Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Land for peace

It’s as if Ehud Olmert has set out to prove my point for me. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the AJC pamphlet, Israel’s quest for peace, which argues in a nutshell that Israel has never wanted anything but peace and has always extended its hand to the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours in friendship, only to have its hopes dashed by their intransigence and implacable hatred for the Jews. I quoted Columbia University lecturer Joseph Massad, who explained in his Al Ahram article, ‘Israel's desire for peace is not only rhetorical but also substantive…Israel's struggle for peace is a sincere one. In fact, Israel desires to live at peace not only with its neighbours, but also and especially with its own Palestinian population, and with Palestinians whose lands its military occupies by force.’

Then on Thursday, Mr Olmert said ‘Israel was ready to make "big and painful" concessions to advance the peace process.’

"I am announcing to the heads of the Arab states on this occasion that if the Saudi king initiates a meeting of moderate Arab states and invites me and the head of the Palestinian Authority in order to present us the Saudi ideas, we will come to hear them and we will be glad to voice ours," Mr Olmert said.

"I think it is time to make a momentous effort in order to give a push to the diplomatic process... I am optimistic," he said.

So what is the nature of the ‘momentous effort’ and these ‘"big and painful" concessions’? Richard Boudreaux wrote in yesterday’s LA Times,

Olmert made it clear Sunday that his reservations about the terms demanded of Israel had not softened…Israel rejected the Saudi plan when it was first proposed. Israeli leaders have said they are willing to give up land for peace and allow the creation of a neighboring Palestinian state but would never agree to a full return to the 1967 borders. They have rejected the return of refugees to what is now Israel, saying the new Palestinian state should be the refugees' homeland.

Nothing has changed then since Sunday when I wrote about Olmert’s absolute rejection of the thought of allowing even one refugee to return to their home in what is now Israel. In any event, this is not really news. On 14 April 2004, US President George W Bush wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon

an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.

In an ironic twist, as Anthony Shadid reported in a moving story in yesterday’s Washington Post, hundreds of Palestinian refugees from Iraq huddle in their tents in Ruweished Refugee Camp near the Jordanian border with Iraq. According to Robert Breen, the representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan,

"They can't go backward, and they aren't moving forward. They're literally stuck in the desert -- no way back, and nowhere to go."

"I can't recall ever having seen this kind of situation in such a bleak environment," Breen said.

It is spring in Ruweished, the season belied by the desolate environs but still weeks before the heat that residents call unbearable. Respiratory problems are rife because of the sandstorms....

The Palestinian Authority has offered the refugees sanctuary, but Israel, which controls the borders of the West Bank and Gaza, has denied U.N. requests to resettle them in the Palestinian territories, he said.

So the refugees are to be settled in the ‘Palestinian territories’, but the Israeli government still has the final say on that, as well. One of the refugees, who had spent four years in Ruweida, since fleeing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, received a letter from the Canadian authorities.

"You have not provided sufficient evidence that you have a well-founded fear of persecution nor that you have been and continue to be seriously and personally affected by civil war, armed conflict or massive violation of human rights," it read in part.

Another story, by Seth Mydans in Sunday’s International Herald Tribune, described the plight of millions of ‘Citizens of nowhere’.

Hidden in the back corners of the world is a scattered population of millions of nobodies, citizens of nowhere, forgotten or neglected by governments, ignored by census takers.

Many of these stateless people are among the world's poorest; all are the most disenfranchised. Without citizenship, they often have no right to schooling, health care or property ownership. Nor may they vote, or travel outside their countries - even, in some cases, the towns - where they live.

They are stateless for many reasons - migration, refugee flight, racial or ethnic exclusion, the quirks of history - but taken together, these noncitizens, according to one report, "are among the most vulnerable segments of humanity."

Without the rights conferred by citizenship, they have few avenues for redressing abuses, and little access to resources that could help them build better lives.

It’s rather frightening that the IHT can somehow devote an article to statelessness without a single mention of the Palestinians.

Anyway, beyond the refugees who will never get to return to their homes, it comes as no surprise that ‘a full return to the 1967 borders’ is not on the table either. As Bush wrote,

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations [sic] centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.

In other words, the only painful concession that Olmert hasn’t already explicitly excluded is Jerusalem. And I think we can take it as read that since Israel has long since officially annexed all of Jerusalem (‘Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.’) and in 1998 declared a public holiday in honour of its ‘liberation and unification’, that this is not negotiable either.

What this leaves us with, therefore, is the status quo. I’m not sure what Olmert might have meant by ‘painful concessions’. Perhaps he just meant that holding any kind of discussion of the issues with ‘the moderate Arab states’ would be painful. Or maybe he was just lying. I think the gist of it lies in the formulation he used, ‘to advance the peace process’. This is much like Condi Rice’s refrain about the ‘political horizon’. Olmert is content with the way the peace process has been progressing for the last thirteen years. Israel still has control over the entire West Bank and has established such ‘facts on the ground’ that nobody in their right mind is suggesting a return to the Green Line. In any case, Bush himself acknowledged that there was no longer any possibility that Israel would ever have to withdraw from the ‘populations centers’, and that clinches it. So the peace process can proceed. Israel really and truly wants peace, but not as much is it wants the peace process, which may or may not lead to peace, but definitely will not entail concessions so painful as justice for the refugees or withdrawal to the Green Line. And of course, ‘existing arrangements regarding control of airspace, territorial waters, and land passages of the West Bank and Gaza will continue’.

According to the LA Times article, ‘Israeli leaders have said they are willing to give up land for peace’. We’ve been hearing this refrain of ‘land for peace’ for decades. When you think about it, though, what’s it really about?

The only land that has ever been on offer, if it really was on offer at all, is land acquired by military conquest in June 1967. The principal import of the famous UNSC Resolution 242 is not creation of a Palestinian state, a matter that it never even mentions, but to emphasise ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’. So the land that Israel would be relinquishing, if it were ever really going to relinquish land at all, is land that was never rightfully Israel’s in the first place. It was territory acquired by war. Not really very much of a sacrifice. And lest we forget, the entity euphemistically known as ‘Israel proper’ which resides within the 3 April 1949 armistice line with Jordan commonly referred to as Israel’s ‘border’, incorporates a considerable amount of territory also acquired by war in 1948-49. But that probably doesn’t matter, because after all, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 273 (III) decided on 11 May 1949 that Israel is a peace-loving State’. (I hasten to add that Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank for the next 18 years was also illegitimate and at the expense of the Palestinians who were supposed to get that land and more under the UN’s ill conceived December 1947 partition resolution (181). Ill conceived though it may have been, 181 did quite sensibly provide for international control of Jerusalem. Both Israel and Jordan grabbed bits of the proposed ‘corpus separatum’.)

Beyond one side of the equation of ‘land for peace’ being a bit bogus, as the land doesn’t really belong to Israel, is the other subtext. The suggestion is that since the Israelis are offering to give land, it’s the Palestinians who have to deliver the peace. That, in turn relies on the presumption that it’s the Palestinians who insist on violence and that Israel is the passive victim. Israel is willing to make painful sacrifices of its land if only those vicious Palestinians would leave them in peace. In reality, of course, it is the Palestinians who are the colonised people and on the receiving end of most of the violence. Palestinian violence, while demonstrably counterproductive, is wholly reactive. Amazing how they can pack all that into an innocuous little phrase, but then the Israeli hasbara ‘propaganda’ machine are no amateurs.

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