Friday, July 14, 2006


Does Olmert Want a Palestinian State?
By Thomas Riggins, PA Book Review Editor

The answer would seem to be no based on the information I ran across in Amos Elon’s “What Does Olmert Want?”, a wide ranging reflection on the book THE ACCIDENTAL EMPIRE: ISRAEL AND THE BIRTH OF THE SETTLEMENTS, 1967-1977 by Gershom Gorenberg (New York Review of Books, 6/22/06). I must admit, however, that I don’t understand the title of the book as Elon writes that “Gorenberg’s documentation shows” that Israel’s little “mini-empire” set up in the occupied territories “was the result of deliberate decisions by Israeli governments of the left and the right.” So, what is “accidental” about it. The reviewer doesn’t tell us.

What he does tell us is that the current Olmert government is weak. I should note this article was actually composed in May and thus before the current criminal aggression against the Palestinian people that Olmert has launched by his attack on Gaza. His government is weak because it won only 29 of the 41 Knesset seats it expected so he is forced to ally his Kadima party (the new party Sharon formed when he left the ultra-right Likud) with smaller groupings, including some way out "religious" parties that don't share his agenda.

The right wing in Israel seems to be losing steam in general. Benjamin Netanyahu, the new Likud leader, lost two thirds of his support in the recent elections, Elon reports. Netanyahu (it should be Netan-yahoo) is a vicious racist when it comes to the Palestinians so it is good news to read that his "political future now seems dubious."

Elon was encouraged by Olmert's first few weeks in power because he "stopped the process of reflexively administering vengeance. He resisted the wild talk of 'punishing' the new Hamas government in Gaza for the continued firing of ineffective, homemade, primitive Kassam rockets from Gaza in the direction of Israel." Please note that these "ineffective" rockets "land in open fields and cause little damage." Olmert has, however, as we now see, thrown caution to the winds and himself engages in "wild talk" using his American financed and modern sophisticated military machine to brutalize the Palestinian people and subject them to the good old German practice of collective punishment in retaliation for the actions of a few resistance fighters.

So does Olmert really want peace? It would seem not. While he and Bush, as well as the EU whine about the Hamas election victory, he refuses to deal with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling him an ineffective peace partner. First it was Arafat that Israel couldn't deal with, now it is Abbas ("who keeps inviting Israel to renew peace talks.") It appears that no Palestinian leader would be acceptable because Olmert actually wants to impose a unilateral Israeli settlement. This is because he has no intention of returning Israel to its 1967 borders and has every intention of holding on to illegally occupied Palestinian land

There are three big problems that Olmert faces with this plan, according to Elon. They are his lack of a parliamentary majority, the refusal of the Palestinians to go along with it, and, finally, the new wall he is completing to cut off Israel from any contact with the Palestinians that will isolate 200,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem "from their relatives, their natural hinterland, their universities, public institutions, businesses, workshops, and property. Tens os thousands of other Palestinians on either side of the wall will be cut off from their orange and olive groves and their fields." The Jewish state, Elton writes, behind this enormous 759 kilometer wall will be "one enormous bunker."

The wall, in fact, will encompass Israeli settlements taking up much of the West Bank to such an extent that it will "cut the West Bank into at least two enclaves." This will have the practical consequence of making a viable Palestinian state impossible. The Israeli policies also have deep racist undertones smacking of "ethnic cleansing." For example, in so-called "Greater Jerusalem"-- i.e., Israeli West Jerusalem plus Palestinian East Jerusalem (illegally annexed) plus some additional suburbs, the treatment of the Arabs by the the Zionist government is markedly different than that of Israelis-- treatment based on "race". For example the Arabs were "encouraged to emigrate and later prevented from buying apartments in the new Israeli suburbs. Americans are quite familiar with this practice of keeping minority people out of "white" neighborhoods.

In addition, the Israeli parts of town are maintained by the Zionist government at the highest levels of contemporary urban development-- clean, good streets, gardens and parks, etc. How are areas where the Arabs live looked after? "Many are sadly run down," Elon writes. "Mountains of garbage lie on the street, there are potholes everywhere, no sidewalks, no proper streetlights, and no parks, as there are on the Jewish side. An open sewer runs through muddy streets." This is absolutely the result of racist Zionist attitudes. Our own experience, as Americans, with such racist attitudes should tell us that there can be no justice for the Palestinians while such inhumane racist practices continue. Unfortunately, the US government is itself racist and, as the main support of Israel, won't do much to chanege this situation.

The Israeli game plan is to make life so unlivable for the Palestinians that there will be a mass exodus from Israeli controlled territory. The whole of East Jerusalem and other former Arab communities have been so infiltrated by Israeli communities that it is now impossible to give to the Palestinians any connected land that they could live on as a separate people.
In other words, the final disposition of the status of East Jerusalem has already been decided "on the ground." Elton writes, "Large pockets of Israeli suburbs are surrounded by by larger Palestinian residential neighborhoods, and vice versa. It is difficult to see how these interlocked areas can be disentangled and redivided." The next step will be ethnic cleansing.

Israel has known since 1967 that its practices violated international law having been warned even by the US as well as by many others including the former legal advisor to the Israeli foreign ministry who, as Elon reports, went on to become a judge at the International Court in The Hague. The policies were carried out anyway and are still being carried out. It is Abbas, as it was Arafat before him, who cannot find a partner for peace.

What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is so outrageous that Elon has to compare it to the US's treatment of the American Indians in order for us to gain some perspective. He refers to Stuart Banner's How The Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier (Harvard University Press, 2005) and tells us that large areas of the West Bank "seized for alleged 'security' reasons ended up as Israeli civilian settlements." Elon points out that the Indians too "lost much of their land largely because of a continuing divergence between law and practice." This is a roundabout way of saying that the actions of the Zionist government not only violate international law, but also domestic Israeli law as well. As Americans well know, there is one law for the white man and another for everyone else. It is amazing that Israel ( and its enabler the US) thinks it can ultimately get away with treating the Palestinians the way the American Indians were treated. Does Olmert think Hamas will be satisfied with having casinos in the two West Bank enclaves left over from his wall building?

The right-wing made a big stink when the UN correctly classified Zionism as a form of racism. With the collapse of the socialist world the racists were able to get this classification rescinded. But, ask yourself if the following is racist or not. "Almost everywhere [on the West Bank] Elon writes, "there are completely separate road networks: one network for Israelis only, and another for Palestinians, with tunnels and overpasses enabling Israeli commuters to reach Jerusalem or Tel Aviv without meeting-- or often seeing-- a single Palestinian." Needless to say the Israeli road network is kept in excellent condition while the Palestinian one is "often old and full of potholes." Separate but not equal.

Just as the KKK and Jim Crow southerners treated Black folk in the South, so do many Israeli settlers, especially the younger yahoo "religious" nationalist Zionist types in the smaller settlements spread out in the West Bank treat the Palestinians. This type of behavior is officially condemned but is, in practice, condoned by the Israeli government the same way racism was officially condoned (and still is if truth be told) in the US.

These small settlements "are frequently populated by violent, heavily armed young men [the word is 'thugs'] who often harass the neighboring Palestinian farmers to make them move away. In many cases farmers have been beaten and their huts burned," Elon writes.

There can be no doubt that the whole region is being continually destabilized, primarily due to the policies of Israel and the US which ultimately foots the bill. Elon does hold, however, that the US "has different priorities from those of Israel." That is to say the US wants to halt the "spread of chaos in the West Bank and Gaza." Israel wants to keep large areas of the West Bank as parts of Israel. Since Israel can't do diddley-squat without US money, the US priorities can't be that different from those of the Zionists. Elon concludes that "With terror [ he makes no differentiation between "terror" and "resistance"] bound to continue, Israel's situation remains precarious, and that of the walled-in Palestinians becomes darker than ever." Is this not a formula for disaster? It all comes from one thing. The refusal of Israel to leave the West Bank which it seized in 1967. As long as Israel will not give back this stolen territory and continues to inflict racial policies of discrimination and oppression on the people of Palestine there will be no peace in the area. The ball is in Olmert's court. He can have peace whenever he wants it .

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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