Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Top Israeli recipient of EU grants is based in occupied East Jerusalem

A college in occupied East Jerusalem is the top Israeli recipient of European Union science grants.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem took part in 237 projects under an EU multi-annual scientific research program, which ran from 2007 to 2013.

According to an internal EU document that I have seen, the university was the leading Israeli participant in the program.

EU officials have displayed a determination to continue aiding the university. After the Union published "guidelines" in 2013 stating that Israeli firms and institutions based in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank should not be given subsidies, its representatives promptly made clear that Hebrew University would not be affected.

A "frequently asked questions" paper issued by the EU's embassy in Tel Aviv contended that Hebrew University was not on occupied land, even though it has a campus in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The diplomats' argument rested on how Mount Scopus, where that campus can be found, was captured by Zionist forces in 1948, rather than 1967.

Threadbare

That reasoning is threadbare. Hebrew University has been encroaching into territory that Israel has been stealing since the start of its 1967 occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In 1968, Israel ordered the confiscation of 3,345 dunums of Palestinian land in the environs of Mount Scopus (a dunum equals 1,000 square meters). Hebrew University has expanded into that land.

The EU's position ignores how a large part of Issawiyeh, a Palestinian village neighboring Mount Scopus, has been expropriated in order to host dormitories and other facilities for students at the Hebrew University.

By trying to make a distinction between the violence leading to Israel's establishment in 1948 and the 1967 occupation, the EU is pandering to those liberal Zionists who wish to obfuscate the full extent of Israel's crimes.

As Ilan Pappe documents in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, academics from Hebrew University helped prepare the ground for the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the forced uprooting of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. Ben-Zion Luria, an historian at the university, recommended that the Jewish National Fund compile an inventory of Palestinian villages. Doing so would "greatly help the redemption of the land," Luria wrote.

Pappe has demonstrated how this proposal gave "added impetus and zeal to the expulsion plans" implemented in 1948.

Supporting genocide

Hebrew University has kept on lending its support to Israel's acts of genocide.

When Israel attacked Gaza in the summer of 2014, the university undertook a fundraising drive so that soldiers taking part in the offensive could be offered scholarships.

Some of the EU-funded schemes involving Hebrew University are high profile. The Human Brain Project, for example, has been allocated €54 million ($57.5 million) in EU funding between 2013 and next year. (This is part of a larger initiative likely to receive €1 billion from the Brussels bureaucracy and EU governments).

This attempt to understand how the brain functions has drawn criticism from a group of neuroscientists for allegedly being too narrow in focus. Surely, however, the involvement of an Israeli institution which supports attacks in which the children of Gaza have literally had their brains blown out is a far more serious matter.

The EU's aforementioned guidelines were compiled as preparations for Horizon 2020, as the Union's new science program is called. Israel is taking part in an equal basis in this program to the EU's own member countries.

Fawning

By only excluding entities that are actually based in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, the EU is glossing over institutions that abet the entire settlement enterprise.
Hebrew University is one such institution. Its staff have been known to sit on committees assessing planned appointments at Ariel University, which is located in the West Bank. Despite its cordial ties to that school for settlers, Hebrew University refuses to recognize degrees awarded by Al-Quds University, a Palestinian college in Jerusalem.

Top-level EU figures have displayed a fawning attitude towards Hebrew University. Receiving an honorary degree last year, the European Parliament's President Martin Schulz rhapsodized about that "exceptional moment in my life." Schulz used the conferring ceremony to oppose calls made by Palestinians for a boycott of Israel.

In so doing, the speaker of the EU's only directly-elected body proved he was more concerned with assuaging the oppressor than in upholding the rights of the oppressed. His stance was typical of how the Union supports Israeli apartheid, while claiming the opposite.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 14 April 2015.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Europe keeps on paying Israel's bills

One sordid example of Israel's impunity is that the EU keeps on picking up the tabs for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Since Operation Cast Lead - Israel's assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 - the EU has contributed around €540 million to the reconstruction effort. That sum comprised more than one-third of the total €1.3 billion that the Union has spent in Gaza during the past decade.

Israel attacked Gaza once again in the summer of 2014, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians. The schools and hospitals bombed by Israel had been funded by the EU. Yet despite how there is a moral imperative to hold Israel accountable for the destruction, the Union is instead contributing to the repair bill.

In one of her final engagements as the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton pledged in October 2014 that the EU would donate €450 million to rebuild Gaza - once again.

Foreign aid is big business. Consultants and policy wonks get paid handsomely by major donors to advise on how money ostensibly earmarked for alleviating poverty should be used.

A consortium of aid "experts" - led by the Rome-based firm Development Researchers Network - has been hired by the European Commission to evaluate its aid to Palestine. The consortium's report, published in July 2014, concluded that the EU "has not been willing or able" to address the "constraints" placed on its aid activities by the Israel.

It's not difficult to work out how the EU could start addressing those "constraints". Legal proceedings could be undertaken against Israel for bombing infrastructure financed by the European taxpayer. And economic sanctions could be introduced against Israel as a signal that its denial of Palestinian rights will no longer be tolerated. The consortium, however, did not recommend any bold action - just a few timid "reforms".

Under international law, an occupying power is obliged to meet the basic needs of the people under occupation. The EU's status as the largest donor to the West Bank and Gaza means that it is relieving Israel of its obligations.

Some of this aid is of direct help to the occupation. In 2012, the EU announced a €13 million "gift" of X-ray and computer equipment to Kerem Abu Shalem, the crossing for goods between Gaza and present-day Israel. That crossing is controlled by Israel, which has placed severe restrictions on imports to and exports from Gaza. By bestowing that gift, the EU became a junior partner for a medieval siege.

Such cooperation is inherently problematic. And it looks set to be expanded. The aid promised to Gaza in October 2014 will go through a UN "reconstruction mechanism". Israel has been given a veto on who can and cannot receive cement and other building material.

Meanwhile, the EU runs a €9 million-per-year "support mission" for the Palestinian Authority's police in the West Bank. A core objective of that "mission" is to boost cooperation between the Israeli and PA "security forces". Enforcement of the occupation is thereby being outsourced to the Palestinians themselves.

Bolstering the private sector in Palestine has been identified as a key priority for the EU's aid activities in 2015. Is it a coincidence that this priority chimes with that of Tony Blair? The European Union is, after all, one of the top donors to Blair's office in Jerusalem and part of the Middle East "quartet" that Blair represents.

In March 2014, Blair's office in Jerusalem published a blueprint for the corporate capture of Palestine. Titled The Initiative for a Palestinian Economy, it advocated that major firms be lured to the West Bank and Gaza by developing "special economic zones" and offering "financial incentives". "Special economic zones" are a fancy term for sweat-shops. "Financial incentives" mean exempting major companies from most, if not all, taxes.
Blair's blueprint was drawn up in consultation with about 100 Israeli and Palestinian business "leaders". Munib Masri, a billionaire from Nablus, is among those entrepreneurs enjoying cordial relations with Blair.

While ordinary Palestinians and their supporters worldwide are boycotting Israel, Masri has formed alliances with Israelis who benefit directly from the occupation. They include Rami Levy, who runs supermarkets in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, and Yossi Vardi, a technology guru who has relied largely on software engineers trained by the Israeli military.

There is something quite sinister going on here. Blair and the European Union are being guided by a wealthy Palestinian elite happy to cuddle up to the oppressor.

The EU has long been eager to promote cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. EU-sponsored discussions about joint energy projects overlook Israel's record of exploiting the Palestinians' natural resources in a manner that violates international law.

I'm not arguing that the EU should stop all aid to the Palestinians. Funding cuts for healthcare and education would cause a marked increase in suffering among a people who have already suffered too much.

Rather, I'm calling for a modicum of honesty. The EU's representatives should quit portraying their aid efforts as noble and generous. They should admit that European taxpayers are paying bills that Israel is legally obliged to pay. And they should sue Israel for destroying EU-funded infrastructure.

Much of the EU's aid is clearly indefensible, however. Far from bringing the Palestinians closer to freedom, the Union is requiring the oppressor and the oppressed to pretend they are the best of buddies. Even worse, such aid is turning Palestine into a laboratory for a perverse experiment that marries capitalism and militarism.

By pandering to an elite that is already doing nicely from the status quo, the experiment serves to entrench injustice.

•First published by Palestine News, Winter 2015 issue.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

EU invites profiteers of Saudi, Israeli war crimes to draft blueprint for future weapons

Preoccupied with a general election campaign, the British media have largely ignored a very real scandal: UK weapons are almost certainly being used to kill civilians in Yemen.

During 2014, the UK's largest arms company BAE Systems delivered eleven Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

Such warplanes have been deployed in recent Saudi attacks on Yemen, according to a small number of press reports. Most of those reports fail to mention BAE.

The high probability that BAE Systems is profiting from war crimes hasn't damaged its influence.

On Monday, 29 civilians died when the Saudis bombed the al-Mazraq refugee camp. That same day, a new group of arms industry leaders held its first meeting in Brussels.

Formally tasked with helping the European Union develop a program for weapons innovation, the group includes Ian King, BAE's chief executive.

$5 million salary

King commands an annual salary of £3.5 million ($5.2 million). He recently bragged of how BAE Systems was providing "good support" for the "national objectives" of Saudi Arabia, its number one client.

The new group of arms industry leaders is the latest in a series of initiatives taken by the EU to bolster weapons producers.

After George W. Bush declared his "war on terror," the EU assembled a similar group to draft a plan for a funding scheme on "security research." Eight representatives of arms companies -- among them BAE Systems -- were among that group's members.

Israel was a "central beneficiary" of the funding scheme set up as a result, according to an analysis undertaken at the European Parliament's request. Israeli firms and institutions took part in 26 percent of the projects financed under the scheme, which was allocated €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) between 2007 and 2013.

Militarization

Despite how the scheme was nominally restricted to civilian research, a number of its projects focused on drones, a deadly weapon invented by Israel. Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, the two main suppliers of drones used repeatedly to bomb Gaza, have both received EU science grants.

The purpose of the new group is to drop the pretense that the Union is only involved in "civilian" research. Another step is being taken towards the greater militarization of Europe.

The Israeli arms industry is not represented on the new group. Yet Israel enjoys an equal status to the EU's own member countries in the Union's research actitivites. More than likely, then, Israel's weapons-makers will be able to soak up whatever subsidies end up being offered.

It is also worth noting that some of the firms on the new group have strong links to Israel.

BAE Systems, for example, owns a firm called Rokar, which is based in Jerusalem. Rokar provides electronic equipment to the Israeli army.

Furthermore, BAE has manufactured "head-up displays" -- a key component of F-16 jets that the US exports to Israel.

Tom Enders and Mauro Moretti, the bosses of Airbus and Finmeccanica, belong to the EU's new group, too. In 2011, Airbus signed an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries to develop an "early warning system" for warplanes.

Italy's Finmeccanica, meanwhile, makes jet trainer aircraft that the Israeli military is buying as part of a $1 billion deal. Two of those aircraft were delivered to the Israeli air force around the time its bombardment of Gaza began last summer.

Some entrepreneurs do rather nicely from Israel's crimes against humanity. Some of those entrepreneurs sit on the EU's new group.

The profiteers of war and occupation have been invited to dictate an agenda that Europe's politicians will surely follow.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 1 April 2015.

The dodgy clairvoyants of the Israel lobby

One curious thing about the Israel lobby is that so many of its staff seem to be clairvoyants. Each foresees the same thing: Iran is less than one year away from having a nuclear bomb.

The certainty of these soothsayers is awe-inspiring. Time may pass and evidence may be produced to the contrary. Yet they keep warning us of the imminent apocalyspe.

The Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP) is led by such visionaries. Robert Satloff, director of that august body, has carefully decoded every nuance in Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech to the US Congress.

According to Satloff, the "key sentence" in the address contained a warning that any deal leaving Iran's nuclear programme "intact" would enable it build a bomb within twelve months. Satloff indicated that he held "conversations with two long-time Israeli defense officials" who confirmed that their nation's intelligence services share Netanyahu's fears.

Satloff is quite audacious. Although he concedes that the Israeli "security and intelligence establishment has not been viewed as a cheerleader" for Netanyahu's "overall Iran policy", he is convinced that they agree on this point. Why? Because unnamed "defense officials" told him.

Referring to conversations with anonymous insiders is a tried and tested way of sounding authoritative. Often, a reader has no way of testing if non-attributed "information" is reliable. In this case, however, there are good reasons to believe that Satloff has either been hoodwinked or that he is trying to hoodwink everyone else.

Not only has Mossad declined to be Netanyahu's "cheerleader", it has contradicted him outright. A 2012 cable drawn up by the Israeli intelligence agency and published by Al Jazeera in the past few weeks stated that Iran is not capable of adapting nuclear fuel for use in weapons because it does not have a nuclear reprocessing plant.

WINEP is treated with respect by the US establishment. Dennis Ross, its "distinguished fellow" (an official title, I kid you not), served as an adviser to Barack Obama. Martin Indyk, a WINEP founder who served in Bill Clinton's administration, once said that the think tank wished to convey an image "that we are friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way."

The predictions of its clairvoyants on have not proven to be credible. In 2002, it claimed that Iran's development of a nuclear bomb could "come much sooner" than the CIA had suggested. (George Tenet, then the CIA's chief, said that year that Iran could be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb by "late this decade").

Towards the end of 2002, the institute argued that the US "should pursue regime change in Iraq" as it "cannot afford to ignore Saddam's WMD [weapons of mass destruction] threat". By making that case, it contributed to the febrile atmosphere that enabled George W. Bush start an illegal war.

WINEP is part of a vibrant "Iran watch" industry. Many of this industry's players whipped up fear about Saddam Hussein's non-existent chemical and biological weapons before the invasion of Iraq. Without displaying any signs of embarrassment about their past blunders, they are now posing as experts on the "threat" from neighbouring Iran.

The Wisconscin Project on Nuclear Arms Control is one such player. In November 2002, its director Gary Milhollin wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal, stating that "every Western intelligence service believes" Saddam Hussein possessed a "mass destruction arsenal".

Flash forward to June 2012, when Daniel Schwammenthal, who heads the Brussels office of the American Jewish Committee, knocked out a piece for the same newspaper. Citing the Wisconscin Project, Schwammenthal asserted that Iran had acquired enough uranium for "at least four nuclear weapons".

The "Iran watch" industry can send out mixed messages.

Earlier this month, Tehran unveiled its cruise missile, the Soumar. According to a US neoconservative group called the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, the Soumar is "capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons" and "appears to be the ideal terror weapon".

The Times of Israel, a website set up by the right-wing hawk David Horowitz, may not have got the same memo. It reported that the Soumar is "no way near capable of delivering a nuclear device".

The website's "analysis" was shaped by a briefing given by the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies. Based in Herzliya, a city in the Tel Aviv district, that institute has representatives from Israel's largest arms-makers on its managing board.

They have a vested interest in scaremongering: doing so helps them sell weapons. Unlike some think tanks which cloak themselves in a veneer of "objectivity", the Fisher Institute is brazenly partisan. In May, it will hold a seminar to examine how the arms industry can help Israel win wars.

So it comes as no surprise that the institute depicts Iran as an existential menace to Israel, even if it appeared more relaxed about the Soumar than others in the Zionist lobby.

In December last, the institute teamed up with WINEP to hold a conference on the "threat of Iranian missiles". WINEP's Michael Eisenstadt called on Israel and NATO to increase their work on missile interceptors, using such "shields" during training exercises. Doing so would send a signal to Tehran that its use of weapons would "yield few benefits, while risking a punishing response," he told the conference.

The Zionist lobby has been so busy speculating about the possible results of Iran's nuclear programme that it has forgotten aout the actual results of Israel's activities. It has forgotten that Israel thas admitted introducing nuclear weapons to the Middle East and that it refuses to accept rules on avoiding proliferation that apply in most other countries, including Iran.

No doubt, the memory loss is deliberate. Iran is not on the verge of developing nuclear weapons but the thought that it might acquire them one day is intolerable for the Zionist lobby.

They might get their wires crossed occassionally but the lobbyists all follow the same script: no other country in the Middle East is allowed to rival Israel.

•First published by Middle East Eye, 16 March 2015.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Greece's new government should halt energy cooperation with Israel

By handing power to Syriza, the voters of Greece have stood up to the world's bullies. Overt meddling by the European Commission -- which claimed that a victory for the left would be the "wrong election result" -- failed to subvert democracy.


Given the humanitarian crisis that the EU institutions and the International Monetary Fund have inflicted on Greece, it was understandable that Syriza fought its campaign on bread and butter issues. Still, I was pleased to hear that Zionists were discomfited by the party's win. The Jerusalem Post, declared it was"bad news for Israel," citing the robust criticism of the 2014 attack on Gaza by Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister in Athens.


In a 2012 manifesto, Syriza committed itself to ending the military cooperation between Israel and Greece. If that promise is kept, then Syriza would reverse the shameful decisions taken by the two parties that have generally formed Greece's governments.


Both the social democrats Pasok and the right-wing New Democracy have approved Greek participation in joint exercises with the Israeli army over recent years. Such cooperation has become so close that it was reported in 2013 that the Israeli Air Force had begun making daily flights to Greece for training purposes.


Teaming up with apartheid


This isn't the only way that Greece has been teaming up with Israeli apartheid.


Also in 2013, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement on exploiting energy resources in their region. It included a plan to lay an electricity cable connecting Israel to Greece.


That pipeline has been identified as a "project of common interest" by the European Commission, meaning it is eligible for EU funding.


Another project granted that status could allow the "monetization" of the vast natural gas "discoveries" in the Eastern Mediterranean, according to one EU document. Known as the Southern Gas Corridor, the project would link Israeli-controlled gas fields to mainland Greece and possibly -- via interconnecting networks -- to Italy and Bulgaria.


Ethics overlooked


The strategic implications of these "discoveries" (mainly by the US giant Noble Energy) are not hard to work out. Today, the Israeli economy relies to a significant degree on Europe, its top destination for exports.


That situation could change if Israel becomes a significant supplier of energy. Israeli politicians would be able to tell the EU that "you need us."


The ethics of buying gas from an apartheid state appear not to have been discussed by the energy analysts in the Brussels bureaucracy.


Nor do they appear too bothered by the frictions which would be caused by the exploitation of these gas fields. That the size of the "discoveries" have been compared to Iraq's energy reserves is worrying enough, considering the horrors visited on that country by Western powers addicted to fossil fuels.


More troubling again, is that some of these fields are in what are euphemistically known as "disputed" waters. After Lebanon asserted in 2010 that some of the Leviathan gas field is located in its waters, an Israeli minister responded with a threat to maintain Israel's control of this key "discovery" by force.


Greece's location at the "entry door for the Southern Gas Corridor" could make it a "regional gas hub," the European Commission has stated.


Ensuring alternatives


There have been few reasons for Europe's left to be cheerful lately. Syriza's election victory is the most notable exception. But that triumph will soon turn sour if it emerges that Greece's new government is facilitating the entry of Israeli gas into Europe.


Syriza represents an alternative to the brutal economic policies of the world's bullies. These same bullies are wedded to a system built on the constant burning of gas, coal and oil. Although that system has caused climate change -- arguably the greatest risk to the human species -- the bullies remain determined to keep on burning those deadly fuels.


Ensuring a genuine alternative requires replacing austerity with massive public investment, especially in wind and solar power. The most obvious reward for countries, cities or provinces which undertake these investments is that they can enjoy a degree of self-sufficiency. No longer will they be dependent on imported energy.


Democracy is not limited to elections. And the attempts to destroy democracy have not been limited to Greece; the world's bullies are seeking to introduce a nastier form of capitalism wherever they sniff an opportunity to do so.


If Syriza and other left-wing parties to deliver on their promises, then they will require both solidarity and pressure from a broad movement. Severing ties to apartheid Israel should be one of the movement's key demands.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 29 January 2015.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tony Blair and the corporate capture of Palestine

Is Tony Blair laying the groundwork for the corporate conquest of Palestine?

Supposedly working as a "peace envoy" in Jerusalem, Blair has overseen the preparation of plans to entice foreign investment in the occupied West Bank and, possibly, Gaza. While the plans are being presented as beneficial to ordinary Palestinians, a closer reading indicates that they could have ruinous effects.

In one paper, Blair's team notes that Palestinian labour is "well-educated, relatively inexpensive and abundant". The same paper - part of the Initiative for the Palestinian Economy that Blair published last year - contains a recipe for the ruthless exploitation of that labour.

A key recommendation of these plans is that an "upgrade" should be performed to Palestinian industrial estates so that they become "special economic zones". A fancy term for sweatshops, "special economic zones" typically allow companies to pay less taxes and lower wages than those normally applying.
By proposing this measure, Blair is perpetuating a discredited model of development. The vogue for special economic zones has been traced to India's decision to offer firms in certain areas a five-year tax "holiday" and similar moves by China during the 1980s.

The thinking behind such gestures was that they would prime-pump the economies of poorer nations. In practice, they allow mega-corporations to dictate how the world is run, while condemning workers to yellow-pack jobs. As Naomi Klein demonstrated in her book No Logo, "entire countries are being turned into industrial slums and low-wage labour ghettoes, with no end in sight."

The deaths of Bangladeshi garment workers in fires over the past few years has drawn some attention to the inhuman conditions of these zones. When I asked a spokesperson for his Jerusalem office, if Blair was trying to worsen the conditions of Palestinian workers, I was told "absolutely not". Yet it is hard to see how Blair is recommending anything other than Bangladesh-style slavery.

Palestinian workers are not just "relatively inexpensive", as Blair's team claims. They are badly-paid. In 2013, the average net daily wages in the West Bank and Gaza were $26 for men and $21 for women, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Blair's cronies are always quick to recall that he introduced minimum wage legislation in Britain any time his legacy as prime minister is discussed. Such advances make amends for his less than pristine record in foreign policy, his cronies would have us believe (whereas ordinary folk regard the invasion of Iraq as a crime against humanity, the UK elite merely views it as a mistake).

Blair's current activities put his meagre achievements in a new light. If he was prepared to champion workers' rights in Britain, then why is he trying to destroy them in Palestine?

The most plausible answer is that he has been asked to do so. In theory, Blair is the representative of a "quartet" comprising the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN. Yet John Kerry, the American secretary of state, has given the impression that he is Blair's puppet-master.

In 2013, Kerry announced that he had charged Blair with preparing the blueprint for the Palestinian economy. It follows the related Breaking the Impasse initiative of the World Economic Forum (WEF), an exclusive club of political and business hotshots.

Breaking the Impasse reportedly began with a 2012 conversation between the WEF's chairman Klaus Schwab and the Israeli and Palestinian tycoons Yossi Vardi and Munib al-Masri. As its name suggests, the initiative has been packaged as one of "business leaders want peace".

Schwab's involvement should raise suspicions about what is really going on. He professes pride in how the World Economic Forum - under his direction - persuaded Nelson Mandela to abandon the main tenets of the 1955 Freedom Charter, which undertook that South Africa's minerals, banks and industry would be placed under public ownership once apartheid was vanquished.

By pressurising Mandela to sell out his principles, Schwab helped usher in a slightly modified system of racial stratification in South Africa. A few blacks were able to become rich, yet the vast majority of their kinfolk remained in poverty. Economic power was still wielded by a largely white clique.

Is something comparable now being envisaged for Palestine?

Blair's spokesperson told me that "multinational companies will be a key driver" of his initiative but that "Palestinian investment is a vital part" too.

The blueprint has been prepared in consultation with business leaders from both the Middle East and further afield. Blair's office has not published a full list of those leaders, yet Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft are known to have been involved in discussions about the blueprint.

Munib al-Masri, routinely described as Palestine's richest man, enjoys especially cordial relations with Blair. A paper on promoting tourism in the West Bank drafted as part of Blair's initiative names Padico, al-Masri's holding company, as a likely participant in a recommended "partnership" between public bodies and private firms.

This is a clear indication that one key objective of Blair and his team has been to increase the profits of their chum.

Benjamin Netanyahu has long been touting an "economic peace" with the Palestinians as a substitute for removing the injustices that Israel inflicts on them. The al-Masri family epitomises how pursuing this kind of peace is anathema to the quest for liberation. The family has shown a remarkable willingness to placate the oppressors of their people.

The Jewish National Fund is uprooting Palestinians from present-day Israel so that their traditional homes can be replaced with European-style forests. The al-Masris have helped confer respectability on the JNF. When the fund donated trees to Rawabi, a city that Munib al-Masri's nephew Bashar is building in the West Bank, Bashar initially accepted the gift.

In September last year, Blair told key donors to Palestine that the Israeli authorities - including the military - had been "fully briefed" about his blueprint. There is a disturbing logic to the cooperation: Blair's blueprint follows a pattern set by Israel.

The industrial zones that will be "upgraded" to fully-fledged sweatshops were established because of moves to restrict Palestinians from travelling into present-day Israel for work. It is no accident that most of the zones are dotted along the wall that Israel is building in the West Bank as part of a deliberate ploy to corral Palestinians into a sliver of their historic homeland.

The construction of these zones involves the theft of agricultural land. In April last year, farmers determined to stay in areas earmarked for the zones were served with compulsory purchase orders by the Palestinian Authority. Not for the first time, the PA has proved more eager to placate Israel and big business than to uphold Palestinian rights.

These industrial zones - in Bethlehem, Jericho, Jenin and Hebron - are located in areas that were nominally placed under Palestinian control by the Oslo accords. Yet it is important to note that Israel has already set up sweatshops in the Jewish-only settlements it has built in the occupied West Bank. Firms active in these settlements have often evaded wage and environmental laws applying inside Israel.

Many aspects of Blair's work in the Middle East are obscene. A "peace envoy" is effectively urging Palestinians to ape the practitioners of a military occupation. And a former leader of Labour - a party with an umbilical link to the struggle for workers' rights - is dressing up exploitation as progress.

•First published by Middle East Eye, 14 January 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Why are weapons-makers excited by TTIP?

Could the world's largest weapons company soon be managing part of our medical systems?


That absurd and nasty idea is being actively discussed. The National Health Service in England recently held a meeting for firms interested in providing support services to doctors. Among those firms were Lockheed Martin, the same company that has supplied interrogators to the US torture chambers of Guantanamo Bay, fighter jets to Israel and cluster bombs dropped by US forces in Afghanistan.


Not content with arming a superpower, Lockheed has been trying to muscle into civilian markets. For a number of years, it has been involved in running parts of the postal services in the US and Sweden.


The arms industry is hoping that the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will provide it with greater opportunities.


The Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) - an umbrella group for weapons-dealers - has calculated that more than half of the 24 topics raised in the initial stages of the EU-US trade talks affect the companies it represents. Top of the list is "government procurement" - a fancy term for providing goods to public authorities and, in some cases, letting corporations run vital services.


Nothing to worry about?


Cecilia Malmström, the EU's trade commissioner, tells us there is nothing to worry about. "No EU trade deal has ever restricted EU member states' freedom to organise their public services the way that they chose," she said earlier this month.


A British health minister, Frederick Curzon, has nonetheless insisted that healthcare be covered by the eventual agreement. Contrary to the impression that Malmström is trying to give, the European Union has not excluded public services from the remit of the talks.


EU trade officials have proven very amenable to the requests of the arms industry. Procurement of military equipment was one of the topics included in a June 2013 paper guiding the EU's approach to the talks. That followed secretive confabs which the trade officials held with Europe's top weapons firms.


Since then, both the EU and US have apparently decided that "defence" is too sensitive a matter for a trade accord. But that doesn't mean that the merchants of death have lost interest.


An analysis by the European Union Institute for Security Studies - a pro-war "think tank" funded by taxpayers - notes that the demarcation lines between what is "military" and "civilian" are becoming increasingly blurred. Taxes levied on the imports and exports of electronic goods with military applications might be reduced as a result of TTIP, the paper suggests.


"While it is unlikely that attack helicopters will fall directly under the provisions of the TTIP, on-board technologies sourced from the civilian sector - such as sensor equipment and landing gear - may well be included," the institute's Daniel Fiott has written.


Predatory


Saab - maker of radars deployed by British troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan - has identified the EU-US trade talks as a priority for its team of lobbyists in Brussels.


Saab also belongs to the Trans-Atlantic Business Council (TABC), a corporate club that has prepared much of the groundwork for the EU-US talks.


The TABC wants "all public institutions" on both sides of the market to be opened up to private firms when they are issuing contracts. This indicates that the business lobby is behaving in a predatory manner towards health and other vital services.


Is Cecilia Malmström willing to protect Europe's welfare states from the business lobby? I doubt it.


•First published by EUobserver, 18 December 2014.