Sunday, November 18, 2007

Israeli Sabotage is a Deliberate Policy to Bring Down Palestinian Moderation

Raghida Dergham
Arab Media

The Israeli attempts to cause the failure of the international peace conference before its presumed convening in 10 days' time in Annapolis poses a fundamental question, namely: if Israel truly doesn't want peace, what then?
This question is faced by Israelis and Arabs as well as the Americans, since America's policy of embracing Israel has earned it the hatred of millions of Muslims and Arabs. The question is also faced by the Europeans, Russians and Chinese and the rest of the world.

It might be said that the world has become used to the fruitless search for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and no longer sees this conflict as containing a fuse to ignite greater crises. Thus, no one is concerned, especially since there now a bloody Palestinian-Palestinian conflict that has diverted attention from reducing the sufferings of the Palestinians from Israeli occupation for more than 40 years.

However, becoming used to this habit or indifference does not eliminate other factors that must be used to answer the fundamental question. Among these are the war on terror, battles over regional influence, the increase in extremism due to the anger over seeing the peace process transformed into a mere anesthetic or a pretext to buy time and avoid what is required when it comes to peace. Things are not as they usually are, despite the habit of becoming fed up with searching for peaceful solutions.

If Israel truly does not want peace, and is truly prepared to demolish moderation in Arab and Islamic ranks because the Jewish state finds that a partnership with Arab and Islamic extremism serves a justification for its existence, what will the US do after the Americans themselves are a direct victim of Israeli extremism, which wears the mask of moderation?

These are some of the questions that the White House, the Congress and American public opinion must answer, on the eve of the autumn conference that the Israeli leadership is readying for with a series of impossible conditions, despite the fact that it preparing for the establishment of two states - Israel and Palestine - to live together in peace and with international guarantees.

Israeli democracyAt first, there is no room for pretending that the Israeli popular base is unable to affect the positions of its leaders, thanks to the policies of its leaders in the government, the Knesset and the opposition.The Israelis are proud of having a democracy, which is rare in the Middle East, and the idea that they have only to enhance the tools of democracy. This is the formula for them today: if you want to see the current situation continue, you must get ready for tomorrow, which will bring with it a natural division in this unnatural situation, which tries to combine occupation and democracy, while the two are naturally opposites. The occupation violates human rights, which is a violation of the fundamental bases of democracy. If you truly want peace, then take part in making a serious peace with Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians. Before, the price of peace was not this clear: get rid of the occupation based on the 1967 borders, with an exchange of territory, and realistically treat the Palestinians' right of return to a place where they were expelled from their homes in 1948, and establish a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, in coexistence and normalization with the Arab-Islamic world.

AnnapolisThere is no reason to boycott the Annapolis conference because its mere convening will save the Palestinian Authority from the danger of its being marginalized and will surround the establishment of the state of Palestine with international attention. This is exactly what the Israeli leadership doesn't want and what the tools of the Israeli lobby are trying to achieve, via a campaign against the effectiveness and competence of the Palestinian Authority and its capacities. It's a renewed campaign by the lobby, using its customary tactic, claiming that there is no strong, responsible Palestinian partner for the Israeli government in order to make peace, and that Ehud Olmert's government is weak, and not in a position enabling it to make peace.The artificial "recognition" issue took on a new form this week, with the Israeli leadership's insistence that the reference-point for the Annapolis conference be the launching of negotiations as a necessary Palestinian recognition of the "Jewishness" of Israel. At first, this new item appears to indicate Israeli weakness, springing from the deadly need to "recognize" Israel as a Jewish state, then acknowledge the Jewishness of Israel, or Israel as a Jewish homeland. This goes beyond exposing a deficiency; in fact it serves as two things. One is the deliberate sabotage involved in trying to sink the Annapolis conference, and the second is preemptively trying to eliminate from any discussion the right of return provision according to UN Security Council Resolution 194 on Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war.There is a "new invention" - a determination to declare a freeze on settlements on the eve of the Annapolis Conference, as if this is a big compromise by the Israeli leadership, while in fact these settlements are illegal according to international law. The Road Map for establishing two states asks Israel to freeze settlements and dismantle settlement points. This maneuvering around the commitments of the Road Map should not be endorsed by the White House just because it is doing its utmost to convene the Annapolis Conference, in the belief that this event will save the presidential legacy of George Bush.

Success in NablusThe Palestinian Authority has duties according to the first phase of the Road Map; likewise, the Israeli government has duties as well. The PA is requested to take security measures and the Israeli governments must freeze and remove settlement activities. The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayad, has confirmed that his government will move ahead with its security plan, all the way to imposing it in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas movement. He said that the test of the city of Nablus and is a test for his government, affirming that the era of chaos has ended for good; "no one who attacks or trades in the people's security will escape punishment and the justice of the people." He said that Nablus is perhaps more important than Annapolis, not because the latter isn't important as an international event that is dedicated to ending the political isolation of the (Palestinian) national issue, but because one of the elements of success of Annapolis and post-Annapolis is his government's succeeding in Nablus.The language of the Palestinian leadership itself reveals the difference between it and the Israeli leadership, which avoids the proposals brought by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and accepted by both Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and the head of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas. The Israeli delegation that is preparing the negotiations dossier for the Annapolis Conference today rejects the principle of a parallel and immediate implementation of phase one of the Road Map and rejects setting up a US-Israeli-Palestinian committee to monitor its implementation.It's also interesting to note that Israel currently rejects mentioning the Arab Peace Initiative as a reference-point for the peace process, which is very embarrassing for the US administration, which has made the greatest possible efforts to convince Arab countries to attend the conference, and this includes the initiative's author, Saudi Arabia. This peace plan is the Arab peace plan. Israel has never put forward an Israeli peace plan. It continually works to abort peace plans that are proposed. Its provocative stance on refusing to mention the Arab Peace Initiative as one of the reference-points for the peace process can only be a testament to the sterile Israeli maneuvers, just like its demand that Palestinians issue a prior recognition of the Jewishness of Israel to head off any discussion of the right of return.

Inter-Palestinian divisionThen there is the Knesset, which last week approved a draft law to prevent the Israeli government from changing the borders of east and west Jerusalem without the approval of two thirds (80) of Knesset members, instead of an absolute majority of 61, according to current law. The goal of this change is head off any chance of reaching an agreement about the status of East Jerusalem. This stance by the Israeli Knesset is another chapter in the annals of Israeli intransigence when it comes to the requirements of peace with the Palestinians.It's no coincidence that these Israeli positions, meant to sabotage the conference, are part of a deliberate policy to bring down Palestinian moderates, represented by the PA and the government of Abbas and Fayyad, at a time of competition between Hamas and the PA. This is not the first time that Israel has invested in Hamas; the Jewish state directly helped create Hamas to challenge the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Israel is trying to ignite inter-Palestinian division, in the belief that this is in Israel's interest. Thus, it is readying itself militarily for the post-Annapolis conference phase, since it expects the eruption of a wave of violence against the PA if the Annapolis Conference fails to push the peace process seriously forward. Thus, the Israelis are competing among themselves, at a time in which there is no Israeli option other than igniting a Palestinian civil war in order to justify Israel's mass expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan, as an alternative homeland - this is in order to solve the demographic problem and turn Israel into a purely Jewish state, militarily, with no need for negotiations or compromises.

Israeli leaders' gamesToday, in order to frustrate the international efforts to put the Palestinian issue back on the front burner, with American leadership, at the level of the president, top Israeli leaders are competing to rein in the PA and open channels of dialogue with Syria. The battle is taking place between Prime Minister Olmert and his deputy, Ehud Barak, who holds the Defense Ministry, with Foreign Minister Tzivi Lipni in the middle.Olmert is setting up a channel of communication with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, and senior officials in Qatar, who have a special relationship with Israel and the Syrian leadership. Barak is also playing on the Qatari channel this week he appointed Uri Sagay, a general in the Israeli reserves, as responsible for examining whether it would be possible to resume a dialogue with Damascus (he is a member of the Israeli negotiating delegation with Syria, and during these talks he met the then-Syrian chief of staff, Hikmat Shehabi, and the Syrian ambassador to Washington at the time, who is now the foreign minister, Walid Moallem).Sagay earlier chaired the Israeli Army's military intelligence committee in the government of Yitzhak Rabin between 1992 and 1995. Then, Barak, while prime minister, appointed him as the official responsible for negotiations with Syria in 1999.Barak wants to revive negotiations with Syria to prevent Israel being forced to deal with the Arab Peace Initiative, which makes it uncomfortable. Damascus did not embrace the initiative, and Qatar has always worked against it, simply because it is a Saudi initiative. Barak's choice of Sagay has another very important motive behind it, which is that Sagay is one of the biggest proponents of freezing negotiations with the Palestinians. He believes that the playing on the different tracks is useful and that negotiating with Syria is the realistic option. Both Barak and Sagay want to deal with Syria over things like Palestine, Lebanon and Iran.Olmert is less skilled than Barak on this score; therefore, he expresses his readiness to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for moving Syria away from the Iranian axis. According to Israeli press reports that quoted high-level sources close to Olmert, the prime minister has sent secret 'peace messages' to al-Asad - these set as a condition splitting Damascus from its Iranian ally, in exchange for returning the Golan to Syria. The prime minister tasked Erdogan with discovering whether the Syrian president was amenable to recovering the Golan in exchange for severing its strategic relations with the Islamic Republic in Iran.Barak is good at believing himself better equipped to understand the language of deal-making. Therefore, some press reports quoting sources who spoke with him at length recently described him as ready to see Syria regain influence in Lebanon in a deal that is sought by Syria more than the Golan. He believes that peace with Syria will weaken the Iran-Hizbullah-Hamas axis after moving Syria away from this axis via bilateral relations with Israel. Barak believes that this bilateral relationship is the more important guarantee to Damascus that Syria will not see regime change.One of Barak's considerations is that reviving the Syrian track will lead to the isolation of the PA, which he considers unable to sign a peace deal with Israel. Another consideration is connected to Lebanon; he believes that returning Lebanon to Syrian control is a small price, as the bilateral relationship with Damascus is strategically more important.The problem for Barak, as well as Olmert, is the position of the US president, who opposes such a deal at the expense of Lebanon, and at the expense of his vision of establishing a Palestinian state. Likewise, US Vice President Dick Cheney is not ready to sacrifice Lebanon to a Syrian-Israeli deal. There are those in the US administration, as in Israel, who believe that playing on the tracks is a timeworn tactic, and that the tactic of splitting Syria from Iran is an ignorant policy because splitting Hizbullah from Iran has become impossible Israel is playing with fire in Palestine and Lebanon by banking on Syria. If Israel wants peace with Syria by withdrawing from the Golan Heights, it will be taking a wise decision. If it puts Lebanon and Palestine down as collateral in an unrealistic dream of splitting Syria from Iran, it should cease this reckless playing with the minds and interests of patriots, and even its American godfather.*Published in London-based Al-Hayat on November 16, 2007.

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