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18 September 1997 Edition

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Settling for trouble

Israeli settlers move into Arab East Jerusalem

By Dara MacNeil

Irving Moskowitz and Binyamin Netanyahu appear to have a lot in common. Principally, both appear to be possessed of a unique ability to stir up conflict and controversy. Provoking other people has become something of a trademark for these two individuals.

Last September, Israeli premier Netanyahu gave his stamp of approval to a scheme that, ultimately, resulted in over a hundred deaths and threatened to engulf the entire Middle East in conflict.

The scheme was the opening of an ancient 2000 year old tunnel which runs alongside the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The tunnel opening had long been a cherished project of right-wing Israelis. Having given it his imprimatur, Mr Netanyahu then departed on a European tour, oblivious to the consequences of his actions.

The tunnel was duly opened, without prior warning, in a dramatic dead of night ceremony. Naturally, the Moslem population of Jerusalem took offence.

The al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. They feared that right-wing Israelis were about to close the mosque. Riots and gunbattles involving the Israeli military and Palestinian police followed. Sixty Palestinians and 15 Israelis died in the immediate aftermath of the tunnel re-opening. The death toll was to climb to over a hundred before Netanyahu was forced to back down and order the closing of the tunnel.

Central to the tunnel re-opening project had been one Irving Moskowitz, a Florida-based millionaire known for his largesse towards the more fundamentalist elements in Israeli society. Indeed, Mr Moskowitz was a special guest of honour at the tunnel re-opening ceremony.

And now the Florida-based money man is at it again. Recently, Moskowitz purchased several buildings in Arab East Jerusalem. Last Sunday, again in the dead of night, the buildings were occupied by right-wing Israelis, delighted at having gained yet another foothold in the Arab quarter.

Moskowitz, who made his money running bingo halls, was in Jerusalem to see the fruits of his perverse labours. He issued a statement in the aftermath of the takeover, stating that his buildings in the Ras al-Amoud area of the city represented a ``vital safeguard for the unity of Jerusalem.''

Under the Oslo Accords, `the unity of Jerusalem' is an issue that was supposed to have been negotiated between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

Palestinians view East Jerusalem, at least, as the future capital of a putative Palestinian state. Yet for the last number of years, the Israelis have been constructing settlements around the outskirts of East Jerusalem.

The settlements - most controversially, the Har Homah settlement - form a ring around the Arab quarter. As a result, they virtually cut the quarter off from its natural hinterland in the West Bank, thus undermining its role as a potential Palestinian capital.

Equally, by increasing the Jewish population of the area, Israel is creating what Palestinian minister Hanan Ashrawi has described as ``facts on the ground'', meaning Israel is deliberately undermining Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem by peopling it with the modern-day equivalent of colonial settlers

Incidentally, the notion floated by settlement advocate Binyamin Netanyahu, that the settlements are required to ease a chronic housing shortage in Jerusalem, is patent nonsense. Earlier this year, a US study showed that more than 25% of all homes in the new settlements were, in fact, empty. But this has not prevented the confiscation of at least 7500 acres of Palestinian land, this year alone, to further the settlement programme.

Curiously, Netanyahu has received a great deal of international praise for his supposed opposition to the Moskowitz-financed occupation in East Jerusalem. Curious because Netanyahu has not opposed the scheme. Instead, he merely voiced the opinion that the move came at ``the wrong time.'' Not once has he condemned or opposed the principle behind the scheme. Hardly surprising, given his penchant for provoking conflict.

Greed versus survival in banana industry

The World Trade Organisation was established to promote global free trade. That is quite distinct from fair trade. Evidence of the WTO's disdain for promoting equality and fairness was provided by its decision recently to rule against the interests of economies of the Caribbean, and in favour of a US multinational.

In 1975, an agreement known as the Lome Convention gave preferential access to the European market for bananas produced in the Caribbean, and certain African and Latin American countries.

The banana industry in these countries was and is quite labour intensive, employing a good deal of local labour and, in the case of several countries, providing the bulk of their export earnings.

Quite simply, several Caribbean nations depend on banana exports for their very survival. By placing tariffs on the produce of their competitors, it was hoped to maintain a degree of equality and fairness in the industry.

Their chief competitors are huge multinationals operating in Central and Latin America. Their gigantic plantations employ low-paid and badly treated workers. Most of the workers are migrants and are subject to immediate deportation should any dare to demand better conditions. Union-busting is common, as is the harassment and even murder of union activists.

One of the largest of these multinationals is Chiquita, whose banana produce is centred mainly in Guatemala and Honduras.

Last year, the United States complained to the WTO about the Lome Convention. They said that by denying equal access to the European markets for the multinationals' product, the Convention was hampering free trade.

Recently, the WTO found in favour of the US multinational and ruled that the Lome Convention would have to end. As a result, Chiquita and others stand to increase their already enormous profits.

In the Caribbean meanwhile, countries such as Grenada are facing economic ruin. Quite literally, Chiquita's excess profit could mean destitution for many island economies.

And why was the United States so anxious to have the Lome Convention abandoned? After all, the banana multinationals operate largely outside their borders. Perhaps there is a clue in the fact that the head of Chiquita - millionaire Carl Lindner - `donated' some $500,000 into US Democratic Party funds last year. And that presidential candidate Bob Dole was also a beneficiary of Mr Linder's largesse.

As British Euro MP Glenys Kinnock commented: There are sinister implications. Lindner channels $500,000 to the Democrats. The pay-off has been a WTO ruling which could effectively threaten the social fabric of an entire region.''

Are we really that far removed from the spirit of years like 1954, when the US government organised the overthrow of Guatemala's government, largely at the behest of US multinational, the United Fruit Company?

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