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plitnickm




Associate Editor at Souciant Magazine, Blogger and journalist on Middle East, US foreign policy, with focus on Israel-Palestine.


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Ah, sorry, I misunderstood you. In Gaza, it is not so much of either, you're correct. On the West Bank and in East Jerusalem where israel is squeezing Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves, confiscating land and diverting resources and settling the land with their own citizens, there is a strong case to be made that what they are trying to do is drive Palestinians out with an eye toward annexation in the future (or, as some in the Israeli government would have it, the not so distant future). Since, on the basis of ethnicity, it certainly can be argued that Israel is trying to drive out one group of people for the benefit of another, that is an argument for ethnic cleansing. In Gaza right now, it's simply murder, massive destruction, and collective punishment. Which, again, is more than bad enough, I daresay.

Using indiscriminate weapons in areas where civilians are known to be present in large numbers is, indeed, illegal. International law is itself problematic, as are most legal systems. But that's what it is. It's not what what you, I or anyone wants it to be, it is what it is. The use, for example, of white phosphorous, which Israel used in gaza in 2009, is illegal in civilian areas and is proscribed for specific uses in a field of battle--something rarely seen in any war these days. But it is not illegal altogether, only if used improperly. If, for example, Hamas was able, with some degree of certainty, to aim a rocket at Israel's ships off the coast, or at Israeli troops massed at the gaza border, the use of indiscriminate weapons would be permitted since it is not being used in civilian areas. Another example is a bomb. A suicide bomber, say like the one Hezbollah employed at the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, is not an indiscriminate weapon. It can be used in such a way as to target combatants and locales used for military purposes. In any case, Hamas makes no bones at all about the fact that it targets civilians with its rockets, so the point is moot. Whether a weapon is indiscriminate or not, willfully targeting civilians is a war crime.

On the genocide question, what makes it different is that Israel is not doing what you quoted, plain and simple. The fact of murder, mass murder, is not the same as genocide. The United States killed a great many more Iraqis than Israel has Palestinians, that doesn't make the US actions aimed at wiping out Iraqis, which is the intent and point of the genocide statute. On the other hand, the object of the hutus in Rwanda was to wipe out the Tutsis. That's the difference. Again, it may not be how you would define these terms. But this is what the international legal system has established as its definition. Israel doesn't fit it, nor do we need it to--what it is doing is quite horrific enough. Again, the law may not say what you or I might want it to say, but it is what it is. Progressives often believe that International Law is some trove of wisdom, when it was made up initially by military leaders, and later on by lawyers. Expect not perfection from those groups.

Thanks, it's fixed now

plitnickm  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Careful What You Wish For

There is no 3rd party candidate because there is no 3rd party of any significance. And there will be none as long as the route to pursuing such a thing is being done through elections. This, as attempted by Ralph Nader, as a progressive, H. Ross Perot as a right-libertarian and other, lesser known names, is a flawed scheme because it puts the cart before the horse. You don't build a party by running for president. You build a party by organizing from the bottom up. It begins with local elections (and there are municipalities across the USA that have 3rd party representatives), but it has to build gradually. The support has to be gathered on a local, then city, then state and only then federal, basis. Then there can be a viable base of both people and, yes sorry to say it's necessary, money to contend with the business parties. Doing it the other way around ignores the people. Because sure, a leftist will vote for Ralph Nader, or Bernie Sanders, or any number of other smart and dedicated people who could do the job. But that won't help. Before a 3rd party presidential candidate can mean something, the left needs to convince working people that they need to stop supporting Democrats and Republicans and chart a whole new course. We've done an awful job of that, in part because it's hard, it involves pissing off a lot of people who should be allies and it is an effort that is not going to show immediate results. So instead, every once in a while we vote for a Nader and nothing comes of it. Even if Bush is the result, and things turn disastrous, we do not gain from that. Indeed, the radical outcome of the Bush years was only marginally on the left--it was much more impactful on the right, with the growth of right-libertarianism and, most obviously, the Tea Party. Sure, these movements found super-rich funders like the Koch Brothers, but they were begun with the rage of working class people. And the greater part of that rage didn't flow to the left, it flowed rightward. We can blame all sorts of factors for that, including the news outlets, and other factors. And that may not be incorrect, but it's not helpful. There's more than enough that we can do to more effectively send out our own message. Until that base is built, running a Nader in the race does nothing but ensure a right wing victory, one which will not, as has been demonstrated, make things so bad that people will run to the left. There are reasons why the USA works that way; because rightward extremism does in fact turn people toward the left in much of Europe (and vice versa), at least more so than in the US. That's due to history and the role ideology plays in the different cultures, etc. But it's also due to a lack of strategic vision and, often, effort on the part of the American left. We spend a lot more energy bemoaning the deck stacked against us than we do mobilizing for change. It's far more helpful to ourselves if we accept the stacked deck and instead focus on how to achieve our aims strategically. It starts with unity on the left, that very elusive beast. It continues with improving our communications and working to gather funds, two things most leftists I know hate doing. Because the left has the strength of being just and egalitarian, two things the right cannot be, by definition, so we do not need billions of dollars and massive marketing efforts to convince people of the rightness of our view. But we do need to put a lot more effort in, and we need some level of skilled mass communications and funds. We don't do these things. Instead we think about presidential elections, which are self-defeating efforts for those of us outside the system--they are the last step, not the first.

plitnickm  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: How Not to Oppose Imperialism

This piece makes some very good points, but ultimately also falls into the very trap it is discussing. The situation in Ukraine is far more complicated than laid out here, and there are certain conditions that must be accounted for in any reasonable analysis. To wit: -- The root problem here was the NATO commitment not to expand during Glasnost, which they never held to. -- The situation in Ukraine is a mess, with no faith in the previous or current government, and not a ton of hope about what is coming now. Sure, the fascist/anti-Semitism thing is a red herring. at least for now. But the weakness of the Ukraine government is real, and it is a real concern for working Ukrainians. -- The situation also varies. In Crimea, unofficial polls showed a substantial majority that wanted to be part of Russia. Meanwhile, Putin and Russia showed just how clumsy they can be with their heavy-handed interference in a poll that almost certainly would have clearly gone their way in any case. Not with 97% of the vote, maybe with 70-75%. Similar polls conducted in other East Ukraine provinces, as well as anecdotal reports, do not show anything approaching a similar result, which is likely one reason even Putin wouldn't really back the recent Donetsk referendum. -- The US and EU worked in many ways hand in glove with Putin, albeit unintentionally, by pressing and tempting the former government with EU ties, when they knew this was a divisive issue and would correctly be perceived as a direct threat to Russia.

The point is, the knee-jerk reaction you speak of here is visible everywhere. There are no good guys anywhere in this drama except, as always, the ordinary working people of Ukraine. And while it's all well and good to "stand with them" against pro-Russia militias bent on imposing their will on the people, it's also good to recognize that the policies of the US and EU have contributed to this crisis at least as much as Putin's. And it's even more important to recognize that Ukraine is a poor, badly-run country all by itself, with serious ethnic and nationalistic tensions that could well boil over even without US/EU/Russian interference stirring the pot. And the result might be very ugly for all concerned.

The Palestinians are going to be fighting an uphill battle no matter what tactics they take. I touch on alternative strategies in the interview, though I don't go into much detail. But the Palestinians have better options than waiting for the US to do something it will never do. Two of them are being pursued already, which is a combination of mostly non-violent protest and the movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). As I pointed out in the interview, I have some reservations about the way BDS is being pursued, but it's a key component. If done properly, it can create real economic pressure on Israel by growing opposition to the occupation and doing any business with it, particularly in Europe (if it overcomes Europe, the US will eventually follow, just as it did with South Africa). The current movement is limited because it does not have the support of the recognized Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which differentiates it from the boycott movement in South Africa. If the PA supported and helped to lead that movement, if it supported more fully the ongoing protests in the West Bank, and, most importantly, if it used its newly won leverage in the international judicial system (something Israel is actually quite frightened of) these can combine to exert real pressure on Israel and create the incentives I spoke about being so necessary. And, as I said in the piece, I'm pretty confident that a future Palestinian leadership will pursue just such a course.

plitnickm  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Syria For Americans

Precisely the point. As was clearly stated in the article, there is nothing to be gained, and much harm to be done, by simply "busting in," and this is why Obama's idea is such a bad idea. But would the "tragic situation be less tragic" if an international force operating with one and only one agenda -- protecting civilians -- and which was forbidden from taking sides otherwise in the conflict be less tragic? It seems to me it would, and there is precedent for such things. That is the long term proposal. The short term one is not military action, but diplomatic. Again, I think that's clear in the article. What is objected to is not the rejection of the way things have been done in the past, but rather the sense that the world cannot do anything to stop the massive killing of civilians in civil wars and governmental crackdowns (such as in WWII Europe, or East Timor more recently). The world can do something. Simply sitting back and ignoring these things or merely wringing one's hands is not sufficient, and the only option is NOT coming in and fixing all the problems, but simply coming in and protecting civilians. Again, I think it is eminently clear in the article that taking the side of the rebels (or, for that matter, the Assad regime) is not being suggested and is precisely opposite of what the proposal made would be. And certainly opposition to Obama's plan is crystal clear in it.

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