My following article in the Melbourne Age, co-written with Michael Shaik, the public advocate for Australians for Palestine, is about the realities on the ground in Palestine:
It is difficult to overstate the lost opportunity that last week’s Annapolis conference represents.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had agreed to all of Israel’s preconditions for negotiations by dissolving the Palestinian government of national unity, closing down more than 100 Hamas affiliated charities and sending Palestinian security forces into Nablus to liquidate the resistance cells that have held out against the Israeli army for the last seven years.
Having demonstrated his commitment to Israel’s security, he needed to secure a reciprocal commitment from Israel that he can present to his people as a vindication of his policies. The peace conference at Annapolis, he was at pains to emphasise, had to produce a clear statement of principles on the core issues of the conflict (Jerusalem, borders, water and refugees) within clearly defined timeframes.
Instead he was forced to settle for an empty statement that heralded “a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition” and declared that both sides intended to reach an agreement before the end of 2008.
As with every other peace conference of the last 15 years, the statement bears little relation to reality.
In 2005 ambassadors representing 25 European nations with missions in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv submitted a joint report that Israel is deliberately violating both its obligations under the Roadmap for Peace and international law by working to make a viable Palestinian state impossible.
Specifically, the report warned that the completion of Israel’s “Separation Barrier” and the new E1 settlement bloc in the centre of the West Bank would “complete the isolation of East Jerusalem – the political, commercial and infrastructural centre of Palestinian life”.
More ominously still, the ambassadors noted that the demolition of Palestinian houses in Jerusalem and its discriminatory policies concerning Palestinian residence in the city are “almost certainly” intended “to reduce the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, while exerting efforts to boost the number of Israelis living in the city.”
The former Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, once boasted that his strategy for peace negotiations was to drag them out for ten years, by which time Israel’s annexation of the West Bank would have become an accomplished fact. Since his retirement, every Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” has taken place against a backdrop of Jewish settlement expansion.
Recently the Israeli NGO, Peace Now, reported that this year Israel has already built 762 settler housing units in the West Bank and had 602 under construction. On Tuesday the Israeli government announced its intention to expand the Har Homa settlement overlooking Bethlehem by 307 new homes.
Rather than confronting Israel over its colonisation of Palestinian land, the Bush administration has chosen to embrace Tony Blair’s program of promoting Palestinian economic development, while ignoring Israel’s deepening occupation.
The contradictions of such a policy are obvious. Factories throughout the Gaza Strip have been forced to close due to Israel’s five month blockade, giving rise to an unemployment rate of 50%. According to the Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights, hospitals in Gaza are being forced to operate without essential medicines, medical equipment, electricity and even such basics as toilet paper and cleaning materials.
This month the UN noted the emergence of a new generation of Palestinian refugees who had been separated from their lands by the “Separation Barrier” that Israel is building through the West Bank. Last week, the UN Relief and Works Agency warned that Israel’s tightening of movement restrictions throughout the Occupied Territories could lead to a threefold increase in the cost of providing food aid to Palestinians.
In their recently published book on the Israel Lobby, the American professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt hypothesise that pro-Israeli advocates have so thoroughly infiltrated the American body politic that the US government is no longer capable of recognising its national interests in the Middle East. On Friday Israeli diplomats demanded that the US withdraw a resolution to the UN Security Council endorsing the Annapolis summit on the grounds that the UN is insufficiently pro-Israeli to be involved in the peace process. The resolution was promptly withdrawn.
Since the invasion of Iraq, Israel’s advocates around the world have relentlessly lobbied for a “pre-emptive” attack on Iran to stifle the country’s alleged WMD program. Before such an attack could take place, America would wish to secure as much Arab support as possible by creating the impression of progress on a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This, regrettably, has become the primary function of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process”.
Peace is the absence of violence. In the Middle East the term “peace process” has become a euphemism for normalising the violent dispossession of an occupied population.
This year the entire Arab world restated its offer to fully normalise relations with Israel in return for its withdrawal form the Occupied Territories. At a time when the West’s standing in the Middle East is already compromised by its refusal to recognise the outcome of last year’s Palestinian elections, the United States will gain nothing from fighting a war with Iran to uphold Israel’s regional monopoly on nuclear weapons.