Tuesday, May 28

MCC Palestine Update #48

MCC Palestine Update #48

28 May 2002

A new permit, or pass, system is being introduced into the occupied territories, one which is rapidly creating a new reality of geographical dismemberment. The past nineteenth months, as we have written repeatedly, have witnessed an increased tightening of the closure, or siege, on Palestinian populations centers in the occupied territories, making movement from town to town for education, health care, work, family visits, etc. difficult at best and dangers at worst. Now the Israeli military government has begun requiring permits from Palestinians who wish to travel from one part of the West Bank to another. Thus, if one lives in Jenin but wishes to study in Nablus, one must obtain a permit.

In the first article below, Amira Hass outlines the ongoing devastation being wrought by this policy of closure and canonization. The viability of any sustainable development projects will, of course, be severely compromised by this new reality. Please keep MCC--and, more importantly, our courageous Palestinian partner organizations--in your prayers as we and they seek to continue to implement projects in the fields of women's development, rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, conflict resolution, land reclamation, and early childhood education.

In addition to the piece by Amira Hass from Ha'aretz, we include three more pieces. Yoav Peled, writing in The Guardian, provides another debunking of the myths surrounding former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's allegedly "generous" offers at the Camp David II summit in July 2002. Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions provides a sobering assessment of the current situation. Finally, MIT professor Noam Chomsky explains why the United States is not a honest broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

1. The Real Disaster Is The Closure
Amira Hass
Ha'aretz, May 21 2002

Half the Palestinians in the West Bank are unemployed, half are in dire poverty, and the economy is sliding into barter.

When the director general of the Palestinian Finance Ministry, Ataf Alaune, returned to his office on April 21, a few hours after the army pulled out of Ramallah, he found that in addition to the hard disks in his computers, the soldiers had taken all the books, reports, and research studies that were in his library. Only one document, 133 pages long, remained. Dated March 18, 2002, it was titled "15 Months: Intifada, Closures, and the Palestinian Economic Crisis - an Assessment" and was prepared by the World Bank.The document was prepared because in the second half of 2001, the donor countries to the Palestinian Authority already wanted an estimate the damage done to the economy during the first months of the intifada, so they could adjust their allotments to the PA for rehabilitation. The initial assessments were that the situation would stabilize and improve, so there were expectations for a quick report. Instead, because of the deterioration in the security situation and the tightening of the closures and sieges on all the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, the study grew into a working plan, based on three scenarios:1. A continuation of the closures and the restrictions on freedom of movement for commodities and people2. Political rapprochement that would lead to an end to the hostilities and a lifting of the closure3. A pessimistic scenario, in which the military hostilities would grow even more intense and there would be even more severe disruptions of freedom of movement for goods and people.Each scenario has a ceiling on the money that would be available - from $2.1 to $2.7 billion. A fourth scenario, "the authority collapses," is depicted separately from the other three. That scenario would require a total change in the mode of aid to the Palestinians, from rehabilitation to emergency humanitarian aid, which, in the absence of governing institutions, would be reduced.The report was completed in mid-March, two weeks before the Park Hotel bombing and the military operation in Ramallah and six other Palestinian cities in the West Bank. Palestinian and foreign economists and researchers worked on it, and it was written by two senior World Bank officials, Sebastien Dessus and Nigel Roberts, who has been the World Bank's representative in the country for the past 11 months.The silent destructionIn a conversation with Ha'aretz on March 27, Roberts still hoped that the optimistic scenario of political rapprochement and calm was possible. But the next day, on the night of the Seder, 29 people were killed in the Park Hotel massacre and on March 29, the IDF began Operation Defensive Shield that lasted a month. On May 9, in another interview with Ha'aretz, Roberts said the sieges on the Palestinian towns, then being tightened further, would require the donor countries to consider giving $2 billion instead of the $1.7 billion that was earmarked in case of the "pessimistic scenario." In the same interview, Roberts reiterated four axioms that had become clear during the preparation and writing of the report:1. The ongoing damage to the Palestinian economy from the sieges and closures is much more than the physical damage created by the military operations, including Operation Defensive Shield. In the first 15 months of the intifada, from October 2000 to December 2001, the physical damage to infrastructure and Palestinian institutions was an estimated $503 million. Last week, an estimate of $360 million was published, referring to the physical damage resulting from the military actions in March and April this year. But in the first 15 months of the intifada, at least $2.4 billion in damage was done to the economy, in terms of lost gross national revenues because of the mounting restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by Israel on the Palestinians in, and out, of the territories. Roberts, who is British, and usually careful with his words, calls the closure policies "the silent destruction."2. The Palestinian public has proved to be very resilient when challenged by the shocks caused by the economic disaster. Palestinian handling of the enormous economic and social difficulties is characterized by intra-community support, family involvement, and mutual help to a degree that is not known in developed, Western countries. Roberts is convinced that developed Western societies would have collapsed if confronted with "an economic disaster of such proportions."3. During all the months of the intifada, major institutions in the Palestinian Authority function "impressively," and dealt well with the challenges posed. "That's the untold story in the tale of this intifada," says Roberts. He says that despite what Palestinians themselves - let alone Israelis and the rest of the world - may believe, the PA, as a complex of institutions providing services to its constituencies, not only did not collapse but rose to the occasion in a number of areas. He makes special note of the education, health and finance ministries as well as the Public Works Ministry and the city halls, which he regards as part of the decision-making structure for initiatives during the crisis.4. The fourth axiom, which Roberts repeated in both meetings with Ha'aretz, does not derive directly from the report on the damage caused by the closures, but rather from a "working paper" published by the World Bank in May 2001 called "Government and the Business Environment in the West Bank and Gaza." That paper's researchers discovered that, as opposed to what is commonly believed, the level of corruption (meaning informal payments to government officials) in the PA territories is much less than in neighboring countries and in other developing countries, where similar studies were done at the same time. Progress toward transparency and accountability, often under international pressure but also as a result of domestic Palestinian criticism, could reduce the anxiety level of those Palestinians worried by the phenomenon of corruption, which in large part is based on the lack of laws guaranteeing equality to all citizens.Make-work jobsThe World Bank report opens with the definition of "closure" as "a term referring to the restriction placed by Israel on the free movement of Palestinian goods and labor across borders and within the West Bank and Gaza. Israel asserts that closure is a response to Palestinian violence. Closure has come to dominate much of Palestinian life over the past 15 months." The Palestinians, the report says, have been required to carry IDF-issued authorizations for travel since 1993 (actually, since 1991 - A.H.). Since October 2000, most of such authorizations for travel into Israel were canceled, Palestinian freedom of movement for goods and people into Egypt and Jordan was drastically reduced, and internal closures and sieges around various Palestinian towns and villages were tightened through physical blockades. Checkpoints are manned, backed up by tanks and armored personnel carriers, to reduce to a minimum any movement of people and merchandise inside the Palestinian territories, between village to village, city to village or village to city.Closures cause a chain reaction of damage that ultimately harms all of Palestinian society. The loss of tens of thousands of jobs inside Israel meant a drop in purchasing power inside the territories that leads to a further shrinking of productive economic activity, and a wave of domestic unemployment paralyzes any possible investment. Thus, in the beginning of 2002, the average real income was 30 percent lower than in 1994, on the eve of the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The number of poor, defined as those living on $2 a day or less, grew from 600,000 (in a population of some 3 million) to 1.5 million by the end of 2001. Roberts believes that after the April military operation, three-quarters of the Palestinian population in the territories is now living under that $2 a day poverty line.The gross domestic product dropped 6-7 percent in 2000, as a result of the dramatic drop in economic activity in the last quarter of that year. In 2001, the GDP dropped another 21 percent. Gross national revenues fell 11.7 percent in 200l and another 18.7 percent in 2001. That comes to $2.4 billion, compared to a gross domestic product of $5.4 billion in 1999.There are large gaps in food prices in the West Bank, depending on where the food is purchased, because of limitations on freedom of movement and the internal closures. In areas where food is produced, prices have fallen drastically, since the goods can't reach the markets. In non-agricultural areas, especially the cities, prices have risen dramatically, because of the shortages in supplies. In Gaza, prices have lowered because of a drop in demand, as a result of shrinking household income and purchasing power.Israel takes a cutThe decline in PA revenues, because of the shrinking economic activity, was made even worse since December 2000 when Israel ceased transferring to the PA taxes it collected on goods imported into the PA from Israel, on grounds the PA was paying terrorists with the money. The World Bank mentions that fact at least five times in the report, and emphasizes the monies do not belong to Israel. The current estimate of money Israel owes to the PA, up to December 2001, is half a billion dollars.The report comments negatively on a well-known phenomenon in the PA: the lack of a shared governmental vision of how to manage the crisis. A number of ministries, especially the Planning Ministry, treasury and PEDCER (Palestinian Economic Development Council for Economic Rehabilitation) worked out emergency plans, but they were written separately and were not adopted. No umbrella forum was established to manage the crisis, and inter-ministry coordination, problematic even before the intifada, did not improve. The World Bank report is meant to solve that problem and to propose to the donor countries and the PA an appropriate, coordinated working program for dealing with the crisis (according to all three scenarios mentioned at the outset). The PA, for its part, is committed in the document to adopt a series of steps in the context of internal reforms, both administrative and financial. Those promises came a long time before Israel and the U.S. began insisting on reforms. Some of the reforms were implemented, under the watchful eyes of the International Monetary Fund and the donor countries, before the intifada. Others were done during the crisis, especially all those dealing with economic legislation that would encourage the private sector, as well as a pension fund for civil servants, to guarantee a social safety net.On March 27, Roberts still hoped the action plan would help, to some degree, in reviving the Palestinian economy, on condition the closures, particularly the internal closures, were lifted. On May 9 he was speaking differently. All the signs show, he said, that Israel intends to tighten the internal closures even more, and to limit to an absolute minimum the movement of people and goods from one Palestinian township or village to another. People leaving besieged cities need "authorizations for movement under closure" that only go to a very narrow category of people. Most of the goods going to the cities are transported "back to back" meaning a truck full of goods backs up to an empty truck on the outskirts of the city at the checkpoint, and the goods are transferred from one to the other. It adds time and costs to the entire process.The damage caused by the closures to the Palestinian economy, says Roberts, creates a barter economy that is not appropriate for the private sector and for any vision of economic development. Under such circumstances, he adds, the donor countries are forced - against their will - to become charitable organizations to an impoverished population, without any political framework. Roberts allows himself to say that the closure policy "is more damaging to security in the long run" and says he finds it difficult to be persuaded that a process that is impoverishing the entire Palestinian society - causing damage to stability in the long run - can lead to rapprochement in the future. "Militarily, I have no opinion on the effectiveness of the closures. But strategically, it is clear they are creating an atmosphere that is not conducive to the security of Israel."

2. Was Barak telling the truth?
Yoav Peled
The Guardian, 24 May 2002

The ex-PM's disparagement of the Palestinians began long ago

Astute observers of Israeli politics have been wondering, ever since Ehud Barak was elected prime minister in 1999, whether his "peace offensive" was a real effort to achieve peace with Israel's neighbours or only an attempt to "expose" the Arabs' intention of destroying Israel.

The debate intensified when the failure of the Camp David II summit in the summer of 2000 was almost universally interpreted as a rejection by Yasser Arafat of Barak's "generous" offer to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and enable the Palestinians to establish an independent state.

An interview Barak recently gave to Benny Morris - a convert to the cause of the Israeli rightwing - which was published in the New York Review of Books (and reprinted in this newspaper yesterday) allows a glimpse into some of his underlying assumptions.

The controversy over what actually transpired at Camp David is well known by now, and Barak's version of events is disputed (yet again) in the same issue of the New York Review by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha. What is more revealing is Barak's view of the people with whom he was purportedly trying to reach a peace agreement.

"Repeatedly during [the] interview," Morris reports, Barak spoke of the Palestinians as products of a culture "in which to tell a lie ... creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judaeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't." Curiously, Morris, who did more than anybody to dispel official Israeli lies about the war of 1948, does not record his own reaction to these racist stereotypes.

Polite western society no longer tolerates such characterisations of entire cultures, although I suspect things may have changed, at least in the US, since September 11. But in Israel the public denigration of Arab culture was historically acceptable, since, like all colonial movements, Zionism had to dehumanise the indigenous inhabitants of its country of settlement in order to legitimise their displacement. Thus, as many studies have shown, depictions of the Arabs as conniving, dishonest, lazy, treacherous and murderous were commonplace in Israeli school textbooks, as in much of Israeli literature in general.

For the past two decades, however, Israeli society has been going through a profound and wide-ranging process of liberalisation. A great deal of effort was invested, by the upper-middle strata of Jewish Israeli society (the people who voted for Barak in 1999), in the struggle against the mutual stereotyping of Jews and Palestinians.

A whole industry of "dialogue and coexistence" groups sprouted up. As a result, generalisations such as the ones used by Barak were delegitimised to the point where it became difficult, in classroom situations for example, to make any general statement about a particular group in society. Tragically, all of this was halted by the breakdown of the peace process and the onset of the second intifada.

The question, then, is whether Barak's statements reflect a genuine frustration over the Palestinians' response to his peace efforts; are an effort to cater to changing public opinion; or whether he held this view of the Palestinians all along.

As chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Force, he opposed the Oslo accords, and as minister of the interior in Yitzhak Rabin's cabinet he abstained in the crucial vote on the Oslo II agreement. When he took office as prime minister he reneged on the commitments undertaken by his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Wye Plantation agreement, to further withdraw from occupied Palestinian territory. And throughout his tenure as prime minister he refused to abide by any clause of the Oslo agreements that mandated further Israeli "concessions" to the Palestinians. This behaviour is perfectly understandable if the Palestinians are all pathological liars and agreements signed by them are not to be trusted.

During Barak's year and a half in office as prime minister, he kept warning that Israel was like a ship heading towards certain collision with an iceberg, and that his peace efforts were crucial for avoiding a catastrophe. Unfortunately, what is revealed in the Morris interview is that the captain of the ship may have been blinded by prejudice, so that instead of avoiding the iceberg he sailed full steam ahead right into it.

Yoav Peled teaches political science at Tel Aviv University. He is co-author, with Gershon Shafir, of Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (CUP).

· Israel/Palestine: The Way Forward, a Guardian discussion with Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin takes place at Church House, Dean's Yard, Westminster, London SW1 on Wednesday May 29 at 2pm. Entrance by ticket only (£10); call 020-7494 5551

3. After defeat, autonomy
Jeff Halper
ICAHD, 15 May 2002

Despite protestations by Sharon, the vote by acclamation of the Likud Central Committee against the establishment of any Palestinian state flowed logically and smoothly from "Operation Defensive Shield." In that ferocious incursion into Palestinian areas, the Sharon government believes it has defeated the Palestinians once and for all, and can thus drop the pretense of even a Palestinian mini-state. It has three good reasons for thinking so:1. Jenin. Although the Israeli attacks of March-April 2002 (disingenuously called "Operation DEFENSIVE Shield") extended far beyond the Jenin refugee camp, Jenin became the focal point and symbol of Israel's thrust to "destroy the infrastructure of terrorism." In fact, it represents for Sharon the final defeat of any Palestinian attempt to resist the Occupation. The Palestinians, in his view, have nowhere to go. Their infrastructure is demolished, and given Israel's suffocating control of the besieged islands of Areas A and B, they will never be able to reorganize.There may be isolated incidents, but the problem of terrorism/resistance has been reduced to manageable proportions.2. Ramallah. Although the Israel assault on Ramallah received far less press and was focused on events around Arafat's compound, it represents nothing less than the destruction of the Palestinian Authority's ability to govern. In Ramallah virtually the entire civil infrastructure was destroyed - all the data of the government ministries, hospitals and clinics, the land registry office, the courts and banking system, businesses, non-governmental organizations and research institutes, even the Palestinian Academy of Sciences. What has this to do with the destroying "the infrastructure of terror?" Nothing. But, then, fighting terror was always a convenient excuse for maintaining the Occupation. Into the vacuum created by the destruction of Palestinian civil society the Civil Administration, Israel's military government, is already stepping. Palestinians wishing to leave the country now need a special Civil Administration permit. And we must not miss the "message" of the soldiers left behind: "Death to Arabs" scrawled on walls with excrement, excrement and urine spread throughout offices and homes, wanton destruction of furniture, equipment, artworks, gardens, infrastructure.3. The American Congress. On May 2nd, in the wake of the attacks and in anticipation of Sharon's visit to Washington, Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution (94-2 in the Senate, 352-21 in the House), supporting Israel's campaign to destroy "the terrorist infrastructure and attacking the Palestinian Authority. The resolution showed clearly why the US Congress is Israel's "trump card," allowing it to defy the international community while thumbing its nose at American administrations. It will stand with Israel no matter what. And it will do so for many reasons that have nothing to do with the issue itself: defense dollars, the influence of the Israeli-American Jewish lobby AIPAC and of the Christian right, perceptions of a common "Judeo-Christian heritage," anti-Arab and anti-Muslim phobia, a common reduction of the world's problems to the fight against terrorism, and plain ignorance. Congress, at this stage, appears unassailable.Believing it has defeated the Palestinians once and for all, the government's task is now to construct a form of occupation dressed in the old but respectable clothes of "autonomy." Autonomy allows Israel to retain control of the West Bank and the settlements while dumping its two million Palestinian residents into a truncated set of disconnected islands. In a worst-case scenario, autonomy resembles apartheid, with the Palestinians exercising some local control over their municipal affairs but still governed by Israel and lacking citizenship. The best such a scheme offers is a mini-state representing the old South African bantustan of Bophuthatswana.Sharon's own grand scheme envisions a three-fold "solution" to the Palestinian problem:First, Arafat will be transferred to Gaza, which will become one large prison for PLO members. At some point, probably when Arafat leaves the scene and a more compliant leader can be found, Gaza will become the Palestinian state as a sop to international demands for Palestinian independence.The West Bank will then be divided into three separate cantons according to settlement blocs and Israeli highways also in place. A northern canton would be created around the city of Nablus, a central one around Ramallah and a southern one in the area of Hebron. Each would be connected independently to Israel, with thin Israeli-controlled links between them. Each canton, whose residents would be denied any citizenship, would be granted local autonomy.Finally, Israel would ensure Palestinian submission through "quiet transfer" and economic cooptation. "Quiet transfer" is the policy, practiced today, to make life so miserable for the Palestinian middle classes that they leave the country "voluntarily." Emigration of the educated Palestinian middle classes to render the society weak, leaderless and easily controlled. Since the outbreak of the second Intifada it has been estimated that 150,000 Palestinians have left the Occupied Territories, the vast majority of them middle class (many Christians from the Bethlehem and Ramallah areas). Those that remain, the working classes, will benefit from seven industrial parks being built on the "seam" between Israel and the Occupied Territories by the Peres Center for Peace. The combination of weak leadership and adequate employment - similar to the Maquiladoras along the US-Mexican border - would, Israel believes, effectively counteract any tendency towards renewed resistance.Fanciful as all this may seem, this is the scenario being pursued by Sharon and Sharon's likely successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, with the acquiescence of Labor. Having struggled all the years since Oslo to transform Israel's concept of a Palestinian mini-state into a viable and truly sovereign one, we find ourselves back in the 1970s when the struggle was to transform autonomy into a semblance of independence. Time is running out. Every day the Occupation grows stronger -another road, another settlement, another barrier, greater repression, greater separation, increased emigration, growing despair. There seems no sense of urgency in the slow pace of international intervention. With few countervailing forces, are we witnessing the victory of occupation over freedom? The answer is still blowing in the wind.

(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at <icahd@zahav.net.il>)


4. The solution is the problem
Noam Chomsky
The Guardian, 10 May 2002

The US presents itself as the peace-broker in the Middle East. The reality is different

A year ago, the Hebrew University sociologist Baruch Kimmerling observed that "what we feared has come true - War appears an unavoidable fate", an "evil colonial" war. His colleague Ze'ev Sternhell noted that the Israeli leadership was now engaged in "colonial policing, which recalls the takeover by the white police of the poor neighborhoods of the blacks in South Africa during the apartheid era". Both stress the obvious: there is no symmetry between the "ethno-national groups" in this conflict, which is centered in territories that have been under harsh military occupation for 35 years.

The Oslo "peace process", begun in 1993, changed the modalities of the occupation, but not the basic concept. Shortly before joining the Ehud Barak government, historian Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote that "the Oslo agreements were founded on a neo-colonialist basis, on a life of dependence of one on the other forever". He soon became an architect of the US-Israel proposals at Camp David in 2000, which kept to this condition. At the time, West Bank Palestinians were confined to 200 scattered areas. Bill Clinton and Israeli prime minister Barak did propose an improvement: consolidation to three cantons, under Israeli control, virtually separated from one another and from the fourth enclave, a small area of East Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian communications. The fifth canton was Gaza. It is understandable that maps are not to be found in the US mainstream. Nor is their prototype, the Bantustan "homelands" of apartheid South Africa, ever mentioned.

No one can seriously doubt that the US role will continue to be decisive. It is crucial to understand what that role has been, and how it is internally perceived. The version of the doves is presented by the editors of the New York Times, praising President Bush's "path-breaking speech" and the "emerging vision" he articulated. Its first element is "ending Palestinian terrorism" immediately. Some time later comes "freezing, then rolling back, Jewish settlements and negotiating new borders" to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state. If Palestinian terror ends, Israelis will be encouraged to "take the Arab League's historic offer of full peace and recognition in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal more seriously". But first Palestinian leaders must demonstrate that they are "legitimate diplomatic partners".

The real world has little resemblance to this self-serving portrayal - virtually copied from the 1980s, when the US and Israel were desperately seeking to evade PLO offers of negotiation and political settlement. In the real world, the primary barrier to the "emerging vision" has been, and remains, unilateral US rejectionism. There is little new in the current "Arab League's historic offer".

It repeats the basic terms of a security council resolution of January 1976 which called for a political settlement on the internationally recognized borders "with appropriate arrangements ... to guarantee ... the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of all states in the area". This was backed by virtually the entire world, including the Arab states and the PLO but opposed by Israel and vetoed by the US, thereby vetoing it from history. Similar initiatives have since been blocked by the US and mostly suppressed in public commentary.

Not surprisingly, the guiding principle of the occupation has been incessant humiliation. Israeli plans for Palestinians have followed the guidelines formulated by Moshe Dayan, one of the Labour leaders more sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. Thirty years ago Dayan advised the cabinet that Israel should make it clear to refugees that "we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave". When challenged, he responded by citing Ben-Gurion, who said that "whoever approaches the Zionist problem from a moral aspect is not a Zionist". He could have also cited Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel, who held that the fate of the "several hundred thousand negroes" in the Jewish homeland "is a matter of no consequence".

The Palestinians have long suffered torture, terror, destruction of property, displacement and settlement, and takeover of basic resources, crucially water. These policies have relied on decisive US support and European acquiescence. "The Barak government is leaving Sharon's government a surprising legacy," the Israeli press reported as the transition took place: "the highest number of housing starts in the territories since Ariel Sharon was minister of construction and settlement in 1992 before the Oslo agreements" - funding provided by the American taxpayer.

It is regularly claimed that all peace proposals have been undermined by Arab refusal to accept the existence of Israel (the facts are quite different), and by terrorists like Arafat who have forfeited "our trust". How that trust may be regained is explained by Edward Walker, a Clinton Middle East adviser: Arafat must announce that "we put our future and fate in the hands of the US" - which has led the campaign to undermine Palestinian rights for 30 years.

The basic problem then, as now, traces back to Washington, which has persistently backed Israel's rejection of a political settlement in terms of the broad international consensus. Current modifications of US rejectionism are tactical. With plans for an attack on Iraq endangered, the US permitted a UN resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal from the newly-invaded territories "without delay" - meaning "as soon as possible", secretary of state Colin Powell explained at once. Powell's arrival in Israel was delayed to allow the Israeli Defense Force to continue its destructive operations, facts hard to miss and confirmed by US officials.

When the current intifada broke out, Israel used US helicopters to attack civilian targets, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, hardly in self-defense. Clinton responded by arranging what the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz called "the largest purchase of military helicopters by the Israeli Air Force in a decade", along with spare parts for Apache attack helicopters. A few weeks later, Israel began to use US helicopters for assassinations. These extended last August to the first assassination of a political leader: Abu Ali Mustafa. That passed in silence, but the reaction was quite different when Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi was killed in retaliation. Bush is now praised for arranging the release of Arafat from his dungeon in return for US-UK supervision of the accused assassins of Ze'evi. It is inconceivable that there should be any effort to punish those responsible for the Mustafa assassination.

Further contributions to enhancing terror took place last December, when Washington again vetoed a security council resolution calling for dispatch of international monitors. Ten days earlier, the US boycotted an international conference in Geneva that once again concluded that the fourth Geneva convention applies to the occupied territories, so that many US-Israeli actions there are "grave breaches", hence serious war crimes. As a "high contracting party", the US is obligated by solemn treaty to prosecute those responsible for such crimes, including its own leadership. Accordingly, all of this passes in silence.

But the US has not officially withdrawn its recognition that the conventions apply to the occupied territories, or its censure of Israeli violations as the "occupying power". In October 2000 the security council reaffirmed the consensus, "call[ing] on Israel, the occupying power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations..." The vote was 14-0. Clinton abstained.

Until such matters are permitted to enter mainstream discussion in the US, and their implications understood, it is meaningless to call for "US engagement in the peace process", and prospects for constructive action will remain grim.


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