By Eric Margolis
November 26, 2007
After the disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, the misery and bloodshed in Palestine, looming war against Iran, the mess in Pakistan, and worldwide anger against America, President George Bush desperately needs a foreign policy success in the final year of his ill-starred term.
So a group of US Mideast Arab allies and Israel have been dragooned into reluctantly appearing at a hastily-arranged meeting at Annapolis, Maryland this week that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice actually claims will lead to a final Palestinian-Israeli settlement over the next year.
The attendees includes Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian semi-leader Mahmoud Abbas, and delegations from US Arab allies. Syria, which fears a joint US-Israeli invasion, finally decided to send a junior minister. To no surprise, Great Satan Iran was not invited to Bush’s Maryland clambake.
Israel’s strategy has long been to talk about talks about peace while steadily continuing to expand by building settlements on the West Bank and the former Syrian Golan Heights. According to Israeli human rights groups, Israeli settlements and military bases now occupy over half the entire West Bank and its best farmland and water resources –in violation of international law and numerous UN resolutions.
To make sure nothing substantial is achieved at Annapolis, Israel’s rightwing parties in parliament rammed through a resolution that any change in the status of Jerusalem would require a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority, an impossibility under the Knesset’s fragmented party system. Next, Olmert issued a new demand that the Palestinian leadership and other Arab nations recognize Israel not just as a state but as `a Jewish state.’ This means the 20% of Israeli’s who are Muslim or Christian would become non-people. Olmert knew perfectly well that this insertion would make it extremely difficult for the Arab states to recognize Israel. That, of course, was his objective: a diplomatic poison pill.
West Bank Palestinians have been squeezed into arid land and squalid towns forming a giant outdoor gulag, reminiscent of the science fiction film `Escape from New York,’ filled with misery, crime, 50% unemployment and malnutrition, all surrounded by Israeli `security walls,’ checkpoints and hilltop settlements.
Mahmoud Abbas can’t even control his own extreme factions within Fatah who launch attacks on Israelis, never mind militant Hamas Islamists who stupidly lob rockets at Israel from that other open air prison, Gaza. Israel responds to each pinprick attack with massive force, killing ten Arabs for every dead Israeli. Palestinian infighting and bitter divisions provide Israel’s government with a perfect excuse not to deal with them.
Meanwhile, Washington and Israel are trying to starve Hamas and Gaza into submission while building up the ineffectual but obedient Abbas, whom they engineered into power after PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s mysterious death. The US and Israel have been arming Abbas’ Fatah faction in hopes they will go after Hamas – which, however unloved in the west, remains a legitimate government that won power through a democratic vote.
The Bush Administration’s goal is to get Israeli PM Olmert to agree to a feeble Palestinian mini-state made up of tiny cantons – call them Arabistans – isolated by Israeli-only roads, led by US and Israeli appointed yes-men who will keep their more volatile compatriots in line. This was also the goal of former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, who is now in deep coma. Had his health held up, Sharon might have pulled it off.
But even this political Potemkin Village faces fierce opposition in Israel. Olmert, still reeling from the bloody disaster he created last year in Lebanon, is under heavy fire from Israel’s powerful right wingers and their US neoconservative supporters not to cede an inch of Biblical Greater Israel.
Equally important, as election year nears, US Republicans and Democrats are vying to support the ultra-hardline positions of Israel’s expansionist right, ignoring the 50% of Israeli voters who support a real land for peace deal. They are doing Israel a grave disservice by pandering to its most extreme parties while ignoring its mainstream.
As one of Israel’s finest thinkers, Uri Avnery notes about US elections, `the Jewish and Evangelistic lobbies, together with the neo-cons, will not allow one critical word about Israel to be uttered unpunished.’
In North America, anything that is not fulsome praise of Israel is deemed criticism. Failure to fully support Israel means political or professional suicide . Every politician remembers Democrat Howard Dean. His campaign for the presidency was quickly destroyed by the US media after Dean called for an `evenhanded’ approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This means Bush and whoever succeeds him, whether Republican or Democrat, will be most unlikely to put any pressure on Israel to create a viable Palestinian state.
The only peace plan that would work is being ignored: the 2002 Saudi proposal calling for a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders with some rectifications; sharing Jerusalem; dealing with millions of homeless Palestinian refugees; and normalized relations between the Muslim World and Israel.
Nothing will happen without US pressure. But Bush won’t seize the last chance to do some good for the world though, as a lame duck president, he could at least try without jeopardizing his political future. Israel is happy with the status quo. The Palestinians and other Arab states are too weak and divided to achieve a solution to the world’s biggest international headache.
copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007
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