Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Israel Continues To Stir Trouble As Storms Brew Around It

By Hasan Abu Nimah
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 16/03/2011
The political upheaval in the Arab world has so far claimed some significant victims. The heavily fortified regimes in Tunis and Cairo have already fallen. Muammar Qadhafi’s regime in Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh’s in Yemen are waging desperate wars against their peoples in the hope that a miracle may save them, but their long-term survival under current circumstances looks extremely unlikely.

The other Arab countries have either to embark on a daring and genuine programme of reform (a few are already trying to do that with varying degrees of authenticity) to meet their people’s demands, or they may have to confront internal rebellions as well.

This formula however hardly applies to one country that exists right in the heart of the Arab world, but which is not an Arab country. That, of course, is Israel.

The fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime has deprived Israel of a vital strategic asset. Even if no other major political changes in the region were to follow, the Israeli loss is already grave. Does Israel therefore realise that it has to also weigh its options? Will Israel realise that a flimsy layer of fake “stability” imposed on top of mountains of injustice, oppression, occupation, continued aggression and humiliation will not lead to real peace, real security and normal conditions?

Will Israel embark on a radical reform of its policies, and attitudes as well? Or will the “embattled” entity see the collapse of the convenient status quo as an opportunity for louder cries for help, now that the region is embroiled in deeper turmoil and that Israel’s security could be further exposed? Israel has been clearly alarmed by the changes so far, and must be deeply concerned about how much of a political “damage” the current storm will precipitate.

The status quo that lasted in the region for many decades was seen by most Arabs as political stagnation, submission to the will of foreign powers, absence of democracy, utter disregard of ruthless dictators for their people’s rights, corruption, humiliation and defeat.

For Israel and its Western supporters, by contrast, this has been a period of “stability” where strong “allies” such as the two regimes that have already fallen, worked closely with their Western patrons to “fight terrorism” and “curb Islamist extremism” (which is also a code for any and all resistance to Israeli occupation and aggression).

Actually the status quo was carefully designed by world powers with full official Arab acquiescence not only to provide Israel with protection from any possible threat, but also to shield continued Israeli aggression and violations of international law from any accountability or punitive action. Under this cover, Israel could ignore every peace initiative over many years, including the over-generous Arab Peace Initiative, in order to continue its brutal colonisation of Arab lands.

While many Israeli commentators and leaders have lamented the loss of Mubarak and acknowledged the role he played for Israel, and his role as a wedge preventing any unified Arab front to confront Israeli aggression, we should remember that Mubarak’s negative influence spread well beyond Egypt. His regime’s policies effectively controlled the Arab League and the Arab Follow-Up Committee, the body to which Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas often scrambled for cover whenever he needed to succumb even more to Israeli and American pressure.

The status quo that served Israel so well is over, but Israel shows no signs of recognising the need to change its ways. It is resorting to its old ways of opportunistically fishing in troubled waters.

While world attention is focused on the catastrophe in Japan, Israel used the excuse of a brutal murder of a settler family in Itamar colony (no suspects have yet been found in the crime) to announce an additional 500 settler houses on occupied Palestinian land.

Itamar, according to Aluf Benn who writes for the Israeli daily Haaretz, is “the mother of all isolated settlements, on a ridge over Nablus, its radical inhabitants infamous for their violent relations with their Palestinian neighbours”, and “no spot is more emblematic of the conflict and friction in the territories than Itamar” (March 13).

If indeed this gruesome attack does prove to be the work of Palestinians, Israel seems incapable of understanding that its own violence, colonisation, and subjugation and humiliation of millions of people will lead inevitably to counter-violence, even if it is rare - unlike systematic and routine Israeli violence.

Israeli leaders are stubbornly repeating past blunders. The crime is blamed on the Palestinian victims of occupation as usual. Even the complicit Palestinian Authority, whose security forces are mainly built to protect Israelis and which is often praised for doing that successfully, has not been spared the accusation of direct responsibility and incitement. The Israelis exploit the blood of their people to dig deeper and to consolidate further their illegal usurpation of Palestinian rights.

And instead of trying to salvage the situation by making bold attempts to resuscitate a lifeless peace process, Israel is raising the barriers even higher.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said last week that Israel may demand an extra $20 billion in US military aid, on top of the $30 billion already promised over a decade, so that Israel can cope with the changes. But it is not clear if the cash-strapped United States will be enthusiastic this time. Barak claimed that qualitative military aid to Israel is essential, as a strong Israel can become a stabiliser in such a turbulent region.

Israel continues to deny that it has been largely responsible not only for decades of continued Middle East instability and wars, but for exacerbating world crises as well.

It would have been too unlikely to expect Israel to act in a manner that would pave the way for a meaningful peace settlement. What would have been reasonable for a start would have been to refrain from further provocations and land colonisation. Other constructive measures such as relaxing the harsh occupation measures and lifting the Gaza siege before Egypt does would also create a better climate. But Israel is never satisfied with the status quo, it always has to find a way to make things worse.

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