By Hasan Afif El-Hassan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
Early Israelis killed messengers if they did not like the message. They don’t need to kill messengers today anymore. They limit the scope of their messages.
Back in 1948, the Israelis liked the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte when he granted them the two truces that gave them time to rearm and defeat their Arab enemies. But when he proposed a plan perceived not to serve Israeli interests, they assassinated him.
Today, Tony Blair, the mediator, has no reason to fear for his life should he decide to reverse course and side with the Palestinians. Israel with the help of the US has limited the scope of his mission. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, earned respect and admiration of the Israelis for going along enthusiastically with the American policies of supporting Israel. To be on the safe side, Israel and the US have limited the scope of his mandate, as mediator, thus aborting his mission before it starts just in case he has a change of heart.
Bernadotte, a member of the Swedish royal family, was appointed by the United Nations as a mediator to create a peaceful situation between Jews and Arabs in Palestine when the British Mandate expired on May 15, 1948 and Israel was proclaimed a state. He succeeded in mediating the first truce between the two sides of the conflict on June 11 and a second truce on July 19. The truces gave Israel time to break the arms embargo, bring large quantities of armaments and recruit thousands of volunteers from within and abroad, raising its military manpower from thirty-five thousand to eighty-five. When the IDF terminated the second truce by attacking the Egyptians to break the siege of the Negev settlements, the Israelis had overwhelming superiority over the Arab armies combined.
Bernadotte committed the sin of proposing on June 27 a new comprehensive settlement plan that involved both Palestine and Trans-Jordan. He recommended annexing the Arab area of Palestine to Trans-Jordan; the Jewish and the Arab states to be joined in federal union; Jewish immigration to be controlled by the United Nations after two years; and allowing the return of the Arab refugees to their own homes. The Israelis rejected them because they were confident they would have the upper hand and conquer more land should the hostilities resumed. Besides, their goal had been to have a state of their own.
On September 17, four months after the birth of Israel and when it had its own provisional government, and Bernadotte was ready to submit his peace plan, he and his aid, Colonel Andrè Serot were murdered in downtown Jerusalem. It was a deliberate and carefully planned plot. The assassins were members of the Jewish armed ultranationalist Lehi “Stern” terrorists. The assassination was planned by Yehoshua Zetler, approved by the three-man Lehi chiefs, Yitzhak Shamir, Natan Yellin-Mor and Yisrael Eldad, and carried out by a four-man team led by Meshulam Markover, one day before the release of Bernadotte recommendations.
Only two of the perpetrators, Yellin-Mor and Matitiahu Schmulevitz were appreheded, tried in a military court and received a short sentence as political prisoners, then set free for promising to be good citizens. Yitzhak Shamir rose to prominence and occupied the highest office in the Israeli government later on. He was elected to the Knesset, became the Speaker from 1977-1980, foreign minister from 1980-1986, then he became the head of the Likud Party and the Prime Minister twice, in 1983-1984 and 1986-1992.
This was past history but we must learn from history. The historical snapshot tells that the Israelis do not have friends. They only have interests. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain, was a friend of Israel, but Tony Blair, the Quartet mediator, has to renew his allegiance before earning the trust of Israel. For the helpless Palestinians, they can use any help they get. Any peace talk is a source of hope that it may end their suffering under the ruthless occupation.
After Tony Blair resignation from the British Premiership, he was named by the Quartet as its Middle East envoy to help in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But both Blair and the Quartet lack the credibility among the Palestinians for siding with Israel and declaring sanctions against them for electing a government that does not recognize their occupiers. Blair is unpopular in the Arab world for his role in the invasion of Iraq and his siding with Israel in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war. During his ten years tenure as the prime minister of Great Britain, he sided with Israel by going along enthusiastically with the American policies of supporting Israel and ignoring the Palestinians’ grievances.
His mission is destined to fail unless he reverses his positions on Hamas and the Arab-Israeli issue. Even if Tony Blair decided to change his views in his new part time job, Israel and the US would not allow him to proceed. While some Europeans and the Arab League secretary general are pushing him to expand his mandate to include political mediation, the United States and Israel want to limit his job definition to only one task, preparing the ground for the establishment of “viable Palestinian institutions”. The US won’t allow Blair to address the political aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or to have contact with Hamas. His mission will focus on advising Abbas on rebuilding legal, judicial and local security institutions, but he is not authorized to mediate the major Palestinian problems, namely the occupation, the settlements, the separation wall, Jerusalem and the refugees. Israel insists that Blair should not deviate from his mandate of helping the Palestinians (Abbas and Fayyad) setup “stable infrastructure for a responsible state”.
James Wolfensohn who was the Quartet special envoy until May 2006 told Ha’artz newspaper that his successor, Mr. Blair, will be wasting his time in his new mission based on his own experience. This is because the mission talks only about helping the two sides of the conflict and nothing about negotiations. He blamed the US and Israel on his own failure to advance the cause of peace.
Controlling the scope of the missions and the agenda of meetings has become another Israeli weapon of choice to avoid addressing the core issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In meetings with their Arab counterparts, Israeli officials are the ones who set the agenda. Olmert has bi-weekly meetings with Abbas, but nothing of substance has been accomplished because Olmert is in control. There was no withdrawal from any town in the West Bank and there was no removal of the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that restrict the movement of people and goods.
The four-way Middle East summit that was convened in Sharm El Sheikh was called by Egypt to reactivate the peace process. But according to press reports, none of the participants uttered the word “occupation” to describe the situation in the occupied lands. Olmert did not promise stopping building the separation wall or the expansion of settlements and he did not promise to start political negotiations. The only achievement of the summit was something Olmert had demanded before. It strengthened Olmert-Abbas alliance to marginalize Hamas movement and its Palestinian supporters.
Under the present conditions of naked power struggle between the Palestinian factions and the weakness of the Arab states, Israel alone will set the scope of the peace missions and the agendas of peace conferences. And this does not inspire optimism even in Tony Blair’s mission.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan,Ph.D, is a political analyst and an author. He is currently working on a book: "The betrayal of the Palestinians: How Palestine was delivered." He has been living in the United States since the mid 1960’s and worked for 30-years in Avionics Engineering.