by Patrick Seale Released: 26 Apr 2008
Why did Israel treat the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter so rudely during his recent visit to the Middle East? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior ministers refused to meet him. The Shin Beth, Israel's security service, refused to provide him with the protection usually given to distinguished foreign guests. Israel's lobby in the United States vilified and insulted him, dismissing his brave peace efforts as the work of an ignorant and bumbling old man.
The most extraordinary outburst came from Israel's United Nations ambassador, Dan Gillerman, who told journalists that Carter "went to the region with soiled hands and came back with bloody hands after shaking the hand of Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas."
How can such scandalously undiplomatic language be explained?
The freedom of action Israel thus achieved allowed it to attack and invade Lebanon in 1982, in a bid to smash and expel Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization and draw Lebanon into Israel's orbit.
But there is no gratitude in politics. Carter's great gift to Israel was forgotten, wiped out -- in Israeli eyes -- by his 'crime' of seeking to promote an Israeli deal with Hamas, which would include a mutual ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners.
Last Friday, Israel rejected the Hamas offer of a mutual ceasefire -- conveyed through the Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman -- dismissing it as a ruse to buy time in order to regroup and rearm.
Hamas had offered to end all rocket attacks on Israel and other military operations, including arms smuggling into Gaza. In exchange, it demanded that Israel cease all assassinations, arrests and other military activity in the Gaza Strip, and ease the shipments of supplies into and out of the strip.
In a concession to Israel, the Hamas ceasefire offer was limited to Gaza alone, on the understanding that it would later be extended to the West Bank.
But Israel was not interested. It wants to destroy Hamas, not include it in any peace process. That explains its barbarous siege of Gaza, which has now been made far worse by starving the Strip of petrol and fuel oil. This has led to immobilizing virtually all vehicles, cutting off of water and electricity for long periods each day, and closing schools and universities. The absence of petrol has forced the World Food Programme and UNRWA -- the UN agency responsible for helping Palestinian refugees -- to halt the distribution of food packages on which one million inhabitants of Gaza depend for survival.
Gaza thus sinks into intolerable misery, while the world looks the other way.
There are two main reasons why Israel refuses any sort of compromise with Hamas, such as the one Carter has attempted to mediate:
First, Israel rejects any mutual ceasefire, because it would signal a form of mutual deterrence. It wants to force Hamas to stop all resistance, while retaining for itself the freedom to strike and kill at will. It has no interest in anything that might hint at a balance of power with the Palestinians, or indeed with the Arabs as a whole.
Second, Israel does not want anything that might disturb the grim farce of its 'negotiations' with Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. These negotiations have gotten nowhere -- and will get nowhere -- so long as Israel continues its creeping annexation of the West Bank.
There are now close to 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank -- excluding the settlers in annexed East Jerusalem, who number over 150,000 and are increasing steadily. Uri Lupiansky, mayor of Jerusalem, recently said that plans for the construction of 10,000 housing units in East Jerusalem were moving forward.
By his on-going talks with Olmert, the unfortunate Mahmud Abbas is simply providing Israel with cover for its steady expansion into the West Bank. To head off any pressure from the United States, Olmert can point to his meetings with Abu Mazen.
Any involvement of Hamas would take the 'peace process' to a different level of seriousness -- something Israel is determined to avoid.
Little wonder, therefore, that the gentle, peace-loving Jimmy Carter is seen by Israel as an enemy, not a friend.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.
Copyright © 2008 Patrick Seale
Released: 26 April 2008