6 November 2008 Edition
INTERNATIONAL BY EMMA CLANCY
Palestinians have no partner for peace
By Emma Clancy
Fifteen years after the Oslo Accords were signed; 41 years after the annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; and 60 years after al Naqba – the Catastrophe, in which 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in the 1948 establishment of the Israeli state – life for the Palestinian people worsens daily.
The Palestinian intifada, or uprising, of 1987 added to the impetus for the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat. The PLO accepted the notion of a Palestinian state within the remaining 22 per cent of historic Palestine and the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established to take control of civil aspects of Palestinians’ lives in the West Bank and Gaza.
But Israel, with the uncritical support of the US, has acted consistently in total disregard of the agreement and to consolidate its hold on the occupied territories.
The key aim of the Zionist movement in historic Palestine has been to seize as much land as possible, with as few of its indigenous inhabitants remaining as possible, in order to artificially create a Jewish majority in a state that has yet to define its final borders.
Israel has sought “peace” not through negotiation but vicious repression. When Palestinian frustration with the failure of the Oslo Accords to deliver positive change erupted in the al Aqsa intifada in September 2000, Israel cracked down mercilessly. The ‘Israel Defense Force’ (IDF) has maintained a steady stream of military offensives against the Palestinian population in the OPT ever since.
Israel’s response to the increasing international pressure to find a solution to the “Palestinian problem” was to launch a long-planned major military operation in the West Bank aimed at destroying the infrastructure of a possible future Palestinian state. “Operation Defensive Shield”, launched in March-April 2002, destroyed virtually all the PA infrastructure that had been built up in the West Bank.
According to Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem, since September 2000 the IDF has killed 4,826 Palestinians, including more than 860 children.
Palestinians have no partner for peace. Israel’s primary aim is to prevent, or delay as long as possible, the emergence of an independent Palestinian state, and in the meantime to establish “facts on the ground” – i.e., Israeli settlements, outposts, bypass roads, and the “separation barrier” throughout the West Bank – to be taken into consideration if and when the time finally comes for a final status agreement.
Under rare US pressure under the terms of the 2003 Road Map for Peace, Israel withdrew 8500 settlers from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. However, far from “ending the occupation”, Israel sealed Gaza’s residents off from access to the outside world and turned the strip into an open-air prison.
Besieged and divided
In January 2006, in the first elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council to be held in the OPT for a decade, Hamas’s Reform and Change list won 74 out of 132 seats; Fatah won 45. Hamas immediately began to make overtures to Fatah to join it in a government of national unity, which were rejected.
The victory of the Islamist movement in a largely secular society took most by surprise – not least the governments of the US and Israel, which indignantly moved to collectively punish Palestinians for electing the wrong party by imposing sanctions. Olmert’s advisor Dov Weissglas famously responded to the election by declaring that the Palestinian people needed to be “put on a diet”.
Sanctions against the Hamas-led PA and targeted international aid to security forces loyal to Abbas set the stage for a bitter factional struggle, centred in Gaza, in which almost 500 Palestinians have now been killed and the historical unity of the Palestinian national movement shattered – and now physically divided in the two territories.
In April this year, a Vanity Fair feature article confirmed with evidence from US officials that a campaign of incitement to civil war that began in the US State Department aimed to back Fatah-aligned forces in a coup attempt against the democratically elected government. (Incidentally, back in 2006, Hamas issued a statement from Gaza saying the violence was part of “a campaign of incitement that began in the US State Department”.)
In June 2007 Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip, ousting US-trained militias loyal to Abbas after a flare-up of fighting. Fatah took control of the West Bank, supported by Israel and the US. The two groups, as well as other Palestinian factions, have agreed to meet in Cairo in a new Egyptian-backed national unity summit this week, offering a faint glimmer of hope for the vital reunification of the national movement.
Facts on the ground
Meanwhile, the humanitarian disaster in Gaza grows deeper still, as 1.4 million people, more than half of whom are under the age of 15, try to live on rationed food aid, a couple of hours of electricity a day, crumbling sanitation and water facilities and failing public infrastructure. Ninety-eight per cent of industry in Gaza is now inactive according to a World Bank study.
As pressure for a final status agreement builds, Israel has rushed to implement “facts on the ground”. Olmert referred to the election of Hamas as providing a “window of opportunity” for enforcing his plan of reaching an international agreement on the border question – based on the route of the “separation barrier” or Apartheid Wall around the West Bank.
When completed, the wall will incorporate 40 per cent of the West Bank into the Israeli side and consolidate four Palestinian enclaves within the territory, separated from each other by Israeli settlement blocks.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost half a million Palestinians will be affected by the wall’s route – that is, cut off from their farming land and water sources, cut off from the West Bank itself, or surrounded by the wall.
And despite the centrality of the demands for an end to Israeli settlement expansion to any negotiation process, there has been a 53 per cent growth in settlers in the West Bank between 1997 and 2004, and they now number half a million.
The unity of the national movement will be a crucial factor in achieving Palestinian aspirations in the coming years of struggle. And international pressure on Israel will obviously be the other crucial factor.
As the situation has steadily deteriorated over the past few years, the international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel has gathered momentum, with several major trade unions, oganisations and academics supporting the move.
In issuing the 2004 call for a worldwide boycott of Israel, Palestinians said they were looking to the example of South Africa, where the apartheid government was successfully isolated and weakened by such a tactic.
Israeli academic Dr Ilan Pappe, a key proponent of the BDS campaign, argues that a successful boycott campaign “will not change this position [of Jewish Israelis, in support of an exclusively Jewish state] in a day, but it will send a clear message to the public that these positions are racist and unacceptable in the 21st century.
“Without the cultural and economic oxygen lines the West provides to Israel, it would be difficult for the silent majority there to continue and believe that it is possible both to be a racist and a legitimate state in the eyes of the world.”