Valedictory hot air
Rice’s last and final visit to Israel/Palestine is conclusive proof that the neocons achieved nothing and could offer nothing, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
The 24th visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Palestine-Israel this week didn’t differ much from her previous visits, especially in substance. Rice, who held meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, followed by joint press conferences in both West Jerusalem and Ramallah, essentially regurgitated the same platitudes and false promises she voiced ever since she assumed the top diplomatic post nearly four years ago.
Finding virtually nothing to clutch to in terms of hard achievements in the so- called peace process, Rice put a brave face on her apparent colossal failure to get Israel to end its decades-old occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. She told PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who seemed to be coming to terms with the inanity of the process, that the near end of the Bush administration didn’t mean the end of prospects for peace. She added that she would brief the upcoming Obama administration on the status of Israeli-Palestinian talks so that the new administration wouldn’t have to start from scratch.
Valedictory hot air
Rice's last and final visit to Israel/Palestine is conclusive proof that the neocons achieved nothing and could offer nothing, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
The 24th visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Palestine-Israel this week didn't differ much from her previous visits, especially in substance. Rice, who held meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, followed by joint press conferences in both West Jerusalem and Ramallah, essentially regurgitated the same platitudes and false promises she voiced ever since she assumed the top diplomatic post nearly four years ago.
Finding virtually nothing to clutch to in terms of hard achievements in the so- called peace process, Rice put a brave face on her apparent colossal failure to get Israel to end its decades-old occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. She told PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who seemed to be coming to terms with the inanity of the process, that the near end of the Bush administration didn't mean the end of prospects for peace. She added that she would brief the upcoming Obama administration on the status of Israeli-Palestinian talks so that the new administration wouldn't have to start from scratch.
Commenting on the "failure of the sides" to reach a breakthrough, despite high-level international involvement and several high-profile peace conferences in the US and Europe as well as the Middle East, Rice claimed that Israel and the PA were now "closer to reaching peace than ever before". Some of Rice's Palestinian hosts and interlocutors couldn't hide their frustration. One official close to chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei remarked: "This woman is just giving out another dose of lies."
"She may think that we believe her lies; otherwise, what makes her utter the same lies every time she comes here?" the man added. The Palestinian official was not merely voicing his own opinion, but reflecting widespread disillusionment with Rice's fruitless visits and unfulfilled promises.
Rice repeatedly promised the PA leadership that the US would see to it that Israel put an end to settlement expansion in the West Bank, relax its often draconian restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, removing most, or all, of the estimated 600 military roadblocks paralysing the Palestinian economy and seriously disrupting Palestinian life. Giving Rice the benefit of the doubt, as usual, Abbas said he would continue to honour "our commitments under the roadmap".
The PA has been unilaterally honouring the Quartet-backed roadmap by arresting and persecuting Hamas supporters, closing Hamas-affiliated institutions and establishing an unprecedented close cooperation — even collusion — between the Israeli occupation army and PA security forces against the "common enemy", which is Hamas. Far from reciprocating PA measures against Hamas, Israel kept expanding settlements while giving Nazi- like Jewish settlers virtually free rein to terrorise Palestinians and vandalise their property, including the olive harvest.
As for Rice, all she could do was to heap praise on the PA leadership for "doing the right thing", arguing that the more the PA displayed its ability to "impose security", the closer Palestinians would be to creating a democratic state.
Rice seems to live in a world of her own. In a recent interview with the BBC, Rice said she believed that the Middle East was a better place for the policies of President Bush, adding that the US had helped advance the cause of freedom. "The Middle East is a different place and a better place." Asked to assess the outgoing US administration's legacy, Rice said she was "especially proud of the situation in the Palestinian territories".
Proud? In 2006, during the Israeli war on Lebanon, Rice reacted to the widespread destruction wreaked on Lebanese population centres, including the dropping by the Israeli air force of 2-3 million cluster bomblets, enough to kill or maim 2-3 million children, by saying that "Israel has the right to defend itself". She described the annihilation and maiming of thousands of Lebanese civilians as representing "the birth pangs of a new Middle East".
With nothing to report on the status of the peace process, save the usual babble about "staying the course", and that "the Palestinian state is around the corner," Rice travelled to Jenin in the northern West Bank to be briefed by PA security chiefs on how they succeeded in "re- establishing law and order".
Further, Rice told her Palestinian hosts there, including US-favoured Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, that the Palestinian state wouldn't see the light unless the Palestinians built "strong democratic institutions". She dutifully ignored the fact that it was the US that sought — and continues to seek — to overthrow the only truly democratically-elected government in 2006 by enlisting, arming and financing local Palestinian agents to ignite civil war.
Moreover, Rice reiterated the same old rhetoric about the American people wanting to see the Palestinians living in a state with defined borders.
"I have decided to visit Jenin because it is the first Palestinian town in which Fayyad was able to achieve security and economic reforms, with international assistance," she said. Tellingly, Jenin remains one of the most — if not the most — impoverished Palestinian towns, mainly due to the restrictive measures of the Israeli occupation.
Fayyad, who was speaking during a joint press conference with Rice at the local hospital in Jenin, described Rice's visit as "historic". He also heaped praise on the Bush administration for helping the Palestinian people, ignoring the scandalous embrace by the Bush government of the most extremist policies of the Israeli government, including settlement expansion, the building of the annexation wall, and the continued Judaisation of East Jerusalem.
Fayyad's pro-American stance, especially his preoccupation with economic advancement rather than achieving freedom for his people from the sinister shackles of Zionism, doesn't seem to be shared by the vast majority of Palestinians, including Fatah supporters.
Meanwhile, the election of the Democratic candidate Barack Obama as president on 4 November was received well throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. The sigh of relief, which was conspicuous in some Palestinian quarters, didn't reflect any amount of love of Obama (especially after his decision to appoint a Zionist extremist, Rahm Emanuel, as chief of staff of the White House), rather it reflected a certain "good riddance" sentiment vis-à-vis the Bush administration.
Even Hamas, which is normally distrustful of anything American, welcomed the election of Obama, calling on the president-elect to show honesty and even- handedness in his policy in the Middle East.
Whether Obama will exercise honesty and even-handedness towards the Palestinians remains to be seen. Many Palestinians are reluctant to give any US president the benefit of the doubt.
"All I can say now is that I hope and pray that we won't miss Bush. We simply can't take anything for granted, even with Obama," said one elderly Palestinian following Obama's victory.
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