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7 May 1998 Edition

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Palestine - the failed peace process

So it's come down to this: the elected head of the Palestinian nation pleads for 13 percent. Israel counters with an offer of nine percent. Vested interests, in the guise of mediators, attempt to fashion a deal: one percent here, one percent there. Ultimately, Arafat's entreaties are rebuffed and he returns home as he arrived - empty-handed.

The farcical outcome of the London Summit merely served to underline the deeply-flawed nature of the Israeli-Palestinian `peace process'. With each passing day it becomes clearer that the Oslo Accords represent less a peace, than a pacification process.

Thus we are treated to a spectacle akin to a parody of the old-fashioned marketplace practice of haggling. It would be funny were it not so sad. The focus of the `haggling' is after all, the Palestinian nation - which celebrates its dispossession as Israel celebrates its birth. Until that

skewed parallel is righted, attempts at peace in the Middle East will represent little more than a postponement of conflict.

Mr Arafat arrived at the London Summit with nothing. He has nothing to bargain with, save the possibility that he may be unseated by his own. Having signed up to the `peace deal' he now finds it empowers Israel in direct proportion to its disempowerment of the Palestinians. There's that skewed parallel in operation again.

He signed up to a deal supposedly based on the premise of land for peace. In a perverse sense, the Israelis have adhered to the central tenets of that deal. They continue to enjoy the peace that military, economic and political superiority confers. Meanwhile, they continue with the process of land confiscation and settlement building. Israel enjoys both land and

peace. The Palestinians feed on occasional scraps. Israel had always set out to negotiate such a deal, and for that they cannot be faulted. In realpolitik terms, it is to be expected that anyone entering negotiations will attempt to achieve as many of their aims as possible.

That they did so was confirmed shortly after the signing of Oslo II, in 1995. In conversation with the Chinese ambassador, the Israeli president Ezer Weizmann delivered his assesment of the agreement: ``We screwed the Palestinians.''

Israel's then Foreign Minister Ehud Barak was asked how the Palestinians could have accepted the terms of the recently-signed accord. Barak's assessment was precise. ``We are the ones with the power,'' he replied. In looking closely at the terms of Oslo II - the deal on which Chairman Arafat placed such emphasis - the truth of those blunt Israeli analyses becomes clear.

The deal is concerned chiefly with the West Bank, the territorial core for any putative Palestinian state. The territory is divided, ostensibly for administrative purposes, into three areas: Zones A, B and C. The former is under complete control of the Palestinian Authority. It comprises, at a generous estimate, about two percent of the West Bank's territory. Zone B consists of a scattering of Palestinian areas, about 100 in all.

Here the Palestinians retain what is euphemistically called ``civil control'' - in other words, the Israeli army remains the supreme authority. Under the terms of Oslo II, Israel retains an effective power of veto over any law passed, or action proposed by the Palestinian Authority in the Occupied Territories.

In fact, Zone B sits entirely within the wholly-Israeli controlled Zone C. This Zone C represents some 70 percent of the total area of the West Bank and is populated by 140,000 Jewish settlers. The far smaller (and poorer) areas under Palestinian control hold almost ten times that population: 1.1 million people.

Thus, the much-vaunted principle of autonomy that underlies the Oslo Accords is a travesty. Israel retains actual control of the physical bulk of the Occupied Territories. It also retains de facto control over the entire West Bank (and Gaza Strip). Economically and socially, the Occupied Territories remain as vassal states of the feudal overlord.

However, having depressed and impoverished the Territories (as a study of the Gaza Strip by US academic Sara Roy illustrates), Israel has chosen to abrogate its responsibilities. Under the guise of autonomy, it passed responsibility for the poverty and underdevelopment back to the `civil' control of the Palestinian Authority. A neat sleight of hand.

Indeed, the principle of `autonomy' that underlies the Oslo Accords has been caustically rubbished by radical Israeli journalist Danny Rubenstein. He has characterised it as ``autonomy as in a POW camp, where the prisoners are autonomous to cook their meals without interference and to organise cultural events.''

And while current Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu has served to exacerbate tensions in the region since his surprise 1996 election he has, in many respects, simply carried on where his predecessors left off.

Thus, the supposed `doves' of the Labour government - headed by Yitzhak Rabin and later Shimon Peres - planned to double the settler population of the West Bank. They set a target of five years, from the signing of the first Oslo Accord in 1993, for the achievement of their goal. By 1996, with official financial support running to hundreds of millions, the settler population in the West Bank was growing at an annual rate of ten percent.

Also worth noting is the fact that it was this selfsame government that first advanced plans for the building of the controversial Har Homa/Sur Bahar settlement. Netanyahu's decision to proceed merely stressed a continuity in official policy.

Currently, the opposition Labour Party is led by one Ehud Barak - who so precisely detailed the essential weakness of the Palestinian position in the `peace negotiations'. Barak - presented as a liberal alternative to the hardline Netanyahu - is the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces.


US to intervene in Colombia?



Is the United States about to `intervene' in Colombia? Certainly, the Whitehouse and the US military has become increasingly concerned at recent guerrilla advances, coupled with the Colombian military's apparent inability to stem the rebel march.

These concerns turned to outright anxiety following the failure of a government offensive, in early March. It was the largest offensive ever mounted by the army against the FARC guerrillas and centred on the rebel stronghold of Caguan, 600 kilometres south of Bogota. It proved an ignominious failure and the government forces withdrew after less than a week. The defeat was made all the more unpalatable by the fact that it was led by units of the army's counter-insurgency elite. Since then, the anxieties that affect the Colombian establishment have permeated northwards. According to Latin American press reports (including the excellent Pulsar news service), the head of the US southern command, General Charles Wilhelm, has tentatively broached the concept of military intervention in Colombia, with various Latin American governments. However, aware of the negative PR that would flow from images of US Marines `hitting' Colombia's beaches, General Wilhelm has apparently floated the idea of a `multinational force' doing battle with the left-wing guerrillas.

Doubtless, Wilhelm (and assorted spooks) will raise the spectre of a triumphant rebel army `contaminating' Latin and Central America. The beauty of the `multinational force' is that it has the successful precedent of the Gulf War `coalition' to look to, whilst also allowing US intervention to masquerade as a `regional initiative'.

It is believed the US initiative has already led to the establishment of `study groups' charged with investigating the geographical zones controlled by the guerrillas. It is also rumoured, in the Colombian press, that preparations are being made for `special operations' against the guerrillas. Colombia borders Venezuela (huge oil reserves), Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and, most noteworthy of all, Panama. The latter is home to thousands of US troops.

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