After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Jerusalem this
weekend, the US-mediated peace talks threaten to collapse. Meanwhile
Israel ramps up its occupation of the Palestinian
Territories. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported last Friday that at least 11
locations within settlement
colonies in the West Bank are escalating construction in order to alter
“facts on the ground.” In October, the joint Israeli-Palestinian
organization, Alternative Information Center, organized a
conference on the economy of the Israeli occupation in Bethlehem. The
Real News’ Lia Tarachansky
attended and spoke to the AIC’s Shir Hever about the real costs of
maintaining Israel’s occupation.
LIA TARACHANSKY, JOURNALIST, TRNN: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel this weekend sets a murky future for the US-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Reinstating the US support for the idea of a Palestinian state, Clinton refused to oppose the Israeli occupation and push for the end of Israeli settlement in the territory of the theoretical future Palestine.
HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: And I appreciate the very positive words about the need to get back into a negotiation that would be in the best interests of Israel and Israel’s security, as well as create a state for the Palestinian people.
TARACHANSKY: It becomes unclear, however, what can be negotiated at these peace talks. In October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to abandon the possibility of talks if the Palestinian Authority didn’t withdraw its support for the Goldstone Report that investigated allegations of war crimes in the recent war in Gaza. This week, the US Congress will debate endorsing a resolution that supports Netanyahu against the Palestinians. House Resolution 867 calls on the US president and the secretary of state to oppose unequivocally any endorsement for future consideration of the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict in multilateral fora. The reasons given are that the Goldstone Report’s conclusions were pre-judged, one-sided, flawed, and biased, that the report lists unfounded allegations of war crimes, and that it made no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks launched on Gaza over the past eight years. The resolution is drafted by representatives of Florida, Indiana, New York, and California and is scheduled to appear before the US Congress on Tuesday, November 4. Judge Richard Goldstone, after whom the UN report is named, replied to the accusations addressing all the points raised in the resolution. He reiterated that his team refused the original mandate of the fact-finding mission precisely because it only called for an investigations of violations committed by Israel. His report, he says, examines both sides, including the rocket and mortar attacks launched by Hamas, and urges the US representatives who will vote on the resolution to actually read his report themselves. Meanwhile, Haaretz reported last weekend that construction has ramped up in at least 11 settlement locations. Unlike Hillary Clinton, US President Barack Obama has repeatedly said the United States does not recognize the legitimacy of continued settlement construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated he will restrict ongoing land annexation, and over the past several months, the Israeli Defense Forces have evacuated several outposts defined as illegal by Israeli law. According to a 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice, however, all of Israel’s settlement colonies are illegal, including the segregation wall and the security apparatus that separates the Jewish settlements from the Palestinian villages and towns throughout the Occupied Territories. At the end of October in Bethlehem the joint Israeli-Palestinian Alternative Information Center (AIC) held a conference on the economy of the occupation and its infrastructure. The Real News attended and spoke to Shir Hever, the center’s economist, about the cost of the occupation.
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: The rapid construction of settlements, despite whatever the Israeli government says, that there is a lull in settlement construction or that they’re trying to control it, is actually the symptom of the long Israeli policy, the many-years Israeli policy of not admitting what is the real government policy regarding the occupation, because colonizing and occupying land is considered a war crime, and Israel is trying to avoid accusations of war crimes. Israel has actually admitted that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the occupied territories back in ’67. They’re now trying to deny that acknowledgment. But because they acknowledged the relevance of the Fourth Geneva Convention, they also realize that they cannot openly colonize these territories. So what they did is allowed lower-ranking officials, lower-ranking clerks and people employed by the various governments authorities, to funnel some funds in a clandestine way to the settlements and to these new colonies. And this project of funneling the funds to these colonies is not monitored. No one knows what is the actual extent of those funds. In fact, the Israeli government chooses not to know. They hide the information from themselves by not setting up databases, by not publishing any annual reports. And that is what they do in order to conceal the extent of construction. But what it means in terms of economic cost is that the level of accountability, of transparency, of clean hands in Israeli government has been destroyed on all levels, not just regarding the colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories, because when you have this practice that budgets are not fully transparent, that the government budget is riddled with codes and misnomers and euphemisms, you get this situation where corruption is very easy. And indeed corruption in Israel is at extreme levelsï¿½one of the most corrupt countries, at least in the developed world, if not in the world altogether. So this is where their cost really lies. And, of course, corruption is not just in the high levels of government. There is also very high crime rate and a lot of violence because there is a kind of an understanding that law is not something that is sacred or is that is important; the law is convenient, and if it’s not convenient, you can break it. So international law, although Israel officially supports it, it violates it on every turn and every day.
TARACHANSKY: In his talk at the AIC conference, Hever estimated that the cost of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is $9 billion a year. Because of the lack of transparency in the military administration, however, it is impossible to provide an accurate number. Hever also explains that though the cost of the occupation is largely paid by the Israeli government and the international community, the profit is almost entirely privatized.
HEVER: Being aware of the costs doesn’t necessarily mean that people will take action against the occupation. There were parties in the Israeli Zionist left, or moderate left, as they call themselves, that tried to make this into an argument against occupation and told people, especially poor people in Israel, these budgets that go to the settlements, the colonies, could instead be used to provide better care for people in need within Israel. And this message didn’t work, didn’t go too well at all, because people don’t want to be patronized and they don’t want someone to tell them you’re voting for the right wing because you’re stupid and you don’t know that you’re harming your own interests. Of course, people don’t like hearing that kind of argument, so they didn’t vote for those moderate-left partiesï¿½and they’re on the cusp of disappearing from the Israeli political map, actually, these parties. But it’s not just that. It’s that for poor Jewish Israelis, their choice of identity is between a kind of national identity or a religious identity or an identity based on their class position and on their socioeconomic standing. Those who choose to be identified as working class, as poor people, may find solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinians, but they also are on the losing side, and they know that it’s not realistic for them to really upgrade themselves to a different class and escape poverty. But those who define themselves first and foremost as Jews, as Zionist, then that definition puts them on the winning side. Even if they’re very poor, they’re winning this war against Palestinians; they are the masters of the land. And I think for these people this definition, self-definition, is more important than making some more money. And so the cost of occupation has never been a very strong motivator within Israel to convince people to speak up against it. The question is: who can make Israel accountable for its crimes and force Israel to take responsibility for its actions? I think that Israeli society is not going, at any point, to wake up one day and say, we were wrong, sorry, it was all a terrible thing of us to do, and the occupation will now end. That doesn’t happen. It never happened in history. But I do think that as soon as occupation ends, almost all Israelis would say they were always against it, the same as inï¿½I think that happened in South Africa as well: after apartheid fell, everybody turned out to be against it from the start. But I do think that the struggle against the occupation is mainly a Palestinian struggle. Palestinians are fighting for their freedom. No one can take that struggle from them. No one can tell them how to fight their struggle. But the international community has a very vital role here. What is needed is a series of sanctions against Israel, boycott campaigns and divestment campaigns against Israel. But we’re not talking about a complete, airtight boycott of Israel. I think people don’t quite understand how vulnerable Israel really is to the issue of boycott and how dependent Israel is on the international community for trade and also for legitimacy. When they will feel that they’re losing this, there will be really no choice but to comply with these demands. And I think that is why the international community can do a lot regarding ending these crimes.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.