Scarcely had Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu unveiled Israel’s latest fraudulent “far-reaching step towards peace” than US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leapt forward to welcome it.
Netanyahu spouted the usual rhetoric about a “historic peace agreement to finally end the conflict,” knowing that his offer lacked honesty and integrity.
And Clinton gave it the White House seal of approval, aware that it had no chance of being acceptable to the Palestinian people’s negotiators and, equally, that it fell short of Barack Obama’s earlier demand that Israel freeze all construction projects on the occupied West Bank.
Since Netanyahu gave this demand the bum’s rush, Clinton has repackaged it as a vacuous call for “restraint.”
And, as if sharing a scriptwriter, Netanyahu passed off his 10-month partial halt to housing construction as evidence of Israeli government restraint.
As so often with heavily touted Israeli initiatives, there is a lot less to this offer than meets the eye.
First, it does not apply to east Jerusalem, which was captured in the 1967 war with the rest of the West Bank. Tel Aviv has unilaterally and illegally declared the annexation of east Jerusalem, together with several settlements to the east of the city, with the intention of designating a unified Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal” capital.
Not even the most abject Palestinian supplicant could accept such a negotiating precondition.
Second, whereas most people might believe that halt equals stop, in Israel’s lexicon, halting construction signifies no such thing.
It means not starting any new projects over and above those dozens that have already been either begun or authorised.
Nor does it apply to the building of synagogues and schools, which are essential elements of Israel’s ethnic-cleansing strategy.
Despite the fraudulent nature of Netanyahu’s three-card trick, Clinton categorised it as helping to “move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
She also echoed Netanyahu’s reference to Israel’s racist goal of a “Jewish state,” which would put the current 20 per cent Arab minority in legal jeopardy.
Whatever the excitement in Washington, no Palestinian representative regards the Netanyahu plan as a starter.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat suggested that it had more to do with placating the US president, pointing out: “At the end of the day, Netanyahu needs to make peace with us, the Palestinians. He doesn’t need to make peace with Americans.”
Hamas dismissed it as a “cosmetic step,” designed to restart “pointless negotiations.”
Many Palestinians have been increasingly critical of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his handpicked but never ratified prime minister, the US-educated economist and former senior World Bank official Salam Fayyad.
This, together with Obama’s failure to achieve a settlement freeze, has led the authority to call on West Bank residents to boycott large supermarket chains that stock Israeli products.
Palestinian Economy Minister Hassan abu Libdeh estimates that illegal Israeli settlements currently have a 15 per cent share of the Palestinian market and is determined to implement an already existing law that bans the sale of settlement produce.
According to Stop the Wall co-ordinator Jamal Juma, “if the Palestinian Authority insists on implementing this decision, it means the authority will participate in boycotting one-third of the Israeli products that come to the West Bank.
“The decision will allow Palestinians to say: ‘No to the occupation, we are not going to pay for the bulldozers that destroy our houses and for the bullets that kill our people’.”
And President Abbas is pressing all Arab countries to cancel their business ties with French companies Veolia and Alstom, which are involved in the construction of a Jerusalem-based light railway through the West Bank.
He announced this at a press conference organised by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, which is made up of several non-governmental organisations.
Abbas’s chief of staff Rafiq Husseini lambasted Arab countries, chief among them Saudi Arabia, that continue to work with the two companies, accusing them of “not fulfilling their duties” despite repeated requests by the Palestinians and from the Arab League.
Alstom has several Saudi contracts, including one to build a railway to Mecca.
It is illustrative that even Abbas, who has announced his impending retirement, is sufficiently disillusioned with the US administration and the road map to throw his weight behind the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
These developments give additional importance to next Saturday’s trade union conference, organised by colleges union UCU, for BDS supporters to discuss practical implementation in the light of the resolution carried at this year’s TUC annual conference in September.
With speakers of the calibre of Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian BDS committee, former South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, Congress of South African Trade Unions international secretary Bongani Masuku, Dr Ilan Pappe of Exeter University and Palestine Solidarity chairman Hugh Lanning, this conference could be vital in putting mass pressure on Israel.