THE PEACE THAT KILLS
"I do not know what to say anymore, or who to write to.
We wrote to Kofi Anan, we wrote to Mary Robinson, we wrote
to the whole world but no one seems to care.We hear from
friends who live in the States and Europe that things in
Palestine have quieted down, they do not know that raids
continue, killing of innocent people continues and homes
of so many families are destroyed."
Marina Barham, an internet letter from bombarded
Beit Jala, December 5.
Israel, largely followed by Western media, describes its handling of the Palestinian uprising as a war of defence: The Palestinians are violent non-compromising, fanatic people, who reject Israel's generous peace offers. Whatever you give them, they always want more - maximalists who are determined to kill their children for just a few centimeters of what they view as their land. In their real essence they are terrorists, and their true goal is to throw all the Jews to the sea. As Barak put it - "I have not yet managed to understand from Arafat that he is willing to acknowledge the existence of the state of Israel" (Ha'aretz, Hana Kim, Nov 10).
But let us just stop and recall. These are the same Palestinians who seven years ago still offered their hands to peace with Israel. September 1993 was for most Palestinians a month of euphoria and
optimism. Members of the PLO Hawks - the local military units of the PLO - returned their arms, and were interviewed in Israeli tv speaking of the new era of peace, of living side by side as good
neighbors. There was much talk about how similar and close these two peoples are. There was a real feeling that a new page is opened, and the past will be forgiven.
That was the climax of a process that started long before in the Palestinian society. For years, there were two lines: the one was that the Palestinians should not settle for anything less than regaining the whole of Palestine, and even 'let the Jews be thrown to the sea'; the other called for a solution based on recognizing the rights of both nations, and emphasized the need to find a model for coexistance between the two peoples. From the Palestinian perspective, accepting the idea of two states, was an enormous concession, which means giving up most of their historical homeland. (The West bank and Gaza strip on which the Palestinian state was to be formed comprise together only 22% of the historical Palestine.)
Even in the worst periods of oppression in the occupied territories, when their position was far from popular, and some accused them as collaborators, the secular leadership of the local PLO institutions,
as well as independent intellectuals, human rights activists and workers unions were calling for cooperation with the Israeli peace forces which opposed the occupation.
The six years of the first Palestinian Intifada (87-93) convinced the majority in Israel that the occupation is unfeasible. Combined with the victory of the reconciliation line in the Palestinian society,
many people felt that a serious two-state solution might be realistic for the first time. September 1993 was a euphoric month also for many in Israel. The dominant public perception was that the occupation is over and a Palestinian state is on its way. The right wing and the settlers reacted with true panic, and the rest - with a new, almost unfamiliar, sense of optimism. The first couple of months after Oslo, most Israelis beleived that the settlements are going to be dismantled, and prices of appartments in central Israel jumped high up in expectation for the wave of moved settlers. Nevertheless, two third of the Israelis supported Oslo in the polls.
But that's not how it turned out. Seven years have passed and we are back to far worse than it ever was before. Let us just look at what happened in the Gaza strip. This is particularly revealing, since Gaza is the one area regarding which there was substantial consensus in Israeli society before Oslo. One million people in one of the most densely populated and poorest areas of the world, with hardly any water or natural resources - 'What do we need Gaza for?'- was a common question in Israel for years.
Nevertheless, Israel insisted in the Oslo accords that no settlement in Gaza will be dismantled, at least in the "interim period" of five years. Rabin's insistence was not driven by popular pressure. Many
of the settlers in the more isolated settlements wanted, in fact, to leave at the time, and demanded compensations for alternative housing. But Rabin refused, even when the Dugit settlers camped for
weeks in protest in front of his offices.
What followed was worse. In the Taba negotiations just a month after the White-House ceremony, Israel presented its actual maps for Gaza, which left much more than the settlements under full Israeli control. Israel insisted that the settlements will be grouped in three blocs which include also the lands between the individual settlements. These blocs amount, together with a rich network of bypass roads, to over a third of the land in Gaza strip. The Palestinian negotiators responded with what appeared as shock and anger. Nabil Shaat described the proposal as a "Swiss cheese" plan for the cantonization of Gaza. The Palestinian delegation left in protest, and it seemed like the crisis is serious ('Ha'aretz', 3.11.93).
But two weeks later, in talks in Cairo in 18.11.93, the Palestinian negotiators accepted fully all these Israeli demands. That first sweeping Palestinian surrender marked the beginning of a long series of negotiations at which Israel dictated, and Arafat protested, cried, and signed.
The process at which a leader of a national liberation movement is broken into collaboration is a long and complex one. At the eve of Oslo, Arafat's grip on the territories was deteriorating (as well as his grip in the refugee camps on Lebanon, and on Jordan). In the occupied territories, there were daily complaints and protests regarding the corruption of his Tunis aids, his undemocratic rule, and his sole control of the finances. The local Palestinian delegation headed by Haidar Abd-el Shafi was gaining much more respect in the territories than Arafat's anachronistic administration. A major victory was the only thing that could still save him and the Oslo agreement may have seemed first as such a victory. However, Arafat's shaky position was obvious also to the Israeli side. Rabin may have started the Oslo move as a necessary response to the changing public opinion in Israel, which was getting tired of the occupation. But he could not resist the opportunity, provided by Arafat's weakness, of turning this unique historical moment into a new form of Israeli domination.
The situation in Gaza today is that six thousand Israeli settlers occupy about a third of the area (including the military bases and bypass roads) and one million Palestinians are squeezed in the other
two thirds. Surrounded by electronic fences and military posts, tightly sealed from the outside world, the Palestinian Gaza has turned long ago into a huge prison ghetto. The standard of living in Gaza which already before was among the lowest in the world, has deteriorated sharply since Oslo. Until Oslo, it was possible for Palestinian Gaza residents to obtain exit permits. Since Oslo, they are not even allowed to visit their relatives in the West Bank, and only the lucky few carried exit permits for work in Israel.
Possibly, Israel intended to allow the Palestinians, in some future, to call their prisons 'the Palestinian state', but its situation would remain the same. If the prisoners try to rebel, as is happening now, the internal roads are blocked and they are divided into smaller prison units each surrounded by Israeli tanks. They can be bombarded from the air, with nowhere to escape, their food supply, electricity, fuel,
all controlled by Israel and cut at the will of the prison guards. They are given one choice: accept prison life, or perish.
Israel's efforts have focused on extending the Gaza arrangement also to the West Bank. Already, the Palestinians areas are split into four enclaves isolated from each other, and surrounded by settlements,
IDF posts and bypass Israeli roads. Many Israeli settlements form already massive blocs, ready for annexation, though, there are also many isolated settlements in the midst of Palestinian population.
Much propaganda effort was devoted to emphasize Barak's alleged generous offer to the Palestinians in Camp David. The story goes that Israel will annex formally now all the settlements blocs (but not the isolated settlements). This would still leave the Palestinians with 90 percent of the West Bank, according to Israeli media at the time of Camp David (though other figures ranging from 85 to 97 have
been also floating in the media since).
We should note first, that the stories about what Barak offered in the 'Camp David understandings' of July 2000 come with no information to substantiate them. As pointed out by Akiva Eldar, a senior analyst of 'Ha'aretz' "Hardly anyone has any idea what those understandings are. No one has seen the paper summarizing these understandings, because no such paper exists. Veteran diplomats cannot recall political talks whose content was not put down on paper" (Eldar, "On the basis of the nonexistent Camp David understandings", 'ha'aretz', Nov 16, 00).
What has gone completely unnoted is that in practice, the Palestinians no longer own or have any access to at least 50% of the land of the West Bank. These are, first, the lands which were confiscated already during the occupation as Israeli 'state lands'. On these lands there are 37 Israeli settlements - "21 isolated settlements, plus 16 more settlements which are not fully linked to Israeli settlements blocs" ('ha'aretz, 21.2.00, page A3). Although it is announced that they will not be formally annexed presently, no plan to dismantle them has been announced either. The common description in Israeli media is that their residents will be free to choose whether to dislocate or to stay as Israeli citizens living in the 'Palestinian state'. Based on past experience, this means that not only will they stay,
but these settlements will be expanded. The state lands include not only the settlements themselves, but also the hills surrounding them, some of which are occupied by a single settlers' caravan. Other parts
of the presumed 'Palestinian state', are large IDF military and 'fire zones' areas, particularly in the Jordan valley. Israel has made it clear these will remain military areas, as required by 'security
needs'.(E.g. in a meeting with settleres from the Jordan Valley "Barak told them that in any settlement [with the Palestinians] Israel would maintain a 'security and community foothold' in the area". (Jerusalem Post, 29.9.00)
This means, then, that if Israel annexes now 10 percent of the land, 'leaving the Palestinian state with 90 percent of the West Bank', 40 percent of their 'state' are areas owned and fully controlled by Israel - areas in which they are not allowed to build, settle, do agriculture, and, in the case of the large military areas in the Jordan valley, they are not even allowed to pass there.
In fact, these details correspond to another Israeli plan, on which, unlike the alleged Camp David plan, some more detailed information was provided in the Israeli media, since at least March 2000. This is the same plan that Barak is announcing again these days, as his newest 'peace initiative'. The front page of 'ha'aretz' 10.3.00 announced "The prime minister's 10-40-50 plan: 50 percent of the west bank for the Palestinians, 40 percent under debate, and 10 percent to Israel". The plan includes a third redeployment which will increase the A area from the current 42 percents of areas A and B, to 50
percent,in which the Palestinians will be allowed to declare a state with a capital in Abu Dis. "The proposal will leave unresolved the status of about 40 percent of the west bank, as well as Jerusalem
and the right of return",said the text. That is, in return for his consent to the formal annexation of the whole center of the west bank by Israel, Arafat will be allowed to declare a Palestinian state on
50 percent of the west bank, and to sell to his people that the rest of the problems are still being discussed.
The plan itself is all too well known: it is one of the versions of the Alon plus plan, or the Sharon plan, which robs the Palestinians of half of the west bank lands. The only variation is that it applies in stages: 10 percent are formally annexed now, and the formal excecution of the rest is still postponed for future
If there was any content behind the "big concession" story of Camp David, it might be that the 'areas of debate' would not be publically mentioned, creating the (undocumented and inofficial) impression that
the Palestinians will be allowed to claim some sort of potential future sovereignty over these lands that they have no access to. The PA negotiators, on their part, contribute to the smoke screen around Israel's offers, as they always have. They have been doing their best to hide from their people how little they managed to gain after seven years of negotiations.
The crisis with the right-wing in Israel at the eve of the Camp David summit contributed further to the false impression that Barak made an unprecedented offer. The fringe rightwing always objects to any
plan that leaves the Palestinians with any amount of their land. In their eyes, transfer is the only solution. But the rest were perhaps also victims of the same propaganda. In the absence of any information of what was offered in Camp David, how can they be sure that Barak, or the media fed by his aids, are lying when they say he offered to give back 90 percent of the territories, including some parts of Jerusalem? Anyway, right wing fury always helps to substantiate the proraganda. Today they are protesting about Barak's 'restraint' in oppressing the upreisal.
Just as in the case of Gaza, Barak's big 'concession' was that he declared he might consider allowing the Palestinians to call their collection of isolated prisons a 'Palestinian state'. South Africa, at the peak of Apartheid, offered the same to the blacks in the Bantustans. It even sought UN recognition of these Bantustans as independent states.
Seven years after Oslo, nothing is left of the hopes and dreams that so many attached to it. Once again, Israel had a historical opportunity to reach a just peace with the Palestinian people, and to integrate
in the Middle East. Instead, it turned this to another chapter of oppression and control. It was obvious that the situation in the territories might eventually turn explosive, as the Palestinian people realize that all Israel offers after years of humiliating negotiations is just more vague promises that are never kept. It is hard to find an account for this policy of Israel, other than that it was not willing to give up the occupied territories, with their land and water resources.
Even more intriguing is Israel's part in the present escalation. Whatever his intentions were, Barak triggered the current explosion, by turning the conflict into a religious one. In all previously announced plans for the final agreement (like the Beilin Abu-Mazen plan) the 'Mount temple'-El Aksa site was supposed to remain in "ex-territorial Palestinian Sovereignty". But in the Camp David summit,
Barak demanded that the Palestinians will give up even this symbolic form of sovereignty. Next, Barak not only allowed Sharon's provocative 'visit' of the site, but he sent along hundreds of soldiers who started shooting at the first signs of protest. When this triggered further demonstrations the next day (as could be expected) Barak escalated the shooting, and eventually moved Israeli forces and tanks into
densely populated Palestinian areas. By all indications, it seems likely that the escalation of the protest into armed clashes could have been prevented had the Israeli response been more restrained.
For years, many in Israel have understood that when people are driven to despair, there is no way to prevent individual acts of terror, or suicidal bombings. Rather than aiming at restoring, first, some
calm, Israel's brutality drives more Palestinians to despair. In the Palestinian society, just like in Israel, there is some tension between the secular and the fanatic religious poles. The secular, democratic
and liberal opponents of the occupation, who set the public tone at the eve of Oslo, are still calling for co-existence, for a civil democratic struggle, and for cooperating with Israelis who oppose the occupation.
In February 2000, hundred and twenty Palestinian intellectuals, including Haider Abd-el Shafi, issued a message addressed to the Israeli and Jewish public. "The majority of Palestinians, including the undersigned, believed that the time was ripe for concluding with the Israelis a historic agreement", they open, but instead, "the historic settlement is becoming a settlement between Israelis themselves, not a settlement with the Palestinians". That's because at the present, the balance of power is in Israel's favor. "It is clear that the Palestinian negotiator, whose hands are tied by the overwhelming balance of power working against him, may be coerced into accepting a humiliating and degrading settlement". But, they
warn, "the settlement the Israeli leadership is seeking to impose on the Palestinian negotiator could not be a settlement with the Palestinian people... We will neither support nor accept it". The alternative they propose is a joint anti occupation struggle: "We extend our hand to you to make a real and just peace, not the militarist peace of coercion, the generals peace". ('Ha'aretz, 13.3.00).
This month, in the midst of fire, the same group has issued a second "urgent call to the Israeli public" stressing again their firm belief "in an equitable and just negotiated peace between Israelis and
Palestinians that recognizes the right to self-determination". "However", they continue "we, like our communities, have lost hope in the possibility of resolving the current inequities in the framework
of the Oslo agreements and the exclusive American brokerage of the process. Instead, negotiatins must be based (among other) on the principles "that the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 are, in fact,
occupied territories and that peace will be only be achieved by ending the occupation of these territories" and that "Israel's recognition of culpability in the creation of the Palestinian refugees in 1948 is a pre-requisite to finding a just and lasting resolution of the refugee problem".
Close attention should be paid to what these sane and sober voices say: "We are deeply concerned over the fact that the conflict has dangerously spiraled, at times, into an ethnic/religious one, as the
pogroms against Arab citizens of Nazareth, the lynching of the two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah and the numerous mob attacks on synagogues and mosques have shown. The profoundly irresponsible and self-serving act of the Barak government in allowing Ariel Sharon onto the Haram al Sharif shows not just an alarming lack of judgement, but also a total disregard for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim sensibilities. The use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians also shows total contempt for Palestinian life. The refusal to address the underlying causes of the demonstrations and the stubborn use of force to put them down, simply play into the hands of the irrational forces of religious and ethnic hatred on both sides, dangerously leading us to a situation in which the future co-existence of our peoples might become inconceivable".
In an interview with Amira Hass in Ha'aretz (17.11.00) some of them express their worry that the Israeli media "emphasizes and exploits" fanatic religious calls in funerals, or in the Palestinian media,
in an attempt to depict the whole Palestinian community as fanatic and blood thirsty, and, thus, justify Israel's use of brutal force.
Israel, indeed, is depicting itself as the side being brutally attacked, engaged in a self defence war - another round of David's battle against almighty Goliath, who threatens now its mere existence.
"The deputy chief of staff, Major General Moshe Ya'alon told his colleagues that this was Israel's most critical campaign against the Palestinians, including Israel's Arab population, since the 1948 war - for him, in fact, it is the second half of 1948" (Amir Oren "Truth or consequence", Ha'aretz Nov 17, 2000). In the 'first half' of 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven to exile and their villages ruined, leaving pre 1967 Israel relatively 'Arab free'. Ya'alon is among Barak's closest security consultants. ('Ha'aretz, there). It is hard to avoid the impression that not much has changed in Israel since 1948, and the dominant military and political circles are eager and ready for "the second half".
There is no country in the Western world, where the political and the military arms intertwine so closely as in Israel, particularly in the Labor branch of politics. Many of the Labor prime ministers
and high officials came directly from the army, and the close bonds formed there continue to effect decisions when roles are switched. Barak's direct route from the chief of staff to chief of state is
just the latest example. A common pattern is that when a Labor general turns prime-minister, he assumes the role of the peace-seeking moderate, while the army's chief of staff is the 'bad guy' exerting
pressure for a more aggressive line. Thus, in the early Oslo negotiations, when Rabin was the prime minister, Barak as chief of staff was the one who insisted on 'security demands', to which the peace-maker had to yield. Now Barak is the peace maker, 'pushed' by the army.
And so, carrying for ever the torch of 'peace', they can go undisturbed with their work of systematic destruction. Contrary to calming Israeli announcements, the Palestinian communities are still under siege, with food and medicine supplies sharply declining, and actual starvation looming. Civilians and children are still shot, many in the head or eyes; neighborhoods are being bombarded with heavy machine guns or missiles, lands are swept, trees plunked. This happens daily. It is hardly reported, but those who want to know, can find it all in the desperate stream of Palestinian reports in the internet.
An extensive coverage of the history of occupation and the Oslo agreements can be found in Noam Chomsky's
-World Orders Old and New, (Columbia U press), and epilogue in the
-Powers and Prospects (South End), 1996