You cannot be serious, Mr Peres

Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister are intensely engaged in negotiations over the future of the occupied territories and the creation of a Palestinian state, according to the Israeli media. Unfortunately, they are not negotiating with the Palestinians but rather with each other. In typical Israeli fashion, the two see the future of the region not as something to be determined among its peoples, according to the principles of international law and justice, but rather as a purely internal matter to be bargained over and carved up by Israel’s quarrelling political factions.

Hence, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has launched another of his famous “initiatives” — this time for a “Palestinian state” in the Gaza Strip, to be extended to parts of the West Bank under unspecified conditions and time, certainly of Israel’s choosing. The only matter yet to be resolved between the parties (Sharon and Peres) is whether Israel will remove any of its settlements from occupied Gaza. Rejoice, then, that peace at last will be at hand!

If the situation in the occupied territories caused by Israel’s relentless aggression against the Palestinians living there were not so dreadful, the Sharon-Peres discussions would form the basis for a hilarious and twisted satire. Instead, they are a marker of how far Israel’s political class is from recognising the depth of the crisis they have created and what they need to do to end it.

Among the ideas that Peres recently presented to European Union leaders in Brussels is that the EU should undertake several projects as part of his “peace plan” including “a power plant in Gaza, a desalination plant, a natural gas pipeline, a railroad connecting Gaza with the West Bank and industrial parks”. Such language is simply an effort to obscure with bribes and shadows the absolute and unavoidable necessity for a complete and rapid end to Israel’s occupation in all its forms. It is an effort to revive the shell game that was the Oslo “peace process”.

Mr Peres, Palestinians do not want gifts from you or the EU. They want their freedom from Israel’s soldiers, torturers, death squads and settlers and from patronising “development” plans fashioned for them, that have absolutely nothing to do with ending the structures of oppression and exploitation that Israel has spent nearly four decades and billions of dollars entrenching in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. These declarations are no different from those of South Africa’s apartheid leaders who tried to forestall demands for political rights with promises — equally hollow — of “economic development” for blacks.

The details of Peres’ latest fantasy are of little importance. Suffice it to say that what he now envisions is far less than the insufficient proposals put forward by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David. Peres cannot sincerely believe that he will find any Palestinian on earth who would entertain seriously a proposal put forward by him and Sharon along the lines he is suggesting.

It is rather more likely that one of Peres’ goals is simply to keep as much pressure as possible off the Israeli government, which has absolutely refused since it took office to negotiate with the Palestinians. Another may be to keep his near-defunct political body warm enough for another run at prime minister. This requires him to present himself on the world stage as a “dovish” alternative while keeping himself at the centre of power in Israel rather than in the political wilderness that other allegedly “dovish” Labour Party leaders are now tilling fruitlessly.

Consider that Peres is accompanying his new plan with a call for the creation of an “economic Benelux” comprising, among others, Israel and the glorified Palestinian concentration camp that is to be called a “state” with cooperation from the European Union. Is this man not embarrassed to reference the structures of post-World War II Europe that were specifically set up to prevent a repetition of war and genocide when he comfortably sits in a cabinet with a party that openly calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians? Of course we are supposed to believe that by sharing the cabinet table with the Moledet party, and its recently assassinated leader, Rehavam Zeevi, Peres was playing a moderating role.

But if Sharon and his pro-ethnic cleansing allies scorn even the advice of President Bush, why should they listen to Peres? And to look at Peres’ latest positions, are they not more anti-Palestinian than ever? It is not Peres who is playing a “moderating role” but Sharon and the racists whom he represents who are playing a radicalising role on the Israeli “left” while their fanatic ideologies of racial and religious domination wholly rejected in the civilised world increasingly become part of the Israeli mainstream. Peres, by lending his dubious but durable international respectability to the Sharon government, is acting as a midwife for an ever more ferocious Israeli political culture which cannot imagine any future for the Middle East except one based on confrontation and conquest. This will be Peres’ lasting legacy.

As a famous eighteenth-century French philosopher, who gave his name to a certain kind of perverse cruelty all too familiar to victims of Israel’s barbarous occupation wrote, “one is never so dangerous when one has no shame, than when one has grown too old to blush.”