Thursday, April 15, 2004

Billmon and the Territories

A truly, truly savage critique over at Billmon of the Bush administration's announcement of support for Sharon's plan of a unilateral pullout of the Gaza strip (in exchange for entrenchment of existing West Bank settlements).

Here's just a taste:

This is a shameful capitulation. As the Reuters story notes, the statement overturns in one stroke almost 40 years of official U.S. policy -- a policy Shrub's father actually showed a fair amount of political courage in defending. For decades, Israeli leaders (Likud and Labor alike) have worked to create those "new realities on the ground" -- as the statement, with the usual neocon arrogance, describes them -- through illegal land expropriations, relentless discrimination against Palestinian landowners, and lavish government subsidies for Jewish settlers. And for decades, the U.S. government has refused to accept Israel's bully boy tactics, despite the relentless, continuous efforts of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

That's gone now -- and probably for good, as I'll explain in a moment. Today's statement essentially guts the road map (itself a largely gutless process) by deleting the essential principle that the final status of the territories will not be determined by unilateral action on either side (which in the real world, means on the Israeli side.) It also negates the fundamental premise of UN Resolution 242 -- the bedrock of all peace efforts over the past 40 years -- that territory will not be acquired by force.

Indeed, Sharon actually ends up with something better than an approved settlement list from Bush. He gets virtual carte blanche to keep any settlement he wishes to keep -- and indeed, to grab any part of the West Bank he wishes to grab, as long as it can be connected in some way to those "existing major Israeli populations centers." And if you know anything about Israel's settlement policies in the occupied territories, you know how good they are at connecting things.
That's just a small part... Billmon is TICKED. (Needless to say, the comments thread is 395 comments strong and just getting warmed up). In some respects, I share his concerns; I have believed and continue to believe that the final borders must be subject to negotiation, and that an over-focus on "the situation on the ground" as deterministic of the final outcome creates a very dangerous precedent. Uprooting thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of settlers would be a disturbing and potentially violent task, no doubt, but this was always part-and-parcel of the settlement process. The Israeli government can't shuck its own responsibility for this slow explansion any more than the P.A. can for the "drive them into the sea", anti-semetic rhetoric of its extremist members.

(In fact, considering the financial incentives for settlement in the Territories, one could easily hold the Israeli government directly responsible, but that is a debatable matter.)

Still, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with Billmon's insistence that "Washington truly is Likud-occupied territory now". Needless to say, that sort of argument is the first step down a very dark road indeed, and obscures the fact that no matter how powerful, AIPAC and the neo-cons are only a few players in a very large game indeed.

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