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Lifting of the Israeli Blockade on the West Bank is Required - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The United States has delegated itself to lead the political settlement process between the Palestinians and Israel. The United States is also the biggest superpower in the world. Therefore, its word should be heeded on any subject, especially by its allies and particularly by Israel, its pampered ally. These days, however, we are seeing with the naked eye how this leading superpower is acting like any other powerless delegate. It is becoming impossible for us to believe that its envoy [George Mitchell] stands for this superpower. For instance, any junior Israeli employee can tell this big delegate: Stop where you are; do not go beyond what we tell you.

George Mitchell, US President Obama’s envoy to the settlement negotiations with the Israelis, is a vivid example of such a caricature. With all his dignified stature, the envoy of the superpower comes to inform us in advance that he is frustrated because Binyamin Netanyahu has not responded to his requests. When this venerable envoy becomes frustrated, the game ends and none of the negotiators can do anything. Although Mitchell is an elderly gentleman, we saw how active and agile he was when his began his mission. In his recent rounds, however, we saw him moving slowly and deliberately with a bowed back. His appearance, before his statements, is like saying that he is frustrated and cannot promise anything. He listens to conditions set by Netanyahu that should be met before he is allowed to proceed with the negotiations. He then listens to requests from President Mahmud Abbas before agreeing to move the negotiations from indirect negotiations to direct ones. Amid these contrary requests and conditions, Mitchell can do nothing except wring his hands and announce that he is returning to Washington to inform his President of his failure. Thus another round of negotiations ends to be followed by another round in two weeks and so on. We have become accustomed to calling the Palestinian negotiations with Israel as futile but what is truly futile is the way the superpower is managing its mediation.

A second manifestation of futility is what is happening directly between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. It has been announced that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Baraq will meet with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of Ramallah, and when we look closely at the agenda between the two men we see all sorts of strange things. One essential stipulation in the agenda that Salam Fayyad insists on raising is the need to totally lifting the Israeli siege of Gaza. This is a positive point in Salam Fayyad’s credit although it is contingent on ending the “siege” in accordance with the 2005 agreement regarding the crossing points. This means three hot controversial issues: First, the Palestinian presidential guard should be in charge of the crossing points (to ensure distancing Hamas that holds power in Gaza); second, Israel should be present in operating the crossing points through observation cameras; and third, all the crossing points should be under European supervision. If we overlook all these issues, we will find ourselves in front of another group of requests for which Fayyad should be thanked for putting in front of the Israeli negotiators. These requests are as follows:

1. Israel’s military attacks against West Bank towns should stop. 2. Palestinian security should be allowed to be present outside the Palestinian towns; in other words, to move from Area “A” to Area “B”. Israel rejects this although Israeli newspapers abound with articles that praise the prominent role that the Palestinian security organs are playing in confronting “terrorism”, as the Israelis say. In Palestinian terms, this means confronting acts of resistance against the occupation and nipping them in the bud. 3. Ending settlement construction activities, particularly in Jerusalem, and stopping the scheme to empty Jerusalem of its residents (demolition of homes, eviction of residents, expelling the people from Gaza). 4. Removing the almost 400 Israeli checkpoints so that, according to Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority [PA] would be able to expand its institutions outside the cities.

These points highlight Salam Fayyad’s requests from Ehud Baraq but they also highlight a more gaudy and colorful truth that no one talks about; namely, Israel’s siege of the West Bank. As the points above show, the siege of the West Bank is not less harsh than that of Gaza. The odd thing is that everyone is demanding an end to the siege of Gaza but no one is asking for ending that of the West Bank. Salam Fayyad would do well if he were to say that his agenda with Ehud Baraq will not deal with the four points mentioned above but would deal with one point only; namely, ending the Israeli siege of the West Bank. But the dilemma here is that raising this slogan may require international solidarity convoys with the West Bank. But since the West Bank has no coast, solidarity with it would not be through sea flotillas but requires ground flotillas that cross countries that do not have international waters! This raises many problems and makes the battle to rescue the West Bank from the siege much more complicated than the battle to rescue Gaza.

While the chances for success of Mitchell’s mission and the chances for success of the Fayyad-Baraq negotiations seem to be evaporating, we see Israel active on other levels that go beyond the government level to that of government departments and political parties. We can record three decisions taken by Israel recently that have serious ramifications: First, Military Order 1650 that announced the proclaimed the deportation of any citizen from the Gaza Strip who lives in the West Bank. Israel has begun to implement this order having so far deported more than 1,000 persons. Second, the decision made by the Likud Party (or what is known as Likud Center), the ruling party in Israel, that settlement construction activities should resume in September, that is, on the date ending the temporary freeze on settlement construction on which Netanyahu “secretly” agreed with Obama. Third, the Jerusalem Municipality has drawn up a very broad structural map of the Jerusalem, something that it has not done in 50 years. These three decisions constitute a kind of infrastructure to political decisions that are being implemented by Mitchell and Netanyahu, Mitchell and Mahmud Abbas, and Salam Fayyad and Baraq. This represents the practical defiance of the delegate of the small state to the delegate of the superpower.

And we – Palestinians and other Arabs – are being asked to believe that the superpower can do nothing but submit to the demands of the small state. We are required to believe that Washington manages its mediation in total democracy and without any pressure on any side. But US democracy does not mind imposing the terms of the Quartet. It does not mind imposing the conditions for Palestinian reconciliation on any other side.

Bilal Hassen

Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst.

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