Next Political Steps
Date: 10/19/00 3:43:35 PM Pacific Daylight Time
From: icahd@zahav.net.il (Jeff Halper)

 


THE NEXT STEPS IN ISRAEL/PALESTINE

For all the pain, suffering and anger, we cannot lose sight of the fact
that we are engaged in a POLITICAL struggle whose conclusion must be a
just, viable and lasting peace for all the peoples of our region.  Calls
for a Committee of Inquiry are understandable, but they cannot replace
proactive political strategies.  If all the gains achieved by the
Palestinian uprising, at such tragic human and material cost, are reduced
merely to assigning blame, the pain and effort will have been betrayed.

The popular uprising was crucial for breaking out of the Oslo trap.  Oslo,
based as it was purely on power-politics, negotiations between parties of
unequal strength and openly one-sided American "mediation," would have led
to nothing but a bantustan state under Israeli aegis -- a reality keenly
felt by the Palestinians living the interminable occupation.

In my humble opinion, the struggle now is to formulate a new framework of
negotiations that will lead to true Palestinian sovereignty.  Barak and
Clinton are using all their political and military muscle to reimpose the
Oslo/Camp David framework, which ensures Israel's continued control of any
Palestinian state while leaving the settlements largely untouched.  To
allow this to happen, to neglect the next political steps, would reduce the
popular uprising merely to pointless violence and suffering.  Certainly
Palestinian appreciate this, even if the people in the street do not
articulate it in so many terms.  Many in the Israel public --
intellectuals, commentators, the "critical left" and even liberals --
recognize the futility of Oslo and would also support a coherent, effective
and just alternative.  And the international community must be mobilized to
create the structures upon which a just and viable peace can be created.

As I have written before, we are faced with three immediate tasks: (1) to
provide protection to the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories in the
event that Israel embarks on a campaign of punishment and intimidation
designed to reassert the Oslo framework -- with or without Sharon in the
government; (2) to freeze the expansion of the Israeli occupation, likely
to be redoubled as Israel attempts to reassert its control and domination;
and (3) to help create a new framework for a just peace based on
international law and UN resolutions rather than on power-politics and
negotiations between sides of unequal power.

TOWARDS A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR NEGOTIATIONS

We are standing now at a perilous political crossroads.  If Israel and the
US succeed in resuscitating the Oslo process, we are facing renewed demands
that the Palestinians agree more or less to the terms of the Camp David
Summit -- that is, to a non-viable mini-state truncated by massive Israeli
settlement blocs.  That is what the code-words "ending the violence and
returning to the negotiating table" mean.  It is my belief that Israel will
use the full weight of its military to reimpose Oslo, including massive
attacks on Palestinians that dare to defy its fiat, and will take major
steps to annex -- outright or de facto -- key parts of the West Bank.  If
the Palestinian Street has succeeded in opening an escape route from the
Oslo trap through resistance and just saying "No!," it will need the active
support of all of us in forcing new terms of reference on the parties.

One of the greatest (though fragile) achievements of the uprising was its
internationalization of the conflict.  By forcing the intervention of the
Europeans, the Arab world, the UN and perhaps even Russia, the Palestinian
Street took control of the negotiating process out of the exclusive hands
of the Americans.  This cannot be allowed to fade.  A major part of our
efforts must be dedicated to ensuring an active role for the international
community.

The uprising has also given us a one-time opportunity to reformulate the
framework of negotiations.  Oslo must be replaced by terms of reference
rooted in international law, human rights covenants (in particular the
Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilians in occupied territories) and
UN resolutions.  Only this will give the Palestinians a "level playing
field" for pursuing their national goals.  I have seen no indication of
where Arafat stands on this issue.  Some see him as a willing partner in
the Oslo process, which has given him and his entourage considerable
privileges.  Others believe he appreciates the political opening granted
him by the uprising, but are unsure whether he has a formulated plan of
action.  Whatever the case, progressive forces in the international
community should support those Palestinians who seek to articulate a
political process that will lead to true sovereignty to a just and viable
peace -- and to implement it.

AN INTERNATIONAL MONITORING FORCE

During the weeks and months until a new negotiating framework is formulated
(assuming Israel and the US allow it), there exists a real and immediate
danger that Israel will exploit the vacuum to fundamentally alter the
status of the West Bank.  Just in the past day or two Barak has announced a
program of "unilateral separation" from the Palestinians.  No one knows
exactly what Barak's plans are; he refuses to divulge them even to Sharon.
They do include, however, the construction of a massive system of bunkers,
walls, "security crossings" and other fortifications to "protect" those
parts of the West Bank in which, according to a military source, "we want
and need to defend."  Strategic parts of the West Bank around the major
settlement "blocs" (Ariel, Kiryat Sefer, Givat Ze'ev, the Psagot settlement
chain, Ma'aleh Adumim, Efrat, Gush Etzion, Beitar Illit and perhaps Kiryat
Arba), together with the Jordan Valley, are likely to be annexed outright.
Tellingly, the plan, known as the "Sneh Plan" after its architect, Deputy
Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, incorporates all the settlements (Ha'aretz,
Oct. 18, p.1).

When things "return to normal," then, we can expect a return to Israeli
policies of "creating facts on the ground" -- and with a vengeance.  After
Oslo, Israel's occupation expanded quantitatively.  Tens of thousands of
acres of land were expropriated, mainly from Palestinian farmers, who were
then turned into dependant casual laborers in Israel.  Small, discreet
settlements were consolidated into massive settlement "blocs" controlling
strategic areas of the Occupied Territories.  House demolitions became a
regularized policy.  Construction began of hundreds of miles of highway and
"by-pass roads" that carved the Occupied Territories into small and
disconnected enclaves, destroying Palestinian society, economy and
environment.  And an all-encompassing closure was introduced, further
impoverishing the population and undermining the nascent Palestinian
economy.   (The fact that all this was done in violation of Article 31(7)
of the 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II), which states that "Neither side
shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status
negotiations," demonstrates how meaningless and one-sided such an
"agreement" is.)  We now face an additional strengthening and extending of
the Occupation, a "unilateral separation" cast in massive concrete
installations.

The fact is that the Fourth Geneva Convention, had it been incorporated
into the Oslo framework, would have prevented these actions which make a
mockery of "good faith" negotiations.  The fact that the United States,
Oslo's only watchdog, did nothing to stop Israel from fundamentally
changing the status of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza,
must disqualify it as an "impartial mediator."

The only way to halt Israel's attempts to expand its occupation and make it
permanent is to ensure that the Fourth Geneva Convention is enforced.  The
American position that adhering to international law would "compromise" the
negotiations must be firmly rejected.  Once the international community
acts unanimously to freeze Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories,
an international monitoring force, based perhaps on the UN's Temporary
International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), should be established to ensure
that Article 31(7) of Oslo, together with the Geneva Conventions and UN
resolutions, be scrupulously respected.  Such a force should also be
empowered to protect civilians in times of conflict, as surely will come.

These, it seems to be, constitute the next urgent steps in redeeming the
political opportunity to achieve a just peace presented to all of us by the
Palestinian people.  Israeli peace organizations such as the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and others stand ready to help
formulate and participate in international campaigns addressing the issues
discussed above.  I am sure that Palestinian organizations, as well as
joint Palestinian-Israeli groups such as the Alternative Information
Center, will also lend their support.  Let us all -- Palestinians, Israelis
and members of the international community -- join forces to ensure that
the current conflict, suffering and injustice give rise in the end to
justice, peace and prosperity.  It is up to us, the grassroots diplomats,
to initiate these campaigns.

In Peace,

Jeff Halper
Coordinator, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Editor, NEWS FROM WITHIN, Alternative Information Center
e-mail: icahd@zahav.net.il