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Alain Gresh: Palestine abandoned

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    Palestine abandoned By Alain Gresh http://mondediplo.com/2006/01/03palestine Europe s media and political leaders have, over the past few years, slowly and
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2006
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      Palestine abandoned
      By Alain Gresh
      http://mondediplo.com/2006/01/03palestine


      Europe's media and political leaders have, over the past few years,
      slowly and silently changed the way they view the Palestinian problem
      and a solution to the Middle East conflict. During the Oslo years it
      seemed clear that the solution lay in intensive negotiations to
      achieve a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territories occupied
      in 1967, including East Jerusalem; in lasting borders between the
      Palestinian state and Israel; and in an acceptable solution for
      Palestinian refugees. The talks at Camp David in July 2000 and Taba in
      January 2001 focused on those issues.

      The next interval was marked by the second intifada, which broke out
      at the end of September 2000; the immediate violent reaction of the
      Israeli army, which happened months before the first suicide attacks
      launched under the banner of the intifada; Ariel Sharon's election as
      prime minister; the escalation of Palestinian attacks against Israeli
      civilians; and the Israeli army's resumption of total control over the
      occupied territories.

      Yet, regardless of what we may think of the strategy and tactics of
      the Palestinian Authority (PA), from the standpoint of international
      law the core problems remain: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem
      are still occupied territories, Israel remains an occupying power and
      the creation of a Palestinian state remains the key to peace.

      However, we have seen a clear change in perspective in statements by
      European leaders: suddenly it is up to the Palestinians - the occupied
      - to prove their goodwill. The European Union's references to the
      obligations of both camps do little to disguise this orientation
      towards Sharon's vision: that all progress towards peace now depends
      on the PA, which is required to reform itself, get rid of Palestinian
      armed groups and show its willingness to coexist with Israel. The
      media have reflected this perspective, blanking out or downplaying the
      realities of Israeli policy - its disregard of international law and
      the war crimes it commits.

      Consider media coverage of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip
      last summer. For weeks the cameras were directed at the settlers being
      evacuated, dwelling on their suffering and that of the soldiers
      ordered to force them out. Few journalists pointed out that occupation
      is a war crime according to the International Criminal Court, that
      some of these settlers were fanatics ready to shoot at Palestinian
      civilians, or that far more Palestinians (tens of thousands) than
      settlers have been displaced from Gaza these past years without
      raising any concern in the West.

      Worse, the Gaza withdrawal was portrayed as an important gesture by
      Sharon. It reinforced his credit in the United States and Europe, and
      opened the way for a grand official visit to France. But, as the
      United Nations points out, Gaza remains an occupied territory: the
      army still makes frequent incursions and the Israeli government has
      decided to impose a security zone inside Palestinian territory,
      evacuating part of the population to do so. The recent threat to cut
      off electricity to the entire Gaza Strip amounts to collective
      punishment, in contradiction of the Geneva Conventions. The US
      organisation Human Rights Watch said on 23 December that such an act
      would be "a violation of international humanitarian law".

      Its statement also noted that, from 24 September to 12 November,
      Israel barred more than 5,000 Palestinian workers from Gaza from
      entering Israel, adding that "the impact of lost days of work is
      particularly serious in Gaza, where the poverty rate continues to
      climb and 68% of the population in Gaza lives below the poverty line" (1).

      Mustapha Barghouti, who ran against Mahmoud Abbas in the election for
      the presidency of the PA in January 2005 and won 20% of the votes,
      published an article: "The truth you don't hear" (2). In it, his
      assessment of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza was different
      from the Israeli version which, he says, "presents an image that is
      absolutely at odds with reality". And equally at odds with the image
      given by most of the western media.

      According to Barghouti, settlements are rapidly increasing: "The total
      population of settlers numbers some 436,000: 190,000 in Jerusalem and
      246,000 in the West Bank. Just 8,475, or 2% of the total number of
      illegal settlers in the occupied territories, were removed from the
      Gaza Strip and Jenin area. Yet in the same period, the settlement
      population in the West Bank has grown by a massive 15,800."
      
      A single gate

      Barghouti tells of the daily life of Palestinians since the building
      of the separation wall, which completely surrounds a town such as
      Qalqilya, with a single gate to which the Israeli Defence Force has
      the key: "A permit is required to cross the wall; one that is near
      impossible to obtain. And even if you succeed in obtaining the permit,
      you still have to negotiate unaccommodating gate opening times. In the
      Jayous area, you can cross between 7.40 and 8am, between 2 and 2.15pm,
      and between 6.45 and 7pm: a total of 50 minutes a day. Sometimes the
      army forgets to open the gates, and schoolchildren, teachers, farmers,
      patients and ordinary people are left to wait indefinitely."

      The consequences that the separation wall would lead to in Jerusalem
      were outlined in a recent report by EU heads of mission in East
      Jerusalem (3), who claim that Israeli policies have resulted in:

      - near completion of the barrier around East Jerusalem, far from the
      Green Line (the 1967 ceasefire line);

      - construction and expansion of illegal settlements by private bodies
      and the Israeli government, inside and around East Jerusalem;

      - the demolition of Palestinian houses built without permits, which
      are almost impossible to obtain;

      - the expansion plan for the settlement of Maaleh Adumim, which
      threatens to complete the encirclement of Jerusalem by Jewish
      settlements and to divide the West Bank into two separate geographic
      sectors.

      The EU consuls in Jerusalem stated clearly that Israel's actions in
      the city were in violation of its commitments to the roadmap, and of
      international law. This initiative got nowhere: the EU decided not to
      publish its report.

      The Haaretz correspondent for the occupied territories, Amira Haas,
      known for her courageous reporting, wrote of Hamas's win in the
      municipal elections of December 2005 in the West Bank: "Hamas's
      victory in the local elections bloomed in fertile soil. People have
      had enough of the lies that have accompanied their lives over the past
      13 years: that Oslo is peace; that the establishment of the PA is an
      accomplishment and a symbol, neutralising all its failings; that the
      PA is a state" (4).

      Hass does not exonerate Hamas. She says its propaganda is based on
      three lies: Hamas claims the Gaza Strip has been liberated, although
      it is the result of a unilateral Israeli decision; that the withdrawal
      is the result of armed struggle, even though "the suicide bombings in
      Israel only strengthened the Israelis' support for all forms of a
      takeover of the West Bank"; that the legislative elections this
      month, in which Hamas has decided to take part, are fundamentally
      different from those of 1996, whereas they are part of the same
      framework that was put in place with the Oslo accords.

      The fairytale persists

      Elsewhere, too, the elaborate fairytale persists. Take, for example,
      calls to make the PA more democratic. Clearly the EU wanted only one
      person to win the presidential election a year ago: Mahmoud Abbas. So
      the many pressures put by his party, Fatah, on the electoral
      commission were neither denounced by international observers nor
      reported by the media. Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for
      common foreign and security policy, has threatened the PA with the
      withdrawal of support from Brussels if Hamas wins the January
      elections. The brave new Europe of the 25 will accept the elections
      only if its chosen candidates are elected.

      Is this so surprising? After all, the EU is busy boosting its
      relations with Israel. The EU is now more eager to put pressure on the
      PA than to apply the sanctions called for by the EU-Israel Association
      agreement if human rights are violated, which is a daily occurrence in
      the occupied territories. And it is more eager to receive Israeli
      leaders to encourage them in their current policy, even though this
      will lead directly to the annexation of a large part of the West Bank
      and East Jerusalem. France, regrettably, has renounced its independent
      stand in favour of Palestinian rights and is now orchestrating a wider
      rapprochement with the US in the Middle East, from Iraq to
      Afghanistan, reversing its longstanding strategy on the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      The peace process that started with the Oslo accords is dead. Although
      it could have provided an opening towards a settlement and created
      opportunities that have now been lost, there is no going back.

      So should we put our faith in the success of the roadmap and hope for
      the victory of Kadima, the new centre party created by Sharon, in the
      upcoming Israeli elections? No, because the equation is still the
      same: the Palestinians continue to live under occupation, their daily
      life is unbearable, their aspirations to independence are scorned.

      It is an illusion to think that in this coming period we may see a
      change of direction by the Israeli government, unless there is a
      sustained international pressure to force it to apply international
      law: no more, no less. We also need international sanctions to support
      the Palestinians and help mobilise active groups of peace-loving Israelis.

      As Barghouti says: "One way to correct this situation is to do what
      was done successfully in the case of South Africa, which is to impose
      sanctions. A key aspect of this lies in the discontinuation of
      military ties with Israel, the fourth largest military exporter in the
      world. We need a movement of military non-cooperation that
      concentrates on divestment and connects economic agreements with
      Israel's abidance by international law and the implementation of
      international resolutions."

      The EU-Israel Association agreement offers Brussels many
      possibilities, since it explicitly states that the agreement can be
      suspended should there be a violation of article 2: "Relations between
      the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself,
      shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles,
      which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes
      an essential element of this agreement." Indeed on 10 April 2002, in
      the middle of Operation Defensive Shield on the West Bank, the
      European parliament, with a large majority, requested the European
      Commission and the Council of Europe to suspend that agreement,
      although without success.

      It is time for the EU to rethink, and match its deeds to its words. It
      can do that by playing an active role in the Middle East and
      supporting the enactment of international law.

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