As I write, Israelis troops are massing on the Lebanon border. I feel a deep sense of deja vu, not to mention about equal measures of frustration and exasperation. I suspect that many Americans share similar feelings. There is nothing new, here, after all. We’ve seen it all, before. Is there no end to the conflict?
Still, it’s important to realize that this war did not need to happen. There was nothing inevitable about it. There could have been peace. Few Americans probably remember, but in 2002 Saudi Arabia offered Israel a full peace treaty.
“What?!” You are probably reacting. “You must be joking!”
No, I am not joking. Back in 2002 Saudi Arabia offered Israel a full peace treaty. The offer was extraordinary in that it went much further than any previous Arab peace initiative had, before. The Saudis offered not only to recognize Israel, they offered normalized relations, including full trade, economic ties, cultural exchanges: in short, an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The only condition was that Israel must abide by UN Security Council resolutions on Palestine.
The 2002 Saudi peace offer was a trial balloon, but it had broad support in the Arab world. It had been drafted at an Arab League summit shortly before being announced. For more details go to
An end to the conflict was within reach in 2002, IF the US government had prevailed upon Israel to respond favorably. Of course, this didn’t happen. At the time the Bush administration had other priorities. The neocons were busily preparing to go to war with Saddam Hussein. Toward that end Bush operatives scoured the Middle East trying to drum up support. Everyone told them: “Don’t make war on Iraq. Saddam is no threat. Solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead.” It was excellent advice. Did the Bush administration listen? Of course not. Instead of a peace initiative we got the disaster in Iraq.
For its part, Israel was also preoccupied in 2002: destroying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank built up during the failed Oslo process. Israel’s PM Ariel Sharon did not actually reject the 2002 Saudi peace offer. As far as I know he never responded to it at all. Sharon dismissed it. And the US press quickly forgot all about it. Today, it’s a safe bet that few Americans are aware that it even happened.
But it did happen. In 2002 the Arab world extended an olive branch to Israel and Ariel Sharon dismissed it. This should not be surprising. Over the course of his long life Sharon opposed, and on occasion worked to undermine, every peace initiative in Israel’s history.
Sharon evidently decided that there was no need to sit down and negotiate a peace settlement, given Israel’s vast military strength, its nuclear supremacy, and the dutiful US protector at the UN to shield Israel from international accountability.
Let’s face it, political negotiations are a messy business and they require painful compromise. Why go that route when you can simply impose your will upon the neighborhood?
Israel’s massive nuclear arsenal was supposed to make the small nation feel safe and give Israel the confidence to negotiate from strength. But it didn’t have that effect. It turned out that a strong Israel had no incentive to negotiate; period. End of story.
Sharon also evaded negotiations by perpetrating a lie: that there is no one to talk to. And he succeeded brilliantly. Why confabulate a small fib when you can tell a whopper? The Bush administration bought the lie, and so did the ever malleable US media. This explains Israel’s policy of unilateral action in recent years: the expanding settlements and cantonization of the West Bank, the security wall, etc. During the past year PM Olmert, Sharon’s successor, has simply continued the policies of his former boss.
There is only one small catch. Unilateral action doesn’t lead to peace. It only breeds more conflict.
The simplest of truths is that there is ALWAYS someone to talk to. If many Americans have not figured this out, it’s because the US government and the US media have an ingenious capacity to shape-shift events. Time and again we’ve seen actual history transformed before our eyes into kind of a virtual reality. Most Americans still don’t understand that despite our free press we do not get the news raw. We get it filtered through a glass darkly. This is why the “news” at times can seem incomprehensible, especially when it comes from the Mideast.
A prime example occurred last year when Israel withdrew several thousand settlers from Gaza. The US press trumpeted this as a noble step toward peace. It might have been true, IF the Gaza withdrawal was motivated by a desire for improved relations with the Palestinians. Yet, the Palestinians were never consulted, neither before, during, nor after the operation.
Events in recent days have shown that Israel’s Gaza withdrawal was motivated more by military expedience than by a desire for peace. The withdrawal of a few thousand settlers made it a lot easier for the Israeli army to seal off Gaza.
Recently, Ha’aretz reported that Israel’s Gaza incursion, which continues as I write, was planned many weeks before the capture of the Israeli soldier, which became the pretext for what has transpired. Israel’s plan, all along, was to punish the Palestinians for democratically electing a more militant Hamas-led government.
You do this by closing the ports of entry, buzzing Gaza city with F-16s at rooftop level, breaking windows and scaring everyone out of their wits, especially children, and by shelling the area indiscriminately with artillery and tanks. It also helps to bomb Gaza’s sole electric generation plant, so that in the heat of summer up to a million people now have no lights, no refrigeration, no air conditioning, and no clean water. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children, women, elderly, as well as the general population, will soon be – if not already – drinking unsafe water; and this will continue for many months. Gaza today predictably faces a health crisis, on top of everything else.
This is how you terrorize an entire population.
In fact, Israel’s ongoing treatment of Gaza is comparable to the collective punishment meted out by the Nazis to Jews trapped in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. Yet, somehow the US press has failed to report what is happening. We are expected to believe that Hezbollah’s raid on the northern border, which triggered the current fighting in Lebanon, was an isolated act of terrorism, perpetrated solely out of hatred for Israel, when in fact it was obviously an attempt to relieve the pressure on the Palestinians in Gaza, the world’s largest prison.
As I write the US has granted Israel a license to kill in Lebanon. Washington’s refusal to press for an immediate cease fire means the violence will continue. The longer it goes on the greater the chance the fighting will spread to Syria; which has a security arrangement with Iran. Today the world can only hold its breath…