Friday, February 24, 2006

Don't Blame the Victims

[Originally published by Saree Makdisi in the Chicago Tribune, 24 February 2006]

Sanctions and the peace process: Don't blame only the Palestinians

Last weekend Israel and the U.S. took the first steps toward imposing sanctions on the Palestinians following Hamas' recent electoral victory.

As Israel tightened the flow of money--beginning with tax funds that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, who don't control their own territory, much less their own water, airspace or borders--it continued to insist that it will not negotiate with a Hamas-dominated Palestinian leadership.

The imposition of sanctions will certainly hurt the Palestinian population; but the suspension of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is almost completely irrelevant, because there's hardly anything left to negotiate anyway.

Long before the Palestinian elections--by about a year ago, in fact--Israel had effectively annexed the Jordan Valley, an area comprising about a third of the West Bank. And for almost two years now, Israel has repeatedly announced its intention to annex much of the rest of the territory, as well as all of East Jerusalem, a position reiterated by the interim Israeli prime minister only a few days ago.

In fact, Israel's unilateralism predates the Hamas victory by decades, not just years.

Israel first expressed its intention to permanently retain control of most of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem in a plan formulated shortly after its conquest of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1967 by former Foreign Minister Yigal Allon. A single glance at the map of the Allon plan shows that what Israel is talking about today is more or less what it was talking about almost 40 years ago.

Other than in terms of window dressing, hardly anything has made much of a difference in Israel's execution of its ambitions. What is needed now is not further peace-process negotiations but, finally, a genuine, peaceful resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

If it is to be just and lasting, such a resolution must involve not merely an end to the horrifying and morally unacceptable Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, and not just a halt to Israel's equally unacceptable--albeit much more devastating--provocations and escalations, but also something much more substantial.

For what all the hullabaloo following the Hamas electoral victory has covered up is the essential fact that it is not the Palestinians who are occupying Israeli land, bulldozing Israeli homes, uprooting Israeli olive groves, rounding up Israeli teenagers, imposing curfews on Israeli cities, assassinating Israeli activists, building barriers on Israeli land, demanding Israelis' papers every time they step outside their houses, stifling the Israeli economy, expropriating Israeli property, and illegally settling Israeli territory.

It's the other way around.

The simple fact of the matter is that Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territory, in violation of international law, in violation of the principles of the UN Charter, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and in violation of the most basic codes of decent human behavior.

The most effective way to address this reality is not to threaten sanctions against the victims of this illegal military occupation (who, after all, never chose to be thus occupied), but instead to impose such sanctions--immediately--on the perpetrators themselves. Until the Israelis learn, the hard way, that the occupation that they have chosen to impose on another people for four decades is not worth the cost to themselves, hardly anything else matters.