Arabs in Israel (Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal)

Submitted by abdulruff on Tue, 31/07/2007 - 17:04

Arabs in Israel

For many decades the conflict between Arab states and Israel has remained an explosive issue revolving around the creation of a homeland for the Palestinians. Emboldened by the economic as well as military support it receives from the USA-led west and other nations like India by way of selling weapons to them, Israel has successfully retained most of Palestine and conducted campaigns on Palestine. Intermittent wars by Israel on the Palestinians, on the one hand and on Lebanon on the other, not only made the issue more and more complicated but the very existence of the Palestinians became a question mark. In recent years, however, many Arab League member states have adopted a more conciliatory tone toward Israel, as they became more concerned about the rising influence of Iran's hard-line regime and al-Qaida's brand of extremist Islam. Moderate Arab countries and the West have been pushing for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking since Gaza fell to Hamas, a group that refuses to recognize Israel.

After the first ever visit by Israeli leaders to Saudi Arabia, the Arab leaders have also made a similar trip to Israel. Led by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, the Arab delegation representing 22 countries was taken deep into Israel's political heartland. The delegates met the prime minister and the president and visited parliament, bringing a proposal for full recognition of Israel by the Arab and Islamic world in return for Israel's withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. "This serious offer constitutes a major opportunity of historical levels," Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah Khatib said at a news conference alongside his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts. "It will provide Israel with the security, recognition and acceptance in this region which Israel has long aspired to." He said the plan was endorsed not only by the Arab League, but also by non-Arab Muslim states. At the outset, Israel has welcomed the proposal as a basis for negotiations but says parts of it are unacceptable.

Both Jordan and Egypt already have peace treaties with Israel and have sent their leaders to the country before, but never on the Arab League's behalf. The delegates themselves said they were sent by the Arab League and would report back to it on Monday. "We are not being asked to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. "We will be helping both the Palestinians and the Israelis to negotiate among themselves." He cautioned against any expectation of a quick resolution to the dispute. "I don't expect that we shall see a Palestinian state established tomorrow," he said. The Arab states, according to Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, expressed his reservations and skepticism stating: “We are not convinced at all that Israel is ready to embark on a serious peace process, citing continued settlement building and construction of barriers in the West Bank.” However, it has agreed to open a dialogue with Israel for the first time in its history. The decision to send a delegation to Israel to Israel to discuss the peace plan is seen as being reflective of the weakness of Arab countries, having no bargaining position.

It may be recalled that an Arab Summit held in Saudi Arabia in March 2007 revived the Abdullah Peace Plan, approved in the Beirut Summit of 2002. The Saudi peace plan was based on the principle of land for peace and mutual recognition. It is, however, a measure of the Arabs’ weakness that they have reversed themselves, offering peace, recognition and negotiations in return for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders. What Israel rejected in 2002 could hardly form the basis of negotiations in 2007. The emergence of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, deemed by Israel as its implacable enemies, has led Israel to intensify the conflict between Fatah and Hamas and lead them on to bloody confrontation. Such a strategy will enable Israel to declare that it has no negotiating partner. Bush’s plan is based on isolation of Hamas politically and its marginalization financially. The plan has been offered in the twilight years of Bush’s presidency.

The plan once again has offered Israel an Arab peace initiative and the opportunity to resume the process of direct and serious negotiations on all tracks. The UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338, which held the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by use of force and had urged Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in the June 1967 War. Israel, as expected, rejected the peace plan and reiterated its opposition to the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes within Israel proper. The Arab League, on its part, declined to redraft the plan. The Arab League initiative thus failed to make any headway. The Abdullah Plan is based on UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. It declares that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of Arab nations. Under the plan, Israel must confirm that it too seeks peace and in return for recognition and security, it must withdraw from territories occupied during the 1967 War, accept the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and achieve a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem under the terms of UN Resolution 194.

With Israel rejecting the Arab Peace proposal to create a Palestine by following the required conditions by Israel in exchange for better cooperation with Arab states, the prospects of peace in a Middle East remains a bleak proposition. Israel presented the one-day visit as an unprecedented conciliatory gesture by the Arab League, which actively pursued the destruction of the Jewish state when it was established in 1948, refused to recognize it for decades afterward and suspended Egypt for a decade after it become the first Arab state to make peace with Israel in 1979. After pulling out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel still rejects a full withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, hoping to retain areas heavily settled by Israelis. And Israel strenuously objects to the plan's apparent call for the repatriation to Israel of Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 Mideast war and their descendants — some 4.4 million people, according to the United Nations. Israel says any influx of refugees would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the way forward was to look for points of agreement between Israel and the Arab world while seeking a bilateral solution to core issues such as the refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have been undergoing one trouble after another engineered by Israel. The plot envisaged aimed at the creation of two Palestines one for Hamas and another for Fatah and accordingly Abbas has overthrown the Hams government and installed his own. Since Hamas took over Gaza in mid-June, Israel has only permitted shipments of food and basic supplies into Gaza through two smaller passages. Israel, which shuns Hamas as a terrorist organization, says it cannot reopen Karni passage. Israel will be ready to reopen the crossings when the Palestinians get their house together regarding security at the crossings," he added. Tel Aviv is using the passage as a weapon to punish the Palestinians.

The U.N. Mideast envoy Michael Williams warned on July 25 of impending economic collapse in the Gaza Strip unless Israel reopens the Hamas-led territory's main commercial crossing to the outside world to ease international isolation. Williams said the closure of the Karni crossing in early June has prevented the export of agricultural and industrial goods to Israel, the West Bank and elsewhere, as well as the import of materials needed for manufacturing and construction. The restriction has brought the Gaza economy to a standstill. The World Bank estimates that 75 percent of Gaza's factories have closed and more than 68,000 Palestinian workers have been laid off as a result, he said. In his report, Williams praised the quick response of the international community to provide financial aid and political support to the Fatah-led government set up in the West Bank by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his pro-Western prime minister, Salam Fayyad. He said Gaza and the West Bank cannot remain separated in the long term, but there are no immediate prospects for reconciliation between the two sides, either. "Unless the crossings are open for imports and exports, the downward economic spiral will lead to extensive hardship for an already impoverished Gaza Strip," Williams told the U.N. Security Council in his regular monthly briefing on the Middle East. Israel says that it is fully cooperating with the relative U.N. agencies to ensure the constant flow of foodstuff and medicine into Gaza to ensure there are no humanitarian shortages, and the international community confirms that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in Jerusalem.

A new vague Bush plan is being promoted in the Middle East. In a surprise move, President Bush in a nationally-televised speech on July 16 proposed an international conference for reviving the Middle East peace process. President Bush’s naiveté in putting across the proposal in such stark terms is typical of him. He also announced $ 190 million assistance for the Palestinians and clearly wants the Palestinians to shed Hamas by calling Hamas as terrorists, and Fatah a patriotic front with Mahmoud Abbas, a visionary of “a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people”. Bush’s 2003 road-map visualizing a two-state solution also talked of territorial adjustments, showing that the US did not support Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories. Bush’s characterization of Hamas as more “devoted to extremism and murder than to serving the Palestinian people” would further deepen the conflict. The proposal for convening an international conference, to be chaired by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2007, involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and some Arab states would only complicate the issue further and also intensify the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. It is not only the Hamas alone but Israel’s leadership too is against Bush’s proposal. “We are not willing to discuss at this stage the three core issues of borders, refugees, and Jerusalem,” declared Olmert’s spokesman. Little wonder that Middle East observers are skeptical of the success of Bush’s initiative. Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator, has rightly observed, “The two-state solution will need to deliver and have legitimacy on both sides to be sustainable. This cannot be based on an irreconcilable Palestinian political division.”

In the meantime, the former British Premier also undertook a trip to Jerusalem. President Mahmoud Abbas and his pro-Western prime minister, Salam Fayyad, urged Blair to push a political agenda that would help restart direct talks with Israel on the core issues. Blair recognizes and understands that Gaza can't be separated. He understands that the Gaza economy is important and vital for the West Bank economy. Palestinian business leaders told Blair that Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank have stifled the economy. "Reform and economy can't be tackled without Gaza being an integral component." Israel says the barrier, about two-thirds complete along its planned 425-mile route, is meant to stop suicide bombers, but the Palestinians call it a land grab. The U.N.'s International Court of Justice in The Hague has declared the structure illegal.

Hamas has understandably denounced both Blair and the new Middle East peace plan, “which aims to serve the interests of the Zionist enemy” and will separate the Gaza Strip more deeply from the West Bank while increasing divisions among the Palestinians. The supporters of Abbas' Fatah and the rival Hamas movement keep clashing killing each other. People are injured and killed in regular Israeli air raids in Gaza. As Blair visited Ramallah, riots erupted at the An Najah University in Nablus, about 30 miles away. A Palestinian student was shot and seriously wounded. The rejection of Blair mediation by Hamas is quite understandable because they don’t trust him. But the fact remains that he had to sacrifice his Premiership of UK only when he announced a plan to withdraw the troops from Israel in opposition to USA stand for continuity. Bush is a different matter altogether.

Under emerging situation in the region, Whether or not a delegation sent to Israel by the Arab League is in fact an Arab League delegation, the visit is part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts meant to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after a seven-year lull. The international community's Mideast envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, made his first trip in his new role to the region this week, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected next week. While the Israeli and Arab officials greeted each other with smiles, jokes and what looked like genuine warmth, both sides acknowledged that the Arab League peace proposal cannot bypass direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

It seems, no Israeli government will sign an agreement with a Palestinian leader who is not authoritative, peace-seeking, residing over a unified populace and in control of all guns. Both the West and Israel have groomed Abbas to initiate a two-nation agenda for the Palestinians, but that would be dangerous for the Palestinians themselves, even if that solves the "Israeli problem". No Palestinian government can sign an accord with Israel that does not resolve the core issues of Jerusalem, borders and refugees. Neither the US-led West whole-heartedly supports the Palestinian cause nor is Israel, on the strength of US support, keen to resolve the Palestine crisis. One thus does not really know, if all these delegations, big-power visits and peace plans could only essentially mean going back to square one with no tangible results!

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DR.ABDUL RUFF Colachal
India

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