Published on Sunday, February 13, 2005 by the Toronto Sun
Palestinian Caution is Warranted
by Eric Margolis
This week's summit between Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, evoked the usual hyperbolic outpourings about peace. Caution is advised.
U.S. President George W. Bush's administration, warned by its allies that Palestine's agony is the primary generator of anti-American violence known as terrorism, now believes it can impose a Mideast peace settlement that is favourable to Israel and the U.S.
Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat always refused to accept any deal that left Israel with 100% of Jerusalem and large swaths of the West Bank. He insisted on some limited right of return for Palestinian refugees and creation of a viable, independent state on the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas remains mute about these issues.
When Israel and the U.S. rejected Arafat's terms, and Israel kept gobbling up the West Bank's best land and water resources, Arafat winked at attacks against Israeli civilians and Jewish settlers by Palestinian militants.
He believed Israel would only compromise when forced by violence.
Arafat's convenient death removed a major obstacle to U.S.-Israeli plans. This writer continues to suspect Arafat was murdered by an untraceable nerve or blood toxin. He was being held prisoner by Israel in his Ramallah compound.
Palestinians loved Arafat. So far they are only tolerating Abbas and his allies, who have uncomfortably close links to the U.S. and Israel.
Abbas long urged Palestinians to end violence against Israel. He is right when he says Palestinians cannot oust Israel from the West Bank by armed resistance and must rely on negotiations.
Though guerrilla attacks may force Israel to withdraw from Gaza's packed slums, Israel's hold on the West Bank and Golan Heights is unshakeable. The Israeli-occupied West Bank won't become a second Lebanon.
Sharon demands Abbas crush Palestinian militant groups and end political chaos before Israel will stop settlement building or cease its attacks, and release many of its 8,000 Palestinian prisoners.
New U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chimed in, urging Palestinians to end "violence" while only calling on Israel to cease "operations." She sounded as if Palestinians had occupied Israel and not the other way around. The occupation remains a violation of international and U.S. laws.
The West Bank and Gaza are like a giant, open-air prison camp seething with despair and violence, ringed by Israeli security forces. Israeli bulldozers have razed much of the infrastructure of Palestinian society -- government offices, schools, workshops, olive groves, homes.
While Sharon and Abbas talk peace, Israel continues to expand settlements and expropriate Arab land. There are now 450,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank, 200,000 of them in the illegally enlarged boundaries of Jerusalem.
Sharon's vision of a Palestinian "entity" is three of four separate cantons, or apartheid-style Bantustans, isolated by Jewish-only security roads and checkpoints, all surrounded by a high "security wall."
Jewish settlements may occupy up to 58% of the West Bank. Palestine's air, land, sea and telecommunications contacts with the outside world will be entirely controlled by Israel. This is not peace. It's a penitentiary.
Palestinian militants may give Abbas a brief chance to make peace. Israel ought to rush to help him. Even so, it's very hard to see how Palestinians will give up armed resistance, however futile, in exchange for a wretched mini-state, really a garbage dump for unwanted Arabs.
Only two things will motivate Israel to relent -- intolerable Palestinian violence or enormous U.S. pressure. So far, neither seems likely. Nor does a genuine, lasting peace, if Palestinians see that nothing will change and Abbas is merely the latest U.S.-imposed overseer in the Arab world.
Then the Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli death squads will soon resume their deadly cycle of violence.
If only the Bush administration had exerted one-tenth the energy and money it wasted on Iraq toward making a fair, enduring peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Copyright © 2005, CANOE, a division of Netgraphe Inc.