March 24, 2006

"International reverberations"

Here's an article from yesterday's Ha'aretz by Meron Benvenisti. It's an interesting article in its own right but it carries with it a flat contradiction of a major aspect of the recent Israel Lobby article in the LRB in that it shows how America can and does pressure Israel to yield certain results. In this instance America intervened to stop Israel from making their policy of starving the Palestinians too obvious.
The trusteeship alternative
By Meron Benvenisti

The opening and closure of the Karni crossing could have been the subject of a comedy sketch, had it not been part of a humanitarian crisis for more than one million Gaza Strip residents whose basic products are running out. In the morning the crossing is reported closed due to a "serious warning," and a few hours later the crossing opens and a few trucks pass through, until it's closed once again.

The American ambassador invited Israeli representatives to his home in Herzliya, and that was all it took for Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to instruct the security establishment to open the crossing "in a limited manner." His spokespeople confirmed that it's not the humanitarian crises itself that's bothering Olmert, but the "international reverberations" the closure has caused.

It has also become clear that the "international reverberations" - rather than general elections - are the sole factor liable to change Israel's policy, and an American edict undermines any "sovereign and proud" Israeli position. Fear of an international reaction is the most effective roadblock for hasty steps, and the absence of such a fear serves as authorization to take belligerent actions that lead to impassioned public reactions - as though the issue at hand were courageous acts rather than underhanded opportunism.

The absence of a handful of international monitors was enough to jump at the opportunity to carry out the showy operation in Jericho, without worrying about the wrath of the United States. Israel will not be criticized for the humiliation suffered by the Palestinian Authority and its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas (and the entire Palestinian nation), since the PA and its chairman exist solely as a default; and everyone knows they survive thanks to an alliance of conflicting interests that support the existence of a violent and unstable status quo, only because of the fear that its collapse will bring about a worse situation.

That is the context in which the issue of the continued existence of the fiction known as the Palestinian Authority must be examined. Much has already been said about how the cynical use of terms such as "government" and "parliament" to describe Palestinian institutions is meant to disguise a reality of total chaos and continue the charity system known as international aid.

Those calling for the PA to be dismantled think the very existence of the fiction helps Israel continue a deluxe occupation, without being required to fulfill its commitments as an occupying power, and also continue to impose the heavy financial responsibility on the donor states. Those who support the continued existence of the PA say that even in its wretched condition, its very existence symbolizes the demand of self-determination, and that its activity in civil matters, no matter how limited, is important to the process of building the Palestinian nation. The Palestinian people, they say, need national institutions.

It appears that on balance, the continued existence of the PA serves Israel's interests more than those of the Palestinians. Israel is interested in the PA as a symbol of a terror organization (especially since Hamas came into power). Israel is also interested in maintaining the status quo - which is disguised in the election as "unilateral steps of convergence" - but in effect reinforces the regime of cantons, whose independence is, so to speak, verified every day at the Karni crossing.

Dismantling the PA would shake up this status quo, but will not cause chaos, as many fear. The international community would be forced to intervene, because otherwise, a humanitarian catastrophe would take place that no one would be able to shake off. The status quo that Israel wants to perpetuate generates boredom and revulsion that push the international community away from intervention, but dismantling the PA would force a de facto trusteeship, if only to monitor the continued financial support of the Palestinian people.

Israel - which is vigorously opposed to the internationalization of the conflict, out of an aspiration to utilize its complete power advantage without external intervention - will be faced with a tough dilemma. If it opposes such a move, it will be compelled to establish a ruling government in the territories on its own, and funding it. If it doesn't oppose the move, an effective roadblock against its exclusive control will be established for the first time.

A de facto trusteeship will undoubtedly establish a new Palestinian Authority that is not based on the Oslo Accords, of which the only sections left are those that are comfortable for Israel. Under the cover of this temporary trusteeship, the PA will be able to conduct negotiations without worrying about a dictate or boycott. After all, it has already been proven that even the ghost of a threat of international sanctions is enough to moderate boastful Israeli steps.

The opening of the Karni crossing due to American pressure should serve as an example of more daring steps. Whoever does not want to speak with the Palestinian Authority or pay a billion dollars a year to rule over the occupied territories should not complain when faced with the alternative.
I think Meron Benvenisti was a Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem once upon a time but became conscience stricken over the treatment of the Palestinians.

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