Tanya Reinhart
December 6 2000

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
'bargaining'.

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.