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While Gaza awaits its fate in this ceasefire period, various political actors are maneuvering to determine the nature of next phase for the Palestinians. The latest war showed that Palestinians in Gaza refused to accept the externally imposed “solution,” which involved the abdication of their legitimate right to resist occupation and to independently determine their own future. The Palestinians, having been occupied since 1967, and having been involved in the “peace process” since Oslo in 1990, have come to realize that “peace” has been an Orwellian term designed and used to disguise Israeli war by other means, in the von Clausewitz-ian sense. They have had to choose between slow strangulation versus graphically violent elimination.
It is impossible to have any other explanation for the “facts on the ground” that Israel is busy creating. Witness the widely disproportionate number of Palestinians killed by Israel since Oslo versus the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians; the apartheid “separation” wall that consumed 8% of an already reduced future Palestinian state; the close to 300,000 Israeli settlers living in “settlements” on expropriated Palestinian land; the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners, including women and children, who are being held illegally in Israeli jails and detentions centers; and the recent economic blockade that collectively punished Gazans, as well as the general economic deprivation that Palestinians have been subjected to since their occupation in 1967.
These facts have raised the important question of “At What Price Peace?” What is the form of this “peace” and what are its effects on their future? Must the Palestinians accept their occupied condition in order to join the lofty, civilized, “peace”-spouting and advanced peoples of the world? It has become increasingly evident that the Oslo derived “peace” has become an existentially annihilating choice for many Palestinians, for they are forced to either submit to Israel or be destroyed by the fourth strongest army in the world. And let’s not forget that the demonstration of its destructive capacity was one of Israel’s stated aims for launching the war. As if this is news to Arabs!
Conveniently before President Obama’s inauguration, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unilaterally declared a ceasefire. One might quibble over what this war actually accomplished, but arguably, several of the initially stated goals were not achieved. Namely, Hamas was not toppled; the horrific punishment of the civilian population did not turn them against it – in fact, Palestinian resistance groups other than Hamas joined the fight against Israel; the launching of rockets did not stop for even one day; and the tunnels that connect Gaza with Rafah are already being repaired while some are operational again.
Those with vested interests in the “peace process” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have all sought to press their case. It is too soon to tell if this is done in light of similar assessments as those stated above, or, alternatively, perhaps they are still operating under the occupier’s delusion that the occupied have “learned their lesson”. Thus we saw Obama’s speech which quickly dashed the hopes of all who had been anticipating (somewhat inexplicably given his campaign rhetoric) “change” in the American approach to the Palestinian question. Pre-eminent in his speech was the focus on Israeli “security,” a concept that denies the validity of any resistance to occupation and which consecrates Israel’s claim of unique victimhood in the world. And, while mentioning the Two State Solution, he did not discuss when or how. He also placed the blame for the war on the victim, the Palestinians, who unwittingly believed the promises of “democracy” and elected a government, Hamas, that was unacceptable to the “democrats” in Israel and the US.
Moreover, while discussing the Arab peace initiative, he failed to mention its most important aspect from the Arabs’ perspective: namely, Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian land occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. And finally, he reiterated the need to curtail “illegal” weapons smuggling into the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. Those in the know recognized the other side of the coin, the acceptance of the concomitant “legal” weapons transfer to Dahlan’s armed thugs, aka “security forces”. Others not so well informed would have gleaned not-so-veiled hints of this plan when Obama praised the Egyptian government’s efforts and called for the Jordanian government’s continued “training” (with Saudi funding, of course) of Palestinian “security forces.”
This expected American position in support of the “peace process” and its concomitant theoretical Two State Solution, was echoed by regional powers with similar, but always, American- and Israeli- derived interests. The Egyptian government quickly announced their sponsorship of “ceasefire negotiations” during which they pressed for an Israeli proposal of a “hudna” or truce of 15 to 30 years. In other words, Palestinians must give up their aspirations for liberation. The Egyptians and the Saudis also refused to attend the emergency Arab summit called forth in Qatar, since that would have entailed talking with Hamas leaders and not with the Western-approved interlocutors of the already subservient and infinitely obedient Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah organization controlling the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In the same vein, calls were made to direct all Gaza relief funds – almost $2 billion — to the PA for disbursement. By not sending the funds to Gaza, they would undermine Hamas’ position and simultaneously strengthen the role of the discredited Abbas and his Finance Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank. Saudi also played its role. Trying to quell popular demands of an economic boycott to punish Israel, Saudi Arabia tried a (novel) religious approach to supporting Israel. In the spirit of “interfaith dialogue”, Saudi Grand Mufti, Shaykh ‘Abe-el-‘Aziz Aal esh-Shaykh, criticized pro-Gaza protests and issued a Fatwa that forbade any such action.
These tracts were all pursued immediately after the ceasefire in order to reinforce the status quo ante of the interminable “peace process” that allows war in its various forms to continue unabated on the Palestinian people.
Even if one were to disregard the imperious demands of the militarily and economically powerful, the reality of the situation is hard to disguise despite the use of Orwellian sweet-sounding promissory talk. There are now threats to the previously imposed, monolithic, Oslo- “civilizational”- peace-process approach.
First, the very actions of the Israeli army and state keep alive the spirit of resistance to the occupation among most Arab people. Evidence of this includes the large demonstrations in support of Gazans that Arab leaders were powerless to suppress. Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank, under threat of harassment and jail by the “security forces” of the Palestinian Authority, still demonstrated in support of Gaza. Kuwait witnessed its largest demonstrations ever. And similarly, there were large demonstrations in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and elsewhere.
Second, as noted above, the Palestinians witness daily the effects of “peace” on their land. And an increasing number of them don’t like what it looks like.
Third, is the discrediting of the Palestinian Authority among a large swath of Palestinians and other Arabs. Not only were they the midwife of Oslo and the executors of its “policing” aspects, but they were also the financial intermediaries of the “peace process” deducting a significant share of all “aid.” Most damaging though, was their position supporting the Israeli war on their brethren in Gaza, hoping for the Israelis to finish off their rivals, and initially refusing to pursue war crimes litigation against Israel even after evidence of their occurrence emerged.
Fourth, regardless of how one feels about Hamas and its often undemocratic tactics, the war has increased, not decreased, both the appeal and the feasibility of resistance to the occupation. In fact, other Palestinian factions, including Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade (the military arm of Fatah), as well as the military arms of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Popular Resistance Councils also joined in resisting the Israeli attack. The newfound feasibility of resistance to occupation builds on one of the major consequences of the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, namely, Israel’s failure to dislodge Hizbullah.
Fifth, there was at the Arab Economic summit in Kuwait the threat of suspension of the Arab Peace Initiative, the “freezing” of relations between Israel and Mauritania, and the Qatari request for the members of the Israeli Economic Office in Doha to depart. It is too soon to tell if anything concrete will emerge from this threat.
Sixth, in response to the Saudi Mufti’s fatwa banning a boycott of Israel, prominent Egyptian cleric, Shaykh Sayyed ‘Askar Amin, issued his own competing fatwa. This one said that the Saudi Mufti was mistaken and that economic boycotts are a legitimate means of self-defense. This is particularly intriguing given the contradictory position of the Egyptian government.
Seventh, popular resentment against Abbas’ government has forced the Kuwaiti government to announce that none of the aid pledged to Gaza will be given to the PA. Similarly, the Arab League was also forced to change its tune and it too announced that the money will be given to and disbursed under the Arab Development Fund and other pre-existing aid organizations that already work in Gaza.
And finally, despite the launching of the Israeli “hasbara” / spin campaign, and the American Orwellian justification for this war, the images and stories of what was happening still escaped to the rest of the world. They were disseminated by Arab journalists, most notably those working for al-Jazeera, and by activists in Gaza. The Israeli picture of the “most moral” army in the world doesn’t quite ring true. Consequently, there were many international demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinians.
Granted, none of this is organized enough so as to produce immediate effect terminating the “peace process” and its stated goal of a Two State Solution. But the cracks are beginning to show. And counter-pressing their own agenda are the countervailing forces, many of whom are opposed to the endless wars, the pursuit of “process” in lieu of a true peace, and the occupation in all its many facets that stifle the very life out of Palestinian cultural, social, economic, and political existence. They all do it in their own different ways. Palestinian resistance groups do it by refusing to give up their right to resist until they are free.
Other groups resist by legal means. Several human rights organizations are trying to document the atrocities and pursue Israel in international courts. This will add to the roster of other Israelis who now fear traveling abroad for fear of arrest for war crimes. A worried Olmert announced a special commission headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedman to hide the names of all the officers and soldiers who participated in the war and to defend any that do get charged with crimes.
But ultimately, it could very well be Israel’s own success that dooms the Two State Solution to failure. Israel’s success at subverting Palestinian leaders like Abbas and Fayyad is fertile ground for the emergence of less accommodating and more radical groups. Her success in expropriating Palestinian land and building settlements and segregated roads are all incorporating significant portions of this second supposed state. Success at interminably delaying negotiations with acceptable “peace partners” while they build “facts on the ground” will very soon encounter the demographic inevitability of the Palestinians outnumbering Jews when one includes Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Finally, Israel’s success in allowing fanatic settlers free reign on Palestinian land will produce their own group of citizens opposed to giving up any part of the Occupied Territories. Israel seems to be caught in the miasma of the Hegelian dialectics of its very achievements.
Only time will tell. But for this writer, things are looking shaky for the Two State Solution.
DINA JADALLAH-TASCHLER is an Arab-American of Palestinian and Egyptian descent. She has studied political science and is also an artist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.