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Foreign Correspondent
INSIDE TRACK ON WORLD NEWS
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis

IS PALESTINE TO BE A STATE OR A PRISON?

Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

February 14, 2005

WASHINGTON - In the Mideast, cynicism springs eternal.

Last weekís summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, between Israelís prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, evoked the usual hyperbolic outpourings about peace. Caution is well advised. We have been down similar dead end roads before.

The Bush Administration, warned by its allies that Palestineís agony is the primary generator of anti-American violence known as terrorism, now believes it can impose a Mideast peace settlement that is favorable to Israel and the US.

The late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, always refused to accept any deal that left Israel with 100% of Jerusalem and large swathes 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 has remained mute about these vital questions. In fact, he has so avoided almost all contentious issues in an effort to secure a cease fire and support from Washington.

When Israel and the US rejected Arafatís terms, and Israel kept gobbling up the West Bankís 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.

Arafatís convenient death removed a major obstacle to US/Israeli plans. This writer continues to suspect Arafat was murdered by an untraceable nerve or blood toxin originally developed for KGB. Arafat was being held prisoner by Israel in his Ramallah compound.

Palestinians loved Arafat. So far, they are only tolerating Mahmoud Abbas and his allies, who have uncomfortably close links to the US 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 guerilla attacks may force Israel to withdraw from Gazaís packed slums, Israelís hold on the West Bank and Golan is unshakeable. The Israeli-occupied West Bank wonít become a second Lebanon. Palestinian fighters within the Occupied Territories are completely surrounded by Israeli security forces and almost entirely cut off from the type of modern anti-tank and anti-helicopter weapons possessed by Lebanonís Hizbullah guerillas.

Sharon demands Abbas crush Palestinian militant groups and end political chaos before Israel will stop settlement building or cease its attacks, and release the majority of the 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners it holds.

The new US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice chimed in, urging Palestinians to end `violence,í while only calling on Israel to cease `operations.í She sounded as if Palestinians had occupied Israel, and not the other way around. The occupation remains a violation of international and US laws. Israelís use of US-supplied arms, including Apache helicopter gunships and F-16 fighters is a clear violation of American law.

The West Bank and Gaza are a literally 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, private homes.

While Sharon and Abbas talk about 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.

Sharonís vision of a Palestinian `entity:í three of four separate cantons, or apartheid-style bantustans, isolated by Jewish-only security roads and fortified checkpoints, all surrounded by a high `security wallí and guarded by Israeli troops.

Jewish settlements may occupy up to 58% of the West Bank. Palestineís air, land, sea, and telecommunications contacts with the outside world will be entirely controlled by Israel. Palestineís fragile economy will be entirely dependant on supplying cheap labor to Israel; its finances will be controlled by Israeli banks and Israelís Ministry of Finance. This is not peace. Itís a penitentiary.

Palestinian militants may give Abbas a brief chance to make peace. Israel ought to rush to help him. Even so, itís 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.

The basic problem is this: Israel already has what it wants, the most fertile or militarily important parts of the West Bank and Golan, which it continues to colonize at a furious pace. So itís stalling. Israel has no compelling reason whatsoever to give back anything it has taken by force.

Only two things will motivate Israel to relent: intolerable Palestinian violence, or enormous US pressure. So far, neither seems likely. Attacks by Palestinian militants are merely a nuisance. Even bloody suicide bombers, who target innocent Israeli civilians, will not shake Israelís resolve and are losing their tactical and psychological effectiveness.

General Brent Scowcroft, the senior national security advisor to the first President George Bush, and the dean of Republican Party foreign policy thinkers, recently opined that the younger Bush was `mesmerizeí by Ariel Sharon, who had ` wrapped the president around his little finger.í Truer words are rarely spoken.

This shocking statement was a sign of the deep concern within traditional moderate Republicans that US Mideast policy has fallen totally in thrall to pro-Israel neoconservatives who are really the North American arm of Sharonís rightist Likud Party.

Though two of the more egregious necons have recently been dropped from high office, the administration still speaks with the same voice of Sharon. In fact, itís often hard to tell where the Bush Administration ends and the Sharon government begins. It is thus highly unlikely the White Houseís doting policy towards Israel will much change, and even less likely that the supine US Congress will do anything to displease Likud.

As the courageous Israeli thinker Uri Avnery wrote, Congress would jump to repeal the Ten Commandments if so ordered by Israel.

Peace Ė one that is real, substantial and enduring - will not come if Palestinians see that nothing will change and Abbas is merely the latest US-imposed overseer in the Arab World.

For the half of Israelis who want real peace be and would happy to be rid of the Occupied Territories, their voices are being drowned out by biblical and political extremists at home, and the flowering romance between Ariel Sharon and George Bush.

When Palestinians perceive that genuine peace is not possible, then their suicide bombers and Israelís death squads will soon resume their deadly cycle of violence. Desperation and hatred will always trump moderation and logic.

If only the Bush Administration had exerted a tenth the energy and money it wasted on Iraq to forge a fair, enduring peace between Palestinians and Israelis.


To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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