A good conjurer or con-artist operates by diverting attention to one place while doing his nefarious work in another. This is exactly what the Israelis are doing in their current attempt to legitimise their occupation of Palestine. All the talk in recent months has been of Ariel Sharon’s plan to “disengage” from Ghazzah, of political developments in Palestine since the death of Yasser Arafat last year, of the fragile cessation of military operation in recent months, of the gradual handover of control of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, and of a resumption of the peace process on the basis of the “roadmap” to peace agreed by proposed by the US, the UN, the EU and Russia in April 2003. Yet while attention has been focused in these areas, creating an illusion of progress that no one wants to jeopardise, the Israeli government and its allies have been working to expand their key interests at the Palestinians’ expense, and pre-empting any future negotiations, in other key areas.
The two issues that seem to have fallen off the international radar are the building of the “security wall” and Israel’s efforts to secure de facto control over all of Jerusalem before any future talks on its status. This is a well-established Israeli strategy known as “creating new realities on the ground”, for which Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was a vocal advocate as an opposition leader and champion of expansionist settlement in the 1990s. This Israeli tactic contributed massively to the Palestinian disillusion with the Oslo peace process and to the al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000. It was rewarded in April last year, when US president George Bush, in a speech that might have been written for him in Tel Aviv, stated that any future settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians would have to reflect the new realities on the ground in the West Bank.
Little wonder, then, that the zionists are continuing to pursue precisely the same policy now. Even as Palestinian groups were meeting in Cairo from March 15-17, and confirming the extension of their conditional ceasefire until the end of the year (see p. 9), Israeli officials announced plans for the construction of up to 3,500 new settler homes around East Jerusalem, aimed at creating “territorial and demographic Jewish continuity” between the Maali Adomim settlement, 5 kilometres east of Jerusalem, and other settlements to the north-east of the city. Justified by Israeli officials as “natural growth” -- and therefore permissible despite the supposed freeze on settlement expansion -- the plan effectively encircles Arab East Jerusalem and prevents any Palestinian territorial contiguity between the city and the West Bank.
This announcement also came just days after Israeli officials confirmed the route of the “separation wall” in the Jerusalem area, which will be built around Maali Adonim, effectively annexing large swathes of land, and cutting northern and central parts of the West Bank off from the Bethlehem and Hebron regions. This is only one of several Israelis measures that make any prospect of a “territorially contiguous and viable” Palestinian state impossible. Other parts of Sharon’s plans, such as “security zones” in border areas, and safe roads across the Palestinian areas, mean that at least half of the West Bank is likely to to remain in Israeli control even if a Palestinian “state” is established at some stage.
Little wonder, then, that UN secretary general Kofi Annan was greeted by angry crowds when he met Palestinian officials in Ramallah on March 14. The protesters were angry at the international community’s failure to prevent the building of the wall, a year after the International Court of Justice declared it a clear violation of international law. Annan, who was visiting occupied Palestine for events marking the genocide of European Jews during World War II, told Palestinian officials that the UN was creating a special committee to register Palestinian property damage caused by the wall, i order to calculate possible future compensation.
Hassan Yousef, Hamas’s leader in the West Bank, was scathing, saying that “the issue is not compensation. The issue is the wall itself. It is an act of rape and Annan should condemn it directly, publicly and openly. This is his moral and legal duty, and by choosing to pander to the Israeli aggressors, by not taking a firm stance on this crime, he is effectively condoning the crime.”
Israel’s sly exploitation of the developing political situation in Palestine, despite the spirit of the agreements and processes that it is supposed to be following, is not surprising, given its record. Nor is it surprising that the US should support it in its crimes, considering the close links between zionism and Washington. Whether Israel is an American instrument in the Middle East, or the US establishment is controlled by zionist interests, is a moot point; the fact is that there is no meaningful distinction between American and Israeli interests and policies, and one would have to be utterly naive to expect the USto play honest broker, now or ever. It is also not surprising that the UN should be utterly unable to rein in either the US or Israel. These are realities and constraints that most Palestinians recognise, and their supporters should too, regardless of the efforts to pull the wool over our eyes.
There is, however, one important point that the Israelis would like us to forget, and which is indeed overlooked by many. That is that the question of Israeli control over al-Quds is not just one of international law. Al-Quds is the third holy city of Islam, and the al-Haram al-Sharif there is under constant threat from zionist zealots. It was revealed last month that leaders of the Gush Emunim settler movement and the Kach terrorist group have made plans to invade the Haram with tens of thousands of Jews. A former associate of Baruch Goldstein, the zionist who murdered 29 Muslims in Al-Khalil (Hebron) in 1994, said that the plan was intended to set off a massive conflict, in order to destroy the Haram and thwart Sharon’s ‘disengagement’ from Ghazzah. Ariel Sharon fears such groups because they would disrupt his careful plans, but shares their broader commitment to expelling Muslims from Al-Quds, and replacing the Haram with a Jewish temple.
The Al-Aqsa Intifada was launched to save al-Haram al-Sharif from Jewish control after Sharon invaded it in September 2000. That threat still remains; Palestinians remain determined to counter it, despite the price they have already paid, and Muslims around the world must support them fully in this most noble of causes.