Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Turning the tables

 August 14, 2005

Turning the tables
Most Palestinians and many in the Arab World and beyond do not believe that a just and fair solution to the Palestinian problem could be worked out unless regional geopolitical realities undergo dramatic changes. The core of the conflict is rooted in the Israelis' argument that Palestine is their "promised land" and this places the conflict in a religious-territorial backdrop rather than the moral-social-international context. Now, Al Qaeda seems to have entered the scene and a militant analyst is throwing the argument back at Israel's face saying that the Jews have proved themselves unworthy of the land that was "promised" to them,
writes PV Vivekanand

Israel is poised to evacuate the occupied Gaza Strip and dismantle the Jewish settlements on the Mediterranean coastal strip. The move is projected to the outside world as a magnanimous gesture -- after all no occupier voluntarily withdraws from occupied land -- and as the strongest indication of Israel's willingness to work out a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

In reality, judging from the facts on the ground, Israel is withdrawing from Gaza but is consolidating its grip on the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians have realised it and a majority of them are convinced that a genuine peace with Israel is never possible, regardless of whatever is being said and done in public. Many of them believe that only divine intervention could help them secure their rights because of the Israeli conviction that Palestine is their "promised land."

It does not need much research to reach the conclusion that Israel is deceiving not only the Palestinians but the entire international community by projecting the Gaza "disengagement" plan as the forerunner of negotiated peace in Palestine. It is even misleading the world on the actual number of Jews sent to live in illegal colonies in the West Bank.

Figures compiled by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) show that the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank is more than double the number acknowledged by Israel. In the occupied Gaza Strip, the PCBS number is less than that given by Israel.

According to PCBS figures, there are 432,275 settlers living in the illegal settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank since 1967 and 8,140 in the occupied Gaza Strip.

The Israeli figures are 200,000 for the West Bank and 13,000 in the Gaza Strip (in 2003).

The number of formal (officially acknowledged) settlements totalled 165 in 2004, including 148 in the West Bank and 17 in Gaza Strip. There are dozens of other "illegal" settlements, which are nothing more than a couple of caravans housing three or four families.

Israel is seen as deceiving the world by removing these "illegal" settlements of not more than 20 people and showing it as a major sacrifice in order to gain sympathy for itself, Palestinian activists say.

In 2004, the number of formal urban settlements in the West Bank (except for those parts of Jerusalem, which were "annexed" after the 1967 occupation by Israel) totalled 24, distributed among population sectors as follows: 15 settlements with a population of 2,000-5,999 settlers, three settlements with a population of 6,000-9,999, the rest lived in settlements of a population of 10,000-41,999 settlers. In Gaza Strip, on the other hand, there was one urban colony with a population of 2,600 settlers.

The settlers' population of rural settlements is distributed among 124 settlements, including 50 religious settlements, 40 secular settlements and 13 mixed others.

Israel regularly sends new immigrants, from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Africa, to the settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli violations

Under the Geneva Conventions, the occupying force is not permitted to change the geopolitical and demographic features of the occupied territory. Therefore, Israel is in violation of the Geneva Conventions as well as UN Security Council resolutions which demand Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war.

Israel is planning to withdraw from the Gaza Strip beginning on Aug.17, but that withdrawal is seen as cosmetic since the settlers moved from the Gaza Strip will be settled in the occupied West Bank. In any event, the Gaza Strip, which has the most dense per square kilometre population in the world and a concentration of militant groups, has always been seen ungovernable for Israel. Many Israeli officials have said since 1967 that Israel was anxious to leave the Gaza Strip which it seized from Egypt in the 1967 war, but it could not do in the absence of any authority to hand over the land.

Even the first draft of the so-called Oslo agreements signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1993 was called "the Gaza-Jericho" plan (Jericho is a small town in the West Bank near the River Jordan). Subsequently, Israeli leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu and others have said that the Jewish state does not want to do anything with Gaza and the Palestinians could set up their independent state there but should not pose any threat to Israel's "security." Therefore, the Gaza "disengagement" plan could be seen only as the realisation of a decades-old Israeli wish to get rid of something it could not keep and control.

Parallel to its plans to withdraw from Gaza, Israel has announced plans to expand its settlements in the West Bank and these announcements have convinced the Palestinians that it is not realistic to expect to work out a fair and just peace agreement with Israel enshrining the legitimate Palestinian territorial rights.

A recent opinion poll taken by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), showed that nearly two-third of Palestinians -- 65 per cent -- believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached the "point of insolvability" and that they do not think permanent peace with Israel was possible; more importantly only 3.1 per cent of target audience in the opinion poll said they believed such a peace was possible.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not exactly concealed his plans. He has publicly assured settlers in the West Bank that they would not be uprooted from their illegal colonies and that the Israeli authorities would seek to expand and strengthen large settlements like Maale Adumim, Gush Itzion, Ariel and others in the West Bank.

All these settlements are located within the West Bank and, given Sharon's pronouncements, it becomes clear that their expansion undermines any possibility of a just and fair Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. A key chunk of the West Bank will thus be "absorbed" into Israel by using the wall.

American deception

By extension, the realisation of this certainty has led the Palestinians into questioning and rejecting the "promise" by US President George W Bush that he would make sure that "two states" -- Israel and Palestine -- would be a reality before he leaves the White House in 2008. Their conviction is further strengthened by the fact that Bush has steadily maintained that the US would not exert any pressure on either side and it was up to the Palestinians and Israelis to work out a peace accord. Such an attitude by the US is seen as a clear case of deception since the world knows that there could not be a fair agreement without pressuring Israel into accepting the basic rights of the Palestinian people as stipulated in various UN Security Council resolutions, and the only country which could apply pressure on the Jewish state is the US. Adding insult to injury to the Palestinians is the pressure that Washington has been applying on them.

For most Palestinians, it is a foregone conclusion that the 700-kilometre "security barrier" that Israel is building through the heart of the West Bank is designed to serve as a "separation fence" between Jewish settlements and Palestinian population centers and would eventually turn out to be the "border" between Jews and Arabs living in the West Bank without actually conceding independence to the Palestinians even in those areas on the eastern side of the wall under construction.

The ideal situation for Israelis like Sharon and his hard-line camp is to grant the Palestinians a measure of "autonomy" -- they could run their towns and municipalities, operate schools and hospitals and maintain law and order within their areas without posing any "security" threat to Israelis. They would have the choice to name the land where they have control but would have no say in external security and a limited decision-making power on relations with other Arab countries.

However, Israel would not accept the Palestinians as its citizens and would not issue them Israeli passport because the Palestinian content in Israel's acknowledged population would soon outgrow the Jewish -- given the high population growth among the Palestinians --and thus undermine the very concept of Israel as a state and country for the world's Jews. It wants the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to address such issues.

Hidden agenda

In a recent article he wrote for, Palestinian journalist Khalid Al Amayreh observes that most Palestinians are convinced that the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza incorporating Arab East Jerusalem was no longer a realistic option because of the known and hidden Israeli motivations and objectives.

Amayreh quoted Hatim Abdul Qadir, a member of the Palestinian legislative assembly, as saying that he recognised that the "one-state solution" where Jews and Palestinians could live equally as citizens in a unitary democratic state in all of pre-1948 Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza and Israel), would not be possible because of Israel's vehement rejection of the idea. "So all is left is perpetual strife until God decrees a solution," Abdul Qadir said.

Amayreh also quotes Atif Adwan, professor of political science at the Islamic University of Gaza, as saying: "All Israeli actions and behaviours in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967 have consistently demonstrated that Israel is not interested in a true peace with the Palestinians."

The professor says Israel is interested first and foremost in "imposing its will and fait accompli" regardless of what Palestinians think.

That has been made quite clear by many Israeli politicians and leaders who argue that "all the land between the (Mediterranean) Sea and the River (presumably Jordan, but it could even be the Euphrates in Iraq) is the land that God promised to Jews." On the basis of that argument, they say, it is magnanimous on the part of Israel even to allow any non-Jew (meaning the Palestinians) to remain in the "promised land."

Interestingly, Al Qaeda has stepped into the scene and has thrown the argument flat in the Israeli face.

In an article in a new print-Internet magazine, Zerwat al Sanam (Tip of the Camel's Hump), said to be an Al Qaeda mouthpiece, someone writing under the name Abu Zubeida Al Baghdadi says that the Jews have proved themselves unworthy of the "promised land" because they are cowards who are scared to fight for their paramount value, the Promised Land, and willing to give away parts in order to shirk war. That is a reference to Sharon's promise that he supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state, albeit on Israel's terms and conditions.

Theological arguments

Baghdadi's article -- How should Islam relate to the Jews? -- is apparently the first such discussion of Israel in theological terms in any Al Qaeda publication. And it seems to have ruffled quite a few feathers in Israel.

A website which is believed to have strong links with the Mossad secret agency, analyses what the article signifies and concludes that Al Qaeda is turning its gunsights on Israel.

(Mossad itself sought to create an Al Qaeda cell in Palestine by using its own agents and the scam was immediately exposed, with the Palestinian forces arresting some of the Mossad agents who subsequently admitted that they were assigned the job by the agency).