Sharon torpedoes any peace efforts

KIBBUTZ BEIT OREM, Israel – The Bush administration calls their plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis a “roadmap.” But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and departed. He left behind a political process torpedoed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and another round of bloody terrorism. While the Palestinian side has endorsed the roadmap in hopes it will lead to creation of an independent Palestinian state, Sharon has stubbornly refused.

Drawn up by the U.S. and endorsed by the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, the roadmap is limping because Sharon has made the disarming of the Palestinians and an end to terrorism a precondition for any positive steps by Israel. But the roadmap does not evenhandedly require Israel to stop its terror against the Palestinians. It does demand that Israel freeze its settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza and take steps to ease the hardships for the Palestinian civil population. It requires the Israeli army to pull back to positions held prior to the September 2000 Intifada outbreak. Yet it permits continued Israeli occupation of most of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In order to mislead Powell during his visit and to fool public opinion, the Israeli army dismantled two illegal settlement outposts and on the very day of the Powell’s separate meetings with Sharon and the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), while the settlers, undisturbed, set up three new illegal outposts, safeguarded by Israeli occupation forces. Within hours of Powell’s departure, Sharon once again tightened the stranglehold on the occupied Palestinian lands.

During the last week alone, about 40 Palestinians, most of them unarmed civilians and some armed policemen, were killed in the Gaza Strip, in West Bank cities and refugee camps. About 50 heavy tanks, a dozen armored house demolishing bulldozers and a whole battalion of Israeli occupation soldiers are ruthlessly raging in the Palestinian Gaza Strip cities and refugee camps while gunship helicopters and F-16 fighters fire rockets on the pretext of killing “terrorist leaders.”

At the same time, within Israel, security agents and police made another provocative onslaught upon the leadership of the legal Israeli Islam Party, which is represented in the Knesset Parliament. In a massive night action executed by 1,000 police and Shin-Beth security forces, the chair of the northern section of this party, Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, a former mayor of the Umm-el-Fahm city (40,000 Israeli Arab citizens), together with 14 other party leaders were arrested. The Shin-Beth agents ransacked the offices of this party and confiscated tons of files, hard disks and electronic office equipment. The next day the 15 detained Islamic Party leaders were arraigned at the Tel-Aviv magistrate court on trumped up charges of transferring millions of dollars, raised abroad, to the “Palestinian Hamas and Djihad terror organizations.” The Islamic Party maintained that these financial transfers are legally raised contributions for humanitarian aid for families and children in the occupied territories, the fathers and brothers of whom are killed or detained and kidnapped by Israeli forces and legally channeled through Israeli bank institutes. The morning after the police raid in Umm-el-Fahm, the father of Sheikh Ra’ad died. The detained sheikh was allowed to attend his father’s burial. The funeral was turned into a peaceful protest march through the main streets of the Wadi Arra city in central Israel close to the “Green Line” border of the occupied West Bank.

The United Arab Knesset faction, together with the Communist-led Hadash Front, condemned the witch-hunt in the Knesset. MK Abdul Malik Dahamshe of the Islamic Party warned that these provocative arrests could endanger the relationship between the Arab and Jewish communities in the country. He stressed, that his party, besides extending humanitarian aid in the occupied territories, had no political connections with the Hamas or Djihad movements as alleged, and in no way transferred money to them. The chair of the Hadash faction, MK Mohammed Barakei, stressed that the detention of leading cadres of the Islamic Party was a political witch-hunt, which makes a mockery of the still existing democratic freedoms in Israel. It should be seen as part and parcel of the Sharon government’s provocation against any hope for a cease-fire or a peaceful solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, he said. MK Ahmed Tibi said that the matter smacks of McCarthyism aimed at the Arab citizens of Israel to block their solidarity with oppressed Palestinians in the occupied territories.

A statement by the Gush-Shalom peace bloc charged that “the arrests reek of political and racist persecution. The Shin-Beth’s wild accusations are propagated as if they are proven facts and the suspected already found guilty by the court.”

On May 17, a mass demonstration of at least 10,000 Arab citizens, accompanied by many Jewish Ta’ayush and Gush-Shalom activists, marched through the major Umm-el-Fahm streets to an impressive mass rally at the local sports stadium to protest the detentions.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org