Ariel Sharon, war criminal (February 26, 1928-January 11, 2014)

Jean Shaoul

The late Ariel Sharon. Here in a quiet moment with one of his acolytes,
Madeleine Albright, who later, speaking of the half a million children
the Clinton administration had killed in Iraq, calmly said: "I think this is
a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."

Former Israeli prime minister, general and unindicted war criminal Ariel Sharon was pronounced dead on Saturday, January 11 at the age 85. He had lay for eight years in a comatose state after suffering a series of strokes in January 2006.

Under investigation for corruption at the time, he had been kept alive on the insistence of his family, despite the advice of the doctors treating him, while relatives sorted out his financial affairs.

Sharon is justly reviled by millions for his policies of provocation, murder and ethnic cleansing. His entire military and political career, for which he earned the nickname “butcher of the Palestinians,” was marked by a series of atrocities carried out against both the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbours. The most notorious was his collusion with the Lebanese fascist Phalange in the September 1982 massacre of over 3,000 Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, following the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon.

The Israeli government-appointed Kahan Commission concluded that Sharon, as minister of defence and commander of the occupying force, bore “personal responsibility” for this barbarous crime. But he was never prosecuted and remained in the Israeli cabinet.

More than any other politician, Sharon was the architect and promoter of Israel’s expansionist policy. The cost of this policy continues to be borne directly by the Palestinian masses and indirectly by the Israeli working class, in the form of social cuts and tax hikes carried out to fund a militarised and increasingly anti-democratic state.

Israel attacks Russian plan for Syria’s chemical weapons

Jean Shaoul

Publicly, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu had sought for days to present Israel’s response to the delayed assault on Syria as restrained and supportive. He did not want to appear as though Israel is pushing for war, and banned his ministers from expressing their opinions on the subject.

President Shimon Peres defended President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a military attack on Syria, saying he was “confident the US will respond against Syria… I think it’s permitted to carefully consider a decision beforehand rather than after, and I trust him on anything connected to Israel.”

Netanyahu had said little on the Syrian situation, beyond stating that Israel is not involved but would respond severely if attacked. Unusually, he did not give the traditional Jewish New Year interviews so as not to have to answer any questions about Syria or the possibility of a US attack. He cancelled a planned trip to Rome last week to meet Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had planned to be there at the same time, in order to manage the political line in Israel. Instead, Kerry flew to Israel yesterday to discuss the Syrian crisis with Netanyahu.

Israel’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, claimed that Obama’s announcement to seek Congressional approval had taken Israel by surprise despite reports that Netanyahu was warned in advance—but uttered not a word of disappointment or criticism.

This show of unity fell apart when the Obama administration opted to engage in the Russian government’s proposal for Syria’s chemical disarmament, hoping that the process would create a new pretext for war.

Israeli-Palestinian talks a cover for US aggression in Middle East

Jean Shaoul

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stepping off a helicopter
after flying from Amman, Jordan, to Ramallah, West Bank,
to meet with "Palestinian Authority" stooge M. Abbas.

Washington is using “peace talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to provide cover for its pursuit of hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East.

For the Obama administration, the talks beginning Monday are a necessary quid pro quo for the support of Jordan’s King Abdullah, the military junta in Egypt and the venal oil sheikhdoms in the Gulf for the war to unseat the Assad regime in Syria and the isolation of Iran. All these sclerotic regimes face a restive working class, for whom the Israel-Palestine conflict and the US-led interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria are explosive issues.

The talks offer nothing to the Palestinians except more suffering and misery, even as they give Israel everything it wants. So blatant is the cynicism and bullying on the part of both the US and its European allies that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had said that he would not attend. Erekat, a professional windbag, will naturally attend—on the basis of having secured a measly promise that 104 Palestinian prisoners will be released.

He will be joined by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, confirmation that the PLO and Fatah, its dominant faction, function as little more than clients of US imperialism.

Settlements authorised as Kerry tries to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks

Jean Shaoul

The Jewish state: settlement building takes precedence over peace.

Benyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has begun the legal process to retrospectively authorise four outposts as settlements in the Occupied West Bank.

The move came on the eve of United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the Middle East. Kerry’s muted response makes clear that both the US and Israel have rejected any notion of establishing a truncated Palestinian state alongside Israel.

All settlements and outposts built on occupied land are in violation of international law.

Many of the 100 or so outposts, established on hilltops by nationalist zealots, now have cement houses, paved roads, playgrounds and day-care centres, because the Israeli authorities are providing the resources to link them to water, sanitation and electricity, and to fund the housing. Their purpose is to establish “new facts on the ground” that make it impossible to negotiate a mini-Palestinian state, as anticipated under the Oslo Accords signed two decades ago, in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war.

The government instructed the Civil Administration, the unit within the Defence Ministry that administers the West Bank, to initiate the legal process. Its intention to legalise four of the outposts in defiance of court orders dating back to 2003 only emerged from the government’s official response to a Peace Now petition to the Supreme Court. The settlement watchdog had petitioned the court to effect the evacuation of six of these outposts, including Givat Assaf, east of Ramallah, which had had a court order for its demolition, Haroeh, north of Ramallah, Maale Rehavam, east of Bethlehem, and Mitzpe Lachish, south of Hebron.

Israeli forces break Gaza ceasefire as Netanyahu outlines his political calculations

Jean Shaoul and Chris Marsden

The ceasefire that brought to an end Israel’s eight-day blitzkrieg against Gaza is already under strain, after Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man on the border.

Anwar Qdeih, 23, was shot through the head as he tried to place a Hamas flag on the fence near Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. Around 20 other Palestinians were wounded. Israel claimed to be responding to “violent activity” by 300 protesters.

The agreement to end hostilities was pressed on Israel because of Washington’s concern that a threatened ground invasion would endanger its broader interests in the region, particularly the campaign against Syria and plans for war against Iran.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has threatened, “We are also prepared for the possibility that the ceasefire will not be upheld, and we will know how to act if need be.”

Netanyahu has come under attack from right-wing forces for his failure to send thousands of ground troops into Gaza. He was accordingly compelled to explain the political calculations underlying both “Operation Pillar of Defence” and its cessation.

Palestinian Authority to exhume Yasser Arafat’s body to test polonium murder claim

Jean Shaoul

Photo: A Palestinian holds up a poster depicting late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a ceremony marking the seventh anniversary of his death, in the West Bank city of Hebron, November 13, 2011. Arafat was followed by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Abbas' mandate expired in July 2009. He has ruled the West Bank illegitimately ever since, on behalf of Israel. The demo in this photo may be seen as a repudiation of Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian Authority has announced that it will exhume the body of Yasser Arafat, the president of the PA who died in a French hospital in November 2004. It will investigate the cause of his death, amid claims that he was assassinated with the radioactive isotope, polonium.

Arafat fell ill in October 2004, but was denied medical diagnosis and treatment by Israel. The frail and elderly 75-year-old, lapsing in and out of consciousness, was flown out of the Mukata, his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He had been under an Israeli army siege for more than two years.

Arafat was transferred to a French military hospital to receive diagnostic treatment. He died three weeks later from what the French doctors described as a massive brain haemorrhage. He had suffered intestinal inflammation, jaundice and a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), but its cause remained a mystery. French officials refused to say anything more than that he had a “mystery blood disorder”, citing privacy laws, fuelling speculation that he had been murdered.

When Arafat was in hospital, his wife Suha is reported to have told visiting Palestinian officials, “They are trying to bury Abu Ammar [Arafat] alive.” But after his death, she refused to consent to an autopsy. The 558-page medical report on his condition was given to a male relative.

Arafat’s remains lie in a mausoleum in the Mukata, which is guarded by troops.

Israel’s national unity government prepares ground for war

Jean Shaoul

Top: Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan touring the West Bank in September 1967. Bottom: Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz during a joint press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 8, 2012. (Top Israel National Photo Collection; bottom Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than two days after calling an early general election for September 4th, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced that he had instead brought the opposition Kadima party into his coalition.

This gives Netanyahu 94 seats in the 120 member Knesset, an unprecedented majority. It prepares the political ground for a possible military assault on Iran and a guaranteed social and economic offensive against the Israeli working class.

Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz is to become deputy prime minister and join the Cabinet’s Security Committee and Netanyahu’s inner circle. Kadima members will chair four of the Knesset’s committees, including Defence and Foreign Affairs.

In announcing the national unity government, Netanyahu said that the basis of his agreement with Mofaz was a commitment to change the Tal Law allowing ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer military conscription indefinitely if they are enrolled in religious seminaries. The law, recently outlawed as unconstitutional, is set to expire in July.

Israel steps up repression in occupied Palestinian territories

Jean Shaoul

On Friday, Israeli forces fired on Palestinian protesters at a checkpoint near Ramallah in the West Bank, killing one young man and injuring four more. Further clashes broke out between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces at the funeral procession in north Jerusalem the following day that resulted in 12 injuries.

In Jerusalem, angry clashes broke out between Muslim worshippers and Israeli security forces outside the al-Aqsa mosque for the third time over the last week. Police fired tear gas on hundreds of Palestinians who were throwing rocks at Israeli security forces after Friday prayers. The clashes were reportedly sparked by fears that ultra-nationalist Israelis were intending to enter the Muslim-controlled areas at the site known to Muslims as the Haram al-Shareef and to Jews as Temple Mount.

Israeli armed forces fired tear gas, stink bombs and grenades to disperse a rally in Hebron, injuring more than 70 people. Thousands were demonstrating to mark the eighteenth anniversary of the deadly shooting of 29 Palestinians by arch-nationalist Baruch Goldstein on February 25, 1994, and to demand the reopening of Hebron’s main street, Shuhada Street, closed by the security forces after the massacre in 1994. Troops closed off the city centre on the pretext of protecting the 400 settlers residing there, throttling the commercial centre and affecting the livelihoods of thousands.

Palestinians face increasing Israeli encroachment on their land and resources, making economic life all but impossible without international aid, which has largely dried up.

After Russia’s UN veto, US talks of “coalition of the willing” against Syria

Jean Shaoul & Chris Marsden

The veto by Russia and China of a United Nations Security Council resolution will not halt ongoing preparations for Western-backed intervention against Syria. The discussion on the resolution was a political manoeuvre from the outset, designed either to force Moscow and Beijing into agreeing to a UN cover for a Libya-style operation against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, or justify a predetermined alternative route to regime-change.

This goal has nothing to do with the humanitarian posturing of the US, France, the UK and the various despots that make up the Arab League. The aim is to install a pro-Western government dominated by Sunni forces close to the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, thus further isolating Iran, the main ally of the current Syrian regime.

Iran is seen as the only regional obstacle to total US hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East and Caspian Basin. Eliminating the Assad regime and weakening Tehran would also serve to push Russia and China out of their remaining bases of influence.

The US, Britain and France sought to use a demand from the Arab League, supposedly based upon the report of its observer mission to Syria, to condemn the crackdown by the Assad regime and call for Assad to hand over power to his deputy in preparation for a new government that would include the opposition. According to the proposed resolution, this would be followed by new elections.

The invocation of the League’s mission was thoroughly dishonest. The observers had found that the violence was abating and that the Syrian government was complying with most of the Arab League’s requirements. They had called for an extension of their mission in Syria. The response of Saudi Arabia was to end its participation while the Emir of Qatar went on CNN to call for Arab military intervention.

Qatar assumed the role of Arab League chair by paying off the Palestinian Authority, whose turn it was to hold the post, with $400 million in aid. It used its position to suppress the observers’ report, demand that Assad quit, and call off the mission. It then forwarded the “recommendation” that Assad step aside to the UN.

Growing tensions between Turkey and Israel

Jean Shaoul

Israeli commandos attacked the Mavi Marmara ship on
May 31, 2010, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-
(Hürriyet Daily News)

Relations between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated sharply, despite the diplomatic efforts of the Obama administration.

The immediate source of the tensions is the publication of a United Nations report into Israel’s attack on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, part of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May 2010. However, this is only the focus for hostilities generated by a wider conflict over regional hegemony in the Middle East.

The vessel was in international waters when Israeli commandos raided it, murdering eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish American. Several other civilians were seriously injured.

Ever since the Mavi Marmara killings, the Turkish government has demanded that Israel issue an official apology and pay compensation—both of which Israel has refused to do.

The UN report was—as expected—a whitewash. It endorsed the Israeli rampage on the Mavi Marmara and providing UN approval for further actions by Israel against Gaza. As a sop to Turkey, the report complained that the Israel Defence Force had used “excessive force”, calling on Israel to make “an appropriate statement of regret” and “offer payment for the benefit of the deceased and injured victims and their families”.

When Israel again refused to back down, Ankara was furious. It had offered various olive branches before the UN published its report, including stopping Turkish NGOs from participating in further aid flotillas to Gaza. Now, however, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a diplomatic offensive against Israel, threatening to send Turkish destroyers to escort future aid convoys trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

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