Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: The Lines Are Getting Redrawn

Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH, Apr 8 2009 (IPS) - The rival Palestinian parties Fatah and Hamas, the Arab League, the EU and the new U.S. administration all appear to have found common ground against Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank.

Israel has declared a state of alert as the country approaches the Jewish Passover, one of the holiest holidays in Judaism.

The West Bank will be closed off for the duration of the week’s holiday, which begins Thursday, and Palestinians will be prevented from entering Israel.

This follows a number of Palestinian attacks on Israeli settler and military targets in the occupied territory in the last few weeks, in which two Israeli policemen and a teenage settler boy were killed.

An attempt to detonate an explosive-laden car in a shopping mall in the northern Israeli city Haifa was foiled after its early discovery. Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, has received specific warnings of further attacks emanating from the West Bank.

Palestinians from both sides of the political divide have warned of revenge for Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza earlier this year which left over 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them civilian.

Anonymous Palestinian sources in Gaza have warned Israeli media that resistance groups were planning to carry out attacks wherever possible.

Palestinian frustration and resentment over what appears to be a peace process going nowhere fast is spreading beyond Gaza to the West Bank. The West Bank is under the control of President Mahmoud Abbass’ secular Palestinian Authority (PA), which signed a peace accord with Israel.

Palestinian anger against Israel’s continued occupation has been further fuelled by Israel’s new far-right and extremist government under the leadership of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has repeatedly argued against a two-state solution, outlined under international law and envisioned by the international community, to the protracted Israeli Palestinian conflict.

He has also supported the continued expropriation of Palestinian water resources, and land for the enlargement of and building of new illegal Israeli settlements and bypass roads on the West Bank.

The Palestinian economy in the West Bank, while not crippled to the extent of Gaza’s, has been seriously weakened by over 600 Israeli military checkpoints and barriers. The World Bank warned last year that if these restrictions were not significantly eased, this economy too would collapse.

Instead Netanyahu has only argued broadly in favour of strengthening the Palestinian economy, something unacceptable to the Palestinians. Fatah spokesperson Fahmi Za’arir says Netanyahu’s “economic peace” was a means to avoid any real commitment to the peace process.

“Fatah and the Palestinian people will not accept co-existence with the occupation,” Za’arir told IPS. “We will struggle until we achieve freedom and our legitimate rights.”

As Abbas’s popularity continues to plummet, elements within the Fatah movement, which is affiliated with the PA, are now allegedly taking up arms against the Israelis.

Israeli media reported, following the lifting of a news blackout several days ago, that the Shin Bet had arrested a number of operatives linked to Fatah, and its more militant offshoot, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, during the last few weeks.

A number of these militants had been given amnesty by Israel in return for giving up their resistance activities.

Growing regional and international support appears to have strengthened Abbas’s resolve to be less accommodating of Israel.

Emboldened by support received from the Arab League at its summit held recently in Doha, Qatar, Abbas warned that the peace process would break down irretrievably unless Israel respected the agreements it had signed with the PA.

The new Israeli government “would have to accept the creation of a Palestinian state, stop construction in West Bank settlements and remove army roadblocks crippling life in the West Bank so that we can resume dialogue in order to reach a political solution,” Abbas said.

The Arab League offered Israel full peace and diplomatic recognition during its 2002 summit in Beirut. The deal was based on a Saudi initiative. In return Israel was expected to fully withdraw from all occupied Arab territory.

The Arab League warned Israel recently that the offer would not remain open indefinitely.

Egypt is considered a partner of Israel in the peace process, but the Egyptian foreign ministry has said it would be difficult to work with Israel’s new foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extremist who has advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit took it a step further, saying he would refuse to shake Liberman’s hand should the two ever meet.

Earlier in the year Lieberman said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could “go to hell” for never bothering to visit Israel while Israeli leaders had regularly visited Egypt.

Further support for the embattled PA president has come from abroad. The EU warned Israel that if it did not follow through with the two-state solution, relations between the two would become “very difficult”.

U.S. President Barack Obama has already expressed his commitment to two states, and this was reinforced when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Abbas in Ramallah.

Hamas is sticking to its old position. Hamas media spokesman Fawzi Barhoum has said there was no real difference between various Israeli governments.

“We tried them all, but the Netanyahu government reflects a racist composition with a clear racist and extremist agenda that denies our legitimate rights,” said Barhoum.

It appears that the deck is stacked against Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territory. And unless it decides to radically change its political course and implement serious changes on the ground, it could be fighting on a number of diplomatic fronts.

However, while the composition of the current government does not auger well for territorial compromise, Netanyahu might well come up with the goods that could surprise all and sundry.

Some of Israel’s strongest compromises have been made by the right-wing leaders of some of its more hard-line governments.

Menachem Begin, a former Israeli premier and member of the pre-Israel Jewish terrorist organisation Irgun, signed the peace agreement with Egypt.

As part of that peace accord, former premier Ariel Sharon, another extremist, and minister of defence at the time, organised and carried out the removal of Israeli settlers from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Sharon had always been a strong supporter of the settler movement but showed the necessary pragmatism under international pressure.

Republish | | Print |

nany books