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The Siren Song of Elliott Abrams

The Siren Song of Elliott Abrams


*July 26, 2007*

*A CounterPunch Special Report*

 /Thoughts on the Attempted Murder of Palestine/

 The Siren Song of Elliott Abrams

Former CIA analyst

"Coup" is the word being widely used to describe what happened in Gaza
in June when Hamas militias defeated the armed security forces of Fatah
and chased them out of Gaza. But, as so often with the manipulative
language used in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, the
terminology here is backward. Hamas was the legally constituted,
democratically elected government of the Palestinians, so in the first
place Hamas did not stage a coup but rather was the target of a coup
planned against it. Furthermore, the coup -- which failed in Gaza but
succeeded overall when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,
acting in violation of Palestinian law, cut Gaza adrift, unseated the
Palestinian unity government headed by Hamas, and named a new prime
minister and cabinet -- was the handiwork of the United States and Israel.

The Fatah attacks against Hamas in Gaza were initiated at the whim of,
and with arms and training provided by, the United States and Israel. No
one seems to be making any secret of this. Immediately after Hamas won
legislative elections in January 2006, Elliott Abrams, who runs U.S.
policy toward Israel from his senior position on the National Security
Council staff, met with a group of Palestinian businessmen and spoke
openly of the need for a "hard coup" against Hamas. According to
Palestinians who were there, Abrams was "unshakable" in his
determination to oust Hamas. When the Palestinians, urging engagement
with Hamas instead of confrontation, observed that Abrams' scheme would
bring more suffering and even starvation to Gaza's already impoverished
population, Abrams dismissed their concerns by claiming that it wouldn't
be the fault of the U.S. if that happened.

Abrams has been working on his coup plan ever since with his friends in
Israel. As part of this scheme, the U.S. also urged Abbas -- again
making no secret of this -- to dissolve the Fatah-Hamas unity government
formed in March this year, form a new government, and call for new
elections. Abbas acceded to U.S. demands with embarrassing alacrity
after Hamas took Gaza. In a further gratuitous turn of the screw, he has
appealed to Israel to turn up the heat on Hamas in Gaza by stopping
delivery of fuel to Gaza's power plant and keeping the Rafah border
crossing point from Egypt closed so that none of the thousands of
Palestinian waiting at the border to return home will be able to enter.

The UN's outgoing Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, whose final report
on his two years in Palestine-Israel was recently leaked to the press,
describes Abrams and a State Department colleague, Assistant Secretary
David Welch, threatening immediately after the Hamas election victory to
cut off U.S. contributions to the UN if it did not agree to a cutback in
aid to the Palestinian Authority by the Quartet (of which the UN is a
member, along with the U.S., the EU, and Russia). De Soto also describes
a gleeful U.S . response to Hamas-Fatah fighting earlier this year. The
U.S., he says, clearly pushed for this confrontation, and at a meeting
of Quartet envoys, the U.S. delegate crowed that "I like this violence"
because "it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas."

The Israeli-U.S. strategy for Palestine is now crystal clear: overturn
the will of the people (in this case as expressed through democratic
elections), kill off any resistance (Hamas in this case, along with any
civilians who might get in the way), co-opt a quisling leadership (Fatah
and Mahmoud Abbas), push out and kill if necessary as many people as
international opinion will allow, ultimately rid Palestine of most
Palestinians. The cast of characters and organizations has changed from
earlier times, but this has essentially been Israel's strategy from the

The Bush administration is putting a beautiful face on this strategy in
the aftermath of the Hamas takeover of Gaza, trying to lure the
Palestinians with empty favors to Abbas and Fatah -- a three-month
amnesty for 178 so-called militants in the West Bank, release of 250
prisoners (out of 11,000), $190 million in aid (most of it recycled from
previous undisbursed allocations, and amounting in any case to a mere
seven percent of Israel's annual subsidy from the U.S.), release of
customs duties withheld for the
year by Israel (monies stolen by Israel in the first place). The U.S. is
also holding out the promise to Abbas, if he behaves, to be allowed to
play with the big boys in the Middle East and be included among the
favored "moderates." In a speech on July 16, Bush offered the
Palestinian people a choice. They can follow Hamas, he said, and thus
"guarantee chaos," give up their future to "Hamas' foreign sponsors in
Syria and Iran," and forfeit any possibility of a Palestinian state. Or
they can follow the "vision" of Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad, "reclaim their dignity and their future," and build "a peaceful
state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people." The
prerequisites imposed on Abbas are, as before, to recognize Israel's
right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to all previous agreements
between the parties.

The promises of Bush and his neocon hucksters, led by Elliott Abrams,
are a siren song, holding out a false hope that Abbas' surrender to U.S.
and Israeli enticements will bring a just peace and a just resolution of
the issues most important to the Palestinians. The vision of a "peaceful
state called Palestine" that the U.S. holds out is a sham, constituting
perhaps 50 percent of the West Bank (but only ten percent of original
Palestine) in disconnected segments, with no true sovereignty or
independence, no capital, and no justice for Palestinian refugees. In
these circumstances, Bush's vision of a "reclaimed dignity" and a decent
future for Palestinians is also a sham. Although Abbas and his Fatah
colleagues are going along thus far, most Palestinians have not fallen
for these blandishments, which offer nothing in return for their abject
surrender to Israel.

The election of Hamas in the first instance sent a political message --
of resistance to Israeli occupation and extreme dissatisfaction with
Fatah's failure to end it or even to protest it adequately and the
international community's failure to help -- and nothing in recent
developments gives the Palestinians any hope that their message has been
heard. Quite the contrary, in fact. But any expectation that this fact
will lead them now to surrender is premature. As Israeli activist and
commentator Jeff Halper wrote soon after the Hamas election, the
Palestinians gave notice in that election that they would not submit or
cooperate, that they were resurrecting a tactic from the 1970s and '80s,
of remaining /sumud/, steadfast -- not engaging in armed struggle but
not caving in to Israel's desire that they disappear. The race now is to
see whose strategy prevails and whether the Palestinians in their
steadfastness can hold out against Israel's long-term strategy of
apartheid, ethnic cleaning, and even, as honest commentators have
increasingly begun to label it, genocide.

* * *

Last fall, in the aftermath of a summer of daily Israeli bombardment of
Gaza, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe characterized as a deliberate
genocide what was then an average daily death toll of eight Palestinians
in Israeli artillery and air strikes. Following Israel's disengagement
from Gaza in 2005, the Israeli political and military leadership,
recognizing that Gaza's almost 1.5 million Palestinians were
hermetically sealed into a tiny geographical prison, had come to view
them as an extremely dangerous community of inmates, which, in Pappe's
words, had "to be eliminated one way or another." With no way to escape,
Gaza's Palestinians could not be subjected to the gradual ethnic
cleansing occurring in the West Bank, and so, at a loss as to how to
deal with this massive problem, Israel was simply implementing a "daily
business of slaying Palestinians, mainly children," always using
Palestinian resistance as its excuse on security grounds for inexorably
escalating its attacks.

Palestinian resistance, Pappe noted, has always provided Israel with the
security rationale for its assaults on the Palestinians -- in 1948, in
the late 1980s when the Palestinians belatedly began resisting the
occupation, during the second intifada, and following the 2005
disengagement from Gaza. When Israel ultimately escaped international
accountability for ethnically cleansing over half of Palestine's native
population in 1948, it was given license to incorporate this policy as a
legitimate part of its national security agenda. Pappe predicted in 2006
that, if Israel continued to avoid any censure from the international
community for its genocidal policy in Gaza, it would inevitably expand
the policy. Only international censure, and he believed only the
external pressure of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, could stop "the
murdering of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip."

Writing again about Gaza only a few weeks ago in the wake of Hamas'
defeat of Fatah forces there, Pappe notes that he received many uneasy
reactions to his earlier use of the charged term "genocide" and had
himself initially rethought the term, but ultimately "concluded with
even stronger conviction" that genocide is the only appropriate way to
describe what Israel is doing in Gaza. Again noting the different
realities in the West Bank, where ethnic cleansing is proceeding, and
Gaza, where this option is not possible and where ghettoization is also
not working because the Palestinians refuse to accept their imprisonment
docilely, Pappe says that Jews, of all people, know from their own
history that when ethnic cleansing and ghettoization fail, the next
stage is "even more barbaric." Israel has been experimenting, he says,
with gradually escalating killing operations against Gazans. At each
stage, Israel uses more firepower, and as the distinction between
civilian and non-civilian targets has gradually been erased, casualties
and collateral damage have risen. In response, Palestinians fire more
rockets, thus providing Israel with a rationale for further escalation.
So-called "punitive" actions, undertaken on the grounds of enhancing
Israeli security, have now become a strategy, Pappe observes.

The experimental aspect has been in gauging international reaction.
Israel's military leaders wanted to know "how such operations would be
received at home, in the region and in the world. And it seems the
answer was 'very well'; no one took interest in the scores of dead and
hundreds of wounded Palestinians." Each Palestinian response, and each
Israeli killing operation ignored by the world at large, enables Israel
"to initiate larger genocidal operations in the future," Pappe says. For
now, internal Palestinian fighting, itself fomented by Israel and the
U.S., has given the Israelis a respite, essentially doing Israel's job
for it. But Israel stands ready to wreak more havoc and death whenever
it pleases. Again, Pappe asserts that the only way to stop Israel is
through a campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions -- the only
way of cutting off the "oxygen lines to 'western' civilization and
public opinion" on which Israel depends. Only such external pressure, he
believes, can possibly thwart Israel's implementation of its "future
strategy of eliminating the Palestinian people."

Other critical observers have begun to see a similar murderous intent in
Israel's handling of the Palestinian issue. Richard Falk, professor
emeritus of international law at Princeton, in a recent ZNet article
entitled "Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust," also spoke
forcefully of a possible coming genocide:

   "[I]t is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel
   compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the
   Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an
   inflammatory metaphor as 'holocaust.'. . .

   "Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of
   Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective
   atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are
   especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate
   intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire
   human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty.
   The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a
   holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the
   governments of the world and to international public opinion to act
   urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from
   culminating in a collective tragedy. . . .

   "Gaza is morally far worse [than Darfur], although mass death has
   not yet resulted. It is far worse because the international
   community is watching the ugly spectacle unfold while some of its
   most influential members actively encourage and assist Israel in its
   approach to Gaza."

Israel's strategy of "eliminating the Palestinian people," is not new,
as Ilan Pappe has long made clear in his several histories of the
conflict, most notably the newest, /The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine/,
on the deliberate expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians in 1948.
But the methods and the tactics change from time to time, and it is
clear that now that Israel is enjoying the full, open, and conscious
backing of the United States in this endeavor, thanks to the neocons'
hijacking of Middle East policymaking in the Bush administration, it is
proceeding really quite brazenly, making little secret of its essential
hostility to all Palestinians and of its ultimate intent to eliminate,
by whatever means necessary, the entire Palestinian presence in Palestine.

At the same time, there is growing recognition in many quarters of what
exactly Israel's agenda entails, as well as growing willingness to speak
about it publicly and to label genocide and apartheid as the realities
that they are. This recognition is growing not only among humanists like
Pappe and Falk, but also among realists like John Mearsheimer and
Stephen Walt, who startled the world in 2006 with a forthright critique
of the extensive power of the Israel lobby over U.S. policymaking; among
outspoken former policymakers like Jimmy Carter, who had the temerity
last year to write a book about Israeli policy with the word "apartheid"
in the title; among some activists who are ready to put forth and stand
by a campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel; and
even among many thoughtful Jewish and Zionist commentators who have
begun to challenge their assumptions about Israel's innocence and the
benign nature of Zionism.

Indeed, in ways not yet fully understood or fully played out, the years
2006 and 2007 have been a seminal period in the conflict. Developments
on the ground, where the genocidal policies described are being pursued
with increasing openness, along with new trends in the public discourse
that swirls (or pointedly does not swirl) around the conflict in the
world outside have forced new ways of thinking, new pressures, new ways
of dealing with the long-running tragedy that is Palestine. Two
distinctly opposite trends have emerged: one is the new and
revolutionary push to examine Israeli and U.S. policies toward the
conflict openly and without artifice; the other, in large part a
reaction to the first, is a continuation and magnification of the
longstanding impulse to deny the realities of the situation, suppress
knowledge, suppress debate, close discourse. The future will be
determined by which trend gains ascendancy. For the moment, the second
is ascendant, as always, but the undercurrents created by the first
trend simmer strongly.

The fundamental question is whether the Palestinians will be able to
survive an intensifying assault on their very existence by the most
powerful nation in the region, supported and actively assisted by the
most powerful nation in the world, until the new voices opposing this
assault grow strong enough to be heard around the world. For Palestine
will not be saved without a total change in the public discourse
surrounding every aspect of the conflict -- without a far more
widespread awakening, of the kind Richard Falk has come to, to the
horrific oppression Israel is visiting on the Palestinians, and probably
without the kind of serious pressure on Israel, from the outside, that
Ilan Pappe advocates.

* * *

The Palestinians' own will and steadfastness are obviously of great
importance. The key question is whether they can, despite the forces
working against them, remain /sumud/, and regain the basic loose unity
that had until recently kept them more or less together as a people
through 60 years of being scattered. Or will they simply be willed away
by the world community, left to molder and disintegrate in their small,
confined enclaves -- including not merely in Gaza but in various
disconnected reservations in the West Bank, in small pockets inside
Israel, in poverty-stricken refugee camps in neighboring Arab states,
and in isolated exile communities throughout the world? Will they have
the strength of purpose to continue pursuing justice and independence,
or will they merely go along with their assigned fate, succumbing to the
classic colonial strategy, which Israel is pursuing, of emasculating any
resistance by co-opting its leaders, inducing one segment of the native
population to police and suppress the rest?

Over the 60 years since the Palestinian /naqba/, or catastrophe, which
saw the Palestinians dispossessed and ethnically cleansed to make room
for the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian history
has evolved in roughly 20-year phases. The first, from 1948 to the late
1960s, was a period of nearly helpless quiescence during which the
Palestinians were almost extinguished as a people -- first dispossessed
and dispersed, then totally forgotten by their Arab brethren and by the
rest of the world. Israel and Israeli propagandists willed any memory of
Palestinians out of the public consciousness and erased most remaining
physical traces of the Palestinians' presence on the land. Palestinians
themselves existed in a state of shock, trying to regroup but unable to
devise a strategy for resisting and bringing their case to international
public attention.

The second phase was an era of Palestinian resistance. Running from the
late 1960s and spurred in great part by Israel's 1967 capture of the
West Bank and Gaza, the remaining parts of Palestine, this period saw
the PLO unify the geographically and politically disparate Palestinians
around the goal of liberating Palestine and saw Palestinian factions
employ terrorism and armed struggle in response to Israeli terrorism and
oppression. This is the period when Palestinians in the occupied
territories, unable to use armed struggle against Israel's overwhelming
strength, used the strategy of /sumud/, remaining steadfastly on the
land to thwart Israel's attempts to force them out. In 1988, a year into
the first intifada, a popular and largely non-violent uprising that
brought the Palestinians considerable international sympathy and gave
them the confidence of political success, the PLO accepted the two-state
formula, thus waiving claim to three-quarters of original Palestine by
recognizing Israel's existence inside its pre-1967 borders and agreeing
to accept a small Palestinian state in the remaining one-quarter. During
this phase, the world was finally made aware, although not always
necessarily in favorable terms, of the Palestinians' existence and their

The third two-decade period, up to the present, began as a period of
accommodation but, as this unreciprocated accommodation has increasingly
been exposed as bankrupt, is ending with a renewal of resistance. Yasir
Arafat formalized the PLO's huge 1988 concession by signing the Oslo
accord in 1993 and agreeing to the several implementing stages that
followed -- stages that, far from moving toward Israel's withdrawal from
the West Bank and Gaza and toward establishment of a sovereign,
contiguous Palestinian state there, actually consolidated Israel's
control, facilitated a massive influx of Israeli settlers into the very
territories slated for Israeli withdrawal, forced the Palestinian
leadership into the collaborationist role of enforcer of Israeli
security, and isolated the Palestinian population and Palestinian
authority in the territories into literally hundreds of disconnected
land segments.

When at the Camp David peace summit in 2000 it became clear that, as far
as Israel and the U.S. were concerned, a limited Palestinian
independence could be achieved only through still more concessions to
Israel, and on such critical issues as the disposition of Arab East
Jerusalem and the fate of approximately 4,000,000 Palestinian refugees
scattered throughout the Arab world, Palestinian eyes were opened to
Israel's endgame, and resistance began anew. The Palestinian leadership
still formally supports the two-state solution, and even Hamas has
consistently indicated a readiness to give Israel a long-term truce and
accept Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza if Israel
withdraws from these territories completely. But, as it has become
increasingly obvious that Israel has no intention of ever making
meaningful concessions to the Palestinians, more and more Palestinians,
including the 1.3 million who live inside Israel as (second-class)
citizens, have abandoned accommodation and are returning to maximum
demands such as full implementation of the right of return for 1948
refugees and equal citizenship for Palestinians and Jews in a single
state in all of Palestine.

After a period of armed resistance and terrorism during the second
intifada following the peace process collapse in 2000, resistance has
turned primarily to political means. Hamas refuses, despite major
economic deprivation resulting from international political and economic
sanctions, to capitulate to demands for recognition of Israel's right to
exist unless Israel recognizes a Palestinian right to exist and defines
where its borders and the limits of its expansion lie. Inside Israel,
Palestinian citizens have begun to demand an Israeli constitution (there
has never been one) that would mandate equal rights for Palestinians and
Jews, making Israel a state of all its citizens rather than a state of
Jews everywhere. There have also been increasing calls, by some few
Israelis and large numbers of Palestinians, for establishment of a
single state for Palestinians and Jews in all of Palestine, in which all
citizens would have equal rights, equal dignity, and equal claims to
national fulfillment. Finally, new calls have arisen for international
boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it demonstrates
that it is prepared to end its racist oppression of Palestinians.

Each of these phases has been marked by two principal features: Israel's
consistent efforts over 60 years to eliminate the Palestinian presence
in Palestine, and the Palestinians' determined and to this point
successful effort to defeat this attempt to erase them from the
landscape. Israel has varied its tactics but ultimately has never given
up its goal of establishing "Greater Israel" as an exclusively Jewish
state. Its methods have involved bald-faced ethnic cleansing as in 1948;
a continual propaganda campaign attempting to demonstrate that
Palestinians do not exist and, if they do, have no rights in any case; a
steady expansion into more and more Palestinian territory; and a
gradually escalating effort to make life so unbearable for that
persistent remnant of Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied
territories that they will leave voluntarily. Most recently, Israel and
the U.S. have been making a concerted effort to undermine Hamas, for the
very reason that it represents the political if not the religious will
of the people, and to force the split between Hamas and Fatah that
culminated in last month's fighting in Gaza.

Israel found an eager collaborator in the Fatah-led Palestinian
Authority, whose leadership has sought since the start of the peace
process to cooperate with the Israeli occupier and the U.S., despite
being repeatedly slapped in the face. The leadership's forlorn desire to
be seen as "moderate" and "reasonable" has meant that the Palestinian
Authority, whether headed by Yasir Arafat or by Mahmoud Abbas, has never
registered a serious protest against Israel's continued consolidation of
the occupation and has rarely even paid lip service to the right of
return for Palestinian refugees. This attempt to curry favor is the
reason today that the leadership cooperates openly with Israel and the
U.S. against Hamas, despite clear evidence that Israel will never make
meaningful territorial concessions to the Palestinians or even any real
political concessions to Fatah, such as release of significant numbers
of Palestinian prisoners, and despite clear evidence that the U.S. will
never pressure it to do so. Discussions over the years with ordinary
Palestinians, including some working inside the PA, reveal a near
universal chagrin at the PA's accommodationist stance. Both in advance
of the elections that brought Hamas to power and since, Palestinians
have expressed consternation at Abbas' blind desire to please the U.S.
in the expectation that this behavior would bring some political benefit
to the Palestinians, despite repeated evidence to the contrary. There is
widespread disgust not only with the PA's corruption but more
importantly with its utter failure to defend Palestinian rights. Abbas
is clearly still running after the U.S. and just as clearly getting nowhere.

Is this abysmal Palestinian situation a harbinger of things to come? The
Palestinians are suicidally split; one segment of the leadership is
desperately paying court to their oppressors, while the other stands
strong in resistance but is seriously isolated; Gaza is impoverished and
entrapped; the West Bank lies helpless on its back, open to the picking
by territorial vultures; and no one, absolutely no one, in the
international community seems willing seriously to intervene, to press
for restraint by Israel, to oppose the unquestioning U.S. support for
Israel, to recognize Palestine's legally constituted government, or even
to offer meaningful aid to the Palestinians. Is this the vision of the
Palestinians' next 20 years? Most Israelis and most U.S. policymakers
hope so. This is a Palestine molded in the neocon laboratories of the
Bush administration, part of the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East, a
Middle East envisioned in the corridors of the White House and the State
Department as dominated totally by Israel, full of subservient Arab
governments (dubbed "moderates" in the jargon of the new age) or, where
the "moderates" do not prevail, mired in continual U.S.-instigated warfare.

* * *

Enter Elliott Abrams, the neocons' Dr. Frankenstein and senior
working-level creator of much of the Middle East's current turmoil.
Although not a main architect of the Iraq war, Abrams, who has been the
principal Middle East adviser on the National Security Council staff
throughout most of the Bush administration, was part of the pro-Israeli
neocon cabal that devised and pushed for the war. He it was who
advocated and has now largely succeeded in creating the "hard coup"
against Hamas. Working with Vice President Cheney's Middle East adviser
David Wurmser, another rabid Israeli supporter, and with Cheney himself,
Abrams fully supported and may have given Israel a green light for
Israel's war against Hizbullah in Lebanon last summer. This year,
according to the /New Yorker/'s Seymour Hersh and others, Abrams has
been a key figure behind the fighting going on at the Nahr al-Bared
refugee camp in northern Lebanon; the insane scheme, undertaken in
cooperation with some Saudi elements, some powerful rightwing Christians
in Lebanon, and at least indirectly with Israel, has involved arming and
encouraging extremist Sunni militias in Lebanon in order to weaken Shia
Hizbullah, as well as Iran and Syria. Finally, it almost goes without
saying that Abrams has become a leading advocate, again according to
Hersh, of an attack on Iran, and he has been pushing Israel to launch an
attack on Syria.

Palestinian commentator Rami Khouri calls this induced chaos the
beginning of a great "unraveling" of the current Arab state order
established decades ago in the aftermath of World War I. At the very
moment when Arab states -- including not only governments, but various
groups within them, including Islamist, other sectarian, ethnic, and
tribal movements -- are struggling to define themselves, Khouri says,
huge external pressures led by the U.S., Israel, and some European
governments and abetted by some Arab governments (those currying favor
with the U.S.), are weighing down on the local elements to thwart them
and redirect them toward fulfilling Western interests. Khouri calls this
a formula for an explosion. Some form of utter turmoil, if not an
outright explosion, would seem to be precisely the desire of Abrams and
his fellow neocons, as well as of Israel.

No one should be surprised that Abrams has had a hand in creating the
mess in the Middle East and is actively working for the dismemberment
and emasculation of the Arab world. He did this in Central America
before being caught lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra
investigation and being momentarily sidelined. More to the point,
concern for Israel's interests, and an extreme rightwing agenda, have
long driven Abrams' actions.

He is the son-in-law of two of the original neocons and the most
strident rightwing supporters of Israel, Norman Podhoretz and Midge
Decter. If his relatives were not enough to incriminate him, Abrams has
been outspoken himself, in office and outside, in opposition to
virtually any peace process and any Israeli territorial concessions. In
the early 1990s, according to a 2003 profile in the /New Yorker/, he
co-founded the Committee on U.S. Interests in the Middle East, which
spoke out against Israeli territorial concessions, and later in the '90s
he was a fierce critic of the Oslo process. He has written of the first
Palestinian intifada, which involved virtually no violence beyond
stone-throwing, that it was no mere "uprising" but involved "terrorist
violence" against Israelis. Since coming to the NSC staff, he has made
it widely known that he has pushed the administration to line up in
support of Israel. He has also made little secret of his strong
anti-Palestinian views. Far worse than putting the fox in charge of the
henhouse, the move that put Abrams on the NSC staff placed the
pro-Israel lobbyist par excellence, emotional advocate for Israel, icn
charge of making policy on a conflict of surpassing importance to U.S.
national interests in a world far beyond Israel.

More than most policymakers past or present, Abrams wears his
pro-Israeli heart on his sleeve. In a 1997 book on the place of Jews in
U.S. society, /Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian
America /, he took the position that Jews should "stand apart from the
nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be
apart -- except in Israel -- from the rest of the population." Although
maintaining that this stance implies no disloyalty to whatever nation
Jews live in, he unabashedly affirmed the importance of the Jewish
"bond" to Israel. The Jewish community in the U.S., he said, should
conceive of itself as a religious community because "faith is the only
ultimately reliable bond between American Jews and Israel." He laid out
a program for change in the Jewish community that could not have made
his commitment to Israel clearer. Describing Israel as a source of
Jewish identity for millions of American Jews and "the essence of their
lives as Jews," he said his program would mean making "the link to
Israel . . . one of personal contact and commitment" rather than merely
of financial support.

For all his affection for Israel, Abrams has shown himself to be a
pragmatist -- in the sense of devious manipulator that describes his
hero Ariel Sharon -- and this pragmatism has ultimately allowed him to
accomplish more for Israel than his harder lining colleagues would have
been able to do. One longtime friend says of him, according to the /New
Yorker/ profile, that he is "unusually effective at combining different
strands of policy. It's a mark of his performance in these jobs --
showing an acute sensitivity to what his political opponents are worried
about and knowing how to win them over, or neutralize their animosity
toward him." This cold-blooded awareness of what politics demands
enabled Abrams to maneuver through the hype surrounding the Roadmap
peace proposal when it was first presented in 2003, and in the end
undermine the Roadmap altogether at a time when politics demanded that
Israel appear to be going along with this U.S.-proposed peace plan.

While many Israelis and most of Abrams' neocon colleagues feared that
the plan would demand real territorial concessions of Israel, Abrams
worked closely with Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, to design a
scheme that would make it appear that Israel had agreed to the plan
while actually placing the onus on the Palestinians to take the first
step by stopping all terrorist incidents and dismantling militant
organizations. After Israel had destroyed all Palestinian security
capability, it was clear that this would be an impossible task for any
Palestinian leadership, but Abrams and Weisglass knew this would give
Israel the breathing space to proceed with settlement expansion and
consolidation of the occupation. It was an intricate maneuver that
reassured the right wing in Israel and the U.S. that Israel was making
no concessions but made it appear to most of the world outside that
Israel was ready to make "painful concessions" if the Palestinians
"showed their good will."

Weisglass later exposed the thinking behind the scheme as it began to
evolve a year later into Sharon's plan for so-called disengagement from
Gaza. These peace plans, he said, speaking specifically of the
disengagement plan, supply "the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary
so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." They
"freeze" the political process. "And when you freeze that process, you
prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a
discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this
whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails,
has been removed indefinitely from our agenda." Weisglass boasted that
this had occurred with "a [ U.S.] presidential blessing and the
ratification of both houses of Congress." He did not openly credit
Abrams, but, as a State Department official once told an interviewer,
Abrams is "very careful about not leaving fingerprints."

Abrams has repeated this act multiple times -- not only over the Roadmap
and disengagement, but over the issue of Israeli settlement expansion
and over Israel's construction of the apartheid wall (on which he has
helped plan such minutiae as the placement of gates and some parts of
the wall's route) -- each time making it appear that Israel is making
concessions, or would do so if it had a decent Palestinian partner for
peace, but quietly manipulating the situation so that in the end Israel
is enabled to proceed with its plans more or less unimpeded. By thus
cooperating with Israel to fine tune its occupation practices, Abrams
has acted as a partner of Israel rather than as a U.S. policymaker and
has given legitimacy to virtually every aspect of Israel's continuing

This same pattern is apparently being repeated with the engineered
Hamas-Fatah split. Although Israel has no more intention now than ever
previously of making real concessions to Abbas (and indeed announced
immediately after Bush's speech that it will not even discuss the
central issues of borders, refugees, and Jerusalem), the U.S. and
presumably Abrams have persuaded the Israelis to make some low-cost
gestures to Abbas, while acting as though they are eager for negotiating
progress whenever the "moderate" Palestinians are ready -- all in the
hope of undermining and finally defeating Hamas.

Reports of a rift between Abrams and Condoleezza Rice are frequent, but
it is probable that Rice has simply decided to follow Abrams' lead in
most things Middle Eastern. She is probably more dovish than Abrams, and
she seems to have made a serious although badly misguided and
short-lived effort early this year to restart some kind of negotiating
process between Israel and the Palestinians, with her attempt to put a
"political horizon" for negotiations before them, but she is neither as
clever nor as emotionally involved in the issue as Abrams, and she
appears content to follow along, even at the cost of some embarrassment
when her initiatives are undermined.

There is some question in fact whether Rice truly disagrees with Abrams.
She did, after all, learn most of what she knows about the
Palestinian-Israeli situation at the feet of Abrams, who was the NSC
staff's principal Middle East point person for most of her term as
national security adviser. The fact that her principal State Department
assistant secretary for the region, David Welch, seems to be actively
cooperating with Abrams in efforts to stir up turmoil in Lebanon and
travels with Abrams to Israel indicates either Rice's total submission
to Abrams' dictates or her disinterest in taking any kind of
policymaking lead in the Middle East. In either case, if there was ever
a disagreement strong enough to matter, it appears by now to have been

Thus Abrams almost certainly has fairly free rein to fold, spindle, and
mutilate policy on Palestine-Israel. He is obviously in his element,
hyperactively pulling strings behind the scenes everywhere, wheeling and
dealing with cohorts in Israel -- where he travels every month or two,
sometimes more often -- as well as with compliant elements among the
"moderate" Arab governments. Shortly after September 11 and the start of
the "war on terror," according to the /New Yorker/ profile, he was so
enthusiastic about the prospect of manipulating the Arab world that he
exulted that "I feel young again! I love all these battles -- they're so
familiar to me." He was back in the fray, as during the era of the
Central American wars. There is little evidence that he faces any
restraints inside the U.S. He has obviously triumphed in whatever
competition there might have been with Rice, he works closely with
Cheney and Cheney's right hand, David Wurmser, and he has a coterie of
admirers and supporters among the neocons in think tanks around
Washington. He appears to be not only Israel's facilitator and
co-conspirator on Middle East issues, but Bush's Middle East brain as well.

* * *

This picture of unrestrained power and extreme partisan advocacy at the
center of Palestinian-Israeli policymaking in Washington is the backdrop
against which any intensified anti-Zionist sentiment and any effort to
change and broaden public discourse must struggle. The power that Abrams
and his neocon cohorts wield is further strengthened by the well
financed, single-focus Israel lobby. Together, these factors present an
almost insurmountable obstacle to any progress toward open discussion of
the Palestine-Israel reality, and ultimately toward real justice for
Palestinians and genuine peace for the region. Nor is it an obstacle
that will be removed after Abrams leaves office, even if a Democratic
president is elected and the neocons are banished; the lobby, of which
Abrams is only one, albeit very central part, wields such power and such
control over discourse on Palestinian-Israeli issues that policy will
not change significantly whichever party holds the White House and
whichever controls Congress.

Nonetheless, there is some change underway in public discourse, at least
enough to worry some of the lobby's movers and shakers, who constantly
wring their hands in distress over the supposed "anti-Semitism" of the
growing numbers of Israel's critics. It is impossible at this stage to
foretell the outcome of what is, without exaggeration, an epic struggle
between those fighting for pure justice for a dispossessed, oppressed
people and those on the other side who, in the course of fighting to
preserve the ethnic and religious superiority of Jews in an exclusivist
state, are provoking a clash of civilizations and a disastrous global
war with the Muslim world. On the one hand, it is clear that the voices
of critics like John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Jimmy Carter, and the
relatively few others with the courage to speak out and organize
campaigns such as the boycott-divestment-sanctions campaign are but a
small chorus against the lobby's huge symphony orchestra. Moreover, the
chorus' song comes at a time when the U.S./Israeli/lobby orchestra is
creating maximum chaos throughout the Middle East, generating more
turmoil, manufacturing more fear, and helping drown out opposing voices.

On the other hand, Zionism is unquestionably under assault these days.
Increasing numbers of commentators and politically aware individuals are
finally beginning to recognize that the oppression, the atrocities that
Israel has been committing in the occupied territories for the last 40
years, are not some kind of aberration but are merely a continuation of
a campaign of ethnic erasure begun in 1948. Ariel Sharon himself
described the conflict with the Palestinians that began with the second
intifada in 2000 as "the second half of 1948." The late Israeli
historian Tanya Reinhart recognized this reality and noted in her 2002
book /Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948/ that as far as
Israel's political and military leaders are concerned, "the work of
ethnic cleansing was only half completed in 1948, leaving too much land
to Palestinians." This leadership, she said, "is still driven by greed
for land, water resources, and power," and they see the 1948 war as
"just the first step in a more ambitious and more far-reaching strategy."

Increasingly, other thoughtful Israelis are coming to recognize this
connection to 1948 and reject it -- to recognize that the occupation
cannot be ended and real peace forged without looking back to the
beginning in 1948 and rectifying the huge injustice done then to the
Palestinians. For the Palestinians themselves, the right of return --
the right to return to their homes in Palestine or receive compensation
for the loss of those homes -- has become a genie that, having been
roused by Israel's own loud objections to recognizing the refugees and
by Israel's constant attention to its "demographic problem," will not be
put back in the bottle.

The next 20-year phase in Palestinian history is a chapter that cannot
yet be foretold. The range of possibilities is wide. At one end is
continued Palestinian accommodation and surrender to the siren song of
empty U.S. and Israeli promises, such as is being encouraged today.
Continued resistance, largely political but also including some
military, along the lines of Hamas' strategy is probably more likely.
Over the longer term, it is possible to see success in some measure,
some form of vindication and real justice. Ultimate justice -- for both
peoples -- would be the establishment of guaranteed equal rights for
Palestinians in Palestine, formal establishment of a single state for
Palestinians and Jews, and acceptance of a formula under which Israel
recognized its responsibility for dispossessing the refugees and the
refugees were granted the right to return if they chose.

Twenty years hence, will Israel continue to exist as a Jewish state,
intent on maintaining Jewish supremacy at any cost? Will the
Palestinians be further dispossessed and scattered? Despite their dismal
situation today -- and despite over the years being repeatedly
dispossessed, exiled, ignored, oppressed by successive conquerors,
occasionally massacred -- the Palestinians have remained remarkably
persistent and steadfast, and it is difficult to envision their total
defeat. In his 1970s novel /The Secret Life of Saeed, the Pessoptimist/,
on the difficult life of Palestinians in Israel, Palestinian novelist
Emile Habiby wrote a scene that probably in some way describes the
future of Palestine. His hero, the Pessoptimist, watches as an Israeli
military governor drives a Palestinian woman and her child away from a
field she is working. "The further the woman and child went from where
we were . . . the taller they grew. By the time they merged with their
own shadows in the sinking sun, they had become bigger than the plain of
Acre itself. The governor still stood there awaiting their final
disappearance. . . . Finally he asked in amazement, 'Will they never

Jeff Halper observed in a recent personal account of his own journey
away from Zionism that "the truth is that despite [Israel's] desperate
attempts to erase their presence and replace it with purely Jewish
space, the Palestinians define our existence." The refugees in
particular, despite not even being present, pose the greatest challenge
to Jewish comfort; they "do not give us rest, [they] prevent us from
truly taking possession of the land." The refugees and everything about
the country that until 1948 was Palestine "are now a poltergeist under
our feet, concealed under layers of 'Judaization.'"

This uncomfortable and highly unequal coexistence, we can probably all
be assured, will remain in place for the foreseeable future. But
ultimately, some combination of these narratives -- Palestinians as
ever-present, Palestinians as the source of eternal Israeli
discomfiture, finally Palestinians as /returned/, unearthed from layers
of Judaization and living together with Jews as equal citizens -- may
describe a better future. Halper hopes for a day when Israelis will
exorcise their demons by doing justice to the Palestinians, "which means
turning the Land of Israel into Israel/Palestine (or Palestine/Israel)."
Many others are talking increasingly of a vision of Palestine as a land
in which Palestinians and Jews are equal. It won't be an easy progress,
but at the end of the next 20-year phase, it is not beyond the realm of
possibility that Palestinians will be living in freedom, justice, and
prosperity. To be meaningful, all three of these requirements for a
decent life must be there for both peoples in equal measure.

*Kathleen Christison* is a former CIA political analyst and has worked
on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of
<> and
The Wound of Dispossession
She can be reached at
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