What Was Blair Up To?


Before former British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in the Middle East at the end of July as the Quartet’s (USA, Russia, UN, EU) peace envoy, Ahmed Yousef, political adviser to deposed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Hanniya, offered a few words of advice to the Iraq War cheerleader:

Will Tony Blair, one wonders, muster the courage to do the same about Israel’s separation wall as did former US president Jimmy Carter who pointed out that Israel’s checkpoints over 160 in the West Bank alone are more repressive than the apartheid system was on human movement in South Africa.

Of course, Blair had no intention of saying anything of the sort. His mission was strictly about enforcing the Western blockade against the democratically elected Hamas Government in Palestine and propping up the corrupt, US-backed leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (whose power base is Hamas’s rival Fatah).  It is a recipe deliberately designed to strangle the will of the Palestinian people and avoid yet another Middle East embarrassment for the Bush Administration. Failure is guaranteed. 

First, some recent history. The Hamas takeover of Gaza in June was a bloody adventure in both pragmatism and necessity. Undoubtedly, crimes were committed (something acknowledged by the Hamas leadership). Fatah had never accepted the 2006 election of Hamas and continually undermined any chance of real conciliation between the two sides, despite the Saudi Arabia-brokered Mecca Agreement.  

Image by Banksy

During a recent visit to Syria, I spoke to Ibrahim Hamidi, Damascus bureau chief for the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat . As a long-time acquaintance of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, Hamidi had spoken to him a few days after the ‘Gaza coup’ in June. He asked Meshaal whether he regretted his group’s recent behaviour Hamidi told me that he thought it would only strengthen Western opposition to the Palestinians and the political chief said that the group had had little option in the face of Fatah intransigence and constant baiting. Meshaal regretted the use of violence and chastised any Hamas militants who had committed crimes, but re-iterated the frustration that Hamas felt towards both the international community and Abbas. Hamas, he said, had to act decisively.

The last months have only intensified the efforts of the Western powers to unconditionally support Abbas, arm his troops and undermine Hamas. Mark Perry, of website Conflicts Forum, has explained why the US moves are destined to fail.  He argues that Hamas, in fact, represents mainstream Palestinian society, that the group is not opposed to ceasing violence and that Fatah is ‘broken.’ While the world community heaps praise on the ‘moderate’ Abbas, Perry states, he has fallen into the US and Israeli trap and is doing their dirty work:

By turning his back on the Palestinians in Gaza, but even actively seeking their impoverishment in the United Nations (as he did, shamefully, on Friday, when his diplomats blocked efforts to seek a Security Council statement on the humanitarian situation there), [Abbas] has set out to divide the Palestinian nation, to set it against itself. And that line, in the end, cannot be crossed. And the fact that [Abbas] has crossed it will, in the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people, make all the difference. There is only one Palestine and now [Abbas] is not a part of it.

Tragically, this strategy is being encouraged by virtually all the major Western powers, including the EU which prefers to be wrong with the US, rather than be right but act alone. Palestinian writer Saifedean Ammous explains that, too often, EU funding for the Palestinians is simply about sending in ‘conscience-assuaging, smugness-propping aid œexperts  to œsave  a town in the process, relieving Israel from having to deal with the consequences of its crimes.’

So, where to from here? When I wrote my book, My Israel Question in 2006, I argued reluctantly that a two-State solution in Palestine was probably the best option because a majority of Israelis and Palestinians appeared to support it. Now, in the updated edition of the book, I question my own prejudices and conclude that a bi-national State is both more ethical and likely.

The reasons are deceptively simple. There is little likelihood that Israel will give up its addiction to land acquisition in the West Bank anytime soon indeed, Western policies are helping the Jewish State complete its colonial project. In a matter of years, Palestinians will outnumber Jews in both Israel and Palestine, making Jews a minority. This is an apartheid State by definition, as Israel will still rule over millions of Palestinians.

There are media reports that portray Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas as currently discussing ‘final-status issues’ on the formation of a Palestinian State issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and final borders. But the facts on the ground belie this delusion. The Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land is expanding daily. Palestinian children are still being tortured by the Israeli Defence Forces. The apartheid wall is nearing completion. Hundreds of checkpoints litter the West Bank. Over one million Palestinians in Gaza are being ignored because they dared vote for Hamas.

It’s a bleak vision, but one that calls for clarity.

A handful of Jews are speaking out against Israel’s disastrous path.  People like Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset (Israeli Parliam
ent) and leader of the World Zionist Organisation, who argues that modern-day Israel is xenophobic, Holocaust-obsessed and vulnerable to political extremism; or Tom Segev, who highlights the denial within the Israeli education system.

But there is little opposition among the majority of Jews for Israel’s current path. This is nothing new, of course, but it’s revealing. Most Jews appear unfazed by Israel’s gradual transformation into a garrison State which is loathed by most of the world and is armed to the teeth by the world’s only superpower.

How is this the Promised Land?

After spending the last few months in the Middle East though not in Israel and Palestine one thing became clear. While real anti-Semitism undoubtedly exists, many Arabs I met couldn’t understand why so few Jews seemed to care that their fellow religionists were behaving like a people without a moral compass.

Few hated Jews, but most despised Israel. How could I defend ‘my homeland’?

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