Israel: Talking peace while waging war


Israel has continued to carry out rocket attacks on Gaza. On October 25, Israeli missiles killed two Palestinians, bringing the total number of Palestinians killed in two weeks by the occupation forces to more than 10.

The rocket attacks took place as the Israeli cabinet voted to cut fuel supplies and electricity to Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians. On September 19, Israel declared the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip an "enemy entity", laying the ground work for the wide-scale cutting of vital supplies to Gazans in an attempt to isolate Hamas, which took control of the region in June. The declaration is intended to circumvent international law governing the administration of an occupied territory, which makes it illegal for an occupying power to carry out collective punishment against a civilian population.

Israel's illegal campaign of collective punishment takes place just weeks prior to a US-sponsored "peace" conference scheduled at the end of November in Annapolis, Maryland. The conference is a last ditch effort by the Bush administration to save face in the Middle East in the wake of its disastrous war in Iraq. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has sought to push the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to the negotiating table.

In the past few weeks Olmert and Abbas have met at least half a dozen times but no agreement has been achieved. Israel has refused to offer any concrete promises. Instead, as the October 11 Washington Post noted, "Israel has been pressing for a vaguely worded document that would gloss over the toughest issues still outstanding — borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees".

On October 21, Olmert's coalition partners, the extreme right anti-Arab party Yisrael Beitenui led by strategic affairs minister Avigador Lieberman and the ultra-orthodox Shas party led by the industry and trade minister Eli Yishai, reiterated threat that they would quit the Olmert government if "core issues" were discussed at Annapolis.

Ten days earlier, Lieberman had told the Jerusalem Post that while the Annapolis conference must not deal with any of the core issues, a negotiated deal must include "Arab Israelis as the basis for an arrangement of land and population transfer". While Yisrael Beitenui and Shas have demanded that core issues be left off the table, Israeli defence minister and Labour Party leader Ehud Barak has also demanded that Israeli occupation forces be allowed to have full freedom to act with impunity within the West Bank.

On October 22, Olmert confirmed during a meeting in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Israel had no intention of discussing the formation of a Palestinian state during the Annapolis meeting. According to Olmert, the conference "is not meant to be an event on its own or an event for an agreement or a[n] historic breakthrough".

However, according to the October 21 Haaretz, Olmert argued that the conference should be "viewed as a chance for the international community support statehood negotiations". As Israeli journalist, Uzi Benziman noted in Haaretz on October 17, the aim of the Israel government is not to aid the birth of a Palestinian state but to leave the Annapolis conference "unscathed", ensuring that its relations with the US is not damaged.

Israel's refusal to engage in any real peace negotiations is not new. As Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart noted in 2005, every new Israeli peace plan is "no more real than the previous ones", as "on the ground, the Palestinians are losing more of their land and are being pushed into smaller and smaller prison enclaves, surrounded by the new wall ..."

In the past month, while Israel has spoken about "peace" on the world stage, it has continued to carry out its brutal occupation of the Palestinian people. Between September 13 and October, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israel killed 24 Palestinians, including three children, and wounded 95 others, 26 of whom were children. During the same period, Israel demolished 23 Palestinian homes and two apartment blocks, razed three hectares of Palestinian agricultural land and confiscated 113 hectares of Palestinian land in and around occupied East Jerusalem for the purpose of expanding the illegal Israeli settlements that bisect the West Bank. While Israel released 92 prisoners as part of a Ramadan goodwill package in order to further boost Abbas, Israeli forces also abducted and detained 172 Palestinians citizens in the West Bank.

As Israeli peace activists Neta Golan and Mohammed Khatib noted in an October 16 Electronic Intifada article, "the peace process being cooked now is a move to consolidate Israeli control of all of historic Palestine while taking a large portion of the Palestinian population off Israel's hands".

Abbas, however, desperate for concrete results to come out the Annapolis conference in order to shut out Hamas, has continued to participate in the "peace" charade. Hamas, on the other hand, has called for a boycott of the conference. Deposed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has warning Abbas not to "fall into a trap" and make concessions to Israel that would undermine the inalienable rights of Palestinians. The failure of the Annapolis conference, however, may have the effect of pushing Abbas to begin unity negotiations with Hamas. Israeli journalist Zvi Bar'el noted on October 21: "once the summit is over, it will be impossible to continue to ignoring Hamas".