Monthly Archives: January 2011

“If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success.”

From Foreign Policy Magazine:

If Palestinian state-building is understood as a pact by which Palestinian institutions are built and shaped to facilitate security-collusion — in expectation that this will cause Israel to see it to be in its own interest to give Palestinians a state — then the overall matrix of western policy becomes clear. It is a pre-requisite of Oslo and subsequent agreements that the PA should work with the IDF — “with the participation of US security officials” — to defeat and dismantle any opposition to this project, and, as Mrs Clinton reminded Mahmoud Abbas last year, this demand extends to Hamas — unless it should accept the Quartet’s conditions.

These principles are not new: they are long-established principles of American counter-insurgency dating back to the US campaign in the early 1900s against Filipino ‘rebels’ and were adopted in subsequent conflicts. This doctrine has combined the establishment of harsh, unaccountable security apparati to a ‘benevolency pacification’: Security strongmen evolve to control the business and financial sectors.

In the Palestinian context this pacification has come to mean something far more extensive than the original Oslo demand for collusion with Israel to dismantle and destroy Oslo’s opponents. Indeed, the concept is being used to create a politico-security and economic architecture and élite in order to implement a benevolency pacification. In return the elites receive significant material benefits and privileges. So successful has this political and security architecture been in normalizing the West Bank that the then US Assistant Secretary of State, hailed it as “the best Palestinian Authority government in history”.

This kind of article was inevitable. I’m just surprised it took so long to show up in print, especially since I’ve been writing on it for so long. Everyone here today is depressed because the Palestine Papers have proven once again how helpless they are against their own police state vying to sell their land in favor of villas in Dubai and cash for their kids.

the palestine papers


I’ve been learning how to play chess. So far I’m only able to see four moves ahead, which makes me a pretty mediocre player. I’ve only won two games so far, but I’m trying every day to be able to see more and more moves ahead, to work out different scenarios and keep them running parallel so I can advance. What I’ve gathered so far, though, is that the most important part of chess is to be able to react to an opponent’s moves with a clear mind and steady hand.

So when I see something like The Palestine Papers being published by Al Jazeera, I have to stop and examine the board critically before I react. Some facts to consider:

  • Al Jazeera is a state-owned and state-run news organization.

A reaction I heard today was that Al Jazeera works for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While this may not be true in a literal sense, we can’t forget that Al Jazeera is an incredibly powerful wing of the Qatari foreign ministry. Qatar has been courting foreign money by the fistfuls, bringing in international games, conferences on private security companies, and offering terrific incentives to multinational corporations.  Whatever Al Jazeera was ten years ago, they are not the same organization today.

  • The Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization has to negotiate with the Israelis if they want to gain international support.

Since – according to the intelligentsia – armed and civil resistance has failed, the only way towards survival is to court the support of the international community. The PA does this in two ways, through economic and diplomatic means. Through economics, they present themselves as an easy place to do cheap and dirty business. Through diplomacy, they hustle from embassy to embassy begging for recognition while using their presence at the UN to pressure for resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation. The only way they are able to sustain either of these fronts, though, is through appearing as a valid party in negotiations with the Israelis. Therefore, to keep both outreach approaches strong, they must continue with negotiations at all costs, even if this means offering bizarre concessions to the Israelis. The fact that the PA is still willing to “play ball” after the genocide in Gaza and continued appropriation of land in the West Bank is proof of this, since any strong actor would have abandoned negotiations long ago. But the Palestinian Authority is not the strong actor. Their grip on power is contingent on whether anyone will meet with them. If the Israelis and Americans continue to meet with them, the sick truth is that the rest of the world will see them as valid representatives for the Palestinian people.

  • Both the Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israelis must sustain the negotiation process in order to maintain the status quo abroad while advancing interests locally.

This is why the peace process never fails. It simply stalls or is frozen, perhaps moving from direct to indirect negotiations from time to time. The present negotiations between the two parties have painfully dragged along for nearly two decades with nothing to speak of except continued encroachment of the West Bank and Gaza while the Palestinian Authority gains stature in the eyes of the international community.

Yet it is not just Israel and the PNA/PLO that benefit from these negotiations. The USA uses them as election fodder and the Arab states use them as an excuse to continue business-as-usual with Israel while neglecting the refugees that crowd their borders.

So what is the point of releasing these documents? Barring some sort of collective madness, the Palestinian people are not going to overthrow the PNA and expel the PLO. Gaza is a stark, daily reminder of what happens to a people who decide to stop playing the game. It’s possible the Israelis will look bad for not accepting such gracious concessions, and that the Palestinians offering them nearly all of East Jerusalem and their major settlement blocs will make it seem as though they are negotiating in bad faith.

However, without further facts at this point, the only conclusion I can draw is that this is a move designed to humiliate the Palestinian people further. They are being shamed for not being able to change their current situation. Really, this has been the overarching theme to the occupation that I’ve seen so far since living here: instill shame. Whether through stumbling drunk teenagers in Ramallah plotting their ticket out, hassle at the checkpoint, constantly jumping through hoops for a job or foreign aid money, casual cancellation of elections, and being forced at gunpoint to the negotiation table, the main goal of the occupation is to bring low the pride of the Palestinians. It still makes one wonder who it is, if not everyone involved in these negotiations, that wants them brought to their knees so badly.

who has a dream?

for Harpers, 17 January

change you can believe in

Barack Obama on regulation:

Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.

Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government….

Despite a lot of heated rhetoric, our efforts over the past two years to modernize our regulations have led to smarter—and in some cases tougher—rules to protect our health, safety and environment. Yet according to current estimates of their economic impact, the benefits of these regulations exceed their costs by billions of dollars.

WSJ Op-Ed Yesterday

Executive orders? Including more business interests in economic policy? I’m looking forward to new American economic prosperity from slashing business regulation!

the almighty dollar: part 3, guest contribution

Part I and II of this series on the American Dollar can be found here and here.


Simple Thoughts on Money
by Donald Hughes


Money is not the root of all evil, but it does come from a sort of failing. That failing is that we have, so far, found it impossible to limit our consumption to our needs while contributing what we can in the absence of an apparatus of coercion. Even stating the problem, however, gives a sign of how difficult that challenge would be to meet. Money is how we make certain promises to each other. If we recognize our need for a high level of coordination between people and property with a fairly strict degree of rationing, it makes sense to express that coordination in prices. Once you have a set of prices, certain imperatives require a related monetary policy and systems of coercion to enforce the price system. Nothing in this seems inherently objectionable if you can tolerate the “original sin” of the loss of achieving the communist ideal. Prices perform strong information functions, and if they reflect real social costs then they are a beautifully simple way of conveying an immense amount of wisdom about how a consumer might behave. For example, if I buy food that is more expensive, I know it took more scarce resources to consume it, encouraging me to go for more efficient options.

One problem with this simple model is that markets produce severe inequalities which exacerbate the basic failing at the heart of prices, and become a tool for freezing in yawning gaps in wealth and power. One argument is that if inequality derives from free choices then it should be tolerated. For example, as Robert Nozick suggests, imagine if a person is good at basketball. Now imagine if everyone in an equal community gave a little bit of their money to see them play basketball. The inequality resulting from this would be immense, but is it really the sort of thing the state should be trying to prevent? The argument made is that both sides are better off, at least in ideal conditions, so that there shouldn’t be an arbitrary intervention to prevent free choices that lead to unequal resource outcomes. While this may be sensible to some degree, a counterargument, made by G.A. Cohen, is that a person acting in step with justice and community would not demand extraordinary inequalities in order to deploy their talents. Indeed, if we go back to the communist ideal, shouldn’t a person simply perform their best at basketball because it will make people happy, rather than using it as a strategy to deny them their wealth? While this argument seems powerful to me, one can easily see the complexity of the issue – if you have prices at all, then you really are accepting the logic of prices, to some degree.

Returning to the idea of the principle of community, I agree with the idea that true market rivalry is not consistent with a strong sense of justice. This places me on the socialist side of things. However, there are other values at play. One recognition of this diversity of values is a reasonable pluralism. If we are still in the age of money, then it seems unlikely that a planning system that approaches the totality of society is compatible with a maximum degree of latitude for a wide range of opinions on how to organize ourselves. That is, socialism might require more of us than we are currently able to agree on. I believe that workers’ self-management is an important component of participatory democracy, but I see how not everyone agrees with that, and how markets can allow different people to pursue radically different models of organizing with relatively little conflict. If there is to be an overlapping consensus on a certain political conception of justice, then, perhaps it makes sense to focus on issues of inequality within market societies, and in ways of introducing participatory elements in the economy in a more measured way in response to the advance of a more comprehensive moral doctrine associated with socialism. In other words, there might be sustained moral change over time until socialism becomes part of the overlapping consensus, but we need to recognize that it is far from agreed upon in current debates.

Pluralism is not the same as defeatism, of course. I do believe that money is historically contingent and may well disappear over time. There are good reasons to shape markets and to insist on maximizing workers’ control, and the state will still loom large over the many choices of how to structure society while guaranteeing access to adequate incomes and wealth. Using prices and structured property rights to achieve shared aims seems like a second best in the absence of a more complete Utopia. Even the limited planning functions of a social-democratic state are useful foundations for future moves towards an advanced form of a just society. It will take radical moral change or stupendous economic progress to make money superfluous, and it will be an immense effort simply to reign markets towards more egalitarian outcomes. Fortunately, the quest to achieve justice seems limitlessly exciting.

one family in gaza

One Family in Gaza (2010, Jen Marlowe, 22 minutes) is a short film that documents the personal tragedy of one family in Gaza. What makes this film so powerful is that it is told entirely by the family themselves. There are a million or more stories like this in Palestine. Nearly everyone you meet has been affected in some way by decades of war and suffering, but it is worthwhile to hear it yourself from those who experienced it instead of reading it in a report or seeing it on television. The humanity conveyed in the tears of a mother or the anguished prayers of a father is hard to miss. You may contact the film maker here.

the almighty dollar, part 2: global islamist strategy

Part I of this series on the American Dollar can be found here.

Turkish water, Arab Gulf capital, Egyptian labor, and Israeli know-how will join hands in a sheer material enterprise with no identity or sense of direction. Consequently, there will be no feeling of pain caused by loss of dignity.

from The Imperialist Epistemological Vision” by Abdulwahab al Masseri

The Muslim world is a giant untapped well of power. Geo-strategically, the Middle East has always been important – straddling important trade routes and acting as a bridge between several continents. Even the Muslim minorities of the world, that is where Muslims make up a minority stake in a society, contain roughly 40% of the global ummah. Acting as a unified actor, the Muslim world is over a billion strong and contains much of the world’s capital and resources.

The issue is a splintering of the ummah that followed the rightly guided caliphs and the Golden Age of Islam. At one point, the Muslim world was one unified empire stretching from the Himalayas to the Straits of Gibraltar. Societies kept their identities and ways of life provided they were not against basic principles of Islamic governance. Identities were forged within the Muslim world – indeed, Egyptians in particular have always been fiercely nationalistic – but the kind of nationalism imported since the end of direct colonialism in the area is new and unfamiliar to many Muslims who still see themselves as Muslim first – Indian, Pakistani, Iraqi, Filipino second.

At the top of this Islamic world sits some of the greatest concentration of capital in the Gulf countries. Glimmering skyscrapers towering over empty streets, air-conditioned stadiums, and the sheikhas gliding through malls covered in black and gold, their filipino servants trailing behind buckling under the weight of shopping bags. It’s no wonder this Islamic elite has come under attack in recent decades by AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) as both an attempt at capital accumulation and an ancient drive from sects from the Sufis to the Khajarites who sought to deliver divine justice to the corrupt heads of the Caliphate. These today being those who control the capital and the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.

Yet the strategy has shifted in recent years and rage has grown considerably in these offshoot groups. Instead of seeing the House of Saud as solely responsible for their predicament of addictive shopping and rampant tastes of luxury, the global Islamic resistance movement have lifted their eyes to the very top – America and Europe. By smashing at the dollar they are forcing the rich and corrupt among them to either reconsider their lifestyles or run for the hills, as seen recently in Tunisia.

What part does Israel play in such a strategy? Abdullah Azzam, famous mujahid in Afghanistan, became somewhat disillusioned as he was told to keep his desire for jihad against Israel on the back-burner and continue his focus against the Soviets. Is it any surprise that he and others who shared his view suddenly turned up dead in Peshawar – their suspected killers being Iranian Intelligence, Mossad, or even Osama bin Laden himself? Why is Israel so protected from the brunt of Islamic militarism? The simple answer may be that it represents a strategic interest to foreign colonial powers. Considering that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military equipment is kept in storage in Israel and their physical presence as a thorn in the side of the Middle East, this could be true. Yet they are becoming more and more brave, unafraid of keeping their American masters pleased with their progress. Why is this? I’ve come to understand that Israel poses little threat and possesses no real strength in its current position – it’s very presence in the Middle East is part of the strategy.

The decaying, autocratic Middle East and the Muslim world in general is propped up by a wilting dollar. Israel is the gun held to the heads of the Arab capitals, ensuring that they will not jump ship. Imagine an intricate game of mouse-trap, with the final string of yarn tied around the trigger of a Tavor held by the Israeli government. It is in their interest as well that the dollar sustains, considering much of their foreign capital is held abroad and – if one is to imagine (as Israelis themselves do) that Jews worldwide are simply expat Israelis, a large portion of their population and subsequent charitable income and moral support depends on it as well. The methods Israel uses for colonial advancement are dollar-heavy and follow traditional, if not sloppy, methods of free-trade strategy.

Like the housing bubble, nearly anything will be done to keep the system afloat in the Middle East, to keep the money from the Gulf tied up in luxury yachts and the rest of it tied up in weapons. In such a high pressure situation – that is to keep this attempt to keep the bubble inflated – nearly everyone’s interests will be to sustain the status quo, especially when it comes to the dollar. The Saudis want to stay in power, the Assads want to stay in power, the Hashemites want to stay in power, Mubarak wants to stay in power, and the Israelis want to continue making money and building settlements. Everything about Middle East diplomacy is about keeping thirty cats from scratching each other to death while someone else keeps stealing all the cheese. So where do those who want to change the status quo hit the hardest?

Maybe it takes years for the seeds to sprout, but as unrest begins to ripple across the Maghreb from Algeria to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt, we can see the house of cards start to tremble something terrible.