Ten years after Oslo
September 26, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7
THE OSLO "peace" process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began 10 years ago. The historic handshake on the White House lawn between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was greeted with hope around the world. A decade later, Israel is issuing death threats against Arafat, the level of violence has sharply increased--and the U.S. government has vetoed another United Nations (UN) resolution critical of Israel. What happened? ERIC RUDER explains the source of the conflict--in the context of the Bush administration's global "war on terror."
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SURELY THE announcement by a country that it intended to assassinate a rival head of state would cause outrage in Washington--among the tireless defenders of freedom, democracy and the rule of law who run the U.S. government. So when Israel's government announced that it was planning to "remove" Arafat--either by expulsion or assassination--the U.S. waded into the debate.
Not to condemn Israel's death threat the Palestinian Authority (PA) president. Washington jumped on the bandwagon. "Mr. Arafat has failed as a leader," proclaimed George W. Bush prior to his meeting last week with Jordan's King Abdullah.
These are especially ominous words considering that the U.S. put Afghanistan and Iraq in the category of "failed" states--prior to carrying out "regime change" in those countries. Ever since the September 11 attacks, Israel has hoped to add Arafat and the Palestinian resistance to the list of targets in the U.S. "war on terror." And the Bush administration has granted its wish.
Is this because of the overwhelming influence of the pro-Israel lobby in U.S. politics? No. U.S. support for Israel as its most lethal and loyal ally in the Middle East has much more to do with the region's strategic importance and its huge oil reserves.
For decades, the U.S. has used its power in the UN to protect Israel, issuing 38 of its 73 vetoes of UN resolutions to torpedo criticism of Israel. The only surprise about last week's veto is its timing--given that the U.S. is trying to get the UN and Security Council members France and Germany to pledge troops and money for the disastrous occupation of Iraq.
But that didn't stop the Bush administration from attacking Arafat as the commander of a "terrorist infrastructure"--and insisting that it had no choice but to veto the UN resolution. What rank hypocrisy! The U.S. has backed some of the nastiest dictators in the world--like the late Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the Congo (formerly known as Zaire) with an iron fist for three decades, or Indonesia's Gen. Suharto, who was responsible for literally millions of murders during his reign. The real source of "terrorism" isn't Arafat, but Israel's brutal colonial occupation, bought and paid for by the U.S. government.
Israel exists on land stolen from Palestinians. For hundreds of years, Palestinian villages and orchards dotted the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Only through conscious efforts to encourage Jewish immigration--and finally the use of terrorist violence following the Second World War--did the Zionist movement succeed in driving Palestinians from their homes and seizing the land for themselves.
In 1953, Ariel Sharon--who today is Israel's Prime Minister--was the commander of Unit 101, an infamous and cruel terrorist force directed against Arabs. In October of that year, Unit 101 blew up 45 houses, a school and a mosque in the Jordanian village of Qibya, killing 69 people. Sharon's soldiers shot "every man, woman and child they could find," according to Time magazine. "The cries of the dying could be heard amidst the explosions."
Today, Israel's war to annihilate all remnants of Palestinian life has only become better armed--thanks to U.S. Apache helicopters and F-16s. Instead of dispatching soldiers to plant bombs, Israel sends helicopters and armored personnel carriers to fire rockets into densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
Instead of claiming that its assassination of Palestinian militants are "in retaliation," Israel says that it is acting "pre-emptively"--the same way the U.S. justified its war against Iraq. Instead of dismantling its illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel continues to expand them.
And if its overwhelming military superiority weren't enough, Israel's closures and checkpoints have cut off Palestinian villages and plunged the economy into severe crisis. According to a new UN report:
--In the past three years, economic growth during the previous 15 years was reversed. Real gross domestic product is now below its 1986 level.
--In 2002, per capita gross national income fell to 46 percent of its 1999 level.
--Nearly two-thirds of the population in the West Bank and Gaza--about 2 million people--live below the poverty line of $2 a day.
--The average unemployment rate in the Occupied Territories exceeds 40 percent.
These statistics highlight the desperation facing Palestinians today--and they provide a way to understand Palestinian suicide bombings. "Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism," wrote Avraham Burg, the speaker of Israel's parliament from 1999 to 2003, in mid-September.
"They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below--from the wells of hatred and anger, from the 'infrastructures' of injustice and moral corruption."
Why is Israel targeting Arafat?
FOR MORE than four decades, Yasser Arafat has been the best-known leader of the Palestinian movement to free itself from Israel's rule. In the 1960s, Arafat transformed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) into a mass organization that drew on the experience of the Algerian war of independence against France to inspire millions. The PLO called for a popular liberation war, proclaiming that Palestinians "reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine."
Although Israel constantly portrays Arafat as unwilling to compromise, the truth is that Arafat has made huge concessions to Israel since those days. In 1974, Arafat officially called for a two-state solution and accepted United Nations resolutions that partitioned Palestine.
The PLO went even further in its Declaration of Independence in 1988, proposing that the independent Palestinian state be located in the West Bank and Gaza--only 23 percent of pre-1947 Palestine--and endorsed diplomacy as the means to achieve its goal. These concessions paved the way for the 1993 Oslo accords.
But as the "peace" process unfolded, Palestinian living standards collapsed, while Israel greatly accelerated the process of building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. And the Palestinian Authority under Arafat became Israel's jailer, policing the Occupied Territories in the hope that the negotiations would someday lead to the establishment of a viable state.
"For the first time in our history, our leadership had simply given up on self-determination, Jerusalem and the refugees, allowing them to become part of an undetermined set of 'final status negotiations,'" wrote well-known Palestinian intellectual Edward Said in the mid-1990s. "For the first time in the 20th century, an anti-colonial liberation movement had not only discarded its own considerable achievements but made an agreement to cooperate with a military occupation before that occupation had ended."
After seven years of deteriorating living standards under Oslo, Palestinian anger boiled over--and a second Intifada, or uprising, erupted on September 30, 2000. Ironically, Israel's targeting of Arafat has rescued him from the anger that so many Palestinians felt towards him after the failure of the Oslo accords.
Once gain, Arafat is a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Israel tries to blame Arafat for every act of resistance carried out by Palestinians, but this is only a cynical attempt to deflect attention from Israel's crimes.
"The Intifada is the Palestinian people's war of national liberation," wrote former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair last year in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper. "We enthusiastically chose to become a colonialist society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the Occupied Territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities...We established an apartheid regime." This injustice is what drives the resistance.
Arafat was once committed to a struggle that would end Israeli injustices for all time. But for many years now, he has accepted compromises in the name of "realism"--and led the struggle in disastrous directions.
What Washington wants
THE BUSH gang has openly declared its intentions to remake the Middle East through "regime change" and "pre-emptive wars." Getting rid of Arafat is one element of a larger project. By vetoing the UN Security Council resolution against Arafat's "removal," the U.S. sent a message to the PA--dump Arafat or else.
In the two weeks leading up to its threats against Arfafat, Israel also assassinated more than a dozen leaders of the militant Palestinian group Hamas--and declared that all Hamas members were "marked for death." Why has Israel pledged all-out war on the two most influential currents in the Palestinian political spectrum?
After all, both Arafat and Hamas accept the two-state solution that Israeli officials say they're in favor of, too. But the truth is that Israel doesn't want anything resembling a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
It wants total surrender--and to force Palestinians into tiny, disconnected fragments to ensure their complete powerlessness. "Israel's physical prevention of any possibility for a viable Palestinian state created in historic Palestine has been largely completed," writes Israeli socialist and anti-Zionist Tikva Honig-Parnass.
"Continuing to call, therefore, for a two-state solution (i.e., an independent Palestinian state) is misleading." Instead, says Honig-Parnass, we should call for a single "democratic state [that] implies a secular, non-ethnic definition of citizenship, and universalistic values and social institutions to safeguard it--which Israel lacks."
Just as the U.S. aims to remake the Middle East, so must we. Because Israel is backed up by the force of U.S. imperialism, the Palestinian liberation struggle must confront both Israel and the U.S.
On their own, Palestinians have little practical chance of success. But by linking the struggle to liberate Palestine to the struggle of Arab workers in the Middle East, and U.S. workers here, it is possible to challenge imperialism. "This is not to say that a secular democratic state is more realistic than the two-state solution," writes Honig-Parnass. "However, it is the most just solution, and the only one that can end the conflict, and a socialist, unified Middle East is a precondition for it."
"The glittering tip of total corruption"
A FEW weeks ago, Batya Gur, an Israeli woman in Jerusalem, was on her way to the grocery store when she walked past soldiers harassing an elderly Palestinian man. Then she turned around. What follows is an excerpt of her account that appeared in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper.
[T]HERE WAS something in the behavior of these three girls, border policewomen in uniform, [that] I couldn't overlook and then go about my business...It was something undefined and awful; an evil, whose ripples forced me to return and take a second, more focused look at what was happening:
The old man, a tall Arab of about 70, wearing a traditional white keffiyeh and with an expression of disorientation and meek acceptance on his face, was standing on the narrow part of the sidewalk...The soldiers were having a good time. And the old man stood there helpless, his face expressing the knowledge that he would have to wait until they finally decided to pay attention to him.
I spoke to them about respect and civility; I told them he could have been their grandfather. I asked them to identify themselves. They refused. This was not one of the greater and more visible evils that take place around us daily, nor was it a disaster, only an insidious and consuming evil, one that is hard to pinpoint and define in words.
I do not see the horrors that take place at the checkpoints every day. I know very well that such an act by a woman like me, someone who avoids any political activity or any consistent struggle for human rights, is actually a sentimental act...
From the moment the soldiers opened their mouths at me ("Why? Who the hell are you?" said the one with the pierced tongue, who wasn't wearing a badge, as required by law, in answer to my request for identification), the hidden plot of our lives, a plot that is engraved in us, was exposed suddenly in its full banality and in its truth: I found myself saying that I refuse to feel like a German walking past an abused Jew in Nazi Germany and turn away indifferently or fearfully...
From that moment on I was arrested for disturbing a policewoman in the line of duty: "Move it lady, get in the car," yelled the pierced-tongued girl with victorious glee. That tiny stud, that shining metal bead, which in any other context would have been mischievous coquetry, became the glittering tip of total corruption."