Virtual Palestine peace accord shows the possibilities -- and the impossibilities

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Ramadan 06, 1424 2003-11-01


by Crescent International (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 14 2003-11, Ramadan, 1424)

Three years after the outbreak of the latest Al-Aqsa intifada -- which has lasted so long and moved on so far that few even remember how the troubles began -- the world has tired of Palestine. Where once the scenes of unarmed Palestinian youth being mowed down by Israeli troops caused shockwaves around the world, now Palestinians are killed day in and day out and are hardly noticed. Only the Arab news stations such as al-Jazeera treat the deaths of Palestinians as newsworthy, for which they are mocked in the West for sensationalising the news and adding fuel to the fire. Israeli deaths, of course, are a different matter; the one sure way for a Palestinian death to be reported is if the brother or sister manages to take one or more Israelis with them.

While the passing of time may blunt the world’s interest in the Palestine issue and the dispossession and suffering of Palestinians, the Palestinians themselves cannot forget, of course. While the Western media focuses on the problems of Israeli military reservists who cannot go to cafes, discos or nightclubs in their civilian lives without the fear of the marginal risk that one day they might fall victim to a Palestinian bomb, Palestinians live with the daily grind of a brutalizing, dehumanizing occupation designed to force them out of their own country; an occupation in which earning enough food to feed themselves is a struggle; in which anybody’s house can be destroyed without notice; in which lands can be confiscated for ‘security’ reasons, for settlements or simply for no reason at all, without any compensation or legal recourse; in which education and job opportunities are but distant dreams for many; and in which children grow up believing, perfectly reasonably and accurately, that they have no prospects and nothing to look forward to in this world.

Why, people in the West sometimes ask, are the Palestinians so resistant to peace? The question betrays their own misunderstanding and the success of the propaganda of Israel and its Western allies. It is not the Palestinians that are resistant to peace; all they want is the opportunity of peace with a modicum of something approaching justice. It is the Israelis who are resistant to peace simply because they have always the feeling that they can get even more by fighting on. Ariel Sharon’s determination to wreck every possibility of progress on the ‘peace process,’ even though it is so loaded in Israel’s favour, is well established; he knows that Israel is in a position of strength, and with unconditional and unlimited US support can only win by continuing the war. Equally well-known is his ideological commitment to Israeli territorial expansion and the creation of a greater Israel, which explains this mindset. But he is not alone; every Israeli leader in memory has had precisely the same attitude, even if he (or she, in the case of Golda Meir) has been better at disguising it. It wasn’t the Palestinians, or even Sharon, but Labour prime minister Ehud Barak who destroyed the Oslo peace process in the 1990s by constantly back-tracking on Israel’s obligations and introducing new conditions over and above those previously agreed. It was also Barak who set the tone of the present conflict in Palestine by his brutal response to Palestinian protests about Sharon’s invasion of the Haram in Jerusalem in September 2000.

During the 1990s, most Palestinians were willing to give the Oslo peace process, unfair and unreasonable as it was, some sort of chance, on the basis that a fraction of a cake was perhaps better than no cake at all. Of course, the process was always doomed to fail. Although the terms of the ‘two state’ solution envisaged by the Oslo process was always hopelessly weighted in Israel’s favour, even that was more than the Israelis were never willing to concede, as Palestine’s Islamic movements recognised from the start. But they gave the process a fair chance, and in doing so exposed both the hypocritical duplicity of the Israelis and the total inability of Yassir Arafat and the PLO to protect Palestinian interests and aspirations.

Today, Palestinians are accused of being unwilling to talk peace. That is largely true; and it is because they have seen what the Israelis do when they are given a chance. But the stubborn and faithful Palestinian resistance to Sharon’s attacks is also troubling some Israelis, who are beginning to realize that perhaps the Palestinians are neither going to pack up and go away, nor give up and accept zionist rule. Hence the ‘virtual’ peace plan agreed by Israeli and Palestinian ‘moderates’ in Jordan last month, which is due to be signed in Geneva later this month. This is an attempt by some Israelis and Palestinians to agree the principles of a two-state solution to the future of Palestine as a basis for a future settlement, after which the way to achieve that settlement will be sought. The basic framework of the accord allows for Palestinians to recognise Israel, which would withdraw to its 1967 borders except for some agreed landswaps; for Palestinians to give up the right of return to Palestine; for Jerusalem to be divided administratively, with Muslims retaining sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif; for Israel to keep some settlements but for others to be dismantled; and for the Palestinian state to be demilitarised.

On the face of it, this might sound reasonable; it is perhaps not so far from the two-state solution that most people envisaged would be the end result of the Oslo process, although the Israelis have still smuggled some gains, such as control over some settlements and for Palestine to be demilitarised. But the problem is not in the final terms. It is in the process; because what Israel demonstrated in the 1990s was that it could not be trusted to keep its word without trying repeatedly to exploit its militarily and politically stronger position to reinterpret and renegotiate every point to its advantage.

The virtual peace accord is of course only hypothetical. There is absolutely no prospect of its being accepted by the Israeli government, as Sharon and his ministers made clear. But even if there were, Palestinians would be entitled to be extremely sceptical of Israel’s intentions on the basis of their previous experience.

The virtual plan is being promoted as a vision of what might be possible if only the ‘extremists’ on both sides were willing to set their arms aside. The Israeli experience of Palestinian ‘terrorism’ is being portrayed as the main obstacle; if only the Israelis could trust the Palestinians, the reasoning goes, they might be willing to give it a chance. The truth, of course is the precise opposite. It is the Palestinians who have reason not to trust the Israelis who have the most to gain by breaking agreements that are made.

Some might suggest that a firm international broker ensuring that both sides keep their word could break the deadlock; but the international community, the US in particular, have proven themselves no more trustworthy than the Israelis. If Palestinians laugh the new accord out of court, despite the grim alternative before them, the world should understand that it is only because bitter experience has taught them that the language of resistance is the only language the Israelis understand.

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