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A Partner For Peace

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When reading about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the mainstream media, one constantly comes up with the same flaw: Israel is virtually always portrayed as acting in `good faith', i.e. that it is acting with the aim of increasing Israel's security, or that it is trying to achieve peace, albeit in a thoroughly misguided fashion.

Unfortunately, the evidence does not bear this out. What the evidence tells us is this: Israel does not want peace with the Palestinians. Some Israelis point to Oslo and Camp David to prove how much they were willing to compromise for peace. Others point to the Gaza disengagement to show that unilateral Israeli concessions are met with terror and violence. There are several problems with this idea.

Firstly, let's talk Oslo. The Oslo Accord was not an attempt at peace. Essentially, the main outcome of the 1993 Accord was to legitimise the Israeli occupation. After the Gulf War, the PLO was `on the verge of bankruptcy' and `in [a] weakened condition' (Uri Savir, Israel's chief negotiator at Oslo, cited by Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, page xix), and Israel seized the chance to recruit them as "enforcers". As Finkelstein writes, "This was the real meaning of the Oslo Accord signed in September 1993: to create a Palestinian Bantustan by dangling before Arafat and the PLO the perquisites of power and privilege…"

The Accord essentially gave the Palestinians nothing — it didn't even speak of self-determination. Israel's intent in signing it was illustrated well by its actions in the decade following — it continued to rapidly expand its illegal settlements in Palestinian Occupied Territory, as this report from B'Tselem notes: "The political process between Israel and the Palestinians did not impede settlement activities, which continued under the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin (1992-1996) and all subsequent governments. These governments built thousands of new housing units, claiming that this was necessary to meet the 'natural growth' of the existing population. As a result, between 1993 and 2000 the number of settlers on the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) increased by almost 100 percent."

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami describes accurately how the Israelis viewed Oslo:

Arafat conceived Oslo as a way … to come back to the territories and control the politics of the Palestinian family. Don't forget that the Intifada, to which Oslo brought an end, started independently of the P.L.O. leadership, and he saw how he was losing control of the destiny of the Palestinians … So in Oslo, he made enormous concessions.

In fact, when he was negotiating in Oslo with us, an official Palestinian delegation was negotiating with an official Israeli delegation in Washington, and the official Palestinian delegation was asking the right things from the viewpoint of the Palestinians — self-determination, right of return, end of occupation, all the necessary arguments — whereas Arafat in Oslo reached an agreement that didn't even mention the right of self-determination for the Palestinians, doesn't even mention the need of the Israelis to put an end to settlements … So this was the cheap agreement that Arafat sold, precisely because he wanted to come back to the territories and control the politics of Palestine.

So now let's move on to Camp David in 2000. The popular myth is that at Camp David, Barak offered these crazy concessions no Israeli leader had dared make before, and the stubborn Palestinians still rejected it. In fact, what was offered at Camp David was the creation of a Palestinian state split into four separate cantons — de facto non-contiguous. Also included was a clause stating that, once signed, this agreement would be the final settlement. In other words, upon signing, the Palestinians would give up prior claims based on international law. There was no way Arafat could sign. Again, contrary to popular mythology, it was not the Israelis who compromised at Camp David, but the Palestinians. As Finkelstein explains:

Under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, it's illegal for any occupying country to transfer its population to Occupied Territories. All of the settlements, all of the settlements are illegal under international law…The Palestinians were willing to concede 50% – 50% of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. That was a monumental concession, going well beyond anything that was demanded of them under international law.

Borders…Under international law, Israel had to withdraw from all of the West Bank and all of Gaza. As the World Court put it in July 2004, those are, quote, "occupied Palestinian territories." Now, however you want to argue over percentages, there is no question…the Palestinians were willing to make concessions on the borders.

Jerusalem…under international law Israel has not one atom of sovereignty over any of Jerusalem…The World Court decision said Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory. Now, the Palestinians were willing…to divide Jerusalem roughly in half, the Jewish side to Israel, the Arab side to the Palestinians.

…refugees … under international law every Palestinian, roughly five to six million, has the right to return…to their homes or the environs of their homes in Israel. That's the law. Now, Dr. Ben-Ami will surely agree that the Palestinians were not demanding and never demanded the full return of six million refugees. He gives a figure of 4-800,000…other authors have given figures of the tens of thousands to 200,000 refugees returning. That's well short of six million.

On every single issue, all the concessions came from the Palestinians. The problem is, everyone, including Dr. Ben-Ami in his book – he begins with what Israel wants and how much of its wants it's willing to give up. But that's not the relevant framework. The only relevant framework is under international law what you are entitled to, and when you use that framework it's a very, very different picture.

In fact, the only significant break in almost constant U.S./Israeli rejectionism in recent years was Taba in 2001. Just as that initiative looked like it was going somewhere, Barak left the negotiating table.

As to Gaza, this argument is disingenuous, at best. Firstly, Israel didn't stop occupying Gaza, it simply changed the nature of the occupation. As John Dugard, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories, recently explained:

In August 2005 Israel withdrew its settlers and armed forces from Gaza. Statements by the Government of Israel that the withdrawal ended the occupation of Gaza are grossly inaccurate… First, Israel retained control of Gaza's air space, sea space and external borders…In effect, following Israel's withdrawal Gaza became a sealed-off, imprisoned society. The effectiveness of Israel's control was further demonstrated by sonic booms caused by its overflying aircraft, designed to terrorize the population of Gaza, regular shelling of homes and fields along the border and targeted assassinations of militants, which, as in the past, were carried out with little regard for innocent civilian bystanders…The actions of IDF in respect of Gaza have clearly demonstrated that modern technology allows an occupying Power to effectively control a territory even without a military presence. [source: go here, and open document `A/HRC/2/5′]

Secondly, even if we pretend the disengagement did end the occupation, the West Bank remains occupied and the Palestinians remain stateless. Gaza and the West Bank are to be considered as one unit, so if resistance in the West Bank is justified (and it is) then resistance in Gaza is justified. Imagine if Tel Aviv were occupied — would mean that only people in Tel Aviv would be allowed to resist? It's an absurd argument.

Of course, the rejectionism goes back beyond Oslo as well. What was the reason for the invasion of Lebanon? In order to crush the PLO, which was threatening the Israeli occupation with its "peace offensive" (Avner Yaniv, cit. Finkelstein p. xix) — recognition of Israel and support for a two-state settlement (which, of course, Israel didn't want).

And, unsurprisingly, U.S./Israeli rejectionism continues today. In Beirut in 2002, the Arab League produced a peace proposal that not only met the requirements of international law, but went beyond them. Essentially, it called for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with E. Jerusalem as its capital. The initiative called not for the Palestinian refugees' 'right to return' to be observed, as demanded by international law, but merely for 'a just solution' to the refugee problem. In return, the Arab states offered not only 'comprehensive peace', but a 'full normalization of relations'.

If Israel were a state that truly wanted peace, you would have expected it to jump for joy at this proposal, unanimously approved by all the Arab states, for full peace with Israel in return for Israel simply adhering to the law. Granted, the proposal didn't address everything — it wasn't perfect. For example, it didn't mention water rights. But it was an amazing step, and the least a peace-seeking Israel would do is sit down and negotiate with the Arab League based on the proposal. So what did Israel do? It dismissed it, and has ignored it since.

In his excellent book, Image and Reality, Norman Finkelstein describes another occasion where Israel worked to prevent peace:

In July 2002, Israel moved quickly to avert yet another political catastrophe. With assistance from European diplomats, militant Palestinian organizations, including Hamas, reached a preliminary accord to suspend all attacks inside Israel, perhaps paving the way for a return to the negotiating table. Just ninety minutes before it was to be announced, however, Israeli leaders – fully apprised of the imminent declaration — ordered an F-16 to drop a one-tonne bomb on a densely populated civilian neighbourhood in Gaza, killing, alongside a Hamas leader, eleven children and five others, and injuring 140. Predictably, the declaration was scrapped and Palestinian terrorist attacks resumed with a vengeance. `What is the wisdom here?' a Meretz party leader asked the Nesset. `At the very moment that it appeared that we were on the brink of a chance for reaching something of a ceasefire, or diplomatic activity, we always go back to this experience — just when there is a period of calm, we liquidate.

More recently, Jordan's King Abdullah tried to inject some life into the peace process, worried as he was by the observation the `Arab street' was becoming increasingly radicalised, "I don't think people are taking us [moderates] seriously. The moderate voice now has been neutralized…the reason [for the Arab street cheering Hassan Nasrallah as opposed to King Abdullah] is because Israel is not committed to a process of peace."

Eariler this month, the Arab League called for a U.N Security Council meeting to revive the peace process by focusing not on the incremental step-by-step approach of the `oadmap', but by getting both sides to sign on the dotted line first, again based on the Arab peace proposal of 2002. This call won virtual unanimous approval — but, predictably, both the United States and Israel dismissed it. The U.S. was "unequivocally opposed" to the idea of a meeting to discuss the peace process, on the basis that, "we all unfortunately know that … when we get in a room or we get a document in front of us, there is a pattern of hostility toward one party and that's Israel".

The U.S. is evidently so concerned about shielding Israel from possible offence, it is no longer willing to allow peace talks with its neighbours. Likewise, when Russia proposed a similar Middle East peace conference in the same month, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni rejected it, declaring, "I think putting all of the issues … into one bowl would only make things more complicated".

This is very interesting. The Arab states that matter here — Syria and Lebanon — have made clear that their peace with Israel is inseparably linked to a solution to the Palestinian problem. The Arab League peace proposal likewise requires the creation of a Palestinian state based on international law in return for peace with all Arab states. Israel, unfortunately, does not want to make peace with the Palestinians. It figures, correctly, that as long as it enjoys uncritical U.S. support, it can prolong the occupation for as long as it wants to, perhaps forever.

Meanwhile it will create "facts on the ground" and wait for the "right time" so that when it comes to a peace settlement, the terms will be favourable to Israel. Alternatively, if it gets another opportunity like the war of `48, Israel can execute the `transfer' option – that is, to forcibly evict the Palestinians from their land. Thus, Livny has good reason to reject the Arab peace proposal, and to reject "putting all of the issues…into one bowl". Doing so would entail resolving the Palestinian conflict, which as the historical evidence shows, is an anathema to Israel.

Recently, indepedently from the Arab League, Syria has been making noises about peace. For example, in an interview for Der Spiegel, President Bashar Assad said, "There can be no peace in the Middle East without Syria. The Lebanon and the Palestinian conflicts are inextricably linked with Syria. I have already mentioned the 500,000 Palestinian refugees. Were we to resolve our territorial dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights alone, we wouldn't achieve stability. We would only be taking away the Palestinians' hope and would be turning them from refugees into resistance fighters. This is why Syria is so determined to achieve a comprehensive peaceful solution … I don't say that Israel should be wiped off the map. We want to make peace — peace with Israel."

Olmert responded to these overtures with a firm dismissal, emphasising that there can be no talks with Syria, "These are reasons that even Syria's statements that it is interested in negotiations cannot be taken seriously … It (Syria) was and remains the main supporter of the Palestinian terror groups who daily try to carry out terrorism against the state of Israel. In my opinion, this is not a foundation on which it is possible to hold peace negotiations."

Is that the action of a state seeking peace? Of course not. The sad fact is that Israel does not want peace with Syria, as Gideon Levy explains, "If there is a positive angle to the Israeli refusal to consider the Syrian president's proposals, it is the exposure of the bitter truth: Israel does not want peace with Syria — period. No linguistic trick or diplomatic contortion can change this unequivocal fact … In the Middle East, a new rejectionist axis has formed: Israel and the United States, which is saying 'no' to Syria."

In today's Ha'aretz, Uzi Benziman asks a similar question, "Is Israel a partner?" His answer, essentially, is "no": "There is no way of knowing whether Israel's willingness to withdraw from the West Bank and the Golan Heights would result in reliable, long-term peace agreements, but it can be confirmed that Israel is largely responsible for the fact that such moves have not been seriously considered or formulated."

But his explanation for "why?" is wrong: "Israel missed and continues to miss opportunities to normalize relations with the Palestinians and with the Syrians not because of mental blocks, but rather because of domestic political considerations. Mahmoud Abbas and Bashar Assad are defined as non-partners not because Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz have an emotional problem preventing them as partners in dialogue, but because they do not have the political power to do so."

This is precisely the wrong way round, atleast when talking about the Palestinians. Granted, Israeli public opinion is against returning the Golan Heights to Syria, thanks in large part to the mistaken belief that it still gives a significant strategic advantage to its owner, aswell as the annexation law  which allows some Israelis to pretend the Golan Heights are not occupied land. But regarding the Palestinians, in recent years the Israeli government has almost always been to the right of Israeli public opinion. For example, in a poll conducted this September, it was found that 67% of Israelis support negotiations with a Palestinian national unity government which includes Hamas, and 53% of Israelis support negotiations with a Hamas-led government.

Despite this, Olmert's government have chosen to ignore Hamas' tentative hints of peace talks, refused to engage with them and used collective punishment and economic strangulation to try and force them out of power. This has nothing to do with political will; Israel knows that in any future peace agreement, Hamas will strike a much harder bargain than Fatah, and so Hamas has to go.

So once we, as Jonothan Cook suggests, cast off the lens of "good faith" and "good intentions" through which the media usually examine the Israel/Palestine conflict, we can see that, despite the will of the Israeli public, despite the opinion of virtually the entire international community and despite the rule of international law, it is evident the Palestinians truly have no partner for peace.

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  • Simon H

    A good piece, nicely pulls together resources to dispel the myths.

    As I remember the rather marvelous Camp David deal also generously took all the decent land agriculturual and water supplies to Israel and kindly gave Israel’s waste dumpign areas to the Palestinians.

    So kind..

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    Yeh, in virtually every respect the Camp David agreement would have been a disaster for the Palestinians, had they accepted it. Of course, the proposed deal was +so+ far away from being acceptable that there was no way Arafat could accept it, but it served a useful purpose for Israel becauase it allowed it to claim that it had tried peace, it offered crazy compromises for peace, and those pesky Palestinians still turned it down.

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    the creation of a Palestinian state split into four separate cantons – de facto non-contiguous

    I’m curious to know how you magically would divvy things up to end up with a contigous Palestinian state….

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    It’s eaay, Deano. You don’t have cantons, you don’t have an Israel. You have a pack of Jews “enjoying” dhimmitude under the Arabs (rapes, massacres, etc.) while Jamie here enjoys himself in London.

    That’s where this garbage leads. And before that happens, a whole pack of Arabs die, because frankly, we will not take that kind of shit and will die fighting.

    The fool who wrote this article has no clue as to just how serious I am. He ran away from “serious” when he left Israel, and so long as the Arabs don’t kick him in the balls, he will pontificate till the pigs come home.

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    Deano: There is no way Gaza can be literally connected to the West Bank, although there are ways (e.g. high speed rail) to compensate somewhat for this. The point is that Camp David offered to split the West Bank into a further three de facto non-contiguous cantons. Obviously, from the viewpoints of both the Palestinians and international law, this is completely unacceptable.

    Ruvy: Is your argument here what it looks like? Are you essentially saying, ‘there’s no way we can allow the Palestinians no escape poverty and misery and form a viable state, because if they do Israel will no longer survive’?
    If you are, that’s compeltely ridiculous – unless you’d like to provide some reasoning to back up your assertion.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Jamie, you know my argument by now. The hostile Arabs need to leave Israel for Jordan, the Arab refugees need to leave Lebanon for Jordan. They get the land east of the river, we get it west of the river.

    We do what we can (which is quite a lot once you get the thieves and the traitors out of power here) to see to it that the Arab state immediately to our east lives in prosperity – and not in dependence on us.

    But – the thieves in Israel need to go, and the concept of OUR CONTROL OFVER THE ENTIRE LAND needs to be recognized by the ruler of the land east of the Jordan. That is the route of peace and the route of prosperity.

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    Hmm – so essentially you’re going for the ‘transfer’ option. That is; when the Zionists first proposed setting up a Jewish homeland in Palestine, they faced a problem – the Palestinians already living there. How to create a Jewish majority, with Jewish rule? There was the ‘South Africa’ option, where you basically have a minority rule over the majority by force, and the ‘transfer’ option, where you ‘cleanse’ the land of its inhabitants.

    Either option is both immoral and illegal (actually, come to think of it, doesn’t that necessarily make Zionism immoral?).

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Jamie, in an essay that I will soon attempt to get published here, I will argue that Zionism is on its way out, having accomplished its essential task of rescuscitating a Jewish nation here.

    Zionism is represented by a court jester named Olmert and a chancellor and chamberlain named Peres, a man determined to be “king of the Jews” even if it kills us all.

    I do not have any trouble with someone saying that this unholy pair is immoral. It hurts me to see people I have put real faith in, like Rzv Adin Steinsaltz, when they are shown not to live up the potential I prayed for, but that is not the issue here.

    You just refuse to bite the bullet and admit that transfer is a better solution than the bullshit that the EU and the US is trying to shove down our throats here – even when trasfer has been used against you very own people. Or have you ostracized the refugees of Gush Qatif from your realm of acceptable people?

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    ‘You just refuse to bite the bullet and admit that transfer is a better solution than the bullshit that the EU and the US is trying to shove down our throats here’

    A better solution for who? The Israeli Jews? Does everything to fit around the security needs of the Israeli Jews? Are Jews the only people who deserve the right of self-determination?
    The ‘transfer’ method, i.e. ethnic cleansing, is quite obviously illegal and immoral. The Palestinians have an absolute legal and moral right to form an independent state in the occupied territories. Ethnic cleansing is disgusting – the mass, forced expulsion of millions of people from their homes is a crime against humanity. I can’t believe you’re advocating it. I can only think its because you have long ago stopped thinking of Palestinians as human beings of equal ‘worth’ as Israeli Jews.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Jamie,

    My solution is a better solution for the Arabs here and for us Jews. I don’t propose immediate expulsion of Arabs from the country, but a gradual leaving over two generations that allows the Arabs here to build up wealth enough to resettle east of the Jordan, with the opportunity to buy and cultivate land or to develop buinesses if they so choose. Only the hostile Arabs would have to leave immediately.

    The idea is to build up an Arab economy that is independent of Israel so that Arabs would be able to live in dignity and prosperity without being dependent upon Israel. At this point, any Arab entity carved out of our land would be an economic dependency of Israel, and Israelis would continue to view Arabs as cheap – albeit dangerous – labor.

    Do you have a better solution or are the Arabs supposed to dip their pita in your heightened sense of sympathy and morality?

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    Oh, I see. You’re advocating ethnic cleansing because you’re concerned about Arab welfare…yes, I missed that one.

    It’s a question of rights. THe Palestinians have a moral, but more important LEGAL right to an independent state (not dependent on Israel, so you’re concern is misplaced) on the West bank and Gaza. If they want to exercise that right, as they so obviously do, then they must be allowed to.

    Don’t try and base your argument for illegal cleansing, gradual or not, on Arab welfare. All that matters is that the Palestinians want a state in the occupied territories, and they have a legal right to establish one there. That’s it, end of story (for this purpose).

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Jamie, for you in London, this may seem to be the “end of the story.”

    I got an interesting e-mail that indicates why the hate spewed from Hamas, (the local branch office of the Islamic Brotherhood, originally from Egypt) means that they, along with the PLO and all the other “Palestinian” terrorists must be eliminated. As in murdered off, exterminated like the cockroaches they are.

    While traitors like you defend Moslems in England, this is what Moslems have to say about people like you.

    El yahud clabna, falastin bladna: the Jews are our dogs and Palestine is our country

    This is part of the text:

    A man brazenly shoots his way into the Jewish Federation of Seattle, kills a woman and wounds four others, three critically. As he opens fire, the alleged assailant says: “I am a Muslim and I’m angry at Israel,” as if to indicate that his religious affiliation gives him permission to kill Jews.

    In a second incident, Mel Gibson, a Hollywood director and actor, is arrested in Malibu on suspicion of drunk driving. He allegedly screams at the officer: “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” not realizing that nearly all today’s wars are Islamic wars. He also asks his arresting officer, “Are you Jewish?”

    In the third incident, in the streets of San Francisco, Palestinians chanted proudly in Arabic and without fear of being detected, “The Jews are our dogs!”

    The common denominator in all three incidents is hate, racism, intolerance, and bigotry. While Jew-hating is not a new phenomenon, it has recently become the insult de rigueur in many parts of our society. As a human being, I deplore all forms of hate, but the third incident has a special meaning to me, as the following paragraphs will clearly show.

    The incident happened when I was at the anti-Israel demonstration in front of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco on Thursday, July 12. The demonstration, organized by a Palestinian group called Al-Awda, was loud, boisterous and passionate. Suddenly and shockingly, demonstrators began chanting in Arabic, “Al-Yahud kelabna!” Or, “The Jews are our dogs!”

    My first reaction to the Palestinian chanting was one of disbelief. Then, I felt a mixture of fear, anger and heavy-heartedness. Terrible memories cascaded before me, taking me back to when I was a young boy growing up in Egypt. These memories included Egyptian mobs descending upon the Jewish quarter of Cairo chanting “Al-Yahud kelabna,” followed by violence that left some Jews dead and injured, and the community dazed.

    Egyptian Muslim mobs no longer do this, because there is no longer an Egyptian Jewish community to speak of. We once were over 80,000. Today, there are fewer than 50 Jews remaining in Egypt. Indeed, once-thriving Jewish communities in ten Arab countries were likewise cleansed. Today, virtually no Jews remain in the Arab or Muslim world.

    ————————————————–

    I’ll leave you to read the rest while you adjust your leash and criticize me for “ethnic cleansing.”

  • http://heathlander.wordpress.com Jamie Stern-Weiner

    I don’t understand your point. That there are Arabs and Palestinians who are extreme anti-Semites? Of course there are.

    This is the equivalent of me finding three quotes from Israeli Jews (hell, even Israeli Prime Ministers) of racism twoards Arabs/Palestinians and try to use this to prove some kind of point.

    As to the ethnic cleansing – if Jews were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries, would you find this acceptable? What about in any other case – when the pioneers ethnically cleansed the native americans from their land, was this acceptable? Is ethnically cleasning EVER acceptable? No. Its not acceptable no matter who the culprit and victims are, and yes, shockingly, that still holds true if the culprit is Israel.

    But anyway, your whole attempt to frame the debate in terms of Irael’s security needs is disingenuous. As Amos Oz asks, What does Israel, the fourth ranking military power on the planet, have to fear from a Palestinian state 1//5 the size of Albania and 1/2 the population of Kuwait? Its a ludicrous argument – as one former Israeli Foreign Minister said, ‘Israel has as much to fear from a Palestinian state as the Soviet Union does from Luxemburg’.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Jamie,

    You really do need to adjust that leash the Arabs have slipped on you so you can get some oxygen to your brain…

    I never got a chance to approve of the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Arab states. What you defend is Jew-hatred with pathetic remarks about anti-Arab comments.

    And you refuse to get it at all. You, Jamie, are the one threatened in Exile by Arabs who consider you nothing more than a dog. If they beat you up, (G-d forbid), your family will have to argue with cops too gutless to carge the Arabs with a hate crime.

    If Arabs try to storm the security of my village, they will be killed. No Jew in Ma’aleh Levona will be beaten by Arabs with impunity. That is what this article is to demonstrate to you. That the people you so busily and spiritedly defend consider you as nothing more than a dog. If you refuse to realize this, maybe you are one…

    Like I said, at least loosen your leash and let some oxygen into your brain…