Monday, January 7, 2008

Another slip for Olmert?

Just before Annapolis, Ehud Olmert gave a nice shock to the world when he made a statement that was all but taboo. It was quite earth-shattering; or it should have been, since it was the Prime Minister of Israel who went where no American politician was willing to go (besides an ex-President) and give credence to an apartheid analogy. Back then, Olmert made the summit of Annapolis quite the curtain call, and made the two-state solution the existential solution for Israel to remain a Jewish state. I shall remind us of what he said because it is an iconic moment:

"He [Olmert] warned of a "South African-style struggle" which Israel would lose if a Palestinian state was not established."

Olmert must be aware of the growing awareness of the "apartheid" struggle, hence his connections of Annapolis, peace processes, settlements, security and the Palestinian state being tied to the one-state solution. It didn't take a genius to clue in that with all the pitfalls of past "peace processes" that only caged in the Palestinians and even to some extent, made the occupation worse, that Palestinians both inside and outside the territories would be calling for a system that would abolish the ideology that discriminates against them and prevents them from having any rights as a human being. How long could the Palestinians trust that Israel and the US had their best interests at heart? We're heading towards the forty-first year of this "ephermeral" occupation, and with no end in sight.

But Olmert has gone a step further, this time even admitting that Israel is "not honouring its commitments" under the protocols of Annapolis; ie deconstruction of settlements or the cessation of settlement activity. Remember to bookmark that article, because it is very scarce that any politician would admit any wrong doing, let alone one that has the stakes riding on the Holy Land. Here he is at his most blatant:

"Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, called continued Israeli construction in West Bank settlements a breach of Israel's obligations under a peace plan revived in the US city of Annapolis last year.

Olmert's remarks, which appeared in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper on Friday, came days before George Bush, the US president, arrives in the region.

He said: "There is a certain contradiction in this between what we are actually seeing and what we ourselves promised."

"Obligations are not only to be demanded of others, but they must also be honored by ourselves. So there is a certain problem here."

We're making great strides here and yet taking five steps backwards in the process; Israel is acknowledging that they have yet to hold up their part on the "peace" bargaining, and the onus is not SOLELY on the Palestinians to achieve some form of security blanket for Israel's kooks. With the largest military contingent and an array of nuclear weapons in the region completely dominating against a stateless, army-less and sometimes government-less people, it really is beside the point, is it not? Because Abbas the pretender cannot even keep a strangehold on his own territory, let alone attempt to gain control of Gaza. Or is Gaza simply left off the picture?

The history of the conflict is reaching new parameters now, and Olmert is taking bold steps where no Israeli leader has dared to travel: not only has there been some form of acceptance of a Palestinian struggle, it also translates that there is a justified nationalism within the Palestinian community, hergo recognition of a Palestinian right to exist. In stark comparison to past leaders who simply refused to believe that a Palestinian existed at all, or those archaic no non-sense apologists who still declare Jordan a "Palestinian state", the year 2008 may well be one of many strides and yet one of many disappointments: The strides because lately there seems to be a good turn about of opinion, not only here in Canada and the States, but also some in Israel. The disappointments because the Zionists are not going to give up without a fight, and it's a fight that they know all too well and play very dirty. We need no reminder of who they are but they still hold the high card here. Just a peak into any comment section in Ha'aretz, the Jerusalem Post, or even the NOW Magazine here in Toronto and it's plain to see that old perceptions are still hard to let go. But what's more stunning is the way the Palestinian perspective is creeping into these publications. An interesting article appeared in NOW detailing the truth about Canada Park, which was built on Palestinian land in the West Bank and subsided by your Canadian taxpayer. (Very) Slowly, the public is getting some facts about Israel's occupation that was not available to them a decade ago (unless you did some extensive research of your own).

Juxtapose these with the fact that the boycott campaign is still getting an audience, the human rights reports on the Lebanon War last year condemning Israel for its actions (as well as Hizbollah, mind you), and other little reports that are slipping its way into the internet is really unmasking David for the Goliath he really is. It's not easy to keep all of this under wraps, and with every threat into Gaza leaving more Palestinians dead, the occupation is not quite so "benevolent" as Israel's supporters would claim it to be. In Ramallah, another life is in critical condition with three shots to the back of the head by the IDF. And this is the West Bank, under Abbas' soveriegnity. Because it is Fatah-controlled, therefore Hamas is left to dry, as two of their members were taken by Israel. This is the way it will be under the current blueprint for two states: Israel imposes its will, the Palestinians have no choice but to be humiliated.

But what is the most damning are those settlements. And I hate to be a broken record but it is this attempt to "create facts on the ground" that ultimately will lead to another intifada or another disaster, whichever comes first. Making apartheid is something that should not be tolerated, and it seems that most Western nations are complicit since there is no outcry or no cessation of funds that continue to pay for these violations of international law. Whether it be the United States, Canada, Australia or Great Britain, there is a trickle that connects us with the occupation in one form or another, however minute it could be. It's as simple as your tax dollars finding its way into the Middle East or a purchase from the biggest bookstore in the city. I'm not equating this ignorant act from one that overtly supports Israel, but if we do educate ourselves maybe we can help this boycott a little, create a fiasco over those settlements that is strangling the Palestinians fight for a state.

Why such an opposition towards these settlements? Not only are they illegal, but they are infringing on every part of Palestinian life. They are deleting the agriculture, the economy of the Palestinians, surrounding their villages into enclaves, cutting them off from other parts of the West Bank (especially East Jerusalem) and finding their water going to the Jews. It has gotten so bad that the Israeli government is withholding the publication of the Spiegel Report for fears that the conclusion would not be pleasing for Washington. (Missing the point entirely since Bush has been silent on this issue and basically legitimised it a couple of years back.)

"Military sources said that the report has been kept secret to avoid embarrassing Israel's relations with Washington.

Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities and vacate settlements constructed after March 2001.

The Spiegel report is seen as the largest database ever compiled by state authorities on settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian lands.

It reveals extensive building in key settlements, often on privately owned Palestinian lands.

The report's data came from the Civil Administrative and other Israeli government agencies as well as from photographic sorties carried out by civilian aircraft.

The report was compiled in response to incomplete figures provided by the government on settlement activities in the occupied lands."

The Report revealed what was known to everyone on the ground; so this was not news. However, due to the censorship of the authorities, it is all the more damning that these settlements are the focal point of the occupation, one that is displacing Palestinians, usurping their land and making them refugees in the process. Attempting to deflect the issue, it only makes the case against the settlements stronger. All along, this activity has been relatively tolerated by the West, leaving Palestinians to fend for themselves, putting faith in brokered agreements that was meant to alleviate the hardship of a land stolen. Oslo, Taba, Camp David, the Road Map; this all led to more settlements. The Palestinian state was a desired 22% of historic Palestine; now they are left with half of the West Bank with the Jordan Valley in complete Israeli control. Jeff Halper said that Israel will have "two Eastern borders". That's unheard of in today's civilised society.

Now with Olmert admitting that Israel is not doing its part for the sake of peace, we've got no option now but to demand that Israel cease the construction of "extended" settlements. To find out the toll the Palestinians are taking thanks to the settlers, read this enlightening article by Janine Roberts. She witnesses how the farmers are subjected to the settlers, how the Israeli soldiers are reluctant to remove them or accost them when they do harm to civilians, and how the police are arriving too little and too late. When the settlers are removed, "the young settlers reoccupied it as they had done every other time". The army would evict them only for the settlers to return at night. They have a free reign on the land.

"Everywhere I travelled around the West Bank, from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south, from Jerusalem to Jericho... Israeli’s army aggressively patrols every Palestinian town and village seemingly at least once a week – and everywhere the Israeli settlements were busily expanding and establishing new outposts on Palestinian agricultural lands."

And there have been announcements that more settlements will be built. How is this meant to help bolster Abbas? How is this meant to implement Annapolis or the Road Map? Or is this all a sham that is leaving the Palestinians with no option but to accept a Bantustan? Is Olmert serious about a Palestinian state? Is he serious when he speaks of an existential threat for Israel when a one-state solution is argued?

Talking about it is one thing; we can all speculate on why Olmert would be dovish, when most of the Knesset is quite hawkish, or rather, very Zionist to a little Zionist. We are now living in times where Zionism is severely questioned, the Palestinian question is getting a debate or even a say in the conflict in some areas, and Zionists across the board are trying to fit their affinity for a Jewish safe-haven but trying to salvage some form of humanism when it comes to treating their counterparts. They want their Jewish state but yet they want to be free of discriminating Arabs. It simply cannot happen. They cannot have democracy and have a Jewish Israel. It's either one or the other.

Olmert has the power to do something about it. Bush has the power to do something about it. The settlers like to believe that God is on their side or that the politicians are too weak to stop them. The army is with them on that issue; Olmert is stuck in an imbroglio with the Winograd Report. Barak is still Barak. But, as Mark Elf has asked, "are the settlements building themselves?"

Yes. It can be done. Even that war criminal Ariel Sharon dismantled settlements in Gaza. Olmert, who may not have Sharon's temerity or outreach, could really be an opportunist and take it so we can have a dialogue for justice. This issue is not going to fade away. It permeates throughout the world and it won't stop until there is justice. Stop the settlements, Olmert, if you are truly serious about Annapolis. If not, then you doom that summit all too premature (even though most knew it was a failure before it begun). It's refreshing to hear your words, but the settlements don't build themselves.

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