The deepening agony in Gaza may be shocking, but it is not surprising. It is the inevitable outcome of what Henry Siegman — a thoroughly Establishment figure and former CFR stalwart — has called “the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history”: the so-called “Middle East peace process.” As Siegman makes clear, the “peace process” has been a deliberate sham on the part of Israeli leaders, abetted every step of the way by the knowing collusion of American, British and European governments.
This week, the London Review of Books website has reposted a prescient article by Siegman that was first published in August 2007. It provides a cogent overview of the true political and diplomatic context of the present situation.
Although Siegman does not cast it in these terms, what we have been witnessing in Palestine over the past several decades is a remarkable echo of the dispossession and destruction of the Native American nations by the United States. There are myriad differences, of course, but the broad outline is basically the same: a people denigrated as primitive and inferior are being stripped of their land, driven into poverty and desperation, and killed in large numbers by another people who believe that their “manifest destiny” and moral superiority justify violent conquest and repression. Any violent resistance to the conquest is treated as barbaric terrorism — and another justification for yet more repression, for even harsher tactics to grind down the conquered, secure “the frontier” and make it safe for “settlers” and the “civilization” they bring.
One reason that Israel persists in its harsh policies of decimation and destruction against the Palestinians is that such methods very often work: you can dispossess another people, destroy all but an ineffective remnant of their society and colonize their land to your own lasting profit and advantage. And you can do it in such a thoroughgoing manner that there will be no realistic possibility of the conquered people ever rising again to take back what was theirs. This is the example that the United States has set for Israel. It is unlikely to work in the same way or with the same degree of success for Israel in 21st century, for a number of reasons. In fact, it can — and probably will — end in disaster. But it is not an irrational policy; it does have many successful historical precedents — including the history of Israel’s chief benefactor.
Of course, in our more enlightened modern world, one must always cloak naked imperialism with stylish, sophisticated robes of euphemism. And as Siegman notes, one of the most ingenious of these has been Israel’s on-going PR success in re-labeling a deliberate, long-term policy of confiscaton and oppression as a “peace process.” From the LRB:
The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well before it, Israel’s interest in a peace process – other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international acceptance of the status quo – has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, is ‘to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people’…
Anyone familiar with Israel’s relentless confiscations of Palestinian territory – based on a plan devised, overseen and implemented by Ariel Sharon – knows that the objective of its settlement enterprise in the West Bank has been largely achieved. Gaza, the evacuation of whose settlements was so naively hailed by the international community as the heroic achievement of a man newly committed to an honourable peace with the Palestinians, was intended to serve as the first in a series of Palestinian bantustans. Gaza’s situation shows us what these bantustans will look like if their residents do not behave as Israel wants….
In an interview in Ha’aretz in 2004, Dov Weissglas, chef de cabinet to the then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, described the strategic goal of Sharon’s diplomacy as being to secure the support of the White House and Congress for Israeli measures that would place the peace process and Palestinian statehood in ‘formaldehyde’. It is a fiendishly appropriate metaphor: formaldehyde uniquely prevents the deterioration of dead bodies, and sometimes creates the illusion that they are still alive. Weissglas explains that the purpose of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and the dismantling of several isolated settlements in the West Bank, was to gain US acceptance of Israel’s unilateralism, not to set a precedent for an eventual withdrawal from the West Bank. The limited withdrawals were intended to provide Israel with the political room to deepen and widen its presence in the West Bank, and that is what they achieved….
In a recent interview in Ha’aretz, James Wolfensohn, who was the Quartet’s representative at the time of the Gaza disengagement, said that Israel and the US had systematically undermined the agreement he helped forge in 2005 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and had instead turned Gaza into a vast prison. The official behind this, he told Ha’aretz, was Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser. ‘Every aspect’ of the agreement Wolfensohn had brokered ‘was abrogated’.
Another recent interview in Ha’aretz, with Haggai Alon, who was a senior adviser to Amir Peretz at the Ministry of Defence, is even more revealing. Alon accuses the IDF (whose most senior officers increasingly are themselves settlers) of working clandestinely to further the settlers’ interests. The IDF, Alon says, ignores the Supreme Court’s instructions about the path the so-called security fence should follow, instead ‘setting a route that will not enable the establishment of a Palestinian state’. Alon told Ha’aretz that when in 2005 politicians signed an agreement with the Palestinians to ease restrictions on Palestinians travelling in the territories (part of the deal that Wolfensohn had worked on), the IDF eased them for settlers instead. For Palestinians, the number of checkpoints doubled.
These are the realities on the ground that the uninformed and/or cynical blather in Jerusalem, Washington and Brussels – about waiting for Palestinians to reform their institutions, democratise their culture, dismantle the ‘infrastructures of terror’ and halt all violence and incitement before peace negotiations can begin – seeks to drown out. Given the vast power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians – not to mention the vast preponderance of diplomatic support enjoyed by Israel from precisely those countries that one would have expected to compensate diplomatically for the military imbalance – nothing will change for the better without the US, the EU and other international actors finally facing up to what have long been the fundamental impediments to peace.
Again, Siegman was writing in 2007. We have now seen, in these past few weeks, exactly how firmly and wisely the US, the EU and other international actors have faced up to the “fundamental impediments to peace”: by backing Israel’s bloody aggression to the hilt, they have bolstered those impediments immeasurably, and heaped up new ones that will ensure many more decades of blood, suffering and ruin.