At long last WikiLeaks documents have focused on something other than the defunct “peace process” and Israel’s war against Hamas. The latest release of diplomatic cables highlights Israeli concerns about the Islamic movement in the country, its leadership and its influence among Israel’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. The picture that emerges is one of crass racism, hypocrisy and double standards.
While the overt views of Israeli officials and their American allies are hardly well-kept secrets, the cables shed additional light on their intent and attitudes. According to the record of a meeting with the US ambassador on 31 January 2006, for example, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman advocated the adoption of the Cyprus model to ensure Israel’s security and Jewish identity. Thus, just as Greeks and Turks on the island were separated, so too Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs must be kept apart.
Despite the obvious draconian nature of Lieberman’s proposal, it did not evoke a word of protest or any sense of apprehension from the ambassador. There was no reference to what the views of the people affected might be or, indeed, that they would even be consulted. The manner in which one-fifth of Israel’s population were dismissed as irrelevant suggests that they are regarded as pawns on a political chess board; so much for America and its alleged commitment to democracy around the globe.
“Within two years,” said Lieberman, “Hamas will take over” the Israeli Arab population. This bald statement is only one of the clumsy justifications given for the drive to create the ethnic purity of the “Jewish state”. Scratch beneath the surface, though, and we find a more insidious intention; to bury the refugee issue and deny Palestinians their lawful right of return. The influence of Hamas is a red herring; it is a banned organisation in Israel; how could it “take over” Israeli citizens?
The idea of redrawing the border with the West Bank to include some settlements and “transfer” Israel’s Palestinian population to the Palestinian “state” gained currency after a letter written by George W Bush to Ariel Sharon on 14 April 2004. It was the blueprint that gave Israel the green light to keep control of the Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank, deny the Palestinian right of return, and preserve the “Jewish identity” of Israel. It read:
“The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”
Bush added, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…”
What the WikiLeaks papers have revealed is the current thinking on how to implement this plan. Lieberman pointed out that Israel would seek to define its borders with the West Bank in such a manner as “to place Israeli–Arab population centres, such as the city of Umm el–Fahm, in the Palestinian territories” and some of the settlements near the 1949 armistice lines within Israel.
Of course, when Lieberman said that he had meetings with the Palestinian leaders about this matter and that they expressed a willingness to “consider this type of swap” he was not referring to the Palestinian leadership in Israel: his own citizens don’t have a say in this; he was referring to his interlocuors in Ramallah.
Lieberman believes that “traditional” methods including those of the Oslo process have not worked and it is time to try something more “creative”. Thus, the idea of “transferring” more Palestinians out of Israel (and some argue that they should not stop in the West Bank but be pushed across the River Jordan into the Hashemite Kingdom) is being discussed more or less openly, as the WikiLeaks papers confirm.
In his aforementioned meeting with the American ambassador, the extreme right-wing Lieberman claimed that the only reason most Israeli-Arabs want to remain in Israel is to receive social benefits.
This is palpable nonsense: quite apart from the everyday discrimination faced by Israeli-Arabs in every sphere of their lives, their level of unemployment stands at 42%, compared with 9% nationally. Although they constitute 20% of the population official sources acknowledge that Israeli-Arabs have only 6% representation in the governmental and public sector. Earlier this year the Knesset (Israeli parliament) passed a law which allows the government to penalise any state-funded institution which commemorates the “Nakba”, the Arabic term for the 1948 “catastrophe” in which 531 Arab villages were destroyed and depopulated and 800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile. Human Rights Watch pointed out that this Nakba law threatens to harm the rights of citizens by reducing or withdrawing state funds that municipalities need to provide health, housing, education and other social services.
Moreover, the WikiLeaks documents of 2008 do not reveal a pattern of Palestinian dependency on and scrounging from the state. It depicts a self-reliant and progressive community largely organized and supported by the Islamic movement led by Sheikh Raed Salah. The US ambassador at the time, James Cunningham, confirmed that the movement provides assistance to the poor and finances the construction of homes destroyed by the Israeli authorities, particularly in the so-called “unrecognized” Bedouin villages. He also mentioned its success in providing education programmes in its colleges, most of whose students are female.
However, while the ambassador acknowledged the social achievements of the Islamic movement he made no attempt to conceal his disdain for its politics. The documents portray Raed Salah as a stubborn hard-line figure and accuse him of using various media sources, including Al Jazeera, to spread the idea that Al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger. Clearly, doctrinal differences take priority over practical success; the latter cannot be denied, so character assassination becomes the order of the day. Where has America’s commitment to democratic ideals gone?
There is no doubt that Israel has been pursuing a policy of Judaisation of Jerusalem since 1967 which has produced unequivocal condemnation from the UN Security Council; that all its actions in the occupied city of Jerusalem are illegal, null and void. The threats to Al-Aqsa Mosque are very much a part of that Judaisation policy. Attacks on the mosque are too numerous to list individually. Suffice to say that forty were recorded between 1967 and 1990 and seventy-two between 1993 and 1998, post-Oslo.
MEMO was hoping that Sheikh Raed Salah would have been given a fair opportunity to provide the evidence of the threats to Al-Aqsa in front of British audiences, but it was not to be. Our government did invaluable service to the Israelis and their racism when the Home Secretary agreed to detain him and serve him with a deportation order, preventing him from speaking in public. Nevertheless, the issue of Al-Aqsa will remain in the public conscience and the truth about Israeli transgressions will come to light with or without WikiLeaks and in spite of the British government’s support for Zionist Israel. As will Israel’s ongoing racism, hypocrisy and double standards, which are becoming more obvious by the day.