Israel Approved 14,000 New Settlement Units, Demolished 500 Palestinian Structures During Talks

Israel’s primary criticism of the Palestinian side is that they are not engaging in “good faith negotiations,” they are not “partners for peace.” As I’ve noted several times in the past few weeks, that critique rings hypocritical given Israel’s negotiating positions. After all, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted it was Israel’s failure to comply with its promised steps in the talks and then called off negotiations long before Fatah and Hamas announced reconciliation.

Israel’s depiction of itself as the only party willing to make sacrifices for peace is further eroded by these two findings from the Israeli activist group Peace Now and the PLO.

Israel okayed nearly 14,000 settler homes during talks

Israel approved plans for nearly 14,000 new settler homes during the nine months of peace talks with the Palestinians, an Israeli settlement watchdog said Tuesday as the negotiation period formally ended.

“This is an unprecedented number representing an average of 50 housing units per day or 1,540 per month,” it said.

PLO: Israel demolished over 500 Palestinian structures during talks

Israel demolished over 500 Palestinian structures throughout the US-brokered peace negotiations, the PLO said in a statement Tuesday.

Citing figures from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the PLO said Israel demolished a total of 508 Palestinian structures, 312 of which were homes, from July 30, 2013 to April 29, 2014.

“As a result, 878 persons were forcibly displaced,” the statement said.

So, during Israel’s supposedly good faith efforts in peace talks, more than 500 Palestinian homes and buildings were demolished by Israeli Defense Forces and almost 14,000 new settlement units were approved. How can anyone argue Israel was negotiating in good faith?

WSJ/NBC Poll: Americans Want Less Interventionist Foreign Policy

This morning’s Wall Street Journal has the following headline on the front page: “Americans Want to Pull Back From World Stage, Poll Finds.”

Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs even as a showdown with Russia over Ukraine preoccupies Washington, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

In a marked change from past decades, nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement—an anti-interventionist current that sweeps across party lines.

…The poll findings, combined with the results of prior Journal/NBC surveys this year, portray a public weary of foreign entanglements and disenchanted with a U.S. economic system that many believe is stacked against them. The 47% of respondents who called for a less-active role in world affairs marked a larger share than in similar polling in 2001, 1997 and 1995.

You can tell from the way the reporter frames the poll’s findings that she’s unhappy about what she calls “anti-interventionist” sentiment. She is shocked such sentiments can be so popular even as (in her words) Russia defies U.S.-EU sanctions and Ukraine continues to unravel.

But she must have missed the YouGov poll conducted last month finding that only 14 percent of Americans said the U.S. has “any responsibility” to get involved in Ukraine, and only 18 percent think the U.S. “has any responsibility to protect Ukraine if Russia were to invade.”

“Americans are more likely than not to say that the United States has no responsibility to get involved in Ukraine even under extreme circumstances, the new survey shows,” the Huffington Post reports. “Pluralities of Democrats, Republicans and independents agreed that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to protect Ukraine.”

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is consistent as well with the Pew poll from back in December that found a majority of Americans – more than ever before in Pew’s 50-year history of polling this question – think the U.S. “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along as best they can on their own.”

It will be interesting to see how these popular sentiments shape the upcoming 2016 presidential elections. One thing we can expect is a lot of vitriol for these kinds of opinions by Republican and Democratic standard-bearers. Typically, pro-war sentiments are taken to be very serious, while non-interventionist sentiments are condemned as either dangerously isolationist or naive.

It’s worth noting though that the poll numbers themselves have disproven the isolationist charge: most Americans (77%) think increased trade and business ties with the rest of the world is a good thing, while only 18% think its negative. So, quite explicitly, Americans don’t like greater involvement in the world by the U.S. government and they do like greater economic involvement in general.

CIA Thinks Syrian Rebels Might Turn The Guns We Give Them Back On Us

Here is a tweet from Foreign Policy’s Twitter feed:

If you have to worry that your proxy militias will turn your own weapons against you, maybe it’s not such a good idea to give them weapons in the first place. Just a thought.

The Problem With Labeling Hamas ‘A Terrorist Organization’

Paul Pillar, a 28-year CIA veteran and now senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, writes in The National Interest about how ridiculous and self-serving is the reaction of Israel (and the U.S.) to the Fatah’s announcement of political reconciliation with Hamas.

Pillar argues that “The Israeli and U.S. posture toward Hamas is fundamentally self-contradictory.”

Hamas is said to be a “terrorist” organization and as such not an acceptable interlocutor for negotiations. (In fact, Israel has engaged in extensive and detailed negotiations with Hamas over exchanges of prisoners.) Terrorism is a tactic, one whose use comes and goes, not a fixed category of people or of groups. If previous use of that tactic were to be a negotiating disqualifier forever, a lot of useful business would not get done, including on the very conflict at hand. We went through all this with the PLO; there was a time when Israel was vehemently opposed to anyone even talking to the PLO, much less negotiating with it, and went as far as assassinating the organization’s representatives to try to keep the United States from talking to it. The birth of the state of Israel also included much terrorism, perpetrated by men who went on to become top leaders of Israel.

The Israeli prime minister says Hamas is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” Actually, Hamas leaders have repeatedly made clear a much different posture, one that involves indefinite peaceful coexistence with Israel even if they officially term it only a hudna or truce. It would be more accurate to say that Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Hamas, an objective that Israel has demonstrated with not just its words but its deeds, including prolonged collective punishment of the population of the Gaza Strip in an effort to strangle the group. Such efforts have included large-scale violence that—although carried out overtly by military forces and thus not termed terrorism—has been every bit as lethal to innocent civilians. In such circumstances, why should Hamas be expected to be the first to go beyond the vocabulary ofhudna and mouth some alternative words about the status of its adversary?

Read the post in full here.

Pillar goes on to note, as I’ve noted before, that there is good reason to believe Hamas is on the road to moderating its position on violent resistance to Israel. Acknowledging that, along with the hypocrisies noted above, would denote a willingness to solve the conflict once and for all. Refusing to acknowledge these things, on the other hand, denotes a firm commitment to perpetuating Israel’s current military and political domination over the West Bank and Gaza.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s Pro-War, Anti-Civil Liberties Front-Runner


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s admired front-runner for the 2016 presidential elections, made headlines last week when she spoke out against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. At an event at the University of Connecticut she hit him with the boilerplate accusations of anti-Americanism, questioning his motives for civil liberties and transparency by citing his flight to human rights offenders like China and Russia, and finally accusing him of aiding the terrorists.

Some saw it as a strange tact for Clinton, who will be trying to lock up left-of-center voters for her latent presidential campaign. The tide would seem to be against her, given the fact that every branch of government has acknowledged the NSA’s overreach and the need for reform, the poll numbers in favor of NSA reform are very high, and Snowden and the journalists he leaked to keep getting awards and high honors all around the world.

But she seemed unashamed in her condemnation of the whistleblower and in her bold defense of the Orwellian national security state. To be frank, Hillary Clinton has always been unashamed of her extremely hawkish and right-wing positions on national security and foreign policy issues.

Writing at Reason magazine, Steve Chapman explains how Clinton “is a long-standing and unblushing advocate of frequent military intervention abroad.” She voted for the war crime of invading Iraq, urged an even bigger surge in Afghanistan as secretary of state, and was the leading advocate within the Obama administration for strong military action in both Libya and Syria, Chapman reminds us.

She is even on the hawkish end of the spectrum on Iran: “Going back to 2007, she has stressed the option of launching airstrikes to keep Tehran from getting the bomb.”

The Democratic Party, which nominated Obama because he represented a more prudent approach to foreign policy, apparently is happy to do a 180 with Clinton. She may relish the chance to distinguish herself from her former boss, reports The New York Times, by “presenting herself in her book and in any possible campaign as the toughest voice in the room during the great debates over war and peace.” Not the wisest; the toughest.

Proving one’s toughness by endorsing war is a habit of American politicians, particularly Democrats wary of being portrayed, as Obama has, as naive and vacillating. This option may be even more tempting for someone who aspires to overcome any suspicion that female politicians are weak.

Is this seriously the Democratic Party’s best choice for president in 2016? At least Obama maintained the pretense of an antiwar, pro-transparency candidate. How embarrassing the next election will be for the left!

New Bill Would Demand VOA Serve US Propaganda

According to a report at Foreign Policy, a new piece of legislation due for a vote on Wednesday of this week would force Voice of America, the federally funded news media organization, to toe the U.S. line even more closely and become an explicit propaganda tool of Washington.

A powerful pair of lawmakers in the House of Representatives have agreed on major legislation to overhaul Voice of America and other government-funded broadcasting outlets that could have implications for the broadcaster’s editorial independence, Foreign Policy has learned.

The new legislation tweaks the language of VOA’s mission to explicitly outline the organization’s role in supporting U.S. “public diplomacy” and the “policies” of the United States government, a move that would settle a long-running dispute within the federal government about whether VOA should function as a neutral news organization rather than a messaging tool of Washington.

“It is time for broad reforms; now more than ever, U.S. international broadcasts must be effective,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement.

VOA has always been a propaganda outlet, broadly speaking, but it reportedly has taken an adversarial stance in some cases. Foreign Policy:

Founded in 1942 as a part of the Office of War Information, the VOA was originally tasked with countering Japanese and Nazi propaganda. In the 1950s, it moved to the State Department and the U.S. Information Agency where it focused its efforts on countering Communist propaganda. In later years, VOA concentrated on providing news to individuals living in repressive regimes. In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed its principles into law, emphasizing VOA’s mission as an “accurate, objective, and comprehensive” source of news, as opposed to a propaganda outlet.

For many years since then, employees at the TV and radio broadcaster have insisted on viewing themselves as objective journalists as opposed to instruments of American foreign policy. On some rare occasions, that sense of independence has resulted in news stories that depict the United States in a less than favorable light.

“The persian News Network of Voice of America has been documented to show anti-American bias,” the conservative Heritage Foundation alleged in a policy brief this month.

Every government has some form of propaganda outlet. But the U.S.A. and the people within it have always thought of themselves as different. Propaganda is a dirty word and a filthy activity that only governments less divine than ours engage in. We are benevolent and good, which makes the need for self-serving and inaccurate propaganda obsolete.

But if we have bipartisan legislation moving through Congress that explicitly calls for VOA and other U.S. funded news outlets to toe the fallacious government line, then perhaps we’ve lost even that level of pretense.