Toward a third intifada

May 28, 2006|By FRED SCHLOMKA

KFAR SABA, ISRAEL -- Besides cementing relations between Israel's new prime minister and President Bush, Ehud Olmert's ritual visit to the White House was little more than a photo opportunity.

While Mr. Bush seems to understand that negotiations are a prerequisite to any successful redrawing of Israel's borders, he also described Mr. Olmert's unilateral ideas as "bold." As he hedges on supporting the Israeli "convergence" plan in the West Bank, Mr. Bush is also pushing legislation intended to isolate the new Hamas-led Palestinian government with sanctions and to further impoverish its people.

At the same time, Israelis continue to thicken the Jewish settlement blocs and prepare for partition of the West Bank. Ongoing construction of settlements, completion of the "security fence" and the unilateral redrawing of the country's borders are not a move toward a just peace or the establishment of a viable Palestinian state but an attempt to separate Israelis from the bulk of the Palestinian population.

The Hebrew term hafrada, which means "separation" or "apartheid," has entered the mainstream lexicon in Israel and determined much of the government's policies since the Oslo process began in 1993. Ever-increasing restrictions on Palestinian movement and employment during the 1990s, combined with settlement expansion that doubled the number of Jewish settlers, set the stage for the eruption of the second intifada, or uprising, in 2000.

Palestinian employment also plummeted during the mid-1990s when Israel initiated the policy of replacing Palestinians with migrant workers from Africa and Asia. These workers now account for about 5 percent of the Israeli population and have virtually eliminated the need for cheap Palestinian labor. The resulting economic hardship, combined with military incursions, an Orwellian labyrinth of permits, roadblocks and Jewish-only roads, paralyzed Palestinian society and made a mockery of the Oslo accords.

Hafrada has since entered a new state of development. Using Palestinian acts of terror as justification, successive Israeli governments increased restrictions on Palestinians and built the security fence, cutting a wide swath through the West Bank and effectively annexing tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land and key aquifers, in addition to the settlement blocs.

Then came last year's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, leaving behind the most impoverished enclave in the eastern Mediterranean. Not content with withdrawal, and with U.S. support, Israel largely has cut off the area from the outside world with a sea blockade, a no-fly zone and a border with Egypt subject to continuing Israeli control. Thus the "withdrawal" from Gaza only has served to separate the imprisoned population from its Israeli guards while deepening its isolation.

The Bush administration and Mr. Olmert's refusal to fully engage the Palestinian Authority only continues U.S. and Israeli policy. They have been telling us for years that there is no partner for peace, and as a result, no serious negotiations have taken place since the Camp David and Sharm el-Sheik meetings between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000.

The current Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority provides a convenient pretext for Israel to continue its five-year policy of no negotiation and unilateral action.

As Israel and the United States tighten the matrix of control, Palestinian anger may erupt again. Once the new Hamas security forces have sorted out their differences with the Fatah-controlled police, they might turn once again to the common enemy. Hamas could cancel its 15-month truce.

The Israeli army's recent show of force and arrest of Hamas official Ibraham Hamed in the West Bank city of Ramallah only adds fuel to the fire and demonstrates that Mr. Olmert has learned little from the experience of his predecessors.

These military incursions and continuing repressive measures will only serve to stir the pot and ensure the next uprising. Israelis want peace and quiet and are less interested in peace with justice. Unfortunately, the ongoing government tactics will bring them neither.

Without hope for a real peace on the horizon, most Palestinians are turning inward, seeking ever-elusive ways to keep their families intact and put food on the table. But make no mistake: As conditions for Palestinians continue to decline and Israel moves ahead with the partitioning of the West Bank, further revolts from the beleaguered population are inevitable.

Israelis also are turning inward, but the third intifada could be looming in front of them like an approaching tsunami, and their ignorance of its arrival echoes the complacency prior to the intifadas of 1987 and 2000.

Fred Schlomka is an Israeli businessman and a board member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. His e-mail is fred@schlomka.com.

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