Friday, July 23, 2004
The following article was written in Dutch and accepted for publication by the Associated Press Services, a cooperation of 26 mostly local or regional dailies in Holland. It seems that for some reason in the end the article did not make it to the pages of one or more of the newspapers. Its conclusion remains, despite all the tension between the European Union, its member states and Israel: if the EU really wants it will be able to play a central and even decisive role in finding a 'solution' for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Wall of distrust ( and hope? )
Often on crucial moments in the Arab-Israeli conflict at least one individual or organization does something that enhances the arguments of one of the parties to the conflict. Less than 40 hours after the International Court of Justice announced its decision regarding the wall/fence/barrier - never did any international body attack Israel in such a biased way against such a respectable background - a faction of Arafat's Fatah claimed responsibility for an attack in Tel Aviv. The fact that this was 'only' a'conventional' attack - cold comfort for the family and friends of the 19-year old girl who was killed in it - confirmed what Israeli security officials have been saying for quite some time: those parts of the fence that have been completed are making it difficult for Palestinian terrorists to carry out mega-attacks.
It is no coincidence that only few of those who committed terror attacks within Israel proper entered the country from the heavily fenced-off GazaStrip. I can understand why the Israeli government wants to apply that lesson also to the border between Israel and the Westbank. Still, I think it is wrong and foolish that Israel is determining that border unilaterally now by building large parts of the fence on Palestinian land. This weakens enormously the Israeli argument that the wall serves our security: if your goal is to stop terrorists it does not matter whether that wall stands exactly on the Green Line or some meters or kilometers eastward. It is clear that not only security concerns but also and especially internal political considerations play a role in Ariel Sharon's planning of the fence's route. Because of this the Arab and other friends/brothers of the Palestinian people yet again received a wonderful opportunity to put Israel in the pillory. The International Court of Justice did not mind helping them in their endeavors. That the grounds on which the judges based their conclusions might not be exclusively juridical could appear from the fact that of all the panel's members it was the American judge who did not subscribe to those conclusions.
It is true, the barrier is a monstrosity, and if it has to be built theGreen Line is its most suitable location. Still, it is amazing how the court totally ignored the main reason for the idea of a fence being considered and implemented. Religiously motivated terrorism has made the unimpeded traffic of persons and goods in the region an unattainable illusion, at least for the moment. It seems that if Palestinians and Israelis ever want to live side by side peacefully they first should get a chance to come to themselves, 'we' ( including Israeli Arabs and settlers ) in Israel and 'they' in Palestine. Maybe that after several years of relative peace and quiet we can talk about more substantial forms of cooperation and -existence. In the meantime we first have to try and obtain that peace and quiet, and a physical separation - obviously in combination with an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, an absolute Palestinian renunciation of terror, and once and for all an unambiguous mutual recognition of each other's right to exist - could be helpful here.
The latest in a series of farces featuring Israel, the Arab countries and a UN-forum contributed once more to the international organization's credibility as a independent mediator being hurt in the eyes of the Israelis. Also Israel's trust - not very large to begin with - in the impartiality of the European Union was damaged by the enthusiasm with which the Union, right after the publication of the ICJ's decision, endorsed its conclusions. It is also understandable why Palestinians do not have much faith in the ( current ) American government's even-handedness. The consequence of this is that - exactly now that it is more obvious than ever that we ourselves are unable to find a way out - Palestinians and Israelis are totally at the mercy of their own non-leaders. Also the fact that, while problems such as Islamist terror call for a global approach, it becomes clearer than ever that when the going gets tough each country opts for its own narrow interests ( see: Spain, the Philippines, but also the US and Israel ) does not really help.
Nevertheless, not all hope for a better future for both peoples is in vain.Now that the Americans have got their hands full with Iraq and the presidential elections, the Netherlands could make the most of its chairmanship of the European Union, by finally securing a constructive role for the Union in the Middle East. Decisiveness, consensus and more than anything else a balanced approach are the keywords for that task. If Europe succeeds in presenting and pushing its main objections and demands as regards the - lack of - policy of both Palestinians ( corruption, terror ) and Israelis ( settlements, occupation ) in a convincing and equitable way to all parties concerned, the coming five months might offer a decisive momentum for the creation of a certain stability in the region and therefore in the rest of the world.
Posted by Bert at 9:49 AM