So what’s changed since the most recent war?

“Then we will see who is for peace and who isn’t.”

Those were the words of the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when world opinion forced peace on Israel during its destructive excess in Lebanon. What followed was ominous. First there was Israel’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon. Then its apparent defeat … if not militarily then certainly by propaganda.

Time holds the truth to Rice’s statement. Rice expected, as did many others, Israel would continue to be attacked by terrorists raining down rockets from havens inside surrounding occupied territories and countries.

A review of the actions of all participants in the Middle East since the Lebanon debacle truly shows who is and who isn’t for peace.

Those captive Israeli soldiers, Israel’s spark for the war, have still not been freed in Gaza or Lebanon although negotiations are taking place. Israel still has thousands of Palestinian detainees, detained without trial.

Hezbollah has taken no military action against Israel. Hezbollah wasn’t destroyed and given its push for increased power within the Lebanese Government its position has strengthened. Undoubtedly, regardless of any UN force, it still controls Southern Lebanon. Israel admits it couldn’t stop Hezbollah’s rockets with military action and presumably Hezbollah still has that capability.

Lebanon is incapable of even defending itself let alone launching action against Israel. Internally its attempt at democracy may be sliding into disarray mainly because of the imbalance created by Hezbollah’s increased popularity and support. The next election, if there is one, will determine the long-term prospects for stability in Lebanon.

Syria and Iran continue as ever, with Iran preaching its particular brand of extremism and Syria still supporting Hezbollah albeit with less prominence. But Syria’s President Bashir al-Assad has said, recently in a BBC interview, Israel and Syria could live together in peace. However negotiations over the return of the Syrian Golan Heights would be a perquisite. They of course are still Israeli occupied and are home to illegal settlements.

Palestinian territories are still occupied.

Gaza is still base for Hamas extremists and some terrorists still fire rockets into Israel. Israel after withdrawing, since the war, staged a further incursion into Gaza and yet the rockets still fall. Obviously the same type of military action failed in both Lebanon and Gaza. Israel continues to blockade Gaza with closure of all borders between Israel and Gaza, and Egypt and Gaza. Gaza, as has periodically occurred in the past, is once again merely a giant internment camp.

The West Bank is still occupied. The 400 or so Israeli checkpoints are still operating. The “defensive wall” still encircles pockets of Palestinian lands. Palestinians are still picked up and held without trial by Israeli military authorities. The illegal settlements still exist. Palestinians still throw rocks and now paint murals on the wall.

Half the elected Palestinian Government still languish without trial in Israeli jails. The Palestinian PM, Ismail Haniyah, is in exile in Egypt.

Terrorist organisations, Iranian and Syrian officials still chant the mantra of destruction of Israel. Although al-Assad’s anti Israeli rhetoric is probably for home consumption.

Egypt and Jordan still have defined borders and peace treaties which accept Israel’s right to exist. The Arab League’s 2002 peace proposal on the basis of accepting Israel’s right to exist and a return to the pre ’67 war borders is still on the table. Even Hamas before the democratic and UN supervised Palestinian elections dropped the destruction of Israel demand from its election manifesto. We in the west all understand the meaning of that significant action.

Israel still maintains Arab Governments including the Palestinian Government wish to destroy Israel. The Israeli Government still, since the democratic election of Hamas, retains the taxes gathered from Palestinians and refuses to pass the money on to the elected Palestinian Government.

So what’s changed since the recent war? Very little, except Israel, within weeks of the end in Lebanon, auctioned Palestinian land and has expanded its existing illegal settlements using a device called thickening. During the Christmas period the Israeli Government sanctioned and established a new illegal settlement.

This occurred at the same time as it’s leader Ehud Olmert held hands, in a peace seeking exercise, with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert spoke sentiments of peace and condescended to pass on to Abbas some of the taxes collected from Palestinians. Abbas has indicated he will use the money to pay only those Government employees who are Fatah loyalists.

Do these to actions by the Israeli Government indicate a desire for peace? No. They show Israel’s aggression. They indicate Israel’s desire to stir trouble and divide Palestinians? Does the Israeli Government think its simplistic meddling will lead to the ousting of the elected Palestinian government leader and to eventual peace? Does it think building new West Bank settlements are the way to peace?

In the Middle East land is the crucial issue. Provocatively taking the lands of the Palestinian people is not only outlawed internationally but is the largest single cause of Arab discontent. With past concessions and showing a generous disposition to negotiate, Arab Governments have long since proved they indeed do seek peaceful resolution to the problems of the region. Israel on the other hand has only ever begrudgingly acceded to the process as it continues its demands for retention of Palestinian land and continues to illegally expand into Palestinian land.

So who wants peace? The answer, unfortunately demonstrated in their actions, seems to exclude the Israeli Government, some Arab terrorists and a minority of Arab states. However the firing of a few rockets by a few terrorists from Gaza and rhetoric in far away capitals is far outweighed in seriousness and provocativeness by the official Israeli Government actions of illegally settling and retaining Palestinian land. The morality of withholding the Palestinian taxes and the blockading of Gaza are also highly questionable and surely can only lead to further discontent.

In the West there is a widening of the realisation of Israel’s aggression. It will bring about a watershed.

Israel won’t and shouldn’t be abandoned, nor her legitimate defence relaxed. However as good friends the West, especially the US, would do well to counsel Israel wisely and exert sufficient influence to bring about a just resolution for the Palestinians.

That would necessarily include a return of all Palestinian lands and a reasonable basis for such, as suggested by the Arab League, would be the pre ’67 war borders. It would be reasonable for all Arab governments to recant the calls for Israel’s destruction and for terrorist violence to be curtailed by individual governments. Those are the central issues and they need to be settled. It would be reasonable that any other demands would be negotiable.

Rice and her fellow Americans might yet prove to be Israel’s good friends. Israel needs to be told it is out of step with world opinion and decency and that its practise of denying the basic rights to freedom of the Palestinians is reprehensible. Rice might like to look, for guidance, to the words and thoughts of some of America’s greatest leaders.

Abraham Lincoln: … Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. From the September 11, 1858 Speech at Edwardsville.

And: Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, can not long retain it. From the April 6, 1859 Letter to Henry Pierce et al.

Benjamin Franklin: They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Historical Review of Pennsylvania.

Finally and prophetically from George Washington in his farewell address: … Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded, and that in place of them just and amicable feelings toward all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave …

Peace might be yet found in the region if the US acts with the same sense and convictions of its founding fathers as well as with the resolution, fortitude and generosity shown by generations of Americans.

Keith Kennelly  11 January 2006


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