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Excerpt from Between the Lines:
From Oslo to all-out war

October 5, 2007 | Page 10

THE POLITICAL journal Between the Lines began publishing from Ramallah and Jerusalem shortly after the Palestinians' Al-Aqsa Intifada began in September 2000.

Editors TIKVA HONIG-PARNESS, a Jewish Israeli and veteran of the anti-occupation movement, and TOUFIC HADDAD, a Palestinian American and activist, were able to provide an important on-the-ground view of the impact of Israel's renewed war on Palestine.

Articles from the journal have been collected in a new book published by Haymarket and titled Between the Lines. Here, we print an excerpt from the book's introduction--from the final section about the recent period following the collapse of the Oslo "peace" process and the Israeli government's turn to all-out war.

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THE RECOGNITION that the Oslo bantustan solution did not work and that resistance to the Israeli occupation would not stop facilitated a reversion to the historical Zionist approach of elimination and ethnic cleansing. A pretext, however, was needed to convince the world that forsaking the "negotiations strategy" of Oslo was inevitable.

What else to read

Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. "War on Terror," edited by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, provides a perspective on Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is remote from anything likely to be heard in the West.

For another important collection of essays on the history of Israel's occupation and Palestinian resistance--including contributions by Toufic Haddad and Tikva Honig-Parnass, read The Struggle for Palestine, edited by Lance Selfa.

For updates on the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank, see the Electronic Intifada Web site. Dr. Mona El-Farra's Internet blog "From Gaza With Love" provides an eyewitness account of life in Gaza under Israel's iron fist.


This pretext was supplied by the charade of the Camp David summit in July 2000, which served to paint the Palestinians as "rejectionists." Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, together with then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, staged the summit in a way that made it look as though Yasser Arafat turned down the "most generous offer submitted by any previous Israeli government."

However, during the months prior to Camp David, Barak had already explicitly admitted that the alternative to rejecting his proposal would be "a bloody confrontation which will bring no gain [to the Palestinians]." Such a perception prepared the ground for a causus bellum that would implicate the Palestinians in advance if a conflagration were to arise. It thus laid the groundwork for legitimizing the ending of the Oslo process and Israel's transition into full-scale war against the Palestinian people.

To justify the strategy of war, which would replace the former approach of political negotiations, Arafat's rejection of the Camp David proposals had to be presented as entailing an "existential danger" to Israel. Thus, Israel misleadingly framed this rejection as disclosing a "deep-rooted unwillingness" to accept the existence of Israel and to live in peace with it.

There were, however, no grounds to substantiate this prevailing narrative composed by Barak with the active help of the U.S. administration and international media, on the one hand, and the Zionist Left parties (Labor and Meretz) and Zionist liberals, intellectuals and academics, on the other.

Revelations from the inner circles of both the U.S. and Israeli negotiation teams, published or leaked to the written media, disclosed various aspects of the Camp David fraud as early as 2001.

Furthermore, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz revealed more such evidence in June 2004, based upon an interview with Amos Malka, head of the General Intelligence Services from mid-1998 to the end of 2001--the period in which the Al-Aqsa Intifada began. Malka rejects the claim that Arafat refused to recognize Israel, instead affirming that

the assumption [of the General Intelligence Services] was that Arafat preferred a political process, that he will do anything he can to achieve it, and only if he reaches a dead end, will he turn to the alternative of violence. But this violence was only designated to rescue him from the dead end, to motivate international pressure [on Israel] and to receive extra mileage [time].

Moreover, Malka emphasizes that this estimation was expressed in a government meeting in which he warned Barak that Arafat could not accept Barak's proposal, due to be presented at Camp David.

Indeed, Arafat and the PLO had openly recognized "the right of Israel to exist" in 1988 through the acceptance of U.N. Resolution 242, and on many other occasions thereafter when he explicitly adhered to this position in the Oslo framework.

Moreover, the symbolic and ideological part of the Oslo Accords, which deals with the mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel and which was the condition for Israel to sign it, implies the PLO's recognition of the Jewish state.

What Arafat rejected in Camp David, however, was precisely Israel's attempt to do away with recognizing the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination in an independent state within the 1967 borders.

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MUCH OF the subsequent discussion surrounding the Camp David summit of July 2000 has also ignored the most significant condition that Barak introduced into his proposal, knowing full well that Arafat could not accept it--namely, the demand that the sides sign "a final agreement," accompanied by a Palestinian declaration of "an end to conflict."

This stipulation in fact implied that the Palestinians would lose all legal standing for future claims based on UN resolutions, which would be nullified in exchange for the legally binding new agreement.

Moreover, Barak specifically demanded that the new agreement legally replace UN Resolution 242, which stipulated the withdrawal of Israel to the pre-1967 border, thus negating the basis upon which all prior Palestinian consent to "peace proposals" had been founded--the conception of "land for peace," embodied in UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and the implementation of UN Resolution 194, calling for the return of 1948 Palestinian refugees to their lands and homes.

However, the demand to "end the conflict" and negate all previous UN resolutions not only implied conceding the legal basis for future Palestinian claims, including the right of return.

It also functioned as a demand to surrender recognition of the Palestinian cause as embodying the national collective consciousness, memory and identity of the Palestinians as a people, who were dispossessed from most of their homeland in 1948, not only from certain percentages of territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

At its core was the demand to negate the historical anti-colonial context and national essence of the Palestinian movement.

Although since 1993, Arafat had traversed a long way in collaborating with the previous U.S.-Israeli "peace proposals," he could not agree to this new demand, which Barak insisted upon as a condition for agreeing to the bantustan state he proposed at Camp David.

For Barak, however, the demand to nullify UN resolutions served to re-delineate the boundaries of the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict," which the "peace process" had blurred since Oslo--namely, the existential contradiction between Zionism and Palestinian national rights, disclosed by the continuous resistance of the Palestinian people to Israel's attempts to eternalize its occupation, particularly throughout the "peace years."

Thus, the very demand for the explicit declaration of a "final solution" facilitated the opening of a new era in which the slogan that "there is no partner" for peace would end the search for what used to be claimed was a mutually agreeable political solution.

It would also usher in a new phase of prolonged war against the Palestinian people aimed at their elimination--socially, nationally and, as much as possible, physically as well.

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GIVEN THE ripeness of the geopolitical setting that had been prepared throughout the Oslo accords and particularly in the wake of the "failed" Camp David summit, with no thanks to the complicity of much of the corporate Western media, all that remained for moving on to the option of total war was the "spark" that would ignite the powder keg.

This spark came at precisely 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, September 28, 2000, when Ariel Sharon, then the chair of the right-wing Likud opposition party, stepped onto the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound with 2,000 Israeli security force personnel--declaring "I have come here with a message of peace."

Sharon's choice of the Al-Aqsa compound was not incidental, nor was it merely a question of "testing Israeli sovereignty over the area."

Indeed, Sharon was aware of the significance of the Al-Aqsa compound to the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim world and was certainly aware as to how it had already acted as a lightning rod of popular Palestinian protest, both during the Oslo era and previously (particularly in 1990, when 19 Palestinians were killed there under the government of Yitzhak Shamir in the run-up to the Gulf War).

Days before Sharon's visit, a senior Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiator, Saeb Erekat, had been sent as a personal envoy from PA President Arafat to plead with Barak to prevent Sharon's well-publicized coming visit. The PA correctly feared that such a provocative measure would ignite the situation on the ground. But the Palestinian protest fell on deaf ears.

The following day after Sharon's visit, Israeli police under the jurisdiction of the minister of internal security, Shlomo Ben Ami (of the Labor Party), were sent to surround the compound after midday prayers. Seven worshipers (including one Palestinian citizen of Israel) were killed and dozens were wounded in the ensuing yet predictable conflagration.

The Al-Aqsa Intifada would thereafter spread like wildfire throughout the 1967 Occupied Territories. The forceful reaction to the breakout of the Intifada and Israel's attempts to militarize it signified the opening up of the bloody era of Israel's prolonged wholesale war against the Palestinians and the latter's valiant resistance to it, which continues to the present.

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BARAK'S ALL-out war strategy, which was soon continued under Prime Minister Sharon (who won the 2001 elections as head of Likud and later led the new party Kadima in 2006), represented a return to the traditional Zionist approach to the "Palestinian question" of elimination and ethnic cleansing.

It was thus a distinct break from the deviation of Oslo's "years of peace," when the Israeli political and military establishment believed that a form of apartheid solution in the 1967 Occupied Territories could indeed be worked out.

The renewed war strategy has explicitly been articulated by this establishment as a continuation of the Zionist struggle of 1948 for Israel's very existence, which the Palestinians refuse to come to terms with.

The Zionist right and left have closed ranks and supported this war strategy, which has rapidly unfolded under overt U.S. protection and the support of the European Union. Indeed, the U.S. "war on terror" and the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have provided the necessary framework for Israel to greatly advance its actions against the Palestinians as the "natural" extension of these policies locally.

The essence of this war is that of elimination--not necessarily a onetime mass expulsion, which nonetheless remains the most preferred approach to solving the "Palestinian question."

The current means used to revive Zionism's original extermination and ethnic cleansing approach has amounted to a "silent" ethnic cleansing (or "low-intensity war") through the destruction of the very fabric of social and political life, and through daily killings, economic warfare, starvation and severe restrictions of movement of persons and goods, as well as "removing" populations from areas that have been annexed to Israel.

This strategy gained the support of Israel's capitalists for several reasons.

First, the economic role that the 1967 Occupied Territories played for Israeli capital declined greatly because globalization and the end of the Arab boycott after Oslo made the Palestinian market for Israeli exports less relevant. By 2000, the way was opened for Israel to become the high-tech center of the Middle East.

Second, global production and imported foreign workers replaced Palestinian workers, since the latter were prevented from entering Israel since the early 1990s due to Israel's closure policies. By then, however, the influx into Israel of cheap Palestinian workers had effectively decimated what remained of Jewish organized labor and its demands.

Israeli capitalists have subsequently gained an unprecedented power vis-à-vis Jewish organized labor. The Histadrut, as an organization that had economic and political power, lost even its potential capability to lead struggles for increases in wages and improvements in working conditions.

These dynamics served to remove any opposition the Israeli capitalist class may have had in transitioning into the current war strategy. Palestinians finally became truly "unnecessary," just as in the pre-state period--and their "exclusion" (i.e., ethnic cleansing) was no longer blocked by any economic considerations initiated by the Oslo peace track.

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