[News] Can the Arab World be Turned into Gaza's Jailers?

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Tue Jun 26 12:11:47 EDT 2007


http://www.counterpunch.org/

June 26, 2007


Can the Arab World be Turned into Gaza's Jailers?


Divide and Rule, Israeli-Style

By JONATHAN COOK

Nazareth.

The boycott by Israel and the international community of the 
Palestinian Authority finally blew up in their faces with Hamas' 
recent bloody takeover of Gaza. Or so argues Gideon Levy, one of the 
saner voices still to be found in Israel. "Starving, drying up and 
blocking aid do not sear the consciousness and do not weaken 
political movements. On the contrary Reality has refuted the chorus 
of experts and commentators who preached [on] behalf of the boycott 
policy. This daft notion that it is possible to topple an elected 
government by applying pressure on a helpless population suffered a 
complete failure."

But has Levy got it wrong? The faces of Israeli and American 
politicians, including Ehud Olmert and George Bush, appear soot-free. 
On the contrary. Over the past fortnight they have been looking and 
sounding even more smug than usual.

The problem with Levy's analysis is that it assumes that Israel and 
the US wanted sanctions to bring about the fall of Hamas, either by 
giving Fatah the upper hand so that it could deal a knockout blow to 
the Palestinian government, or by inciting ordinary Palestinians to 
rise up and demand that their earlier electoral decision be reversed 
and Fatah reinstalled. In short, Levy, like most observers, assumes 
that the policy was designed to enforce regime change.

But what if that was not the point of the sanctions? And if so, what 
goals were Israel and the US pursuing?

The parallels between Iraq and Gaza may be instructive. After all, 
Iraq is the West's only other recent experiment in imposing sanctions 
to starve a nation. And we all know where it led: to an even deeper 
entrenchment of Saddam Hussein's rule.

True, the circumstances in Iraq and Gaza are different: most Iraqis 
wanted Saddam out but had no way to effect change, while most Gazans 
wanted Hamas in and made it happen by voting for them in last year's 
elections. <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745325556/counterpunchmaga>
[]
Nevertheless, it may be that the US and Israel drew a different 
lesson from the sanctions experience in Iraq.

Whether intended or not, sanctions proved a very effective tool for 
destroying the internal bonds that held Iraqi society together. 
Destitution and hunger are powerful incentives to turn on one's 
neighbour as well as one's enemy. A society where resources -- food, 
medicines, water and electricity -- are in short supply is also a 
society where everyone looks out for himself. It is a society that, 
with a little prompting, can easily be made to tear itself apart.

And that is precisely what the Americans began to engineer after 
their "shock and awe' invasion of 2003. Contrary to previous US 
interventions abroad, Saddam was not toppled and replaced with 
another strongman -- one more to the West's liking. Instead of regime 
change, we were given regime overthrow. Or as Daniel Pipes, one of 
the neoconservative ideologues of the attack on Iraq, expressed it, 
the goal was "limited to destroying tyranny, not sponsoring its 
replacement Fixing Iraq is neither the coalition's responsibility nor 
its burden."

In place of Saddam, the Americans created a safe haven known as the 
Green Zone from which its occupation regime could loosely police the 
country and oversee the theft of Iraq's oil, while also sitting back 
and watching a sectarian civil war between the Sunni and Shia 
populations spiral out of control and decimate the Iraqi population.

What did Washington hope to achieve? Pipes offers a clue: "When Sunni 
terrorists target Shiites and vice-versa, non-Muslims [that is, US 
occupation forces and their allies] are less likely to be hurt. Civil 
war in Iraq, in short, would be a humanitarian tragedy but not a 
strategic one." In other words, enabling a civil war in Iraq was far 
preferable to allowing Iraqis to unite and mount an effective 
resistance to the US occupation. After all, Iraqi deaths -- at least 
650,000 of them, according to the last realistic count -- are as good 
as worthless, while US soldiers' lives cost votes back home.

For the neocon cabal behind the Iraq invasion, civil war was seen to 
have two beneficial outcomes.

First, it eroded the solidarity of ordinary Iraqis, depleting their 
energies and making them less likely to join or support the 
resistance to the occupation. The insurgency has remained a terrible 
irritation to US forces but not the fatal blow it might have been 
were the Sunni and Shia to fight side by side. As a result, the theft 
of Iraq's resources has been made easier.

And second, in the longer term, civil war is making inevitable a slow 
process of communal partition and ethnic cleansing. Four million 
Iraqis are reported to have been forced either to leave the country 
or flee their homes. Iraq is being broken up into small ethnic and 
religious fiefdoms that will be easier to manage and manipulate.

Is this the model for Gaza now and the West Bank later?

It is worth recalling that neither Israel nor the US pushed for an 
easing of the sanctions on the Palestinian Authority after the 
national unity government of Hamas and Fatah was formed earlier this 
year. In fact, the US and Israel could barely conceal their panic at 
the development. The moment the Mecca agreement was signed, reports 
of US efforts to train and arm Fatah forces loyal to President 
Mahmoud Abbas became a newspaper staple.

The cumulative effect of US support for Fatah, as well as Israel's 
continuing arrests of Hamas legislators in the West Bank, was to 
strain already tense relations between Hamas and Fatah to breaking 
point. When Hamas learnt that Abbas' security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, 
with US encouragement, was preparing to carry out a coup against them 
in Gaza, they got the first shot in.

Did Fatah really believe it could pull off a coup in Gaza, given the 
evident weakness of its forces there, or was the rumour little more 
than American and Israeli spin, designed to undermine Hamas' faith in 
Fatah and doom the unity government? Were Abbas and Dahlan really 
hoping to topple Hamas, or were they the useful idiots needed by the 
US and Israel? These are questions that may have to be settled by the 
historians.

But with the fingerprints of Elliott Abrams, one of the more durable 
neocons in the Bush administration, to be found all over this 
episode, we can surmise that what Washington and Israel are intending 
for the Palestinians will have strong echoes of what has unfolded in Iraq.

By engineering the destruction of the unity government, Israel and 
the US have ensured that there is no danger of a new Palestinian 
consensus emerging, one that might have cornered Israel into peace 
talks. A unity government might have found a formula offering Israel:

* limited recognition inside the pre-1967 borders in return for 
recognition of a Palestinian state and the territorial integrity of 
the West Bank and Gaza;

* a long-term ceasefire in return for Israel ending its campaign of 
constant violence and violations of Palestinian sovereignty;

* and a commitment to honour past agreements in return for Israel's 
abiding by UN resolutions and accepting a just solution for the 
Palestinian refugees.

After decades of Israeli bad faith, and the growing rancour between 
Fatah and Hamas, the chances of them finding common ground on which 
to make such an offer, it must be admitted, would have been slight. 
But now they are non-existent.

That is exactly how Israel wants it, because it has no interest in 
meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians or in a final agreement. 
It wants only to impose solutions that suit Israel's interests, which 
are securing the maximum amount of land for an exclusive Jewish state 
and leaving the Palestinians so weak and divided that they will never 
be able to mount a serious challenge to Israel's dictates.

Instead, Hamas' dismal authority over the prison camp called Gaza and 
Fatah's bastard governance of the ghettoes called the West Bank offer 
a model more satisfying for Israel and the US -- and one not unlike 
Iraq. A sort of sheriff's divide and rule in the Wild West.

Just as in Iraq, Israel and the US have made sure that no Palestinian 
strongman arises to replace Yasser Arafat. Just as in Iraq, they are 
encouraging civil war as an alternative to resistance to occupation, 
as Palestine's resources -- land, not oil -- are stolen. Just as in 
Iraq, they are causing a permanent and irreversible partition, in 
this case between the West Bank and Gaza, to create more easily 
managed territorial ghettoes. And just as in Iraq, the likely 
reaction is an even greater extremism from the Palestinians that will 
undermine their cause in the eyes of the international community.

Where will this lead the Palestinians next?

Israel is already pulling the strings of Fatah with a new adeptness 
since the latter's humiliation in Gaza. Abbas is currently basking in 
Israeli munificence for his rogue West Bank regime, including the 
decision to release a substantial chunk of the $700 million tax 
monies owed to the Palestinians (including those of Gaza, of course) 
and withheld for years by Israel. The price, according to the Israeli 
media, was a commitment from Abbas not to contemplate re-entering a 
unity government with Hamas.

The goal will be to increase the strains between Hamas and Fatah to 
breaking point in the West Bank, but ensure that Fatah wins the 
confrontation there. Fatah is already militarily stronger and with 
generous patronage from Israel and the US -- including arms and 
training, and possibly the return fo the Badr Brigade currently holed 
up in Jordan -- it should be able to rout Hamas. The difference in 
status between Gaza and the West Bank that has been long desired by 
Israel will be complete.

The Palestinian people have already been carved up into a multitude 
of constituencies. There are the Palestinians under occupation, those 
living as second-class citizens of Israel, those allowed to remain 
"residents" of Jerusalem, and those dispersed to camps across the 
Middle East. Even within these groups, there are a host of 
sub-identities: refugees and non-refugees; refugees included as 
citizens in their host state and those excluded; occupied 
Palestinians living under the control of the Palestinian Authority 
and those under Israel's military government; and so on.

Now, Israel has entrenched maybe the most significant division of 
all: the absolute and irreversible separation of Gaza and the West 
Bank. What applies to one will no longer be true for the other. Each 
will be a separate case; their fates will no longer be tied. One will 
be, as Israelis like to call it, Hamastan, and other Fatahland, with 
separate governments and different treatment from Israel and the 
international community.

The reasons why Israel prefers this arrangement are manifold.

First, Gaza can now be written off by the international community as 
a basket case. The Israeli media is currently awash with patronising 
commentary from the political and security establishments about how 
to help avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the 
possibility of air drops of aid over the Gaza "security fence" -- as 
though Gaza were Pakistan after an earthquake. From past experience, 
and the current menacing sounds from Israel's new Defence Minister, 
Ehud Barak, those food packages will quickly turn into bombs if Gaza 
does not keep quiet.

As Israeli and US officials have been phrasing it, there is a new 
"clarity" in the situation. In a Hamastan, Gaza's militants and 
civilians can be targeted by Israel with little discrimination and no 
outcry from the international community. Israel will hope that 
message from Gaza will not be lost on West Bank Palestinians as they 
decide who to give their support to, Fatah or Hamas.

Second, at their meeting last week Olmert and Bush revived talk of 
Palestinian statehood. According to Olmert, Bush "wants to realize, 
while he is in office, the dream of creating a Palestinian state". 
Both are keen to make quick progress, a sure sign of mischief in the 
making. Certainly, they know they are now under no pressure to create 
the single viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza once 
promised by President Bush. An embattled Abbas will not be calling 
for the inclusion of Gaza in his ghetto-fiefdom.

Third, the separation of Gaza from the West Bank may be used to 
inject new life into Olmert's shopworn convergence plan -- if he can 
dress it up new clothes. Convergence, which required a very limited 
withdrawal from those areas of the West Bank heavily populated with 
Palestinians while Israel annexed most of its illegal colonies and 
kept the Jordan Valley, was officially ditched last summer after 
Israel's humiliation by Hizbullah.

Why seek to revive convergence? Because it is the key to Israel 
securing the expanded Jewish fortress state that is its only sure 
protection from the rapid demographic growth of the Palestinians, 
soon to outnumber Jews in the Holy Land, and Israel's fears that it 
may then be compared to apartheid South Africa.

If the occupation continues unchanged, Israel's security 
establishment has long been warning, the Palestinians will eventually 
wake up to the only practical response: to dissolve the Palestinian 
Authority, Israel's clever ruse to make the Palestinian leadership 
responsible for suppressing Palestinian resistance to the occupation, 
thereby forcing Israel to pick up the bill for the occupation rather 
than Europe. The next stage would be an anti-apartheid struggle for 
one state in historic Palestine.

For this reason, demographic separation from the Palestinians has 
been the logic of every major Israeli policy initiative since -- and 
including -- Oslo. Convergence requires no loss of Israel's control 
over Palestinian lives, ensured through the all but finished grid of 
walls, settlements, bypass roads and checkpoints, only a repackaging 
of their occupation as statehood.

The biggest objection in Israel to Olmert's plan -- as well as to the 
related Gaza disengagement -- was the concern that, once the army had 
unilaterally withdrawn from the Palestinian ghettoes, the 
Palestinians would be free to launch terror attacks, including 
sending rockets out of their prisons into Israel. Most Israelis, of 
course, never consider the role of the occupation in prompting such attacks.

But Olmert may believe he has found a way to silence his domestic 
critics. For the first time he seems genuinely keen to get his Arab 
neighbours involved in the establishment of a Palestinian "state". As 
he headed off to the Sharm el-Sheikh summit with Egypt, Jordan and 
Abbas this week, Olmert said he wanted to "jointly work to create the 
platform that may lead to a new beginning between us and the Palestinians".

Did he mean partnership? A source in the Prime Minister's Office 
explained to the Jerusalem Post why the three nations and Abbas were 
meeting. "These are the four parties directly impacted by what is 
happening right now, and what is needed is a different level of 
cooperation between them." Another spokesman bewailed the failure so 
far to get the Saudis on board.

This appears to mark a sea change in Israeli thinking. Until now Tel 
Aviv has regarded the Palestinians as a domestic problem -- after 
all, they are sitting on land that rightfully, at least if the Bible 
is to be believed, belongs to the Jews. Any attempt at 
internationalising the conflict has therefore been strenuously resisted.

But now the Israeli Prime Minister's Office is talking openly about 
getting the Arab world more directly involved, not only in its usual 
role as a mediator with the Palestinians, nor even in simply securing 
the borders against smuggling, but also in policing the territories. 
Israel hopes that Egypt, in particular, is as concerned as Tel Aviv 
by the emergence of a Hamastan on its borders, and may be enticed to 
use the same repressive policies against Gaza's Islamists as it does 
against its own.

Similarly, Olmert's chief political rival, Binyamin Netanyahu of 
Likud, has mentioned not only Egyptian involvement in Gaza but even a 
Jordanian military presence in the West Bank. The "moderate" Arab 
regimes, as Washington likes to call them, are being seen as the key 
to developing new ideas about Palestinian "autonomy" and regional 
"confederation". As long as Israel has a quisling in the West Bank 
and a beyond-the-pale government in Gaza, it may believe it can 
corner the Arab world into backing such a "peace plan".

What will it mean in practice? Possibly, as Zvi Barel of Haaretz 
speculates, we will see the emergence of half a dozen Palestinian 
governments in charge of the ghettoes of Gaza, Ramallah, Jenin, 
Jericho, and Hebron. Each may be encouraged to compete for patronage 
and aid from the "moderate" Arab regimes but on condition that Israel 
and the US are satisfied with these Palestinian governments' performance.

In other words, Israel looks as if it is dusting off yet another 
blueprint for how to manage the Palestinians and their irritating 
obsession with sovereignty. Last time, under Oslo, the Palestinians 
were put in charge of policing the occupation on Israel's behalf. 
This time, as the Palestinians are sealed into their separate prisons 
masquerading as a state, Israel may believe that it can find a new 
jailer for the Palestinians -- the Arab world.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
He is the author of the forthcoming 
"<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745325556/counterpunchmaga>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 
<http://www.jkcook.net/>www.jkcook.net




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