Robert Fisk: Another brick in the wall

If I were an Israeli I would have built a wall, but not as a way of stealing land

The Independent

Published: 02 April 2006

We have been conned again. The Israeli elections, we are told, mean that the dream of "Greater Israel" has finally been abandoned. West Bank settlements will be closed down, just as the Jewish colonies were uprooted in Gaza last year. The Zionist claim to all of Biblical Israel has withered away. Likud, the nightmare party of Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu, has been smashed by the Gaullist figure of the dying Ariel Sharon, whose Kadima party now embraces Ehud Olmert and that decaying symbol of the Israeli left, Nobel prizewinner Shimon Peres. This, at least, is the narrative laid down by so many of our journalists, "analysts" and "commentators". But it is a lie.

Only in paragraph two - or three or four - of the grovelling news reports from the Middle East do we read that Olmert's not very impressive election victory will allow him to "redraw" the "frontiers" of Israel, a decision described as "controversial" - the usual get-out clause of newspapers that wish to avoid the truth: that Israel is about to grab more land and claim it to be part of the state of Israel. Yes, true, the smaller and more vulnerable Jewish colonies illegally built on Palestinian-owned land may be abandoned - stand by for more of the grief and tears which we witnessed in Gaza. But the rest - the great semi-circle of concrete that runs around east Jerusalem, for example - will not be depopulated.

Let's start with the wall. It will soon run from top to bottom of the occupied Palestinian West Bank - and it is going to stay. It is higher, in the long sectors where it has been completed - east of Jerusalem, for example - than the Berlin Wall. Yet journalists go on calling it a "security barrier" or a "fence" - because the as yet uncompleted sectors of the wall are still coils of barbed wire.

This is part of the dream world that editors and reporters have constructed for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It exists in the same Potemkin landscape that allows journalists to call the occupied Palestinian territory "disputed territory" - after then Secretary of State Colin Powell ordered his diplomats in the region to use this mendacious phrase - and to call Jewish colonies illegally built on Arab land "settlements" or - my favourites now - "Jewish neighbourhoods" or "outposts". It is the same stage set on which Israelis are killed by Palestinians - which they are - but on which Palestinians die in anonymous "clashes" (with whom - and killed by whom, exactly?)

And each of these little lies, of course, contains a kernel of truth. The occupied territories are "disputed" between Israelis and Palestinians, the first claiming that God gave them the land, the second producing land deeds to prove that the law entitles them to their own property. If illegal colonies such as Maale Adumim are built adjacent to Jerusalem - itself illegally annexed by Israel - then of course they are "neighbourhoods". And since the wall - which has gobbled up 10 per cent more Palestinian land for the Israelis - is to prevent suicide bombers (and has been fairly successful in doing so), it is a "security barrier". I seem to recall that the East Germans called the Berlin Wall - or "Berlin Fence" as I suppose we would have to call it if built by the Israelis - a "security barrier". Forget the illegality of occupation, then, and the illegality of stealing someone else's home and land, and the illegality of building a wall that thieves yet more property from the 22 per cent of mandate Palestine which the Palestinians are supposed to negotiate for.

Let me be frank: if I were an Israeli I too would have built a wall to prevent the suicide executioners of Islamic Jihad and, earlier, of Hamas. But I would have built it along the international frontier of Israel - not used the wall as a cheap method of stealing more land. Indeed, under UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is meant to be the foundation of any peace, the acquisition of land through war is stated to be illegal. The wall itself is illegal. The International Court also ruled it to be illegal. And Israel ignored this ruling. So, of course, did the US.

But now the burden of all this post-election theft is to be placed upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This colourless, helpless man, who presided over the Palestinian Authority's continuing corruption, is supposed to persuade the new Hamas government to accept all of Israel's land-grabs, to pick up where the Oslo process left off (which still left Jerusalem in exclusively Israeli hands), and to abandon all violence - which means to surrender whenever Israeli troops raid refugee camps or cities in the West Bank.

The point is that Hamas members have been as assuredly elected representatives of the Palestinians as Mr Olmert and his forthcoming allies in government are representatives of Israelis. But this does not allow them to make any "controversial" plans to redraw their "border" with Israel, not even to insist that Israel withdraws - or redeploys - to its internationally recognised borders. (I'm talking about the pre-1967 frontier, not the 1948 one.) They cannot demand fulfilment of UN Resolution 242 because George Bush has already made it clear that the vast Jewish colonies east of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem itself, will remain in Israeli hands. Sure, 14 of the 24 Hamas ministers have been in Israeli prisons. But what are Palestinians supposed to think when they realise that 15 Israeli generals have been elected to the new Knesset, along with six secret service agents?

Yet even this is not the point. If the Israelis want Hamas to acknowledge the state of Israel, then Hamas should be expected to acknowledge the state of Israel that exists within its legal frontiers - not the illegal borders now being dreamt up by Olmert. We will have to abandon the idea that Ariel Sharon - an unindicted war criminal after his involvement in the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacres - was really going to give up the major Jewish colonies built illegally on Arab land or the illegal annexation of Jerusalem. Certainly Olmert is not going to do that. He is going to create wider frontiers for Israel and steal - let's call a spade a spade - more Arab land in doing so. The US will go along with this next illegal land-grab. But will the EU? Will the UN? Will Russia? Will our own dear Tony Blair?

Israelis deserve peace and security as much as Palestinians. But "new" and expanded "controversial" Israeli frontiers will not bring peace or security to either.