With this as the backdrop, the so-called Washington ‘peace’ talks can be seen as nothing more than another cynical attempt at diversion from the Israeli-created ‘facts on the ground’. One more attempt to cast the US as the ‘peace broker’ in the Middle East while allowing Israel to continue its colonisation and occupation of Palestine.
Yet while the ‘peace’ talks are doomed to fail from the start, the opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine continues to gain strength, whether it be from the departure of the fifth convoy now en route to break the siege of Gaza or the six million strong TUC unanimously resolving to boycott Israeli settlement goods and to denounce the role of the Histadrut in the Gaza massacre of 2008/09.
Peace talks a joke from the start
The beginning of September saw the same Israeli and Palestinian stooges lined up as those that failed in the last attempt at talks almost 20 months ago. The four stooges and their imperialist master, collectively posing as peace negotiators, were described by Matthew Cassel as “a dictator [Mubarak of Egypt], a Monarch [King Abdullah Il Bin al-Hussein of Jordan], a puppet [Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority] and two heads of government responsible for the region’s only military occupations [Obama of the US and Netanyahu of Israel] – not the best ingredients for making world peace”. (Washington peace talks: democracy need not apply, electronicintifada.net, 15 September 2010)
For Mahmoud Abbas to attend ‘peace talks’ while 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are being collectively punished in a siege the UN has called medieval, while making no demand for Israel to end the blockade only confirms that he does not and cannot legitimately call himself a representative of the Palestinian people and their rights.
Hamas excluded from talks
The obvious missing component to any peace talks between Palestine and Israel is the elected representative of the Palestinian people, namely Hamas.
Hamas has made it clear that it is prepared to talk with Israel and that it is prepared to recognise the 1967 borders as a state of Palestine. It is not prepared to do so unconditionally, however, demanding that Israel make some small gesture of willingness to abide by international law and UN resolutions.
Since 2009, Khaled Meshaal, chairman of Hamas, has reiterated that the organisation “is prepared to cooperate with the US in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict if the White House can secure an Israeli settlement freeze and a lifting of the economic and military blockade of the Gaza Strip”. (‘Hamas chief outlines terms for talks on Arab-Israeli peace’, Wall Street Journal, 31 July 2009)
Clearly, no such requirements have been set prior to Israel engaging in the current talks. The US, as ‘peace broker’, has made no attempt at pressurising Israel to fulfil such prerequisites. Indeed, the opposite is true, and pressure has come to bear on the Palestinian side. Mahmoud Abbas had originally echoed the demands set out by Hamas as prerequisite for peace talks, but subsequently dropped them and is now sitting down to talks with Israel while 1.7m Palestinians are being held in an open prison and settlement building is set to accelerate.
It is not only these prerequisites that prevent Hamas from attending the peace talks but also the failure by Israel, the US and even the Palestinian Authority, to recognise Hamas as the elected representative of the Palestinian people. However, as Ali Abunimah, the founder of the Electronic Intifada, pointed out recently, “Palestinians don’t get to choose who the Israeli leaders are. And if they did, I wouldn’t choose the current array of Israeli leaders. I’m not saying that Hamas represents all Palestinians, but it does represent a significant proportion and it’s simply unrealistic to pretend they don’t exist, or worse, try to destroy them.” (‘Can ignoring Hamas lead to Israeli-Palestinian peace?’ The Christian Science Monitor, 16 September 2010)
Continuing to exclude Hamas will not advance peace in Palestine. As Khaled Meshaal outlined in a recent interview: “The Palestinian Authority cannot reach a solution with the Israelis without the approval of the majority. Any rightful representatives of the people will advocate for, and not disregard, the Palestinian people’s ambitions and legitimate rights.
“In short, the West will discover sooner or later that any solution that will not fulfil the rights of the Palestinian people will not be successful and will not be implemented. In that very particular instance, when they finally decide to respect the desires and ambitions of the Palestinian people, they will decide to engage with the Hamas movement.” (‘Hamas chief weighs in on eve of peace talks’, sabbah.biz, 10 September 2010)
‘Moratorium’ on illegal building?
One of the big issues that has become the main focus of the ‘peace talks’ is the impending end of the ‘moratorium’ on settlement-building activity.
First, a glaring omission in most reports is that the building of jewish settlements (in reality, fortified outposts peopled with gung-ho, machine-gun-wielding zionist extremists) in occupied Palestine is illegal under international law. According to the fourth Geneva Convention, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This has been confirmed by several United Nations resolutions (904, 465, 452 and 466) and by the International Court of Justice.
The temporary and partial halt on construction of houses within these illegal settlements, which has been held up by imperialist media and politicians as a great and magnanimous gesture of goodwill on Israel’s part, is nothing more than window-dressing for a great criminal act, one whose innocuous title covers a multitude of barbaric oppressive crimes (including land theft; demolition of Palestinian houses, crops, olive and citrus groves; ethnic cleansing; constant harassment and frequent murder of local Palestinians, including children; separation of Palestinians from their fields, families, places of work and education, from their sources of water and general means of life).
From the start of the talks it has been clear that Netanyahu has had no intention of extending the moratorium. Indeed, his position in power is somewhat dependent on the moratorium ending, given that his coalition partners have made it clear that their support for the government hinges upon the government permitting construction to recommence with full force within the occupied territories.
There has been some vague notion tabled by Netanyahu of a ‘tacit freeze’ that would allow ‘only’ a few houses to be built. However, these ‘few’ houses would in fact amount to almost 13,000 across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to Settlement Watch, some 2,066 housing units have been granted the required ‘permits’ and work has already begun, while an additional 11,000 units have received permissions but works have yet to commence. (See ‘Settler housing plan threatens Mideast talks’, Financial Times, 13 September 2010)
Currently, over half a million Israelis live in the occupied territories in some 120 illegal settlements spread throughout the West Bank. The settlements have already swallowed up large areas of land within the occupied territories, on top of which a network of jewish-only roads have carved up the land left to Palestinians into ever diminishing and isolated Bantustans.
This is further exacerbated by the continued demolition of Palestinian homes. Since 1967, over 24,000 houses have been demolished by Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD) works with Palestinians to resist these flagrant attacks on Palestinian land and homes, from direct action on sites where demolitions are taking place to assisting in reconstruction of homes.
Two-state solution increasingly untenable
With an end to the construction moratorium, the balance of land ownership in the occupied territories is set to shift even further away from the Palestinian people. Robert Grenier is one of a growing number of voices now pointing out that “the idea of a two-state solution in Palestine is finished. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their attendant infrastructure have made a viable and independent Palestinian state impossible. The settlements, moreover, cannot be undone. Their existence obviates the need for formal Israeli annexation: The de-facto annexation of the West Bank has already taken place. The only remaining solution is a single, unified, bi-national state.” (‘Netanyahu’s “catastrophic success”’, aljazeera.net, 19 September 2010)
Indeed, although the Israelis continue with their plan quietly to annexe the entire West Bank, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert himself pointed out the inherent danger in this expansionism after the Annapolis talks in 2007: “if the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished”. (Quoted in ‘The spectre of the one-state solution’, Asia Times Online, 21 September 2010)
Yet Israel ploughs on with its expansion regardless, apparently unable to stop hammering the nails into its own coffin.
Ten years after the start of the second Intifada, and over 60 years since the occupation of the Palestine by Israel, there is no reason to believe that the defiance and steadfastness of the Palestinian people is now about to crumble.
Until such time as the genuine aspirations and legitimate rights of all Palestinians – in Israel, in the occupied territories and in the refugee camps across the Middle East – are recognised, the resistance to occupation will continue.
British opposition to occupation gains strength
As the Palestinian struggle for self-determination continues, our responsibility within the imperialist heartlands to oppose the occupation and give solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Palestine is as important as ever.
It is with this that the unanimously supported resolution to boycott Israeli goods at the TUC congress marks a step forward for the trade union movement in Britain.
TUC passes boycott motion
At this year’s annual Trades Union Congress, the Transport Salaried Staff’s Association (TSSA) put forward the motion to boycott and disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
The motion stated: “Congress instructs the General Council to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall.”
The motion passed unanimously, marking a further swell in grass-roots support for Palestine among union members. Last year’s landmark resolution, although very similar, the first of its kind to be passed by the TUC, was weaker, and generated much hostility from a certain pro-Israel section among the delegates.
Although stopping short of the call for a boycott of all Israeli goods, the fact that the motion was passed unanimously reflects the increasing opposition to Israel’s occupation, and can also be seen as one more achievement of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the barbaric Israeli attack on which so exposed the Israeli regime in May this year. In the words of the motion:
“The actions of the Israeli military, under the orders of their government, in mounting a deadly assault on activists on the Mavi Marmara and other ships seeking to take humanitarian aid to Gaza, is particularly condemned.”
As Hugh Lanning, PSC chairman pointed out: “It is a massive step forward in the movement for justice for the Palestinian people, and reflects growing public anger at Israel’s aggression towards the Palestinians and those, such as the humanitarians on the Gaza aid flotilla, who try to help them.” (‘TUC vote to extend Israel boycott’, Jewish Chronicle online, 14 September 2010)
The motion also for the first time condemned the Histadrut, the Israeli TUC, for giving support to Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla, although it failed to go as far as the University College Union national conference had done early this year in May 2010 when it voted to ‘sever all relations’ with this bastion of Israeli apartheid.
“Congress furthermore condemns the Histadrut statement of 31 May, which sought to justify the Israeli action, and the failure of the Histadrut to condemn settlement construction. Congress endorses the 3 June 2010 statement of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, criticising the Histadrut and calling for an immediate end to the military blockade on Gaza and for a full independent inquiry into the attack on the Mavi Marmara.”
Viva Palestina convoy and flotilla
While the TUC were resolving to step up the boycott against Israeli settlement goods, Britain’s Viva Palestina embarked upon its landmark fifth convoy to Gaza to break the siege. Vehicles left London at the same time as two other convoys were leaving from Casablanca in North Africa and Doha in the Middle East. The three convoys are set to converge on the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza in early October.
Clearly, Israel’s massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara has had the opposite effect to that intended: rather than quell people’s support for the Palestinian struggle, it has galvanised them into bigger and bolder actions aimed at breaking the blockade and showing solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza.
On 18 September, the anniversary of the Israeli massacre at Sabra and Chatila in 1982, the London section of the latest land convoy, dubbed ‘A Global Lifeline to Gaza’, left from the Thames Embankment. It is set to pick up over 100 additional vehicles as it crosses Europe and the Middle East, and hopes to be the largest and most international aid convoy yet taken to Gaza.
The vehicles are carrying medical equipment, educational supplies and the building materials needed to rebuild a destroyed mosque, a school for orphans and a maternity facility in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.
Viva Palestina’s founder, George Galloway, is once again leading the land convoy. He has already received a statement from a spokesperson from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry that he will not be allowed into the country. In response, Galloway has made the following statement:
“I am currently leading a huge international effort to break the siege on the Gaza Strip, imposed by Israel and its allies to punish the people for how they voted in a free, democratic election. The convoy will travel through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Syria and thence by ship to Al Arish. It will be joined by convoys which set out on the same day from the Gulf and from North Africa …
“I am already forbidden to enter Palestine by Israel. If I am now unable to enter through Egypt this amounts to an exile from Palestine, a country I have struggled for these last 35 years and which is deep in my heart. I ask my friends in Egypt to do all they can to persuade the government to change this decision. Meanwhile, I will continue with my responsibilities to get the convoy of desperately needed aid through, and try to break the siege on Gaza. Long live Palestine, free, Arab, dignified.”
Given the trouble that the Viva Palestina Lifeline 3 convoy faced when it attempted to enter Egypt last December, there is no reason to think that Egypt’s willingness to allow the convoy through will be any better this year. Equally, following the total western media blackout surrounding Lifeline 3, it is incumbent upon all of us in the imperialist heartlands to spread the word far and wide that the convoy is taking place and to do what we can to raise the profile of the campaign.
In breaking the siege on Gaza, the convoy is not only bringing much needed aid to the Palestinians in Gaza, it is also showing Israel and the world we will not stand by and allow the siege to succeed in its aims.
Flotilla raid declared ‘unlawful’
Meanwhile, as we go to press, the UN’s probe into Israel’s murderous attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has given its verdict.
In a report that condemned the “incredible violence” of the Israeli commandoes who boarded the boats, the UN-appointed human rights experts said that there was “clear evidence to support prosecutions” against Israel for the “wilful killing” and torture that left eight Turkish and one Turkish-American solidarity activists dead, and many more badly wounded and traumatised.
“The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence,” said the report.
The UN’s verdict only confirms what right-thinking people have known all along: that Israel “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality” and violated international law, “including international humanitarian and human rights law”.
The three-member panel reaffirmed that Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip is unlawful, and that Israel therefore has no right to be intercepting ships bound for its coastline.
The report also rejected Israel’s assertion that its forces acted in self-defence when they raided the flotilla, since it found that even those who did not attempt to stop Israeli soldiers from boarding the aid ships “received injuries, including fatal injuries”.
“It is apparent that no effort was made to minimise injuries at certain states of the operation and that the use of live fire was done in an extensive and arbitrary manner. The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution.” (All info taken from ‘Israel flotilla raid was unlawful’, Aljazeera.net, 23 September 2010)
These findings throw into sharp relief the pro-Israeli propaganda efforts of the British media, and of the BBC in particular (see the article on Panorama elsewhere in this issue), and remind us once again of the extraordinary complicity of the western media in the war crimes of imperialism and its agents in Palestine and elsewhere.
Down with the siege!
Victory to the Intifada!
For further information on the Global Lifeline convoy, see vivapalestina.org or telephone 07751 006 256.
For information on Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, see icahd.org