The recently completed Middle East "peace" talks at Annapolis and Washington were the usual carefully orchestrated USraeli farce with the dismal outcome well known in advance. In keeping with longstanding Jewish supremacist tradition, the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people - democratically elected Hamas - was not invited to the talks. (Hamas committed the unpardonable sin of developing strong resistance to military occupation and combining it with grassroots organizing in service to the poor. Such are the actions of unredeemably bloodthirsty terrorists.) The preferred submissive negotiating partner - Mahmoud Abbas - helped invest the proceedings with the required illusory dignity, before they eventuated in yet another postponement of engaging with the issues - borders, the fate of 4.5 million Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements, water rights, the apartheid wall, closures, checkpoints, Gaza, Lebanon, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the complex network of racist laws and administrative arrangements that have imprisoned the Palestinian people for decades. Facts on the ground favor Israel, so why negotiate the issues? After all, the world is quite accustomed to the horrifying violence that is inseparable from such evasive dawdling. Ho hum.
President Bush professed interest in someday seeing an "independent, democratic, viable" Palestinian state established in whatever fragments of Palestine Israel ultimately decides it can do without, hailing this as a great prospective victory for Jews and Palestinians alike. He added that Israelis' just aspirations are "to be recognized and welcomed in the region where they live," neglecting to note that the exercise of Jewish sovereignty over Arab lands is precisely what has drenched the region in so much blood, not to mention repeatedly brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. No matter. Partition and a Bantustan statelet will insure that liberty takes root "in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza," he promised, which, in turn, will "inspire millions across the Middle East" to imitate the "hopeful vision" that makes such blessings possible. Apparently, only cynics can doubt that this is so, given how well the president's liberty project has turned out in neighboring Iraq.
Like his predecessors in the Oval Office, Bush explains improbably that the principal obstacle to peace is the "terror and violence preached by Palestinian extremists" - mere preaching, mind you - not actual mass murder carried out by Israeli tanks, fighter jets, and helicopter gunships, which slaughter defenseless Palestinian civilians with nightmarish regularity. Bush insists that the Palestinian Authority become once again the security police for Israel, so that they can "dismantle the infrastructure of terror," which does not, of course, refer to the vast apparatus of torture and destruction commanded by Israel, but rather, to the efforts of suicide bombers to fight back against it. Naturally, President Bush sees Palestinian resistance to occupation as a crime, including self-defense against Israeli soldiers shooting at unarmed children, and demands that it stop. How fortunate for Jonathan Swift that he never had to learn what an amateur he was at satire.
In his official statement on Annapolis Bush went on to feebly state that Israel must remove "unauthorized outposts" - perhaps a rusty tower or two - and terminate "settlement expansion," without mentioning that all of the settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal, and that Israel ignores this while continuing to expand the size of the existing 100+ settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, which behavior it regards as perfectly consistent with a settlement freeze. And why shouldn't it? As Moshe Dayan observed over thirty years ago, all of the territory of Israel is built over former Palestinian villages, which makes it difficult to refrain from continuing the theft, especially in "Judea and Samaria" (the West Bank and Gaza), which we know belongs to the Jews because the Bible tells us so.
Meanwhile, while Hizbollah, Hamas, and Iran call for the wishes of the Palestinian people to be respected whatever they may be (including, if they want it, a two-state settlement), Israel denounces them all as vile terrorists while continuing to annex and dismember dwindling Palestinian lands, hold thousands of captives in jail (including 46 members of the Palestinian parliament), and bar use of over 90% of Palestine to its indigenous people in perpetuity. Such is the behavior of "the Middle East's only democracy," as Israel and Washington never tire of telling us Israel is.
Some democracy. Amnesty International revealed in its 2003 report Combatting Torture, that since "1967 the Israeli security forces have routinely tortured Palestinian political suspects in the Occupied Territories." Eitan Felner, executive director of the Israel human rights group B'Tselem, told Le Monde in 1998 that "Israel is the only country in the world that has legitimated torture both juridically and rhetorically." (It's not hard to believe reports that Abu Ghraib derived at least in part from Israeli interrogation practices). B'Tselem states that Israel doesn't compare well with other democratic states on this score: "The normative difference between Israel and other democratic countries is reflected in the scope of the use of torture in interrogations. While Israel uses it routinely and against thousands of interrogees, in other liberal democracies, torture is exceptional and rare."
Israel, of course, complains of being held to a double standard which overlooks the exceptional circumstance of being surrounded by "terrorists." But looking at the years leading up to the new intifada, what is remarkable is not how much Palestinian terror there was, but how little retaliation there was from within the Occupied Territories, where shocking Israeli brutality had been manifest for decades. Even after the new intifada exploded, the relative death tolls were roughly 20 Palestinians for every Israeli in the early weeks, only gradually reaching 3 to 1, at which point Jewish indignation knew no bounds. Three dead Palestinians for every dead Israeli is an outrage, but only to Israel. Palestinian lives don't count.
Another unique feature of Israel is its separation wall, which is slated to vastly exceed the former Berlin Wall in length. The wall is locking entire Palestinian communities within its confines, with their livelihoods on the other side of the wall. According to Noam Chomsky (agreeing with Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling), who has for years criticized applying the word "apartheid" to the behavior of Israel on the grounds that it's inflammatory, the separation wall is turning Palestinian communities into "dungeons, next to which the Bantustans of South Africa look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty, and self-determination." Progress is a remarkable thing.
At his 1969 trial Sirhan Sirhan stated what the problem in Palestine is well enough to have spared us the awesome crime of 911, if anyone had bothered to take him seriously: "Well, sir, when you move - when you move a whole country, sir, a whole people, bodily from their own homes, from their own land, from their businesses, sir, outside their country, and introduce an alien people, sir, into Palestine - the Jews and the Zionists - that is completely wrong, sir, and it is unjust and the Palestinian Arabs didn't do a thing, sir, to justify the way they were treated by the West.
"It affected me, sir, very deeply. I didn't like it. Where is the justice involved, sir? Where is the love, sir, for fighting for the underdog? Israel is no underdog in the Middle East, sir. It's those refugees that are underdogs. And because they have no way of fighting back, sir, the Jews, sir, the Zionists, just keep beating away at them. That burned the hell out of me."
Thirty-eight years later the United States is still pretending this problem doesn't exist. The obtuseness in this attitude is difficult to capture in words. Call it gall - on steroids.
B'Tselem, quoted in Norman Finkelstein's "Beyond Chutzpah - On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History," pp. 155-7
Sirhan Sirhan quoted in Godfrey Jansen's "Why Robert Kennedy Was Killed," frontispiece
Noam Chomsky, "Hegemony or Survival - America's Quest For Global Dominance"
Noam Chomsky, "Interventions"
Osamah Khalil, "Mission Accomplished," 11/29/07, The Electronic Intifada
Stephen Lendman, "Tragedy and Travesty at Annapolis," 11/26/07, Counterpunch.org
Col. Dan Smith, "Two Ships Passing in the Dark? - The Meaning of Annapolis," 11/29/07, Counterpunch.org
"Starting From Annapolis," New York Times editorial, 11/28/07
"Israelis, Palestinians Open U.S.-Backed Conference With Vague Statement on Timeline, Goals," 11/28/07, Democracy Now.org
"Mr. Palestine," Economist, November 24, 2007
"Big Turnout, Small Result," Economist, December 1, 2007
Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire" and "The Madness of King George" (illustrations by Matt Wuerker) from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org