Saturday, April 08, 2006

[ePalestine] "...Surely the EU can do better...."

Palestinians now being punished for choosing Hamas
By Lara Marlowe

Israel and the United States are concocting a Palestinian state that is famished and thirsty, shrunken and chopped into pieces, writes Lara Marlowe  

So the gutless European Commission has cut aid to the Palestinian Authority. What sin did the Palestinians commit to deserve rejection by their main donor? They held a free and fair election that was regarded as exemplary throughout the Arab world. But the wrong people won: the Islamic party Hamas. The Palestinians have to be punished.  

The EU once showed a modicum of courage in attempting to counter- balance Washington's unconditional support for Israel. Even Tony Blair, when he was being sucked into George W Bush's Iraq disaster, sought assurances that once it was over, the US would seek justice for the Palestinians.  

Now the EU slavishly follows Washington's cue. The Hamas-led government must jump through the hoops, say "uncle", or we'll boycott them, starve them and impose a take-it-or- leave-it "unilateral peace".  

Yes, Hamas carried out horrific suicide bombings. Dare one even mention the disproportion in casualties, that more than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed since the second intifada started in September 2000, compared to some 1,000 Israelis?  

Hamas has maintained a unilateral ceasefire for nearly a year and a half, with no encouragement from the West.  

The US and EU demand that Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence and observe past peace agreements. When did Israel recognise Palestine, renounce violence against Palestinians or observe past peace agreements? Ariel Sharon, hailed by Bush as "a man of peace," renounced the Oslo agreement and violated the "road map". Our double standards have never been so blatant.  

Diplomats in Israel compare Hamas to Sinn Féin during the twilight zone before peace and decommissioning. Hamas officials keep making conciliatory statements, trial balloons that they often pull back. Twice this week, the Palestinian foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas member, spoke of a "two-state solution," once in a letter to the UN secretary general Kofi Annan.  

In a recent interview with Le Figaro, Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas's political bureau whom the Israelis tried to assassinate, said Hamas is "reaching out" to Israel.  

"If Israel evacuates the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and recognises the right of return for refugees and dismantles the new wall, I can guarantee you that Hamas, and with it all Palestinians, will be ready for serious steps, founded on justice and equity, in view of a permanent peace with the Israelis." Meshaal said. All of Meshaal's demands are grounded in international law.  

Since Hamas won the election, Israel has kept $50 million per month in customs duties which it collects at crossings into the Palestinian territories. This money belongs to the Palestinians.  

Without it, the authority cannot meet its 150,000-strong payroll. Nearly half of the authority's employees are policemen. "Imagine 73,000 unpaid, armed men in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank," a UN official told Le Monde.  

The EU cut another ?30 million in direct aid to the authority yesterday. The US and EU say they'll funnel humanitarian aid through the UN agency UNWRA and non-governmental organisations. But aid workers are neither able nor willing to circumvent the role of the authority. By dividing Palestinian officials into "good guys" and "bad guys", Washington and Brussels are destroying the administration which was to have served as the foundation for an independent Palestinian state.  

On a trip to Jerusalem at the beginning of this month to participate in a TV5 Monde programme, I was struck by the deep pessimism of Israeli and Arab colleagues.  

Conditions in the Palestinian territories have never been worse. The contrast between the Pharaonic grandeur of Tel Aviv's new Ben Gurion airport and the Gaza Strip, just a few miles away, is shocking.  

Two-thirds of Palestinians now live on less than ?55 per month; the average monthly salary in Israel is ?1,268. Since January, there have been shortages of milk and flour in Gaza, where children are suffering from malnutrition.  

Yesterday's EU slap in the face of the authority occurred one day after Olmert was asked to form the new Israeli government. Olmert repeated his intention to work towards setting "a permanent borderline, even without an agreement" along the eight-metre high wall which Israel is building the length of the West Bank. If Israel can't get the Palestinians to go along with the plan (why would they?), Olmert says he'll seek "an understanding with the international community, particularly the US and president George W Bush".  

Olmert intends to annex all land west of the wall. Remember: when the wall was started, the Sharon government swore it was temporary. "We have already lost 78 per cent of British mandate Palestine," Awad Duaibes, a journalist with the Voice of Palestine radio station in Ramallah, told me. "Now we're expected to give up another 10 per cent of the 22 per cent that's left."  

The new Palestinian government was sworn in by video conference because Israel will not allow Hamas officials to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. The Israelis are considering a Gaza-West Bank tunnel, probably for rail traffic only.  

The large settlement blocs which Olmert intends to annex and the Israeli "military zone" in the Jordan river valley would break the West Bank into at least five pieces. Olmert will also keep aquifers and the holy sites in Arab East Jersalem, Hebron and near Bethlehem.  

Israel does not allow the Palestinians to have a port or an airport. All merchandise enters Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing. Olmert would maintain a similar stranglehold on the West Bank, with Israel controlling the Jordanian border.  

Olmert's objective is to keep as much land as possible, with as few Arabs as possible. "The most painful moment of my life was the day I discovered that accounting was stronger than the history and geography of Israel," he said recently. "I realised with alarm that if we hung on to everything, in 2020 there would be 60 per cent Arabs and 40 per cent Jews." This is the Palestinian state that Israel and the US are concocting: famished and thirsty, shrunken and chopped into pieces. It doesn't take a Middle East expert to see there's no peace for Palestine down this road. Surely the EU can do better.  

© The Irish Times  


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