Oil-rich Libya's eccentric leader has held the country in a tight grip since he led a bloodless coup in 1969.
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2011 22:01 GMT
He led a bloodless coup toppling King Idris at the age of 27, and has since maintained tight control of his oil-rich country by clamping down on dissidents. The ongoing bloody uprising poses the most serious domestic challenge to his rule.
Among his many eccentricities, Gaddafi is known to sleep in a Bedouin tent guarded by dozens of female bodyguards on trips abroad.
Gaddafi was born in 1942 in the coastal area of Sirte to nomadic parents. He went to Benghazi University to study geography, but dropped out to join the army.
After seizing power, he laid out a pan-Arab, anti-imperialist philosophy, blended with aspects of Islam. While he permitted private control over small companies, the government controlled the larger ones.
He was an admirer of the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Arab socialist and nationalist ideology.
He tried without success to merge Libya, Egypt and Syria into a federation. A similar attempt to join Libya and Tunisia ended in acrimony.
In 1977 he changed the country's name to the Great Socialist Popular Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah (State of the Masses) and allowed people to air their views at people's congresses.
However, critics dismissed his leadership as a military dictatorship, accusing him of repressing civil society and ruthlessly crushing dissident.
To this day, the media remains under strict government control.
The regime has imprisoned hundreds of people for violating the law and sentenced some to death, according to Human Rights Watch.
"In the 1970s against students, when he publicly hung students who were marching, demonstrating, demanding rights in Benghazi and in Tripoli and many other squares, and his opposition members abroad in the 1980s, including here in London and other places in Europe and in in Arab Middle East.
"He executed, in probably the most brutal massacre that we saw, 1,200 prisoners in the Abu Salim prison who were unarmed, They were already in jail, he executed them in less than three hours."
Mohammed al-Abdalla, the deputy secretary-general of the National front for Salvation of Libya
Gaddafi played a prominent role in organising Arab opposition to the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Later shunned by a number of Arab states on the basis of his extreme views on how to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict among others, Gaddafi's foreign policy shifted from an Arab focus to an African focus.
His vision of a United States of Africa resulted in the foundation of the African Union.
In the West, Gaddafi is strongly associated with "terrorism", accused of supporting armed groups including FARC in Colombia and the IRA in Northern Ireland.
Libya’s alleged involvement in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub in which two American soldiers were killed prompted US air attacks on Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 35 Libyans, including Gaddafi’s adopted daughter. Ronald Reagan, the then US president, called him a "mad dog".
The 1988 bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in Scotland is possibly the most well known and controversial international incident in which Gaddafi has been involved.
For many years, Gaddafi denied involvement, resulting in UN sanctions and Libya’s status as a pariah state. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was convicted for planting the bomb. Gaddafi's regime formally accepted responsibility for the attack in 2003 and paid compensation to the families of those who died.
Also in 2003, Gaddafi broke Libya's isolation from the West by relinquishing his entire inventory of weapons of mass destruction.
In September 2004, George Bush, the US president at the time, formally ended a US trade embargo as a result of Gaddafi's scrapping of the arms programme and taking responsibility for Lockerbie.
The normalisation of relations with Western powers has allowed the Libyan economy to grow and the oil industry in particular has benefited.
However, Gaddafi and Lockerbie came back into the spotlight in 2009, when al-Megrahi was released and returned to Libya. The hero’s welcome al-Megrahi received from Gaddafi on his return was condemned by the the US and the UK, among others.
In September 2009, Gaddafi visited the US for the first time for his his first appearance at the UN General Assembly.
His speech was supposed to be 15 minutes, but exceeded an hour and a half. He tore up a copy of the UN charter, accused the Security Council of being a terrorism body similar to al-Qaeda, and demanded $ 7.7 trillion in .
During a visit to Italy in August 2010, Gaddafi's invitation to hundreds of young women to convert to Islam overshadowed the two-day trip, which was intended to cement the growing ties between Tripoli and Rome.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights celebrate their Arab identity as a form of resistance.
Mya Guarnieri Last Modified: 25 Feb 2011 17:47 GMT
"Now I'm 43," Monder says. "And I remember that every day in that period there was a conflict with the [Israeli army]. There were more soldiers here than residents."
While the Israeli military occupation of the Golan began after the 1967 war, the strike and protests started on February 14, 1982, two months after the Israeli knesset passed the Golan Heights Law, legislation that effectively annexed the territory.
The Israeli move was condemned by both the US and the United Nations - the latter has issued multiple resolutions against the annexation - and it remains unrecognised by the international community.
Here, in the Golan, the annexation was embodied by the army's effort to distribute blue Israeli identity cards. In 1982, some 15,000 soldiers came to deliver the IDs to Syrian residents, a group that numbered less than 10,000 at the time.
"The people refused them. They were against it. They threw them in the [soldiers’] faces," Monder says, adding that the army often responded violently to the unarmed protesters.
An elderly man recalls standing on his balcony and flinging the identity card into the street below, which was full of Israeli soldiers. Another resident adds that the roads were "blue" with all the refused IDs.
Syrian residents were somewhat victorious - while the Israeli attempt to impose citizenship failed and residents were classified as permanent residents, their land remains occupied.
Every year, on February 14, the Syrian residents gather in the village of Majdal Shams to mark their intifada. They meet by the statue of Sultan Al Atrash, the Druze leader who led revolts against both the Ottoman and French occupations. Waving Syrian flags as they make their way through the town, they sing of their home country and chant of liberation and freedom.
Samir Ibrahim, a 48-year-old dentist, serves as an impromptu translator. "They’re saying, 'Zionists go away from here.'"
This year, the Syrian residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan offer up messages of support to the Egyptians, Tunisians, and all of the Arab people who are struggling against oppression.
"Today is not a sad day. It's the day that we refused [Israeli citizenship]. It's a Tahrir Square day for us," Ibrahim explains, referring to the square that served as the nerve centre of the Egyptian revolution.
From doorways and balconies, elderly women shower the passing crowd with rice.
The march ends at Shouting Hill. Syria is on the other side of the steep valley. Standing under banners of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, local leaders address the twin crowd that has gathered in Syria. Their words echo across the border. And messages of solidarity and support bounce back from their counterparts.
Because the Israeli occupation has torn many of the area's households into two - some 120,000 Arabs were driven from their homes in the Golan during and after the 1967 war - families sometimes gather here on the weekends to talk with relatives on the other side. In the earliest days of the occupation, they shouted, hence the name Shouting Hill. Later on, they took to using bullhorns.
Today some of the protesters hold binoculars. They scan the crowd in Syria, looking for their loved ones.
Ibrahim's 18-year-old daughter is studying in Damascus. Because of Israeli movement restrictions, Ibrahim will not be able to see her until this summer. But she told her father that she would attend the rally today. Ibrahim cranes his neck, hoping to catch a glimpse of his child.
"I talked to her this morning," he says. "She said she'd be wearing green."
He cannot see her. And this day of celebration is tinged with sadness.
Monder, who is a lawyer, remarks: "Family reunification is our right according to international law. The Geneva Convention says it's forbidden to injure the humanity [of an occupied people]. And it's part of our humanity to be in touch with our family."
"People have died there [in Syria] and their parents can't go [to the funeral]," Monder says, adding that few homes in the Golan are untouched by this phenomenon.
Families have been split in another way - hundreds of Syrian residents of the Golan have been political prisoners.
Ibrahim points out a gentleman who did 25 years for resisting the occupation. Monder greets Amal Mahmoud, a woman who spent four years behind bars.
"She's a heroine," Monder remarks, adding: "[Today's celebration] reinforces the hope that the day of liberation will come. Every February 14, we're born anew."
Business as usual
But the next morning, it is business as usual. Distribution trucks roll into the village, bringing Israeli-brand milk, sour cream and produce that the villagers made or grew before the occupation began.
Since 1967, Syrian residents of the Golan have seen their lands illegally confiscated by Israel and used for Jewish settlements and wineries that, in violation of international law, profit from the occupation.
According to Al Marsad Arab Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Golan, Jewish settlers are allocated five times more water than the area's Arab farmers. And Syrians in the Golan Heights pay more for water than Israelis.
Their production strangled, the Syrian residents of the Golan have become a captive market. Some stores sell water from a local spring that has been bottled and sold by an Israeli company.
Zaid Ouidat owns a small store within sight of the Al Atrash statue. Inside, the cooler is stocked with Israeli brands.
"It's our land and [the Israelis] are holding it by force," he says. "They're not giving us the land to put goats and so we can't drink milk, we have no cows, nothing ... Someone comes to buy milk because they don't have any and where can they buy it?"
"I think about this," Ouidat continues. "But what is there to do? There's no choice. If there was another way, I would import, but there isn't. What, I will bring it from Syria, from my people?"
He gives a dry laugh.
"This is Syrian land but no one can do anything about it," Ouidat says. "There are no options."
Embattled Arab identity
Taiseer Maray is the general director of Jawlan, Golan for Development. Founded in 1991, it was created as another form of resistance to the Israeli occupation.
In the 1990s, he explains, Syrian residents of the Golan "realised that we should do more than go to demonstrations, that [protesting] is not enough". And, despite the fact that Syrian residents pay higher taxes than their Jewish neighbours, they were receiving far fewer services from the state.
Jawlan was created to address both of these issues. The organisation built a medical clinic and a school. It provides health services throughout the area and offers a wide variety of educational and cultural activities.
One of the organisation's goals is to reinforce the youth’s identification with Syria.
After annexation, Maray says: "[The Israelis] opened the gates from the other side and tried to use the opportunity to make us Israeli .... You feel it in the schools."
Maray points out that the Israeli educational system only hires Arab teachers that keep their politics quiet. And, in these schools, Syrian residents of the Golan are taught that they are Druze, not Arab.
While most of the Syrian residents are of the Druze religion, Maray emphasises that it is just that - a religion.
"They are trying to make us feel like we are something different than the other Arabs," Maray says.
"We study all the Zionist ideology, all the literature, Hebrew, the tanach," he continues, referring to the Hebrew bible.
"They teach us Arab poetry and culture. But they don't teach us about the culture of resistance .... The people in the Golan Heights were very much involved in the revolt against the French."
Maray, a biologist and father of two, admits that his own children have come home parroting things they have learned in Israeli schools. But the society, organisations and parents all work on their children to shore up their embattled Arab identity.
Tharaa, an 18-year-old girl who asked that her family name be omitted, remarks: "Our parents know what it was like in Syria because they were there, before the war. But we learn at school that we're from Israel."
Her friend Walida comments: "All the time we feel like we are undefined."
"Unknown," Tharaa says. "Like a dog."
"Yes, like a dog," Walida agrees.
The girls fall into silence.
Tharaa says: "We hope to be known."
Singer Yusuf Islam talks about his latest song, which was inspired by the popular uprisings in the Arab world.
Riz Khan Last Modified: 24 Feb 2011 09:43 GMT
We speak with rock icon Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, about his latest song My People which is inspired by the popular uprisngs calling for freedom and change in the Arab world.
Islam, who gave the world timeless classics such as Wild World, Morning Has Broken and Peace Train, says his song is also intended to urge people in the Arab world to keep fighting for their rights.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
As world leaders condemn violence against protesters, what is at stake for Western nations with close ties to Gaddafi?
Riz Khan Last Modified: 22 Feb 2011 12:52 GMT
Why did the UK government on Monday cancel eight arms export licences for Libya?
This comes after a warning from a legal adviser to the UN Commission on Human Rights who suggested that Britain may be found guilty of "complicity" for the killings of protesters by Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
Although the UK has condemned the violent attacks on Libya's protesters, in the past it has turned a blind eye to the country's dubious human rights record for fear of risking lucrative oil, trade and arms deals.
On Tuesday we examine the relationship between the two countries with Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Libya; Dr. Mohamed al-Magariaf, the co-founder of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya; and Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American analyst
|The project for a new Arab century|
The birth pangs of a new Middle East are being felt, but not in the way many outsiders envisioned.
Mohammed Khan Last Modified: 22 Feb 2011 15:17 GMT
Bush's neo-con backers had prepared the manual for his presidency well before time. With their man in power, the greatest force of Western power since the Roman Empire set about changing the world in the name of neo-conservatism, to "promote American global leadership", we were told.
At the receiving end of the mighty American military-industrial complex were the people of the Arab world. The basic premise was to utilise maximum US force, power and influence to create a new Middle East, one obedient to the interests and objectives of the US. The central focus was the preservation of the superiority of Israel and the utilisation of American hard-power to eliminate any threats posed to it. The benign undercurrent, we were told, was the need to spread democracy across the region. After all, democracies do not fight wars against one other.
The scorecard of the Bush doctrine is there for all to see: "Shock and awe" was unleashed against Iraq in the pursuit of this project; the Palestinians in Gaza were collectively imprisoned for having the audacity to vote for Hamas; Lebanon was brutalised by Israel with the tacit backing of the US in an effort to destroy Hezbollah; Iran became the new public enemy number one (after Iraq had been dealt with of course); the Gulf states went along quietly arming themselves in the name of stability and North African dictators were given free rein to fight "Islamism" - also in the name of stability.
With American hyper-power on full display over this period, there was little doubting the contention that in the realm of international relations, "the end of history" was indeed being reached in the absence of any challenger to the formidable US military might. "Liberty" to Arabs, it seemed, was being brought on the back of American battle tanks. The destruction wrought on the region over this period was apparently "the birth pangs" of a new Middle East.
It's the people, stupid
How times change. The human and capital cost, however, of the Iraq adventure almost bled the US economy dry. The invasion became so bogged down that the political will to continue the war soon weakened. The thought of expanding the military adventure to other lands similarly evaporated. Post-Bush, the Americans were now left grappling with "soft-power", to persuade, to diplomatically engage with Arab/Iranian leaderships in order to resolve disputes. In the midst of this power play in the region, one constituency which the US had long ignored (and continues to ignore) is the people.
Toppling disobedient leaders and oiling the wheels of pliant ones proved useful so long as the populations of these countries remained voiceless. As the people begin to find their voices, however, the Middle East as we have long known it is beginning to alter. Unfortunately for the decision-makers in the US (and their policy advisers and legions of "intellectual" think tanks) the dramatic changes are not in the direction that they had conceived.
The catalyst for the political earthquake that we are currently witnessing was a massive popular uprising in Tunisia at the end of 2010. Emboldened by the overthrow of the brutal regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the people of Egypt then took to the streets demanding reform. In just 18 days, Egyptian civil society, which we had been told by regional "experts" either did not exist or was spineless, broke the shackles of oppression and overcame a dictator whose regime had become synonymous with abuse and corruption. Egypt had finally been released from 30 years of political imprisonment.
That Hosni Mubarak continued to breed fear about the "chaos" that his removal would unleash and his foreign backers continued to maintain the need for "stability" and "orderly" change, showed the total lack of understanding on their part of the momentous changes that were being played out. The revolutionary bug has now spread across the wider region with people in Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya currently battling despotism, while leaderships in Jordan, Syria and Morocco (to name but a few) consider ways of preventing the tide of "people power" from sweeping their shores.
'Islands of stability'
Consider for a moment the extent to which various US administrations have suffered from an ailment which, for wont of a better description, we will call "foot in mouth syndrome". The shah of Iran was an "island of stability" in the troubled Middle East, according to the then US president, Jimmy Carter. A short time after these illustrious words were spoken, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was dethroned; Iran had witnessed an Islamic revolution and US policy in the country was found lacking. Around the time that Iran’s new Islamic leadership swept to power, Egypt too was undergoing change, this time in the form of the presidency of Hosni Mubarak who came to power in 1981 following his predecessor’s assassination.
However, after almost 30 years of stern one-man rule, Egyptian civil society revolted against Mubarak’s despotism, seeking his ouster in January 2011, precisely a decade after Bush’s first inauguration. What were the very first utterances of the US administration under Barack Obama, as protesters gathered on Egypt’s streets? "Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable ..." said Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state. Her assessment, reminiscent of the meanderings about Iran, could not have been more wrong.
The islands of stability that the US has traditionally favoured are not the same sort that the people of the Arab world have desired. While Iraq under Saddam Hussein was ripe for invasion and "democratic change", the hunger for reform on the part of populations in other parts of the region also subjected to Saddam-like repression was not felt by the US. Where the American military brought democracy to Iraq, the Arab people are now battling to bring democracy to themselves. Should we then be surprised that the neo-con intellectual machine that planned change in the Middle East under Bush is now largely silent? While their project has failed, a new Arab people’s project is beginning to blossom.
If any clear evidence of US opposition to the people's wishes in the region were needed, the Obama administration willingly obliged on February 18. The UN Security Council (UNSC) held a vote to condemn Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank as illegal and to demand an immediate end to all such activity. Settlement building is a particular sore among Palestinians and the wider Arab population. While 14 out of the 15 UNSC members backed the resolution, the US issued its first veto under Obama, damning the Palestinian Territories to further Israeli expansionism - well in keeping with the American spirit of defying global opinion. The PR spin on the veto will no doubt attempt to portray the US measure as some sort of noble endeavour. The nobleness was certainly in Israel's favour.
Moment in history
When I was an undergraduate, the most fascinating, most closely scrutinised event that all students of the Middle East were exposed to was the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. That was a truly momentous event. The repercussions for the Middle East were staggering. Political Islam came to the fore as an academic discipline. The political power play in the region shifted with alliances quickly emerging against Iran for fear that its brand of revolutionary zeal would spread. That revolution continues to captivate.
More than 30 years later, however, the new crop of undergraduates will be evaluating perhaps an even more momentous event: That of February 11, 2011, when Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, one at the core of the region’s political, economic and security affairs, defeated its very own despotism, rid itself of fear and raised expectations of a new era of political relations in the Middle East. Incidentally, Mubarak was forced out precisely 32 years from the day when the shah of Iran was deposed.
While the people of Tunisia wrote the introduction to what we can call the unfolding "project for the new Arab century", the people of Egypt have just completed its defining first chapter. What conclusions can be drawn from these historic events is far too early to gauge. What is certain, however, is that many more chapters will be written before the political dust settles. Safe to say, nevertheless, that the birth pangs of a new Middle East are now definitely being felt, but not in ways that many outsiders imagined.
Protesters wrest control of more cities as unrest sweeps African nation despite Muammar Gaddafi's threat of crackdown.
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2011 15:13 GMT
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's long-standing ruler, has reportedly lost control of more cities as anti-government protests continue to sweep the African nation despite his threat of a brutal crackdown.
Protesters in Misurata said on Wednesday they had wrested the western city from government control. In a statement on the internet, army officers stationed in the city pledged "total support for the protesters".
The protesters also seemed to be in control of much of the country's east, and an Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from the city of Tobruk, 140km from the Egyptian border, said there was no presence of security forces.
"From what I've seen, I'd say the people of eastern Libya are the ones in control," Hoda Abdel-Hamid, our correspondent, said.
She said there were no officials manning the border when the Al Jazeera team crossed into Libya.
'People in charge'
"All along the border, we didn't see one policeman, we didn't see one soldier and people here told us they [security forces] have all fled or are in hiding and that the people are now in charge, meaning all the way from the border, Tobruk, and then all the way up to Benghazi.
Major-General Suleiman Mahmoud, the commander of the armed forces in Tobruk, told Al Jazeera that the troops led by him had switched loyalties. "We are on the side of the people," he said.
Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, was where people first rose up in revolt against Gaddafi's 41-year long rule more than a week ago. The rebellion has since spread to other cities despite heavy-handed attempts by security forces to quell the unrest.
With authorities placing tight restrictions on the media, flow of news from Libya is at best patchy. But reports filtering out suggest at least 300 people have been killed in the violence.
But Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said there were "credible' reports that at least 1,000 had died in the clampdown.
Amid the turmoil, a defiant Gaddafi has vowed to quash the uprising.
He delivered a rambling speech on television on Tuesday night, declaring he would die a martyr in Libya, and threatening to purge opponents "house by house" and "inch by inch".
He blamed the uprising in the country on "Islamists", and warned that an "Islamic emirate" has already been set up in Bayda and Derna, where he threatened the use of extreme force.
Several hundred government loyalists heeded his call in Tripoli, the capital. on Wednesday, staging a pro-Gaddafi rally in the city's Green Square.
Fresh gunfire was reported in the capital on Wednesday, after Gaddafi called on his supporters to take back the streets from anti-government protesters.
But Gaddafi's speech has done little to stem the steady stream of defections from his side.
Libyan diplomats across the world have either resigned in protest at the use of violence against citizens, or renounced Gaddafi's leadership, saying that they stand with the protesters.
Late on Tuesday night, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, the country's interior minister, became the latest government official to stand down, saying that he was resigning to support what he termed as the "February 17 revolution".
He urged the Libyan army to join the people and their "legitimate demands".
On Wednesday, Youssef Sawani, a senior aide to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, one of Muammar Gaddafi's sons, resigned from his post "to express dismay against violence", Reuters reported.
Earlier, Mustapha Abdeljalil, the country's justice minister, had resigned in protest at the "excessive use of violence" against protesters, and diplomat's at Libya's mission to the United Nations called on the Libyan army to help remove "the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi".
A group of army officers has also issued a statement urging soldiers to "join the people" and remove Gaddafi from power.
King Abdullah announces $10.7 billion in pay raises, job creation and loan forgiveness schemes as he returns to country.
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2011 11:29 GMT
The steps, announced on Wednesday, include funding to offset high inflation and to aid young unemployed people and Saudi citizens studying abroad, as well the writing off some loans.
The move comes as governments in the region scramble to deal with pro-democracy uprisings sparked by youth unemployment and political repression.
As part of the Saudi scheme, state employees will see their incomes increase by 15 per cent, and additional cash has also been made available for housing loans.
No political reforms were announced as part of the package, though the 86-year-old monarch did pardon some prisoners indicted in financial crimes.
Abdullah was recovering in Morocco for four weeks, after undergoing surgery in the United States for a herniated disk which had caused blood accumulation around his spine.
During the king's absence, his brother, Crown Prince Sultan, was in charge of the Kingdom. Sultan himself has also suffered from illness intermittently over the last two years, and has spent long time abroad.
While analysts say that Saudi Arabia is unlikely to face the kind of popular protest movements seen in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia or Libya due to its estimated $400 billion in oil reserves, the government is still being pressured to address high youth unemployment and extensive housing issues.
If Israel refuses to accept a viable peace deal, the revolt sweeping the Arab world will arrive in Palestine.
MJ Rosenberg Last Modified: 22 Feb 2011 21:41 GMT
That is because they would understand that the Arab revolution will not stop at the gates of the West Bank, especially when it is the occupation that unites virtually all Arabs and Muslims in common fury.
As for the Palestinians themselves, they are watching the revolutions with a combination of joy and humiliation. Other Arabs are freeing themselves from local tyrants while they remain under a foreign occupation that grows more onerous every day -particularly in East Jerusalem. While other Arabs revel in what they have accomplished, the Palestinians remain, and are regarded as, victims.
It is not going to last. The Palestinians will revolt, just as the other Arabs have, and the occupation will end.
But it is up to the Israelis to help decide how it will end (just as it was up to the Mubarak government and Egyptian army to decide whether the regime would go down in blood and flames or accept the inevitable).
For Israel, that means accepting the terms of the Arab League Initiative (incorporating United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338) and trade the occupied lands for full peace and normalisation of relations with the entire Arab world. Or it can hang on to an unsustainable status quo.
They can wait for the eruption, thinking they can contain it and ignoring the fact that the weaponry they can use against any foreign invaders cannot be used against an occupied civilian population. That is especially true in the age of Al Jazeera and of Twitter, Facebook, and the rest.
Right-wing Israelis and their lobby in Washington invariably respond to this argument by saying that it is impossible to leave the West Bank, pointing to the experience in Gaza. They withdrew only to have their own land beyond the border shelled by militants who seized control as Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) troops left for home.
That is true and it might indeed happen again if the Israeli occupation is ended as a result of a popular uprising.
But Gaza is only an applicable precedent if Israel leaves without negotiating the terms of its departure. Israel left Gaza when Palestinians made the price of staying too high. But, rather than negotiating its way out, Israel just left.
In an act of colossal and typical arrogance Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister, withdrew unilaterally. Not only did he refuse to negotiate the terms of the withdrawal with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, Sharon refused even to give the Palestinian Authority (PA) advance notice of the day and time of their departure.
Had they done so, the PA would have been in place to prevent the havoc that ensued. But they weren't. Sharon, utterly contemptuous of Palestinians, behaved as if Israel was 19th century Belgium and Palestine was the Congo. No consultations with the natives were even contemplated.
The Israeli government would have to be absolutely out of its mind to allow a repeat of that experience. But that would likely happen if Israel is forced out rather than negotiating its way out.
Fortunately, both the Israelis and the Palestinians already have worked out detailed plans to ensure mutual security following an Israeli withdrawal. In fact, the Palestinian Authority already utilizes those plans to maintain West Bank security and, with Israeli help, prevents attacks on Israel from territories its control.
The same modalities would have to be worked out with the Hamas authorities in Gaza. Hamas has repeatedly said that it would accept the terms of any agreement with Israel worked out by the Palestinian Authority and approved by the Palestinian people in a referendum.
What is Israel waiting for?
Can it honestly look at the way the Middle East has evolved in 2011 and believe that the occupation can last forever? Can it have so little respect for Palestinians that it believes them incapable of doing what Egyptians, Libyans, and Tunisians have done?
Or is it that Netanyahu simply counts on the United States to come to its assistance when the inevitable happens. That would be a big mistake. It is one thing for the United States to get pressured by the Israeli lobby into vetoing a resolution on settlements. It is quite another to think that anything the United States does can preserve the occupation.
In fact, after last week’s votes, it is doubtful that the Palestinian people (other than a few big shots) even care what the United States thinks anymore.
No, it is up to Israel to defend Israel. And that means ending the occupation, on terms worked out with the Palestinians, rather than allowing it to end in violence that could cross the border and threaten the survival of Israel itself.
Why can’t Israel see that? Have the fanatics in the Israeli government (the settlers and the religious parties) decided that it better to have no Israel at all than an Israel without the West Bank and its settlements?
Because that is how Israel is behaving: as if Ariel, Hebron, and Maale Adumim are worth more than Tel Aviv, Haifa, and the Jewish parts of Jerusalem.
It’s a kind of insanity.