Palestinian. The end-result of its own narrative is that no Palestinian leader dare sign a peace agreement with Israel. The consequent backlash, to say nothing of the personal fear of assassination, have made it impossible.

          A possible answer? At the instigation, and under the shield, of the Arab League the PA might be invited to an Arab-Israeli peace conference dedicated to the establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine, but within the context of a new three-state confederation of Jordan, Israel and Palestine – a new legal entity to be established simultaneously, dedicated to defending itself and its constituent sovereign states, and to cooperating in the fields of commerce, infrastructure and economic development to the benefit of all its citizens – Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian alike.

          Such a solution, based on an Arab-wide consensus, could absorb Palestinian extremist objections, making it abundantly clear that any subsequent armed opposition, from whatever source, would be disciplined from within, and crushed by the combined defence forces of the confederation. A confederation – one for all; all for one.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 18 October 2016:

Published in the MPC Journal, 21 October 2016:

Friday, 7 October 2016

The War Criminals of Syria

        “It is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.”

        This is the charge laid by the British ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, in a vituperative meeting of the Security Council on 25 September 2016. In comments unrestrained by the normal diplomatic niceties, Britain, France and the US openly condemned Russia as “an international pariah”.

        The war crimes accusations centred on the widespread use of bunker-busting and incendiary bombs on the 275,000 civilians living in the rebel-held east of the city, weapons that Moscow’s accusers say were dropped by Russian aircraft.

       “Bunker-busting bombs, more suited to destroying military installations, are now destroying homes, decimating bomb shelters, crippling, maiming, killing dozens, if not hundreds,” said Rycroft.

        François Delattre, France’s UN ambassador, specifically declared that the use of bunker-busters and incendiaries on urban residential areas was a war crime.

        “Aleppo is to Syria what Sarajevo was to Bosnia,” he said. “This week will go down in history as the one in which diplomacy failed and barbarism triumphed”.

        Delattre’s comparison with the battle of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict was both apt and significant. When the stricken capital of Sarajevo was under siege by Bosnian Serb militias for no less than 1,425 days – from 2 April 1992 until 29 February 1996 - former US president Bill Clinton made little effort to intervene. NATO mounted a few rather ineffective air-strikes which did little to deter the Serb military, who continued to target the civilian population with shells and sniper fire, killing in all some 14,000 people.

        Delattre no doubt wished to remind both Russian President Valdimir Putin and Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad that, as a result, on 24 March 2016 Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić stood trial in the International Criminal Tribunal, was found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. His trial and sentence had been preceded by that of General Dragomir Milosevic in 2007 (29 years), and General Momcilo Pensic in 2011 (27 years).

        “Though the mills of justice grind slowly,” Delattre might have been saying, “they grind exceeding small.”

        The first of the war trials arising from the siege of Sarajevo, mounted in 2003, saw the commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, General Stanislav Galic, sentenced to life imprisonment. The prosecutor in his opening statement read out charges that have an uncanny contemporary relevance in the bombardment of Aleppo. Not since World War One, he said, “had a professional army conducted a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants of a European city so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death.”

        Putin has doubtless calculated that the prospect, however justifiable, of his ever standing trial charged with war crimes is remote in the extreme; he doubtless assesses that the likelihood of Assad eventually facing justice is perhaps a tad more possible. But he has almost certainly convinced himself that if their joint effort to regain the whole of Aleppo succeeds, neither will ever be brought to account, regardless of the brutal and inhumane means they have used to do so. In the Machiavellian world view which prevails in global affairs, might is almost always right – a doctrine which Putin exemplifies, with the anschluss of Ukraine under his belt, eastern Crimea increasingly under his control, and a towering Russian presence in the Middle East achieved in the power vacuum created by President Obama’s abdication of the US’s previous dominance of the region.

        Just as in the 1930s, while Mussolini and Hitler blatantly contravened international agreements, expanded their military might and invaded or occupied smaller nations, world powers have so far averted their gaze from Putin’s amoral march towards a status for the Russian Republics akin to that of the old Soviet Union. The ruckus at the recent Security Council meeting may be the first sign that the world will not stand idly by on this occasion. Russia and its client state – the rump of the Syria that was – have ridden roughshod over the conventions of acceptable military action, especially where civilians and children are concerned – and this time they may not get away with it.

        Retribution may not come by way of charges of war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal, at least not in the first instance. In his UN intervention Matthew Rycroft hinted that Western powers must consider coercive measures to force Russia to back away.

        “We must now do more than demand or urge. We must now decide what we can do to enforce an end to bombardment,” he said. The West could consider economic sanctions or a diplomatic move against Russia to try to force it to change course.

        The Russians are mightily irked by sanctions already taken in respect of their Ukrainian adventure. Putin characterized them as “the USA's unfriendly acts toward Russia,” and "a threat to strategic stability,” as he signed a decree on October 3 suspending his country’s participation in a treaty with the US designed to eliminate nuclear weapons.

        Putin’s decree stipulates that Moscow will resume its participation in the accord only if the US lifts all anti-Russian sanctions, compensates Russia for the sanctions-related losses and reduces the US military presence in Eastern Europe to pre-2000 levels (NATO opened command points in six eastern European nations in 2015 to enable swift deployment of troops and arms if necessary).

        Moreover personal sanctions and travel bans against Russian officials clearly discomfort the regime, for Putin’s decree specifically wants the US to remove them. They hurt some of Putin’s oldest and closest allies whose family members live or study in Western Europe or the United States.

        In a statement posted on his ministry website, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Attempts to talk to Russia from the position of power ­­­- to use the language of sanctions and ultimatums, and at the same time, to continue a selective partnership with our country only in the areas that are beneficial to the US - are not going to work.”

        If sanctions are, for the moment, the only effective counter measure to Russia’s naked aggression and its support for Syria’s brutal military assault on its opponents, regardless of the effect on the civilian population, then let the West clamp down hard with renewed and crippling sanctions – and soon. Something must stop the Behemoth in its tracks.

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 16 October 2016:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 10 October 2016:

Published in the MPC Journal, 9 October 2016: