Friday, January 02, 2004

I'm seeing a pattern

The Christian Science Monitor for January 2 informs us that
[j]ust weeks after Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad called for an unconditional resumption of peace talks with Israel, Israel has responded with plans for its biggest settlement drive ever in the occupied Golan Heights.
Not content with simply undermining al-Assad's proposal, Israel rubbed his nose in it.
"The idea is that Assad will see from his own window the Israeli Golan Heights thriving and flowering," said Yisrael Katz, the minister of agriculture, of the strategic plateau captured in 1967 and annexed in 1981. He says 900 new homes are to be built in existing and new settlements. The plan would spend at least $56 million to double the region's settler population.
The New York Times says "the plans would pour about $90 million into existing settlements in the 720-square-mile territory and bring in 900 families over three years," which I interpret to mean that $34 million will be devoted to already-existing settlements in the area, which will be expanded and strengthened even as Israel is supposed to be dismantling settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The purpose is to
send Mr. Assad the message that "the Golan is an inseparable part of the State of Israel, and we have no intention to give up our hold"
as Katz said on Wednesday.

I said back on December 1 that it seemed that Israel undertook some "provocative" action just when something was developing that might to an outsider look favorable to Israel, in that case a meeting of Palestinian groups to discuss an end to terrorist attacks. Here again, a proposal that would look like good news - a Syrian offer to reopen peace negotiations - receives a slapdown reply. Frankly, I think it reasonable to ask whether Israel - or, more accurately, the Sharon government - is really interested in a peace settlement.

The idea is not mine alone. Syria thinks so.
Syrian Government minister Dr Bouthaina Shabban told the BBC's Newshour programme: "Every time we speak about comprehensive peace in the region, (Israel's) response is to build more settlements."
Of course, that's hardly good company or an unbiased source. But the idea is percolating through the region. The Monitor says
[Tel Aviv University political scientist Reuven] Pedhazur believes the government's strategy is to avoid negotiations "We could use this window of opportunity to try to work on agreements with the Palestinians and Syrians but Sharon does not want this."
It also quotes Radwan Abdallah, a Jordanian political analyst:
"These are the most favorable conditions that can ever exist for the Israelis, and that should make other states more inclined to compromise," he says. "But if Israel does not take this opportunity, it will be a signal it is not interested in peace."
That, he suggests, would make the Middle East more dangerous, not less. Again dipping into my bag of memories, I recall a friend of mine who was then director of the Jewish Peace Fellowship giving a talk on "Can Israel Survive Itself?" the premise of which was that Israeli policies in the occupied territories were actually increasing rather than reducing the long-term risk to Israel's security. There doesn't seem to be anything in the present record to contradict him.

Footnote: The Times article says
The issue of the barrier arose again in Israel on Wednesday, when troops shot and wounded 10 Palestinians and an Israeli who were demonstrating against the concrete and chain-link fence. Last week troops wounded an Israeli protester in an incident that roused a national debate about the military's use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians, an almost daily occurrence against Palestinians.

Israeli military officials have said the army is considering changing its rules of engagement as a result of last week's incident. The army used tear gas and rubber bullets in Wednesday's action.
Note that this national debate arose only after an Israeli was wounded, even though "the military's use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians" is "an almost daily occurrence against Palestinians." Now, in this Israel and Israelis are reacting no differently than very likely every other nation or people: It is distressingly, achingly common for people of any group to regard the members of that group as inherently more worthy of concern, as more valuable, than anyone outside it. (I recall Dick Cavett on one of his TV shows - I know, showing my age; wait until you get to the next phrase - asking Barry Goldwater during Vietnam if he thought American lives were worth more than Vietnamese lives. "Yes," he said, and while the audience groaned loudly, added "and I expect the Vietnamese feel the same way," that is, that they feel that Vietnamese lives are worth more than American ones. He at least recognized the universalness of the conviction, even if he failed to realize its inherent absurdity.)

But while it may be understandable for Israelis to be more concerned with Israelis and Palestinians to be more concerned with Palestinians (and, from such as Goldwater's perspective, entirely proper that they feel that way), what is neither understandable nor proper is for those who stand outside that conflict to judge one as more valued than the other. Yet that is exactly what our media persists in doing. A study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) released in August showed US media used terms like "lull," "relative calm," and "relative peace" in portraying periods in which few Israelis were killed - even as Palestinians continued to be killed in undiminished numbers.

This disgraceful bias should be challenged at every turn, as should the ugly claim that to raise such a challenge is to be anti-Semitic. It can be rightly be said that there was a time when the Arab states were blocking peace. It could be said there were times Palestinians were blocking peace (no, the "generous offer" by Israel at the Camp David meeting in 2000 was not among them). But neither of those is now true. Now it's Israel that's blocking peace, a peace that would declare, again in the words of my JPF friend, "Israel AND the Palestinians must live!" When the Arab states or the Palestinians were at fault, their blame was held up for all to see. But the Sharon government's determination to resist a settlement is being shielded from the view of the American public by the distortions and bias of the media. And it's time we who do know admitted it.

Update: The Israeli daily Haaretz reports on January 3 that
Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday denied claims by Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz that there were plans to expand settlements and double the number of Israeli residents on the Golan Heights.

"There is no program, there is no policy, there is no expansion of Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights," Olmert told the BBC.

"He [Katz] may have declared something... but in terms of the government policy... there is no such approved program," Mr Olmert said during an interview on the Hardtalk program.
It seems strange for a government minister to go so far off the farm as to flatly declare a policy which doesn't exist. Something smells odd here. Are we seeing evidence of an internal power struggle within the Sharon government along the lines of the "pragmatist-radical" split in the Bush administration? Or was Katz's declaration a trial balloon? If it was the latter, the construction material was lead - the proposal to expand the settlements was roundly rejected, including by the US.

Particularly considering the opposition Sharon is seeing to even his vague, half-hearted gestures toward dismantling settlements in Palestinian territory (so half-hearted that the settler population has grown by 16% since Sharon came into office in March 2001), the idea of a power struggle sounds right to me. This bears watching.

In any event, this denial will at best partly undo the damage to the possibility of renewed negotiations with Syria done by Katz's announcement, which will inevitably hang over any discussions. If indeed there is no such plan and if indeed it was made as part of an internal power struggle, it emphasizes even more strongly that at least among a faction of the Sharon government there is a conscious intent to undermine a peace settlement.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');