George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News
December 10, 2008 - 1:00am

When the outgoing Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was in Washington late last month to bid farewell to President George W. Bush, whose term ends on January 20, the two unpopular leaders understandably reminisced about their close relationship, the American leader being considered Israel's closet friend when compared to former American presidents.

According to published reports in the Israeli media, Olmert, who was forced to resign his post on corruption charges, chose to update his host on Israel's indirect talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad, certainly not a friend of the American president, when Bush interjected, "Why do you want to give Assad the Golan [Heights] for nothing?"

"It's not for nothing," Olmert insisted, according to Haaretz. "It is in exchange for a change in the region's strategic alignment." But Bush persisted: "Why should you believe him?" Haaretz added, "And to that, Olmert did not reply." Of course, this is the published version and the whole exchange may be more bewildering.


Nevertheless, this revelation, coming from the outgoing president as President-elect Barack Obama, a known supporter of American dialogue with Syria, was gearing to take over the helm at the White House next month, was, to say the least, shocking and unwise. If nothing else, it once again underlines Bush's undisputed favouritism toward Israel and his unsuccessful attempt to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, even if Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice continues to mistakenly believe that "we are leaving a much better situation on Israeli-Palestinian issues than we found".

One would have hoped that Bush (or Rice in her CBS radio interview last Tuesday) would have taken the opportunity to advise the Israeli leader against his merciless and unconscionable siege of the Gaza Strip where 1.5 million Palestinians are facing a "catastrophe," in the words of Oxfam, the U K-based aid agency.

UN officials were more forthright. Richard Falk, the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement that considering "the cruelty and unlawfulness of the Gaza would seem mandatory for the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law."

No one said it better than Falk. "Some governments of the world are complicit by continuing their support politically and economically for Israel's punitive approach."

Israeli actions, official and unofficial, in the Palestinian areas are now facing tougher scrutiny. A European Union draft document has reportedly called for increased pressure on Israel to reopen Palestinian institutions in Occupied Jerusalem, including Orient House, which formerly served as the Palestinian Authority's headquarters in the city.

"A key part of building the Palestinian state involves resolving the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of the two states," the French-authored document declares.

Alongside the Gaza siege, bloodthirsty Israeli settlers are creating havoc elsewhere in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, particularly in Hebron or Al Khalil, as it is called by the Palestinians, where the Cave of the Patriarchs or, in Arabic, the Ebrahimi Mosque or Sanctuary of Abraham is located. The site is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Hebron has continuously witnessed bloody events, ranging from setting fire to Palestinian property and damaging or ransacking others including cars and shop windows - incidents that reminded one Arab observer of "exactly [what] Nazi thugs did to Jewish-owned property in Germany 80 years ago", in other words, a "Kristallnacht in Hebron".

These incidents were touched off by the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to evacuate new Israeli settlers from a recently occupied building which an American Jew claimed he recently bought there.


There were other clashes in Occupied East Jerusalem or the Old City that followed the eviction in the small hours of the night of an elderly Palestinian couple from their home to make room for Jewish settlers.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a human rights group, saw these incidents as similar to the practices of "the apartheid regime that was applied in South Africa".

Some believe, according to a report in The New York Times, "that the Israeli authorities and Jewish nationalists [colonists], who are increasingly gaining footholds in the Arab neighbourhoods, are intentionally exploiting the period of political transition in the United States, as well as the political vacuum in Israel before the February elections."

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, a leftist Israeli group that opposes Jewish colonies in areas that are expected to be part of the Palestinian state, explained that the conditions nowadays in the US and Israel are ideal "for settlers to seek to force their agenda without fear of challenge or repercussions".

If nothing else, it is time for Obama to intervene soonest, much as he has been doing to offset the economic recession at home.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017