Letter to Powell: Comments on Your Speech

I am writing in to thank you for and to comment on your speech in Louisville today about the situation in Palestine, including the statement that:

“Israel must be willing to end its occupation, consistent with the principles embodied in Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and accept a viable Palestinian state in which Palestinians can determine their own future on their own land and live in dignity and security.”

Your recognition that “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been the defining reality of Palestinians’ lives there for over three decades, longer than most of the Palestinians living there have been alive,” makes plain the continued causes of this conflict.

Your use of the term “occupation” is a return to a correct description of the situation, one which recent US administrations had abandoned in favor of nonsensical euphemisms designed to please Israel and bamboozle the rest of the world into thinking that if you don’t mention occupation it somehow ceases to exist.

Your demand that Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories “must stop” was a welcome reaffirmation of US opposition to this activity which, in addition to being a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, is designed and calculated to prevent an end to the occupation, and therefore to prevent peace.

These statements, coupled with recent declarations both by you and President Bush about the establishment of the state of “Palestine” mark a clear change in the tone of US policy that those who wish for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot but welcome.

Less encouraging, however, was your statement that the United States is unwilling to do more than “push and prod” the process along and that “at the end of the day it is the people in the region taking the risks and making the hard choices who must find the way ahead.” Of course the people in the region must want peace and work for it, but unfortunately when we are dealing with military aggression and intransigent occupation, such admirable hopes are insufficient. There was no indication that you plan to do anything other than what the United States has been doing thus far without success.

Mr. Secretary, the United States is not a mere bystander in a conflict between two recalcitrant parties with equal control over the situation. Rather, it is a participant in the conflict on the side of Israel, providing the enormous military and economic aid without which Israel could sustain neither the occupation you identified as the source of so much suffering and anger, nor the settlements that are designed to make the occupation an irreversible fact. The United States alone among members of the United Nations continues to block all efforts to gain international protection for the Palestinians and to ensure that the Fourth Genevan Convention is applied to them as the Security Council has repeatedly demanded.

According to Gideon Levy, a commentator in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Palestinians in the occupied territories today “are in the worst situation they have been in since the Israeli occupation befell them. Their lack of freedom has reached a level they have never known before.” Why has Israel been allowed to behave this way for 34 years Mr. Secretary?

The excuse has always been the claim that Israel is surrounded by states that want to destroy it. Yet for more than twenty years Israel has had a peace treaty with Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, and since 1994 with Jordan, the country with the longest shared border. Syria has declared repeatedly its intentions to make peace once its occupied territory has been returned, and Lebanon has said it will follow suit. The PLO explicitly recognized the right of Israel to exist within secure boundaries in 1993, a decision ratified at the behest of the United States and in the presence of President Clinton in Gaza in 1999. From Morocco to Qatar, other Arab states took great political risks to establish trade and diplomatic relations with Israel opening the region up to Israelis as never before.

In short, Israel is entirely surrounded by states that have recognized it, made peace with it, or declared more than reasonable terms for doing so, and yet Israel has still not recognized that the Palestinians have national rights or indeed any rights at all and still continues its policy of expanding on and colonizing occupied Arab land while refusing to negotiate.

(I am sorry that you did not highlight these facts in your speech but instead preferred to focus on Israeli-inspired charges that across the Middle East “incitement” drives people’s views of the conflict rather than these views being the natural reaction to Israel’s brutal and relentless repression of the Palestinian people and the world’s apparent acceptance of it.)

What kind of “pushing” and “prodding,” Mr. Secretary, do you think will succeed where every other kind of diplomatic initiative and inducement has failed?

Today. Mr. Powell, you attached your name to a set of noble ideas and goals for a peace that will give hope and life to Israelis and Palestinians, and this has perhaps breathed a little life into the battered integrity of the United States. But unless you and the United States are prepared to take responsibility for US support for Israel’s occupation, and to put real pressure on Israel and make it accountable for its policies, I am afraid your name will simply join a too long list of others attached to failed initiatives and false starts in the Middle East punctuated by ever worse outbreaks of violence and war.

Yours sincerely,

Ali Abunimah

Related Links

  • United States Position on Terrorists and Peace in the Middle East, Secretary Colin L. Powell. Remarks at the McConnell Center for Political Leadership, University of Louisville, Kentucky, November 19, 2001.