Israel,  Israel/Palestine

Financial Times blames Israel for conflict

This is a cross post by Carmel Gould at Just Journalism.

Yesterday’s opinion piece in the Financial Times written by the publication’s international affairs editor David Gardner encapsulates perfectly the problems Israel will face in the coming weeks when direct negotiations with the Palestinians restart, and possibly, break down. ‘A poisoned process holds little hope’ reads more like a charge sheet against Israel than a reasoned analysis and is striking in its capacity to reverse historic truths and omit key facts.

At the centre of Gardner’s peace process universe is the occupation, which he claims ‘killed Oslo’ and remains ‘the heart of the question’. His evidence for the occupation scuppering the Oslo process is simply that settlements grew a lot between 1992 and 1996. In a show of presenting the other side he adds: ‘Many Israelis will point to the perfidy of the late Yassir Arafat, who wanted to talk peace but keep the option of armed resistance dangerously in play.’ But it was not just ‘[m]any Israelis’ who blamed Arafat – President Clinton, who brokered the talks, as well as key negotiating aides, blamed him too. In terms of according blame for what Gardner terms, ‘the Oslo intifada’, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas himself stated recently that the second intifada was ‘the worst mistake of our lives’. Who’s blaming whom here?

Gardner breezily telescopes ten years and arrives at the present day, drawing a direct line between the occupation sabotaging Camp David in 2000 and the current predicament in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli settlement ‘has turned the occupied West Bank into a discontiguous scattering of cantons, walled in by a security barrier built on yet more annexed Arab land and criss-crossed by segregated Israeli roads linking the settlements.’ Gaza is ‘a vast, open-air prison.’

The problem here is the obliteration from the historical record of crucial events. According to this narrative the Gaza withdrawal of 2005 never happened. Israel did not dismantle every settlement in the Gaza strip, remove 6,000 Israeli settlers by force, as well as every Israeli civilian and soldier from the Gaza Strip. Hamas did not subsequently win a legislative election only to coup against Fatah in an internecine Palestinian civil war during which the theocratic party tortured and murdered its secular rivals and gain control of Gaza. Hamas certainly did not spend the next three years lobbing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians.

Gardner next scorns the fact that: ‘The main feature of the present situation is the disconnect between the high politics of the utterly discredited peace process and these – in Israeli parlance – ‘facts on the ground’.’ By such logic, there are no internal divisions within the Palestinian Authority that might jeopardize Abbas’ ability to negotiate a final status agreement, such as the fact that Hamas have declared the direct talks ‘illegal’ and have previously refused to hold new national elections, fearing they’ll be tossed out of power. Israel’s pluralist parliamentary system, in this piece, constitutes a greater hindrance to peace than a theocratic regime in Gaza which deems the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad a killable traitor for agreeing to work with the Israelis at all.

On the question of Israel’s current leadership, Gardner is similarly tendentious. There is ‘no evidence…whatsoever’ that Netanyahu is capable of making peace. None, really? Does his acceptance of a Palestinian state in principle (June 2009), implementation of a nine month settlement freeze in the West Bank (November 2009-present) and advocacy of direct talks for over a year – which Palestinian President Abbas repeatedly rebuffed – not signal to Gardner even the slightest indication of a willingness to compromise? In the context of solving complex global conflicts, all these steps objectively count and dismissal of them in this fashion points to a deep-seated unreasonableness towards one particular party.

On whether Netanyahu will ‘surprise us, on the hackneyed Nixon and China principle that holds it is politicians of the right who most easily close difficult deals?’ Gardner answers: ‘There is little to suggest that.’ Interestingly, he cites the Israeli PM’s parentage and past as the reason for his scepticism: ‘The thinking of Mr Netanyahu, son of a celebrated promoter of Greater Israel, has always been profoundly irredentist.’ No mention here that Netanyahu’s withdrawal from most of Hebron during his first term as prime minister put a damper on father-son relations, as relayed by Jeffrey Goldberg in his cover story for The Atlantic this month.

Perhaps if the FT columnist had not excluded the Gaza disengagement from his narrative, he would have also recalled that it was (former) champion of the settlements and staunch proponent of Greater Israel, Ariel Sharon, who conceived of and implemented the policy. A simple Google search would also turn up what Fatah, the party Abbas leads, reaffirmed during its sixth general assembly last summer: namely, a commitment to ‘armed resistance’ and the allegation that Israel somehow murdered Yasser Arafat.

Intransigence takes on new meaning here. It was Abbas who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the forthcoming negotiations, not Netanyahu, who had been asking for them for months. Gardner also does not raise the fact that the Palestinians failed to respond to Israel’s West Bank settlement freeze for nearly its full duration – surely a wasted opportunity. The editor instead characterises the freeze as an Israeli trick used to cover up demolitions in Jerusalem.

This entire article simply fails as credible analysis on account of its attempt to paint one party to the conflict as whiter than white, and the other as fully guilty. By systematically whittling down all Israeli concessions into insignificance, while presenting Palestinian demands and contradictions as unworthy of notice, David Gardner betrays the fact that he is simply not amenable to Israeli actions that he claims to want to see materialise.