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In the West Bank, Israel's "charity" comes at a price

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At first glance, it looked like a generous promotional stunt by Israel to aid the Palestinians' struggling tourism industry. Israeli military authorities published this month a video on social media publicizing Palestinian attractions in the West Bank.

Most are Christian, including Jesus's birthplace in Bethlehem -- now the Church of the Nativity -- and more obscure locations such as the monasteries of Mar Saba and Wadi Qelt, in mountainous desert terrain few pilgrim coaches ever reach.

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    The video was produced by COGAT, the Israeli military body that rules over Palestinians. It appears to be the latest initiative in defense minister Avigdor Lieberman's so-called "carrot and stick" policy -- a program that rewards and punishes Palestinians according to their behavior.

    Mr Lieberman has vowed to bypass the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and deal with Palestinians directly. The head of COGAT, Yoav Mordechai, has become a familiar face to ordinary Palestinians.

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      Last month, in his first live chat in Arabic on COGAT's Facebook page, he answered questions from Palestinians on how they could receive Israeli work permits or resolve other bureaucratic headaches his officials created for them. Even Palestinians in Gaza defied Hamas to contact him.

      The tourism video is similarly designed to reverse the Oslo accords, which held out a false promise two decades ago that the Palestinians would one day enjoy statehood and self-determination. Israel's micromanagement of the territories is now such that it is even taking responsibility for attracting visitors to Palestine.

        Except that is precisely not where COGAT's video invites them. Instead it beckons tourists to visit "Judea and Samaria," the Biblical names Israel uses to justify the illegal Jewish settlements that dominate much of the West Bank.

        What is going on?

        The deception at the campaign's heart operates on several levels -- and reveals much about Israel's long-term policy towards the Palestinians.

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        Mr Lieberman wants Palestinians to view Mr Mordechai's military administration as a benevolent father figure, the address for their problems, rather than Mr Abbas. Who has the power to bring tourists to the territories and boost the Palestinian economy? COGAT, not the Palestinian Authority.

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        Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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