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June 26, 2007

Palestine: Blood Is in the Air


by Ran HaCohen

Five years after His Highness G.W. Bush president of the United States of America, czar of Afghanistan, emperor of Iraq, democratizer of the Middle East, etc., etc. launched his "Road Map for Peace in the Middle East," announcing a Palestinian state by 2005, the Israeli public has a new pastime. The public discussion in Israel now revolves around "Three states for two peoples?": that is, should the Jewish state use the Hamas coup in Gaza to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and deal with two Palestinian states, or should Israel keep the two districts connected? Roughly, the right wing supports the former track based on arguments like "divide and rule," "two states are easier to manipulate than one," etc. whereas the left wing tends to the latter option, remembering Israel's obligation in the Oslo accords to treat the two districts as one political entity and airing arguments like "one enemy is better than two," "two states would compete with each other in hatred," etc.

An amazing discussion indeed. Never mind the fact that the Strip and the West Bank have actually been separated by Israel for years, forcing even the Palestinian parliament resort to video conferences as the only way to "convene." What's appalling about this discussion is that just as the Palestinians are as far as ever from having an independent state, Israelis indulge in a fantasy in which such a state already exists, perhaps even two of them. Indeed, when the gods want to destroy a nation, they make it blind first.

Back to Reality

Obviously, there is no Palestinian state, and there may never be one (or two). The Gaza Strip is "an independent state" just like any prison cell is: a hermetically sealed cage, overpopulated by 1.3 million people; no sea port or airport; no control over its own borders, waters, or airspace; even its population database, not to mention water, food, electricity, gasoline, and medical equipment, are all strictly controlled by Israel.

And as for the West Bank, it's enough to look at its recent map prepared by the UN to understand why no Palestinian state can emerge there: notice how the small area was pulverized into numerous tiny cages for humans, separated by Israeli settlements, fences, roadblocks, and checkpoints. Cages for non-Jewish humans only, mind you; Jews move around freely in their (whose?) land.

How Things Changed

What is Israel backed as always by the U.S. up to? The media once again celebrates Peace. Olmert is extremely serious, Israeli analysts say. Some suggest he is now strong enough to make peace, others claim he is so weak that peace is his only survival strategy; who cares why, as long as he is portrayed as a man of peace.

In a matter of days, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turned from an unreliable foe to a precious friend. All of a sudden the boycott against the Palestinians was lifted, Israel unfroze Palestinian tax money, and Abu Mazen was promised a generous package of Israeli gestures and invited to a leaders' summit.

And why does Abbas suddenly deserve all that? As a reward for his most impressive success: namely, losing Gaza to Hamas forces. Fatah's defeat in Gaza was allegedly unexpected; Israel and the U.S. wanted to help Abu Mazen but their aid came too little or to late, and Israel finally realized that it was time to save the Palestinian non-Islamist national movement by making peace with its moderate leader. And we are supposed to believe all that.

Scenting Prey

Let me suggest another option. Fatah's defeat in Gaza was all but foreseeable; ask any analyst, or consult last year's election results. Israel/U.S. didn't do anything to help Abbas survive there, simply because they couldn't care less: a Hamas-controlled Gaza is much easier to portray as a terrorist nest, freeing Israel of any obligation to its colony and letting it perish strangulated, as Israeli fascist minister Avigdor Lieberman, and some American voices too, now openly suggest.

Apparently, the only one truly shocked by Fatah's defeat in Gaza is Fatah itself. Having lost the last general elections, and having now been violently ousted by Hamas, the small Fatah elite finally faces the hatred it earned among Palestinians in almost a decade and a half of corrupt rule. Fourteen years in which the Palestinians have been progressively caged and strangulated by walls and checkpoints, by unemployment and poverty, while a small group of PLO officials moved around freely in luxurious cars thanks to their VIP cards issued by Israel.

Facing this popular animosity, Abu Mazen and his elite are now scared to death. They followed, if not experienced themselves, the atrocities of Hamas in Gaza. And they know their popularity in the West Bank is not much higher. The Fatah elite is literally fighting for its life.

Time to Make Friends

We have seen this situation before, in the early 1990s. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yassir Arafat just as the latter was about to end his career as an irrelevant old leader enjoying a good life in Tunisian exile. Arafat was fighting for his survival; Israel knew it very well. Leaders just about to be forgotten, or, as in Abbas' case, just about to be thrown out of the window of the 15th floor, are excellent partners for colonialist regimes. Listen carefully to what Zakaria Zbeidi, Fatah military chief in Jenin, told Zvi Yehezkeli of Israel's TV Channel 10 June 24: "We'll be your South Lebanon Army, just help us." The SLA was a Lebanese militia, financed, equipped, and trained by Israel, that served the Israeli occupation up to Israel's withdrawal in the year 2000, when most of its officers sought refuge in Israel lest they face trial (or worse) for their defection and high treason. That's precisely what Israel is looking for in the West Bank: a ruthless, weak, and hated partner, fighting against its own people for survival and relying on Israel rather than facing it.

What Israel Offers

Take a close look at the list of "gestures" offered to Abu Mazen. At first, removal of roadblocks was considered: bolstering Abu Mazen by giving relief and hope to the desperate Palestinian street and showing Israel's peaceful intentions. It took Israel just a couple of days to change its mind: no removal of roadblocks ("Army Objects," of course: Ha'aretz, June 25). What does Israel offer? Here's the list:

  • "Release of PA funds collected by Israel," so that Fatah can buy weapons and pay its supporters.
  • "Continuation of humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip," paid for by the international community of course, not by the Israeli occupier, to prevent embarrassing pictures of hunger.
  • "Reissuing VIP cards to Palestinians and expanding the permits to Palestinian businessmen wishing to cross into Israel" that is, more bonuses for the co-opted elite.
  • "Allowing the transfer of armored cars to the Fatah forces in the West Bank" no need to explain.
  • "Renewed security cooperation in the West Bank" between Israel and the Palestinian militia loyal to it.
  • "Resumption of the work of the combined security committee Israel, Egypt, PA, U.S. particularly in efforts to curtail arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip from Sinai," to make sure only the right Palestinian militia gets weapons.

Not a single measure, then, to improve the everyday life of millions of impoverished Palestinians strangled by walls and roadblocks, exposed to the Israeli army and settlers' terror. All these measures have just one objective in common: strengthening the Fatah militia and enabling it to crush any opposition. Fatah's hysteria should now turn it into an Israeli proxy, dependent on Israel to survive, serving Israel's interests, and using ever more violence against the Palestinian opposition, which happened to win the democratic elections. Forget removal of roadblocks, let alone of outposts and settlements; forget work permits in Israel; forget freedom, of movement or otherwise; forget a Palestinian state. The occupation is here to stay.

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Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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