The Key to Peace


June 18, 2008 18:40 | by Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn explains why the US and EU are crucial to Israel's policies of repression.

George Bush, in common with all other outgoing US presidents, is paying a visit to the Middle East.

He is going to join in the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. During a rather testing interview on BBC World Service on Tuesday, he seemed to have difficulty in understanding the concept of the Nakba, the violence wreaked upon Palestinians during Israel's foundation.

Bush's visit to what he claims is the only democracy in the Middle East is brimming with contrasts and irony. Almost uniquely in the world, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has a lower public approval rating than the US president. The Israeli prime minister is currently running at 5 per cent, a level to which even Bush hasn't yet descended.

Olmert is mired in corruption scandals. The more vociferously he asserts his innocence, the stranger his position appears.

Bush claims that he is visiting Israel to celebrate its anniversary and extol its democracy, yet when he was challenged with questions from the BBC about the poverty of Palestinians living within Israel, he seemed unable to provide any answers. It was the same story on the issue of poverty in Palestine as a whole.

After nine days of intense travel and serious, meaningful discussion in the region, former US president Jimmy Carter was able to at least present a basis for future negotiations, something that Tony Blair, after almost a year as Middle East envoy, has been singularly unable to achieve. The "quartet" has shown not the slightest inclination towards any serious discussions, preferring instead to pump money in to support the status quo and trying to further isolate Hamas.

When confronted with questions about future negotiations with Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah, President Bush brusquely assured his interviewer that he was "done with talking" and that the real problem in the region was the instability caused by Iran and Syria. The way to bring about peace was for the US to provide military support to the government of Lebanon, declared Bush.

If they weren't so tragic, his outpourings would seem absurd.

Aside from the billions of dollars that it is spending in Iraq, the US is Israel's biggest military backer by far. All US foreign policy decisions are made on the basis of support for the status quo where Israel is concerned.

This has been confirmed by US presidential candidates John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The latter promised delicately to obliterate Iran if any attack was made on Israel.

The current US strategy is to provide military assistance to the government of Lebanon in order to defeat what they claim to be an insurgent Hezbollah organisation. If this strategy is followed through, it is only a matter of time before we have US troops in Lebanon and the danger of a war with either Syria or Iran or both.

While the US shoulders much of the blame for this situation, the EU should not escape censure. It is now Israel's biggest market, because of the EU trade association agreement which guarantees Tel Aviv access to the massive European market.

The EU agreement contains human rights clauses which require recipient countries of the beneficiaries of Europe to abide by human rights norms. Israel has consistently breached them, with assassination attacks on individual civilians, the imprisonment of dozens of elected Palestinian parliamentarians and collective punishment of the people of Gaza via the barbed wire prison fence that dominates their benighted lives.

At the very least, the EU-Israel trade agreement should be suspended, thereby ensuring that European taxpayers spend less of their money subsidising the occupation of Palestine by Israel and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Over the weekend, Al Jazeera produced a very interesting programme to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba. It filmed villagers exiled in Lebanon trying to return to the family village from which they had been forced 60 years ago. This is the real anniversary.

The Israeli Palestinians who lived in the area knew of their impending arrival and the documentary showed relatives trying to talk to each other through barbed wire fences. Israeli soldiers patrolled up and down with machine guns as those on the Israeli side of the fence handed through plastic cups of soil collected from the now Israeli-occupied land.

The British government, in common with most European governments, has sent a message of congratulation to Israel. Couched in unequivocal terms, it shows no signs whatsoever of seeing the irony in demanding that the regime in Myanmar allows aid to reach desperate people on the Irrawaddy Delta, while, at the same time, showing "understanding" of Israel's plight in denying life support to the Palestinian people.

In Gaza, Israel continues its wholly illegal policy of collective punishment by restricting fuel, destroying any industry that has managed to survive the blockade and ensuring that the Palestinian people remain dependent on the sporadic arrival of UN lorries and water supplies.

Meanwhile, Bush, only an hour's drive away in Jerusalem, will be congratulating Israel on its 60 years of democracy and independence.

Those far-sighted people in the Israeli peace movement, such as Gush Shalom, have done their best to point out that the future of the people living in Israel will be guaranteed not by collective punishment, barbed wire entanglements or US-supplied jets, but by accepting that the Palestinian people have rights to land, life and to return.

Bush's visit will do nothing to bring about peace and reconciliation, but it will be a boost to the hard-line zionist factions in Israel who know that continued US support guarantees its occupation and the apartheid wall. For the Palestinian people, it guarantees their poverty, misery and their division. What a legacy.

Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North, in London. This article first appeared in the Morning Star

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