Friday, November 30, 2012

From Hebron to East-Timor - and back

It looks already long ago, but the incident happened this month.  It was totally forgotten because of  the stormy events through which we went immediately after.

November 7, Israel Katz, Minister of Transportation in the Government of Israel, left his office in Jerusalem and under the protection of the Israeli Defense Forces went to the city of Hebron which is forty five years under the military rule of the State of Israel. Located in the heart of Hebron is an enclave of settlers, who are considered as rather   extremist even by other settlers, but with whom Katz has very cordial relations. Among other things, they promised him their support in the primary elections of the Likud party. At Hebron, Minister Israel Katz inaugurated a new highway, created for the exclusive use of settlers and linking their enclave at the heart of Hebron with the settlement of Kiryat Arba to the east.

Thirty million Shekels from the treasury of the State of Israel had been invested in the construction and upgrading of this highway. It was given a clear priority and precedence over other highways which are under the responsibility of the Minister of Transportation of the State of Israel, highways whose users do not command a solid block of voters in the Likud primaries and whose construction does not constitute a blatant political act. Yes, construction of this highway was not just a part of the humdrum daily routine of the Ministry of Transportation. Katz certainly admitted it – indeed, he was quite proud of the fact.

At the festive ceremony in the presence of all the settler leaders, Katz declared: "We are today giving a clear answer to Abu Mazen - Hebron is our home, that is not subject to talks". A few days earlier the Palestinian Authority President had been interviewed on Israeli TV and expressed views that quite a few people here considered particularly moderate (too moderate to the taste of  some Palestinians). Katz, full of humor and good cheer at the decisive counter-blow he was landing on
Abbas' peace offensive, recalled that the settlers' Hebron highway had originally been called "The Patriarchs' Highway", but to please the  Feminists the honorable minister insisted upon it being changed to "The Patriarchs' and Matriachs' Highway".

The settlers, in their publications, mentioned and noted with great satisfaction this ceremony in Hebron. The regular media did not really pay attention. As it happened, this was exactly the same time that Israeli soldiers penetrated into the Gaza Strip and entered into an exchange of fire with armed Palestinians during which a stray Israeli bullet hit the boy Hamid Abu Daka and killed him, setting in motion the cycle of retribution and counter-retribution and counter-counter-retribution, in which six Israelis and one hundred and fifty Palestinians got killed.

Fortunately for Katz and the other contenders in the Likud primaries, the indirect negotiations conducted between the government of Israel and the Hamas leadership in Cairo led to a ceasefire in time for the Likud primaries to be held. Polling stations were erected in the settlements, to give settlers the full opportunity to take part in the democratic process that would deeply affect the fate of the nearby Palestinians, and in which the Palestinians themselves were offered no part. And the settlers came in great masses to the polls and gave their generous support to all who had benefited them and who vowed to continue doing so in the future. Minister Israel Katz, like others of the settlers' friends and well-wishers, scored high on the list.

On the other hand, Minister Benny Begin was removed from the list of candidates, and will not be in the Knesset after the next elections. Not that he opposes settlements, God forbid. There is none to equal him in staunch support for the Greater Israel. But he did dare to assert that when settlers take over a plot of private Palestinian land in a manifestly illegal manner, and when the Supreme Court in Jerusalem orders them to vacate such a plot, it is incumbent upon them to obey the court's ruling. From now on, clearly, no Likud Knesset Member will dare to say any such thing.

It was not only Minister Katz who at Hebron gave a clear and very rude  answer to the peace offers which Abbas had put before the citizens of Israel. The entire Likud party - the ruling party of Israel which has a good chance of being the ruling party also after the January elections – repeated the same answer in its choice of parliamentary representatives. But Abu Mazen had at his disposal a response of his own to this answer, and last night this response was granted a large majority at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Last night - an exceptionally joyful demonstration in front of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where the State of Israel was proclaimed sixty four years. One by one the speakers mounted the podium, new and veteran peace seekers. All praised the Family of Nations' recognition granted by a large majority to the State of Palestine in the 1967 borders. Sufian Abu Zaida, who came from Gaza, was received with thunderous applause. Red and green signs declared "Palestinian state - an Israeli interest", "67 is not just a number" and "Bibi, Say Yes!".

A week ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister  Lieberman still entertained the hope of forming a block of "The Moral Minority", composed  of Western democracies, which would staunchly oppose the Palestinian initiative. For after all, these countries had just given their backing to the glorious Cloud Pillar Operation, and they all repeated the mantra that the State of Israel has the right to self-defense and that no country would tolerate the firing of missiles at its cities. But it happens that those countries also back the Palestinian aspiration to establish an independent state, and consider that no people would tolerate living under occupation for forty-five years and having its lands  confiscated for the construction and expansion of settlements. It might even lead to the cautious conclusion that Palestinians, too, have some right of self-defense against this occupation. And thus, Israeli diplomacy  suffered an unprecedented defeat, and the European countries either openly supported the establishment of the State of Palestine, or abstained.

And really - what now? This morning, after a night of celebrations and fireworks in Ramallah, Palestinians got up to another day of occupation, of humiliation at roadblocks and settlements which continue to grow and expand. The State of Palestine is recognized by the UN, but is not to be seen on the ground. On the ground nothing has changed, as the Prime Minister of Israel declared this morning. (And in this, skeptical Palestinian agree with him – and proclaim that "Israel understands only force").

Is it, then, a meaningless statement? That is what Indonesia also thought, when the UN recognized a new nation called East Timor. For years after this resolution was taken, Indonesia contemptuously ignored it, and the Indonesian military ruled the territory of East Timor with terrible brutality. Yet today, and already for several years, East Timor is an independent and sovereign state, which was yesterday among  the supporters of establishing the State of Palestine. The same when the United Nations resolved to establish a country called Namibia in a territory which remained under South Africa's military rule for quite a few years after the United Nations adopted this resolution, and later when the  UN resolved to put an end to the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa itself. Only recently, the UN recognized a country called South Sudan, which after a harsh and cruel war became a solid reality. Experience shows that the UN is far from a sham, and that resolutions taken at the General Assembly in New York have a habit of eventually assuming a solid body on the ground (this is, it should be remembered, precisely how the state of Israel itself came into being…).

Meanwhile, today we witness an example of what settlers and their friends call "an appropriate Zionist response". No less than three thousand housing units to be built all over the settlements, the State of Israel under Netanyahu giving the finger to the entire world - to the delight of the newly elected Likud parliamentary candidates.

If the polls are right and the Likud Party will retain power after January next elections, it seems Binyamin Netanyahu will have no more fig leaves left. Ehud Barak will no longer be Defense Minister, and could no longer be sent out as acting Foreign Minister to places where Avigdor Lieberman is not welcome. In his next term, Netanyahu will have to face the world alone; no more real or supposed Liberals to hide behind. "Israel moved right, but the rest of the world moved to the left," wrote one commentator this morning.

So where are we headed? It seems towards a head-on collision, possibly a very big bang. It is certainly not going to be boring.