Palestine in dire crisis

Published : Aug 13, 2004 00:00 IST

Even as Israel faces reprimand and dishonour all over the world over its Apartheid Wall, the PLO's dominant Fatah faction is half-paralysed by corruption scandals and a grim leadership crisis. There is an urgent need for reform in Fatah and a concerted global struggle against the Israeli occupation.

IF by "rogue state" we mean "a nation living apart from the rest, and of a savage or destructive disposition", then Israel fits that definition like a glove. Not only has it been in flagrant violation of numerous Security Council resolutions starting with 224 and 338; it has also consolidated its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, used unspeakably violent and cruel means to do so, and inflicted every conceivable form of injustice, ignominy and insult upon Palestinian civilians.

The July 9 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague should leave no one in doubt about the profound illegality of Israel's latest venture to annex territory by force and destructively break up the Palestinian society, economy and political arrangements - namely, the 700 km-long "Separation Barrier" or "Apartheid Wall". The ICJ ruled by a 14-1 majority - the dissenting judge is a United States (U.S.) nominee - that the complex of fences and barriers comprising the wall infringes the rights of Palestinian inhabitants, whom it traps in enclaves, while integrating illegal Israeli-Jewish settlement on the occupied territory: "The construction of the wall and its associated regime are contrary to international law."

The verdict's significance lies quite simply in the fact that the ICJ is the world's highest judicial forum on international law. It is heightened by the fact that the Court is comprised of nominees of United Nations (U.N.) member-states and the judges generally follow the policy orientations of their respective governments. This ICJ opinion represents an overwhelming consensus among the world's nation states - despite their conservatism and other limitations.

According to the ICJ, the wall has "imposed substantial restrictions on the freedom of movement of the occupied Palestinian territory" and constitutes a gross illegality. Bluntly put, Israel has no business to create, in the name of fighting `terrorism", an utter monstrosity - as "the occupying power, in the occupied Palestinian territory". As is well known, the ICJ's opinion is not binding, but it carries immense moral authority and can be diplomatically debilitating. The World Court did not stop at delivering its "advisory opinion". It recommended that Israel pay reparations for the damage caused to the Palestinians and that "the U.N., and especially the General Assembly and Security Council, consider what further action is required to bring an end to the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall."

True to type, Israel has defied the ruling. It says it has "no reason to submit to a plainly absurd decision which pays no account to the role of the security fence in the fight against terrorism". Here is a classic example of a nation that "lives apart" from the international community (barring the U.S.), and shows total contempt for its will and the opinion of its highest judicial tribunal. Indeed, months before the verdict was delivered, Israel had declared that the ICJ's proceedings constitute interference in its sovereign domestic affairs.

Israel pleaded before the court that the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 (which concerns the rights and duties of an occupying power in the territory occupied by it), does not apply to its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In other words, Israel is above the law, and it can go on with its savage conduct. The reaction has strong parallels with the response of apartheid South Africa to the ICJ ruling of 1971 that its occupation of Namibia was illegal - although of course, perpetrated in the name of "security".

Israel has shown even greater disdain for a resolution the U.N. General Assembly adopted on July 20 following the ICJ judgment, which was supported by 150 states and opposed by only six - including, significantly, only the U.S. and Australia, backed by virtual U.S. dependencies such as Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, besides Israel. All 25 members of the European Union (E.U.) voted for the motion, which demanded that Israel comply with the ICJ ruling, pull down the barrier and pay compensation to those whose lives have been affected by it. More than 30 nations, which had abstained in the December 2003 vote referring the issue to the ICJ, voted for the resolution.

The statement of Dan Gillerman, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., on the resolution will be long remembered for its sheer brazenness: "Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall." He went on say: "This resolution cannot but embolden those who are the true enemies" not just of the Israeli people, but of "the Palestinian people" as well. Perhaps never before have we witnessed such sanctimonious posturing and solicitude for a people whom an occupying state has turned into virtual prisoners and serfs.

IT is impossible to explain Israel's defiance except on the basis of a seriously paranoid attitude, one which considers Israel the permanent victim, forever targeted by enemies, overt and covert, lurking around the bush - as much in New York and Paris, as in Gaza or East Jerusalem. Paranoia (or persecution complex) and "savage dispositions" go together and reinforce each other. After the U.N. resolution, Israel summoned three E.U. Ambassadors to reprimand them - for giving, as Ariel Sharon put it, "a green light to Palestinian terror". Israeli leaders told visiting E.U. representative Javier Solana that the Union was prejudiced and would be unable to play a significant role in resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

A similar persecution complex inspired Sharon's July 19 appeal to all Jews living in France to move to Israel "immediately" - because France witnessed some anti-Semitic attacks. This is an extraordinary proposition. It is not as if such attacks - some of them were Jewish-Muslim clashes - were widespread or carried out with the collusion of the French state. Nor did they go uncondemned. France is home to Europe's biggest Jewish population and it is impossible to describe the situation there as one of systematic discrimination against the Jews, which has created pervasive fear and insecurity. Sharon's statement drew a sharp response from President Jacques Chirac, who called it "unacceptable" and said Sharon "is not welcome" in France.

The sheer audacity - and ludicrousness - of Sharon's statement is best captured by Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, through an imagined contrast: "In a dramatic television broadcast, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called upon the million Russian emigrants in Israel to return at once to their homeland, in view of the growing danger to their security there."

The "report" is entirely hypothetical. But it is easy, say Avnery; to imagine what would have been the reaction in Israel if Putin had indeed made such an appeal. Or if Jacques Chirac had called upon the French-speakers in Israel "... to move to France, where their life is not threatened by suicide bombers." Avnery predicts: "the Israeli media would have gone berserk. The Knesset (Parliament), in an emergency session, would have denounced the outrageous anti-Semitic outburst of the President of Russia and/or France. The politicians would have tried to outdo each other in condemnations of the inadmissible interference in the internal affairs of Israel. The Foreign Office would have ordered the return of the Ambassador in Moscow/Paris... ."

THERE is something pathological about the Israeli state - and the assumption that it is a safe refuge for Jews. Israeli policies have made insecure not just the Palestinians but Israeli citizens themselves. More than a quarter of a million Jews have left Israel in recent years. While many left in search of jobs - unemployment currently runs at 11 per cent and the economy has slowed down because of the political situation and huge military spending - some emigrated because of fear and insecurity in daily life.

A state that is blind to its own limitations, which defines security in purely military-physical terms, and which imposes that definition upon its citizens and upon people whom it subjugates through occupation, is a sick state. That sickness can be cured only through a combination of domestic political change; powerful, effective, focused resistance to the occupation; and a strong international campaign to end the occupation. There could be no better moment than the present for building the third of these components. (Frontline, July 16). As for the first, Israel's domestic politics remains murky. Indeed, it is going through a particularly bad phase as the liberal-left space has shrunk. In Israel's "national security"-obsessed political climate, Labour is again prepared to join hands with Likud - giving up its opposition to many of Sharon's policies like promoting settlements and targeted assassinations of Palestinians.

HOWEVER, it is the state of the resistance in the Occupied Territories, and especially of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), that is truly worrisome. The Palestinian Authority (P.A.) led by President Yasser Arafat faces its most serious crisis since its top leaders returned from exile in Tunisia. The PLO's Fatah faction, its largest and leading constituent, is now in dire straits. It may even be on the brink of virtual disintegration.

The high point of this process was the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei on July 17, itself preceded by a wave of kidnappings - of a high police official and foreign nationals - and violent protests. The dismissal of police commander Ghazi al-Jibali and his replacement by Arafat's cousin, the widely corrupt and hated Musa, in turn provoked further fury in Gaza. Underlying the resignation and the public display of intra-Fatah rivalry is intense popular frustration with the Arafat leadership because of its corruption and growing alienation from the people. The rule of law is breaking down, especially in the Gaza Strip, as different cabals and groups stake out their territory in anticipation of the planned Israeli pullout. The burning of P.A. security posts and the kidnapping and public humiliation of the police chief all speak of the chaos that rules in Palestine.

One of the greatest sources of popular discontent - and easily the most shocking - lies in recent disclosures that top Fatah leaders have been involved in the sale of cement from a Egyptian plant to contractors who are constructing buildings for the Israeli military, and according to some sources, the hated Apartheid Wall, no less. What could be a greater betrayal or treachery than this?

Corruption in the P.A. is not a new phenomenon, nor is the elitism of its leadership. The opulent lifestyles of P.A. officials and apparatchiks - in contrast to the stark poverty of the masses and a sharp fall in their living standards in the past few years - themselves provide suggestive evidence of both. Documentary evidence of extensive corruption in the P.A. has emerged from official committees of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

"The report was based on a former report by the Auditor's Office, which revealed a misuse of funds amounting to more than $326 million, that is, 43 per cent of the 1996 budget. Of this budget, 35 per cent was spent on security forces and 12.5 per cent ... went to the Office of the President, which left only 9.5 per cent ... for public allocation. It made certain recommendations and demanded action to correct these ills but they were not adhered to."

According to an investigation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), P.A. officials diverted as much as $900 million to overseas accounts between 1997 and 2003. The IMF also found that $74 million was earmarked for Arafat's office, but could not determine its intended recipients or purpose.

All this is bad enough. But the "cementgate" disclosures are even more shocking. Prime Minister Qurei's family is said to be linked to one of the cement companies involved. No wonder a clear majority (43-4) of the PLC wants Arafat to accept his resignation. Until recently, Arafat, the "elder statesman", whose past contribution to the Palestinian cause nobody disputes, has been spared criticism. But now, even he is attracting flak. Former PLO negotiator Hannah Ashrawi has called for an end to his "one-man show". Arafat must see the writing on the wall.

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