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When PM Blair sat on the Wall

By Eamonn McCann

Published 18/10/2007

Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph
Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph

Speaking to Tony Blair about Palestine is like talking to the Wall. In Hebron last weekend, Blair was "really astonished and angry" at an account given by a UN official of the effects of the Wall on the lives of Palestinians.

So the UN official reported anyway. Blair himself would have been breaking the habit of a political lifetime to have talked as straight as that and on the record about Palestine.

What's astonishing about his statement is that there were few subjects on which Blair was lobbied so intensively during his last years in Downing Street as Israel's Apartheid Wall. MPs, Amnesty International, aid agencies and a range of NGOs and Palestinian support groups battered incessantly at the doors of Downing Street, calling on Blair to take notice of the effects of the Wall. His reaction was a stony refusal to acknowledge their pleadings or to demand that Israel tear down a structure which was wholly illegal and was turning the West Bank into a simmering prison.

Now he allows us to be told that he's just discovered what the Wall means for the families who live in its shadow.

The record suggests he wouldn't have gone even this small distance were he still in office. But now, acting as Middle East mediator on behalf of the Quartet - the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States - and just as he was about to meet representatives of the Fatah administration headed by Mahmoud Abbas, he risks a little sweet-talk about the plight of the people Abbas purports to represent.

He will not be meeting representatives of Hamas which, last year, won a victory over Fatah in a general election which all independent observers confirmed was free and fair. Blair's reaction to the defeat of Abbas' party was to declare last December that: "This is the time for the international community to come behind President Abbas, to help build his authority."

Now there's a statement to which might we might properly attach the words 'astonished' and 'angry'.

Bob Fisk didn't believe that astonishment was the apt term for Blair's appointment as honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. " Astonishment is not the word for it. Stupefaction comes to mind ... I remain overwhelmed that this vain, deceitful man, this proven liar, a trumped-up lawyer who has the blood of thousands of Arab men, women and children on his hands is really contemplating being 'our' Middle East envoy."

But there he is, as bold as the brass on the back of his neck, ensconced in plush offices in (I kid you not) the American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem, with a budget of $$8m a year and a 14-strong team of advisors, receiving visitors from this faction and that (although not from Hamas) and, according to agency reports, "urging compromise on all sides".

It is difficult to see what compromise the Palestinians could reasonably be expected to make on the issue of the Wall.

The Wall snakes for hundreds of kilometres through the West Bank, enclosing more than 90% of the illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. All Palestinian property within 60 metres of the Wall's path is being destroyed or confiscated. At least 10,000 Palestinians will be marooned between the Wall and Israel in a strip designated a 'closed military zone'. Virtually all (98%) of the illegal settlers will be on the 'Israeli' side of the Wall, the swathe of territory effectively annexed. Meanwhile, the area left to Palestinians by this illegal activity will be diced up into tiny Bantustans by roads reserved for Israelis travelling to and from the settlements.

What are the Palestinians supposed to compromise on?

Nor has Blair said a word about the Jewish National Fund Law, given its first reading in the Knesset in July. It stipulates that land administered by the Jewish National Fund must be allocated exclusively to Jews. Most of this land - 13% of Israel - was taken from Palestinian families now in refugee camps or 'internally displaced'.

The bill, passed by 64-16, was described as "abominable" by the Knesset's left-wing Jewish group, the Meretz-Yachad Representatives, which added that it "shows the real face of the Government (and) risks representing Israel as an apartheid state".

Israel's rulers reject the racist tag. And they've made that official. An annex to the bill declares: "Despite whatever is stated in any law, leasing of Jewish National Fund's lands for the purpose of the settlement of Jews on these lands will not be seen as improper discrimination."

Surviving relics of the Alabama State authorities of the 1960s must be kicking themselves they never thought of that one. "Despite what is stated in any law, making black people travel at the back of the bus will not be seen as improper discrimination ... "

Mind you, they wouldn't at that time have found a Tony Blair to act as mediator, refuse to talk to anybody black except Uncle Tom and suggest as a compromise that blacks should be allowed to sit in seats in the middle of the bus.

Belfast Telegraph

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