Following the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, the Western media predicted an outbreak of peace in the Middle East. ‘Death gives peace a chance,’ boomed the page-one headline in The Australian on 12 November 2004. The PLO leader was positioned as the sole impediment to resolving the seemingly intractable Israel/Palestine conflict, and much of the media elite followed this convenient Israeli and US line.
After the Gaza withdrawal this year, Israel claimed it had taken concrete steps towards peace and was now waiting for the Palestinians’ next move. The recent political shifts in Israel Ariel Sharon’s move from the increasingly extreme Likud to his new ‘centrist’ party, Kadima, and the elevation of Amir Peretz to the Labour leadership has resulted in yet more media posturing and predictions for 2006.
For long-term Middle East watchers and participants, however, it is difficult to elicit much optimism. The reality on the ground in the occupied territories, so often ignored by Jerusalem- or Tel Aviv-based journalists, remains dire for millions of Palestinians.
The Australian media generally follows a prepared script principally, that Israel is continually searching for peace and the Palestinians must rein in ‘terror.’
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Ed O’Loughlin speculated on 26 November that once Sharon headed a ‘centre-weighted’ coalition, he ‘would then be freer than any past Israeli prime minister to pursue his own plans for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,’ namely to unilaterally shape borders and attempt to impose a peace-deal on the Palestinians.
The Australian’s Martin Chulov suggested that Sharon ‘is much more likely to be remembered as a peacemaker than warrior.’ While Colin Rubenstein, Executive Director of Zionist lobbyists, AIJAC, wrote in the Australian Financial Review on 6 December that Palestinians need to understand that unless they accept Israel’s terms, ‘a unilateral separation that will define the relationship for many years to come may well result.’
There are noble exceptions to the rule, however. Peter Rodgers, former Australian Ambassador to Israel, argued in The Age on 28 November that the greatest beneficiary of the Gaza disengagement was Israel, ‘which continues to exercise a veto over everyday Gazan life without having to risk too many Israeli lives.’
Thanks to Scratch!
The most honest appraisal of the conflict appeared in a recently leaked British Foreign Office document that accused Israel of ‘rushing to annex the Arab area of Jerusalem, using illegal Jewish settlement construction and the vast West Bank barrier, in a move to prevent it becoming a Palestinian capital.’ Israel was outraged by the revelations and accused the British of being anti-Israel the usual slur but did not deny the factual basis of the report.
November 29, 1947 was the day the UN General Assembly voted in favour of establishing two States in Palestine one Jewish and one Arab. Palestinians and their supporters now use the day to highlight the failure of the international community to create a Palestinian State.
This year, Israel’s UN Ambassador, Danny Gillerman, said the Palestinians ‘have turned 29 November into a hostage for their whims I will allow them to express their complaints and demonstrate to the world how stuck they are in the past, with their tedious speeches.’
Only the Israelis are apparently allowed to discuss the past Israel continually justifies its occupation because of historical considerations and military victories. It was yet another example of two peoples speaking completely different languages.
Yet more evidence of Israel speaking the language of ‘peace’ but acting entirely differently came from a senior ally of Sharon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. She told a legal conference in early December that, despite years of Israeli denials, Sharon himself imagines the 425-mile separation barrier as the future border between Israel and a potential Palestinian State.
‘One does not have to be a genius to see that the fence will have implications for the future border,’ she said. ‘This is not the reason it was built, but it could have political implications.’ The barrier cuts deep into Palestinian territory and makes the possibility of an independent, contiguous Palestinian State all but impossible. This, of course, is Sharon’s wish, a reality largely ignored by the international media.
The greater ramification of Israeli intransigence is a growing belief among Palestinians in a one-State solution. While a two-State answer is still widely accepted in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities even though the details of such an arrangement remain largely undecided the increasing unlikelihood of a viable Palestinian State could lead many Palestinians to lose hope and pick-up on the growing sentiment within the Palestinian intelligentsia.
Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniora, co-directors of the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information, recently wrote:
Once the shift of public opinion in favour of the one-State solution of the mainstream Palestinian leadership occurs, the two-State solution will lose its viability among the Palestinian public. Once this occurs, Israeli public opinion will awaken to find a new dawn where they alone are interested in the creation of a Palestinian State next to Israel.
Such a reality would, initially at least, leave moderates on both sides scrambling for common ground, as Israel would unquestionably reject the proposal it would, in effect, end the Jewish State dead in its tracks. For libertarians and secularists the world over myself included a bi-national State is the ideal, if perhaps utopian, dream.
There are small signs that the Arab world is starting to accept the Jewish State. The announcement that the International Red Cross would finally give approval to a third emblem and allow Israel to join the movement, after decades of Arab opposition, was a welcome sign of a growing understanding and acceptance between Arabs and Jews. But such developments are rare.
The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent comments which denied the Jewish Holocaust and suggested Israel should move to Europe and be ‘wiped off the map’ indicate profound anti-Semitism within the Islamic Republic, and have increased regional instability.
The UK Sunday Times reported in mid-December that Israel’s armed forces had been ordered by Sharon to be ready by the end of March to launch a military assault against Iran’s supposed nuclear sites. If Israel truly believes that bombing Iran would bring peace, its leadership is even more delusional than I thought. This sabre-rattling is likely to inflame regional tensions, if not cause massive retaliation.
Aside from the illegality and immorality of the move, Israel’s military, financial and political strength in the region is primarily dictated by the US. The US is so bogged down in Iraq that its regional capabilities are severely limited. Any mission against Iran would inevitably leave the Jewish State even more vulnerable than before. The Israeli election is also scheduled for the end of March, so this story could simply be little more than a ploy to scare voters.
As both the Israelis and Palestinians go to the polls in early 2006 and both peoples face the huge challenges of poverty and security concerns it is important to remember that the Palestinians are still under occupation and no current plans indicate this will change anytime soon. Zionists like Colin Rubenstein may preac
h unilateralism, but history proves that this path will only lead to more bloodshed.
Here’s to a more co-operative, and positive, 2006.
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