Archive for December, 2007

Israel: A Peace-killing Linkage, De-linkage

December 26, 2007

By Nicola Nasser*  Linking the “aliyah” to what the Jewish literature has been describing as Eretz Israel or Yisrael HaShleima (Greater Israel) to the Israeli colonial settlement of the Palestinian land, which the Hebrew state occupied in 1967, while at the same time negating the Palestinian Right of Return, is torpedoing whatever prospect is left for a peaceful solution for the Arab – Israeli conflict, undermining the latest U.S.-sponsored launch of the Palestinian – Israeli talks in Annapolis and further splintering, so far politically, the only viable Palestinian partner to Israel in any viable peace process, namely the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  

Head of North America’s Reform Movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in an interview published by The Jerusalem Post on December 25, hailed “Israel’s creation” as a “miraculous, momentous event in itself. Every day that goes by with Israel surrounded by a wall of Arab hatred is a miracle;” however he could have this linkage on mind when he noted what he described as “Arab hatred” and the “anti-Israel feeling among Jewish Americans” as an “aspect of the problem” of increasing identification with the Jewish state’s subscription to that linkage, although he stopped short of blaming the “hatred” and the “aspect” on this peace-killing linkage.  

On the evening of December 26, (40) new Jewish immigrants from Iran landed in Israel in the framework of a special Jewish Agency covert operation, which this year hit the record number of (200), on the backdrop of a 20-year drop of (6%) of the overall Jewish immigration into Israel according to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.  

To judge form the trend of the one million aliyah of the “Soviet” Jewish immigrants late in the last century, a high percentage of the new comers this year (19,700) will end up landing in Israeli colonial settlements built on the Israeli-confiscated Palestinian land in the West Bank, notably in eastern Jerusalem where at least (12%) of Soviet Jews had settled according to Israeli media reports.  

The “absorption” of newcomers in the occupied Palestinian territories is not an Israeli policy dictated by geographical or economic inability to absorb them in Israel proper, but rather by Israel’s strategy of unsatisfied apatite for territorial expansion.  For example the Israeli Labor party in 1999 considered a plan to settle five million new aliyah in the Negev in southern Israel as a strategic goal for the next fifty years. Moreover Israel is also capable of absorbing the return of the Palestinian refugees it dispossessed and displaced from about (500) towns and villages in 1948: According to Salman Abu Sitta an expert on the Palestinian refugee issue, “90% of the village sites are still vacant, 7% are partially built-over, and only 3% are totally built over in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem.”  

Nor could the Israeli leaders be excused by “unawareness” of the Palestinian plight in their “de-linking” the peace-making from the Palestinian Right of Return and their persisting denial of this right and their persistence on “linking” their territorial expansion through the colonial settlement strategy to making peace with the Palestinian people. 

Referring to the Palestinian plight, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, stated in his Annapolis speech on November 27: “Your people, too, have suffered for many years; and there are some who still suffer. Many Palestinians have been living for decades in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew up, wallowing in poverty, in neglect, alienation, bitterness, and a deep, unrelenting sense of humiliation.”  

Israeli Minister of Absorption, Ya’acov Edri, said recently that “Aliya is the single greatest Zionist enterprise in our sixty years of statehood,” but he failed to state that illegally (according to international law) directing aliyah to the occupied Palestinian and Syrian land was another forced-by-the-sword success for the “Zionist enterprise,” as more than half a million Jewish settlers live now in more than 170 colonies in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and constituting the second major obstacle to peace-making after the 40-year old military occupation.  

The declared Annapolis plan of Israel and the Quartet of the U.S., U.N., EU and Russian mediators to shore up the ruling Palestinian “peaceniks” in the West Bank with promises of political, security and economic “horizons” towards the creation of a Palestinian state according to the two-state “vision” of the U.S. President George W. Bush, while at the same time totally sealing off the totally dependent on foreign charities Hamas ruling compatriots in the Gaza Strip, is proving to be a non-starter tactic essentially because Israel is not subscribing in action to what it has verbally committed herself to in Annapolis, namely to commit to its obligation according to the Road Map peace blueprint not to expand her settlements.  

Donors Miss Political Will  

The Palestinian Authority (PA) was pledged ($1.8) billion more than they requested from their donors in Paris, but nonetheless there was no Palestinian euphoria; the donors were only “showing financial generosity because of the absence of political audacity and political courage,” according to Afif Safia, the most prominent Palestinian diplomat who is accredited to represent his people in Washington D.C.  

The political will of the U.S.-led donors faces a critical test of credibility to match their financial “generosity” with a diplomatic will to dispel their image of impotent leverage to put their politically promised “vision” of the two-state solution where they donate their tax payers’ money, to erase what Safia described as an Israeli “stain on the conscience of mankind” in the “open-air prison” of the Gaza Strip and to let loose their colonial grip on the West Bank.  

The “unreasonably reasonable” Palestinian negotiators are still “disturbed” by the “absence of the political will” and “the political impotence that we have witnessed throughout the decades” because “so far there is no indication” that the U.S. sponsors of the resumed Palestinian – Israeli talks are ready to “vent their annoyance with the obstacle towards advance,” namely the Israelis who invested “all their genius to lower expectations in the weeks that preceded Annapolis” and “immediately after Annapolis they invested all their brilliance into torpedoing the modest results that emerged,” according to Safia (Newsweek, Dec 18, 2007).  

During the twenty days that separated the Annapolis conference on November 27 from the Paris donors’ conference on December 17, the Palestinians were optimistic and viewed the two events as complementary en route to the nation building of Palestinian statehood.  However less than a month on, Israel was not only “torpedoing the modest results that emerged” from Annapolis, but also threatening to drain the ($7.4) billion pledged by the donors into the political sewage that siphoned more than ten billion dollars donated to the PA since 1993 and to torpedo both the credibility of the newly resumed talks and that of the Palestinian leadership, which has risked the semi-consensus Palestinian opposition to Annapolis.  

Israel has since embarked on a two-pronged “real war” on two fronts: A military war on the Hamas-led Gaza Strip and a colonial war on the rival PLO-led West Bank, while officially rejecting a reciprocal truce proposal from Hamas to trade ceasefire for lifting the siege Israel imposes on the strip and at the same time unofficially refusing to make peace with the PLO, thus undermining both rival leaderships in Gaza and Ramallah.  

“There is no other way to describe what is happening in the Gaza Strip except as a true war … This war will continue,” a statement by the Israeli government said on Sunday.  Since June this “real war” claimed more than 200 Palestinian lives in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boasted last week, excluding 22 more killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) during the Islamic Eid Al-Adha according to the Palestinian Center of Al-Mizan for Human Rights.  

The Israeli colonial war in the West Bank is much more detrimental to the Annapolis process and the prospect of creating a Palestinian state because it is focusing on strategically severing any territorial contiguity between this prospective state and its capital in the Holy City.  In less than a month since Annapolis, Israel announced an aggressive three-pronged drive to expand its colonial settlements in and around the eastern part of Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967, with the aim of sealing off with Jewish demographic and construction barriers whatever possible routes might link up the future Palestinian state with its capital.  

On the southeastern route Israel decided to beef up its colony of Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa); “Peace Now” revealed Sunday that 50 million shekels were allocated in the 2008 state budget to build 500 homes in Har Homa. On the northwestern route the Israeli housing ministry decided to create the brand new colony of Atarot, with 35.000 houses, on the Palestinian land of Qalandia. On the eastern route 48 million shekels were allocated in the 2008 budget for the construction of 250 homes in the Maale Adumim colony, home for more than 35 illegal settlers.  

Meanwhile the construction of a bridge and other “tourist” facilities continued in Bab Almagharbeh on the Al-Buraq Wall, the “western wall” of Islam’s third holiest site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, despite Islamic and archeological protesting outcries.  

This Israeli colonial drive is sure to make or break the fragile resumed talks. Final status negotiations can resume when the Palestinian side gets a “clear-cut answer” on Israel’s readiness to immediately halt all settlement activity in “all Palestinian lands, without exception,” said chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmad Qurei, and the Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo.  

But Israel was defiant both to Palestinian warnings as well as to those of the U.S. sponsors of the Annapolis process. The colonies targeted by the Israeli settlement drive are “an integral, organic part of Jerusalem” and, “No promise was ever given to anyone that we wouldn’t continue to build” in them because they are “within the municipal borders of Jerusalem,” Israeli Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Rafi Eitan, told Army Radio.  

“The international community did not show the political courage needed in Annapolis or in the pre-Annapolis period, which necessitated some confrontation with the Israeli territorial appetite,” Safia said. This courage is still missing after Annapolis, before and after the 87-donor conference in Paris, despite what Safia hailed as “the reservoir of goodwill and the diplomatic and universal unanimity the birth of a Palestinian state enjoys” as shown by the donors.  

PLO on Verge of Splintering  

The Israeli colonial drive and the impotence of the international Quartet to stop it are discrediting the PLO leadership not only in the eyes of its people but also in the eyes of its coalition member factions. The Palestinian – Israeli Steering Committee of negotiators failed to make any progress in their second meeting since Annapolis on Monday. Abbas himself acknowledged publicly the talks are facing obstacles because of the Israeli settlement expansion.  

The Popular and the Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP and DFLP respectively) have gone public in demanding in official statements last week that President Mahmoud Abbas stop all contacts and negotiations with Israel in protest against her military escalation and settlement expansion. Both fronts represent the third strongest electoral and political power after Hamas and Fatah and wield a leading influence on intelligentsia, media and public opinion. As PLO members both sided with Fatah in its rivalry with the non-PLO Hamas.  

However by calling for a stop to all contacts and negotiations with Israel after voicing strong opposition to the Annapolis conference both fronts are in fact adopting a key Hamas demand and reinforcing the arguments of the Islamic movement against the Abbas-led PLO.  

The PFLP went a step further in practically moving independently from the Fatah-led PLO. Despite Abbas leadership’s protests the PFLP decided to attend a 10-faction Palestinian “national conference” that was scheduled to coincide with the Annapolis conference in the Syrian capital, Damascus; Syria’s participation in Annapolis led Damascus to appeasing the PLO protests and postponing the conference. However the Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara’ revived his country’s dispute with the PLO over the issue when he announced two weeks ago Syria’s disappointment with the outcome of Annapolis and with Israel’s settlement drive and “welcomed” the Palestinians to convene their Hamas-led conference in Damascus.  

More detriment to the Abbas-led PLO’s unity is a simmering undeclared opposition that is now surfacing into public among the rank and file of Fatah to the negotiations as well as to the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  

Fatah’s 40-year old monopoly of the decision-making and finances of the PLO and later the autonomous Palestinian Authority (PA) under the Israeli occupation has kept the coalition of member factions under tight control, but the deadlocked peace process with Israel, the corruption of the PA and the integration of the movement and the self-rule have all exhausted the credibility of the national liberation movement, creating the right environment for the rise of the Hamas challenge and as well an opportunity for those factions to show more independence and even dissent.   

The Central Committee of Fatah on Monday warned in a statement after a meeting chaired by Abbas that the Israeli government is dooming the peace talks to failure before they start and that the settlement expansion could abort the Annapolis process. Negotiator Qaddora Faris of Fatah announced Monday he will not take part in future negotiations and demanded the Palestinian negotiating team do the same because it will be “a big strategic mistake” to negotiate while Israel continues its settlement expansion.  

Fatah Opposition on the Rise  

Whereas the Fatah-Hamas bloody race for controlling the PA institutions is self-evident, all indications refer to an emerging third power, which seems gradually snatching the reins of the self-ruled authority from both rivals, first and foremost in the West Bank.  

Fatah is gradually becoming a “former” ruling party and developing into a de facto opposition to both rival governments of the Fayyad-ruled West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which the Israeli journalist Amira Hass described as the two “quasi-state” entities or the “two non-states for one people” (Haaretz on Dec. 12, 2007).  

Following the military showdown of “Hamas,” which bloodily forced Fatah out of the driving seat in the Gaza Strip in June, Fatah grudgingly yielded the governmental seat to a western-oriented grouping led by the World Bank veteran Salam Fayyad.  The grudge seems to be no more tolerated by Fatah, who sees its power and influence eroding further while in the public eye the movement is held responsible for all the “politically sensitive” as well as the repressive measures that the Fayyad government has taken or plans to take.

Its simmering opposition has recently surfaced into public.  Member of Fatah’s Central Committee and former cabinet minister of information Nabil Amre, in an article published Nov. 11 by the Ramallah-based Al Hayat Al Jadida, described the protests within Fatah as a “snow ball” of concerns, criticism and accusations, seeking an answer to the question whether the Fayyad government is an “established ally or an illusionary alternative” to Fatah.  

Acknowledging there is a “crisis’ between Fatah and what he described as the “phenomenon of Salam Fayyad” and confirming that several cabinet ministers of Fayyad government as well as politicians around him, “whom Fayyad influences or influenced by them,” are attacking Fatah “in their private councils,” squeezing Fatah employees out of their ministries or refusing to employ them, Amre asked: “Are we facing an intractable crisis?”  

Amre however suggested “preserving” Fayyadm but after “separating” the premier from his cabinet ministers and political entourage “for self-evident reasons,” including the “post-Annapolis” commitments, the upcoming visit by U.S. President George W. Bush and the Palestinian donors’ conference in Paris, in addition to the paralysis of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which makes any cabinet reshuffle unthinkable.  

He concluded by preferring “calming down” the Fatah opposition to Fayyad government “in exchange for doubling his efforts towards more and clearer internal balancing” that would add to the “most important card which Fayyad maintains, namely the absolute American support to him.”  

Although Fatah’s complaints seem so far confined to partisan reasons, they are politically important because they add the opposition of the mainstream wing within the movement, which backs President Mahmoud Abbas’ policies, to the opposition of another wing inside and outside the occupied territories which contests Abbas’ peace strategy and strongly oppose Fayyad’s U.S.-backed policies. Sensing a real threat to his government, Abbas has reportedly intervened to curb further Fatah opposition.  

Definitely Fayyad’s government would be in a very critical impasse were it to face a united Fatah opposition that would join Hamas in opposing his IMF and World Bank-advised economic policies.  Fayyad was on record that his government is bent on two “politically sensitive” economic measures, decreasing the public sector payroll, which so far has left about 40,000 people unemployed, including a large number of security personnel, and lifting the subsidies to electricity and fuel, which has yet to be implemented. Both measures are preconditions to solicit more of the donors’ money.  But both measures are sure recipe for antagonizing more and more of the Fatah rank and file, for partisan as well as for economic and political reasons.

Fayyad’s government now has to face opposition from Fatah while preoccupied with neutralizing the Hamas threat to the PA in the West Bank.  

However the major threat to Fayyad’s government remains Israel’s military occupation. The World Bank on Thursday warned that even if the donor countries meet all of PA’s demands for financial aid, the Palestinian economy will continue to deteriorate and the Palestinians will get poorer if Israel does not lift its siege of Gaza and its restrictions on free movement of people and goods in the West Bank.  

All indications confirm the Israeli settlement expansion, siege and blockade are staying, the World Bank’s warning is valid, Fayyad can promise his people only more of the same, and opposition to his government and the PLO will grow deeper and wider by the day to dispel whatever illusions of peace are left over from the Annapolis conference last month.  

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied territories.


The Politics of Exclusion*

December 20, 2007

By Nicola Nasser

“If it is globalisation, it has to be for everyone,” said Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Kumar Sen during an interview on 21 November. In the Arab world a growing wave of labour strikes and economic protests, stretching from Mauritania to Yemen, has underlined that globalisation is restricted to a small Arab elite buffered from the vast and growing armies of poor by an urban middle class that is shrinking as a result of the economic deregulation dictated by the globalisation theorists of the IMF and World Bank. Yet to the Arab elite that benefits from the policies of these international monetary organisations “words like globalisation and free trade are all the fashion now,” as Reem Al-Faisal said in the Saudi Arabian-based Arab News of 3 December. That particular edition coincided with the closing session of the Fikr 6 conference in Manama dedicated to “Arab strategies for the global era”. Another in the series of these elitist forums opened in Ras Al-Kheima in the UAE last Thursday, dedicated this time to “National industries and the challenges of globalisation” and with the avowed aim of exploring the potential of the vast Arab consumer market.

The founder and president of the Arab Fikr (Thought) Institute is the emir of Mecca, Khaled Al-Faisal. In his opening address to Fikr 6 he warned that the Arabs were in a race against time and must catch up with the globalisation train or else perish through ignorance of science and technology. With the support of the Arab ruling establishment, Al-Faisal has spearheaded a six-year long campaign to connect two elites — the Arab intelligentsia and Arab businessmen — whose relationship so far has been characterised, according to the senior executive manager of Aramco in Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Bin Saleh Bin Jumaa, by “the barrier of tradition and perpetual draught”. In its recent conference the Arab Fikr Institute attempted to add a third sector — Arab NGOs — to the parties the conference referred to as “partners in revival”. From 1-3 December, in Manama, representatives of these “partners” sat together with their foreign counterparts to discuss Arab strategies for the global era in such fields as energy, investment, the media, technology and social responsibility.

The Emir Faisal is also a poet, and it is the poet in him, perhaps, that leads to the hope that he can ground his initiative on “apolitical” foundations and so avoid the dismal failure of similar initiatives that have been wrecked on the rocks of rivalry between Arab regimes and conflicting ideologies. He also wanted the initiative to assume a “non-governmental” basis in the hope that the private sector can succeed where government has failed. Finally, he sought to target Arab youth, targets of the “Workshop on creativity and the new skills needed by the leaders of the future” that took place on the first day of Fikr 6.

The value of an initiative that seeks to mobilise private sector business leaders and capital behind the promotion of new Arab thought and talent in all fields should not be underestimated. Therein resides the potential for transforming an idea into a concrete force that can contribute to stemming the brain drain, increasing investment and freeing Arab NGOs from dependency on foreign funding and the political strings attached.

Yet while sponsorship from the ruling establishment in Saudi Arabia and the ruling family in Bahrain gives much needed support to this ambitious initiative, it casts a shadow of doubt over its “apolitical” character and raises the suspicion that it is intended to promote the policies and positions of the so-called Arab moderates allied to the US. Reinforcing this impression was the uniform nature of the media that attended the conference as participants or sponsors. The BBC, CNBC (Al-Arabiya), MBC and Al-Hayat were official media sponsors, while no representatives of alternative or opposition media were on hand to dispel this impression and lend greater credibility to the initiative.

No Arab strategy for the global era can crystallise into a promising course of collective Arab action if it reflects and serves a single stripe of Arab thought, certainly not when those who initiated, sponsored and took part in the initiative are bound by alliances, friendship and economic and cultural biases to the US, which leads the globalisation process and politically or militarily dominates the Arab world in a manner that not only hampers this region’s globalisation but also its unity, an indispensable condition for a healthy transition into the global era.

DIVORCED FROM REALITY: With all due respect to the importance of the idea behind the conference, the nobility of its aspiration, the earnestness of its sponsors and participants and the few beacons it lit by bestowing honorary awards for literary, scientific and artistic innovation, one of the conference’s most salient traits was its detachment from reality. It is jarring to hear conference members discuss a rosy future in “globalese” while outside the conference chamber is a world steeped in regionalism, provincialism and separatism, dominated by despots determined to perpetuate the status quo.

Perhaps this is what dimmed the optimism that Aramco’s representative, Abdullah Bin Saleh Bin Jumaa, attempted to impart on the second day of the conference. “It is possible that this century will see a major rise in Arab civilisation, restoring us, after long last, to the vanguard of nations,” he said, adding that the Arab world can derive hope from “such ancient nations as India and China, which have emerged to the fore in the theatre of events and, within less than 20 years, have come to lead global growth by means of planning that focuses on the economic dimension, which is the most important in the global era.”

Unfortunately, the speaker overlooked a fundamental political fact, which is that those two pioneering nations are united, that they are not subjected to foreign occupation or hegemony that diminishes their national sovereignty, and that the will of their peoples is expressed through solidly established political orders. The case could hardly be more different in the Arab “worlds” where disparate regimes are bound solely by a common language. More important, the two countries have adopted a totally different policy towards acclimatising to globalisation: they grapple with it by the horns as opposed to surrendering to it. It suffices to recall their struggle with the US over their membership in the WTO to appreciate their strategic vision for the global era.

It is clear that the strategic vision espoused by China and India and shared by countries from Latin America to Russia contrasts sharply with that outlined in Fikr 6 by the Bahraini crown prince and commander of the Bahraini defence forces Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Globalisation, he said, should not be regarded as a new war that has to be halted “because we cannot operate successfully outside that [globalised] order in this day and age”. Yet many do regard globalisation as the economic and cultural front of a Western war that targets political sovereignty and national culture. Indeed, Sheikh Salman’s appeal, on the second day of the conference, to keep an open mind to globalisation and its encouragement of innovation may have unwittingly reminded his audiences of the ongoing physical annihilation of thousands of Iraqi scientists and innovators who had almost lifted their nation to the threshold of the revival to which His Highness and other founders and sponsors of the Arab Fikr Institute aspire. Now this process must start from scratch again.

The aspirations of the Meccan poet-prince appear grounded on a sensible and realistic hope, but this realism risks erring into romantic idealism if it is not accompanied by the practical awareness that it will never take flight in an area writhing from the wounds of foreign occupation, especially in Palestine and Iraq. How can we discuss the future of the Arab economy, petroleum and alternative energy resources, human development, technological advancement, a “green” environment, the Arab “global citizen” and other such vital issues explored by Fikr 6 as though occupation did not exist? How can we look forward to open horizons and open borders in the worlds of thought and science without first considering how to globalise the borders between the Arabs themselves, who are being choked by an array of political and military, national and foreign boundaries and indelible lines.

The hotel in which the Fikr 6 took place is located a stone’s throw from the Jafir military base which is, in turn, a short distance from Qatar, where US command has overseen military operations in Iraq since the invasion in 2003. Yet the conference made no reference to US military presence in the Gulf and to the fact that these bases on Arab territory are now turning their sights against Iran.

The conference dedicated no small amount of time to explaining the economic and environmental advantages of investing in “green buildings”. In addition, the Saudi Arabian entrepreneur Mohamed Al-Eissa, issued an appeal for the promulgation of laws to promote “green construction” and for awareness-raising programmes on green technologies “because there is a resistance to these new technologies which are not well understood”. One imagines that these discussions would have raised the eyebrows of the millions of inhabitants of the poverty belts that surround Arab capitals, and stirred anger and resentment among thousands of Arab farmers in Iraq and Palestine, had they had the opportunity to listen in. While the American version of globalisation is overseeing the uprooting of millions of palm and olive trees, some participants at Fikr 6 were moved by the spirit of economic globalisation to call for a programme to revive the host country’s famous “million palms”.

At least some of the participants must have reacted with incredulity to the news of plans to construct the world’s first environmentally safe city. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be poured into Masdar, as the model city is to be called, while Umm Al-Nasr in northern Gaza is still contending with the aftermath of the rupture in its sewage system which then flooded of the devastated homes that have not yet been bulldozed by the Israeli military machine. Two children, an old man and three women drowned in the deluge, while the UN warned that a similar but even worse environmental disaster was impending if the international community did not hasten to forestall the detonation of a larger sewerage complex in Gaza.

To equip the Arab public with the means to become successful “global citizens” is a major undertaking, and it will remain out of reach until we create the political and social conditions conducive to developing the necessary skills and attitudes. The redemption of the individual Arab as a global citizen resides, first and foremost, in equipping his society to survive in the global era and in promoting human development within that context.

Unless fundamental problems are addressed the utopian environmentally clean city of Masdar will be permanently threatened by the time bomb of Umm Al-Nasr and the initiative undertaken by private sector capital and the natural flow of investment will remain stymied by the military fortifications constructed by foreign occupying powers and by the political/security walls being constructed, for example, in the Western Sahara, along the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, between the various quarters of Baghdad, and by the separating wall and in Palestine intended to create isolated cantons.

The lofty vision propounded in Manama will be destined to remain no more than an expression of good intentions until it is grounded upon an edifice of national sovereignty, unhampered by direct foreign occupation or the chains of imperial hegemony, and is accompanied by a minimal level of Arab political solidarity and strategic coordination.

It thus does not stand to reason to search for an Arab strategy for the global era — the era of open minds and open borders — as long as closed borders and insularism remain the predominant trait of the relationship between Arab governments and their people. Nor does it make sense to eliminate the political from Arab thought as a prerequisite for acceptance in the quest for such a strategy given the most formidable obstacles to the aspirations expressed in Manama are quintessentially political.

One of the conference participants was the founder of the successful Orascom communications company, the multi- millionaire Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris. It was his belief that the Arabs’ acquisition and use of the mobile telephone and the Internet have already transformed them into global citizens. His judgement, however, seems hasty, especially as pertains to the Palestinian situation.

Globalisation has, indeed, swept away many political barriers across the world, leaving governments helpless before trans-national companies that encroach on national sovereignty and threaten it rather more than transcontinental missiles. Globalisation remains incapable, however, of removing the hundreds of military barriers erected by the Israeli occupation in order to obstruct the freedom of movement of Palestinian people and goods. To say that the Palestinians under occupation enjoy global citizenship because they can use the mobile phone and the Internet is, at best, an unwittingly provocative joke. The same applies to such claims being made for people living under American occupation in Iraq.

It is taken for granted the world over that globalisation is synonymous with Americanisation. Perhaps the people who convened in Manama should have first examined this commonly held impression or attempted to redefine the term before proceeding to any discussion of an Arab strategy for the global era. But it is doubtful that this would have even occurred to them in view of the capitalist, technocratic and “apolitical” framework to which the organisers of and participants in Fikr 6 have committed themselves. Contrary to its intent, this very framework entrenches the gulf between the proceedings in Manama and the surrounding political environment, a gulf that, if it remains unbridged, will doom their efforts to remain an elitist initiative divorced from reality and unable to alter that reality in the manner to which they aspire.

It is impossible to escape the fact that the call to acclimatise to globalisation is, in fact, a call to accept and adjust to Americanisation. That the Palestinians have fallen in line with this approach to the extent of making their national fate conditional upon its success has brought not even a glimmer of hope that the borders and barriers that are strangling the life out of them will end. As for the attempt to force Iraq to heel with globalisation American-style, its lethal consequences are there for all to see.

* Al-Ahram Weekly, 20 – 26 December 2007, Issue No. 876.

Flexibility versus Escalation*

December 12, 2007

Participating Arabs are walking into another trap in Annapolis, writes Nicola Nasser** ———————————————————————————————————————————

Israel doesn’t need bombs to abort the Annapolis meeting. The incendiary rhetoric with which Israeli officials and media are arming Arab and Palestinian opponents to Annapolis should do the trick.


Take, for example, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s statement on Sunday that the future Palestinian state would provide a solution to the demands of Palestinians worldwide, including “Israeli Arabs”, whose national demands would end the moment a Palestinian state is established. Livni’s statement triggered a daily mounting protest movement among Palestinians in Israel who saw in her remarks signs of an impending official endorsement of Minister of Strategic Affairs Avegdor Lieberman’s call for “transfer” — the expulsion of 1.5 million Israeli Arabs under the guise of a “population swap” with the future Palestinian state.


If Livni not so subtly hinted at one Israeli aim that would be accomplished by the creation of a Palestinian state, the now comatose Ariel Sharon made no bones about another when he first announced his approval of the two-state solution. It would solve the problem of the Palestinian “right to return”, which has long posed the greatest obstacle to a peace settlement. Palestinians would be able to “return” to the newly created Palestinian state.


The Palestinian refugee problem and the problem of the Arab minority in Israel have long constituted the occupying power’s foremost strategic concerns. Together they form the “demographic” nightmare that stands in the way of the fulfilment of the Zionist movement’s drive to create a purely Jewish state in Palestine. It is in this context that Israel launched another ploy to derail the Annapolis conference in the form of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s statement insisting that there could be no such talks unless the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which recognised Israel’s right to exist in 1993, now recognise Israel as “a Jewish state”.


The statements by Livni, Olmert and, before them, Sharon, essentially form the contours of the Israeli project for a Palestinian state. Far from the Arab vision of a sovereign entity for Palestinian national expression, the Israeli version is a strategic vision for ridding the occupying power of two demographic burdens, a vehicle for absorbing Palestinian refugees abroad and Palestinians inside Israel who possess Israeli passports but are otherwise doomed to second-class citizenship. Israel sees in the Annapolis conference, which, whether by design or not, will coincide with the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ partition resolution of 29 November 1948, an opportunity to strike two birds with one stone.


That, however, is the long shot. By setting demands that it knows no Arab, let alone Palestinian, could accept, it hopes to drive the Arabs to boycott Annapolis or to bring the talks to a standstill if they do take place. With the Arabs to blame, it will have publicly washed its hands of its commitment to Washington to help the conference succeed. It will have played along with the Bush administration’s game in which the real goal of Annapolis is not success in substance but success in form, in exchange for the support of “moderate Arabs” for the US’s floundering occupation of Iraq and for its plans of aggression against Iran and Syria, the two remaining obstacles to complete American hegemony over the Middle East.


Arab opponents to Annapolis have not only received ammunition from the provocative statements of Israeli extremists but also from the comments of Israelis whom Arab supporters of a political settlement with Israel class as Israeli “peace advocates” and “moderates”. Yossi Beilin (the Israeli partner in the Geneva Initiative) is one. In Haaretz of 19 November, he cautions against going to Annapolis without both sides first having agreed on certain essential issues. Otherwise, he writes, the people in Annapolis will be left standing in the middle of the road exposed to extremists on both sides.


Palestinian negotiators see Annapolis as the avenue to turn the Palestinian “declaration of independence” from a dream to a reality. Clearly they are so blind to the attrition Israel is inflicting on this hope by the day that not even the failure of Annapolis would snap them out of their delusion. While the Palestinian negotiator is so intent on making the Annapolis conference succeed that he is demonstrating a flexibility that appears almost ready to compromise on fixed national principles, his Israeli counterpart is just as determinedly upping the stakes, to the extent of threatening to derail the conference before it begins, with the aim of wresting so many concessions out of the Palestinians that the conference would be meaningless. As Yossi Verter observed in Haaretz last Thursday, while Palestinians were on holiday commemorating the “declaration of independence”, Israel has turned Annapolis into such a PR campaign that it is “killing” the meeting in advance.


There was a striking contradiction between a headline and the text below it in a Palestinian news agency article published in English on 15 November. The headline quoted President Mahmoud Abbas as saying, “Only a peace based on justice will bring peace to Palestine and Israel.” In the body of the article, the quote was rendered as, “Only a peace based on injustice …” An inadvertent typo, perhaps, but pithy nevertheless. It sums up perfectly the state of confusion in which the Palestinian negotiator is mired, caught as he is in a no-man’s land between “optimism” and “pessimism” and between hope and delusion. Fortunately, such confusion has not been transmitted to the Palestinian people who have learned through the cauldron of experience how to discriminate between realistic national aspirations and political pragmatism steeped in self-deception.


President Abbas, himself, epitomises the pitiful disorientation of Palestinian officialdom. On Friday, he confided in Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz his doubts about the chances of success at Annapolis. Only four day earlier, while in Ankara, he hailed the forthcoming Annapolis meeting as a “historic opportunity”, parroting Israeli President Shimon Peres and others who are pinning hopes for the meeting’s success on upbeat rhetoric. Interestingly, in this regard, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown struck a somewhat discordant note when he referred to the meeting as a “unique opportunity”. But King Abdullah II was undoubtedly closer to the truth when he described it as “a last chance.”


Whether this “opportunity” is “historic”, “unique” or “final”, observers cannot fail to notice all the steps Israel is taking to nip it in the bud. In the face of the tactical and strategic concessions Palestinian negotiators are making in order to pave the way for success at Annapolis, Israel has escalated tactically, through its ongoing assassinations and assaults; strategically, through its undisguised preparations to mount a full-scale incursion into Gaza in the wake of the conference; and politically by upping its demands on Palestinians in advance of the conference, the most salient being Palestinian recognition of the Jewish character of Israel as a precondition for talks. The most recent is the Knesset’s ratification of an amendment to the law regarding the status of Jerusalem. Whereas the old law required a majority of 61 votes to alter the status of the Holy City, under the new one a majority of 80 will be needed.


The Israeli drive to kill Annapolis or void of it any substance will not stop short of blackmail, as was the case last month when the American Zionist lobby drummed up a campaign calling upon Fatah, headed by Abbas, to amend certain passages of its charter, effectively defunct for 30 years, as a precondition for Israel to go to Annapolis. But Israel’s arm-twisting techniques assume their crudest and most hypocritical from in its treatment of its Palestinian “peace partner.” For example, last Friday’s Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli military establishment had urged Olmert not to offer any “good faith initiatives” to the Palestinians in advance of Annapolis. Such “initiatives” would have been nothing less than taking steps to meet Israel’s obligations under the first phase of the roadmap, such as freezing settlement construction, releasing Palestinian detainees and easing restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians and goods. At the same time, the Israelis insisted that the Palestinian side had to implement its obligations under the roadmap before going to Annapolis, which, in fact, it is doing in coordination with the occupation security apparatus.


The Palestinian people looked on with a mixture of anger and pain as the third annual commemoration of the death of Yasser Arafat turned into an occasion to deepen the national divide. Instead of further internecine violence, the commemoration should have afforded an opportunity to unite ranks around the direct cause for the siege on Arafat’s compound that ultimately drove him to his death: the negotiating chicanery of the Camp David summit. Instead of learning from that mistake, Palestinian negotiators are determined to let themselves get stung a second time by plunging headlong into another US-Israeli negotiating trap in Annapolis. The only sense that can be made of the flare-up in internal Palestinian tensions is that it was fuelled precisely in order to divert the public’s attention from the impending fiasco into which the Palestinian negotiators are being lured, or are letting themselves be lured.


That there was no rift in Palestinian ranks seven years ago did not spare Arafat from the Israel-US trap in Camp David. Given the deep rift that now exists, the Palestinian leadership will most likely bring upon themselves and the entire Palestinian cause even more dire consequences if they insist on stepping into the latest trap that is being laid for them in Annapolis. Surely this leadership must be acute to the dangers in view of its considerable experience with the way Israel exploits Palestinian divisions in order to accuse the Palestinian leadership of weakness and then charge it with failure to fulfil its obligations, a tactic that Israel is certain to bring into play again after Annapolis in order to wriggle out of whatever commitments it might have made there.


In the summer of 2000, Arafat yielded to enormous pressure from the US, Europe, Arab governments and a contingent of Palestinians for whom negotiating with Israel had become an addiction and set off for Camp David in order to discuss final status issues. He went to Camp David before Israel had fulfilled its obligations under the interim Oslo Accords, in accordance with which Israel should have completed the redeployment of its forces from the West Bank by July 1999. Camp David was Israel’s way of evading these obligations and casting the blame on Arafat.


Palestinian negotiators, today, are about to commit exactly the same mistake. They have agreed to go to another international conference before Israel has fulfilled its commitments, one of these being its pledge to withdraw its occupation forces to their pre-28 September 2000 positions. Sadly, this oft-repeated Palestinian demand has gone the way of other demands Palestinian negotiators had once insisted needed to be met before agreeing to go to Annapolis, such as the timeframe for follow up of six months, the detailed memorandum of understanding, the provision of international guarantees and mechanisms for the conference, all of which have fallen by the wayside in the negotiators’ eagerness to attend a conference whose aims and mechanisms appear so suspect that Palestinians from across the political spectrum have cautioned against it.


The prickly trees of the peace process into which the US-Israeli alliance led the Arabs and Palestinians have blinded many of them to the nature of that dark forest whose layout is defined by a balance of international and regional powers skewed heavily in favour of that alliance. This process did not even begin until after Israel’s overwhelming military and strategic superiority was guaranteed, until a major Arab power (Egypt) was removed from the equation, another Arab power (Iraq) decimated and a third Arab power (Syria) isolated, and until other Arab countries were either too preoccupied with internal problems (such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria), neutralised through other means (Jordan, Mauritania and Kuwait), or so cowed by the ogres of “international terrorism” and Iran (the Gulf countries) that they threw in their lot with that alliance.


The more important generally overlooked truth is that the US and Israel, whose main foreign policy tool is recourse or threat of recourse to violence, are incapable of using peaceful political and diplomatic means to solve their international or regional conflicts. War-makers can only hammer together peace on the basis of their conquests through war. The invader and occupier of Iraq cannot end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Even without its occupation of Iraq, its 60-year long record of military, financial and political support of the Israeli occupation has lost it any shred of credibility as an impartial peace broker.


These fundamental truths that Arab officials who have opted for peace with Israel as “a strategic option” have concealed from their publics are, at least, clear to the members of an American grassroots anti-war movement that has organised a demonstration to coincide with the “phony peace conference” in Annapolis. “It is a monumental insult to the people of the Middle East and all justice- minded people that war criminal Bush would dare to convene a ‘peace meeting’ while Washington continues to bring occupation, genocide and devastation to Iraq and Afghanistan, destabilisation to Palestine and Lebanon, and constant threats to Iran and Syria in its quest for oil and colonial empire,” reads the statement issued by the organisers of the rally. This meeting is not about peace and justice for the Palestinians, the statement continues. “It’s about attempting to force new concessions on the Palestinian people, while attempting to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments with Israel, even as Tel Aviv continues its all- out assault on the Palestinian people. And it’s about preparing for a new war.”

 * Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue No. 873, 29 November – 5 December 2007.

  ** Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, UAE, Jordan and Palestine; he is based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied territories.