Complicity in crime

Published : Oct 10, 2003 00:00 IST

Israel's threat to "remove" Yasser Arafat is part of a larger strategy to gain control of as much of the region's land and water resources as possible.

THE United States government has not been known for its respect for international law, at least over the past 50 years. It has typically announced wars on its own terms, and interfered shamelessly in the internal affairs of friends and foes alike. Nor has the U.S. administration shrunk from "taking out" (to use President Bush's graphic language) democratically elected leaders in other countries who do not suit its own geopolitical purposes.

The history of assassination of leaders across the world, aided openly or covertly by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. government, is a long and detailed one. Surprisingly, the story is not particularly one of much efficiency: Fidel Castro alone, who has survived more than 100 attempts to kill him (many of which were financed or otherwise supported by the CIA or other U.S. federal agencies), can testify to that.

So it is probably not surprising that the U.S. chose to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned statements by Israeli Cabinet Ministers that Israel plans to kill President Yasser Arafat or deport him from Palestine, and even voted against the U.N. General Assembly resolution that condemned both such statements and the suicide bombings by Palestinians.

This is part of a much longer pattern of denying recognition to the Palestinian tragedy on the part of the U.S. government. Over the last three decades, the U.S. government has vetoed more than 30 U.N. resolutions either affirming the rights of Palestinians or condemning Israeli acts of repressive violence. Most recently, it even blocked a resolution condemning the Israeli army's deliberate killing of U.N. personnel in the occupied territories.

In turn, Israeli governments over the decades, and especially in the last decade, have interpreted these vetoes, along with the billions of dollars of aid that the U.S. provides, as a form of implicit support for aggressive activities. This is why they have continued, with impunity, armed incursions into Palestinian territories as well as neighbouring Arab states, the seizure of land for new settlements and the assassination of Palestinian leaders and activists.

Nevertheless, the current focus on Yasser Arafat, and the open declaration of the Israeli government's intention to kill him, must mark a new phase in even this depressing history. To begin with, of course, it must be asked, why this obsession with Arafat? The comments about him by both Israeli and U.S. establishments make him out to be the root cause of the problem, the basic barrier to peace in the region. The supposed symbol of Palestinian unity - and the personification of whatever government the people of Palestine possess - has been turned into the cause of all the discord.

This is not just overblown, it is completely ludicrous. Arafat is already effectively no more than a prisoner of the Israelis, confined as he is to his compound in Ramallah and surrounded by an effective siege by Israeli forces. He represents an authority, which has been so weakened by the constraints and depredations caused by Israeli pressure, that it can do next to nothing for its own people.

The peace plan, which Arafat supported, is now so discredited among the Palestinians that his own standing has been severely affected and his own legitimacy is under question. Paradoxically, it is precisely the Israeli threat to assassinate him that has revived his fortunes among his own people, and made him once more a potent symbol of the Palestine struggle for nationhood.

In any case, it is completely clear to all observers that any attempt to remove or assassinate Arafat would lead to much greater violence in the region, not only because it would provide much greater support for more militant tendencies among the Palestinians, but because the outrage provoked by such an act would create another spiral of desperate violence from an already desperate people.

So at first sight it appears bizarre that any Israeli state would want even to utter such threats, much less carry them out, since it appears to be so suicidal in its effects in terms of escalating violence, which already threatens to spin out of control. But on second thought, it may not be so strange. Arafat has indeed become a symbol of both Palestine unity and the possibility of a Palestine state, and it is both of these which Israel is determined to demolish.

It is now increasingly evident that Israel's medium-term goal is not just the scuttling of the peace process and annexing as much land as possible in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also destroying the possibility of a unified Palestinian state, in favour of small and dispersed settlements of Palestinians along the lines of the Bantustans in South Africa.

This is part of a larger strategy of gaining control of as much of the region's land and water resources as possible. The combination of organised state violence and settlements has already meant the division of Palestine territories, and had made ordinary life hellish for most Palestinians. Quite apart from the direct killings (nearly 3,000 people, including children, in the last three years) and indirect deaths of those injured and unable to be treated because of the destruction of infrastructure, there are other serious forms of economic oppression which Israel has wrought upon the Palestinians.

There are almost daily attacks on physical infrastructure - roads, buildings such as houses and apartment blocks, even hospitals and schools. Economic activity in the region has consequently been declining so rapidly that last year the per capita income of the occupied territories fell to less than half of its level in 1999. It is estimated that around two-thirds of the people of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank live in conditions of extreme poverty. Unemployment is estimated to be more than 40 per cent.

In addition to all this, of course, there is the daily indignity and even terror to which average Palestinians are subjected to on a routine basis. Such abysmal conditions inevitably produce desperate acts of resistance, and also provide a natural breeding ground for fundamentalist groups. In such a situation, it is a wonder that the attempts of moderates such as Arafat to participate in a negotiated peace process managed to survive at all.

But they are not to be allowed to survive if Israel has its way, because the alternative of a spiral of violence would probably enable a quicker realisation of its own strategy of annexations and regional domination, which would reduce the Palestinians to no more than a few settlements of oppressed minorities.

This is the regime that the U.S. openly supports, arms, pays for, and protects in international forums like the U.N. It is also the regime that is increasingly beloved of our own Indian government, as the recent warm reception accorded by the NDA to the visiting Ariel Sharon established. The threat of killing Arafat is only the latest indignity in a series of monstrous crimes that are being committed against the Palestine people, and any government that supports Israel at this time is effectively complicit in these crimes.

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