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By Phyllis Bennis. What a year this has been! Some of the Occupy encampments are being shut down, but the ideas, the outrage, and the commitment of the Occupy movement remain. The words “99 percent” have entered our permanent vocabulary, and the national discourse is being transformed. In the Middle East the Arab Spring is in the process of turning a region long controlled by once-unchallengeable U.S.-backed dictators into the centerpiece of today’s global transformations. And here in the U.S., through the work of organizations like the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, we are in the midst of our own huge transformation of public discourse on the Middle East. It’s an amazing time.
The so-called “super-committee” in Congress failed, to no one’s surprise given the partisan stupidity that keeps even the rich and powerful 1 percent from uniting around their own interests — let alone from considering ours. Their job wasn’t really so hard — to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, or $120 billion each year. A bunch of us here at IPS took on the task, and we came up with seven times that amount — saving $824 billion a year — with a plan that would keep our country and the world safer, more peaceful, more just and more green. And it wasn’t that hard — there’s plenty of money in this country, it’s just all in the wrong hands and wrong places! You can read our report here – “America Is Not Broke.”
The 99 Percent Reaches the Senate
The good news on Tuesday was the unexpected Senate vote calling on the president to devise a plan “expediting the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014.” That means that the message of the longstanding and still rising U.S. majority — 63 percent in the most recent polls want to end the war in Afghanistan — is finally being heard in the Senate. The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, may have something to do with the powerful mobilization of Occupy Portland, one of the strongest of the Occupy encampments around the U.S.
But the resolution, important as it is symbolically, falls far short on substance. It doesn’t call for ending the war in Afghanistan or even the U.S. occupation, only “drawing down” the number of troops. That’s not enough. A better model, within the political limitations of Congress, would be that of HR 780, the House bill initiated by our own Rep. Barbara Lee. It has 64 co-sponsors at the moment, and would actually end the war in the one way Congress can — by cutting off funds. If that one could pass, then we’d be talking. Here’s an interview I did on the consequences of last week’s U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
There’s a similar challenge facing us on Iraq. The announcement a couple of weeks ago that all U.S. troops would be pulled out of Iraq by the end of this year, as required by the 2008 agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, represents a huge victory for those of us who have been fighting to end this war since before it began, for the movements across the U.S., around the world, and especially in Iraq itself. But the war will be far from over — since the U.S. troops and Pentagon-paid contractors will be replaced by thousands of State-Department-paid contractors, with U.S. troops remaining in new military bases across the region and on board military ships just “over the horizon” from Iraq. Much remains to be done. I was part of a “debate club” on the Iraq withdrawal in U.S. News and World Report, up against three war-backers and two other critics. (I won the debate by a landslide – I’m thinking my IPS colleagues may have been the only ones voting!) And I wrote an analysis of the victory-but-it’s- not-over-yet in Sojourners magazine as well.
Palestine at the United Nations and in the Arab Spring
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Palestinian move to shift their statehood effort to the United Nations remains an unfinished but important step away from the 20-year failure of the U.S.-controlled “peace process.” The overwhelming vote in UNESCO, the UN’s educational, scientific, and cultural organization in Paris, welcoming Palestine as a full-fledged member state, was a huge victory for Palestinian rights. It would mean more if it were followed by efforts to gain membership in other UN agencies — such as the World Intellectual Property Organization. That one is especially important to powerful U.S. corporations, such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and more. A move by the U.S. to cut its funding to WIPO after such a decision, as it cut its dues to UNESCO after the Palestine vote, could set the stage for a face-off between those powerful corporations and the powerful pro-Israel lobby. So far, the Palestinians have pulled back from further membership efforts, but stay tuned — the door remains open. I wrote a piece on the UNESCO vote in Salon, and did a bunch of interviews. One of them was with KTV, out of Kuwait. You can watch it here.
And looking at the region more broadly, thrilling but dangerous developments of the Arab Spring continue to roil the Middle East. Egypt’s elections brought far more people to the polling booths than anticipated, but while it’s early yet, there are indications the results may lead to new consolidation of a wide range of Islamist parties, including some extremist elements, while limiting the influence of the young secular forces who played such a key role in Tahrir Square. And the role of the military in maintaining control over the political process remains an even greater threat. Developments in Syria continue to deteriorate, with Turkey and the Arab League both escalating political and economic sanctions, and the threat of even greater militarization of the revolutionary process underway there looms. In Yemen the months of protests seem to have won at least the first step of a victory with President Saleh giving up power to his vice-president. And Bahrain’s government-commissioned human rights investigation documented the massive violations committed by the U.S.-backed king’s security forces through the months of protests. It remains unclear what will be the results though, especially for the hundreds of people still in prison and facing long sentences for their actions during Bahrain’s uprising.
The other story of the Arab Spring, of course, is Palestine’s Spring, something all too often ignored in mainstream media reporting. I wrote about Palestine in the Arab Spring, about the “Arab World’s Intifada,” in Bitterlemons International, an online Palestinian-Israeli magazine; it was reprinted in the new English-language paper in Cairo, Daily News Egypt.
The Year’s End, New Books and More…
And finally, as I’m getting ready to leave for South Africa, to participate in the UN’s Climate Summit in Durban as well as a number of other activities with my comrades of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. I’m just finishing up the new sections of what will soon be published by Interlink as the 4th updated edition of my book, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. Earlier versions have sold over 30,000 copies so far, and this new edition will include sections on the Goldstone report and its aftermath, the flotilla movement, Obama’s strategy and the settlement crisis, the UN statehood bid and UNESCO, Palestine in the Arab Spring, the Palestinian nonviolent movements, and what’s ahead. Keep an eye out for it – should be out in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, we still have a lot of work to do. Have a wonderful holiday season, and so many thanks for all you do.
Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies . Her books include Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN.