Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Ultimate Disparity

Henry Seigman, director of the US/Middle East Project, and a man who served as a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, penned quite an eye-opening editorial about Annapolis and its all too lucid disparity between the occupier and occupied. Seigman lifts the veil that is shielding what the (common) onlooker might have missed: that the Palestinians have nothing to concede to the Israelis, and it's the Israelis who hold all the cards. Israel is the superpower in the region, holding the monopoly on nuclear weapons, as well as a highly sophisticated army that arguably unmatched in the Middle East. Here Seigman makes the point that a peace process that "depends on Palestinian willingness to match Israeli 'concessions'" is inconceivable given the "imbalances between the two."

"This demand is stunningly insensitive to the fact that Palestinians are a people under occupation. As such, they have little to offer Israel by way of concessions, other than their continued subjugation and dispossession."

It is true that Palestinians have little to give, and barely anything to bring to the table. The insistence that Abbas curtails violence is rather duplicitous, considering how little power he has over the Palestinians, and besides the extreme outcome of a major police state that would resemble what Israelis do to the occupied Palestinians, this is sheer nonsense, and a total impossibility. Seigman again:

"That demand constituted the mother of all oxymorons, since no Palestinian leader could end violent resistance to the occupation in the face of Israel's refusal to reveal how much Palestinian territory it intended to retain."

All too reminiscent of the US demand that Iraqis prevent other Iraqis from inciting violence, all the while being occupied and having their rights infringed upon day-in, day-out. And there really is no blueprint laid out by either party on how they choose to meet this "demand", especially since the separation barrier is destroying Palestinian livelihood, making agriculture a thing of the past, and as well as boxing in the Gazans, making life there quite unbearable. Unemployment is rapidly increasing, and that's expected when most of the jobs have been terminated thanks to the border enclosures. So what do the young do? Easy recruitment against the occupier, who they perceive to be the the major (or sole) body responsible for their unfortunate circumstance which has been labelled a "catastrophe" in some humanitarian reports. It's important to underline the fact that Palestinians are occupied. Putting the onus on the victims to put an end to the atrocities is simply illogical and imbalanced. The Palestinians have no control over their lives; it's the Israeli occupation that dictates their behaviour and how their day will turn out, especially in Gaza. Here's how Uri Avnery has described the situation:

"He [Ariel Sharon] did not leave the inhabitants of the Strip any possibility of leading a normal life, but turned the territory into a giant prison. All connections with the outside world were cut - the Israeli navy cut the sea lanes, the border with Egypt was effectively sealed, the airport remained destroyed, the building of a harbor was prevented by force. The promised "safe passage" between the Strip and the West Bank was hermetically sealed, all crossings in and out of the Strip remained under total Israeli control, to be opened and closed arbitrarily. The employment of tens of thousands of Gazan workers in Israel, on which the livelihood of almost the entire Strip depended, was terminated."

And this lesson is repeated in the West Bank, where Palestinians are meant to hold some form of autonomy over their lives. Here's a report from B'Tselem:

"A survey conducted by the Israeli military and published by leading Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, found that a quarter of soldiers serving at checkpoints in the West Bank perpetrated or witnessed abuse of Palestinians. In response, B’Tselem, said that the numbers are shocking, but not surprising. The organization commends the military for initiating the survey, but states that physical and verbal abuse of Palestinians by soldiers, particularly at checkpoints, has long become routine. In spite of official condemnations, the military does not do enough to ensure accountability and to deter soldiers from engaging in such behavior. According to B’Tselem, most soldiers who harm Palestinians are never held accountable. Law enforcement authorities place numerous obstacles on Palestinians who try to complain against security forces personnel and only a small minority of complaints result in charges against those responsible for abuse."

Everything is subjected to Israeli control. If Israel truly wanted some true form of security, it is easily within reach, as has been mapped out time and again by withdrawal and negotiation back to the pre-67 lines as a final border. But this is a state that wants to have its cake and eat it too. It's a two-state solution without consultation from the Palestinians, or what Akiva Eldar has said to be "a two-state solution the way I want it." As Seigman has clearly shown, it's a situation that has been all too favourable for the bully, rather than the beaten, as "one would be hard put to identify a single concession Israel has made to the Palestinians."

The case of Har Homa is the epitome of this intransigence. Even though Israel is required to cease new settlements, the plans for Har Homa continue apace, with just an askance slap on the wrist from the US, with Condoleezza Rice saying the construction "doesn't help build confidence" in Annapolis. Totally unbeknownst to Rice and co., not alot of people had confidence in the summit in the first place. Here's from the latest Settlement Report from the Foundation for Middle East Peace, written by Geoffrey Aronson:

"The renewed attention to the continuing construction at Har Homa, an East Jerusalem settlement begun in the heyday of the Oslo period, illustrates Israel’s continuing refusal to surrender its settlement ethos, even as Prime Minister Olmert laments the price Israel will pay as a result."

Philips Weiss digs in the case of Har Homa and is still aghast at the silence from the international community over the expansion of "Greater Jerusalem", a place that is never to be relinquished by the Israelis:

"Israel considers this [Har Homa, a suburban hilltop landgrand by Israel] part of East Jerusalem. That's nuts. Here is B'tselem's map of the separation fence showing that Har Homa is south of Jerusalem, near Rachel's Tomb, which is of course cordoned by high concrete walls."

East Jerusalem is the intended capital of an impending Palestinian state: without it, there is no contiguity, no sovereignty, no autonomy, no economy; hence, no state, only a figment of one, or what many have been calling a Bantustan. Yes, the dreaded apartheid comparison rears its ugly head. But in some cases, this is much worse, since the Israelis do not depend on the exploitation of Arab labour; slowly but surely they are encouraging "voluntary transfer", a newspeak term that would put George Orwell to shame.

The story of Hani Amer, a Palestinian farmer in the West Bank, (seen here on a documentary called Walls of Shame)is quite remarkable. Amer's house is surrounded on all four sides by the separation barrier and the "fence", as well as a settlement, and has him in complete mercy of the Israelis. Despite incentives for him to leave which did not persuade him to, threats inevitably continued. And yet Amer resists just by existing in his tiny home. Amer's and his farming colleague's plight are immaterial to the Israelis and the Americans but his is an apropos symbol of the ultimate disparity between the two dialectics here that Seigman has spoken of.

Olmert has not indicated that he is willing to take on the settlers, and there has been no real gestures of condemnation from Rice or the US media. But who is to stop this? Weiss rants on:

"This is an American issue. There will be no Palestinian moderation, and no peace in the Middle East, till these insults are sanctioned by us. Nothing will change until the U.S. government does more than lip service in opposition. Nothing will change till Democratic politicians turn their backs on the religious left and condemn the colonies. Nothing will change till the media make these crimes an issue as they made Saddam's crimes an issue. Nothing will change till the self-styled "secular" American Jewish community separates itself from the macho religio-militarist nutbags on whom they have projected their Warsaw-ghetto injuries."

I would have to reluctantly agree, and I have stated it in numerous posts in the past: it is up to the Americans, and to a very lesser extent, the Western intellectuals and commoners of today's society. Yes, that includes Canada, Australia, and Europe. But the be-all end-all equation lies with my neighbours to the south. It really is the Americans that can stem the tide of Israeli aggression. By its human rights record, Israel is not a party to be counted on to do the right thing. Settlements, barriers, checkpoints, torture, collective punishment and annexation: it's been forty years going on forty one, when is this occupation going to end?

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter published a provoking piece insisting that the US re-evaluates its relationship with the Israelis. He states:

"Israel's current policies, rooted in ethnic and religious hatred, are the antithesis of tolerance...

Driven by xenophobic paranoia and historical grievances, Israel is embarked on a path that can only lead to death and destruction. This is a path the United States should not tread. I have always taken the position that Israel is a friend of the United States, and that friends should always stand up for one another, even in difficult times. I have also noted that, to quote a phrase well known in America, friends don't let friends drive drunk, and that for some time now Israel has been drunk on arrogance and power. As a friend, I have believed the best course of action for the United States to take would be that which helped remove the keys from the ignition of the policy vehicle Israel is steering toward the edge of the abyss. Now it seems our old friend is holding a pistol to our head, demanding that we stop interfering with the vehicle's operation and preventing us from getting out of the car. This is not the action of a friend, and it can no longer be tolerated...

Israel has grown accustomed to American largess, to the point that it is addicted to an American aid package that is largely responsible for keeping the Israeli economy afloat. This aid must be reconsidered in its entirety. The day of the free ride must come to an end. The United States must redefine its national security priorities in the Middle East and position Israel accordingly. At the very least, American aid must be linked to Israeli behavior modification. The standards America applies to other nations around the world when it comes to receiving aid must likewise apply to Israel."

Only when the US punishes (by withholding aid) the Israelis could this stagnating dilemma by moved to something that progresses towards justice for the Palestinians and a lasting peace for the Israelis. The Sinai example is one that many supporters of the "re-evalutation" cite as an effective policy that could deter Israel from acting like a drunk "friend holding a pistol to our head".

Yes, the barriers are immense, but they are not impossible to break down. We can all take part and write to our respective representatives as well as being vocal in our community. Miracles won't happen overnight. Gaza is suffocating. The Palestinians are seeing less than half of the 22% that was proposed back in 1967, which is almost a third of what they were given during the Partition agreement sixty years ago. Surely this disproportion is one that is hard to accept but yet the Palestinians are willing to live with it but ONLY with sovereignty.

True, there are many complexities with the two-state solution, but nothing that can't be resolved through discussion and negotiation (that includes Hamas). But with the things the way they are, there is little hope left for two states and a battle for one will arise from its ashes. Without an increased pressure on Israel, things will get much worse before it can get better. For Amer and the rest of the Palestinians, how much worse can they take?

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