|Week 2262 of Occupation|
October 4-10, 2010
Nothing to talk about
Once again, Israel is conducting serious and intense negotiations, but with the wrong party. Rather than engaging in a well-intentioned give and take with the Palestinians, Israel’s government is negotiating the fate of Palestine with the US administration. Back in 2004, the government of Ariel Sharon won a concession from George Bush when the US President announced that the final status will have to recognize the realities of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Now we are hearing reports, denied by the US, that the Obama administration has offered Israel a permanent presence in the Jordan Valley, among other concessions, as an inducement to continue its partial freeze on new construction in the settlements. That’s right, Obama is offering Israel a chunk of Palestinian territory as inducement for Israel to fulfill its obligations under previous agreements.
For now the Netanyahu government has yet to reply to the US offer of Palestinian compromise. Perhaps the Israeli government is taking its time in order to discover what additional Palestinian concessions the US administration might promise. But if direct talks between Israel and the representative of some of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, resume under such an agreement, the talks will be further compromised, as will be the US role as broker.
Were there some chance for the talks to reach an agreed solution, the US actions might be forgivable. But the Netanyahu government has provided no reason to believe that it sees the talks as anything but a means of managing Palestinian resistance and reducing its international isolation.
For months, through the entire spring of 2010, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were engaged in mediated “proximity talks.” As these indirect discussions wore on, the Palestinian side, and the Americans more quietly, complained that the Netanyahu government had not offered a single position on the core issues of the conflict. All the Israeli head of state wanted to do was discuss intermediate measures for easing restrictions and allowing economic development. As noted in this column at the time, Netanyahu was following through on his campaign platform before the elections of February 2009. He had promised a policy of abandoning political negotiations with the Palestinians, and offering them economic development within their autonomous enclaves – in other words an open policy of apartheid. Assuring that the negotiations would lack substance was one way of following through on this pledge.
But into the third month of the proximity talks, Netanyahu said that he would be glad to move to the issues of borders and Jerusalem if the Palestinians would agree to direct negotiations. The Palestinians, under tremendous pressure from their so-called “supporters,” namely the US, EU, and the Arab States, compromised by dropping their demand for a complete freeze on settlement construction in the occupied territories as a condition for direct negotiations. They settled for the 10-month cessation of new housing starts in the West Bank.
Now that unofficial reports of the first direct negotiation sessions are reaching the public, it is clear that Netanyahu had nothing to add to his performance in the indirect talks. Abbas has complained to foreign diplomats that Netanyahu has refused to even initiate serious negotiations about any of the core issues, and has insisted on limiting discussion to security arrangements. Sources from the Israeli side also report that the talks have not begun to deal with those issues, and that reports to the contrary by the US mediator, George Mitchell, were false.
Nonviolent Palestinian resistance is blossoming in the West Bank, and even in protests against the closed-off border zones of the Gaza Strip. Civil society groups, especially in Europe, are refusing to accept the inaction of their governments, and are adding their names to the calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. Israel’s armed brutality and aggressive settlement expansion are trying the patience of the international community, furthering its isolation.
But direct talks put a damper on all of these efforts, allowing Israel to claim that it is actively seeking a political resolution. Under the current circumstances, it is hard to see any other purpose of the direct talks than the management of Palestinian resistance and world opinion. Whatever the enormous long-term benefits to Israel of ending the occupation, these are vastly outweighed by the short term liabilities. This calculation must be reversed. Unless Israel’s desire to end the occupation immediately outweighs the desire to avoid internal political fallout, negotiations will continue to be nothing but a tactic against Palestinian aspirations, and against the prospect of peace.
Barack Obama’s administration has viewed the continuation of direct talks with such urgency that it is matching the pressure applied to the Palestinians with extravagant inducements for the Israelis. The reason for all this urgency, the Americans insist, is the “window” that will not stay open long. But the US administration is wrong. These talks are not failing because the window is closing, but because it has not yet opened.
A prisoner of conscience is sentenced
Abdallah Abu Rahmah is a schoolteacher in the West Bank town of Bil’in. For four years he took a leading role in organizing the weekly nonviolent protests against the apartheid wall that Israel was using to rob the village of a large proportion of its farmland. Some of the stolen land has already been used for the expansion of the nearby ultra-Orthodox settlement. As part of the Israeli campaign to shut down these protests, soldiers raided Abdallah’s house late one night in 2009 and arrested him. He was brought before a military court, and was charged by a military prosecutor of inciting violence, possession of illegal weapons, stone-throwing, and organizing illegal demonstrations. This past spring, Abdallah was convicted on two of these charges: incitement and organizing demonstrations. On 11 October, the same military court sentenced him to a year in prison. Having already served nearly ten months, Abdallah is expected to be released in about 40 days.
In the end, Abdallah’s conviction rests only on the military’s opposition to the political cause that he represents. No violence, no forbidden weapons, no attacks on heavily-armed IDF soldiers. Israel’s military law defines incitement as “The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order”. The military court has decided that confiscation of land and deprivation of livelihood through construction of an illegal barrier is not a disturbance to the public peace, but organizing a nonviolent response somehow is.