Cynical? Moi?

Parties to the Middle East talks in Annapolis fall into two groups: those who frankly don’t care if the ‘Palestine problem’ is resolved and those whose lives and livelihoods depend on it. Unfortunately the former group includes all the nations with the power to do anything about it and the latter only the utterly powerless.

Of course, I’m being rhetorical. Everybody cares about the miserable Israel/Palestine impasse. It’s just that nobody has any political skin in the game. In fact the most powerful party and the only one with enough real world clout to alter conditions on the ground – The USA – would really be happy if things carried on as they are.

The political cost to the Bush Administration of Palestine’s continued suffering is close to zero and only increases when Hamas and Hizbollah and the other unhelpful nihilists on the Arab side start lobbing missiles and dispatching suicide bombers.

Even then, with lives being lost on both sides, the political dividend from another all-too-predictable outburst of Palestinian violence cancels the cost: “look! They’re out of control! How can we negotiate with these madmen?” For the Americans, Israel/Palestine is a miserable win-win.

Nothing can change until a more principled American regime commits some resource and some political capital.

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Palestinian? No.

Palestinian Strawberries from Israeli exporter Agrexco
I was fascinated and encouraged to read the phrase ‘Palestinian Produce’ on this pack of strawberries from the farm shop up the road but then a commenter on my flickr stream told me that the brand name Coral belongs to Israeli exporter Agrexco and that these strawberries, if they come from Palestine at all, probably come from an illegal Israeli settlement in the Jordan Valley.

So now I’m less enthusiastic about them, since they’re most likely grown on expropriated land using stolen water and the profit is returned to an Israeli comany’s bank account. So, with the help of the Internet, a product pack reveals something interesting about the dynamics of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

A page about Agrexco from a site campaigning for a boycott of Israeli produce. A report about the economic effects of the occupation (and the fence) from War on Want.

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Help displaced Lebanese

Remember, buying one of my dopey groovy “No I do not have a Nectar Card” t-shirts directly helps the UN’s refugee agency to the tune of $6.00 per shirt (which is 100% of my profit on the shirt). The shirts cost $19.99 which, if you’re in the UK, is barely a tenner. Alternatively, of course, you could just click over to the UNHCR’s Lebanon Crisis web site and give them something directly.

What would you do?

Friends of Israel – many of them respectable lefties, long-time peaceniks, reluctant hawks – have been asking, in their newspaper columns and on TV, “what would you do?” And I’ve been asking myself that question and trying to be even-handed and trying to resist knee-jerk anti-Israeli sentiments but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the wrong question. Properly rephrased, it would go like this: “What would you – the regional superpower, granted (by the global superpower) the unchallenged ability to strike any corner of the region with lethal force with an hour’s notice, granted the ability to reduce to rubble whole neighbourhoods from $25M pilotless planes, granted the strategic flexibility to respond in half-a-dozen ways to Hizbollah’s wickedness – what would you do?” Phrased like that, Israel’s choices since the Katyushas began to fall look less sound – morally void, in fact.

(Simon Schama, not a famous tankie, on the BBC’s This Week, for instance).

Berger on Palestine

John Berger is brilliant and infuriating: Bolshevik, poet, monk. The man who gave his Booker Prize money (for G) to the Black Panthers and radicalised a whole generation of art history students through the amazing Ways of Seeing has been a constant witness for the poor and marginalised, especially for peasants and migrants.

Never a Stalinist – always too close to the powerless – he avoided the ideological quagmire the left of his generation got stuck in. Lots of people will hate his LRB piece on Palestine (A Moment in Ramallah, London Review of Books, 24 July – doesn’t appear to be online yet) – not least for its classic Berger imagery – soaring and leaden, artful and artless, all at once – like I said: infuriating. But, if you know his work, it’s perfectly consistent with his unwavering identification with the dispossessed. Here’s some of that infuriating imagery:

“When it came to saying goodbye, the aunt held my hand, and in her eyes, there was the same special attention to the moment. If two people are laying a tablecloth on a table, they glance at one another to check the placing of the cloth. Imagine the table is the world and the cloth the lives of those we have to save. Such was the expression.”