Peace in our Time?

April 4, 2007

Riyadh and chances for peace

Filed under: Blogroll, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 10:06 am

Peace Now supporters demonstrated March 28th outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s official residence, in support of the Riyadh Summit, at which Saudi King Abdullah and other Arab League leaders reaffirmed the Saudi Initiative originally twice offered to Israel five years ago and ignored twice by Sharon. Calling on Olmert not to be a refusenik of peace, Peace Now urged him to accept the Initiative, offering regional integration to Israel in exchange for a return to the 1967 Green Line, and a full end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories (including a comprehensive, just solution to the long overdue refugee problem). The demonstration was attended by a crowd of some 150 Israelis, brandishing flags of the 22 Arab League member states, incongruously integrated with the Israeli flag and Hebrew posters.

In a similar public statement, Gush Shalom stated:

“In Riyadh,
The assembled leaders
Of the Arab countries
Offered us
Peace with the Palestinians
And the entire Arab world
For generations to come.

In Homesh*
The assembled settlers
Offered us
War with the Palestinians
And the entire Arab world
For generations to come.

We must choose.”

And whilst American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice initially made encouraging sounds on this shuttle-stop as to establishment of a viable Palestinian state and acceptance of that Saudi peace plan, by the time she met with Olmert the message was sufficiently watered down to be meaningless. Olmert announced in her presence that Israel will meet every fortnight with President Abbas, no doubt echoing two such recent meetings at which no progress was achieved, and promises by Israel as to relaxation of Palestinian freedom of movement remain unkept; in fact, since the first of those meetings a new checkpoint, deep inside the West Bank outside Nablus, has been initiated – presumably to protect Palestinian villagers from other Palestinian villagers, including family members. Such major terminals are reportedly funded by the US out of money earmarked for the Palestinians, cynically, for their “security.” Insult to injury. Salt in the wounds.

Then, during the April 1st visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who wrote in the guestbook of Yad Vashem: “Humanity grows out of responsibility for the past”), Olmert edged tenuously closer to something more meaningful, whilst still irresponsible. He spoke of a meeting with “moderate” Arab states and acknowledged “elements” of the Saudi initiative, whilst making progress all but impossible by clinging to preconditions, and declaring that the refugee “problem” was not Israel’s responsibility and that Israel would not accept “one single refugee” to return home inside Israel. A week away from commemorating the Deir Yassin massacre, survivors of the Yishuv’s policies in 1947-48 of Plan Dalet would greet that dismissal of responsibility with contempt. Whereas an apology, acknowledgement of responsibility, would help to start the vitally required healing – on both sides.

In the absence of meaningful talks, whilst new settlements and expansion of existing ones continue full speed ahead, an unwilling Israeli public is being dragged, willy-nilly, back into unilateralism or Convergence, despite having learned the hard way that unilateralism increases Palestinian and Hizbullah resistance and rocket attacks. And although a majority of the Israeli public accepts the inevitability of the Saudi Initiative’s basic outlines, Ehud Olmert presumably fears his 3% popularity rating precludes him from entering into peace negotiations. Only Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s most popular ever prime minister, was a warrior for peace. In the shadow of a Second Lebanon War which may yet cost him his job (as did the first one to Sharon), Olmert seems intent to keep failing while fighting, strengthening resistance (he must know this?), undermining moderates such as the Saudi royal family, Egypt and Jordan while increasing facts on the ground that are such obstacles to peace – especially settlements inside Jerusalem and new infrastructure on E1, so impacting on Palestinian future viability and contiguity. The Israeli press points to the fact that George W. Bush must have given Olmert a green light to ignore Rice’s overtures. Just as he, Bush, is intent on continuing the folly of the Iraqi Occupation, in spite of his country’s obvious preference to withdraw.

Israel, as Sparta to an American Rome, seems yet again never to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to be normal (or law abiding under international law). Imperialism, colonialism, apartheid and occupation. We don’t need another hearing at the International Court of Justice to know these are crimes against humanity and illegal (although it’s useful to recall that South Africa went to that forum four times until apartheid fell). That they are deliberately chosen. That alternatives are being rejected. And that the Israeli public is being, yet again, denied an integrated position with its neighbours, with possibly fatal results for the longterm viability and sustainability of Israel. As Ilan Pappe says in his recent book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”: “But the window of opportunity will not stay open forever. The risk of even more devastating conflict and bloodshed has never been so acute.”

So where does this leave the Man in the Street, we average Israelis? Praying for early elections and a change of leadership. Since the Winograd Commission findings will soon be made public, this could come sooner than expected. But Israeli lack of hope is reflected in the fact that the alternatives (Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu) are former prime ministers whom Israelis kicked out with much relief not long ago. Men who failed, too, to progress peace. So let’s hope the numbed Israeli public won’t let the Saudi Initiative disappear again, as it did before. Olmert seems intent on preventing peace — more radically than even the increasingly pragmatic Hamas. Yes, there’s no partner for peace. And that non-partner is us. Israel.

*Homesh: An evacuated West Bank settlement recently reoccupied by settlers, but again evicted by the IDF.

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