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Jewish Support For Israel’s Occupation Policy Is An “Irony of History,” Says Henry Siegman

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November - December 2004

“It is one of the ironies of history that Jews — whether in the U.S., Europe or Israel — who were disproportionately involved in struggles for universal human rights and civil liberties should now be supporting policies of a right-wing Israeli government that is threatening to turn Israel into a racist state,” writes Henry Siegman in The New York Review of Books (Dec. 2, 2004). Siegman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, notes that, “If Sharon leverages his promised withdrawal from Gaza into an Israeli presence in the West Bank that is impossible to dislodge — a point that some observers insist has already been reached — a racist regime is surely what his policies will produce. That likelihood is a nightmare hardly limited to Sharon’s critics on the left. Even the right-wing Ehud Olmert, Israel’s deputy prime minister, has warned that an apartheid state is the direction in which the Jewish state is heading. Nahum Barnea, Israel’s most respected political commentator, recently wrote that ‘Thirty seven years after the occupation, in the eyes of a large part of the world Israel has become a pariah country. It’s not yet the South Africa of apartheid, but definitely from the same family.”  

In Siegman’s view, “Sharon is not about to agree to the minimal conditions for a workable Palestinian state. His unshakable resolve to avoid dealing with Palestinians ... and to widen Jewish settlement activity throughout the West Bank, which has increased following the announcement of his disengagement plans, gives the lie to such wishful thinking. The latest report from Israel’s Peace Now Settlement Watch found that building and Infrastructure construction is taking place at 474 settlement sites in the West Bank and Gaza, including 50 sites where expansion of new construction deviates from the existing boundaries of the settlements, in violation of promises made by Sharon to President Bush ... The growth and extent of major settlements in the West Bank are now being carried out to help to divide it into three noncontiguous Palestinian cantons, in effect Bantustans that Palestinians could inhabit under Israeli surveillance without having a unified state of their own ... For Sharon, withdrawal from Gaza is the price Israel must pay if it is to complete the cantonization of the West Bank under Israel’s control...”  

Siegman cites an interview with Dov Weissglas, Sharon’s closest friend and colleague, in Haaretz (Oct. 8, 2004) in which he described the content and purpose of Sharon’s proposed disengagement from Gaza, Weissglas, who serves as the prime minister’s senior adviser and chief of staff, asserts bluntly that the disengagement which he and Sharon had persuaded President Bush and both houses of Congress to endorse, was actually intended to prevent a peace process, to consign Bush’s road map to oblivion, and to preclude the emergence of a Palestinian state of any kind. ‘Evidently, the only ones who still don’t get it, despite Weissglas’s painstaking clarifications, are the officials In Washington,” writes Siegman.  

What Siegman urges is an international conference to adopt principles for the resolution of the major permanent status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Those principles,” he declares, “are widely known and widely supported ... In addition to the requirement that the pre-1967 border must be the starting point for the negotiations, a stipulation already contained in the road map, they would also include the following provisions: that territorial changes be based on equal exchanges on both sides of that border; that the right of return of Palestinian refugees be exercised in the new state of Palestine, not in Israel; and that Arab sections of East Jerusalem become part of the Palestinian state and serve as its capital. In addition, special arrangements will have to be made for the Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”  

If the U.S. were to support such a conference, and American and European Jewish groups were to express support for such a peace settlement, rather than encouragement for current Sharon policies, a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, Siegman believes, be the likely outcome.  

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