The Palestinian UN Statehood Initiative: What’s At Stake?

A Statement by the Solidarity Political Committee

On September 23, 2011 the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization intend to take an appeal for statehood recognition to the United Nations Security Council. When that is rejected – as it will be, since the Obama Administration has promised to veto it – the PA is expected to turn to the General Assembly, where there’s no great-power veto, for “non-member observer state” status which will give it access to UN institutions, including the ability to bring charges against Israeli occupation practices.

On one level, this may look like a purely symbolic gesture by the feeble PA/PLO leadership of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). No one believes it will change the situation on the ground – the blockade of Gaza, the cancer of Israeli colonial settlements in the West Bank, the apartheid-annexation Wall, the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinian activists and hundreds of children, and for that matter the police-state behavior of the PA’s own security forces. It certainly will not bring about the return of Palestinian refugees uprooted from their homes in successive rounds of Israeli ethnic cleansing.

Palestinian Loss of Land 1946 to 2000

Some Palestinian activists, for these reasons and because of their rightful distrust of the Palestinian Authority for its corruption and endless compromises, believe that taking the Palestinian statehood claim to the UN at this time is useless – or even worse, that the PA might surrender fundamental principles, e.g. giving away the Right of Return or “recognizing Israel as the Jewish State,” in exchange for some empty promises that will be worthless in the end anyway. Such fears are not groundless, and the discussion among Palestinans about their road forward is an important one.

For the Palestinians’ allies, however, and especially for activists in the United States, we believe the central issue is a different one. For any possible progress to occur toward justice and peace in the Palestine-Israel conflict, it is essential that the governments of Israel and the United States suffer a huge political defeat.

That is why the fight at the UN is important — and not about whether any of us may think that a “one-state” or “two-state solution” or whatever is possible or desirable at the moment. What’s happening is that the grotesque and obscene policies of successive U.S. governments, Republican and Democratic, are coming home to roost – and it’s about time, too.

Since 1967, Washington has been on record for UN Resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and opposed to Israeli settlements which in any case are all illegal under international legal conventions on the obligations of occupying powers. Ever since the 1991-’93 Madrid and Oslo Accords, the United States has been on record for the two-state formula of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. And during this period and especially in recent years, the Palestinian Authority has desperately desired nothing more than to be a loyal U.S. client and has futilely banked on U.S. promises to deliver an independent state through the “peace process.”

Instead, the United States has funded the Israeli occupation through its $3 billion annual military aid package. It has vetoed every attempt at the UN to censure Israeli settlements. It has blocked cease-fire resolutions when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and again in 2006, until Israel signaled it was ready to stop fighting. And it has rigged the “peace process” in order to make sure that “the peace process” lasts forever but never produces peace. Meanwhile Israeli settlements, the expanded “metropolitan Jerusalem,” the annexation Wall and apartheid roads have carved up the projected Palestinian state till only fragmented Bantustan-type population enclaves remain. The past twenty years are littered with so many lies and “road maps” to nowhere that even the experts lose count.

When the Palestinians held a democratic election in 2006 and chose a Hamas majority, the United States and Israel attempted a coup that was supposed to restore the “moderate” Abu Mazen to power. Ultimately, however, even the most conservative Palestinian nationalists have had enough American knives stuck in their backs. Disgusted with U.S. deceit, under pressure from their own population and pushed along by the power of the Arab Spring, this Palestinian leadership – far from a militant or revolutionary one – is disobeying the Obama administration’s orders.

The pressure is intense. “The road to Palestinian statehood does not go through New York [the United Nations],” declares Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who has done everything in her power to make sure the road goes nowhere at all. Instead, statehood can come “only through direct negotiations” under conditions dictated by the U.S. and Israeli masters. And what conditions! The United States Congress, Democrats and Republicans, with the smallest handful of exceptions, jumped up and down like so many trained chimpanzees when the Prime Minister of Israel openly denounced and disrespected president Obama’s call for freezing (let alone dismantling) settlements. Now this same Congress threatens to cut off all U.S. aid to the PA for daring to seek UN endorsement of what is, on paper, official United States policy.

In a startling New York Times op-ed (September 12), a prominent former Saudi Arabian government official Turki al-Faisal wrote:

“The United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. If it does not, American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered… Moreover, Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has. With most of the Arab world in upheaval, the ‘special relationship’ between Saudi Arabia and the United States would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.

“Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy. Like our recent military support for Bahrain’s monarchy, which America opposed, Saudi Arabia would pursue other policies at odds with those of the United States, including opposing the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq and refusing to open an embassy there despite American pressure to do so. The Saudi government might part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well.”

To be sure, the threat of breaking the Saudi-U.S. alliance is not to be taken seriously. The point, however, is that the most reactionary (and indeed anti-Palestinian) of Arab regimes is fearful of the popular backlash over the United States’ Israel-uber-alles policy. And that U.S. policy will only change if it becomes clear that Israel is becoming an imperialist strategic liability rather than asset.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about “civil society” bringing about meaningful change. Well, Palestinian civil society has been on record for the past six years calling for international BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israeli apartheid and occupation institutions. It’s time for U.S. “civil society” to stand up too. The United States and Israeli governments are afraid of their impending isolation, not because it’s a military threat – which they know how to handle – but because it will be a sign of weakening U.S. authority in the Middle East and the world. Yes, it will be a serious defeat, and they have it coming and then some.

Peace or Endless “Peace Process”? Obama’s Empty Middle East Speech

IT SHOULD COME as no real surprise that president Obama’s May 19 speech on the Middle East said so little. Nor is it unexpected that the major media played it as if it were a major event. There are two sets of observations to be made on the president’s remarks, first on the Arab Uprising as a whole and second on the Israel-Palestine crisis.

Back in June 2009, president Obama’s address in Cairo to the Muslim world stimulated genuine public excitement from North Africa to South Asia. Two years later, there’s little indication that most ordinary Arabs or Muslims – aside from diplomatic, policy or business elites with a professional or direct economic interest – are paying very much attention.

People in Tunisia and Egypt know that their pro-American dictators enjoyed U.S. backing until days before popular uprisings forced the military to push them out. In Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, no one really expects the U.S. president’s proclamation that “(t)here must be no doubt that the United States welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity” will affect their lives or their struggles for democracy in any real way.

For one thing, the plain record of this and previous administrations raises plenty of “doubt” that the United States “welcomes change that advances self-determination” in that part of the world. For another, the United States notably reserves its strongest rhetoric for the repressive violence of regimes where it has no capacity to influence events – especially Syria and Iran – while passing very lightly over those where it has some serious clout, like Bahrain, and saying nothing at all about Saudi Arabia which sent troops into Bahrain to enable the brutal anti-democratic crackdown there.

The apparent partial exception to this pattern is Libya, where the popular uprising against the hideous Qaddafi regime has lifted the siege of Misurata and is making limited progress with the assistance of NATO air cover and probably with covert logistical ground support. At the same time, it’s increasingly clear that the anti-Qaddafi rebels will receive very little in the way of weapons to wage their own struggle – rather, the imperialist intention is to “take out” the dictator either with an air strike or by encouraging an internal coup, in either case to ensure that the post-Qaddafi regime is reliably pro-western and suitably grateful to its deliverers.

In short, to understand whatever substance Obama’s speech had, it’s necessary to recognize the subtext that the president could not state openly: The region is changing in ways that the United States did not seek but cannot halt or control. Once U.S. policy could no longer save the region’s “stability” based on longstanding friendly dictatorships, it must seek to preserve this “stability” through carefully managed elite-controlled political transitions. The hoped-for ultimate result will be regimes with at least some democratic legitimacy, based on elections to be dominated by parties with neoliberal economic agendas, and especially committed to maintaining the free flow of oil regardless of the needs of the peoples of these countries.

The Arab world uprisings have torn an enormous hole in the decades-old fabric of U.S. domination of the Middle East, and president Obama’s response seeks to maintain at least some relevance – since control isn’t really an option – of the new political dispensation. But the acid test has to be what the United States does in the area where it does have real and substantial power, if it has the guts to pursue it. Does president Barack Obama’s “leadership strength” extend from sending Navy Seals to assassinate Osama bin Laden, and dropping bombs from drones over Pakistan, Yemen and wherever else we don’t yet know about, to taking on its own junior partner state of Israel?

There are no reasons to think so, and several to think not. First, on the crucial issue of Israeli settlements – all of which are illegal in international law — the Obama administration already wimped out when it previously demanded a halt to settlement construction and prime minister Netanyahu laughed in its face. The president’s May 19 speech did not even reiterate this demand, simply noting that “Israeli settlement activity continues” – quite an understatement given that Israel chose that very day to announce 650 new housing units to be built in the settlements.

As for the annexation-apartheid Wall, you’d think from Obama’s speech that it never existed. Nor would you know that Israeli troops shot down refugees protesting at its borders on the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), May 15.

Second, the Obama speech falsified the Palestinians’ position: “Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.” But the Palestinian position, as well as that of the Arab League and for that matter the Islamic Conference, offers precisely that – full recognition of Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and Israeli recognition of Palestine – and in any case, mutual recognition is a matter between states. (A Palestinian state can be required in international law to recognize Israel; no such demand can decently be made of a stateless people, least of all to recognize the state that dispossessed them.)

Third, the speech disrespected the Palestinian people’s greatest achievement so far during the Arab uprising, the initiative to overcome the bloody factional warfare between Fatah and Hamas and the move towards a national unity government in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Far from apologizing for the considerable U.S. role in fomenting this brutal internecine conflict in the first place, Obama’s speech intoned that “Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.” This not only ignores Hamas’s stated acceptance of any negotiated peace agreement that’s ratified by a Palestinian popular referendum – even worse, it rejects the Palestinian people’s right to choose their own leaders, and legitimizes Israel’s rejectionist refusal to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government.

Fourth, the president lectured that “(s)ymbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” The so-called “symbolic action” in question is the Palestinian Authority’s stated intention to seek UN approval for a Palestinian declaration of statehood – which will, if carried through, “isolate” not so much Israel (which is increasingly isolated by its own conduct) but rather the United States, which will be exposed as the fundamental remaining obstacle to Palestinian self-determination.

Fifth and perhaps worst in the long run, president Obama – knowingly or not – stumbled into official U.S. ratification of an apartheid-type “solution” when he stated the formula that “a lasting peace will involve…Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people…” The poison pill here is the “Jewish state,” which in theory and especially in Zionist practice means not just “the homeland” (which in itself is not inherently exclusive) but state institutions of Jewish supremacy and special privilege both in law and in fact.

This formula is quite clearly intended by the Israeli leadership to legitimize not only the ethnic cleansing that accompanied the state’s founding, but potentially the future removal of non-Jewish Israelis – currently 20% or more of its citizens — through expulsion or “land exchange,” if deemed necessary “to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the Jewish state.” It is also very deliberately intended to make it impossible for any Palestinian leadership to reach a peace agreement with Israel without destroying its own democratic legitimacy. Israel demands nothing short of 100% unconditional Palestinian surrender, which even the most conservative and accommodating Palestinian leadership cannot give.

Finally, as if to render the whole exercise meaningless, president Obama proposed “moving forward now on the basis of territory and security” while leaving for later the “two wrenching and emotional issues” of “the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.” For over twenty years now, leaving Jerusalem and the refugees till last has been the tried, true and proven method to ensure that the wretched “peace process” lasts forever and peace never comes. And so it will be now.

There are certainly points in president Obama’s speech that the rightwing Israeli government won’t like, especially the shocking(!) stipulation that peace should be based on the pre-1967 borders, as if there were any other reasonable options. But Israel will simply reject those, with the full-throated backing of the Israel Lobby and the Bible-thumping Christian right. If U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine is ever to change in a meaningful sense, it will only happen when the United States itself is profoundly “isolated” in world politics and public opinion. The sooner, the better.

Nominate Wikileaks for Nobel Peace Prize!

“OUTRAGED POLITICIANS ARE claiming that the release of government information is the criminal equivalent of terrorism and puts innocent people’s lives at risk. Many of those same politicians authorized the modern equivalent of carpet bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, the sacrifice of thousands of lives of soldiers and civilians and drone assaults on civilian areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Their anger at a document dump, no matter how extensive, is more than a little suspect.”

— Bill Quigley, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights

Bill Quigley is right, of course. More than that, Wikileaks – and if he’s truly the “guilty” party, Private Bradley Manning – should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Among those “outraged politicians” is Peter King (R-NY), who emerged from his cave to demand that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton designate Wikileaks a “terrorist organization.” That would make it the first “terrorist” group in history to carefully consult with news organizations well in advance to make sure that no individuals were exposed to harm by its activities. The U.S. drone bomber jockeys, sitting safely at their computer terminals half a world away from the carnage they create, should be so responsible.

In fact, slapping the “terrorist organization” label on Wikileaks might actually happen, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that First Amendment protections may shield it from criminal prosecution in the United States. After all, that’s the labeling that enables the Obama administration – yes, let’s say it out loud, because that’s who’s been in office for 23 months now – to keep detainees at Guantanamo who haven’t been charged with anything.

The timing of the mass diplomatic cable dump is coincidental, of course, but it comes at a time when Team Obama, severely weakened domestically by the midterm election debacle and the weakness of the economic recovery, is struggling to manage multiple international crises in a context of weakened U.S. power. That accounts for some of Washington’s red-faced rage.

The cables themselves may yield very few real surprises – is anyone astonished to learn that the Arab oil kingdoms want to destroy Iran, or that U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan know that the House of Karzai is a cesspool? They are, however, full of information that a democratically informed public needs to know, and an embarrassing revelation that the U.S. State Department can’t control its internal email traffic much better than it can control the behavior of “allies” like Pakistan and Israel.

The deeper issues here have to do with the imperialist-capitalist state itself – how the drive to control the world creates the need for secrecy, including secret wars and bombings and renditions and prisons as well as secret diplomatic cables. There is no reason to imagine that the United States behaves any worse or better than any other imperialist actor. But the latest Wikileaks document dump, even though nothing in it is “top secret,” gives a most valuable look into the workings of “our own” imperial machinery. Good job! And it’s important for all of us to come to their defense, and of Bradley Manning, in any way we can.

A Meditation on Gaza and Haiti: When Will We Ever Learn?

by Kim Redigan

[Kim Redigan is a member of Michigan Peace Team and participated in MPT’s delegation on the Gaza Freedom March in December. An interview on her experiences on the March will appear in the March-April issue of Against the Current.]

How to write about the Gaza Freedom March at a time like this?

Exactly one week after our return from Cairo, Haiti is flattened by an earthquake that may have claimed tens of thousands of lives. As I sat down at my computer early yesterday evening to finally cobble together a reflection on Egypt, the news flashed across the screen that Haiti – still punch drunk from destructive hurricanes just over a year ago – had once again been knocked down. Tonight the pictures in my mind are as tangled as the homes that lie twisted in the dusty streets of Haiti and Gaza City.

Haitian child

As images of ramshackle structures, capriciously tossed like tinker toys in the streets of Port-au-Prince, began to appear in the media and the faces of men, women, and children that I had met in Haiti last June began to flash across my mind, I felt shocked, sickened, and angry. Shocked that Haiti was yet again being battered by a vicious natural disaster, sickened by my own inability to respond to this magnitude of suffering in any meaningful or helpful way, and angry that it takes a disaster of biblical proportions to get water and food and medicine to people who go without these basic necessities as a matter of course. As the song goes, when will we ever learn?

While looking at the horrific scenes of Haitian corpses and frantic family members clawing through the rubble of collapsed homes in search of loved ones, I had the eerie feeling of having seen these pictures before. While the mind wants to compartmentalize the suffering of the world and organize it in a neat hierarchy based on body counts and statistics, the heart screams “No!” These little ones buried under fallen buildings in Haiti are the same little ones reaching out of the rubble in the Gaza Strip. Afghanistan. Iraq. Whether the earth shakes under their feet as a result of a shifting fault line or bombs being dropped by Israeli fighter jets and U.S. drones, the children are always the first to suffer. Their suffering bears heart-wrenching witness against a world that has forgotten what it means to be human.

The images are so familiar. A mother, arms raised to the skies, mouth frozen in a silent scream. The dazed, earnest eyes of young men carrying the wounded on their backs. The single shoe. The random toy. The blood-soaked sheets. No, there is no hierarchy of suffering. From Haiti to Hebron, from Cairo to Carrefour, there are real and damning consequences that result from our dance with the forces of death.

Palestinian child in Gaza

Often there are terrible ironies and disturbing synchronicities that accompany tragedies such as these. Last year, Operation Cast Lead was unleashed on the people of Gaza just in time to dovetail with the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Today, while Haitians stack their dead on the side of the road, rich and powerful men from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America equivocated in their testimony before a Bipartisan Commission. On a day when a bottle of water and a clean bandage may be the only things standing between life and death for the people of Haiti, billionaires justify extravagant bonuses for themselves.

Another news story today claims that President Obama will be asking for an additional $33 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to the $708 billion slated for the Defense Department. How much of this money could feed the hungry and clothe the naked in Haiti? How much of it will be spent on weapons that will be used against the children of Gaza and other places around the world? While the children of Gaza shiver this winter under the cruelties imposed by the siege and the children of Haiti hunger for a piece of bread, the war machine rolls on and the rich build bigger barns for themselves.

While the outpouring of support for Haiti in this time of crisis is heartening, how much better it would have been served by justice earlier rather than compassion later. After reading the grim news of the day and taking in the discordant images of broken bodies in Haiti and rich bankers in Washington, I was stopped in my tracks by a short twitter that someone sent out this afternoon. The message said that we need to give up “preemptive war” and practice preemptive humanitarianism — preemptive justice — preemptive peace.

While earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are out of our control, the horror that is unfolding in Haiti might have been greatly reduced had the world community acted preemptively in solidarity with Haiti, a country that lacks the infrastructure necessary to survive the natural disasters that so often have their way with this small, vulnerable nation. How much suffering might have been averted by resources and people mobilized earlier to help Haitians fund the construction of dwellings designed to withstand natural disasters, medical clinics to treat the injured, and wells to provide drinking water to the people?

What if a fraction of the money spent to bail out the banks had been spent to build up the infrastructure of Haiti? It should be noted that this is not a matter of charity, but rather, of justice since the U.S. has been among the nations that have historically exploited and occupied Haiti throughout its history.

Likewise, what if we were to take the billions slated for war and use it for preemptive peace in the Middle East, especially in Palestine where so many of our tax dollars are spent on weapons and walls?

As we gathered in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March, it felt like too little, too late. We were blocked from entering Gaza, so we spent our time on the streets of Cairo where we vigiled, demonstrated, and fasted. Those among us who had been to Gaza before the siege carried memories of friends and family with whom they longed to reconnect; the rest of us had to rely on the pictures that by now are all too familiar: the small hand reaching out of the rubble, the mother’s scream, the random toy.

Tonight I stare at similar pictures taken in the streets of Port-au-Prince and ask myself, when will we ever learn? While the bodies pile up, the children of Haiti and Gaza wait for an answer.

Middle East: Faint Glimmer of Hope

There’s a glimmer – a very faint glimmer – of hope arising from recent developments in Palestine. I’m referring to the statement by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) that he will not seek reelection as “president” of the Palestinian Authority (PA), in essence a statement of resignation. If Abu Mazen stands by his resignation, it will deliver a much-needed kick in the teeth to the Obama administration.

President Obama’s performance in regard to Israel-Palestine has mirrored his stance on health care — where he promised universal care and then allowed the insurance lobby to draft the bill and the Catholic bishops to write amendments stripping away abortion rights. The U.S. president boldly announced a demand for Israel to halt settlement construction and then, when Israeli prime minister Netanyahu responded by announcing the construction of 3000 new settlement units to be followed by a “temporary partial freeze” that wouldn’t even include East Jerusalem, the Administration called for the Palestinians to enter negotiations anyway.

The message was delivered to the PA by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called Netanyahu’s acceptance of a “provisional Palestinian state” without defined borders an “historic step.” Clinton has done nothing to achieve Middle East peace, but she’s accomplished a miracle of comparable magnitude – she’s made us nostalgic for Condoleezza Rice. Abu Mazen responded in the only manner compatible with salvaging the last shred of his political and personal dignity – telling Obama and Clinton he’s finished. There are one too many knives stuck in his back, and American betrayals have destroyed his ability to lead.

Remember that all this occurred after the U.S. administration coerced Abu Mazen into asking the United Nations to bury the Goldstone Report – a position he was forced to reverse due to Palestinian outrage, completing his humiliation and his (please forgive the expression) political castration. Obama and Clinton have assumed that president Abbas is their puppet. This premise in fact is false – he is a conservative, compromising and now deeply discredited nationalist, but a Palestinian nationalist nonetheless. His resignation, leaving the U.S. policy of capitulation to every Israeli dictate without a figleaf, is the final service he could give to the Palestinian cause.

What next? I said there’s a faint glimmer of hope. This requires, first, that Abu Mazen sticks to his position in the face of massive pressure from the United States, Arab governments and the corrupt entrenched PA bureaucracy to rescind his resignation. It requires, second, an internal Palestinian political renovation that would coalesce around a leader capable of effectively waging both resistance and negotiation – the best candidate for which would probably be the imprisoned militant Marwan Barghouti. And it would require, third, that the growing international campaign of boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) force the United States to recognize the reality of Israel’s isolation and its declining value as a “strategic asset” so long as the Occupation continues.

Under these circumstances, the logjam in the Israel-Palestine disaster might start to break. If not – in particular, if U.S. pressure coerces Mahmoud Abbas to come back after all, meaning that he is effectively converted to the puppet the Americans thought he was – then the current glimmer of hope will be lost and any possibility of a viable “two-state solution” can be buried once and for all.

Nobel Ironies — The "He's Not George Bush Prize"

It seems doubly ironic that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has given its 2009 award to Barack Obama — just a few months after Arizona State University declined to award him the customary, symbolic honorary degree as its commencement speaker.

The ASU decision, on the grounds that President Obama “had not yet accomplished enough,” was fully understandable in view of the reputation which that esteemed University is committed to uphold.

You don’t command a degree from ASU on academic credentials alone, or just from a decade of teaching at elite law schools. At the well-known leading party school of the Great American Southwest, participation in a requisite number of alcohol-soaked frat binges, football riots or other forms of creative anti-social behavior is de rigeur. Nothing in Barack Obama’s documentary or police record indicates that he met these essential conditions of Arizona State University honors.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to see how President Obama has yet reached the stature of a Nobel Peace Prize winner either. For the most part, that award goes to figures who have either accomplished some tangible gains for human rights, or disarmament, or something – or else, as in the case of Henry Kissinger, attained the status of a truly world-class war criminal.

President Obama’s Nobel award, if we can interpret the committee’s language, would seem to be mainly a “He’s Not George W. Bush Prize.” Beyond that, given that his appeal for an Israeli settlement freeze has been met with open derision, and that he’s getting ready to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan for the next two or three decades, the label of “peacemaker” doesn’t quite fit – not yet, at least.

Miracles can happen, I guess. Let President Obama go on television and use his executive authority to order a ban on the importation of all products from Israeli settlements, the full disclosure of secret rendition and torture from the Clinton and GW Bush administrations, the long-overdue release of Leonard Peltier and Sami al-Arian, and for good measure the closure of Guantanamo as he promised – then we’ll have a Nobel Peace Prize winner we can believe in.

Crisis, Repression and Coup in Iran

It should go without saying that socialists anywhere in the world must stand on the side of the Iranian popular democratic resistance to election fraud, violent repression and tyranny. For those of us in the imperialist states and particularly in the USA, an important part of that solidarity with the Iranian people is our demand on our own government: HANDS OFF! The U.S. ruling class has no role to play in the struggle for Iranian democracy and freedom.

At the same time, those of us who are opponents of the empire must be partisans of people anywhere struggling to free themselves. The unfolding events in the Iranian crisis – beginning as a controlled competition within the clerical regime, which stirred democratic passions among the people far beyond anyone’s initial intentions — remind us, on the one hand, of the magnificent democratic mobilizations in Iran’s own history and globally, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Palestinian Intifada.

Today, on the other hand, they also remind us of some of the great tragedies of our era – the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 in South Africa, the Pinochet coup of September 11, 1973 in Chile, the pre-Olympic massacre in 1968 of students in Mexico City and last year’s brutal military repression against the people of Oaxaca, the 1981 Jaruzelski coup against Solidarity in Poland, the Burmese junta’s slaughter of protesters last year and, of course, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 in Beijing.

What has happened in Iran? It is plausible, though it will now remain forever impossible to determine, that the Ahmadinejad presidential regime might have been able to win a close victory in an authentic election. Evidently the massive pre-election demonstrations for Moussavi convinced the presidential apparatus, the Revolutionary Guards and the “Supreme Guide” Khamenei that nothing could be left to chance – and certainly that no second runoff round would be permitted.

Even with candidates vetted for their loyalty to the system, the expectation of a massive popular turnout meant that unlike past electoral exercises, the outcome and the aftermath might not be easily controlled. Therefore, a massive election theft was perpetrated, essentially undisguised in broad daylight – ballot box stuffing, unmonitored fraudulent counting (before as well as after the vote), and above all a pre-planned massive mobilization of repressive force against the outraged response.

The pretext of democratic institutions underlying the Islamic Republic has been sacrificed. Indeed, not only the “republic” part of the façade but also much of the “Islamic” part has been stripped — what’s occurred appears to have many qualities of a military quasi-fascist coup, albeit with Khamenei as an important figurehead.

The question now is whether this still unconsolidated presidentialist-Revolutionary Guard dictatorship can be imposed both on the population and on the decayed and divided clerical elite of mullahs that took control following the 1979 revolution. Moussavi and Rafsanjani, the main figures in the current opposition, are of course part and parcel of that old elite. If the Ahmadinejad-Revolutionary Guard repression succeeds in crushing their efforts, the democratic resistance will find new forms although the struggle will be protracted and costly.

The popular opposition lacks coherent leadership and above all, institutions capable of sustaining a long hard fight under repressive conditions. The statements of Iranian trade union militants for workers’ rights and against the dictatorship are an important stirring and powerful promise for the future, but these are only at an incipient stage. Nonetheless, the Ahmadinejad regime can neither produce economic prosperity nor satisfy people’s demands for freedom from crippling social and cultural repression. Increasingly this regime presents itself to the population as a government of gangsters.

To repeat: Nothing is so harmful to the democratic struggle in Iran as any hint of imperialist intervention, whether in the guise of “sanctions” or anything else. The right-wing politicians and “neoconservative” types who denounce Barack Obama “for failing to speak out forcefully on Iran” understand this perfectly. The existence of an unpopular and discredited Iranian dictatorship is perfectly suited to their agenda of escalating confrontation and ultimately war with Iran – an agenda they share with the Netanyahu government in Israel, threatening the most catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and the world.

Standing up FOR the Iranian people’s democratic struggle and AGAINST the imperialist agenda are one and the same struggle.