The latest punishment of Gaza may seem like another familiar plot to humiliate the strip to the satisfaction of Israel, Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, and the military-controlled Egyptian government. But something far more sinister is brewing.
This time, the collective punishment of Gaza arrives in the form of raw sewage that is flooding many neighborhoods across the impoverished and energy-chocked region of 360 km2 (139 sq mi) and 1.8 million inhabitants. Even before the latest crisis resulting from a severe shortage of electricity and diesel fuel that is usually smuggled through Egypt, Gaza was rendered gradually uninhabitable. A comprehensive UN report last year said that if no urgent action were taken, Gaza would be ‘unlivable’ by 2020. Since the report was issued in August 2012, the situation has grown much worse.
Over the years, especially since the tightening by Israel of the Gaza siege in 2007, the world has become accustomed to two realities: the ongoing multiparty scheme to weaken and defeat Hamas in Gaza, and Gaza’s astonishing ability to withstand the inhumane punishment of an ongoing siege, blockade and war.
Two infamous wars illustrate this idea: The first is Israel’s 22-day war of 2008-9 (killing over 1,400 Palestinians and wounding over 5,500 more) and the second is its more recent war of Nov 2012 – eight days of fighting that killed 167 Palestinians and six Israelis. In the second war, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president Mohammed Morsi was still in power. For the first time in many years, Egypt sided with Palestinians. Because of this and stiff Palestinian resistance in Gaza, the strip miraculously prevailed. Gaza celebrated its victory, and Israel remained somewhat at bay – while of course, mostly failing to honor its side of the Cairo-brokered agreement of easing Gaza’s economic hardship.
In relative terms, things seemed to be looking up for Gaza. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt was largely opened, and both Egypt and the Hamas governments were in constant discussions regarding finding a sustainable economic solution to Gaza’s many woes. But the ousting by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of President Morsi on July 3 changed all of that. The Egyptian military cracked down with vengeance by shutting down the border crossing and destroying 90-95 percent of all tunnels, which served as Gaza’s main lifeline and allowed it to withstand the Israeli siege.
Hopes were shattered quickly, and Gaza’s situation worsened like never before. Naturally, Cairo found in Ramallah a willing ally who never ceased colluding with Israel in order to ensure that their Hamas rivals were punished, along with the population of the strip.
Citing Gaza officials, the New York Times reported on Nov 21 that 13 sewerage stations in the Gaza Strip have either overflowed or are close to overflowing, and 3.5 million cubic feet of raw sewage find their way to the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis. “The sanitation department may soon no longer be able to pump drinking water to Gaza homes,” it reported.
Farid Ashour, the Director of sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities, told the Times that the situation is ‘disastrous’. “We haven’t faced a situation as dangerous as this time,” he said. But the situation doesn’t have to be as dangerous or disastrous as it currently is. It has in fact been engineered to be that way.
Gaza’s only power plant has been a top priority target for Israeli warplanes for years. In 2006 it was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, to be opened a year later, only to be destroyed again. And although it was barely at full capacity when it operated last, it continued to supply Gaza with 30 percent of its electricity needs of 400 megawatts. 120 megawatts came through Israel, and nearly 30 megawatts came through Egypt. The total fell short from Gaza’s basic needs, but somehow Gaza subsisted. Following the ousting of Morsi and the Egyptian military crackdown, the shortage now stands at 65 percent of the total.
In an interview with the UN humanitarian news agency, IRIN, James W. Rawley, the humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, depicted a disturbing scene in which the impact of the crisis has reached “all essential services, including hospitals, clinics, sewage and water pumping stations.”
Israelis on the other hand, have been doing just fine since the last military encounter with Hamas. “The past year was a great one,” the Economist quoted the commander of Israel’s division that ‘watches’ Gaza, Brigadier Michael Edelstein. Due to the massive drop in the number of rockets fired from Gaza in retaliation to Israeli attacks and continued siege (50 rockets this year, compared to 1,500 last year), “children in Israel’s border towns can sleep in their beds, not in shelters, and no longer go to school in armored buses,” according to the Economist on Nov 16.
“But Israel’s reciprocal promise to help revive Gaza’s economy has not been kept,” it reported. Israel has done everything it its power to keep Gaza in a crisis mode, from denying the strip solar panels so that they may generate their own electricity to blocking Gaza exports. “In the meantime, Gaza is rotting away.”
Desperate to find immediate remedies, Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh issued new calls to Mahmoud Abbas for a unity government. “Let’s have one government, one parliament and one president,” Haniyeh said in a recent speech, as quoted by Reuters. A Fatah spokesman, Ahmed Assaf, dismissed the call for it “included nothing new.” Meanwhile, the PA decided to end its subsidy on any fuel shipped to Gaza via Israel, increasing the price to $1.62 per liter from 79 cents. According to Ihab Bessisso of the PA, the decision to rescind Gaza’s tax exemption on fuel was taken because sending cheap fuel to Gaza “was unfair to West Bank residents,” according to the Times.
But fairness has little to with it. Reports by the Economist, Al Monitor and other media speak of Egyptian efforts to reintroduce Gaza’s former security chief and Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan to speed-up the anticipated collapse of the Hamas government. Al Monitor reported on Nov 21 that Dahlan, a notorious Fatah commander who was defeated by Hamas in 2007 because of, among other reasons, his close ties with Israeli intelligence, had met with General al-Sisi in Cairo. Evidently, the purpose is to oust Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But the question is how? Some “suggest that a Palestinian brigade mustered in al-Arish could march on Gaza and, with Egyptian support, defeat the broad array of Hamas forces created in the last decade.”
With Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood out of the picture, at least for now, Gaza is more vulnerable than ever. Some of Abbas’s supporters and certainly Dahlan’s may believe that the moment to defeat their brethren in Gaza is now.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is a media consultant, an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).
By Trish Schuh | Tehran Times | April 28, 2005
TEHRAN — Yasser Arafat’s removal was a triumph for Israel. It fulfilled demands for the election of anti-Intifada Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his associates who “work well with Israel and America,” and whose commitment to disarm the Palestinians will enable Israeli land theft for settlements to continue without resistance or reprisal from undefended Palestinians. Israel achieved Arafat’s demise: “The obstacle to peace(s of land?) will be eradicated forever.”
According to President Bush’s closest advisors, Bush had a radical change of heart in January 2002, when he decided for the first time that Yasser Arafat was an irredeemable terrorist unfit as a peace partner. Israel confiscated the Iranian freighter Karine A in the Red Sea, allegedly with a cargo of munitions en route to Gaza militants. Upon receiving “evidence” from the CIA via Mossad that Arafat had knowledge of the shipment, Ariel Sharon got what he always wanted: America’s de facto elimination of Arafat as leader of the Palestinian Authority.
With Washington watching, Israeli tanks surrounded Arafat’s Ramallah compound while Ariel Sharon’s cabinet discussed deporting Arafat. Under intense American and European pressure, Sharon promised Bush not to assassinate him. Middle East Newsline reported that Secretary of State Colin Powell then approached Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia to provide Arafat safe haven. All refused.
On April 1, 2002, World Tribune.com reported that Morocco agreed to provide Arafat asylum. After insisting that 70 Hamas and Fatah colleagues accompany him, the Knesset rejected the proposal, arguing that he would be far more dangerous out of sight, operating a government-in-exile. A month later, both U.S. houses of Congress passed resolutions of overwhelming support for Israel and condemning Arafat as a “terrorist” and a “despot”.
On June 24th, from the White House Rose Garden, President Bush issued a critical foreign policy shift. In what analysts deemed “the death knell for Yasser Arafat,” Bush publicly called for regime change in Palestine. He later began to parrot Sharon’s rhetoric, saying the U.S. would no longer deal with Yasser Arafat, or acknowledge him as the Palestinians’ leader.
In the final months of 2002, Israeli experts advised U.S. Justice system lawyers how to legalize “targeted killings.” The February 7, 2003 The Jewish Forward reported on an unprecedented legal document developed for the U.S. by Israel. It contained a comprehensive set of justifications for state terror assassinations, and revealed the Bush administration’s involvement in such schemes. Bush now characterized terrorists caught — but denied rights to trial –as being “otherwise dealt with.” Israeli media also revealed that Mossad was training the U.S. military and CIA how to implement covert ‘hits’ with expertise gained fighting the Palestinians — car bombs, snipers, cell phone explosives, high-tech devices and poisoning — and how to disguise them as “unexplained events and accidents.”
Former PFLP official and longtime Arafat spokesman Abu Bassam Sharif received a letter in December 2002 from friends in the Israeli peace movement warning of a plot to poison Arafat. (The Guardian, December 16, 2004)
As a step towards regime change, Israel and the U.S. forced Arafat to appoint Mahmoud Abbas prime minister in February 2003. Abbas’s choice for minister of state security, Gazan Mohammed Dahlan, was favored by the Bush-Sharon team for his pledge to eliminate Palestinian resistance to Israeli attacks and settlements. According to the article “U.S. Quietly Backing Anti-Arafat Reform Movement” in Geostrategy-Direct.com, Americans “work with” Dahlan to fund and train his thousand-man militia for a coup d’état against Arafat by 2005. Arafat biographer Said Aburish noted that torture of prisoners thrived under Dahlan’s rule in the 1990′s. Arafat refused Dahlan’s appointment. Abbas resigned in September 2003 over control of the Palestinian Security Services.
Reacting to increased Palestinian attacks, in August 2003, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared “all-out war” on the militants whom he vowed “marked for death.” In mid September, Israel’s government passed a law to get rid of Arafat. Israel’s cabinet for political security affairs declared it “a decision to remove Arafat as an obstacle to peace.” Mofaz threatened, “We will choose the right way and the right time to kill Arafat.” Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat told CNN he thought Arafat was the next target. CNN asked Sharon spokesman Ra’anan Gissan if the vote meant expulsion of Arafat. Gissan clarified, “It doesn’t mean that. The Cabinet has today resolved to remove this obstacle. The time, the method, the ways by which this will take place will be decided separately, and the security services will monitor the situation and make the recommendation about proper action.”
The Jerusalem Post (September 11, 2003) advocated: “We must kill Arafat because the world leaves us no alternative. When the breaking point arrives, there is no point in taking half measures. If we are to be condemned in any case, we might as well do it right…” Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: “Arafat can no longer be a factor in what happens here. The question is: how are we going to do it? Expulsion is certainly one of the options, and killing is also one of the options”; and “Killing Arafat is an open choice for us, definitely one of the options.” Ariel Sharon: “Killing Arafat, more than any other act, would demonstrate that the tool of terrorism is unacceptable.”
The Israeli Defense Forces Central Command then refined “Operation New Leaf” — code word of the military operation for Arafat’s elimination and its aftermath. Updated repeatedly in the year before his death, the plan included methods for his killing and burial site, riot prevention, protection of settlements from Palestinian backlash, and even instructions for IDF soldiers “not to appear too joyful at his death” to avoid provoking grieving Palestinians. A propaganda plan was also formulated to deprive Arafat of a hero’s status through a non-combat, ‘natural’ death. Sharon spokesman Ra’anan Gissan said, “The issue is how to best remove this obstacle without making him a martyr.” IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon suggested, “We should kill Arafat softly… We must kill him softly and throw him out of the PA Presidential Palace; we must find an alternative leadership. I’m sure Mohammed Dahlan is qualified for this mission.”
In November 2003, Israel and the U.S. pressured the Palestinians to install new Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to succeed Abbas. Qureia also battled Arafat to appoint Dahlan head of security. By February 2004, Palestinian legislators discovered that multimillionaire Qureia’s family business, Al Quds Cement, has been selling Israel its concrete to build the notorious Apartheid Wall. The UK Telegraph also reported Qureia company cement mixers making deliveries to the Maaleh Adunim Jewish settlements. In Gaza, cement merchants closely connected to Qureia through Dahlan reaped exorbitant profits manufacturing cement for Israeli construction projects. Both men are hailed in Washington as “new leadership we can work with.”
Responding to a double suicide attack planned in Gaza, Time Magazine reported that Sharon’s security cabinet decided on March 16, 2004 to execute Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on March 21. Despite world outrage at his assassination, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice defended it: “Let’s remember that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that Sheikh Yassin has himself personally, we believe, been involved in terrorist planning.”
Ariel Sharon’s White House visit on April 14, 2004 resulted in a deal with the Bush administration to radically alter the Middle East. In exchange for Israel’s Gaza pullout, the U.S. agreed to Sharon’s security request — the “dismantling” of a list of terror threats: Arafat, Nasrallah, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian nuclear capability. When Sharon presented Bush with “proof” that Arafat was responsible for the October 2003 attack on a U.S. convoy in Gaza killing three Americans, Bush finally acceded to Arafat’s targeted removal.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr Al Qibri warned: “The United States bears responsibility for what happens, since after every visit by Sharon to Washington he commits more terrorism and more assassinations.”
Sharon then branded Arafat a “legitimate target.” “Whoever aims to kill Jews, whoever sends murderers to kill Jews, is ‘marked for death’.” He later threatened in the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot: “We operated against Ahmed Yassin and Rantisi and some other murderers at a time that seemed right to us. On the subject of expelling Arafat we will behave according to the same principle: we will do it at a convenient time. As we behaved toward other murderers (Yassin and Rantisi), so we will behave toward Arafat.”
Ma’ariv published a terrorist ‘deck of cards’ from Sharon’s list of those “marked for death.” “Everyone is in our sights,” said Internal Security Minister Tsahi Hanegbi, “There is no immunity for anyone. And that means anyone — down to the last person.” Lt. General Moshe Ya’alon added that those on the list “understand it is nearing them.” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also warned that the removal of Arafat is “closer than ever.”
In July 2004, riots protesting Palestinian Authority corruption spread from Gaza to the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus. According to World Tribune.com, Mohammed Dahlan, with U.S. help, had been coordinating the revolt to strengthen himself as a future successor to Arafat. The powerful lobby, American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), stated: “International pressure coordinated with Palestinian opponents of Arafat’s rule could accelerate a Palestinian leadership change.”
In the U.S., a New York Post columnist quoted an Israeli official at the Republican National Convention in August 2004: “Arafat will die this year.” The Israeli continued, “I’ve never steered you wrong about the Middle East before. I know what I’m saying. Arafat dies this year… Don’t ask me more.”
On September 6, 2004, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz reiterated to Israel’s Army Radio Israel’s 2003 official decision to end Arafat’s reign: “The State of Israel will find the way and the right time to bring about the removal of Yasser Arafat from the region.”
Within a month, Arafat had become mysteriously ill. From the first announcement, the American press definitively portrayed Arafat as already dying. In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority prevented his personal physician, Dr. Ashraf Al Kurdi, from examining Arafat until it was too late to save him or get an antidote. Al Kurdi said Arafat knew he was dying: “Yes, I actually heard from him in Ramallah that he thought he’d been poisoned.”
By November 11, 2004, Arafat was dead from undiagnosed causes. After examining his medical dossier, Arafat’s nephew Nasser Al Qidwa claimed Arafat was poisoned. In an interview at his Amman, Jordan office, Al Kurdi told me: “I suspect Arafat died of a killing poison, a catalyst.” Al Kurdi’s request for an autopsy was denied by the PA.
Addressing Al Jazeera, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal declared: “I accuse Israel of having poisoned the blood of Abu Ammar.” Referring to a 1997 Mossad attempt to poison him, Meshal said: “French and Arab doctors may not be able to find evidence, as they could not find proof in my blood when I was poisoned, but Israel was forced to bring an antidote after two of its agents were held in Jordan.”
The October 29, 2004 New York Post admitted: “Israel has been preparing for his demise for months, including his possible burial site.” In accordance with the propaganda dictates of Operation New Leaf, the last public image of Yasser Arafat alive was the antithesis of a symbolic warrior. Ariel Sharon told Ha’aretz: “It is feared that after his funeral Arafat will become a national hero and freedom-fighter.” The only photo of Arafat not in military fatigues, the NY Post showed him in baby blue pajamas, shriveled, weak, wearing a ‘dunce cap’ and looking like a pathetic child. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum utilized a frequent Mossad homosexual slur, asking “Does Yasser Arafat have AIDS?”
In January 2005, I requested an interview at the Palestinian Authority Information Ministry with the committee investigating Arafat’s death. “We have been ordered not to speak of this by our officials at the highest level.” Though Arafat was a world figure for two generations, investigation into his death has been banned. World governments and media remain strangely silent.
As a U.S. official said in 2002: “Arafat’s removal will pave the way for the emergence of moderate leadership” compliant to Israel’s security needs. The “new” Palestinian leadership of Abbas, Qureia, and Dahlan is the old team of corruption and collaboration, minus resistance. Comprised of leaders who “work well” for Israel and America, Israeli land theft for settlements will continue without obstacles…
Suppose several armored vehicles belonging to a branch of the Palestinian Authority raided an Israeli border village at the eve of a new round of peace negotiations. One can picture PA President Mahmoud Abbas defending the killings, stating that the attack was made in the cause of protecting the security of the Palestinian public. Would the Israeli delegation return to the talks with handshakes and smiles?
The answer is an obvious no. Yet the Palestinian delegation did return to real recently renewed peace talks after Israeli forces’ raided a refugee camp in north Jerusalem on August 26, killing three. This was not the only lethal Israeli attack to take place during “peace talks”, and it will not likely be the last.
Granted, Palestine is an occupied nation, and its leadership possesses far fewer advantages than its Israeli counterpart; but if negotiations exist under such humiliating circumstances, can Abbas and his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reasonably expect any fair outcome from these talks?
Of course not. Yet Abbas continues to offer more concessions that defy logic and the history of diplomacy. After volunteering last year to terminate claims to historic Palestine during an Israeli TV interview, which was rightly understood as a direct dismissal of Palestinians’ right of return to land occupied in 1947-48, he is still unrepentant.
“The Palestinians would abandon historic claims to land that is now in the state of Israel in the event of a far-reaching peace deal,” he told a group of Israeli parliamentarians, as reported by The Guardian newspaper on August 23.
Abbas, who serves no purpose aside from filling the US-entrusted role of the “moderate” Palestinian, has no vision of his own. Rather he is an assortment of confounded ideas about peace and justice and international law. He is willing to abandon the internationally enshrined rights of his people, yet expects a “just” agreement that would usher in “an end of the conflict”.
He doesn’t even seem to fully grasp the timetable set forth for the negotiations: “We wanted the meetings … to take place every day or every second day, and not once a week or every 10 days like the Israelis want. I don’t know why they don’t want to. We don’t have much time.”
Although his term as a president of the PA has expired, and his authority doesn’t enjoy a speck of democratic credentials, he makes concessions in the name of his people. “You have a commitment from the Palestinian people and also from the leadership, that if we are offered a just agreement, we will sign a peace deal that will put an end to the conflict and to future demands from the Palestinian side.”
Abbas’ statements have grown so increasingly strange that few political commentators – aside from those working in self-serving media outlets belonging to, partly funded by, or permitted to operate under the auspices of the PA in the West Bank – even bother to decipher his outlandish remarks.
The current peace process, styled on the 1993 Oslo I Accord, is long dead as far as its chances of achieving any peace, just or otherwise. Israel has made it crystal clear that no peace deal is present on its agenda.
In August alone, the Israeli government announced bids for 3,000 more housing units in illegal Jewish settlements. Abbas himself, although playing along for non-altruistic reasons, is aware of that. “I can’t say that I’m optimistic, but I hope we aren’t just wasting our time.”
That said, and although irrelevant as far as its declared reasons for finding a fair solution to the historic conflict, Oslo is not dead as a culture. That aspect of Oslo is very much alive. It continues to define Palestinian political bankruptcy and split Palestinian society.
As disheartening as it may sound, the accord’s legacy has plenty of supporters who are benefiting, to various degrees, from its perks and privileges. It has polarized Palestinians around factional and geographical lines. And unlike other attempts by Israel to weaken Palestinian resolve, this particular gambit has had unparalleled success.
History is laden with failed Israeli experiments aimed at destroying the Palestinian national project from within. In 1976, the Israeli government, then led by Yitzhak Rabin, conducted local elections in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a classic Rabin move aimed at stripping the Palestine Liberation Organization and nationalist leaders of any validity in the occupied territories.
Israel had by then made-up another group of Palestinian “leaders”, which consisted mostly of traditional heads of clans, a small, self-seeking oligarchy that historically accommodated whatever foreign power happened to be ruling over Palestinians at the time. Israel was almost certain that its allies were ready to sweep the local elections, but it miscalculated.
Israel’s miscalculation in 1976 was a rude awakening for both its military and political leaderships, whose plans had officially faltered when the results came out. National candidates won an overwhelming majority, sweeping 148 of the 191 mayoralties and councillorships. The attempt to create an early version of Abbas and his PA was a complete failure.
But Israel was never to give up trying to mold local Palestinian leaders as alternatives to elected Palestinians or internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian struggle. In 1978, Israeli leader Menachem Begin established the Village Leagues, giving its members relatively wide powers, including approving or denying developmental projects in the occupied territories.
He armed them and also provided them with Israeli military protection. But that too was deemed to fail. “The league members [were] widely regarded as collaborators by their fellow townspeople and villagers (And by 1983) Israel had begun recognizing the artificial nature of the Village Leagues and acknowledged the failure of the efforts to create political institutions capable of mobilizing Palestinian support for the occupation,” wrote Ann Mosely Lesch and Mark Tessler in Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada.
As a revamped version of the Village Leagues and their clan-like political apparatus, Abbas’ authority is working too well. Palestinians have to face up to the inescapable reality that their leadership has completely acquiesced and their continued silence is an affirmation of that defeat.
There is no way to say this truth nicely: Politicians lie. That includes Japanese, American, Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian politicians! Is there something more common sense than that? Yet, so many citizens around the world believe their own politicians or wistfully acknowledge lies but think it is part of the job needed to run things. They believe even when politicians contradict themselves blatantly. This phenomenon is rather remarkable. It is a dissonance and disconnect from reality that many seem oblivious to. It is very dangerous because it can lead to accepting rationales for going to war. These can be deadly wars that lead to millions of lives lost as happened in what was called World War 1 and WW2. Even when incredible and declassified evidence abound, politicians continue to lie and old mythologies refuse to die. Here are just a few of the countless lies told to us over the past few decades:
-Lies about the need to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagazaki (not to end WWII but to start WWIII or the cold war)
-Lies about why Britain issued the Balfour declaration and France the Jules Cambon declaration in support of Zionism
-Lies about why Israel was created in Palestine
-Lies about why Henry Wallace was replaced by Harry Truman as a vice president in the Democratic convention
-Lies about why Truman supported the creation of Israel on top of Palestine
-Lies about the ethnic cleansing of 530 Palestinian villages and towns
-Lies about September 11, 2001
-Lies about the reasons for the war on Iraq
-Lies about safety of nuclear power plants
-Lies about violations of US citizen rights by their own government
-Lies about why US/Israel want to subdue Iran now
-Lies about the US role in propping-up dictatorships
-Lies about western governments and human rights
-Lies about Vietnam, Cambodia, and much more
With a little effort, any person could easily find 1,001 lies and the sometimes painful truth about them. With very minor effort, I compiled 65 lies/myths told to us about Zionism http://www.qumsiyeh.org/liesandtruths/ There are many more.
But even when they have nothing to do with going to war, lies can be very dangerous. I am not talking about naiveté or stupidity because that is not what the politicians have. Take for example the Palestinian authority “leadership” represented by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. Is it naiveté that would make him go into fruitless negotiations for 20 years with Israeli politicians then suspend negotiations telling his people that we will not go back to negotiations until Israel stops colonial settlement building and then tell his people that he went back to negotiations anyway while Israel is building. This flip-flop is the typical politician: no principles and no honesty. Yet, again many continue to clap for him. I do not say vote for him since his term is expired a long time ago and no elections are going to happen.
Even when confronted with paper evidence of political lies, many people ignore the mounting evidence. In our case, there were the lies about support for right of return told to our people while Abu Mazen tells Israeli TV that 1948 areas are Israel and he has no right to go back there (maybe should be able to go “visit”). There were the lies about being good negotiators with Israel. Saeb Erekat even wrote two books about negotiations full of such lies. Those lies were clearly debunked by the leaking of the Palestine papers which show that even a middle school student could do a better job at these negotiations than this groveling charade that these Palestinian negotiators are going through. The fate of 12 million Palestinians and the legacy of 80,000 martyrs are left to lying politicians: Israeli, Palestinian and American.
But we cannot blame politicians for our ill societies. It is us the people who let them do what they do by not challenging them.
Palestinians of all political persuasions welcomed the release of 26 prisoners last night. They are the first of 104 pre-Oslo life prisoners due to be released over the next nine months as long as Israel is satisfied with the progress of its negotiations with the PLO/PA. Incredibly, these 104 prisoners now slated to be freed should have been released 20 years ago according to the terms of the Oslo Accords, so it is not such a big concession for Israel to be releasing them now.
Despite the overwhelming euphoria that marked the occasion, that joy remains incomplete because there are still an estimated 4,800 other Palestinians behind bars in Israel. An additional 1,267 Palestinians are held in Israel Prison Service facilities for being in Israel illegally. However, Palestinian prisoners are not just statistics. Israel regards criminal prisoners and political detainees alike; they are all criminals in its eyes. With a stronger Palestinian leadership capable of exercising real leverage at the negotiating table, there would be cause to be hopeful about this release. Sadly, this is not the case; the PA’s negotiators are dependent on their misplaced trust in American “impartiality” and Israeli “goodwill”. Decades of concessions have got the Palestinians nowhere.
While the Israelis continue to hold thousands of Palestinians in detention because they are “terrorists” with “blood on their hands”, not a single Israeli is held in a Palestinian jail despite the thousands of Palestinians who have been killed by Israelis; presumably Israeli hands are regarded as clean.
The issue of the Palestinian prisoners is one that evokes an unquestioned national consensus. It affects every strata of society. Whether they were imprisoned before Oslo or after, they have all suffered. Fuad Al-Khouffash, the head of the Ahrar Center for Detainees’ Studies and Human Rights based in Nablus, says that there are about 500 prisoners serving life sentences.
Over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained and imprisoned since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967. This represents almost 20 per cent of the total Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
When asked to explain this abnormally high incidence of incarceration, Palestinians insist that they were only defending their land and freedom. Earlier this month, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni confirmed the importance of land in the equation when she told Israeli Radio that she prefers a prisoner release deal rather than the possibility of resuming peace talks based on the June 1967 borders. Freeing a few prisoners, it appears, is much easier than withdrawing from the occupied and colonised territories.
To the same degree, land is also the overarching issue for the Palestinians. While they all value the release of their loved ones from Israeli prisons, it must not be at any price. If it means giving up their land they would much rather remain behind bars. Nazareth-born Karim Younis, who has been on a life-sentence since 1983, is regarded by many prisoners as their dean. He wrote in a letter from Hadrim Prison this week: “We never thought in our wildest dreams or nightmares that the issue of the pre-Oslo prisoners would be turned into a blackmail card in the hands of the Israelis and a sword on the necks of the Palestinian negotiators. We reject that categorically and we prefer to remain in the graves of the living rather than be used as an instrument in the hands of our enemy to blackmail our leaders.”
Contrary to the recommendation of the internal intelligence agency Shabak, Israel’s ministerial council responsible for identifying those to be released refused to free 40 prisoners described as posing no threat to Israel’s security. They were substituted by others identified by the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The Israelis conceded this point allegedly to strengthen Abbas’s domestic position.
Every one of the prisoners has a history and a record of struggle. They are not mere numbers. Yet the new releases ignore these truths and condition their freedom on two grounds; that they do not pose a threat to the Israeli establishment and the degree to which their release will strengthen the hand of Mahmoud Abbas among his people. With Israeli settlement activity in accelerated mode the PA has little to justify its decision to return to the negotiating table. Apart from Abbas’s Fatah movement all of the other Palestinian political groups oppose the resumption of talks while Israel’s conquest and colonial-settlement of land continues.
After the well-deserved celebrations for the freed prisoners are over, Palestinians will realise that there is a still a heavy price to be paid. It is not just the resumption of negotiations with the Israelis but rather the continued occupation and settlement expansion on their land as well as the Judaisation of Jerusalem. Indeed, the mere fact that the negotiators are meeting in occupied Jerusalem is in itself recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.
With American mediation, the most the Palestinians can reasonably hope for is to emerge with a promise of financial support on condition that they continue to protect Israel’s colony-settlements in the West Bank. After all the sacrifices the prisoners have made over the years the best tribute the Palestinian Authority can make in their honour and for the sake of their national status is to withdraw from the negotiations. Abbas knows that they are leading to nowhere but humiliation.
The Jewish state’s bottom line
There are many flies waiting to spoil the ointment of the Middle East peace talks, not least Israel’s recent announcement of a rash of settlement-building. That triggered an angry letter to Washington last week from the Palestinian leadership, though it seems Israel’s serial humiliation of Mahmoud Abbas before the two sides meet was not enough to persuade him to pull out.
However, as the parties meet today for their first round of proper negotiations, it is worth highlighting one major stumbling block that has barely registered with observers: the fifth of Israel’s population who are not Jews but Palestinians.
The difficulty posed to the peace process by this Palestinian minority was illustrated in the defining moment of the last notable effort to reach an agreement, initiated in Oslo two decades ago.
In 1993 Yitzhak Rabin, then prime minister, assembled a 15-person delegation for the signing ceremony with the Palestinians at the White House. The delegation was selected to suggest that all sectors of Israeli society favoured peace.
When Rabin was asked why he had not included a single Palestinian, he waved aside the question: “We are going to sign a peace treaty between Jewish Israel and the PLO.”
Rabin believed his own Palestinian citizens should be represented not by their government but by the adversary across the table. The mood 20 years on is unchanged. The Palestinian minority is still viewed as a fifth column, one a Jewish state would be better off without.
Significantly, it was a matter relating to Israel’s Palestinian citizens that nearly scuppered the start of these talks. Israeli cabinet ministers revolted at a precondition from Abbas that the release of long-term political prisoners should include a handful of inmates from Israel’s Palestinian minority.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, won a majority in the cabinet only after agreeing to postpone freeing this group until an unspecified time.
Similarly, previous experience suggests there will be an eruption of outrage should Netanyahu’s promised referendum on an agreement depend for its outcome — given the likely split between Israeli Jews — on the votes of Palestinian citizens. A senior minister, Silvan Shalom, has already indicated that only Israeli Jews should decide.
But Israel’s Palestinian minority will be thrust into the heart of the negotiations much before that.
Last weekend Netanyahu picked at one of the Israeli right’s favourite sores, denouncing reported comments from Abbas that no Israeli should be allowed to remain inside a future Palestinian state. Why, asks the right, should Israelis — meaning the settlers — be expelled from a Palestinian state while Israel is left with a large and growing Palestinian population inside its borders?
A possible solution promulgated by Netanyahu’s ally Avigdor Lieberman would redraw the borders to expel as many Palestinian citizens as possible in exchange for the settlements. There is a practical flaw, however: a land swap would rid Israel only of those Palestinians living near the West Bank.
Netanyahu prefers another option. He has required of the Palestinian Authority that it recognise Israel as a Jewish state. This condition will take centre stage at the talks.
Leaders of the Palestinian minority in Israel are intensively lobbying the PA to reject the demand. According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, Palestinian officials are still undecided. Some fear the PA may agree to recognition if it clears the way to an agreement.
Why does this matter to Israel? In the event there is a deal on Palestinian statehood, Israel will wake up the next morning to an intensified campaign for equal rights from the Palestinian minority. In such circumstances, Israel will not be able to plead “security” to justify continuing systematic discrimination.
The Palestinian minority’s first demand for equality is not in doubt: a right of return allowing their relatives in exile to join them inside Israel similar to the current Law of Return, which allows any Jew in the world instantly to become a citizen.
The stakes are high: without the Law of Return, Israel’s Jewishness is finished; with it, Israel’s trumpeted democracy is exposed as hollow.
Netanyahu is acutely sensitive to these dangers. Recognition of Israel’s Jewishness would pull the rug from under the minority’s equality campaign. If you don’t want to live in a Jewish state, Netanyahu will tell Palestinian citizens, go live in Palestine. That is what Mahmoud Abbas, your leader, agreed.
Netanyahu’s visceral contempt for the rights of the Palestinian minority was alluded to in a recent parliamentary debate. When an Arab MP commented, “We were here before you and will remain [here] after you”, an indignant Netanyahu broke protocol to interrupt: “The first part isn’t true, and the second won’t be.”
Recent government moves suggest that his latter observation may not be simply an idle boast but a carefully crafted threat. Israel is preparing to expel tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens from their homes in the Negev into urban reservations as part of a forced relocation plan. This ethnic cleansing campaign sets a dangerous precedent, hinting at what may lie ahead for Israel’s other Palestinian communities.
The minority has taken to the streets in the most widespread internal Palestinian protests seen since the eruption of the second intifada. Israeli police have responded with extreme brutality, using levels of violence that would never be contemplated against Jewish demonstrators.
At the same time, Netanyahu’s government has introduced legislation to raise the threshold for parties seeking entry to the Knesset. The main victims will be the three small Arab parties represented there. The law’s aim, analysts note, is to engineer an Arab-free Knesset, guaranteeing the right’s continuing and unchallengeable domination.
Netanyahu, it seems, doubts he can rely on the PA either to supply him with the political surrender he needs from the peace process or to recognise his state’s Jewishness. Instead he is bypassing Abbas to protect against the threat posed by his Palestinian citizens’ demand for equality.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books).
By PAUL LARUDEE | August 6, 2013
The moment Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to send emissaries to Washington to discuss the resumption of 20-year-old peace talks, the objective of the talks was achieved. To anyone not in a coma, it is clear that these talks will not lead to peace, and in fact might not even lead to peace talks, merely to talks about resuming talks.
What, then, is the objective of the talks?
Of course, both parties have particular motives for participating, which have been discussed at length by many pundits on the subject. In the case of John Kerry and the Obama administration, it is to do the impossible – to bring the parties together to the table. It is a sign of the bankruptcy of the effort that after twenty years this is considered a major achievement.
For Mahmoud Abbas, it is the chance to appear to be at once Salaheddine, the defender of Jerusalem for Palestinians and the Arab world, and the “good” and “reasonable” Palestinian to the West. He recognizes the skepticism of both of his audiences, but what choice does he have? His other choice is to be sidelined and irrelevant and to potentially lose his most positive role as distributor of largesse from the U.S. and Europe if his funds are cut off as a result of his failure to follow the US order to participate in the talks.
For Netanyahu, the talks are an opportunity to appear less intransigent while remaining just as intransigent as ever. This means making some potential gains in public opinion in the West and at home just by showing up, while not losing his hardcore constituency at home. In fact, he can show the most skeptical fascists in his administration that he already wiped away all the (admittedly few) agreements concluded by previous Israeli administrations in the last twenty years, thereby returning the talks to square one. This was achieved by Kerry agreeing that “everything is on the table” while promising Abbas that the talks would begin where they last left off, the equivalent of putting a square peg in a round hole when both are made of porcelain.
However, the real purpose of the talks is inherent in their hopelessness: to once again stage the ritual passion play, with Abbas representing Palestinians in the role of Satan, and to make sure he knows his lines. The U.S. receives praise for offering the play; Israel gets praised as the hero; and the audience unites around their contempt for the Palestinian villains. This is what is known as the peace process, and it must be repeated periodically in order to assure the tradition.
None of this is new. It has been part of Middle East history since long before the 1993 start of the “peace process”. In fact, the U.S. can draw on its history of broken treaties with Indian nations in North America, all of whom were blamed for their own demise. Abbas is the equivalent of Indian trustees selected by U.S. authorities to distribute beans and rotten meat on which the remainder of the tribe survived. Don’t blame him; he doesn’t want to deprive them of their only sustenance.
Therein lies the dilemma for Palestinians: to rid themselves of the Palestinian Authority (if they can) or to accept their gradual ethnic cleansing as inevitable and to make the best of it in the meantime.
Will the world come to their rescue? International solidarity is growing, but it does not appear to have significantly slowed the Palestinian demise, and most governments in the world, including Arab governments, are worse than useless, not to say collaborationist or driving the process.
The talks have therefore already achieved their objective: to assure that Palestinians will once again be blamed for their failure and that they will be responsible for the next horror that Israel visits upon them. The rest is opera.
Paul Larudee is a writer and human rights advocate, and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea.
A recently uncovered government document confirms that Ottawa has delivered millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority in a bid to advance Israel’s interests. The internal memorandum also sheds light on Canada’s efforts to build a security apparatus to protect the Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.
Last week Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume reported on a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) note outlining Israel’s desire for Canada to continue its $300 million five-year “aid” program to the Palestinians, which the Conservatives threatened to sever after the PA pursued UN statehood last fall.
“There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” reads the November 2nd 2012 note signed by CIDA president Margaret Biggs. “The Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
The heavily censored note suggests the goal of the Canadian “aid” is to protect a corrupt PA from popular backlash. Biggs explains that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”
These recent revelations from CIDA confirm the highly politicized nature of Canadian aid to the Palestinians. After Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006 the Conservatives made Canada the first country (after Israel) to cut off funding to the PA.
When Hamas officials were ousted from the Palestinian unity government in June 2007, the Conservatives immediately contributed $8 million “in direct support to the new government.” Then in December 2007 the Conservatives announced a five-year $300 million aid program to the Palestinians, which was largely designed to serve Israel’s interests.
As a Saint John Telegraph-Journal headline explained at the time: “Canada’s aid to Palestine benefits Israel, foreign affairs minister says.”
In January 2008 Maxime Bernier, then Canada’s foreign minister, said: “We are doing that [providing aid to the PA] because we want Israel to be able to live in peace and security with its neighbors.”
Most of the Canadian aid money has gone to building up a Palestinian security force overseen by a US general. The immediate impetus of the Canadian aid was to create a Palestinian security force “to ensure that the PA maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas,” as Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen was quoted as saying by the Canadian Jewish News.
American General Keith Dayton, in charge of organizing a 10,000-member Palestinian security force, even admitted that he was strengthening Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah against Hamas, telling a US audience in May 2009 his force was “working against illegal Hamas activities.” According to Al Jazeera, between 2007 and early 2011 PA security forces arrested some 10,000 suspected Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
The broader aim of the US-Canada-Britain initiated Palestinian security reform was to build a force to patrol the West Bank and Gaza. In a 2011 profile of Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Allison, “Dayton’s chief of liaison in the West Bank” for a year, Allison’s hometown newspaper the Times & Transcript reported: “The Dayton team was concerned with enhancing security on the West Bank of Palestine and was all geared towards looking after and ensuring the security of Israel.”
“We don’t provide anything to the Palestinians,” Dayton told the Associated Press in June 2009, “unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the State of Israel and they agree to it.” For instance, Israel’s notorious internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, vets all of the Palestinian recruits, according to US government reports.
The Israelis supported Dayton’s force as a way to keep the West Bank population under control. Like all colonial authorities throughout history, Israel looked to compliant locals to take up the occupation’s security burden.
Writing in the July 2011 London Review of Books, Adam Shatz detailed how “The PA already uses the American-trained National Security Force to undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation.”
He continued: “It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land. “This is, not surprisingly, a source of considerable anger and shame in the West Bank.”
The Palestinian security force is largely trained in Jordan at the U.S.-built International Police Training Center (established to train Iraqi security after the 2003 invasion). In October 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported: “[Palestinian] recruits are trained in Jordan by Jordanian police, under the supervision of American, Canadian and British officers. The number of military trainers in the West Bank varied slightly but in mid-2010, eighteen Canadian troops worked with six British and ten US soldiers under Dayton’s command.”
“The Canadian contribution is invaluable,” explained Dayton to The Maple Leaf, the monthly publication of the Canadian army. Canadians are particularly useful because, Dayton said, “US personnel have travel restrictions when operating in the West Bank. But, our British and Canadian members do not.”
Calling them his “eyes and ears” Dayton added: “The Canadians … are organized in teams we call road warriors, and they move around the West Bank daily visiting Palestinian security leaders, gauging local conditions.”
Part of the U.S. Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank (dubbed Operation PROTEUS) includes Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency.
In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Peter Kent, then Canada’s deputy foreign minister, said Operation PROTEUS was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it receives “most of the money” from the five-year $300 million Canadian “aid” program to the PA.
During a visit to the Middle East in January 2012, foreign minister John Baird told The Globe and Mail he was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which he said benefited Israel.
In effect, Canada has helped to build a security apparatus to protect a corrupt PA led by Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in January 2009, but whom the Israeli government prefers over Hamas.
- Yves Engler’s latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. He’s also the author of Canada and Israel: building apartheid.
As Israeli justice minister, Tzipi Livni, met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on Wednesday, the Israel Civil Administration approved a plan to build 296 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beit El; an Israeli newspaper reported.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon approved the construction of the new housing units in line with a promise the government had made to settlers. A previous Israeli government had promised to build 90 new housing units in the settlements in an attempt to prevent clashes during the eviction of the Ulpana settlement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously made undertakings to stop further settlement construction until next June when he met with Kerry, angering heads of settler groups.
According to the newspaper, Ya’alon met with heads of Jewish settlers on Tuesday and told them that construction would indeed continue. Netanyahu confirmed that there were delays in issuing construction bids due to errors, but that they would be issued soon.
Settlers hoped that the approval of new housing units would mean the beginning of further settlement plans in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In Rome, Livni hoped that “enthusiastic and determined” Kerry would move the peace process forward after four years of stalemate.
“We believe that re-launching the negotiations and achieving an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is in the Israeli interest, but yet there is a need for Secretary John Kerry’s efforts to create something new after four years of stagnation,” Livni said.
Kerry has been holding talks with Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab officials for months. The Israeli newspaper said that he is expected to meet Netanyahu and Abbas separately later in May.
The US Secretary of State said, “I think it is fair to say that we are working through threshold questions and we are doing it with a seriousness of purpose, which I think Minister Livni would agree with, has not been present for a while.”
Stressing the importance of achieving something as soon as possible Livni said, “We all believe that we are working with a short time span. We understand the imperative to try to have some sense of direction as rapidly as we can.”
Kerry has been mobilizing Arab support for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in case he is obliged to offer concessions to Israelis in order to reach a peace deal. Kerry also hopes to set up foundations for a wider peace with the Arab states.
Recently, he achieved a diplomatic victory when the Arab league delegation in Washington announced an agreement to accept that a land swap deal could be reached between Palestinians and Israelis based on the 1967 borders.