Friday, 24 February 2012

Where to Draw the Line?

Obviously Israel must be able to decide who is allowed into the country of Israel and that means that there must be a hard border somewhere around it, with fences and crossing points etc. As I see it, there are four possible options for approximately where that line might be drawn:

1) Along the River Jordan
2) Along the Green Line but east of Jerusalem
3) Along the Green Line and through Jerusalem
4) Along the Green Line and west of Jerusalem

Which is the best? How do we judge?

I think that the following criteria must form the basis for any evaluation:

1) How successful would it be at ending the fighting?
2) Would it ensure that both sides have their legal rights?
3) How easy is it to practically implement?
4) How easy is it to politically implement?
5) Is it economically and socially beneficial to the individuals most affected?

With those criteria I think that option 2 fares best and here's why.

Placing the border along the Jordan River (1) is simple to implement practically and most beneficial to the individuals since it proves everyone in Israel and Palestine free movement. It may be possible to ensure that both sides have legal rights with some kind of federalised system. However, politically it is extremely difficult and most importantly it will not end the fighting.

A border running through Jerusalem (3) is bound to be difficult to implement and will be extremely bad for the economy of the city. It will end the fighting and should ensure national rights to both sides. Politically, though, there is no appetite for physically splitting the city in two. That goes for international opinion as well. Europeans who celebrate the collapse of the Berlin Wall aren't going to support the construction of a Jerusalem version.

Placing the border west of Jerusalem (4) would not end the fighting, it would only localise it to the city. Everyone inside the city would suffer from economic difficulties and there is no chance of political implementation. Sharing the city would lead to tensions that would probably eventually boil over into outright war between the sides.

If the border runs east of Jerusalem (2) this would end the fighting, be simple to implement practically and be beneficial economically to all residents of the city. Both sides would have their national rights. Politically, it is difficult to implement.

In my view, of the four options only the second one is feasible. All the others present real physical problems whereas the second presents only the challenge of convincing people to accept it.

I'm sure many (maybe most?) readers will disagree and I urge you please to lay out your counter-arguments in the comments or by email.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

BDS Fails to Impress in Liverpool

A planning meeting in Liverpool was left distinctly unimpressed by BDS campaigners. Here's the report from local paper the Liverpool Daily Post:
At this week’s meeting, proposals for a new waste gas burning centre in Garston stirred up objections from the local branch of Friends of the Earth and Friends of Palestine, owing to company Veolia’s record running a controversial landfill in the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine.
While the not-in- my-backyard brigade are often out in force at council planning meetings, the concerns emanating from within the kaftans of the objecting 50-somethings of Garston were seemingly a backyard too far for planning chair John Mackintosh, who in his own inimitable way tried to steer business back to more local issues.
At the point at which the lady objector warned that “what is happening in Israel could happen in Garston” (not, sadly for some, the building of a large wall around the district, but questionable waste disposal policies and their health risks), Big John felt compelled to remind her and the committee that “We’re talking about Garston here, not Gaza” – although his Everton drawl did make the two places sound indistinct, if only in name.
Development control manager Mark Loughran perhaps summed it up most succinctly when reminding the committee that “morality, ethics and human rights” were not really considerations for planners – without doubt a view that many of those present at the meeting to unsuccessfully oppose developments in their own backyards would ruefully concur with.
The planning application was approved and the official report [pdf] on the meeting makes absolutely no mention of anything remotely to do with BDS.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Another Council Declares BDS Illegal

The most important target of the BDS 'cult' is the French multi-national Veolia. Unfortunately for them, their demands that councils exclude the company from public contracts is completely illegal. Leeds City Council told local campaigners as much last year.

Now the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) has reiterated reality.
NLWA said it had received “letters and representations” on the issue, while it faced protests at its meeting last week. But the authority said: “The legal position is very clear and these are not issues that the NLWA can or will in any way take into account"
Will the BDS 'cult' listen this time?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Jerusalem: The Main Obstacle to Peace

It is well understood that the only viable way to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians is to go back to the original plan and have two distinct countries. This is the stated position of world leaders and the UN. It has been accepted by both sides in the conflict.

Two major issues remain, though: refugees and Jerusalem. Palestinians want Israel to grant citizenship to the millions of Palestinians registered as refugees by the UNRWA and Israel flatly refuses. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be their capital and Israel flatly refuses. However, there is a crucial difference between these issues which makes one a major obstacle to peace and not the other. This is the question of consensus.

In the same way as the two-state solution has gained unassailable consensus in the international community, so too has the solution to the refugee issue. Everyone understands that Palestinians will not become Israeli citizens and must accept compensation instead. The refugee issue is not a major obstacle to peace since the solution is there and agreed upon. All that is required is for the Israelis to agree to a proper level of compensation and for Palestinians to accept the inevitable. Those are not trivial requirements but nevertheless the starting point is known.

When it comes to Jerusalem, however, thinking is confused and unclear. The consensus appears to be that East Jerusalem should serve as the capital of a future Palestine. But does that mean that the city is to be divided into two separate cities with a border snaking through it? Should the city be shared with free movement between its two parts? Should sovereignty be divided or held by one side with some form of autonomy granted to the other?

These important questions have not been addressed and no consensus exists. There is, therefore, no viable plan for peace that could be implemented. Instead there is hand-waving and wishful thinking. The so-called Road Map for Peace leaves the issue of Jerusalem as a matter for negotiation, offering not even a hint at what the city might look like once peace is concluded.

Until there is a consensus on what Jerusalem will look like once a Palestinian state has been created, there is not much prospect for peace. It is, of course, a very complicated issue which is probably why there is such reticence to discuss it. But if there is to be peace, then there must be an international consensus on this issue, just as there is with regards to the refugees.

Without it, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will each state their claims and reject whatever the other proposes. With it, the sides enter negotiations with a firm peace plan on the table and their job is to tweak it until it is acceptable.

There is also the question of public opinion. People cannot be convinced to agree to a non-existent plan. But, if there is consensus on a specific deal, then people can work to change public opinion in favour of it.

This is why Jerusalem is now the biggest obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Monday, 20 February 2012

EDM Proves Illegality of BDS

A couple of weeks ago Jeremy Corbyn sponsored an Early Day Motion in the House Commons. It has so far attracted 13 signatures. The motion calls on the Government to:
facilitate and support effective EU legislation to ensure ... that economic operators aiding and abetting the building, maintenance or servicing of illegal Israeli settlements be excluded from public contracts in the EU.
This proves that the main thrust of the BDS campaign is illegal.

The BDS campaign primarily focuses on trying (and failing) to get Veolia excluded from public contracts and does so by citing current UK law:
Under the Public Contract Regulations (2006) a contracting authority may exclude an economic operator from bidding for a contract or may reject any such bid where it is found that the individual or organisation in question has “committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of his business or profession” (section 23(4)(e)).
The Public Contract Regulations are the UK's implementation of EU Directive 2004/18/EC. So if the EU already has legislation that allows for BDS why is there an EDM asking for it?

The reality is that BDS in public contracts is actually completely illegal. The "grave misconduct" clause that the BDS 'cult' relies on does not apply here. The preamble to the EU legislation states:
If national law contains provisions to this effect, non-compliance with environmental legislation or legislation on unlawful agreements in public contracts which has been the subject of a final judgment or a decision having equivalent effect may be considered an offence concerning the professional conduct of the economic operator concerned or grave misconduct.
Non-observance of national provisions implementing the Council Directives 2000/78/EC(15) and 76/207/EEC(16) concerning equal treatment of workers, which has been the subject of a final judgment or a decision having equivalent effect may be considered an offence concerning the professional conduct of the economic operator concerned or grave misconduct.
Thus it is clear that the clause only comes into effect when a final judgement has been made finding the tenderer guilty of breaking a law. This has not happened in the case of Veolia and there are therefore no legal grounds for excluding it.

This understanding was confirmed by Leeds City Council to local campaigners who refused to exclude Veolia and stated that the company had never been excluded from a contract because of BDS. The response was precisely what one might expect from what Norman Finkelstein labelled a cult - they simply ignored what they were told and insisted they were right and the council was wrong. Indeed, London BDS responded to Finkelsteins branding them a cult by dismissing him as a delusional Zionist.

Will the BDS Campaign now dismiss these MPs as Zionists too?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

BDS Double Failure in North London

The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) announced last week that Veolia had been short-listed for two lucrative contracts worth a combined £4.7 billion. The final decision won't be made until December.

BDS campaigners had tried hard to convince the Authority to exclude Veolia because of its involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail which they hold to be illegal since it benefits Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem (ignoring the benefit to Palestinians living there). Excluding Veolia from the contract would almost certainly be illegal under European and UK law and clearly the Authority was not convinced by the BDS arguments.

What makes this a double failure (aside from the two contracts) is that the BDS campaigners have themselves given up on BDS. Rather than argue that the company should be excluded because of anything to do with Israel and the occupation, the BDS campaigners have focussed their efforts on other facets of the bid. A letter sent to a local paper a few days before the decision, reprinted on the London BDS website, called for Veolia to not be short-listed. But rather than focus on its involvement with the tram system, the letter argued that:
Only two of the bidders included practical solutions to the authority’s objective of combining heat usage in the project, known as CHP. On the other hand, Veolia’s solution is not and could not be CHP.
To confirm this, we researched information from other bodies, including the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Environment Agency.
The issue of Israel was an afterthought:
Does it surprise anyone that Veolia, which has been accused of profiting from illegal Israeli settlements, shows such disregard for environmental objectives?
And in the comments on the London BDS website, reacting to their failure, one activist argued that:
Prior to the NLWA decisions on 10 Feb “Moody’s downgraded Veolia Environment’s senior unsecured ratings from A3 to Baa1″ [published on 8 February].
It is inconceivable the NLWA management informed the councillors Members of this significant development before the decisions on 10 Feb, as it failed to inform them that Veolia is not CHP and its grave misconduct in aiding and abetting war crimes.
It is most likely Veolia would have been deselected had the NLWA taken into account the true ratings of Veolia, but as with other evidence, the NLWA been withholding information from the elected Members as well giving inappropriate weightings.
When even the BDS campaigners won't put BDS at the centre of their campaign, you know they're losing and they know it.

Time to Refocus

For a while now this blog has focussed on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. It is one of the main organisations working to spread lies and misinformation about Israel intending to give the impression that a liberal, democratic country of refugees which has been under existential threat since its inception is actually the world's most evil group of people responsible for unspeakable and inexcusable crimes that are unmatched by any other country.

Fortunately for those who desire peace the campaign is suffering on three fronts. Firstly the extent to which it is infested with antisemitism and Holocaust denial has been exposed. Local branches have been forced to expel some important members because of their extremism and the national campaign released a statement claiming that Holocaust denial has "no place in the movement". This claim was rather undermined when 20% of the members refused to expel a Holocaust denier who told the AGM that the Holocaust was a myth.

The second problem facing the PSC is that it is now trying to claim that it is committed to the two-state solution. Up until recently the campaign refused to take any stand on the issue therefore being able to hide the fact that most of its members want to see Israel wiped off the map. But it has come under pressure to clarify its position and when forced to do so can only take a stand in favour of two states or lose any chance of becoming mainstream. Its members aren't happy about that.

Finally, the PSC's main campaigning tool is the boycott campaign and BDS is failing. It has failed to convince many Israel-haters let alone the wider public. Its targeting of Veolia is a sham as its members must know but won't admit. In the most recent blow, Norman Finkelstein blasted the entire campaign as a "cult".

So its fair to say that, as things stand, the PSC is likely to have a bad year. As will BDS. It's therefore time to move on and focus on something else. The PSC is still a horrid organisation whose members will gladly ignore the inconvenient fact that the Syrian regime has murdered more Arabs in the last year suppressing demands for democracy and freedom, than Israel has killed this century trying to protect its civilians from terrorism. It will still attempt to convince the world that Israel is especially evil. It will still campaign to get local councillors to break the law by illegally excluding Veolia from contracts. It will still lie about its commitment to two states and it will continue to attract and harbour antisemites and Holocaust deniers. And I will, hopefully, still be exposing as much of this as I can.

However, the Campaign is weak and need not be feared. It cannot be ignored but it doesn't warrant taking centre stage. In particular, it doesn't deserve to be on the front foot making arguments that others have to refute. It has nothing to offer that can lead to peace. No vision for the future. Only division and destruction.

Its time to refocus on the main obstacle to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Jerusalem.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

PSC Members Find Place for Racism and Holocaust Deniers

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) continues to have problems with antisemitism and Holocaust denial. At their recent AGM the delegates confirmed the expulsion of Francis Clark-Lowes, a former national chair and member of the Brighton branch, for Holocaust denial.
His problems started last April when he emailed the Brighton PSC mailing list declaring that he was
proud to call himself a ‘holocaust denier’
and then later that
I do not believe that millions of Jews and others were gassed in an industrial process of extermination
Those comments resulted in him being expelled by his local branch. Tony Greenstein claims that "not one voice was raised in his defence in Brighton PSC".  Tony then reported his comments to the Executive in May who expelled him from the national PSC as well. He appealed at the AGM but lost.

Unfortunately for the PSC, rather than show the organisation as being strongly against such overt antisemitism, the opposite is true. Problems started immediately when it emerged that 20% of the delegates refused to vote against Clark-Lowes, despite him calling the Holocaust a myth in his appeal speech.

A couple of days after the AGM, Francis Clark-Lowes posted a response to Mr Greenstein in which he contradicted Tony's claim of unanimity inside the Brighton branch. Francis wrote:
Greenstein states that ‘not one voice was raised in his defence in Brighton PSC.’ He must know this to be untrue. One voice was raised forcefully in defence of my right to free speech at the meeting where my expulsion was discussed, and several other branch members contacted me later to declare their support.
It now turns out that several members of the Brighton branch have started a reading group to "study" the antisemitic ideas of Gilad Atzmon, contained in his book The Wandering Who. Among those involved are Brenda Brown, a former chair of the branch, and Penny and Jim Porter. Every month, these members of the PSC will join the expelled Francis Clark-Lowes to discuss the antisemitic text.

The PSC claims that
Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. 
So long as its members are happy to join Holocaust deniers to study racist books, the PSC shouldn't expect reasonable people to take their words seriously.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Mainstreaming and Slimlining

The PSC's report on its AGM claims that, in 2012, the organisation will focus on mainstreaming itself. As I've written before it currently has virtually no impact on public opinion and when it does it is often negative. Ten years of BDS campaigning has not convinced more than a handful of people and aroused significant opposition.

Any attempt by the PSC to make itself mainstream will most likely result in it shedding active members. Last year Hugh Lanning was forced on at least two occasions to declare that the PSC supports the two state solution, despite Betty Hunter reassuring members that it doesn't. The more it tries to attract support from less extreme groups the more often it will have to make similar public declarations.

The problems of Holocaust denial and antisemitism among members hasn't gone away and is unlikely to do so. The PSC will find itself forced to move against more members in the future, expelling some and angering others. It will find it increasingly difficult to defend Hamas and other extreme Palestinian groups for whom antisemitism is an important part of their worldview. People will rightly ask how they can expel Holocaust deniers in Britain while supporting them abroad.

Virtually anything the PSC does to try and make itself mainstream will alienate its members. Eventually it might well become important but not before it becomes a reasonable voice in the debate at which point it will be listened to but have nothing to say.

If any example were needed of the PSC's inability to be both mainstream and a delegitimiser of Israel then we need look no further than the Olympics. The AGM report says that it will try to use the Olympics to "raise the issue of Palestine" (as if people are currently unaware of it). Apart from the fact that the Mayor's office has already made it clear that political activity will not be tolerated during the Olympics, there is something remarkable about the PSC's approach to the Olympics to date.

One of the main claims used by the PSC to attack Israel and justify its BDS campaign is that Israel is an apartheid state. Just as South Africa was the target of boycotts so Israel should be. Given that South Africa was banned from the Olympics for nearly 20 years, why has the PSC not called for Israel to be banned? The answer is that such a call would make it politically very difficult for the likes of Ken Livingstone and the Green Party to retain ties with the PSC.

So not only is the PSC irrelevant and the BDS campaign a failure, any attempt by the PSC to make itself more important will require them to end their delegitimisation and significantly water down their BDS campaign.