was a darker Middle East summit meeting. The darkest there can
leaders at Sharm al-Sheik in June 2007 did not sit together at
an intimate round table. Each one sat alone behind a huge table
of his own. That ensured a striking separation between them. The
four long tables hardly touched. Each one of the leaders, with
his assistants behind him, sat like a solitary island in a vast
- Hosni Mubarak, King Abdallah of Jordan, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud
Abbas - bore a severe countenance. Throughout the official part
of the conference, not a single smile could be seen.
the other, the four delivered their monologues. An exercise in
shallow hypocrisy, in empty deceit. Not one of the four raised
himself above the murky puddle of sanctimonious phrases.
A short monologue
from Mubarak. A short monologue from Abdallah. A medium-length
monologue from Abbas. An interminably long monologue from Olmert
- a typical Israeli speech, overbearing, educating the whole world,
sermonizing and dripping with morality. Held, of course, in Hebrew,
with the obvious aim of appealing to the home public.
included all the required phrases - Our soul longs for peace,
The vision of two states, We do not want to rule over another
people, For the good of coming generations, bla-bla-bla. All in
standard colonial style: Olmert even talked about "Judea and Samaria",
using the official terminology of the occupation.
But in order
to "strengthen" Abbas, Olmert addressed him as "President" and
not as "Chairman", which has been the de rigueur title used by
all Israeli representatives since the establishment of the Palestinian
Authority. (The wise men of Oslo circumvented this difficulty
by referring - in all three languages - to the head of the Authority
by the Arab title of Ra'is, which can mean both president and
And the word
that did not appear throughout this long monologue?
* * *
What occupation? Where occupation? Anybody seen any occupation?
was not on the agenda of this dark summit. Even in their wildest
dreams, the Arab participants could not imagine anything more
wonderful than "easing the restrictions". Making life a little
bit less difficult for the suffering population. Giving back the
Palestinian tax revenues. (That is to say, Israel may give back
some of the money it has pocketed.) Moving some of the roadblocks
that prevent people from going from one village to the next. (That
has already been promised many times and will not happen this
time either, because the army and the Shin Bet object. Olmert
has already announced that it is impossible for "security reasons".)
air of a Sultan throwing coins to the paupers in the street, Olmert
announced his intention of releasing some Fatah prisoners. 250
coins, 250 prisoners. That was the "generous gift" that was to
make the Palestinians jump for joy, "strengthen" Abbas and awaken
to new life the dry bones of his organization.
had not been sitting so far away from Abbas, he could just as
well have spat in his face.
occupation was not on the
agenda of this dark summit.
Even in their wildest dreams,
the Arab participants could not
imagine anything more wonderful
than "easing the restrictions".
Making life a little bit less difficult
for the suffering population.
all, the number is ridiculous. There are now about 10,000 (ten
thousand) Palestinian "security" prisoners in Israeli prisons.
Every night, about a dozen more are being taken from their homes.
Since there is no more room in the prison facilities, the wardens
will be pleased to get rid of some inmates. In previous gestures
of this nature, the Israeli government has set free prisoners
whose term was nearing the end anyhow, and car thieves.
between Fatah and Hamas is well established in prison. The violent
struggle in Gaza has not been projected into the prisons. The
famous "prisoners' document", which laid the foundation for the
(now defunct) Unity Government, was worked out jointly by Fatah
and Hamas prisoners.
announcement of his readiness to release Fatah - and only Fatah
- prisoners is designed to sabotage this unity. It could stigmatize
the Fatah people as collaborators, and Abbas as a leader who is
concerned only with the members of his own organization, not giving
a damn for the others.
sign over the table says "Sharm-Al-Sheikh summit," and the legs
of the table are labeled "Abbas government," "Israel," "Egypt,"
and "Jordan." The figure lying on the ground is labeled "Hamas."
This graphic appeared in the Akhbar Al-Khalij (Bahrain) on June
* * *
SO WHAT did
come out of this summit conference? Some say: zero plus, some
say: zero minus. No wonder that the Arab participants looked so
it good for? Abbas was in need of strengthening after losing the
Gaza Strip. Olmert promised the Americans to strengthen him. But
after the conference, Olmert could have used the phrase customarily
uttered by Israeli leaders visiting bereaved families: "I came
to strengthen, but it is I who have been strengthened."
winner was Olmert. The conference has proved that Mubarak's and
Abdallah's influence on Israel is nil, and that Abbas' position
is even worse.
any doubt about this, Olmert sent the army at once into the kasbah
of Nablus, the heart of Abbas' virtual kingdom, in order to "arrest"
the leaders of the military arm of Fatah. They put up determined
resistance, wounding several soldiers. A lieutenant lost a hand
and a leg. In another incursion, this time into Gaza, 13 Palestinians
were killed, including a boy of nine. According to the official
version, the aim was to throw the militants off balance so that
they would feel hunted.
If this is
not occupation, what is it? But God forbid that anyone mention
this word in diplomatic discourse - the ten letters that have
turned into an obscenity. A ten-letter word that has become taboo
in polite society.
* * *
of the occupation as a subject for discussion is the real message
of the conference. All the arrangements and ceremonies were designed
to create the false impression that Olmert and Abbas were the
heads of two states conducting negotiations on the basis of equality
- rather than the leader of an occupying power and a representative
of the occupied population.
That is true
for all the discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at
this stage: the world has become so used to the occupation that
its very existence has ceased to be a subject for discussion.
That is also
evident in the daily reporting on the conflict in the Israeli
and foreign media. They report on what's happening - the Gaza
take-over by Hamas, the actions of the Israeli army, the problems
of Abbas, the decisions of the Israeli government - without the
context of the occupation. As if the occupation, with all its
killing, destroying, depriving and dispossessing, were a natural
phenomenon like the light of the sun during the day or the twinkling
of the stars at night.
many subjects that are being discussed, such as: whether to ease
the situation of the Palestinians or to increase their misery,
whether to allow Abbas' policemen to move freely with their weapons
in the West Bank towns to try and eliminate the militias that
fight against Israel, whether to enlarge the settlements or not.
But all these discussions are based on the unquestioned assumption
that the occupation is there forever.
All the talk
about "strengthening" is conducted in this context: Abbas and
his people are supposed to function as an administration under
occupation. According to Olmert's and Bush's perception, their
job is to fulfill the orders of the occupation, in return for
their own money and perhaps some small arms. Incidentally, that
is very similar to the "autonomy" promised by Menachem Begin to
the "Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District".
Olmert is quite ready to talk about the "Two-State Solution" -
much talk, with a lot of bloated words and pathos - while doing
everything possible in practice to prevent this "vision" from
being realized before the coming of the Messiah.
* * *
reality Tony Blair is now stepping.
He is being
sent by the Quartet - something that does not really exist, a
diplomatic fiction of four that are one.
not exist as far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned,
except as a financial instrument of the White House. When the
President of the USA wants it, Europe sends alms to the Palestinians
(and arms to Israel). When the President of the USA wants to starve
the Palestinians, Europe imposes a blockade on them.
what is Blair's appointment for?
Is it only to give some status
to a redundant international star?
To give a consolation prize to
somebody who loyally lied and
cheated for Bush before and
during the Iraq war?
The UN has
long ago become an instrument of the US Department of State, especially
in the Middle East. When the American drill sergeant shouts, the
UN jumps to attention or stands at ease.
of regaining the status of a Great Power. As in the days of the
Czars and Stalin, it thinks in terms of "spheres of influence".
The Middle East is an American sphere of influence. Therefore,
Russia will not interfere, except by mouthing high-sounding phrases.
is simply an American front organization. And Tony Blair is sent
to Palestine as a special envoy of President Bush. The master
sends his poodle.
If Bush really wanted to realize his "Vision" of two states, he
wouldn't need Blair. He could do it all alone in a matter of weeks.
Even poor Condoleezza could do it, instead of babbling about preparing
final-status plans and pigeon holing them, if only she were backed
by the determined will of the President.
So what is
Blair's appointment for? Is it only to give some status to a redundant
international star? To give a consolation prize to somebody who
loyally lied and cheated for Bush before and during the Iraq war?
Yes, of course.
But his main task is to draw out developments and gain time, to
postpone everything, to foster make-belief activity, to provide
the Palestinians and the world media with an illusion of progress.
come, meet, make declarations, ooze charm from every pore, generate
headlines, fly, come back, make more announcements, meet again
with kings, presidents and prime ministers. A long tail of news-thirsty
journalists will follow him everywhere, generate media noise,
write, tape and take pictures, as if he were a male Paris Hilton.
Palestinians and Israelis will keep dying, the wall will be finished,
more land will be expropriated, settlements will be enlarged,
targeted "terrorists" will be killed, the blockade on Gaza will
be tightened, and all the hundred and one daily activities of
the occupation will go on, the occupation that dares not speak
task of Blair, too, is to "strengthen Abbas". Woe to the task.
Woe to Blair. Woe in particular to Abbas.
The above article is published by Gush Shalom.
by Uri Avnery:
Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.
He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices
of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's
hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Those who want
to help out Gush Shalom can email firstname.lastname@example.org
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