The Dirty Word
The Dirty Word
THERE NEVER was a darker
The four leaders at Sharm al-Sheik did not sit together at an intimate round table. Each one sat alone behind a huge table of his own. That ensured a striking separation between them. The four long tables hardly touched. Each one of the leaders, with his assistants behind him, sat like a solitary island in a vast sea.
All four - Hosni Mubarak, King Abdallah of Jordan, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas - bore a severe countenance. Throughout the official part of the conference, not a single smile could be seen.
One after the other, the four delivered their monologues. An exercise in shallow hypocrisy, in empty deceit. Not one of the four raised himself above the murky puddle of sanctimonious phrases.
A short monologue from Mubarak. A short monologue from Abdallah. A medium-length monologue from Abbas. An interminably long monologue from Olmert - a typical Israeli speech, overbearing, educating the whole world, sermonizing and dripping with morality. Held, of course, in Hebrew, with the obvious aim of appealing to the home public.
The speech included all the required phrases - Our soul longs for peace, The vision of two states, We do not want to rule over another people, For the good of coming generations, bla-bla-bla. All in standard colonial style: Olmert even talked about "Judea and
But in order to "strengthen" Abbas, Olmert addressed him as "President" and not as "Chairman", which has been the de rigueur title used by all Israeli representatives since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. (The wise men of
And the word that did not appear throughout this long monologue?
OCCUPATION? What occupation? Where occupation? Anybody seen any occupation?
The occupation was not on the agenda of this dark summit. Even in their wildest dreams, the Arab participants could not imagine anything more wonderful than "easing the restrictions". Making life a little bit less difficult for the suffering population. Giving back the Palestinian tax revenues. (That is to say,
With the air of a Sultan throwing coins to the paupers in the street, Olmert announced his intention of releasing some Fatah prisoners. 250 coins, 250 prisoners. That was the "generous gift" that was to make the Palestinians jump for joy, "strengthen" Abbas and awaken to new life the dry bones of his organization.
If Olmert had not been sitting so far away from Abbas, he could just as well have spat in his face.
First at all, the number is ridiculous. There are now about 10,000 (ten thousand) Palestinian "security" prisoners in Israeli prisons. Every night, about a dozen more are being taken from their homes. Since there is no more room in the prison facilities, the wardens will be pleased to get rid of some inmates. In previous gestures of this nature, the Israeli government has set free prisoners whose term was nearing the end anyhow, and car thieves.
Second, fraternization between Fatah and Hamas is well established in prison. The violent struggle in
Olmert's announcement of his readiness to release Fatah - and only Fatah - prisoners is designed to sabotage this unity. It could stigmatize the Fatah people as collaborators, and Abbas as a leader who is concerned only with the members of his own organization, not giving a damn for the others.
SO WHAT did come out of this summit conference? Some say: zero plus, some say: zero minus. No wonder that the Arab participants looked so somber.
What was it good for? Abbas was in need of strengthening after losing the Gaza Strip. Olmert promised the Americans to strengthen him. But after the conference, Olmert could have used the phrase customarily uttered by Israeli leaders visiting bereaved families: "I came to strengthen, but it is I who have been strengthened."
The sole winner was Olmert. The conference has proved that Mubarak's and Abdallah's influence on
To eliminate any doubt about this, Olmert sent the army at once into the kasbah of
If this is not occupation, what is it? But God forbid that anyone mention this word in diplomatic discourse - the ten letters that have turned into an obscenity. A ten-letter word that has become taboo in polite society.
THE DISAPPEARANCE of the occupation as a subject for discussion is the real message of the conference. All the arrangements and ceremonies were designed to create the false impression that Olmert and Abbas were the heads of two states conducting negotiations on the basis of equality - rather than the leader of an occupying power and a representative of the occupied population.
That is true for all the discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at this stage: the world has become so used to the occupation that its very existence has ceased to be a subject for discussion.
That is also evident in the daily reporting on the conflict in the Israeli and foreign media. They report on what's happening - the
There are many subjects that are being discussed, such as: whether to ease the situation of the Palestinians or to increase their misery, whether to allow Abbas' policemen to move freely with their weapons in the West Bank towns to try and eliminate the militias that fight against Israel, whether to enlarge the settlements or not. But all these discussions are based on the unquestioned assumption that the occupation is there forever.
All the talk about "strengthening" is conducted in this context: Abbas and his people are supposed to function as an administration under occupation. According to Olmert's and Bush's perception, their job is to fulfill the orders of the occupation, in return for their own money and perhaps some small arms. Incidentally, that is very similar to the "autonomy" promised by Menachem Begin to the "Arab inhabitants of Judea,
INTO THIS reality Tony Blair is now stepping.
He is being sent by the Quartet - something that does not really exist, a diplomatic fiction of four that are one.
The UN has long ago become an instrument of the US Department of State, especially in the
The Quartet is simply an American front organization. And Tony Blair is sent to
What for? If Bush really wanted to realize his "Vision" of two states, he wouldn't need Blair. He could do it all alone in a matter of weeks. Even poor Condoleezza could do it, instead of babbling about preparing final-status plans and pigeon holing them, if only she were backed by the determined will of the President.
So what is Blair's appointment for? Is it only to give some status to a redundant international star? To give a consolation prize to somebody who loyally lied and cheated for Bush before and during the
Yes, of course. But his main task is to draw out developments and gain time, to postpone everything, to foster make-belief activity, to provide the Palestinians and the world media with an illusion of progress.
Blair will come, meet, make declarations, ooze charm from every pore, generate headlines, fly, come back, make more announcements, meet again with kings, presidents and prime ministers. A long tail of news-thirsty journalists will follow him everywhere, generate media noise, write, tape and take pictures, as if he were a male Paris Hilton.
Meanwhile Palestinians and Israelis will keep dying, the wall will be finished, more land will be expropriated, settlements will be enlarged, targeted "terrorists" will be killed, the blockade on Gaza will be tightened, and all the hundred and one daily activities of the occupation will go on, the occupation that dares not speak its name.
The declared task of Blair, too, is to "strengthen Abbas". Woe to the task. Woe to Blair. Woe in particular to Abbas.