Thursday, December 08, 2005

No peace with Sharon

The Gaza withdrawal has been a veil for continued persecution and
ethnic cleansing of Palestinians

By Gerald Kaufman

12/07/05 "The Guardian" -- -- I know the attractive Israeli seaside
resort of Netanya well, having stayed several times at my niece's
flat there. Not long ago I heard on BBC radio a series of interviews
with residents of Netanya, which has in the past suffered a number of
terrorist attacks. They rejoiced at how much easier the situation had
become following the building of the Israeli separation wall,
designed specifically to protect places like Netanya, located at the
narrow neck of Israel's pre-1967 border. Two days ago five people
were killed in a suicide bombing in Netanya.
All terrorist attacks are unjustifiable atrocities. Five Israelis are
the latest victims. Over the past months, 15 Palestinians, two of
them children, have been killed by Israeli troops. Their deaths
attracted no headlines, but they are dead just the same.

I recently returned from leading the first British parliamentary
delegation to the Palestinian Authority. What we saw is never seen by
ordinary, decent Israelis, like the citizens of Netanya - who, since
they dare not venture into the occupied territories, have no idea of
the persecution of Palestinians being carried out in their name.

Last there two years ago, I was appalled at how an already
unacceptable situation has deteriorated. There are now more than 600
fixed checkpoints in the tiny Palestinian area, which, with so-called
flying checkpoints, make free movement almost impossible. In
Bethlehem, which used to be crammed with tourists, we saw just two
groups in Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. The Old City
of Nablus, which I knew for a quarter of a century as a hub of
commercial activity, is also desolate. Heavily-armed Israeli troops
man walls, gates and huts, all preventing Palestinians from moving

When our delegation, with Nablus Palestinians as our guides, tried to
walk down one street our way was barred by Israeli soldiers pointing
threatening weapons. When I explained our mission, a soldier
said: "You can pass, but the Arabs cannot." Naturally, we refused to
proceed. Meanwhile, we saw busloads of illegal Jewish settlers
sailing through this restricted area at will.

One of the motivations of this policy is to make the lives of the
Palestinians so intolerable that they get out. The success of this
ethnic cleansing is shown in Ramallah, which in the two years since I
was last there (meeting Yasser Arafat in the bunker where he was
incarcerated) has become bloated as Palestinians from other areas of
the West Bank huddle together there.

After Monday's bombing, Shaul Mofaz, defence minister and would-be
successor to Ariel Sharon as Likud leader, put targeted killings of
Palestinian "extremists" and blowing-up of suicide bombers' homes
back on the Israeli agenda, though even he cannot be too stupid to
understand that such reprisals will be used by Islamic Jihad and
other terrorist organisations as a pretext for the murder of more
Israeli civilians.

It is such posturing that leads Sharon to claim that he is now at the
centre of Israeli politics. Sharon's champions argue that Israeli
troops' withdrawal from Gaza demonstrates his peacemaking motivation.
Shimon Peres, now a pathetically vain frontman for Sharon, claims
that Sharon's alleged wish for peace is the reason for his jumping
ship from the Labour party.

Yet, as Brent Scowcroft, the first President Bush's national security
adviser, has explained to Condoleezza Rice: "For Sharon this is not
the first move, this is the last move. He's getting out of Gaza
because he can't sustain 8,000 settlers with half his army protecting
them. Then, when he's out, he will have an Israel that he can control
and a Palestinian state atomised enough that it can't be a problem."

It is good for Labour to be free of the albatross of Peres, following
the welcome election of Amir Peretz - a tough, no-nonsense Sephardi
whom I first met nearly 20 years ago in the slummy southern
development town of Sderot, where he was a populist mayor. Peretz is
no peacenik, but he does want a negotiated two-state solution.

Instead of lauding Sharon as he expands illegal West Bank settlements
and imprisons East Jerusalem in a ring of concrete and armour, the
British government should be giving full support to Peretz. He may
not be perfect but, if at this bleak hour there is any hope for
Israelis and Palestinians alike, he is it.

Gerald Kaufman is the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton -

� Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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