Israel’s New Government, Old Policies


oming only four weeks after the European
declaration of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert’s announcement in May of a new Israeli
government should raise questions in any Western country interested
in a “balanced” approach towards the Middle East. 

It appears that the explicitly racist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which
advocates creating an Israel cleansed of Palestinians, will now
not be a coalition partner, though Olmert remains open to the idea
of their entry into government—as apparently does the Labor
Party, which has joined Kadima in the coalition. Nonetheless, Olmert’s
government does contain many politicians responsible for the last
five years of terror and impoverishment on the West Bank. Consider
the denunciation of violence. During the week of April 12, the Israeli
Army fired more than 950 artillery tank shells and 46 F16 missiles
in this densely populated, supposedly free Gaza strip. Overall 19
Palestinians were killed by the Army, including 3 children, during
that week. 

In January Prime Minister Olmert made clear that, “We firmly
stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire
Land of Israel. Every hill in Samaria and every valley in Judea
[the West Bank] is part of our historic homeland.” This is
the same, in reverse, as Hamas’s historical claim to the whole
of mandate Palestine, which the West believes makes them unsuitable
for governing. Moreover Olmert doesn’t stop at theory: “Israel
will maintain control over the security zones, the Jewish settlement
blocs, and those places which have supreme national importance to
the Jewish people, first and foremost a united Jerusalem under Israeli
sov ereignty.”  

In other words, in violation of international law, the Oslo Accords,
and the Road Map, Olmert has clearly stated that he will incorporate
the largest settlement outposts in the West Bank, including Jerusalem,
into Israel proper, and re-draw the map to include an Israeli presence
on the eastern side of Palestine in the Jordan valley. Any state
that results from this exercise will be cut into several sections,
with no control over its borders or its international and trade
relations or its security—it will have no sovereignty. In no
way does this constitute recognition of a Palestinian state. 

The majority of Israel’s political establishment, including
the governments of Sharon and Olmert, have spent many years preventing
the emergence of a two-state solution through expanding settlements,
the Separation Wall, a system of racist settler roads, gateways,
and tunnels, which have resulted in two people living separate and
unequal lives within the Occupied Territories themselves. Indeed,
this was the conclusion of EU diplomats in Jerusalem in a suppressed
report leaked before Christmas, as well as a more recent report
by UN Human Right Special Rapporteur John Duggard last month. Israeli
peace activists such as Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against
House Demolitions are quite clear that “the two-state solution
is now dead.” 

Israel violates all three of the conditions set by the “Quartet”(the
U.S., EU, UN, and Russia) to the Palestinian Authority—yet
you’d have to search long and hard to find Western politicians
voicing public condemnation of these policies. Although the Palestinians
are not the perpetrators but the victims of countless violations
of international law, it is they who are now suffering a sanctions
regime perpetrated by Israel, the U.S., and EU—a regime which
is sending the Palestinian economy into freefall. It is they who
are now targeted by a Western attempt to destabilize their democratically
elected government. On February 14, the

New York Times

that senior officials in the U.S. State Department were discussing
with Israeli officials the best ways to “destabilize the Palestinian
government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections
will be called again.” They discussed Israel withholding tax
revenues which it owes to the Palestinian Authority, and which provide
the Palestinians with a major source of revenue, and conditions
being placed on Hamas to ensure that Western aid stopped flowing. 

And so it has come to pass. The 152,000 people employed by the PA—running
health clinics, hospitals, primary and secondary schools —now
face the real prospect of unemployment or non-payment of salaries.
The World Bank and United Nations have predicted increases in poverty
to around 75 percent of the population, and the economy is expected
to shrink by 27 percent. In addition, Israel is trying to prevent
the Palestinian government from functioning by preventing the free
movement of ministers around Palestine and banning their travel
to the outside world. 

These steps have been condemned by all aid agencies and human rights
campaigners working in the region. Amnesty International has said
it is a dereliction of duty by the international community, and
expresses concern that the decision to sever financial aid “could
have very serious consequences impacting on the health, education,
and other economic and social rights of Palestinians.” Indeed
the consequences of the present course of action are well known
throughout the world, after a leak from a cabinet meeting at which
Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass joked that the current
policies would put the Palestinians on a “starvation diet.” 

Yet this seems to mean nothing to the UK or the EU. Campaign Against
the Arms Trade recently reported that UK arms sales to Israel have
doubled over the last year —to $47 million. Since Sharon came
to power the UK has sold $130 million worth of arms to Israel, including
machines guns, tear gas, leg irons, components for surface to surface
missiles, tanks, and helicopters. As coroner’s courts in the
UK decided that journalists and peace campaigners James Miller and
Tom Hurndall were murdered by the Israeli Army, barely a word was
uttered by the Foreign Office. In contradistinction to the EU’s
refusal to consider the suspension of the EU-Israel Association
Agreement, to put pressure on Israel for its ongoing human rights
abuses, sanctions on Palestine seemed to require little discussion
or political will. 

Hamas’s dream, one day, of a Palestinian state covering the
whole of Israel/Palestine, is no different from the dream of the
Prime Minister of Israel that Israel will one day (if not now) cover
the same area. The difference is that one party is trying to put
its dream into effect by a mixture of violence, breached agreement,
and serious violation of international law. The other is abiding
by a year-long ceasefire, and offering to extend it. Yet they don’t
receive equality. One side, the occupier and the cause of poverty
in Palestine, is given weapons, trade agreements, and the offer
of a blind eye from the West; the other side has sanctions imposed
and attempts to destabilize its democracy for daring to stand up
to a 40-year occupation that the international community has done
nothing to end despite its international obligations. 

Hamas’s election was, among other factors, a result of Western
hypocrisy and inactivity towards injustice in the Middle East over
many decades. Its reactions to that election do not merely prove
the point, but threaten devastation to an already desperate, deserted,
and traumatized society. In the words of Seumas Milne in the


recently, we are playing “a highly dangerous role…in the
most inflammatory conflict on the planet”—one that risks
a rising spiral of violence and impoverishment which will haunt
the planet for many decades to come.

Dearden is a member of War on Want (