Oh Say Can You See……..
Gershon Baskin*

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I searched through all of the newspapers this morning to see if the really big news was covered, but I didn’t see it. The newspapers covered the Bush-Sharon press conference and exchange of letters. They claimed that Sharon extracted from Bush all of his demands. The spin on the Bush letter to Sharon and the joint press conference emphasized that the US has now changed its policy on Israeli settlements which it used to label “an obstacle to peace” and now instead recognizes that the facts created on the ground by Israel, breaching international law, should now be recognized and legitimized (although it should be pointed out that the actual words of the letter do not grant legitimacy to Israeli settlements). The newspapers reported that Bush put his firm support behind the Israeli position on the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” by stating that the Palestinian refugees should return to the State of Palestine and not to Israel. It was further reported that both Sharon and Bush restated their commitment to the two-state solution envisioning the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The newspapers also reiterated the Sharon-Bush belief that the Palestinian leadership is not legitimate; it not committed to peace and did not implement any of their Road Map obligations.

The earth shattering news that was missed and not reported is that Sharon gave up Jerusalem. That’s right, Jerusalem is no longer the capital of the State of Israel! Washington, D.C. is the new capital. Israeli foreign policy is no longer decided in Jerusalem, it is decided in Washington. Not only that, leading up to the Israeli decision to give up Jerusalem, Sharon dictated a policy and a process that has dismantled Israeli democracy from its very foundations. Until recently, there was at least a myth that the Government of Israel was a decision making body. We thought that the Knesset was a legislative body and that the courts were the independent judicial branch of Israeli government. But even as early as December 2003, we learned that Sharon no longer needed to present major policy decisions to the Government or to the Knesset, it was enough to present these plans to an elite group of the military and economic establishment at the Herzliyeh Conference. Now in April 2004, instead of the Government and the Knesset debating and voting on the implementation of the most important policy decisions of these times, we are informed that the Likud party membership will now determine Israeli Government policy (only after being approved by the real boss in Washington). Why do we need the Knesset? To the Members of Knesset I say: stay at home, don’t come back to work from your Pesach recess. You 120 Members of Knesset are now redundant – who needs you? You only cost us money, and a lot of money, surely we can find a cheaper façade of democracy than 120 superfluous egos!

As for the judges - who needs them? It surely is enough to have a super civil servant, an Attorney General who by himself can dismiss accusations of wrong doing. Anyway we might as well just accept the US legal system where it is known and accepted that from the President down, money interests intermingle extremely well with decisions of war and peace. The US Government and the American people agreed to wage war against another nation, costing more than $90 billion, hundreds of US lives and many tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. All of that for revenge and oil, enabling the falsification of intelligence reports and lying to the entire American people and to the international community. Saddam Hussein deserves to sit in prison for his crimes against humanity, but who appointed George Bush to the position of God? But it is clear that the black crude of Iraq has oiled the American legal and political systems very admirably, something that the Israelis could easily learn from.

So let’s face it, let’s end the charade, next time Sharon goes to speak with the boss in Washington, he should put the real cards on the table and extract the real reward – we want Israel to be the 51st State of the Union. Who needs an Israeli passport – the border police at the airports of the world don’t understand why they are printed from left to right, anyway so let’s do away with them. Let’s do away with the New Israeli Shekel, who needs it, it’s that good old reliable and stable green for me! President Katzav, stay home in Kiryat Malachi (Los Angeles in Hebrew), we don’t need you anymore in Jerusalem, we have a President in the White House!

Today is April 15th. This is the final day for US citizens to file their income tax reports to the US Internal Revenue Service (the IRS). This is a good day to remember the slogan of the American Revolution: “No taxation without representation!” We Israelis must now demand our legitimate rights for representation in the US Congress. I want to be the first US Senator for State of Israel, USA. “Vote for Gershon for Senator!” – I like the way that sounds. It’s time for us to organize the Israeli version of the Boston tea party – if Bush won’t grant us legitimate representation in Congress and the right to vote for President, we should threaten the Americans that we won’t accept their $5 billion of new loan guarantees to pay for the Gaza settlers to resettle in the West Bank! Hell no, you can’t force us to take your money!!!!

I must admit, I have been quite puzzled over the past two weeks. The opposition to Sharon and his disengagement plan within the Likud have been more active than a hive of bees in spring planning their campaign. The streets of Israel are already plastered with their posters. While from Sharon and his camp – only silence. The settlers are planning to visit each and every Likud member in their homes to try and talk to their hearts and their senses – don’t force us out of our homes, they will tell them. Don’t give a victory to terror, and perhaps the most convincing of them all – don’t bring Peres back into the Israeli government. And from Sharon and his camp – silence. I commented to a Canadian diplomat yesterday that we should never underestimate Sharon; he is a brilliant politician and the best political tactician in the world. He must have something up his sleeve. What confused me is that in all of my talks with senior US officials over the past few weeks I was assured by them that Bush would never accept Sharon’s demands. How wrong they were.

As for the Palestinians, well their reaction to the events was a big surprise. Abu Ala’, the Palestinian Prime Minister (of what?), stated that the Palestinians may not cooperate with the Israeli unilateral disengagement! Like, h-e-l-l-o, it is a unilateral disengagement, no one has yet to ask you for your cooperation. Big threat! I saw Bush and Sharon shaking from the fear that Abu Ala’ would not cooperate. Now the Palestinians will pull out the really big guns – France will condemn the new US-Israeli position, maybe the entire EU will join. Maybe the Arab League, if they can manage to convene a meeting, will issue and equally harsh statement. I can see Bush’s popularity in the US election polls finally shifting upwards.

Now for a touch of more seriousness. The Israeli separation barrier around the West Bank and the Israeli fences and walls around Jerusalem (which is not a separation barrier in that it includes some 280,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side) is progressing rapidly. I heard a well known Israeli Professor of Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution from Bar Ilan University state this week that since there is no chance for peace and conflict resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, the fence is the most effective means of managing the conflict. I have never seen a more expensive, more destructive, more intrusive and uglier means of conflict management that the billions of shekels of wasted money being spent on concrete and barbed wire. How long will it take before the whole concept implodes? Not long, I believe. How can anything that will increase the will and the determination of the Palestinians to fight against Israel be called “conflict management”? How can people be so blind? How would Israelis respond if they were subjected to the kind of suffering and humiliation that Palestinians face on a daily basis?

A Palestinian Minister in the PA Government told Zakaria, the Palestinian Co-Director of IPCRI, a true story two days ago. There is a young boy of around 15 years old who sells coffee and tea to the thousands of Palestinians who have to pass through an Israeli check point in the Ramallah area. Apparently the Israeli soldiers at the check point became tired of seeing this boy everyday moving about freely amongst the Palestinians waiting to go through the check point. The soldiers decided to take him, handcuff him, take his shoes and make him sit under the hot sun for some four hours. After he had been punished enough, the soldiers released him, returned his shoes and told him to make them a cup of tea. When he put his shoes on his feet, he discovered that they were wet inside. He brought the soldiers their tea. One of the soldiers asked the boy “when do you think there will be peace?” The boy responded: “when you stop pissing in my shoes and when I stop pissing in your tea!”

I don’t wish to be misinterpreted. I have no tolerance and no understanding for Palestinian terrorism. I have stated many times over the past years that there are no real good guys in this story. If the Palestinians had not launched a campaign of suicide bombers against Israeli civilians beginning in March 2001 (after Sharon was elected and promised security and peace), there would not be a fence and wall be constructed in their faces. Still, this is not a justification for the Israeli land grab being facilitated by constructing the ghetto creating fences on Palestinian land. I have no doubt that the Israeli policies will not provide long-term security for Israel. There may be some short term gain in lessening the number of suicide bombers getting through the fences and walls. But this will not be the end of suicide bombers. If they can’t hit Israelis inside of Israel, they will hit them inside the occupied territories – there is no shortage of Israelis there. If they can get bombers through the fences and walls, they will make more use of Palestinians on the other side of the fence, and there is no shortage of Palestinians there. And if all that fails, and even if it doesn’t fail, there are many more ways to continue the violent struggle against the Israeli occupation. There is no such thing as conflict management when more than 3 million people are forced to live in a large prison, where unemployment reaches above 40%, where there is no hope, where suffering and humiliation are the lot of all. This is not sustainable and certainly not manageable.

I cannot end this piece without offering something constructive. I know that this is not new and I have raised this suggestion in the past, nevertheless it is still valid and potentially potent enough to move the wheels of the peace train despite its longtime derailment. If the Palestinian leadership, from Arafat down, and the Palestinian people all over Palestine truly believe in peace with Israel, then they should put their signature to the Geneva understandings. It is clear that these understandings will not be a final formal agreement. There are many flaws there and many problems in the details. Nonetheless, a clear Palestinian endorsement of Geneva, including and especially a signature from Arafat on the document, will breathe new life into the possibilities of peace making. It will instantly dispel the US-Israeli commonly held wisdom that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. It provides a clear and decisive formula for the mutual recognition of legitimate political, historical and religious rights of both peoples. It puts an end to the Israeli occupation, deals sufficiently adequately with the refugee issue, provides a basis for renewed security coordination, brings in international presence to assist the process, and more. The most fundamental element of the Geneva understandings is that they put those who endorse it clearly and squarely in the camp of those who choose peace above violence. We must break the vicious cycle. Geneva seems to be the easiest and fastest way forward. So I call upon you, Yasser Arafat, President of Palestine, sign the document. Put your signature down; show us that you know how to lead your people to peace. Challenge Sharon and Bush. Do something positive for a change.

To Bush and Sharon I say, have mercy on us. Don’t decide our fate on electioneering whims and polls. We know that Mr. Bush cares about us in about the same way that he cares about the millions of American citizens without health insurance. To Mr. Sharon I say, we have paid a very heavy price for our independence. With Israeli Independence Day just over the horizon, I suggest that we all engage in some soul searching. In my youth as an active member of a Zionist youth movement, I was taught that Zionism was not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wasn’t taught that our purpose as a nation was to displace another people. I was taught that the Land of Israel was large enough and rich enough to accommodate the national needs and interests of both peoples in this land. I was taught that we have a higher purpose. I believed that through our independence we could create a political being that would be worthy of the teachings of the prophets (not the “profits” as it seems today). Our independence isn’t worth anything of value if it forces us to be occupiers of another people. Our freedom and liberation is a curse if it turns our children into ugly vicious and brutal symbols of our might. The policies that Israel is advancing today place an indelible stain on our national soul and heritage. Mr. Sharon, your so-called victory in Washington, I am afraid, is just one more defeat for the State of Israel and for the Jewish people.

* Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information