Tuesday, February 20, 2007

one way street, of a government ostracised

Unity government brings little joy
Linda S. Heard, Special to Gulf News, Feb 20

When questioned about the peace process, or rather the absence of one, Israeli officials are fond of laying the blame on Palestinian divisions.

We don't have a partner for peace, they say. The Palestinians don't have a single address. We are willing to talk but who should we talk to, was their favoured bleat?

In recent months, their mantra had the ring of truth. The military wings of Fatah and Hamas fought on the streets of Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Esmail Haniya were at odds. There were whispers that an all out civil war was on the cards.

But now that Fatah and Hamas have come together to announce a unity government that will represent most Palestinian factions, the Israelis and their US backers have acted predictably by imposing pre-conditions on their recognition of the new entity.

These are the recognition of Israel, the renouncement of "terror" and agreement to honour prior agreements between Israel and the former Palestinian leadership.

This set of conditions is a one-way street. We must ask ourselves who is terrorising whom, the occupier or the occupied?

Which party is most terrifying? The one with the F16s, the helicopter gunships and the tanks or the one with home-made missiles that more often or not fail to reach their target?

As for the recognition of Israel and a commitment to honour previous agreements, this is implied in the Makkah Accord, brokered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and signed by Abbas and exiled Hamas leader Khalid Mesha'al.

But such subtleties aren't good enough for Ehud Olmert and friends. They want total prostration. Total humiliation, when they just might hand the Palestinians a few crumbs. No guarantees mind you.

It's ironic, too, that Israel hasn't abided by any of the agreements it is demanding the new unity government to ratify, and neither has it adhered to decades of UN resolutions requiring it to pull back to pre-'67 borders and refrain from building illegal colonies.

This situation could be equated to a man, whose home is taken over by squatters. The squatters have guns and the man has only stones. The squatters imprison and starve the man in his own basement and will only agree to talk about handing over one of the bedrooms when the man agrees to recognise the squatter's rights to his home and throws away his rights together with his stones.

Unfortunately when the man shouts for help he discovers that the police are firmly on the side of the squatters and even urge the squatters to make the man's life as difficult as possible. When the man calls upon his friends and neighbours to come to his aid, they throw a little food over the wall now and again, call out a few words of encouragement hoping that the squatters and their friends don't decide to call on them.

I'm sure that Israelis will object to being called squatters but under international law they are indeed squatting on land occupied in 1967.

Following the 1967 war, the UN passed Resolution 242 under its Chapter 7 powers calling for Israel's withdrawal from "territories of recent conflict".

Moreover according to the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, reaffirmed by the 1948 Nuremburg Tribunal, the acquisition of territory using military means is outlawed, while maintaining the integrity of international borders is enshrined in the UN Charter.

In this case why on Earth should the Palestinians or anyone else recognise Israel's right to exist on land it illegally grabbed in 1967?

There is absolutely no legal basis for the continued Israeli occupation of that land, which is easy to forget when we are constantly bombarded by US and Israeli propaganda as to Israel's victim-hood when the true victims in this story are the Palestinians.

Israel and the US have also threatened to sideline Abbas, the one person with whom they always maintained they could do business. Put simply, short of prostrating themselves and allowing Israel to trample all over them the Palestinians just can't win.


In recent years, the US role has been shameful. George W. Bush began his first term by treating former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat - a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and one of the most frequent visitors to the Clinton White House - as a pariah.

The Ariel Sharon government forced Arafat to hole up in his bombed Ramallah headquarters for years and gave the impression that once Arafat was out of the way, peace talks with Abbas could proceed. In reality, when Abbas finally did adopt the presidential mantle his repeated requests for talks were ignored.

Suddenly, the future of a Palestinian state hung on a democratically-elected Palestinian government. This pre-condition was championed by Israel and the Quartet (The US, the EU, Russia and the UN). The Palestinians obliged. The ballot was monitored and deemed free and fair.

But the outcome wasn't to the liking of the US and Israel, which set about punishing the Palestinians for choosing Hamas, deemed a terrorist organisation. Not only was the new government ostracised it was also starved of aid and disallowed from bringing into the country its own funds. They even treated Haniya like a criminal for attempting to bring in a suitcase of cash with which to pay civil servants.

The current Palestinian predicament is a disgraceful indictment of the international community, which pays nothing but lip service to international law, UN resolutions and the Geneva Conventions. The dispute could be over in a flash if the Israeli government decided to adhere to its commitments and responsibilities. The Palestinians ask and have always asked for nothing more.