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Mr. Olmert Comes to Washington -- What Israel's Prime Minister Didn't Say

New America Media, Commentary, Jamal Dajani Posted: May 26, 2006

Editor's Note: The Israeli leader described to Congress a forward-thinking, high-tech state ready to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors. The reality for Palestinians, the writer says, is repressive tactics from the apartheid era or earlier. New America Media contributor Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV. He was born and raised in Jerusalem and travels there frequently.

SAN FRANCISCO--Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert swept through the nation's capital this week and garnered President George Bush's approval for further unilateral actions against Palestinians.

Olmert victoriously addressed a joint session of Congress, which almost unanimously passed HR 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, a resolution intended to criminalize all Palestinians, regardless of their political affiliations.

This new resolution bans direct assistance to the Palestinian population. Even desperately needed humanitarian aid being provided by NGOs will be affected. It forbids or severely restricts the movement of Palestinian diplomatic representatives within the United States. The nature and ramifications of this resolution are so severe that even the Bush administration found it excessively punitive.

In his Congress speech Olmert recounted the history of his parents. "My parents Bella and Mordechai Olmert were lucky...They escaped the persecution in Ukraine and Russia and found sanctuary in Harbin, China. They immigrated to Israel to fulfill their dream of building a Jewish state living in peace in the land of our ancestors."

What Olmert failed to tell Congress is the fact that several days earlier, on May 15, Palestinians throughout the world commemorated Al Nakba Day (The Catastrophe), 58 years since the day Israel was declared a state atop the ruins of Palestinian homes and hundreds of ethnically cleansed towns and villages.

In a speech partially drafted by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel, Olmert spoke about Palestinian terrorism, the Iranian nuclear threat and introduced new words to the lexicon of the Israeli understanding of a peace agreement, such as "convergence" and "realignment." He completely ignored words such as "occupation," "oppression" and "apartheid."

The Wall, or as Israeli leaders call it, "the fence," was not on Olmert's agenda, or the fact that once completed, it will gobble up another 10 percent of the 22 percent remaining of historic Palestine. This land was intended to be the future home of the Palestinian people who, according to Israeli calculations, in less than five years will outnumber Jews living in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Olmert talked about offering a hand of peace to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, recalling Ariel Sharon's words. "The Palestinians will forever be our neighbors," Olmert said. "They are an inseparable part of this land, as are we. Israel has no desire to rule over them, nor to oppress them. They too have a right to freedom and national aspirations."

He did not mention Israel's containment and control of the entire civilian population in Palestine, by fortress-like walls and mazes of checkpoints. It's a medieval strategy the Holy Land used during the Crusades, when besieged cities were deprived of food and water and hygiene was disregarded, causing the spread of epidemics.

Neither did he mention his last order to the Israeli Shabak, just before departing to meet with Bush, to authorize yet another extrajudicial assassination of a Palestinian in Gaza. This one resulted in the "crossfire" killing of a young boy, his mother and a female relative.

Moreover, shortly before Olmert came to Washington, in a decision that recalls South Africa's "Mixed Marriages Act," the Israeli Court upheld the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law, which bars Israeli citizens and their Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from living together legally in Israel. Under the law, a man or woman from the West Bank who is married to an Israeli citizen or permanent resident cannot acquire Israeli citizenship or residency rights. Mentioning Israeli discriminatory policies against non-Jews might not have played out too well among his Washington audience.

Olmert's speech to Congress was a skillful confection, portraying a vision of a modern Israel in sync with the 21st century. "Israel has impressive credentials in the realms of science, technology, high-tech and the arts and many Israelis are Nobel Prizes laureates in various fields," he said. An Israel "on the cutting edge of technology" has moved beyond occupation to "realignment."

But beneath this appealing veneer lies the reality of a country in a regressive historical tailspin, spiraling downwards from apartheid laws that designate what class of people may lawfully couple with one another to siege strategies abandoned shortly after Middle Ages.

By encircling Palestinian towns and villages with walls and turrets, Israel has gained complete control of ingress and egress to the populations within. The flow of food and other resources vital to these populations depends entirely on Israel's whims and purposes.

Inside de facto Israel, its Palestinian citizens face their own brand of discrimination and are treated as third-class citizens, if treated as citizens at all. They are denied educational opportunities, welfare benefits, access to land and are even restricted to where they are permitted to live (similar to the Group Areas Act in South Africa).

Olmert did not mention any of the realities of what actual life for a Palestinian is like, and he was wise not to. Instead, he spoke of paving the way for "realignment": "Should we realize that the bilateral track with the Palestinians is of no consequence, should the Palestinians ignore our outstretched hand for peace, Israel will seek other alternatives to promote our future and the prospects of hope in the Middle East. At that juncture, the time for realignment will occur."

This realignment will eventually complete the Bantustanization of Palestine. It is the real reason behind Olmert's triumphant visit to Washington. It is something neither the Bush administration, Congress nor AIPAC, the American Israel Political Action Committee, will tell you about. That's because Olmert's next plan, according to many Arab and Israeli analysts, is to ask Congress for upwards of $10 billion in U.S. aid to help Israel realize its grand vision of unilateral, partial withdrawals and relocation of distant Israeli settlements.


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