September 04, 2010

Path to peace in Middle East still tortuous as ever, by John Haylett in Morning Star, Friday 03 September 2010

The US-sponsored face-to-face Middle East peace talks taking place in Washington appear doomed before they even kick into second gear.

Why should the serially intransigent Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu concede an inch to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose presence at the talks is dictated by Barack Obama's wishes rather than his own political organisation Fatah?

Fatah, the largest component of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), advised Abbas against participation, but the pressures from Obama and his regional ciphers Jordan and Egypt were more weighty.

Obama threatened Abbas with non-recognition of the Palestinian Authority, while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah warned that refusal to dance to Washington's tune would result in financial restrictions on the authority.

Fatah followed up its ignored advice by rejecting publicly Netanyahu's demand that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state.

It explained that acceptance would mean that "millions of Palestinians would be expelled from their historic homes and lands and this will never happen."

Netanyahu was also opposed to resuming peace talks, content in Israel's ability to continue expanding its colonisation of the West Bank, including occupied east Jerusalem, thus creating new facts on the ground.

But the region does not exist in a vacuum. Global revulsion at Israeli special forces' butchery of nine Turkish aid campaigners on the Mavi Marmara increased pressure on the US to do something.

Increasingly heard opinions in the US voice frustration that the alliance with Israel brings more problems than benefits, emphasising the hitherto weak responses of the US president.

Obama's Democrats face difficulties in November's elections, which may be assuaged by a foreign policy triumph of bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in the elusive search for peace.

It won't be easy. Abbas has no apparent bargaining chips. His untrammelled submission to both the US and Israel - exemplified by the mass arrest of 250 Hamas members as "suspects" in the killing of four Israeli settlers - has alienated not only Hamas but also most secular bodies within the PLO.

On the other hand, Netanyahu won election on the basis of rejecting every "concession" to Palestinians made by the previous government of Ehud Olmert, illusory as they appear to most people.

And he has already stood up successfully to Obama's initial demand for a moratorium on settlement building, accepting instead a phoney "freeze" until September 26 that does not include plans that had already been approved.

Despite hopes that Obama might take a qualitatively different approach from successive US presidents, his comments before and since election do not inspire hope.

He promised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee pre-election that he would never compromise on Israel's security, undertaking to maintain its "qualitative military advantage."

More worryingly, he assured the zionist pressure group that Jerusalem would always be Israel's capital "and must remain undivided," which is unacceptable to all Palestinians including Abbas.

And his attitude to the spilling of Arab and Jewish blood is also noteworthy.

Obama's reference to the murder of the four settlers as "these heinous crimes" contrasts with his description of the Mavi Marmara slaughter as a tragedy and his refusal for a fortnight to say anything about Israel's onslaught against Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians.

When he did finally speak out, he said that "the loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern to me."

This refusal to take any principled stance is still the order of the day in the White House. For the US president, the major problem is not the dispossession and impoverishment of the Palestinian people but the "extremists and rejectionists" who seek destruction rather than peace.

But this simplistic picture, which ignores the basic reality of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, no longer washes.

In Britain and other countries, the boycott, divestment, sanctions BDS campaign ( is breaking new ground, winning support for the concept that Israel will only respond positively to increased economic and diplomatic isolation.

Israeli peace campaigner Uri Avnery is critical of his country's expansionism, but his call (M Star August 31) to restrict sanctions to goods from the illegal West Bank settlements is misplaced.

Who authorises, supplies and defends the settlements? The Israeli government - all Israeli governments without exception since the West Bank occupation began in 1967.

Apart from the reality that Israel assists the illegal settlements to pass off their produce as made in Israel, Tel Aviv itself must be targeted, not simply the expressions of its colonial expansion.

It is understandable that Avnery's group Gush Shalom should project such a division, which bore fruit in last weekend's announcements by 150 Israeli academics and 57 actors and playwrights that they will cease working in the occupied territories.

But it would be as impractical for overseas Palestine solidarity campaigners as it would have been for the Anti-Apartheid Movement to differentiate between various products marketed by apartheid South Africa.

The BDS call emanates from representative Palestinian organisations and their pleas must take precedence over those of well-meaning Israelis.

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