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http://www.informinc.co.uk/LM/LM91/LM91_Lebanon.html
 


When Peace Means War

Israel's attack on Lebanon showed the 'peace process' in action, says Mark Ryan


Two events in April amply illustrated the direction of the Middle East peace process. The first was Israel's attack on Lebanon. The second was the Palestine National Council's renunciation of its charter calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. The first showed that a bit of brute force does no harm to the peace process. The second that, for all the fine rhetoric about peace and reconciliation, the peace process is built on the surrender and humiliation of one side.

Israel's attack on Lebanon was a monstrous act of aggression against a defenceless people. Yet the Israeli war on Hizbollah and its supporters won the backing of all those most staunchly in favour of the peace process. The US government made no secret of its approval, while the British government followed suit. Even the Arab governments which would once have been quick to condemn 'Zionist aggression' kept an embarrassed silence.

Throughout the attack, the pretence that there was some sort of battle of equals going on in Lebanon was kept up by Western politicians and the media. Even after the massacre of over 100 civilians in the UN compound at Qana, we were still being told of 'firefights' and 'duels' between Israeli and Hizbollah gunners, of the equal suffering of the people of southern Lebanon and of northern Israel, driven from their homes, living in fear. The reality of course had nothing to do with this.

Hizbollah might be resourceful guerrilla fighters--in March they killed 11 Israeli soldiers in the occupation zone of southern Lebanon. But 300 badly armed guerrillas could never be considered a military match for the Israelis.

Katyusha Myth

As weapons of war, the Katyusha rockets fired into northern Israel by Hizbollah are almost worthless. Hundreds are said to have hit the region of Kiryat Shemona over two weeks. However a strong wind blowing in off the Mediterranean would have done nearly as much damage. Nobody was killed by the Katyushas, though many Israelis were said to be suffering from 'shock', presumably at the thought of having to replace some broken tiles on their air-conditioned bungalows--all of which will be paid for by the government. There was never much chance of the wildly inaccurate Katyushas killing anyone, since the people of northern Israel had secure concrete bunkers into which they could retire. And if any suffered from claustrophobia, they could be taken by air-conditioned coach to a less noisy region further south.

On the other side of the border it was a different story. Nearly half a million refugees fled their homes, knowing from experience the sort of havoc Israeli weapons could wreak. They had nowhere to go, no air-conditioned buses to take them away, and the ruined homes they may eventually return to they will have to rebuild themselves.

The Israeli operation was a shameless exercise of military power. Israeli F-16s flew hundreds of sorties a day, destroying roads, homes, sewage works and electricity stations as far north as Beirut--making south Lebanon almost uninhabitable. When they ran out of targets for their precision bombs, they shot up any stray cars on the roads. Meanwhile their heavy artillery pulverised any suspected Hizbollah targets, action which culminated in the massacre in the UN compound at Qana.

This was not a battle of equals. It was the slaughter of the powerless by the powerful. Yet Western governments and media persisted with the lie that the Israeli response was proportionate to the Hizbollah threat. Even after Qana, when it became difficult to sustain the lie, the West did not want to be too judgemental. Qana was widely presented more as a tragedy, rather like the Dunblane massacre, than a vicious act of war.

As if to confirm that not even the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) holds Israel responsible for the massacre at Qana, a few days later, the Palestinian National Council, now crammed with supporters of PLO president Yasser Arafat, voted to renounce its founding charter which called for the destruction of the state of Israel. Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres called the decision 'the most important ideological event of the last 100 years'.

It is important to note the background against which this decision was taken. The vote came at the height of the Lebanon operation, and Israeli jets had just bombed Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Sidon. The West Bank and Gaza, bits of which the Palestine National Authority (PNA) nominally controls, had been sealed off from Israel for two months following a series of suicide bomb attacks at the beginning of the year, causing a daily loss of up to $2m to the Palestinian economy. By the time the decision was taken to renounce the charter, the PNA had introduced flour rationing in the areas under its control in order to prevent starvation.

Shortly before the Israeli attack on Lebanon, Peres had announced that the Oslo 'peace accord' might have to be ratified by a referendum in Israel. In other words, all the humiliations the PLO had endured in order to gain authority over its municipal garbage service might be revoked, should the Israeli electorate decide that Oslo was a bad idea. Against this background of punishment and humiliation, the Palestinian parliament renounced its historic goal of restoring nationhood. Perhaps Peres has a point. Many anti-colonial movements have been defeated over the past century, but surely none has surrendered in quite so abject a fashion as the PLO.

Humiliation

It is absurd to describe the charade of the peace process as negotiations or as a historic reconciliation between Jew and Arab. This is the powerful stamping on the powerless, stripping them of any last vestige of honour and forcing them to proclaim their acceptance of the humiliation. Israel can do whatever it likes to the Palestinians. It can cut them off from the world, starve them and bomb them, and there is nothing the Palestinians can legitimately do in retaliation. They cannot even hope for a bit of Arab support any more. One by one, the Arab regimes are making their peace with Israel. In the middle of the attack on Lebanon, Tunisia became the fourth Arab state to establish diplomatic ties with 'the Zionist entity'. No wonder the suicide bomb has become the last weapon in the Palestinian armoury. There must be many more Palestinians who would rather blow themselves to pieces and take a few Israelis with them than live with the shame and wretchedness of life after Oslo.

The only power which Arafat can exert is a kind of vicious parody of Israeli brutality perpetrated against his own people. At the end of March the Israeli army launched a series of dawn raids on the campus of Bir Zeit university. Nearly 400 residents were marched through the streets handcuffed and blindfolded and held at a military base for 13 hours. Not to be outdone, two days later, Arafat's flunkeys attacked a student rally at the university in Nablus, using batons, tear gas and live ammunition. There are now 12 000 Palestinians in PNA jails. Stories of torture, frame-ups and summary justice are rife. The number of PNA police is scheduled to rise to nearly 30 000, and Arafat has nine intelligence agencies employing hundreds of spies.

None of this, neither the attack on Lebanon nor the misery of life under Arafat, is at variance with the peace process. This is the peace process. For the sake of keeping the peace process alive, almost anything can be justified. The USA is anxious that Peres should win the Israeli election at the end of May, since his opponent Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud is seen as a bit of a hawk. The problem is that some Israelis think Peres is weak on security. So in order to help the 'man of peace' convince the electorate that he can be as tough as any hawk, the USA gave Peres the green light for his attack on Lebanon. For the sake of the peace process, the war on Lebanon was necessary.

Processed peace

Playing the peace process game is simple. All you have to do is declare yourself committed to peace and reconciliation, and you will no longer be judged by your actions. Acts of war and repression can be justified for the sake of keeping the peace process on track. Starving the Palestinians by sealing the border is justified because if firm measures are not taken, hardline opponents of the peace process will come to power in Israel. Likewise, no matter how brutal Arafat gets, it will not tarnish his image in Western capitals because he has declared himself opposed to fundamentalists and committed to peace.

Everybody lives in fear that the peace process might grind to a halt. It is this fear which gives it such strength. The Palestinians assembled in Gaza did not enjoy renouncing their charter, especially after the massacre at Qana. What moved them was the fear that if they did not make this historic concession, the peace process would fail. A vote to keep the charter would have told the Israeli public that the Palestinians were not serious about the peace process. It could have boosted Netanyahu and thrown the peace process into turmoil. So they committed their final act of surrender for the sake of the peace process.

In these circumstances there was never any doubt that when the Israelis finished their work in Lebanon, the peace process would be there waiting for them. Britain's defence minister Michael Portillo put it well while on a visit to Israel at the start of the attack. Giving Her Majesty's Government's support for the Israelis, he expressed the belief that once the whole business was over, the peace process could start up again. In other words, war and peace are now complementary, not exclusive. Not even Shimon Peres could have put it quite so cynically.




Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 91, June 1996





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