This revolution must not fail

For most who attended the demonstration in support of the Iranian rebellion tonight in San Francisco’s Union Square, it was, as well, an opportunity to connect with friends. But in contrast to the brutality of the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on the streets of Tehran, this was a joyous occasion. As we chanted, sometimes in English, sometimes in Farsi, this was the outpouring of a people who have waited thirty years—for many of them, longer than they’ve been alive—to get their country back. It was a time to celebrate.

I saw a few people in headscarves, a few wrapped in the old flag of Iran from before the Islamic Republic, and a few who covered their faces in fear of who might be collecting identities. They will be returning each night to Union Square, they say, until the United Nations votes to condemn the stolen election.

For me, it was a night filled with irony. I have just, hopefully, completed a master’s degree, over thirty years after my first time attending college, at Sacramento City College, in Fall 1976, where some of my fellow students protested the Shah’s rule. I learned of secret police and torture then, and did not know then how to reconcile these accounts with mainstream media reports.

I finished my associate’s degree in business data processing at American River College, also in Sacramento, the same year the Shah’s regime fell. Now, after a bachelor’s in mass communication, and a master’s in speech communication, I still do not how to reconcile mainstream media reports with the reality they so often fail to report, a reality inconvenient for “authoritative sources.”

Since the Shah was driven from power, flying to the United States ostensibly for medical treatment, I have learned that the United States did not merely, as President Obama recently admitted, “play a role” in the overthrow of the Mossadeq government in 1953, but masterminded a coup d’etat to affirm corporate hegemony over Iranian oil fields.

So it was ironic that this demonstration was held in a square in a center of capitalism, surrounded by such brands as Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Westin, and many others. At the center of the square is a monument to the Spanish American War, a war initiated, not unlike some more recent wars, on fabricated grounds, that constituted a beginning to the U.S. overseas empire.

Though the square gradually emptied at the end of the demonstration, the joy has not dissipated. Not only are these people grateful for the occasion to reconnect with each other, but they expect a secular democracy in their homeland. They believe their moment has come, and they will be brutally crushed if this rebellion fails. It is more than ironic that Obama now says that the Iranian people must select their government and that the U.S must not appear to be “meddling,” for just as I remember the U.S. condemned as the “Great Satan,” having provoked the Islamic revolution in 1979 with its involvement in 1953, it is now inescapably responsible for the present condition of their country. This revolution cannot be allowed to fail.

Netanyahu’s speech a non-starter

Reuter’s has posted what they claim is the complete text of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, which was supposed to respond to U.S. President Obama’s demand that expansion of settlements in Palestinian territory cease and that Israel accept a two-state solution. But their text is truncated. More complete text is available here. My analysis follows:

First, Netanyahu prioritizes Iran and an economic settlement. This is sheer hypocrisy. If Iran’s nuclear program is a threat, then what of Israel’s? And it is Israel, with, to mention just two factors, a full-scale blockade of the Gaza Strip and Israel-only access roads criss-crossing the West Bank that is the largest obstacle to Palestinian economic development. And Netanyahu intends to maintain this condition.

He seeks an alliance with Arab entrepreneurs to develop Palestine, and I suspect, an alliance with Arab states against Iran. But Netanyahu blames the 60-year old conflict–a conflict not just with Palestinians, but nearly all Middle Eastern countries–on a “refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland,” and denies that “continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.” He claims, “The attacks against us began in the 1920s, escalated into a comprehensive attack in 1948 with the declaration of Israel’s independence, continued with the fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, and climaxed in 1967, on the eve of the six-day war, in an attempt to tighten a noose around the neck of the State of Israel.” It is not enough to say that Netanyahu ignores the presence of the Palestinians in the territory prior to “independence.” He indulges in sheer fantasy.

Netanyahu claims that Israel has tried withdrawing from the Palestinian territories, saying “We tried to withdraw with an agreement and without an agreement. We tried a partial withdrawal and a full withdrawal. In 2000 and again last year, Israel proposed an almost total withdrawal in exchange for an end to the conflict, and twice our offers were rejected.” It is hard to look at a map of Israeli settlements in the West Bank with a network of roads forbidden to Palestinians and to see anything like a withdrawal or to imagine substantial prospects for economic development. Any entrepreneur will see this and Netanyahu acknowledges it when he expects the Palestinians to revise history: “If the Palestinians turn toward peace – in fighting terror, in strengthening governance and the rule of law, in educating their children for peace and in stopping incitement against Israel – we will do our part in making every effort to facilitate freedom of movement and access, and to enable them to develop their economy.” And one has to wonder why any Middle Eastern nation should choose an alliance with Israel, which relies on a declining superpower, over an alliance with Iran.

Netanyahu insists that Palestinians should recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The Palestinians have previously responded to this; a repetition of this demand betrays his insincerity. Lest there be any mistake, he says explicitly, “any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people.” Palestinians cannot make this recognition; it would be to legitimate the uprooting of Palestinians from the land they held prior to the imposition of the Israeli state. And it would be to condone an apartheid state, with non-Jews as second-class citizens.

In Netanyahu’s “vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.” But Israel will remain armed; it will retain control of Palestinian airspace and of Palestinian borders. In essence, the blockade of the Palestinian people continues. Moreover, while Palestinians will accept Israeli settlers, Israel will accept no Palestinians. I do not see “two peoples liv[ing] freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect” here.

What next for Palestine?

U.S. President Barack Obama has set a collision course with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by demanding a cessation to any expansion, including so-called “natural expansion” of settlements in the occupied territories. These settlements, dotted across the West Bank with interconnecting Israeli-use only roads and a considerable expanse of allocated space, are so numerous that the political impossibility of their removal calls into question the viability of any future Palestinian state. Obama, like many presidents before him, has also committed himself to a peace settlement between the Palestinians and Israel.

Netanyahu, whose ruling coalition relies upon right wing parties committed to expanded settlements, cannot concede Obama’s demand without exacting a very high price. But all this happens against a background in which it has become clear both to academic and political elites in the U.S. that Israel has exerted too much political influence on U.S. policymaking. To have a colony dictating imperial policy is an intolerable embarrassment, and Obama, who has not merely broken campaign promises, but fully embraced the political mainstream, surely enjoys bipartisan elite support for an apparently tougher line.

So what price will Netanyahu settle for? I’m guessing Jerusalem. In another (at least one of these will be broken) campaign promise, Obama has both said that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” and, through his campaign, called it a “‘final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties’ as part of ‘an agreement that they both can live with.'”

If there is to be a Palestinian state, at least some territory allocated to Israeli settlements will fall under Palestinian control. A halt to expansion is only the beginning of Israeli concessions for peace. And Palestinian jurisdiction over Israeli settlers would logically mean that their crimes against Palestinians, including expropriations of land and acts of violence, could be tried in Palestinian courts. All sides, including an utterly discredited Fatah movement, which itself is sustained only by Israeli and U.S. intransigence towards Hamas, will need to face harsh realities to achieve a settlement.

For Israel, this will mean giving up de facto but illegal jurisdiction over at least some settlements and a token right of return, I’m guessing, paying off heirs of dead Palestinians whose land was expropriated to make way for Israeli proper and allowing those few Palestinian landowners who are still alive to return in some shape or form. For Fatah, it will mean giving up Jerusalem and at least some bits of territory.

It will not be a just settlement. But justice is no longer possible. Justice for the Palestinians would mean rolling back the clock to a time before Israel’s existence. It would also mean war crimes trials for that substantial portion of the Israeli population that has participated with the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as in government, in a brutal and illegal occupation. Justice for many Israelis, who played no part in the original expropriations, and for Jews who equate their survival as a people demands the preservation and security of the Israeli state. These are mutually exclusive positions and while my own view leans heavily against Israel, and its continued existence as a state, I also know that this view is outside the range of acceptable political discourse in the United States.

As a first step, many in the U.S. would be entirely happy to cede, as if it was theirs to cede, Jerusalem to Israel. They have merely been waiting for satisfactory circumstances to do so. Extracting painful concessions–a freeze on settlement expansion from the Israelis and Jerusalem from the Palestinians–would create the appearance that Obama is prepared to play hardball with both sides and, for those willing to believe, allow him to once again pretend to be even-handed. Both Israeli and Palestinian governments may fall as a consequence. But the U.S. will have asserted its authority and Obama will have taken a step towards “restoring America’s moral [for which, read ‘imperial’] standing in the world.”