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Converging Palestine: Israel's Moment PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Thursday, 18 May 2006 10:23
Converging Palestine: Israel's Moment

AG
- Patrick Seale - American support is absolutely essential if Olmert is to have a chance of imposing his plan not only on the Palestinians, but on world opinion. He has attempted to disguise the full ruthlessness of his ideas by using the innocuous term of "convergence," by which he means the in-gathering of scattered outlying settlements into the major settlement blocs, including Ariel, located deep inside Palestinian territory some 26 kilometres from the Green Line.

www.agenceglobal.com

Bush and Palestine:
The Moment of Truth

Patrick Seale

? 2005 Patrick Seale
[republished at PEJ News with
permission of Agence Global]


Ehud Olmert is due to meet President George W. Bush at the White House on 23 May. For George W. Bush to deliver uncritical support for the current and planned policies of the newly-elected prime minister of Israel would be a mistake.



Ehud Olmert is heading for Washington next week for the ritual meeting of an incoming Israeli prime minister with his superpower patron. He is due to meet President George W. Bush at the White House on 23 May. This meeting is of extraordinary importance because Olmert's main purpose is to secure U.S. backing for his plan unilaterally to impose Israel's final borders on the Palestinians.

The plan involves expanding the major West Bank settlement blocs, cutting off East Jerusalem from its Arab hinterland, annexing land within the so-called security barrier and sealing off the Jordan Valley to Palestinians.

It will lock the Palestinians into three or four isolated cantons, entirely at Israel's mercy.

Olmert wants to avoid negotiations at all costs because he knows that no Palestinian leader, even the most moderate, could possibly accept such a sweeping land-grab. Even the timid Europeans balk at Israeli high-handedness and insist that any change to the 1967 borders must be arrived at by negotiation.

Hence, American support is absolutely essential if Olmert is to have a chance of imposing his plan not only on the Palestinians, but on world opinion. He has attempted to disguise the full ruthlessness of his ideas by using the innocuous term of "convergence," by which he means the in-gathering of scattered outlying settlements into the major settlement blocs, including Ariel, located deep inside Palestinian territory some 26 kilometres from the Green Line.

The plain fact is that if Olmert's plan is implemented, it will rule out any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. As Mahmud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, told the European Parliament this week, Olmert's programme "will destroy any remaining hope of reviving the peace process."

This, then, is President Bush's moment of truth. He has said in the past that he favours the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. Now is the moment -- perhaps the very last moment -- when such a desirable outcome remains possible.

Has Bush the will and the vision to say no to Olmert and defy the powerful forces Israel can mobilise in the United States itself? A president trapped in the quagmire of Iraq -- with the polls showing that 69 per cent of Americans say their country is on the wrong track -- is hardly likely to summon the political courage necessary to confront such pressures. Yet Bush must surely know that if he backs Olmert's plan, then he dooms the region to further violence and fuels a further surge of anti-American anger, already at fever pitch.

This is the choice facing the American president. In spite of all the danger signals, the evidence suggests that Bush will crumble and that Olmert will get his way: Not for the first time, the Israeli tail will wag the American dog.

The United States has already made clear where its sympathies lie. Ever since the Hamas victory at the Palestinian elections last January, the world has witnessed the scandal of a whole population under economic siege, led by the United States and Israel.

Collective punishment, illegal under international law, is being inflicted on the Palestinians. In the words of London's Financial Times: "It is an immoral weapon to use against a prostrate and occupied people."

Yet hardly a Western voice has been raised in the Palestinians' defence -- with one notable exception. To his great credit, former President Jimmy Carter, more than ever the anguished conscience of an America that has lost its way, wrote in the International Herald Tribune on May 8 that "innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime" -- because they voted for Hamas.

Initially, the European Union joined the United States and Israel in their attempt to starve Hamas into submission or drive it from office. But on May 15, EU foreign ministers were brave enough to admit to second thoughts. Faced with an impending humanitarian catastrophe in the occupied territories, they asked the European Commission to devise a "temporary international mechanism" to channel aid into the occupied territories through the World Bank, and thus bypass the Hamas government.

Relief may be delayed, however, because the president of the World Bank is none other than Paul Wolfowitz, a leading pro-Israeli neocon who, when U.S. deputy defence secretary, was a prime architect of the Iraq war. Wolfowitz is said to be "reticent" about the EU plan.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to impose an infamous banking blockade on the Palestinians, preventing aid from Saudi Arabia and Qatar from reaching the territories. In the words of Jimmy Carter, "the U.S. government is threatening the financial existence of any Jordanian or other bank that dares to transfer this [Arab] assistance into Palestine."

How is such vindictiveness to be explained? Why the boycott of Hamas? Hamas is shunned and demonised on the grounds that it is a terrorist organisation which, in the past, sent suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians. But has Israel not itself practised state terrorism on a far larger scale, killing five times more Palestinian civilians than Hamas killed Israelis? And is not Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory the source of the problem?

Perhaps the world has simply got used to Israel's cruel policy of occupation and settlement, of curfews, road-blocks and closures, of the separation of farmers from their land, of home demolitions and targeted assassinations, of the ugly separation wall.

Hamas has observed a truce for the past 18 months and has offered to prolong it indefinitely if Israel reciprocates. The Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh has expressed approval of negotiations between Mahmud Abbas and Ehud Olmert -- but it is Olmert not Abbas who does not want to talk on the pretext that Israel "has no partner."

Whether in Iraq or in the Palestinian territories, the United States and Israel are guilty of creating international anarchy. In response to a few home-made rockets fired into the Negev, which have so far killed no one, Israel has in recent weeks fired over five thousand shells into northern Gaza, traumatising the population and killing several civilians, including a young girl and a teenager. This is criminal behaviour. Almost every day brings news of punitive Israeli raids into Palestinian civilian neighbourhoods, of large-scale arrests and the murder of innocent people.

The Palestinian Authority's 150,000 employees have not been paid for the last two months, since Israel stopped handing over the Palestinians' own tax revenues of some $55m a month, which finance more than 90% of public sector salaries.

Since January 1, the Karni crossing point from Gaza into Israel has been closed at least half the time, causing Palestinian produce to rot and imports to be held up. Because of the shortage of key drugs, the World Health Organization has forecast a "rapid decline of the public health system [in Gaza] toward a possible collapse."

James Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president who does not share Wolfowitz's extremist views, has resigned as the Quartet's special envoy to the region because he does not approve of the attempt to strangle Hamas financially.

As the Palestinians suffer, are Bush and Olmert even half aware of the hate they are piling up against their respective countries? They should not be surprised when their victims hit back.


Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

? 2005 Patrick Seale

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Released: 19 May 2006
Word Count: 1,207 words
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Advisory Release: 19 May 2006
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Juan Cole, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 May 2006 10:23
 

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