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Middle East Turned Upside Down

John Kerry’s Misperception of Palestine

by KEVIN MINK

When John Kerry addressed the national conference of the Anti-Defamation League in May, he joked of how he’d acquired his singular perspective on the Middle East. He had once looped-the-loop in an Israeli trainer, he said, and the view-from Sinai to Jordan and out towards the Gulf of Aqaba-has stuck with him. "I want you to know," Kerry told the ADL, "that to see it all upside down was the perfect way to see the Middle East and Israel."

Unfortunately, Kerry’s take on Palestine is, indeed, topsy-turvy. He sees Israel as a hapless underdog, Ariel Sharon as a man of peace, and the Palestinians as unwilling to negotiate in good faith.

Perhaps that’s how it looked to Kerry-upside down, at an altitude of 12,000 feet-but a modest survey from the ground reveals facts the Senator has chosen to ignore.

A Kerry policy statement on the Middle East reads: "progress toward peace cannot be made against a backdrop of terrorism and violence." Yet in a speech at Georgetown University, Kerry stated that Palestinians, alone, "must stop the violence-this is the fundamental building block of the peace process." No mention was made of al-nakba, Israel’s forced dispossession of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, or of the illegal occupation under which Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza have lived since 1967-even though these are the hooks, as it were, from which Kerry’s "backdrop" hangs.

Also unacknowledged are Israel’s acts of everyday violence, from house demolitions-8000 since 1967-to homicide. (Israeli human rights group B’tselem notes that for the 488 Israelis killed within Israel by Palestinians during this second intifada, Israel has killed 2,649 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.) And, despite the scandal at Abu Ghraib, Kerry remains silent on a report from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which concluded that "violence, painful tying, humiliations and many other forms of ill-treatment, including detention under inhuman conditions, are a matter of course" for Palestinians in Israeli custody.

Kerry merely suggests Israel, and its Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, take "steps to alleviate hardships on the Palestinian people," as if these hardships were the result of a tornado or flood and not an intended consequence of the occupation itself.

Historically, Sharon has shown little concern for the suffering of others. In October 1953, for instance, he led a special operations group, Unit 101, in a massacre of approximately 70 civilians in the Jordanian village of Qibya. The act earned the "strongest censure" from the U.N. Security Council, and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett complained that Sharon had "exposed us in front of the whole world as a gang of blood-suckers."

Twenty-nine years later, Israeli Defense Forces-then under Sharon’s command-allowed militiamen, armed by and allied with Israel, to enter Sabra and Shatila, two refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut. Some 800 civilians were slaughtered, with the victims, according to Human Rights Watch, comprising "infants, children, women (including pregnant women), and the elderly, some of whom were mutilated or disemboweled before or after they were killed." Israel’s Kahan Commission concluded Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for the carnage, and it recommended his dismissal as Minister of Defense.

Israeli journalist Uri Avnery insists: "Even a child understands that hugging Sharon means throwing the peace process into the dustbin." Kerry, however, coddles the statesman while blaming the process’s failures on Yasser Arafat. He ignores the PLO’s remarkable concessions-from renouncing terrorism to recognizing Israel and its right to exist-and focuses instead on Arafat’s rejection of what Kerry deemed "an extraordinary deal" at Camp David in 2000.

According to media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the so-called Generous Offer "would have permanently locked in place many of the worst aspects of the very occupation [Palestinians] were trying to bring to an end." Israel would have annexed "strategically important and highly valuable" sections of the West Bank, including most of the area’s aquifers, and retained "security control" over other areas, making it "impossible for the Palestinians to travel or trade freely within their own state without the permission of the Israeli government." (An annotated map can be found at: http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives/offers.doc.) As Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel’s General Security Service, told Le Monde: "’We have been generous and they have refused!’ is ridiculous, and everything that follows from that perception is skewed."

Kerry’s misperceptions have led him to adopt policies identical to the incumbent’s. Both he and George W. Bush support Sharon’s unilateral "Disengagement Plan," allotting large West Bank settlement blocs to Israel in perpetuity. Each has endorsed the "isolation" of an allegedly intransigent Arafat. And together they have upended decades of foreign policy precedent by proclaiming the Palestinian "right of return" to be, in Kerry’s words, a "non-starter."

Whether this reflects Israeli opinion is an open question. A poll conducted in 2003 by Tel Aviv’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies revealed "a rise in support for conciliatory measures" among Israelis, with 56% of those polled supporting the abandonment of all settlements. But Israel’s unyielding minority continues to receive Washington’s bipartisan support. Little wonder, then, that 68% of the poll’s respondents were against any solution imposed by the United States. That’s a significant majority, yet one which Kerry obviously failed to espy on his last, loopy flight over Palestine.

KEVIN MINK is freelancer in southwestern Virginia. His novel, The Unexamined Wife Is Not Worth Leaving, will not soon be appearing under any of the imprints to which it has been submitted. He can be reached at kevjmink@yahoo.com.