Earlier this month, the UN Security Council in a non-binding statement condemned the violence of Israeli colonists against Palestinians in Hebron. The statement "welcomed Israel's evacuation of settlers [colonists] from the compound in Hebron on December 4", and "condemned the resulting settler [colonist] violence, including against Palestinian civilians and property". The Council urged for "respect for the rule of law without discrimination or exception".

Some 200 colonists had illegally moved into the so-called House of Contention in the Palestinian city of Hebron. An Israeli court ordered the eviction of the colonists from the building and when Israeli forces moved to implement the order the colonists randomly attacked Palestinians opening fire on them, torching their fields, hurling stones at Palestinian vehicles, and vandalising Palestinian properties.

The colonists also desecrated Muslim cemeteries in Hebron and painted anti-Muslim graffiti on mosque walls. The Israeli press reported that officials quickly moved to wash off the graffiti before pictures of it could be obtained by the Qatari news station Aljazeera. If desecration of Muslim cemeteries had been broadcast to the Arab and Muslim world, Israeli officials feared, a "major conflagration" would have erupted.

"When a grave is destroyed at a Jewish cemetery in Russia," an Israeli officer told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "the entire State of Israel is in shock. In Hebron, Muslim graves have been defaced for several days now."

But perhaps the strongest condemnation came from the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians," he reportedly told a cabinet meeting, "has no other name than a pogrom". He added: "I am ashamed that Jews could do such a thing."

Olmert's feelings of indignation and shame at colonists' violence are praiseworthy. If these feelings were boldly extended to cover state-sanctioned violence against equally innocent Palestinians, a measure of justice would be restored and the cause of peace served.

As Olmert was addressing the cabinet, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry's office in occupied Jerusalem reported "that all Gaza goods crossings were closed... Once again, no humanitarian supplies, fuel or commercial commodities are being allowed in..."

BTselem, the Israeli human rights organisation, recently documented the complicity of the Israeli army with the colonists' violence against Palestinians. For years, Israeli authorities have barred Palestinians from accessing Palestinian land that surrounds the colonies. The colonists themselves have been erecting blocks to close lands adjacent to their colonies.

Sufficient action

In many cases, BTselem report found that "the authorities entrusted with enforcing the law not only fail to take sufficient action to end the violence and prosecute lawbreakers, they join them and block Palestinian access themselves."

In addition to collective punishment, dispossession and house demolition - all barred by international law - there is the creeping colonisation enterprise, which not only continues the project of dispossession but also negates the proclaimed Israeli interest in a peace settlement.

The roadmap - the peace plan endorsed by the Quartet, namely the US, Russia, the EU, and the UN, was accepted as the foundation of a negotiated settlement between the parties at the Annapolis conference last November. It clearly obliges the state of Israel to "freeze all settlement [colonisation] activity, including natural growth of settlements [colonies]".

Yet, Israeli authorities have done the opposite. They accelerated the pace of colonisation activities, with the result that a viable Palestinian state is becoming increasingly elusive.

The Palestinians are now pinning their hopes on the incoming US administration of Barack Obama. Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisers to presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr and Jimmy Carter, advised Obama, when he was running for election, on the Palestinian issue. Their views on the Palestinian issue have been outlined in a November 27 article in the Washington Post, entitled, "Middle East priorities for January 21".

In it they write that: "We believe that the Arab-Israeli peace process is one issue that requires priority attention."

The elements of any new initiative, they write, must include: "for the US president to declare publicly... the basic parameters of a fair and enduring peace".

The two elder statesmen probably gave the same advice to Obama. On December 4, 2008, the New York Times reported that Obama was said to be planning a major foreign policy speech from a Muslim capital, likely Cairo. It would be a step in the right direction for Obama to boldly embrace and pursue the elements of a settlement that ensures a measure of justice, long denied to the Palestinian people.

Adel Safty's new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky, and published by Garnet, England, 2008