November 8, 2000
Palestine, the Paradox of International Troops
Before Yasser Arafat thought to ask for international troops to come to the Occupied Territories, presumably to protect the Palestinians, and before Russia suggested the idea, the Israelis predicted and prepared for the possibility. Of course, it goes without saying that Israel is opposed to such a prospect, and it is equally needless to say that the United States does not favor the idea either. Nevertheless, there is the international community to consider, which, potentially, could exert enough pressure if not to actually have troops sent, then at least to make it abundantly clear that the only reason troops would not be sent would be because the war criminals this time around are the United States and Israel.
The plan initially proposed in Israel to avoid the bringing in of UN peacekeepers involved, in short, the re-occupation of Area A, Gaza and the West Bank, the idea being that the international community would object less to complete re-occupation, with its subsequent closures, curfews, and total military clampdown, than to continuous reports of conspicuous violence emerging from the Occupied Territories.
As Knesset member Michel Kleiner explained in late October, "If we continue to drag this out with the television screens full of pictures of violence in the streets with Palestinian dead and wounded then we may ultimately find ourselves facing UN or other international forces. If we act now we may face a sharp rebuke but not international intervention."
When Kleiner refers to 'acting now,' what he means is re-occupation: "the only strategic action left for us to do is to enter Area A and return the situation to what it was before Oslo," he said, "If we do not quickly seize control of Area A...we will find ourselves standing behind UN forces."
Kleiner, who has not been involved in the negotiations between Israel, the US and the Palestinians, cannot be blamed for slightly missing the mark, something close to his suggestion has taken place, but the basic framework of the Peace Process precludes the official re-occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The goal, as has been the case since the beginning of the Oslo process, is to set the boundaries of what will become the Palestinian State; the physical boundaries as well as the economic and political boundaries, and the restrictions to Palestinian sovereignty within the fractured PA territories.
With maximum destruction of infrastructure, forced population transfers from cities in the West Bank like Beit Jala, Aida refugee camp, and the Palestinian sectors of Hebron, to increase Jewish quarters and consolidate available water resources, and economic strangulation of both Gaza and the West Bank, actual re-occupation is not necessary.
Still, how can the introduction of UN troops be avoided? The Israeli press, as usual, has been quite straightforward in elucidating the plan. The Jerusalem Post reported at the end of last month that "the overall IDF strategy is to deprive the Palestinians of the massive number of casualties the army maintains Palestinians want in order to win world support and consolidate their fight for independence. 'We are very much trying not to kill them...' says Lt.-Col. Yoram Loredo, commander and founder of the Nahshon battalion."
Statistics indicate that this has indeed become the strategy. Of course, over 150 Palestinians killed would indicate otherwise, but the majority of these murders occurred in the first month. Since October 28th, Israelis have averaged killing five or less Palestinians every day, which can be portrayed as random or isolated incidents to the international community, and the result of Palestinian aggression. Israeli soldiers can be applauded for their restraint when crowds of hundreds of protestors in Gaza and the West Bank, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, only suffer one or two casualties per demonstration. The fact that hundreds are critically wounded, permanently crippled, rendered brain-dead and maimed, all falling under the vague category of 'injured,' does not elicit international outrage the same way that thousands of corpses would.
There is, of course, an additional complication to having international troops enter the Occupied Territories to protect Palestinians, and that is the fact that they are occupied territories. Israel has been ordered by the United Nations off and on since 1967 to withdraw; sending UN troops to maintain the peace for the Israeli occupation would validate the occupation itself. Though Secretary General Kofi Annan might be willing to do this, having said that the UN cannot take such action without Israel's permission, implying that the Occupied Territories belong to Israel, the international community is less likely to comply with this paradox.
Not that it should come as a surprise to anyone, but the introduction of UN forces into the Occupied Territories is not a real possibility, neither from a logistical standpoint nor a political one; America would unquestionably veto any such suggestion in the UN Security Council, effectively ending the logistical possibility, and the United Nations simply could not rationalize policing the Israeli occupation it has condemned for thirty-three years, making the option politically hopeless.
At best, it is an honest attempt by Arafat to call the impartiality of the United States into question and internationalize the Palestinian struggle. At worst, and unfortunately, most likely, it is a calculated maneuver by the Palestinian leader, who has already agreed to the Bantustan state called for in the Peace Process accords, to appear in defiant, allowing his inevitable concession to look like a victory.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak will re-propose the offer to allow Yasser Arafat to call the sealed, fragmented ghettoes of the West Bank and Gaza his Palestinian state, getting him to agree in writing to what is being unilaterally imposed at the present time by Israeli force.
The only question now is whether or not Arafat will sign such an agreement, or wait until Israel has completed drawing the boundaries by military siege and then ‘unilaterally’ declare what is left to be a Palestinian state. Most likely he will sign a treaty, thereby making his regime eligible for American aid.
With or without the signing of an agreement, with or without the call for international troops, Israeli blockades, economic isolation, population transfers, theft of resources, and destruction of infrastructure, will continue. It is all part of building what Ehud Barak calls a "viable Palestinian state," one that is subject, impoverished, overcrowded, confined, and heavily policed; it is, in short, the implementation of the Zionist ethnic cleansing operation known as the Peace Process.