Why Public Opinion Polls Aren't

With all the discussion of polls and the presidential race it may be hard to believe, but I have yet to see a single poll asking whom people want to be president.

Virtually every poll has a structure like this: "If the 2004 presidential election were being held today, and the candidates were John Kerry, the Democrat, George W. Bush, the Republican, and Ralph Nader, would you vote for John Kerry, George W. Bush, or Ralph Nader?"

Of course a lot of people will respond "Kerry" simply because they don't want Bush, or "Bush" because they don't want Kerry. They don't necessarily want Bush or Kerry -- it's the same bind people are in when they enter the voting both with our system; they disregard other candidates, whether it's Nader or anyone else, and go for "the lesser evil." But polls can offer a way out -- they can ask people who they actually want.

Instead of really focusing on people's opinions, polls focus on the action of voting in a context that is a false hypothetical -- if the "election were being held today," when we know it isn't. Pollsters do that, they tell me, because they assume should be predicting how the election will turn out, rather than giving a clear picture of the thinking of the U.S. public.

A real "public opinion" poll would begin by asking a question something like this: "Who do you want to be president?" Or better yet: "Regardless of their chances of winning, which of the following candidates do you most want to be president?" This would get at what people actually want given the current field. It's not that the "who would you vote for" question is unimportant; we just shouldn't be confined to that.

Another way of approaching it would be to use Instant Runoff Voting: "Please rank the following in order of who you would personally want to be president." There could be a wealth of information discovered with such questioning.

And to better determine the policies favored by the U.S. public and minimize the personal animosities, pollsters could ask: "Which of the following do you agree with most on the issues?"

By asking the questions they do -- and by not asking questions like those listed above -- pollsters are in effect limiting the choices of the public. Polls -- which should be a method by which the public, rather than the parties or the pundits, articulates its desires -- are crafted in such a way as to solidify the status of the "major candidates." Then those polls are reported on over and over again, further canonizing the position of those candidates in the name of public opinion.

Citizens who might want to support an independent effort then hold back. A self-fulfilling prophesy comes to pass as the "major party" candidates tighten their grip on people who are often drawn to them by little more than their fear of the other "major party." Breaking into the system is virtually impossible largely because pollsters have -- consciously or not -- incorporated the "greater evil" fear into the polls. A significant number of people may want an independent or "third party" candidate and we wouldn't know it because the public isn't asked.

All this seems to stem from a remarkably dismissive attitude toward the public that some pollsters seem to display. When I raised some of these concerns with Susan Pinkus, polling director of the LA Times, she replied: "Who cares what they want? This is who they're going to vote for." That's a very strange attitude for a pollster -- someone who is supposed to care a lot what the public thinks -- to have. What matters she insisted is "push comes to shove -- who's going to win the election?"

This fixation on the polls helps mold the context of the election, as well as provides the threshold for inclusion in the debates. "Historically third parties don't get a lot of votes" Pinkus noted. On the one hand, that's a self-fulfilling prophesy; on the other it's just false. Perot got 19 percent of the vote in 1992; at one point (prior to his withdrawal and re-entry) he led with some 37 of voters saying they would vote from him in major polls. Finally, Pinkus acknowledged the value of asking the public who they want to be president, but said she didn't plan to do a poll herself: "Why don't you do a poll -- you can get a grant and do a poll" she told me.

I did actually manage to do that in 2000, in the closing days of the election. A funder put up the money for a poll with the Rasmussen polling firm which basically found that third party candidates Buchanan's and Nader's numbers doubled once the question was asked who they preferred to be president regardless of their chances of winning. But money for independent-minded folks is scarce and, in any case, that should be the job of the polling organizations and media outlets.

These issues are all the more important because of the roles that polls play in our presidential election. For example, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is run by the former heads of the Republican and Democratic parties, states that it will only allow candidates who achieve 15 percent in "national public opinion polls" into the debates. But, once again, these polls don't actually measure the opinion of the public. They attempt to predict how the public will vote given the bind that it's in. That bind is made more egregious as candidates are kept out of the debates by the Commission on Presidential Debates using polls which are advertised as reflecting public opinion; but are being used to mold it.

Moreover, the heads of the Commission on Presidential Debates have basically asked for the "who do you want to be president question" to be asked. When some suggested that one criterion for inclusion in presidential debates should be whether a majority of people in the U.S. wanted them to be in the debates, the heads of the CPD rejected the effort.

CPD director and former Republican senator Alan Simpson said: "The issue is who do you want to be president. It's not who do you want to do a dress rehearsal and see who can be the cutest at the debate." Similarly, Paul Kirk, the co-chair of the CPD and former head of the Democratic National Committee, said: "It's a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States. Otherwise you get into 'Wouldn't it be fun to have X, Y, Z?'" So for the Commission on Presidential Debates to fulfill the very criteria it has set for itself, the question "Who do you want to be president" needs to be asked as the basis for inclusion in any debates that group sponsors.

Moreover, polling must be done in a more open fashion and until they are, all the chatter of "public opinion polls" and the "choice" that the U.S. public is making in their "preference" about who they are "for" in the presidential race will be is rather hollow rhetoric manipulating the public rather than reporting on it.

A shorter version was published by the Dallas Morning News on September 27, 2004.

[originally published at husseini.org on Sept. 27, 2004]

Christ in 100 Words

A man searches for truth, works for justice, teaches love and peace. His flesh is cut up, killed on a tree by empire, religious establishment and mob.

His message is twisted and tortured to provide pretext for further empire, patriarchy, crusade, slavery and genocide.

His teachings are deformed to preach hatred against the group from which he came.

As Christianity as cloak for imperialism recedes; European genocidal attack on Jews becomes a masquerade for new resurgent colonialism.

Bigoted spewing inoculates this Israel from criticism over its cruelty in lands occupied once again, as when Jesus struggled.

He rose, some say.

Sam Husseini has helped create the web pages www.CompassRoses.com and www.VotePact.com
[This was written at the peak of discussion about the movie "The Passion of the Christ."]

[originally published at husseini.org on Feb. 25, 2004]

How Many People Will Die Because of This "Mistake", Senator Kerry?

Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.

-- Elizabeth Cady Stanton

At the debate last night, John Kerry, asked to give examples of the administration's deceptiveness on the "war on terrorism," said the following:

"Well, 45 minutes deployment of weapons of mass destruction, number one. Aerial vehicles to be able to deliver materials of mass destruction, number two. I mean, I -- nuclear weapons, number three. I could run a long list of clear misleading, clear exaggeration...."

On Oct. 9, 2002 John Kerry participated in "a long list of clear misleading, clear exaggerations," to put it mildly. In his speech on the floor of the Senate just before voting to authorize Bush to invade Iraq, Kerry said:

"Why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don't even try? ... According to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons ... Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents..."

Kerry became famous by asking senators "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Kerry is now himself a senator.

Mr. Kerry: How do you ask someone to die for your support of the invasion of Iraq? How do you ask someone to die for this mistake? More than a "mistake," how do you ask someone to die because you voted for an illegal , unconstitutional invasion? How do you ask Iraqis and Americans and others to die because you backed Bush?

How can you tell us that Bush was deceitful when you uttered many of the same falsehoods? How can you hold him accountable when you refuse to be held accountable yourself?

How can you be "electable" when you have many of the same skeletons in your closet as Bush? Do you really think the Republican machine won't cite your speech over and over again -- "Kerry claims that Bush lied when Kerry said many of the same things!" Fox will blare. Or, after you get the Democratic nomination, will you be quiet about Iraq, other than to talk about narrow issues like Halliburton -- searching for something, anything, that Bush is guilty of that you are not? You will come off as petty. Bush will come off as the visionary.

How could you have been deceived by the administration on Iraq? You tout your leadership and foreign policy experience. How could the idea of a government lying systematically about a war not been considered seriously by you, given your experience in Vietnam? How could you not know that Bush was lying even before the invasion?

How do you explain your speech -- lies in your speech that were known lies at the time.

You said:

The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. It has been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War. It has been with us for the last four years -- since Saddam Hussein kicked out U.N. weapons inspectors at the end of 1998. And frankly, after Operation Desert Fox failed to force Iraq to readmit inspectors, the United States - and the international community -- erred in failing to find effective ways to compel Iraqi compliance, thus giving Saddam Hussein a free hand for four years to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction programs and allowing the world to lose focus on the threat of proliferation.

Can you count the lies here? If anything, Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capability ended with the Gulf War, the exact opposite of what it claimed. Hussein did not "kick out U.N. weapons inspectors at the end of 1998." They were withdrawn by UNSCOM head Richard Butler at the behest of the Clinton administration so it could launch the "Desert Fox" bombing campaign on the eve of Clinton's scheduled impeachment vote. And "Desert Fox" did not "fail" to achieve Iraqi compliance, it succeeded in destroying UNSCOM. The U.S. government, well before Bush, clearly did not want a successful weapons inspection program. If Saddam could continue verifying his compliance, there would be more pressure to lift the draconian economic sanctions.

How can you talk of the administration rushing to war when you said:

But the Administration missed an opportunity two years ago and particularly a year ago after September 11th to address this issue. They regrettably, even clumsily, complicated their own case. The events of September 11 created a new understanding of the terrorist threat and the degree to which every nation is vulnerable. That understanding enabled the Administration to forge a broad and impressive coalition against terrorism. Had the Administration tried then to capitalize on this unity of spirit to build a coalition to disarm Iraq, we would not be debating this question now, just a few weeks before Congressional elections. The Administration's decision to engage on this issue now, rather than a year ago or earlier, and the manner in which it engaged has politicized and complicated the national debate and raised questions about the credibility of its case.

So that's what raises questions about the credibility of the administration -- the fact that they leveraged the Iraq invasion for the mid-term elections, not their pattern of lies. Mr. Kerry, you actually fault the administration for not being hawkish enough, for not immediately "capitalizing on" 9-11. It is clear that you merely offer a different flavor of U.S. corporate global control than the Bush administration.

For over a decade, no politician ever lost political ground by attacking Saddam. But you could be the first.

[originally published at husseini.org on Jan. 30, 2004]

Follow the Policy

“It’s been 12 years. Why hasn’t Saddam Hussein complied?” So many ask.

“Follow the money” it’s been said is the way to get at the truth. It’s a good adage, but in this case: Follow the policy.

In his report Friday, UNMOVIC head Hans Blix claimed that “If Iraq had provided the necessary cooperation in 1991, the phase of disarmament — under resolution 687 — could have been short and a decade of sanctions could have been avoided.”

Blix also indicated that Iraq only complies because of the threat of use of force. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to town with this particular notion to the applause of some in the Security Council chamber.

One problem with such thinking is that it violates the U.N. Charter, which prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Another problem is that it ignores U.S. policy over the last dozen years, which has discouraged compliance with the arms inspectors. Ignoring the realities of U.S. policy is something the head of UNMOVIC should not do. Consider:

The original post-Gulf War U.N. Security Council resolution 687, passed in April of 1991, made lots of demands on Iraq — but, as Blix indicated, specified that once Iraq complies with the weapons inspection regime, the economic sanctions “shall have no further force or effect.

The problem, and it’s a big problem, is that this declaration was rendered ineffective. President George Bush in May of 1991 stated: “At this juncture, my view is we don’t want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” This was no slip of the tongue. The same day, then-Secretary of State James Baker sent the same message: “We are not interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” So regardless of what Hussein did, comply or not, the sanctions would stay in place. He played games with the inspectors as it suited him. [See a timeline.]

And what would Clinton’s policy be? Just before getting into office, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Clinton said: “I am a Baptist. I believe in death-bed conversions. If he [Hussein] wants a different relationship with the United States and the United Nations, all he has to do is change his behavior.” The following day, faced with attacks for articulating such politically incorrect notions, Clinton backtracked: “There is no difference between my policy and the policy of the present administration.” This meant that the crushing economic sanctions would stay in place on Iraq for eight more years, dooming hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people to premature deaths.

It’s notable that Friedman has falsified this subject, writing from Qatar in February of 2001: “Saddam totally outfoxed Washington in the propaganda war. All you hear and read in the media here is that the sanctions are starving the Iraqi people — which is true. But the U.S. counter-arguments that by complying with U.N. resolutions Saddam could get those sanctions lifted at any time are never heard. Preoccupied with the peace process, no senior U.S. officials have made their case in any sustained way here, and it shows.”

So Friedman, from his media perch, actually helped ensure that Clinton would continue the policy of keeping the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did; resulting, by Friedman’s own admission, in “starving the Iraqi people.” And then he pretends that the policy does not exist, mocking Arabs for believing such a thing.

Just to be clear about it, in March of 1997 Madeleine Albright, in her first major foreign policy address as Secretary of State, proclaimed: “We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.” I was there, at Georgetown University when she said that. This was on par with Albright’s infamous remark on CBS’s “60 Minutes” the previous year that the sanctions, after already killing half a million children, were “worth it.”

Through out the late 1990s, there were a series of standoffs between the Iraqi and the U.S. governments around weapons inspectors. In December of 1998, UNSCOM head Richard Butler issued a report (which the Washington Post would later reveal was shaped by the U.S. government) claiming Iraq wasn’t cooperating with the inspectors and withdrew them just before the U.S. launched the Desert Fox bombing campaign. Some might remember this was on the eve of Clinton’s scheduled impeachment vote.

In January of 1999 — after UNSCOM was destroyed by its own hand — the U.S. media reported that, contrary to U.S. denials, UNSCOM was in fact used for espionage as the Iraqis had been alleging, in part to track Hussein. (We’d do well to keep this in mind as those U2 flights go over Iraq.)

So Iraq kept the weapons inspectors out for four years. Why did the U.S. use the inspectors as spies? Why did it say that the sanctions would stay put regardless of what Iraq did? These would hardly seem to be the policies anyone would adopt if they really wanted disarmament.

There are other recent examples of the U.S. government adopting policies that betray an actual desire for Iraqi non-compliance. On October 1, 2002, just as Iraq was deciding whether or not to let inspectors have total access to presidential palaces, Ari Fleischer talked of “the cost of one bullet” being less than the cost of invasion. Was that supposed to help convince Saddam to say yes to letting inspectors into his palaces?

And now, just as Iraq begun destroying Al-Samoud missiles, the U.S. government is escalating its bombing of the “no-fly” zones — an ongoing, increasing years-long attack without legal justification.

So the U.S. policy of maintaining the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did gave him incentive for non-compliance with the inspectors. Now, the U.S. policy seems to be invasion no matter what Hussein does. It’s hard to believe that this will ensure anything other than more massive violence from many quarters.

Or we could choose a different path. If the Bush administration were to state that it would respect resolution 687 and ensure the lifting of the economic sanctions on Iraq when it is verifiably disarmed, then that ostensible goal could well be reached without invasion, killing and slaughter. But that would mean that the stated goals have some relation to actual goals. The way to cut through illusions and rhetoric is to follow the policy.

SAM HUSSEINI is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. He also recently launched the web page Compass Roses. He can be reached at: sam@accuracy.org

[originally published on CounterPunch on March 8, 2003; posted on posthaven Dec. 15, 2015]

Compass Roses: From the Seeds of Antiwar to the Flowering of Global Democracy

As Bush plunges us into war, he forces our hands.

He forces our hands to reach out to our neighbors to talk to them about war, to share information not polluted with propaganda. He forces our hands to join with others around this world and the vast majority who do not want war.

He forces our hands to act, to organize, to draw lines of our own in the sand.

As an unprecedented day of protest takes place globally today, we have the opportunity to go from the seeds of antiwar to the flowering of Global Democracy. We are not just against Bush. People attuned to conscience and vision must be for something and must show it.

The world should be one. For that not to be means continued needless suffering on a massive scale. From war, from exploitation. Nation and civilizations pitted against each other for the illusionary benefit of a few.

We must make our mark. We must claim the Earth for peace and justice. We must make it visible. We must make our conscience and our consciousness of one world visible. While we protest today and thereafter.

One world. Everwhere is Holy. No place should rule over any other. In New York this day, friends and I will draw compass roses on the sidewalks and the streets.

Compass roses -- www.compassroses.com -- like on old maps. East, West, South, North. Get a compass out. Look to the East -- think of what is there, what people, places things. To the West and all that lies there. To the South, all that has been and might be. To the North, think. Think of the reality of all that is around you. Of the people around this globe that sustains us.

Compass roses -- drawn on the sidewalk in front of the White House and in front of a storefront mosque in DC; on Wall Street near where the World Trade Center stood and on 125th Street in Harlem; by the Grand Canyon and by the river Jordan; in front of the US mission to the UN and in front of the Iraqi mission. Each compass rose is different, yet they all point in the same directions. They will fade away, but they will still be true. Compass roses -- in subways and elevators -- where people are not cognizant that they are on "land" or part of the "Earth." All places are holy. We are inter-connected. The compass rose is an immediate symbol of the fact that we are all on the same planet; simultaneously global and local.

Draw your own compass roses copy designs you have seen -- of compass roses, or patterns that are like compass roses. Or could be. Or make up your own. Draw them outside. Draw them where people can see them. Draw them where no one can see them. Draw them here, draw them there. Think of the East, the West, the South the North. Think of what is in each direction. Think of where you are and what you can do to connect with people around our globe. Draw compass roses. Note the web page -- www.compassroses.com -- on the side if you like, so people who see it can find more. Draw compass roses with chalk, with pastels, with paint, with lined-up stones, with sand, in the sand, in the snow -- anyway, anyhow, draw them. Open your heart to the World, make a mark alone or with a friend and claim the Earth.

Compass roses in front of embassies and missions. All diplomats must begin to understand that we are all one. Compass roses in front of schools, teaching the next generation better than we have been taught. Compass roses where rich dwell and where poor struggle. Compass roses as a constant reminder of what we all know:

As Studs Terkel has written: "Four hundred years ago, Galileo challenged the doctrine of the announced idea. On seeing the heavens through his telescope, he discovered that Copernicus was right. The earth was not the center of the universe, but merely one part of a greater whole. A respected part, but no more than a part. And what is the great discovery of our age? It is that no one race, no one people, no one land ... is the center of the earth. Rather, all races, all lands, all societies are individual centers, all respected parts of a greater whole -- the Earth."

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "In Christ there is no East nor West. In Him there's no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world."

Joseph Campbell: "The only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet ... and everybody on it."

But the reality of one world is no myth. It's the clear reality. Nations are hallucinations. People are real. Nature is real. Peace is real. Justice is real. One World is real. It must be One -- and it must be won.

Sam Husseini has helped launch the web page www.compassroses.com which goes up today.

[originally published at husseini.org on Feb. 15, 2003]

A New Way To Vote -- As A Duet

Come election day, millions may vote for George W. Bush and Al Gore while not believing in them. Doubtlessly, some will vote for one of these two enthusiastically, but sometimes it seems neither of these candidates has inspired many beyond their immediate family and those on their campaign payroll. Many unimpassioned voters would consider backing a third party candidate, like consumer advocate Ralph Nader - or Pat Buchanan or the Libertarian or Natural Law candidates. But voters are scared.

Many are frightened that Gore will win - so they plan to vote for Bush; many others are afraid that Bush will win - so they're looking at voting for Gore. Are we becoming a nation that votes its fears rather than its hopes and convictions? A vote should be a statement of what someone believes - and indeed millions will do that come November 7. However, many feel sidelined, their heart tells them to vote for a third party candidate, but their head tells them to go for the "lesser of two evils."

Even with these shackles there are solutions - if people really do think it through. One answer is suggested by the group Citizens for Strategic Voting, which is taking out ads in newspapers urging people in states in which Gore or Bush does not have a chance of winning to vote for Ralph Nader. People could thus vote for Green Party candidate Nader without feeling they are helping whichever of the major party candidates they want to keep out of the White House. This is of course because the president is elected by winning a majority of the electoral college and the candidate who wins a given state gets all the electoral votes from that state. And if Nader gets 5 percent of the popular vote, as Ross Perot did in 1996, the Green Party gets federal money in 2004.

Good enough. But what if you live in one of those "swing states," (like Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Oregon, Washington) or if you don't believe the polls?

Here's a sure-fire solution - if you are close to (and trust) someone who is on the other side of the two party divide in your state.

Say a husband plans to vote for Gore since he thinks Bush is dim. His wife plans to vote for Bush because she thinks Gore is deceitful. If they both - in the their hearts would like to vote for some third party candidate - they can do so, by trusting each other and both voting for the third party candidate.

If they had just gone along with the husband voting for Gore and the wife voting for Bush, in effect they would cancel out each other's vote. But if they both vote for a third party candidate, they can magnify their votes. For example, if instead of one for Gore and the other for Bush they both voted for Nader, they would not change the balance between Gore and Bush, but they would give Nader two votes. Instead of "wasting" their votes (by canceling out each other), they would double their vote by giving both to the candidate they truly want. They would vote their conviction without helping whichever politician they least want. Of course, people can do this with any third party candidate, and indeed, with any two third party candidates (a husband can vote for one third party candidate, the wife for a different one). This would send a strong signal that people are not satisfied with the major parties.

A would-be Republican voting for Nader is not as unlikely as it might seem to some. Nader's attraction comes largely from his intelligence and integrity. In his address at the Green Party convention, he welcomed "authentic conservatives" - as opposed to "corporatists." He stands for community, for family, for accountability - as well as for social justice, the environment and peace. He stands against abusive power, whether by corporations - or the government.

This "vote swap" option is exercised by politicians all the time. One congressman votes for another's dam project in return for a vote for his military base. Maybe it's about time that the public used such tactics.

So there are solutions. People don't need to feel bound by the "lesser of two evil argument." Step one: vote your convictions; Step two: figure out what's happening in your state and vote with your head; Step three: find a friend, relative or co-worker who was planning on voting for the other "less of two evils," make a pact and double your heart instead of canceling out each other on election day.

[originally published on Common Dreams on Oct. 29, 2000; posted on posthaven Dec. 17, 2015]

U.S. Abdicates Justice

President Clinton said he wants to break the "cycle of violence" between the Israelis and Palestinians, but his refusal to do justice actually plants the seeds of oppression and violence.

Shortly after the Israeli military began killing scores of Palestinians, the United Nations Security Council voted 14 to 0 — including Britain, Canada and the Netherlands — for a resolution condemning Israel's "excessive use of force against Palestinians." But the U.S. government abstained, making clear that it is outside world consensus.

And when the U.N. tried to follow up on that resolution, the Clinton administration moved to block it, insisting instead on the Sharm el Sheik "peace summit," where the administration calls the shots.

Clinton now says that we shouldn't assign blame for "the violence." But it was Clinton who blamed Yasser Arafat for not signing the Camp David agreement Clinton was trying to force this summer. And talking about "the violence" is a way of trying to hide the fact that about 100 Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli occupation soldiers, while a few of those soldiers have perished.

When Palestinians protest against the Israeli military Goliath, they are saying "give me liberty or give me death." Instead of getting help from the U.S. government, they are shot at by helicopter gunships paid for by our tax dollars.

Why are the Palestinians so fed up? While the Israeli government has been talking peace for the past six years, Palestinians have seen 50,000 more Jewish settlers illegally put into the West Bank and Gaza; Israel has demolished nearly 1,000 Palestinian homes; there has been a threefold increase in Palestinian unemployment; the Israelis have arrested 13,000 Palestinians, and they have restricted Palestinians' freedom of movement, keeping them on little Swiss cheese patches of land on the West Bank.

Israel refuses to comply with international law, which mandates that it withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza (including East Jerusalem) and that it allow the Palestinian refugees living in squalid refugee camps to go back to their rightful homes, from which they were driven by Israeli forces.

Only by addressing these serious issues — not by photo ops — can a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians be achieved.

[originally published on Common Dreams on Oct. 18, 2000; posted on posthaven Dec. 17, 2015]

Palestine: No Less Than Equal Partners

While the United States and Israel boast of their democratic values, they continue to wreak havoc on Palestinian self-determination, as the Palestinian Authority is pressured, cajoled and offered inducements to accept agreements that most Palestinians clearly do not want.

This is not to say that most Palestinians don't want an agreement--just that they want a fair one. But the current discussions are based on massive disparities of power: Israel is a major military force; the Palestinians don't even control their own borders. True, they have international law, Geneva conventions and human rights on their side, but that doesn't speak nearly as loudly as Israel's military machine (including an estimated 200 nuclear weapons) and its multifaceted U.S. backing.

The Palestinians are also hampered by a leadership that seems more interested in preserving its status and lining its pockets than in achieving the rights of the people. It's a disquieting paradigm: The powers collude and the people get shafted.

The Israel strategy seems to be to take something by force and then give back a small portion of it, labeling it a "concession" and expecting to be thanked. International law calls for the return of all Palestinian refugees forced from their homes in 1948, along with compensation for them. It calls for Jerusalem to be an international city shared between a Jewish and Palestinian state, and for the Palestinians to have a state larger than what they are currently striving for on the West Bank and Gaza. International law would call for the removal of all Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza; they have been placed there while the land is under occupation, and ethnic transfers under occupation are illegal.

It would not have been much of a "concession" for Saddam Hussein to give back part of Kuwait. Would Clinton have negotiated with Milosevic to let some of the ethnic Albanians back into Kosovo? What Israel has done to the Palestinians is no more legitimate.

Having only recently waged war on Yugoslavia because of its "ethnic cleansing," Clinton now puts his political muscle into trying to get the Palestinians--the world's largest refugee population--to give up hope of returning to their rightful homes. An opportunity to do justice was once again missed. Instead, the politics of illusion seem to have come to the Mideast with a vengeance. It appears the Palestinians have been offered a "Jerusalem" that is not Jerusalem; the right of return for only a nominal number of the Palestinian refugees; a "state" without control over water, borders or real sovereignty; "territory" that is not contiguous; and symbols of nationhood that would become more signs of shame than of pride for an injured people.

On Jerusalem, the trick was to expand the city to include a village named Abu Dis and claim "That's Jerusalem." It's as though another country conquered Washington, D.C., and Takoma Park, expanded the boundaries of Washington to include Takoma Park and then said that it was going to give back that "part of Washington" as part of a fair "compromise."

The cruel twists of fate against the Palestinians cannot be overcome by such sleight of hand. True peace will come as a consequence of doing the hard work of justice, not through ambiguous agreements worked out in secret. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians must be acknowledged in a forthright fashion.

Palestinian refugees must be allowed back to their homes, and not just enough to provide pretty pictures for the cameras. There are about 4 million displaced Palestinians. In effect, Israel says it will not allow significant numbers to return because that would shift its demographic balance. But that attitude is morally and legally illegitimate.

Talk of the Palestinians getting 90 percent of the West Bank masks the reality that that is only 22 percent of historic Palestine, that Israel seems to be insisting on leases, the dubious promise of future pullbacks and the fragmented nature of Palestinian-"controlled" territories, as well as the lack of actual Palestinian control over travel, imports, exports and water resources.

This was in a sense the opposite of the original Camp David accords, which were fundamentally based on international law: full Israeli withdrawal and removal of the illegal settlements. Similarly, in South Africa, the final state--the end of apartheid and creation of a multiethnic democracy with one person, one vote--was the explicitly stated end point. The Palestinians, if the Oslo process continues, seem doomed to having bantustans and permanent subjugation.

Such a situation should not be appealing to Israelis. Do they want a genuine peace that gives them real security or a feeling of perpetual guilt over knowing that their neighbors feel righteous resentment over what they have done to them? Genuine peace would mean real acceptance of the people of Israel as equal partners in the Mideast, neither military-economic conquerors nor an outcast, outlaw nation.

[originally published on Common Dreams on July 27, 2000; posted on posthaven Dec. 17, 2015]