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No Middle East Peace Without Justice

The Independent

So, the Palestinians will end their occupation of Israel. No more will Palestinian tanks smash their way into Haifa and Tel Aviv. No more will Palestinian F-18s bomb Israeli population centers. No more will Palestinian Apache helicopters carry out “targeted killings” — i.e., murders — of Israeli military leaders.

The Palestinians have promised to end all “acts of violence” against Israelis while Israel has promised to end all “military activity” against Palestinians. So that’s it, then. Peace in our time.

A Martian — even a well-educated Martian — would have gathered that this was the message, supposing he dropped in on the fantasy world of Sharm el-Sheikh this week. Palestinians had been committing “violence,” the Israelis carrying out “innocent” operations. Palestinian “violence” or “terror and violence” — the latter a more popular phrase since it carried the stigma of 9/11 — was now at an end.

Mahmoud Abbas, who told a close Lebanese friend this year that he wore a suit and tie so that he would look “different” from Yasser Arafat — went along with all this. Just which people were occupying the homes of which other people remained a mystery.

Silver-haired and wisdom-burdened, Abbas looked the part. We had to forget that it was this same Abbas who wrote the Oslo Accords, who in 1,000 pages failed to use — even once — the word occupation and who talked not of Israeli “withdrawal” from Palestinian territory but of “redeployment.”

At no point at Sharm el-Sheikh did anyone mention occupation. Like sex, occupation had to be censored out of the historical narrative. As usual — as in Oslo — the real issues were put back to a later date. Refugees, the “right of return,” East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital: Let’s deal with them later.

Never before have we been in such need of the caustic voice of the late Edward Said. Settlements — Jewish colonies for Jews, and Jews only, on Arab land — were not, of course, discussed. Nor was East Jerusalem.

Nor was the “right of return” of 1948 refugees. These are the “unrealistic dreams” that were referred to by the Israelis.

All this will be discussed “later” — as they were supposed to be in Abbas’ hopeless Oslo agreement. As long as you can postpone the real causes of war, that’s OK. “An end to violence,” that has cost 4,000 deaths — it was all said, minus the all-important equation that two-thirds of these were Palestinian lives. Peace, peace, peace. It was like terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. It was the sort of stuff you could buy off a supermarket shelf. If only.

At the end of the day the issues were these. Will the Israelis close down their massive settlements in the West Bank, including those that surround Jerusalem? No mention of this. Will they end the expansion of Jewish settlements — for Jews, and Jews only, across the Palestinian West Bank? No mention of this. Will they allow the Palestinians to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem? No mention of this. Will the Palestinians truly end their intifada — including their murderous suicide bombings — as a result of these non-existent promises?

Like the Iraqi elections, which were also held under foreign occupation, the Israeli-Palestinian talks were historic because they were “historic.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “warned” Palestinians they must “control violence” but there was, as usual, no request to “control” the violence of the Israeli army.

Because the sine qua non of the equation was that the Palestinians were guilty. That the Palestinians were the “violent” party — hence the admonition that the Palestinians must end “violence” while the Israelis would merely end “operations.” The Palestinians, it seems, are generically violent. The Israelis generically law-abiding; the latter carry out “operations.” Mahmoud Abbas went along with this nonsense.

It was all too clear in the reporting. What was on offer, said CNN, was “an end to all violence” — as if occupation and illegal colonization was not a form of violence. The Associated Press talked gutlessly about “towns that, for now, continue to be under Israeli security control” — in other words, under Israeli occupation, although they would not tell their readers this.

So Mahmoud Abbas is going to be the Hamid Karzai of Palestine, his tie the equivalent of Karzai’s green gown, “our” new man in Palestine, the “tsunami” that has washed away the contamination of Arafat, whose grave Rice managed to avoid. But the tank-traps remain: East Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and the “right of return” of 1948 Palestinians to the homes they lost.

If we are going to clap our hands like the Sharm El-Sheikh “peacemakers,” we’d better realize that unless we are going to resolve these great issues of injustice now, this new act of “peacemaking” will prove to be as bloody as Oslo. Ask Mahmoud Abbas. He was the author of that first fatal agreement.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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