Sharon Aide Says U.S.-Backed Settlement Policy Designed to Freeze Peace Process

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As three back-to-back Sinai bombings kill dozens in a resort on the Egyptian-Israeli border we speak with leading Middle East experts Tanya Reinhart and Naseer Aruri about the attack, the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza and the collapse of the “peace process.” [includes rush transcript]

Three back-to-back bombings yesterday rocked Egyptian resorts where Israelis were vacationing during Jewish holidays, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 120 others. Some estimates put the death toll over 30.

The most powerful explosion ripped through the 400-room Hilton Hotel at Taba, a Red Sea resort just across Egypt’s border with Israel.

Israeli police sources said the blast was the work of a truck bomb that crashed into the hotel lobby. A possible second blast was believed triggered by a suicide bomber around the pool area. At least 39 people are missing in the rubble and officials fear the death toll will rise. Most of the casualties appear to be Egyptians and Israelis.

About two hours after the attack, two other bombs went off in nearby camping areas in Ras al Sultan and the village of Tarabeen near Nuweibi killing at least 2 and wounding 43 others.

The only claim of responsibility came from a previously unheard of group: the Islamic Tawhid Brigades. Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister said the attacks bear the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

Israeli security agencies had warned travelers against visiting Egyptian resorts on the Red Sea following warnings of a possible attack. The Israeli-built Taba Hilton was the scene of failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in January 2001. Thousands of Israelis returned home from Sinai all night Thursday. At the time of the attacks, there were approximately 15,000 Israelis in Sinai.

Meanwhile, an Israeli missile strike killed two Palestinian teenagers in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza strip yesterday. The teenagers were playing with a tube and a gasoline-filled bottle in imitation of militants firing rockets at Israel. They were the latest youths to die in the Israeli campaign in northern Gaza labeled “Operation Days of Penitence” which has left more than 80 Palestinians dead. The past week has marked one of the deadliest periods for Palestinians since the Intifada began four years ago.

The latest deaths come a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s chief aide publicly claimed that Israel’s plan to withdraw settlers from the Gaza strip while expanding settlements on the West Bank was designed to freeze the peace process and permanently prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The aide, Dov Weissglas, said “When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.” Weissglas also said the White House backs this new policy.

The remarks caused a political storm in Israel forcing Sharon to claimed he still backs the U.S.-led road map which calls for a Palestinian state.

  • Tanya Reinhart, professor of linguistics and cultural studies at Tel Aviv University and at the University of Utrecht. She is the author of “Israel/ Palestine: How to End the War of 1948” (Seven Stories) and is a columnist at Israel’s largest daily, Yediot Aharonot.
  • Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts. He is author of the book “Dishonest broker: America’s Role in Israel and Palestine” (South End)
  • Chris McGreal, reporter for the London Guardian.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by two guests. Tanya Reinhart is with us, Professor of Linguistics and Cultural Studies at Tel Aviv University and the University of Utrecht in Holland. She’s the author of the book Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. She is also a columnist with the Israeli newspaper, the largest daily, Yediot Ahranot. We’re also joined by Naseer Aruri. He is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, author of the book Dishonest Broker: America’s Role in Israel and Palestine. And thank you very much both for coming in. The situation is very grave. Naseer Aruri, your assessment at this point. We see both what’s happened at Taba and also the latest in Gaza.

NASEER ARURI: Well, I think what’s been happening in Gaza over the past seven days is really much worse than what happened in Jenin in 2002, when there was an international outcry after Israeli forces went against the camp in Jenin and against most of the cities that were designated by Oslo as “Area A,” meaning that they are under the authority of the Palestine authority. This whole thing, I think, underscores the fact that there’s been a need, really, for a peace process and now the self-designated peace maker is really on record as of 14 April, when Bush and Sharon met and discussed the so-called disengagement plan. I think that the U.S. now is on record, stating that — they’re really implying, I should say, that there is no need for a peace process. It’s been suspended. I think there was an agreement, I think, in the American body politic last year that the matter should not be discussed. I remember when Nancy Pelosi introduced a resolution saying that we need not discuss the issue in the presidential campaign. So, there seems to be a consensus, really, among the Sharon and the Bush people that there is no need for the peace process and now we have it from Dov Weissglas, the chief of staff for Mr. Sharon, saying what we have known right along. So if this really shows anything, I think it underscores the need for negotiations and I know it is unrealistic to expect these negotiations to be held under international auspices, but nevertheless, I think that should be the only way, because the U.S. had 37 1/2 years to deliver and it has not delivered and now it is saying clearly that we may not really need to do that, let Sharon do what he wants.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yet at the same time, the continuing war in Iraq, obviously, is obscuring, at least in the United States, any sort of attention to the continuing crisis in the Middle East. In Palestine, it is fueling really a lot of the resentment throughout the Arab world. How do you see the ability of the American people even to hold their own leaders accountable for the failures in terms of Palestine and Israel?

NASEER ARURI: Well, there seems to be no attempt, really, on the part of the American people to hold their leaders accountable. The two issues in Iraq and Palestine are connected. I think they really are parallel colonial situations, whereby in Iraq it is oil, that kind of imperial — that kind of, you know, colonial policy, and with regard to Israel, it’s colonial settler, colonialism. There really seems to be no attempt to hold the leaders accountable. That applies to both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The two parties seem to have a consensus that we need not really discuss this issue anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Tanya Reinhart, the name of your book is Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. What do you mean by this, and how do you end it?

TANYA REINHART: Since 1967, Israel has been holding, occupying the Palestinian territories, and the political elites in Israel have been driven by the question how to maintain as much of the Palestinian land with minimum of the Palestinians. And there has been one model in the history of Israel, and that is the model of the 1948 War of Israeli Independence, the Palestinians’ nachba, and in that process, about half of the Palestinian residents of Israel were expelled out of the country and isolated. And the question seems has been how can the territories being maintained when one of the polls, which is now the poll that dominates Israel, believes that it is possible to repeat the 1948 solution and drive as many of the Palestinians now occupied out of the country. So, this is the policy of Sharon and actually of Barak, as well. And the question that I’m raising is, is it the only way? And what I believe, like many Israelis, is that the way is to start a new page, to get out of the occupied territories and to live side by side with the Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: What level, I should say, spectrum of debate is allowed in the Israeli press? You’re a columnist with Yediot Ahranot, the largest Israeli daily. How does it compare to the United States, where there’s very little spectrum in mainstream media when it comes to Israel and Palestine?

TANYA REINHART: On the one hand, in this area of op-eds and opinions, there is probably more, slightly more freedom in Israel. You get a bit more plurality in Israeli media than you would get here. But the crucial point in my mind is not the opinion in columns, but the presentation of reality, the news pages. And on this, you don’t have any pluralism. The situation is presented completely from the perspective of the Israeli government, including the presentation of the Gaza peace plan as a plan — so for example, very few people know that the Israeli government never has decided of any evacuation of settlements in Gaza. It is a big faith that Sharon intends to evacuate settlements, but no such decision ever took place. The only decision in June in the Israeli government is to discuss the matter again by March of next year. And still the whole media, Israeli media, like the media in the world, is now depicting Sharon as this messenger of peace because he has declared that he is willing to evacuate the territories, and Sharon now is viewed as the center, the center of sanity with attacks on the left from the whatever, but especially from the right, of the settlers that don’t want to be evacuated, and Israel is finally led by a man of peace, respectable will, peaceful intentions. And as long as this is the perspective, he can do whatever he wants in Gaza. He can do just the most horrible things and it’s true that the present actions of Israel in Gaza are getting much less attention than what happened in Jenin.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we were confronted in the past two weeks, we’ve had two presidential — two debates now, presidential debate and a vice-presidential debate, both supposedly geared especially toward foreign policy. We had the remarkable reality, a 90-minute presidential debate on foreign policy during which not one question was asked of the candidates about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. And only one question was asked of the vice-presidential candidates about the situation. So, we have the press here totally ignoring perhaps the biggest issue in the Arab world when dealing with foreign policy. And so I think we’re a little bit — we have got a bigger problem, much bigger problem here than even in Israel.

TANYA REINHART: Yeah. Well, the biggest problem, of course, is both candidates fully back Israel. The democrats are never different on that issue than the republicans. So, none of what Israel has been doing would have been possible without the stable and constant U.S. support. So, it’s been an axiom in U.S. politics that you don’t touch Israel. Or if you do, you only can mention Israel’s right to exist, but not the Palestinian’s right to exist. So, although this is not a change, Israeli policy has changed. So we’re not now talking just about supporting the occupation, but supporting the atrocities, the daily killing of Palestinians and since the situation has changed, it would be appropriate to hear more of the democratic candidates also criticizing Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end on the issue of the Taba bombing. We don’t really know exactly who’s responsible for it. If al Qaeda is responsible for this attack, how does that change the Israeli-Palestinian situation, Naseer Aruri? Or does it at all?

NASEER ARURI: Well, I think it is going to be assumed that al Qaeda was responsible for it, whether that can be demonstrated or not, just like it was assumed that somehow we needed to go to Iraq and so on. So, I think that the general public is going to factor that in. So, given that, it seems to me that the Arab-Israeli question, or I should say the Palestine-Israel question, is going to assume larger dimensions. It is going to be seen no longer as an occupier and an occupant that a problem that can be dealt with, you know, in a peace process, whether under U.S. auspices or international auspices, but it’s going to begin to assume, perhaps, religious dimensions, which is going to make the conflict really more dangerous and less predictable.

AMY GOODMAN: We do have a report from Taba right now. We just got through to Donald McIntyre, who is a journalist with the London Independent. Welcome. Actually, it looks like we just got Chris McGreal, who is a journalist with The Guardian of London in Taba. Welcome to Democracy Now!

CHRIS McGREAL: Hello, but actually I’m not in Taba, I’m in Israel. I’m actually in Gaza. So, but anyway.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what you know at this point and what kind of reaction there is there in Gaza?

CHRIS McGREAL: Well, we know that there’s about 27 people dead, Egyptians and Israelis. Probably a bit more people than that. Some people are missing, presumed buried under the rubble. The Israeli authorities are saying now that they think that this is probably the work of a group associated with al Qaeda because of the scale of the bombing, the way it was organized. It’s similar to an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombassa and to a synagogue in Tunisia in which 21 people were killed. So their attention right now has shifted away from any kind of Palestinian responsibility toward al Qaeda or groups associated to it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reaction there?

CHRIS McGREAL: Well, in Israel, the reaction is principally one of resignation, I think. People are horrified, but not surprised, in the sense that Israeli targets abroad, Israeli tourists have been targeted before. In Gaza, there was very muted reaction. Hamas pretty swiftly said it wasn’t responsible and interestingly on the streets of Gaza City, where as in the past when there’s been the killings of significant numbers of, say, Israeli soldiers, the mosques tend to announce it and there tends to be a certain amount of celebration. That hadn’t happened at all on this occasion. So, it’s been rather muted within the Palestinian territories, and there has been quite stringent denials of any Palestinian responsibility from all kinds of levels of Palestinian society.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris McGreal, thanks for joining us. Chris McGreal from the London Guardian. Also we want to thank Tanya Reinhart, author of Israel/Palestinian: How to End the War of 1948, and Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Massachusetts. His book is called Dishonest Broker: America’s Role in Israel and Palestine. This is Democracy Now!

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