Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 - 31 October 2007
Issue No. 868
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Blair's true colours

The real reason Blair was seconded to the Quartet -- liquidating Palestinian resistance to occupation -- appears ever more clear, writes Saleh Al-Naami

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A Palestinian teenager uses a makeshift slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli soldiers during a demonstration held by Palestinians, foreign and Israeli peace activists protesting against the Apartheid wall

Rabbi Benny Elon, president of the right-wing Israeli National Union Party, was unable to conceal his relief last Thursday when a Hebrew radio news programme presenter asked him about his evaluation of the recent plan devised by Quartet envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "Finally, even Blair agrees with us on two primary points," Benny Elon said. "These are uprooting the Palestinian terrorist organisations and solving the problem of the refugees without holding Israel any responsibility for it."

Revealed the previous day, Blair's plan for the reform of Palestinian Authority (PA) institutions left resounding reverberations in the Palestinian arena. Factions, elites and the Palestinian public alike were shocked when it became clear that "reform" of PA institutions, as Blair sees it, means ensuring conditions that allow for a tightening grip on Palestinian resistance movements, particularly in the West Bank. The plan draws no tie between this and decreasing attacks on Palestinians by Israel's occupation army and settlers.

According to the plan, a Hebrew copy of which was posted on the Israeli Haaretz newspaper website last Wednesday, Blair views it necessary to enact administrative reform in the security agencies of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to make their war against Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in the West Bank more effective. The plan draws a connection between the ability of Abbas's agencies to wage a relentless campaign against Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the future of a settlement to the conflict. In the plan's introduction, Blair wrote that without the Palestinian security agencies conducting severe operations against Palestinian resistance movements in the West Bank, there is no hope of reaching a settlement to the conflict.

To make Abbas's security agencies more effective in their war against Palestinian resistance movements, the plan recommends granting powers to the judiciary and the Office of the Public Attorney in the West Bank that allow them to try members and leaders of the resistance. In addition, the plan recommends forming a new PA administration for the supervision of prisons that includes European oversight so as to guarantee that members of the resistance who have been tried are not released.

The plan further calls for increasing the number of European consultants who aid the Palestinian police in its activities to pursue members of resistance movements. It also calls for increasing the work of the team led by American security coordinator General Keith Dayton, who is responsible for increasing the effectiveness of the PA's security agencies and in particular the national security and presidential security agencies.

Palestinians were appalled by Blair's recommendation to include Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak as a member of the committee to supervise execution of the plan, alongside Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Blair himself. Blair has submitted a copy of his plan to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and plans to present it for approval during the upcoming summit meeting set to convene this year in Annapolis.

Yet Palestinians agree that the most alarming part of Blair's plan is its attempt to lay a basis for settling the Palestinian refugee issue. Using the argument of working to improve the economic conditions of Palestinians, the plan recommends constructing new housing projects in the West Bank with the goal of repatriating refugees there. At the head of the projects recommended by Blair is the establishment of a new Palestinian city near Ramallah in the central West Bank and allocated to house hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees as part of a plan to "rehabilitate" them. Israeli right-wing leaders and pundits promote this same plan as a solution to the refugee issue.

In return for all the obligations the plan places upon the PA, it only urges Israel to lighten restrictions placed on the freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank as Blair considers it important for Palestinians there to feel a "positive" change in their standard of life.

For their part, representatives of the Palestinian factions have harshly criticised Blair's plan, describing it as seeking to eliminate the Palestinian cause. Jamil Al-Majdalawi, politburo member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and head of the refugee committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), holds that some of the parties close to Abbas had encouraged Blair to propose his plan.

For his part, Khaled Al-Butsh, a prominent leader in Islamic Jihad, says the plan aims to "cheat" the right of return under the slogan of "rehabilitating refugees". It represents an attempt to essentially put an end to the refugee issue. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Al-Butsh said that Blair sees no problem in Israel's "criminal assaults", settlement activities, Judaisation of Palestinian areas, and settler attacks.

For Yehia Moussa, vice-president of the Hamas bloc in the PLC, Abbas is colluding with Blair to eliminate the refugee issue. Moussa points to statements made by Abbas recently indicating the possibility of finding "creative solutions" to the refugee issue. Speaking to the Weekly, Moussa stressed that Blair and those in contact with him will discover that the Palestinian people are capable of "undermining the conspiracy they are plotting".

The rancour of Palestinians was piqued by the fact that Blair's plan flagrantly ignores the oppressive measures visited upon Palestinians by the Israeli army and settlers. This despite all the statistics provided by human rights groups, including Israeli organisations, confirming that Palestinian civilians are subjected to horrendous abuses. According to statistics, the number of Palestinians killed by occupation army bullets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year is 350 while the number of occupation soldiers and settlers killed by Palestinian resistance operations has been only five.

According to Israeli human rights organisations, settlers committed 25,000 assaults against Palestinians throughout the West Bank since the start of this year alone. In some areas, such as Hebron, these assaults have led to large numbers of Palestinians leaving their neighbourhoods. Despite the widening scope and intensity of such assaults, only one settler has been sent to trial, and he was released on a meagre bail. In the northern West Bank, settlers have uprooted 10,000 olive trees and have poisoned hundreds of artesian wells. They have also let loose large herds of swine to destroy agricultural crops. And according to an Israeli study, the military checkpoints Israel has erected in the West Bank interfere with the lives of 80 per cent of all Palestinians.

Yet even more serious in Blair's plan is the fact that it ignores the frank and documented statements made by leaders of the Israeli army in which they admit that they create conditions that facilitate settlers committing crimes against Palestinian civilians. General Yuval Bazak, head of the "military theory development" department in the Israeli army's joint staff and who once led the Israeli army in the West Bank, recently told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that the occupation army has for dozens of years ignored the assaults of settlers on Palestinian civilians. "A grave deception is taking place here," Bazak said. "We, as the army, are helping Jewish settlers to commit crimes against unarmed Palestinian civilians."

He added that the Israeli army covered for Israeli terrorist organisations active in settlements. He further stressed that the army and Israeli intelligence do not make any moves to dismantle Israeli terrorist organisations.

At the same time that the plan recommends "reform" of the Palestinian judicial system to make it more "competent" in dealing with Palestinian resistance movements, it fails to address the Israeli judicial system, which Israeli human rights organisations say ignores, in a racist manner, the grievances of Palestinian citizens assaulted by settlers. A report issued by the Israeli organisation There is Law, which monitors occupation activities in the West Bank, states that only one per cent of the complaints filed by Palestinian citizens in the West Bank with the Israeli police over settler assaults made against them end with positive convictions. In all of the remaining cases, the file is simply closed.

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