During the June 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, completing the Zionist conquest of British-mandated Palestine. In the war’s aftermath, the United Nations debated the modalities for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the Fifth Emergency Session of the General Assembly convening in the war’s immediate aftermath, there was “near unanimity” on “the withdrawal of the armed forces from the territory of neighboring Arab states occupied during the recent war” since “everyone agrees that there should be no territorial gains by military conquest.” (Secretary-General U Thant, summarizing the G.A. debate)
In subsequent Security Council deliberations, the same demand for a full Israeli withdrawal in accordance with the principle of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” was inscribed in United Nations Resolution 242, alongside the right of “every state in the region” to have its sovereignty respected. A still-classified State Department study concludes that the US supported the “inadmissibility” clause of 242, making allowance for only “minor ” and “mutual” border adjustments. (Nina J. Noring and Walter B. Smith II, “The Withdrawal Clause in UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967”) Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan later warned Cabinet ministers not to endorse 242 because “it means withdrawal to the 4 June boundaries, and because we are in conflict with the Security Council on that resolution.”
Beginning in the mid-1970s a modification of UN Resolution 242 to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict provided for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza once Israel withdrew to its pre-June 1967 borders. Except for the United States and Israel (and occasionally a US client state), an international consensus has backed, for the past quarter century, the full-withdrawal/full recognition formula or what is called the “two-state” settlement. The United States cast the lone veto of Security Council resolutions in 1976 and 1980 calling for a two-state settlement that was endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and front-line Arab states. A December 1989 General Assembly resolution along similar lines passed 151-3 (no abstentions), the three negative votes cast by Israel, the United States, and Dominica.
From early on, Israel consistently opposed full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, offering the Palestinians instead a South African-style Bantustan. The PLO., having endorsed the international consensus, couldn’t be dismissed, however, as “rejectionist” and pressure mounted on Israel to accept the two-state settlement. Accordingly, in June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, where the PLO was headquartered, to fend off what an Israeli strategic analyst called the PLO’s “peace offensive.” (Avner Yaniv, Dilemmas of Security)
In December 1987 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza rose up in a basically non-violent civil revolt (intifada) against the Israeli occupation. Israel’s brutal repression (extra-judicial killings, mass detentions, house demolitions, indiscriminate torture, deportations, and so on ) eventually crushed the uprising. Compounding the defeat of the intifada, the PLO suffered yet a further decline in its fortunes with the destruction of Iraq, the implosion of the Soviet Union, and the suspension of funding from the Gulf states. The US and Israel seized this occasion to recruit the already venal and now desperate PLO leadership as surrogates of Israeli power. This is the real meaning of the “peace process” inaugurated at Oslo in September 1993: to create a Palestinian Bantustan by dangling before the PLO the perquisites of power and privilege.
“The occupation continued” after Oslo, a seasoned Israeli commentator observed, “albeit by remote control, and with the consent of the Palestinian people, represented by their `sole representative,’ the PLO.” And again: “It goes without saying that `cooperation’ based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization.” (Meron Benvenisti, Intimate Enemies)
After seven years of on-again, off-again negotiations and a succession of new agreements that managed to rob the Palestinians of the few crumbs thrown from the master’s table at Oslo (the population of Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories had fully doubled in the meanwhile), the moment of truth arrived at Camp David in July 2000. President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak delivered Arafat the ultimatum of formally acquiescing in a Bantustan or bearing full responsibility for the collapse of the “peace process.” As it happened, Arafat refused. Contrary to the myth spun by Barak-Clinton as well as a compliant media, in fact “Barak offered the trappings of Palestinian sovereignty,” a special adviser at the British Foreign Office reports, “while perpetuating the subjugation of the Palestinians.” (The Guardian, 10 April l 2002; for details and the critical background, see Roane Carey, ed., The New Intifada)
Consider in this regard Israel’s response to the recent Saudi peace plan. An Israeli commentator writing in Haaretz observes that the Saudi plan is “surprisingly similar to what Barak claims to have proposed two years ago.” Were Israel really intent on a full withdrawal in exchange for normalization with the Arab world, the Saudi plan and its unanimous endorsement by the Arab League summit should have been met with euphoria. In fact, it elicited a deafening silence in Israel. (Aviv Lavie, 5 April 2002) Nonetheless, Barak’s – and Clinton’s – fraud that Palestinians at Camp David rejected a maximally generous Israeli offer provided crucial moral cover for the horrors that ensued.
Having failed in its carrot policy, Israel now reached for the big stick. Two preconditions had to be met, however, before Israel could bring to bear its overwhelming military superiority: a “green light” from the U.S. and a sufficient pretext. Already in summer 2000, the authoritative Jane’s Information Group reported that Israel had completed planning for a massive and bloody invasion of the Occupied Territories. But the US vetoed the plan and Europe made equally plain its opposition. After 11 September, however, the US came on board. Indeed, Sharon’s goal of crushing the Palestinians basically fit in with the US administration’s goal of exploiting the World Trade Center atrocity to eliminate the last remnants of Arab resistance to total US domination. Through sheer exertion of will and despite a monumentally corrupt leadership, Palestinians have proven to be the most resilient and recalcitrant popular force in the Arab world. Bringing them to their knees would deal a devastating psychological blow throughout the region.
With a green light from the US, all Israel now needed was the pretext. Predictably it escalated the assassinations of Palestinian leaders following each lull in Palestinian terrorist attacks. “After the destruction of the houses in Rafah and Jerusalem, the Palestinians continued to act with restraint,” Shulamith Aloni of Israel’s Meretz party observed. “Sharon and his army minister, apparently fearing that they would have to return to the negotiating table, decided to do something and they liquidated Raad Karmi. They knew that there would be a response, and that we would pay the price in the blood of our citizens.” (Yediot Aharonot, 18 January 2002) Indeed, Israel desperately sought this sanguinary response. Once the Palestinian terrorist attacks crossed the desired threshold, Sharon was able to declare war and proceed to annihilate the basically defenseless civilian Palestinian population.
Only the willfully blind can miss noticing that Israel’s current invasion of the West Bank is an exact replay of the June 1982 invasion of Lebanon. To crush the Palestinians’ goal of an independent state alongside Israel – the PLO’s “peace offensive” – Israel laid plans in August 1981 to invade Lebanon. In order to launch the invasion, however, it needed the green light from the Reagan administration and a pretext. Much to its chagrin and despite multiple provocations, Israel was unable to elicit a Palestinian attack on its northern border. It accordingly escalated the air assaults on southern Lebanon and after a particularly murderous attack that left two hundred civilians dead (including 60 occupants of a Palestinian children’s hospital), the PLO finally retaliated killing one Israeli. With the pretext in hand and a green light now forthcoming from the Reagan administration, Israel invaded. Using the same slogan of “rooting out Palestinian terror,” Israel proceeded to massacre a defenseless population, killing some 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, almost all civilians.
The problem with the Bush administration, we are repeatedly told, is that it has been insufficiently engaged with the Middle East, a diplomatic void Colin Powell’s mission is supposed to fill. But who gave the green light for Israel to commit the massacres? Who supplied the F-16s and Apache helicopters to Israel? Who vetoed the Security Council resolutions calling for international monitors to supervise the reduction of violence? And who just blocked the proposal of the United Nation’s top human rights official, Mary Robinson, to merely send a fact-finding team to the Palestinian territories? (IPS, 3 April 2002)
Consider this scenario. A and B stand accused of murder. The evidence shows that A provided B with the murder weapon, A gave B the “all-clear” signal, and A prevented onlookers from answering the victim’s screams. Would the verdict be that A was insufficiently engaged or that A was every bit as guilty as B of murder?
To repress Palestinian resistance, a senior Israeli officer earlier this year urged the army to “analyze and internalize the lessons of…how the German army fought in the Warsaw ghetto.” (Haaretz, 25 January 2002, 1 February 2002) Judging by the recent Israeli carnage in the West Bank – the targeting of Palestinian ambulances and medical personnel, the targeting of journalists, the killing of Palestinian children “for sport” (Chris Hedges, New York Times former Cairo bureau chief), the rounding up, handcuffing and blindfolding of all Palestinian males between the ages 15 and 50, and affixing of numbers on their wrists, the indiscriminate torture of Palestinian detainees, the denial of food, water, electricity, and medical assistance to the Palestinian civilian population, the indiscriminate air assaults on Palestinian neighborhoods, the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, the bulldozing of Palestinian homes with the occupants huddled inside – it appears that the Israeli army is following the officer’s advice. Dismissing all criticism as motivated by anti-Semitism, Elie Wiesel – chief spokesman for the Holocaust Industry – lent unconditional support to Israel, stressing the “great pain and anguish” endured by its rampaging army. (Reuters, 11 April; CNN, 14 April)
Meanwhile, the Portuguese Nobel laureate in literature, Jose Saramago, invoked the “spirit of Auschwitz” in depicting the horrors inflicted by Israel, while a Belgian parliamentarian avowed that Israel was “making a concentration camp out of the West Bank.” (The Observer, 7 April 2002) Israelis across the political spectrum recoil in outrage at such comparisons. Yet, if Israelis don’t want to stand accused of being Nazis they should simply stop acting like Nazis.