Bush’s Real Agenda in Palestine

Bush’s Real Agenda in Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud

The Hamas government crackdown on Mohamed Dahlan’s corrupt security forces
and affiliated gangs in the Gaza Strip in June appears to mark a turning
point in the Bush administration’s foreign policy regarding Palestine and
Israel. The supposed shift, however, is nothing but a continuation of
Washington’s efforts to stifle Palestinian democracy, to widen the chasm
separating Hamas and Fatah, and to ensure the success of the Israeli
project, which is focussed on colonising and annexing what remains of
Palestinian land.

It’s vital that we keep this seemingly obvious reality at the forefront of
any political discussion dealing with the conflict: the occupied Palestinian
territories represent a mere 22 per cent of historic Palestine. Currently,
Israel is on a quest to reduce this even further by officially conquering
the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. Gaza is only relevant to this
issue insofar as it represents a golden opportunity to divide Palestinians
further, to confuse their national project and to present a grim picture of
them as an unruly people who cannot be trusted as peace partners to the far
more civilised and democratic Israelis.

By prolonging Gazan strife, thus the Palestinian split, Israel will acquire
the time required to consolidate its colonial project, and to further
rationalise its unilateral policies vis-à-vis matters that should,
naturally, be negotiated with the Palestinians.

Moreover, one must not lose sight of the regional context. The Israeli lobby
and its neo- conservative allies in the US administration and in the media
are eager for a military showdown with Iran, which would weaken Syria’s
political standing in any future negotiation with Israel in regards to the
occupied Golan Heights, and which would obliterate the military strength of
Hizbullah, proven to be the toughest enemy Israel has ever faced in its
decades-long conflict with the Arabs.

Thus, its was of paramount importance for Hamas’s “rise” to be linked
directly to its relations with Iran; such ties, although greatly
exaggerated, are now readily used as a rationale to explain Bush’s seemingly
historic move from backing Israel from a discreet distance (so as not to
appear too involved) to initiating an international peace conference aimed
solely at isolating Hamas, which would further weaken the Iranian camp in
the Middle East.

It also explains the abundant support offered by autocratic Arab regimes to
Abbas, and Arab leaders’ warnings about the rise of an Iranian menace. On
the one hand, eliminating Hamas would send an unambiguous message to their
own political Islamists; on the other, it’s a message to Iran to back off
from a conflict that has long been seen as exclusively Arab-Israeli. The
irony is that to ensure the relevance of the Arab role in the conflict, some
Arabs are making historic moves to normalise with Israel, and in return for
nothing.

Similarly, to ensure its own relevance, Abbas’s Fatah is actively
coordinating with Israel to destroy its formidable opponent, which
represents the great majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories
and arguably abroad. For this, assistance is required: money to ensure the
loyalty of his followers, weapons to oppress his opponents, political
validation to legitimise himself as a world leader, and new laws to
de-legitimise the legal, democratic process that produced the Hamas victory
of January 2006. In a conflict that is known for its agonisingly slow
movement, nothing short of a miracle can explain how Abbas received all of
these perks at an astronomical speed.

The moment Abbas declared his arguably unconstitutional emergency
government, the suffocating sanctions were lifted—or more accurately, on
the West Bank only. To ensure that no aid reaches anyone who defies his
regime, Abbas’s office revoked the licences of all NGOs operating in
Palestine, making it necessary for them to submit new applications. Those
loyal to Abbas are in. The rest are out.

Weapons and military training have also arrived in abundance. Palestinians
who have been denied the right to defend themselves, and for decades
described as “terrorist”, are suddenly the recipients of many caches of
weapons coming from all directions. Israel announced a clemency to Fatah
militants; the freedom fighters turned gangsters will no longer defend their
people against Israeli brutality, but will be used as a militant arm ready
to take on Hamas when the time comes.

As for regional and international legitimacy, the Bush administration
“decided” to change its policy to one of direct engagement, calling for an
international Middle East peace conference. The conference will be about
peace in name only, for it will not deal with any of the major grievances of
the Palestinians that have fuelled the conflict for years, such as the
problem of refugees, Jerusalem and the drawing of borders. Israel is of
course willing to “concede” if these efforts will reframe the conflict as
exclusively Palestinian, and as long as there is no objection to its illegal
annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The reality is that there has been no change in American foreign policy
regarding Palestine. The US, Israel and a few Arab regimes are pursuing the
same old policy, which is merely being adjusted to fit the new political
context.

While Abbas and his men might bask in the many bonuses they are receiving in
exchange for their role in destroying the Palestinian national project, the
future will prove that Israel’s “goodwill gestures”, the support of the
Israeli lobby in Washington, and the latter’s generosity will not last.
Abbas could as easily find himself a prisoner in the basement of his own
presidential compound, just like his predecessor, if he dares assert the
legitimate rights of his people, by far the ultimate losers in this
shameless battle.

-Ramzy Baroud is a Palestinian-American author and editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in numerous newspapers
and journals worldwide, including the Washington Post, Al Ahram Weekly and
Le Monde Diplomatique.  His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada:
A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). Read more about
him on his website: ramzybaroud.net


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