Chaldeans On Line

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

The right to resist

By Baruch Kimmerling

As difficult as it may be for us, it's important to make clear the political, legal and moral reality in its historical context: Since 1967, millions of Palestinians have been under a military occupation, without any civil rights with, and most lacking even the most basic human rights. The continuing circumstances of occupation and repression give them, by any measure, the right to resist that occupation with any means at their disposal and to rise up in violence against that occupation. This is a moral right inherent to natural law and international law.The problem is worsened by physical proximity, in which the two populations live next door to one another, and how that imposes itself on the form of fighting. Indiscriminate Palestinian terrorism against civilian populations in the heart of Israel is immoral, and has a boomerang effect. It increases anger and hatred in the Jewish community and blocks the possibility that an empathetic, rational view can be taken of rightful Palestinian demands. The terrorism also serves as a political tool, consciously used by cynical politicians on the right, and lately by some leading army commanders, to torpedo any possibility of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Furthermore, steps initiated by the army and the settlers often result in the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, which is equally unacceptable by any human measure. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in late September. Israel now turns frequently to collective punishments - sieges and carving up of Palestinian territory - that are expressedly forbidden by international law and convention. And Israel uses personal terrorism against those it defines as field commanders of the Palestinian uprising.

The Palestinian right to resist the occupation is strengthened by the Fourth Geneva Convention's ban on creating irreversible facts on the ground in occupied territories, and especially the ban on transferring populations from the occupying state to the territories it has conquered. Israel's claim that it is not an occupier - because there was no sovereignty over those lands since the British left in 1948, and the Palestinians rejected the 1948 partition plan - is at best, dodgy.

According to the High Court of Justice, which is well aware of the Fourth Geneva Convention, all the settlements over the Green Line were built for "security" reasons, which is the loophole Israel found in international law to justify their construction. The second "legal" loophole used by Israel is that it does not expropriate private property, only establishing settlements on "state lands."

Since 1967, more than 60 percent of the West Bank has been defined as "state lands," which in effect has meant selective, de facto annexation of the territories. This "legal" step was made possible because most of the land was not properly listed in the books - whether Ottoman, British or Jordanian. But all those governments recognized the traditional ownership of the territory's farmers.

Israel made an unprecedented land grab in the 1980s, when it surveyed the entire territory, compared its findings to the tabu (land registration documents), and declared everything unlisted as state property - without allowing local inhabitants prove their ownership and record their holdings. Thus, the legality and morality of all the Jewish settlements and holdings in the territories is highly doubtful.

Several phenomena have dulled Israel's political and more senses. Until the end of 1987, Palestinian resistance to the occupation was only a minor discord. Israeli society enjoyed the fruits of the "permanent temporary" occupation without paying any significant and immediate price for it. Under such circumstances it was easy to combine nationalist-religious messianism, Likud-style secular chauvinism, and the security-above-all ideology of Mapai and Ahdut Avoda to conquer Israel's political culture.

Even today, most of the public simply does not know that every violent step taken against the Palestinians - let alone the aggregate of those steps - borders on war crimes, and cannot see the black flag of illegality flying over each of those steps. A state that regards itself as enlightened cannot behave like a terror-state, even if it suffers from terrorism. Statesmen, generals and simple citizens must see that black flag before it's too late and we are all stained with the blackest of the black

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Getting to the heart of the Sharon riddle

By Yoel Marcus

In the 50 days since his election as prime minister, Ariel Sharon has not made one single faux pas. The image of the level-headed, cool-as-a-cucumber politician that was used in the election campaign - and whose bottom line was "Sharon, the 'You ain't seen nothin' yet' leader" - has so far weathered the post-election period, thanks to his punctilious performance in office. He exercised an extraordinary degree of sound reasoning when he formed his coalition government. For example, by recruiting Shimon Peres as foreign minister and as his senior partner, Sharon earned for himself a high international credit-line, politically speaking. After all, the international political commentators have reasoned: If Peres - one of Israel's staunchest champions of peace - has forged an alliance with him, Sharon is not the same old Sharon of the Sabra-Chatila massacre.Similarly, Sharon's performance as prime minister still broadcasts a message of composure and calm. When you think of it, running a government with 39 cabinet ministers and deputy ministers is not such a bad idea. Actually, it does not really matter whether the figure is slightly more or less than 39; the important thing is to keep everybody happy. Who knows, perhaps there will soon be an interministerial committee of ministers without portfolio that will be headed by a minister without portfolio and which will be charged with the task of defining the functions of ministers without portfolio.

With a third of the Knesset in the government, Sharon has effectively dulled the appetite of MKs for early elections. At the same time, he has seen to the maintenance of "industrial calm" in the more problematic of Israel's centers of power: The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Shaul Mofaz; Israel's ambassador to the United States, David Ivry; and National Security Adviser Uzi Dayan have not been transferred from their respective posts. Furthermore, all decisions on the peace process and on security matters must be acceptable to all the members of the country's ruling trio, which consists of Sharon, Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer. The stabilization of Israel's political system and its security apparatus can ensure friction-less, business-like procedures.

Unlike his predecessors in the prime minister's office - Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Ehud Barak (Labor) - who loved to give interviews morning, noon and night, Sharon does not believe in coming up with a brand-new idea each morning, nor has he set any deadlines for himself. He has not created unnecessary expectations, nor has he generated a frenzied atmosphere. In the last Intifada, Sharon, in saber-rattling tones, called for putting an immediate end to the Intifada and to Palestinian terrorism, and for elininating the leaders of the popular uprising - especially "that mass murderer, Arafat." Today, Sharon speaks of the need for a cease-fire and for a cessation-of-hostilities pact as a precondition for the initiation of a dialogue with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian leader is, of course, the only logical choice for Sharon, who has long had a reputation for a fiery tongue but who is now making a supreme effort not to draw fire.

Sharon prepared his trip to Washington with all the care and modesty that are required for an initial meeting with a new American administration. He is reading America better than his two predecessors ever did. Barak ignored both Congress and the American Jewish community, choosing instead to focus (and to an excessive extent) on the U.S. President, while Netanyahu cynically exploited both Congress and American Jewish leaders in his struggle against the U.S. President. Sharon did not arrive in the United Sates with a shopping list or with far-reaching proposals for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Instead, he defined the goal of his visit as "reinforcing Israel's relationship with the administration in Washington and seeking a common denominator."

Barak, with his overly zealous ambition of putting an end "once and for all" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, has made life much easier for both Sharon and President George W. Bush: If a permanent status agreement is elusive, perhaps it might easier to aim for interim agreements. The diplomatic logic that has emerged from former president Bill Clinton's failure to bring the two sides together is now working in Sharon's favor.

The Bush administration is adopting a tough line on both China and Russia, but has not yet finalized its position on the dispute in this region of the world. Americanologists estimate that this U.S. administration does not want to touch the Palestinian question with even a 100-foot pole. If it can avoid having to get involved with that issue, all the better as far as Washington is concerned.

Arafat and the Palestinians are certainly not the darlings of either the Bush administration or the new Congress. There are two things that interest Bush and his top officials: The oil reserves in the Persian Gulf, and the key-player states in the Middle East - a group that includes Saudia Arabia and Egypt and a number of countries in between. As long as Sharon and Arafat do not deposit a time-bomb on the doorstep of the Bush administration, thereby endangering its genuine interests in this region, America will be in no hurry to become involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Sharon has a clear view of the Washington picture. However, the central riddle is: "Who is this person who today sits in the prime minister's office?" Is his current behavior merely a facade? Or is he just slowing down because of his age? If it is only a facade, when will he dispense with it and return to his former self as the saber-rattling Sharon who once shouted out: "Who is against Palestinian terrorism?" Since the time he was a young officer in the IDF, Sharon has earned the name of being someone who never takes no for an answer and who always has to be held in check. Is it at all possible that, now that he is Numero Uno, he wants to be the one who is pressing down on the brakes because he finds himself in an entirely new kind of situation where there in no superior to whom he can pass the buck?

In trying to deal with the current Intifada, Sharon is using a pinpoint technique, thereby avoiding any massive counter-offensives and taking great care not to change the rules of the game in the confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis. Nonetheless, Israel is in a crisis situation, and thus it is impossible to say how far the other side wants the current state of affairs to degenerate. Only after particularly grave terrorist attacks or massive public pressure for the degree of personal security that Sharon has promised Israelis will the riddle, "Who is the real Ariel Sharon?" ever be solved. Only then will Israelis learn whether there is any truth to the message of his election campaign: "Sharon, the 'you ain't seen nothin' yet' leader.

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