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Israel exercises democracy by punishing Palestinians!
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 24 - 01 - 2013

Hassan Tahsin

Israelis went to the polls Tuesday in an early election called by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The ruling coalition, including his Likud party and its ally the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, are expected to form the next government. This coalition has reiterated its firm position that there is no question of allowing an independent Palestinian state. They also reject any talks with the Palestinians in the future except on the basis of recognizing the identity of the Jewish state of Israel. Also, the freezing of settlements is not a part of their agenda. Instead, they intend to continue with their settlement expansion plans.
In 2008, the then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the idea of Greater Israel was dead. “Greater Israel' is finished. There is no such thing as that anymore. Whoever talks in those terms is only deluding himself,” he said. Olmert also warned that the clock is “not ticking in Israel's favor.” “It doesn't help Israel. The international community has changed its perspective ahead of the possibility of Israel becoming a bi-national state,” he said. At that time, his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the Kadima party, rejected the return of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, while emphasizing that the holy city must remain under Israeli sovereignty.
Olmert's statement was in contravention to Tel Aviv's strategy of building a Greater Israel step by step. The statement was regarded as a ploy to influence global public opinion in favor of Israel. Now, the Jewish government led by Netanyahu has been vigorously pursuing its policy of building more settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. An Israeli Planning Committee earlier gave the go-ahead to build 1,300 settlement homes in the neighborhood of East Jerusalem and this was instrumental in further scuttling the already stalled peace process.
For some time, Israel has been waiting for the opportunity to implement new settlement projects in order to grab more Palestinian land. Israel has confirmed its desire to continue building colonies in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim in the West Bank and the construction of hundreds of housing units in Jabal Abu Ghneim. This is in contravention to the agreements reached at the Annapolis conference and other conferences and meetings held between the parties concerned.
Palestine's recent winning of UN non-member observer state status has angered Israel and has irked its strong ally, the United States. There is nothing unusual in Israel's subsequent acts challenging the UN General Assembly and moves to punish Palestinians.
Netanyahu's plan for massive construction in the occupied territories can be seen as a retaliation for recognition of Palestine as a non-member UN observer state. He has ordered the construction of 3,000 new housing units in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. A decision was taken in this regard at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee comprising nine ministers. This construction will expand existing West Bank settlements and build more homes for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem, where the government is attempting to decrease the proportion of Arab residents.
Netanyahu also ordered the speeding up of plans to link Jerusalem with a Jewish settlement, Ma'aleh Adumim, in a move that will cut deep into a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. The US and Europe have long asked the Israeli government not to build any further settlements there. During the last decade, Israel refrained from building settlements in this area due to strong US opposition as it would virtually cut off the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.
However, the Israeli move drew strong criticism from several countries in Europe and, to a lesser extent, even from the US. Israel had not witnessed such opposition for several years and the Israeli media described it as a sort of political tsunami and a crisis in relations with these states. In spite of all this, Israel is not in the mood to retreat from its decision to expand settlements. But rather it has intensified settlement building and re-embarked on the policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.
Ignoring the world outcry, the Israeli government is pursuing its settlement policy, in addition to halting the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority. It also has sparked a crisis in relations with the US, especially because the Israeli move is in violation of the promise it gave to US Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to Israel in March 2010.
In the wake of the UN vote, Netanyahu slammed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his UN address, describing it as an anti-Israel hate speech. He reiterated that Israel will not allow a Palestinian state unless Palestinians recognize Israel as the state for Jews and openly declare that they have ended conflict with Israel.
During the first meeting held after the UN vote, the Israeli government declared that Jerusalem with its western and eastern sides is the eternal capital of Israel and that the UN decision undermined the possibility for any future negotiations and for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Tel Aviv also announced that it would not make any changes in its decision to go ahead with more settlements despite international pressure to halt them. Israeli newspapers carried reports about the government's decision to withdraw the IDs of prominent Palestinian officials such as Jibril Rajoub and Nabil Shaath in addition to resuming the policy of demolishing Palestinian homes.
This is the democracy of Israel! This is the green oasis in the midst of the black Arab Spring! Who can disbelieve Israel, which stretches out its hand in peace?
We look forward to learning whether the major Western powers, which for their own interests founded the Israeli state in the heart of Palestine, will take any strong and positive steps to restore the usurped rights of the Palestinian people.
— Hassan Tahsin is an Egyptian writer and political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]

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