Dear Secretary Powell,
November 19, 2001
To Secretary of State Colin Powell
I am writing in to thank you for and to comment on your speech in
Louisville today about the situation in Palestine, including the
"Israel must be willing to end its occupation, consistent with the
principles embodied in Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and
accept a viable Palestinian state in which Palestinians can
determine their own future on their own land and live in dignity and
Your recognition that "Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
has been the defining reality of Palestinians' lives there for over
three decades, longer than most of the Palestinians living there
have been alive," makes plain the continued causes of this conflict.
Your use of the term "occupation" is a return to a correct
description of the situation, one which recent US administrations
had abandoned in favor of nonsensical euphemisms designed to please
Israel and bamboozle the rest of the world into thinking that if you
don't mention occupation it somehow ceases to exist.
Your demand that Israeli settlement construction in the occupied
territories "must stop" was a welcome reaffirmation of US opposition
to this activity which, in addition to being a grave breach of the
Fourth Geneva Convention, is designed and calculated to prevent an
end to the occupation, and therefore to prevent peace.
These statements, coupled with recent declarations both by you and
President Bush about the establishment of the state of "Palestine"
mark a clear change in the tone of US policy that those who wish for
a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot but welcome.
Less encouraging, however, was your statement that the United States
is unwilling to do more than "push and prod" the process along and
that "at the end of the day it is the people in the region taking
the risks and making the hard choices who must find the way ahead."
Of course the people in the region must want peace and work for it,
but unfortunately when we are dealing with military aggression and
intransigent occupation, such admirable hopes are insufficient.
There was no indication that you plan to do anything other than what
the United States has been doing thus far without success.
Mr. Secretary, the United States is not a mere bystander in a
conflict between two recalcitrant parties with equal control over
the situation. Rather, it is a participant in the conflict on the
side of Israel, providing the enormous military and economic aid
without which Israel could sustain neither the occupation you
identified as the source of so much suffering and anger, nor the
settlements that are designed to make the occupation an irreversible
fact. The United States alone among members of the United Nations
continues to block all efforts to gain international protection for
the Palestinians and to ensure that the Fourth Genevan Convention
is applied to them as the Security Council has repeatedly demanded.
According to Gideon Levy, a commentator in the Israeli newspaper
Haaretz, the Palestinians in the occupied territories today "are in
the worst situation they have been in since the Israeli occupation
befell them. Their lack of freedom has reached a level they have
never known before." Why has Israel been allowed to behave this way
for 34 years Mr. Secretary?
The excuse has always been the claim that Israel is surrounded by
states that want to destroy it. Yet for more than twenty years
Israel has had a peace treaty with Egypt, the most populous Arab
nation, and since 1994 with Jordan, the country with the longest
shared border. Syria has declared repeatedly its intentions to make
peace once its occupied territory has been returned, and Lebanon has
said it will follow suit. The PLO explicitly recognized the right of
Israel to exist within secure boundaries in 1993, a decision
ratified at the behest of the United States and in the presence of
President Clinton in Gaza in 1999. From Morocco to Qatar, other Arab
states took great political risks to establish trade and diplomatic
relations with Israel opening the region up to Israelis as never
In short, Israel is entirely surrounded by states that have
recognized it, made peace with it, or declared more than reasonable
terms for doing so, and yet Israel has still not recognized that the
Palestinians have national rights or indeed any rights at all and
still continues its policy of expanding on and colonizing occupied
Arab land while refusing to negotiate.
(I am sorry that you did not highlight these facts in your speech
but instead preferred to focus on Israeli-inspired charges that
across the Middle East "incitement" drives people's views of the
conflict rather than these views being the natural reaction to
Israel's brutal and relentless repression of the Palestinian people
and the world's apparent acceptance of it.)
What kind of "pushing" and "prodding," Mr. Secretary, do you think
will succeed where every other kind of diplomatic initiative and
inducement has failed?
Today. Mr. Powell, you attached your name to a set of noble ideas
and goals for a peace that will give hope and life to Israelis and
Palestinians, and this has perhaps breathed a little life into the
battered integrity of the United States. But unless you and the
United States are prepared to take responsibility for US support
for Israel's occupation, and to put real pressure on Israel and make
it accountable for its policies, I am afraid your name will simply
join a too long list of others attached to failed initiatives and
false starts in the Middle East punctuated by ever worse outbreaks
of violence and war.