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Bush’s call for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks: When Tragedy Becomes Farce (and Then Tragedy Again)

July 16, 2007

(thanks to Ringo for helping me think this through)

A moment of global shame

As the situation on the ground in Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza) deteriorates and has become so bad that one has to wonder if the Palestinian Authority can ever rebuild a working unity with its constituent elements (meaning Fateh, Hamas, PFLP, DFLP), a number of informal peace proposals are circulating from academia. These seem to be coordinated with a new Bush Administration push to put the Israeli-Palestinian peace making back on the agenda.

When the larger picture is viewed it all looks rather cynical. Again.

The Palestinians are collectively punished with sanctions for having voted for Hamas, rather than what was a generally corrupted Fateh. These sanctions – as harsh as those the US imposed upon Iraq for more than a decade – had the support of the E.U., the U.N and Russia (the so-called Quartet – which has always been in essence a solo operation). Denied food, medicine, access to commercial goods, the right to enter and leave, the Palestinians in Gaza find themselves still under occupation, hermetically sealed in a prison in which they have been pounded repeatedly by Israeli bombing while a disinterested and often hostile world looks on.

There is no proportionality between the home made rockets that fall more often than not harmlessly on Israeli towns bordering Gaza with the unremitting military pounding from air, sea and land that Gazan Palestinians have endured. And while many innocent people have also died in Israel as a result of suicide bombers, these tragedies do not negate the fact that in the West Bank and Gaza Israel has maintained the longest illegal military occupation in modern history with the harsh verdict that implies.

It is a moment – another moment – of great global shame.

Joining the main perpetrators, the United States and Israel – in what amounts to war crimes against the Palestinians – are the European Union and the United Nations, both of which, at best, have played a pathetic role of legitimizing if not encouraging such inhumanity.

They understood what they were doing.

There is little doubt that both the Bush Administration and Israel well understood that the humanitarian crisis that they created in Gaza would sooner or later explode into a military and political crisis as humanitarian conditions worsened. At the same time, brazenly, before the whole world, the United States and Israel financed and armed Fateh – (actually not all of Fateh, only those elements around Abbas). They prodded, provoked and directed the forces around Abbas into a mini Palestinian civil war underestimating Hamas’ strength and base in a manner similar to which both Bush and Olmert underestimated Hezbollah’s position last summer in Lebanon.

It has been particularly disheartening to hear some progressive Jewish people in Colorado blame Hamas as if Hamas had brought all this suffering on itself. For shame.

Divide and Conquer

The `humanitarian squeeze’, a modern sequel to the Nazi siege of Leningrad (bombing from the outside while cutting off the supply of food, medicine and other sustenance) had a political goal, to an extent achieved: to create the conditions in which the Palestinian movement – already long rife with internal divisions – would collapse upon itself.

Having largely accomplished that, the United States and Israel can now gloat that two Palestines exist de facto: one controlled by Hamas in Gaza, the other somewhat (far from entirely) controlled by Abbas’s faction of Fateh on the other. So divided, the Palestinians, whose negotiating position (you know, the old balance of power stuff) has long been deflated for nearly 20 years, since the collapse of Communism and the first Gulf War is weaker still. The prestige and influence of the Palestinian Authority among its own people is almost as low as Bush’s ratings are here in the USA. It has arguably lost its capacity to rule and to unite Palestinians in any negotiating process. And since it can hardly negotiate, solutions will be essentially dictated to it: accept US-Israeli conditions or expect more of the same. A similar divide and conquer strategy is being implemented in Iraq. Iraq might collapse as a nation, but the US mega military bases `enduring’ bases they call them (but not permanent!) are there to stay.

What a coincidence it is that at just such a moment of near total Palestinian weakness that both United States and Israel both think this a fine time to call for negotiations to see what further concessions can be extracted from Abbas!

Ah, but the time is ripe, with the West Bank pock marked with Jewish settlements still expanding daily, with the West Bank cut up into apartheid-like (Jimmy Carter is correct!) Bantustans in which Palestinian life will be even more intolerable in the future than it was in the past! The construction of the wall, symbol of oppression, condemned as illegal by the International Court in the Hague, cuts more deeply into the territory and soul of the West Bank daily.

So it is at this moment, after pulverizing its adversary and assiduously avoiding, rejecting, blocking any semblance of negotiations for 13 years, that Bush and Olmert are making their `peace move’. They are pushed to do so yet again by the Saudis royal family, looking over their own shoulders at all the little Osama Bin Laden’s being born in their feudal kingdom!

The `Peace Now’ Chorus

How interesting that at such a moment there is a chorus of `peace now’ emerging both in Washington and in Tel Aviv! Olmert met with Abbas in Tel Aviv. Why is that when Bush and Olmert finally do talk peace, it makes me want to dive into the nearest bomb shelter? Does it mean: Now that we’ve crushed them politically let’s get together and talk about what crumbs they are to receive, that we can then call a Palestinian state! Bush calls for an international conference to resolve the crisis and Haaretz (July 13, 2007) runs a piece about how the mechanics of peace making might proceed.

The latter was written by one Jerome M. Segal, director of the Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies. The proposal would not have drawn much attention if not for the fact that it was featured in Haaretz and thus must be considered a kind of trial balloon. In this piece Segal claims that if followed, the plan can produce a Palestinian state within a year. Perhaps it can also make hair grow on bold heads. (for the details of the proposal – click here).

It is only when one looks at the context (described above) in which such a proposal is made that one understands – whatever positive aspects it might have – how unrealistic the proposal is. At best it can be considered well intentioned but flakey, `well intentioned’ because it is at least trying to change the momentum from war plans to peace making.

Why then flakey?

Because it is more or less the same brew cooked up once again and claimed to be `new’ or `original’.

1. It is a mini `Camp David’ or `Oslo’ which divides the peace process into stages rather than dealing with final status talks on all issues. Such a framework benefits Israel at the Palestinian expense and is what happened at Camp David (where the Palestinian issue was never even broached) or Oslo where the talks never got behind how to structure the talks. Those talks permitted Israel to talk peace while building settlements. Such a process permits the Israelis to maximize their pressure on an already weakened Palestinian political entity at each stage of the negotiations. Utilizing such a framework issues such as Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or the 48 refugee question are not likely to ever see the light of day..

2. Segal’s proposal basically discards – or certainly doesn’t mention – present other more substantial peace initiatives into which went a considerable amount of thought and political capita (Geneva Accord, Saudi Proposal). The UN is not an initiator or significant participant in the process but brought in at the end as a kind of `tag-along’, to give the process legitimacy. Any process that does not include strong international participation and security guarantees, leaving the key negotiations to the Israelis, the US and a terribly weakened Palestinian authority is not worth much.

3. If read closely, like the processes before, once again, it is the Palestinians that are asked to make all the concessions. There is nothing here that suggests that Israel is an occupying power and that the Palestinian people are an occupied people. Israel is not asked to stop sanctions against Gaza, to stop building the wall, settlements, end check points. It does not in any way challenge Israel’s military control of the Occupied Territories. This is not just a moral issue, but a question of international law as well.

One could go on. All this will not lead to peace but to further instability and war.

Sorry for being such a hard ass…but that’s how I see it.

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