Put the occupation back at the top of the international agenda

4 July 2007

Put the occupation back at the top of the international agenda

The stupidest thing that the international community can do is to reward one half of the Palestinian people because they come directly under Fatah's leadership, and punish the other half because they remain under the Hamas government. Europe must not join in the divide-and-rule politics of Israel and the US but follow its own course.

By Anja Meulenbelt, member of the Senate for the SP, and Harry van Bommel, Member of Parliament for the SP and the party's spokesman on foreign affairs.

Europe was one of the parties which forced elections on Palestine, elections which resulted in the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas. Israel, however, paid no attention to progress in the peace process and the economic situation of the Palestinians deteriorated further. A year later Hamas came to power, mainly because of the unrest amongst the population over this lack of progress. Hamas had turned an important corner by participating in the democratic process and giving it priority over armed struggle, by suspending attacks on civilians in Israel, and by announcing a cease-fire which held reasonably well. Hamas wanted from the very beginning to rule together with Fatah – it was Abbas who refused, while Europe looked silently on.

The background to the Hamas victory is well-known: the people wanted to punish Fatah for its corruption and had little faith in Abbas's ability to carry this off. Immediately after the election, also, Europe began a boycott of Hamas, as a result of which the economic situation of the territory further deteriorated. More than half of the population of Gaza fell below the poverty line. Lacking the funds to pay salaries, ministries and state services could no longer function,. In the Gaza strip, lawlessness and criminality grew. Meanwhile Hamas saw that the US was delivering money and weapons to Dahlan's hated militias.

In addition, when Hamas and Fatah formed a government of national unity, the EU maintained its boycott. When a third of Palestinian Members of Parliament were arrested and imprisoned in Israeli jails, we once again looked on in silence. Europe put Hamas under even more pressure. They must now accede to three demands: recognise the state of Israel, hold to agreements signed by their predecessors; and put an end to violence. These same demands were never put on Israel, which could continue with the illegal settlements, with the building of the wall and with extra-judicial executions. It was also clear that Israel had no intention of allowing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. This did not of course escape the attention of the Arab world: the EU puts demands on a people under occupation, but stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the occupying power.

Hamas did not wait around until the Fatah militias were fully trained and armed by the US to overthrow its leadership. Abbas fled to the West Bank and Hamas took control of the Gaza strip. The Palestinian Territory must, however, continue to be seen as a unified entity. Haniye is prepared once again to talk with Fatah, but does not recognise the 'emergency government' of Abbas, assembled outside of the Palestinian parliament. Three-quarters of the population want to see new elections. Israel and the US are now promising the earth to the emergency government of Abbas and Europe will follow suit - as usual – without a murmur. Hamas will once again be subject to boycott, which will result in an even greater humanitarian disaster for the population of Gaza. This movement will not, however, be brought to its knees, but is much more likely to take a still stronger grip on power.

Now that the 'moderate' (for which read, obedient to the US and Israel) government of Fatah has vanished from Gaza, Israel is threatening to launch renewed military attacks on the area. No good can come of this, only ever more deaths, ever more chaos and ever more radicalisation. Europe must change course, no longer going along with the game of divide and rule played by Israel and the US. Build normal contacts with the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinians, whether they be from Fatah or from Hamas. Demonstrate that politics is more fruitful than terror. Resume aid to the Gaza strip and above all, put the core of the problem, the occupation itself, back at the top of the international agenda. If we continue to follow the present line, we will make ourselves once more jointly responsible for huge instability in the middle East.

This is a translation of an article first published in the Dutch daily, De Volkskrant, 4th July 2007

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