Magazine article New Internationalist

Israel, Palestine and the Hypocrisy of Power

Magazine article New Internationalist

Israel, Palestine and the Hypocrisy of Power

Article excerpt

In January 2006 Palestinians voted in a carefully monitored election, pronounced free and fair by international observers. But Palestinians committed a grave crime, by Western standards. They voted the wrong way - for Hamas. The US instantly joined Israel in punishing them for their misconduct, with Europe toddling along behind as usual.

There is nothing novel about the reaction to these Palestinian misdeeds. It is obligatory to hail our leaders for their sincere dedication to bringing democracy to a suffering world, perhaps in an excess of idealism. However, the more serious scholar/advocates of the mission of 'democracy promotion' recognize that there is a strong line of continuity running through all US administrations. The US supports democracy if, and only if, it conforms to US strategic and economic interests. The project is pure cynicism, if viewed honestly. It should be described as blocking democracy, not promoting it.

The punishment of Palestinians for the crime of voting the wrong way was severe. With constant US backing, Israel increased its violence in Gaza, withheld funds that it was legally obligated to transmit to the Palestinian Authority, tightened its siege and, in a gratuitous act of cruelty, even cut off the flow of water to the arid Gaza Strip.

The Israeli attacks became far more severe after the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit on 25 June, which the West portrayed as a terrible crime. Again, pure cynicism. Just one day before, Israel kidnapped two civilians in Gaza - a far worse crime than capturing a soldier - and transported them to Israel, where they presumably joined the roughly 1,000 prisoners held by Israel without charges, hence kidnapped. None of this merits more than a yawn in the West.

Rejectionist camp

There is no need here to run through the ugly details. The US-Israel made sure that Hamas would not have a chance to govern. The two leaders of the rejectionist camp flatly rejected Hamas's call for a long-term ceasefire to allow for negotiations in terms of the international consensus on a two-state settlement.

Meanwhile, Israel stepped up its programmes of annexation, dismemberment and imprisonment of shrinking Palestinian cantons in the West Bank, always with decisive US backing, despite occasional minor complaints accompanied by the wink of an eye and munificent funding. The programmes were formalized in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's 'convergence programme', which spells the end of any viable Palestinian state. His programme was greeted in the West with much acclaim as 'moderate', because it did not satisfy the demands of 'greater Israel' extremists. It was soon abandoned as 'too moderate', again with mild notes of disapproval by Western hypocrites.

There is a standard operating procedure for overthrowing an unwanted government: arm the military to prepare for a military coup. The US-Israel adopted this conventional plan, arming and training Fatah to win by force what it lost at the ballot box. The US also encouraged Mahmoud Abbas to amass power in his own hands - steps that are quite appropriate in the eyes of Bush administration advocates of presidential dictatorship.

As for the rest of the Quartet, Russia has no principled objection to such steps, the UN is powerless to defy the Master, and Europe is too timid to do so. Egypt and Jordan supported the effort, consistent with their own programmes of internal repression and barring of democracy, with US backing.

The strategy backfired. Despite the flow of military aid, Fatah forces in Gaza were defeated in a vicious conflict. Many close observers described this as a preemptive strike, targeting primarily the security forces of the brutal Fatah strongman, Mohammed Dahlan.

However, those with overwhelming power can often snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and the US-Israel quickly moved to turn the outcome to their benefit. They now have a pretext for tightening the stranglehold on the people of Gaza, cheerfully pursuing policies that the prominent international law scholar Richard FaIk describes as a prelude to genocide that 'should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of "never again"'. …

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