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WHAT WE THINK
White House celebrates outcome of Israeli-Palestinian summit
"Peace" without justice

February 18, 2005 | Page 3

LAST WEEK'S summit between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was greeted with euphoria in Israel and the U.S. "This is the most promising moment for progress between Palestinians and Israelis in recent years," declared newly enshrined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

But in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians had a completely different reaction. "[Abbas] sold us out," Abu Fayed, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, told a reporter. "Why did he shake Sharon's hand? What did he get? Nothing. With the Israelis, there is no solution. It's much better to go on with the resistance."

Abbas hopes to convince the Palestinian population that his skills as a negotiator have brought real peace a step closer, as well as immediate improvements in living conditions. He's counting on Sharon to help out by releasing some Palestinians prisoners, easing his military's checkpoint stranglehold on the Occupied Territories, and restraining Israel's relentless violence against Palestinians.

But while Sharon has dangled these measures as possibilities, he has agreed to nothing in particular beyond an end to "military operations."

In exchange, Abbas promised Sharon that all the various Palestinian resistance factions would abide by the ceasefire that he agreed to--even as the militants of Hamas and Islamic Jihad voiced skepticism about the truce, and for good reason. In just the week after the February 8 summit, Israeli troops had already killed a 20-year-old Palestinian--for walking within 150 feet of a security fence.

But there is a deeper problem with the idea that the summit will usher in a new era of peace. The fundamental conflict is that Israel exists on Palestinian land--and Sharon has no intention of giving up that land.

In fact, he wants to seize more of it. Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli forces from Gaza, despite sharp criticism from members of his own right-wing Likud Party, has led Israel's Labor Party--the supposed "peace" camp--to stifle its criticisms of him. But the Gaza plan is merely one facet of a larger agenda to impose Israel's colonial control over all of Palestine.

Last May, Arnon Soffer, the chief architect of Sharon's "separation" plan, explained--in a Jerusalem Post interview laced with racist venom--that the goal is not peace, but dominance over Palestinians. "When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe," Soffer said. "Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border is going to be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day...

"[Separation] doesn't guarantee 'peace'--it guarantees a Zionist-Jewish state with an overwhelming majority of Jews. And it guarantees one other important thing. Between 1948 and 1967, the fence was a fence, and 400,000 people left the West Bank voluntarily. This is what will happen after separation. If a Palestinian cannot come to Tel Aviv for work, he will look in Iraq, or Kuwait, or London. I believe there will be movement out of the area."

Unvarnished language like this seldom finds its way into the U.S. press, but the U.S. media's coverage constantly re-circulates the underlying racist assumptions--that all Palestinians are "animals" and "terrorists." The U.S., in turn, uses this same logic to demonize the Iraqi resistance--and to justify the occupation of Iraq, one of the two cornerstones of U.S. policy in the Middle East, along with Israel's occupation of Palestine.

When the Oslo "peace" agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was signed in 1993, most Palestinians felt genuinely hopeful about the future--after decades of hardship, resistance and second-class citizenship. Finally, it seemed, the day would come when Palestinians would have their own state--even if the more difficult issues, such as the right of return for Palestinians driven from their homes and the status of Jerusalem, were put for later.

Now, 12 years after Oslo, its rotten fruit is plain to see. Israel's "Jewish-only" settlements in the West Bank and Gaza have been massively expanded, Palestinians live under a constant state of siege, and the Palestinian economy has been destroyed.

The pronouncements from the Abbas-Sharon summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, fit this mold rather than break it.

"The bitter reality is that nothing has changed," Tanya Reinhart, a professor at Tel Aviv University, wrote on the Electronic Intifada Web site. "The new 'peace plans' are no more real than the previous ones, and on the ground, the Palestinians are losing more of their land and are being pushed into smaller and smaller prison enclaves, surrounded by the new wall that Sharon's government keeps constructing. On the day of the Sharm El-Sheikh summit, Israeli sources announced that even the illegal outposts that Israel has committed to evacuate long ago will not be evacuated until 'after implementation of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.'"

All of this leaves the vast bulk of Palestinians more desperate--and Palestinian leaders like Abbas have nothing to offer other than fake peace summits based on failed formulas.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to ruthlessly suppress both peaceful and armed resistance. "Israeli authorities frequently use the term 'illegal demonstrations' to describe peaceful protests against Israeli government violations of international law," according to Pat O'Connor of the International Solidarity Movement. "This twisted reasoning needs to be exposed and rejected. Why is it 'illegal' for hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children to march peacefully to assert their right to their land in the face of Israeli soldiers, who are defending the construction of a wall that has been declared illegal by the world's highest legal body, the International Court of Justice?"

Why is Palestinian resistance "illegal"? For the same reason that the U.S. siege of Falluja was a "legitimate" measure to break the Iraqi resistance--because the U.S. uses its economic and political might to make it so.

Building a movement here to challenge the U.S. drive to remake the Middle East is part of taking the first step toward any real progress for Palestinians.

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