Thursday 3 March 2011

Ending the Occupation

Though the recent popular uprisings continue to spread through most of the Middle East, Israel/Palestine remains, as yet, relatively calm.  Only “relatively”.  Palestinian peaceful protests continue and the Israelis continue with their brutal and violent reprisals.  And, surprise, surprise, pro-settler right wing Israelis have today attempted to block the entrance to Jerusalem in the first actions of a declared nation-wide “day of rage”, organized to protest the Israeli government’s demolition of illegal outposts in the West Bank.
This somewhat hilarious attempt by the illegal settler community to hijack the tactics of the popular uprisings in Arab countries only serves to highlight once again the centrality of the (illegal) Occupation.  For, whichever way you look at it the conflict in Israel/Palestine always comes back to the Occupation.  All the way back to 1948 and Israel’s massive land grab.  When the newly created Israeli state seized 78% of historic Palestine as opposed to the 55% they were awarded by the UN.  In the process of this land grab the Israelis forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee their ancestral homes.  Their descendants now make up the five million plus refugees who live in poverty in refugee camps throughout the Middle East.  Israel has continually refused to even contemplate the return of these refugees.  An action contrary to every tenet of International Law.
Israeli Occupation is never meant to be a temporary situation.  As can be seen to this day as Israel continues to confiscate and appropriate Palestinian land in the post 1967 Occupied West Bank.  The annexation of East Jerusalem and the always expanding and increasing number of colonies in the West Bank - all of them, every single one of them illegal - are all evidence of Israel as an expansionist colonialist state.
That Israel has no intention of ever leaving the West Bank is clear from its policies towards the Palestinians.  The whole of Israel/Palestine is one customs Union - controlled by Israel.  The only legal currency is the Israeli shekel - controlled by Israel.  The international borders of the West Bank are controlled by - Israel.  All this is part and parcel of a policy to keep the Palestinians in a state of permanent underdevelopment and totally dependent on Israel.  The construction of the illegal settlements, the Jewish only roads and the Wall are other key elements in this policy of permanent subjugation.  Along with the Apartheid Wall the Jewish only roads break up the West Bank into little Bantustan type enclaves surrounded by Jewish colonies or roads.  Though the Wall is partly designed to keep Palestinians out of Israel, a major purpose of the Wall is to keep Palestinians divided.  As Shir Hever puts it in his book on the Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation;  “ reality, Israel is surrounding Palestinians with a wall.  The proper term is not fortification, but incarceration - because the Wall is being built around Palestinian communities in the West Bank.”  Thus it is pretty clear that official Israeli policy is to permanently divide the West Bank and to make life for Palestinians as unbearable as possible and most important of all to make the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank unachievable.
Further evidence for this has recently emerged with the publication of the Palestinian Papers.  These show just far the current Palestinian leadership in the West Bank was prepared to go to meet Israeli demands.  In fact Mahmoud Abbas and Saed Erekat were willing to give Israel almost everything the Israelis wanted in terms of land.  Yet it was not enough.  And remember, this was the supposedly moderate Israeli government that refused to make any concession whatsoever.  Once again the Israelis have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Quite clearly the Israelis in refusing to even negotiate over the Palestinian proposals, demonstrated that they do not want a resolution to the conflict.  After all why should they? The current situation on the ground is just fine for almost all Israelis.  There is no violence in pre 1967 Israel and in the West Bank the peaceful protests are kept under control with a combination of army and settler violence against the peaceful protesters.  The illegal settlements continue to expand and more settlements are planned.   The Israelis control the scarce water resources, diverting them to the settlements and into Israel itself.  Economically the Palestinians form a captive market for Israeli goods.  Why give any of this up?
Unless and until the Israelis feel some kind of real pressure from the outside nothing will change.  The Palestinians could move from trying (unsuccessfully) to negotiate a rump state in the West Bank, and instead demand full Israeli citizenship including voting rights.  After all there already is one state and it is run by Israel.  If the Palestinians were to give up on the two state option and simply demand equal rights within Israeli rule that would be a game changer.  But it does not seem that a majority of Palestinians are as yet ready for such a momentous step.
The other kind of pressure that could force the Israelis to change is economic pressure from the rest of the world.  This is where the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement comes in.  Already in a few years BDS has won a series of important victories.  In Scotland and in the rest of the UK, more and more local councils are beginning to exclude Israeli companies from bidding for contracts.  The cultural and academic boycotts are also beginning to bite.  The big change will come when governments come on board.  But that will only happen when there is enough popular support for BDS.  So this is one are where individual action, if repeated by enough people, can lead to real change at government level.  So whatever you do - just refuse to buy any Israeli products.

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