Deporting Hamas Members of Parliament

The policy of “hitnatkut”, or unilateral disengagement, developed by Ariel Sharon needed a swift facelift following the withdrawal of settlers from Gaza last year. And Israel’s prime minister-designate, Ehud Olmert, has found it in the related concept of “hitkansut”, variously translated as “convergence”, “consolidation” and “ingathering”.

After all, Olmert could hardly campaign convincingly for a West Bank disengagement when it was clear Jewish settlers and soldiers would continue occupying a significant proportion of Palestinian land at the withdrawal’s end. So convergence is usefully, and misleadingly, supplanting disengagement.

Many critics of Israel assume convergence is simply jargon disguising the government’s intention illegally to annex swaths of West Bank territory. The grand land theft will be sold to the world as a painful withdrawal of Jewish settlers, even if the great majority (probably 80 per cent) are left in place and only the most remote settlements are dismantled.

But events this week suggest that the principle of hitkansut will have a far wider application than just to the West Bank settlement blocs, with results even more sinister than many had anticipated. Olmert’s consolidation, it is becoming clear, will embrace Palestinians too.

The shape of things to come was hinted at this week in the wake of Monday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv by the small militant group Islamic Jihad. Rather than approving the usual indiscriminate military strikes against Palestinian population centres that characterised the Sharon era, Olmert pursued a low-key, but no less disturbing, response.

He revoked the rights of three Hamas MPs and a Palestinian cabinet minister, Mahmoud Abu Tir, to reside in Jerusalem. The intention is to deport them to the West Bank, behind the separation wall Israel is hastily completing, where they will lose all the rights they currently enjoy to live and work inside Jerusalem and Israel.

Apparently Israel is considering extending this punishment to other members of Hamas in Jerusalem and possibly anyone working for the Palestinian Authority.

Once upon a time, back in the 1970s and 1980s, Israel would regularly dump hundreds of Palestinian political activists at a time across the border in Lebanon. Now the border will be, more conveniently, much closer to hand: just a stone’s throw from the centre of Jerusalem.

What are the grounds for the deportations? The official reason is the failure of Hamas to denounce the suicide bombing. Olmert told an emergency meeting of the cabinet: “Any member of a government involved in terrorism should not be granted any immunity in the form of his Israeli residency identification.”

Let’s ignore Olmert’s gratuitous extension of the meaning of the word “terrorism”, and concentrate instead on the extent of his chutzpah. Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six-Day war of 1967 and later annexed the Palestinian half of the city and its inhabitants to Israel in violation of international law.

Now Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem and a man well-versed in underhand manoeuvres in the holy city, is expelling Palestinians from East Jerusalem on the grounds that he doesn’t like their politics.

Foreign minister Tzipi Livni observed that Israel had the right to revoke the residency of whomever it deemed disloyal to Israel. In other words, Olmert and his cronies are behaving as though Palestinian residency in Jerusalem is a right conferred by Israel ­ as though Palestinians are immigrants rather than the city’s indigenous inhabitants living under an illegal and increasingly vicious occupation.

Of course, Israel’s approach towards East Jerusalem and its residents is not new, though the degree of brazen cheek in Israel’s singling out of Palestinian public figures for this treatment, and Olmert’s happy courting of publicity over the abuse of their rights, is.

Despite the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel, Palestinians living there do not have Israeli citizenship. Instead, they are classified as “permanent residents”, without voting rights or Israeli passports. Theoretically, their residency offers them rights of free movement inside Jerusalem and Israel, unlike West Bankers who since Oslo have been confined by curfews, checkpoints and now the wall.

But in practice, as the deportations prove, “permanent residency” is not necessarily so permanent. Israel has for some time been narrowing the terms of who qualifies for residency in Jerusalem: Palestinians who study or work abroad often find they are not entitled to return to the city; the recent revoking of family unification means many spouses and children of East Jerusalem residents are facing deportation; and the arbitrary route of the wall across East Jerusalem is putting some residents on the wrong side, making it all but impossible for them to reach jobs, shops, schools and hospitals in the city centre.

The reason for these measures and others by Israel ­ such as planning rules that make it almost impossible for East Jerusalemites to build homes to cope with their natural population growth; and the abuse of their rights to vote in Palestinian elections ­ is clear.

The hope is that under such relentless pressure most Palestinians will leave Jeruslem and seek residence in the West Bank, where they will have even less rights to withstand Israeli abuses and where they will pose far less of a demographic threat to an expanded Israeli state’s “Jewishness”.

But this week’s deportation of Palestinian MPs who refuse to toe the Israeli line reveals yet another layer of Israel’s plan. What Olmert hopes to achieve with “hitkansut” is not only consolidating the inclusion of Jewish settlers inside the expanded borders of the new Jewish state but also consolidating the exclusion of Palestinians who currently enjoy residency in territory coveted by Israel: namely East Jerusalem. While Olmert will be busy “ingathering” the settlers, he will also be busy “outgathering” Palestinians from Jerusalem.

However, unlike Olmert’s plans for the consolidation of Jews, who will be gathered into a single, expanded Jewish state, Israel clearly has different vision of consolidation for the Palestinians ­ despite Sharon’s weasly words to the United Nations last year about wanting to create a Palestinian state on the land left after the limited withdrawal from the West Bank.

Given the nature of the Jewish settlement blocs left after “hitkansut” ­ their fingers penetrating deep into the West Bank at strategic points ­ Palestinian land will be separated into a series of ghettoes, isolated and cut off one from the next.

In Olmert’s consolidation plan, Jerusalem will be turned into a ghetto comprising only those Palestinians prepared to have no contact with or offer no support to the rest of their people, including their own elected representatives.

The West Bank, meanwhile, will be consolidated into a series of small ghettoes, based on the main cities, filled with Palestinians whose rights can be trampled on by Israel at will. And finally Gaza will be consolidated into yet another ghetto, disconnected from Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Palestinian politics, whether of the Fatah or Hamas variety, will be meaningless in such an environment. It is not hard to predict the response: the year-long Hamas ceasefire will be strained beyond breaking point. Terrorism ­ human bombs or home-made Qassam rockets ­ will be the only answer for Palestinians who want to resist the arm’s-length occupation. That may suit Israel, offering it yet more excuses ­ in reply to the “terror” ­ to further “consolidate” the Palestinian population into smaller, more tightly controlled ghettoes.

At the same Israeli cabinet meeting at which the deportations of the Hamas MPs were agreed, ministers discussed changing the classification of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government, from a “hostile entity” to the harsher status of an “enemy entity”. The move was rejected for the time being.

One senior official told the Israeli media why: “There are international legal implications in such a declaration, including closing off the border crossings, that we don’t want to do yet.” Not yet. But soon, when the infrastructure of imprisonment is complete.

JONATHAN COOK is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author of the forthcoming “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” published by Pluto Press, and available in the United States from the University of Michigan Press. His website is www.jkcook.net



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Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

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