With the fall of the Jenin refugee camp and the crushing of resistance in the casbah of Nablus, April 9 — the twelfth day of the Israel’s final push to defeat the Palestinians – marks the end of yet another stage of the Palestinian’s struggle for self-determination. April 10th, when Powell meets the Spanish presidency of the European Union, it will become clear whether the “political process” that must now emerge will lead to a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state or to the dependent mini-state Israel has had in mind since the start of the Oslo process in 1993.
This is an either-or situation; nothing can “bridge” the fundamental interests separating the two sides. The Palestinians, who already agreed on a demilitarized and semi-sovereign state on only 22% of mandatory Palestine, must receive a state that is territorially coherent, economically viable, in control of its borders and natural resources, with full access to Jerusalem and a meaningful degree of sovereignty. Israel, which needs a Palestinian mini-state to “relieve” it of the three million Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories who pose a threat to the “Jewish character” of the state, will not agree to relinquish control or to fully dismantle its infrastructure of settlements and “by-pass roads.” It is determined to maintain its occupation in one form or another. Only one of these two options is possible: either a viable Palestinian state or a dependent bantustan.
With the breaking of Palestinian resistance on April 9th, Sharon would appear to have reasons to rejoice. The multi-pronged strategy of his “National Unity” government to force the Palestinians to accept a bantustan seems to have achieved its major goals:
1. A campaign of attrition has steadily eroded the Palestinians’ ability to resist the occupation. The demolition of hundreds of Palestinian homes, massive expropriation of fertile farmland, a permanent economic “closure” that has imprisoned and impoverished the population, curfews and sieges lasting months, induced emigration of thousands of middle-class families, and the widespread use of collaborators to undermine Palestinian society have all taken their toll.
2. Massive military actions against the fragile Palestinian infrastructure and population centers using the most sophisticated and powerful of US conventional weapons — F-16s, Apache helicopters equipped with laser-guided missiles, tanks and artillery, culminating in the current all-out invasion of Palestinian areas – are intended to beat the Palestinians into submissiveness. Although seemingly in response to Palestinian terrorist attacks and carefully cast as part of America’s “War Against Terrorism,” these military actions are pro-active, exploiting terrorist attacks to achieve political goals of continued domination.
3. Delegitimizing Arafat, who Sharon has called “our Bin Laden,” “irrelevant,” head of a “terror-sponsoring entity” (the Palestinian Authority), is essential if Israel is to install (with American help) a more “compliant’ Palestinian leader who will agree to a mini-state. Just as South Africa had to find African “leaders” that would lend legitimacy to their bantustans, so must Israel find a Palestinian figure willing to be “president” of a mini-state, thereby agreeing to and legitimizing Israel’s control over most of the West Bank, “Greater” Jerusalem and perhaps parts of Gaza.
4. Creating irreversible “facts” on the ground. While deflecting attention to its role as a peace-seeking “victim” of Palestinian aggressiveness, Israel never paused for a moment in expanding settlements and constructing its own infrastructure that would ensure its control over the Occupied Territories even if a Palestinian mini-state were to come into being. The vaunted Mitchell Commission’s recommendations of freezing Israel’s settlements have already been rendered irrelevant. Israel has all the land, settlements and settlers it needs. Once it completes the construction its 480 kilometers of highways and “by-pass” roads linking the settlements while creating massive barriers to Palestinian movement – a $3 billion project entirely funded by the United States – its hold on the Occupied Territories may be irreversible.
5. Reliance on the American Congress to protect Israel from those forces – European, Arab, international (member states of the UN) – who would pressure it to dismantle its occupation completely in the interests of a viable Palestinian state. The uncritical support of Congress is Israel’s trump card; it provides it with an impenetrable shelter from outside pressures. The US Administration may (only may) press for a meaningful political process following Israel’s suppression of Palestinian “violence,” but Congress will ensure that it be an open-ended process of negotiations lasting years. At best Israel strives for “interim agreements” rather than a final status settlement, for these will preserve its de facto control over the Occupied Territories.
Will Israel succeed? Sharon thinks so. He believes that Europe, critical as it might be, has no independent foreign policy apart from the US. The Arab countries have some limited clout – the US will press Israel to make concessions so that the Arabs will submit to an attack on Iraq – but those concessions will stop far from a complete end to the occupation. Both Israel and the Arab world know Congress’s “red lines” on Israel, and they fall much closer to a Palestinian mini-state than to a viable and truly sovereign one.
Still, it is up to us, the international civil society of NGOs, faith-based organizations, political groups, human rights advocates and just plain world citizens, to monitor the fateful period we are now entering. April 10th begins our test. Having shed the naivete of Oslo, we must follow the up-coming political process with eyes wide-open and critical. Our goal must be to see a viable, sovereign state emerge in all the Occupied Territories (giving the Palestinians the right to negotiate border adjustments and other compromises they see fit). Unlike Oslo, the political process must have a just peace — a viable Palestinian state and a just resolution of the refugee issue, as well as Israel’s security concerns – as its explicit goal. And it must have a binding timetable.
In the Oslo process and during the past year and a half of Israeli repression the international community let the Palestinians down. It did not insist on negotiations that would lead to Palestinian self-determination (after seven years of negotiations the Palestinians ended up confined to tiny, impoverished islands while Israel doubled its settler population). And it did not provide the protection and support available to the Palestinians through international law, according to which the occupation was illegal, unjust and immoral in every respect. One cannot criticize an oppressed people’s resort to armed resistance – even terrorism – when it finds itself abandoned by the international community that offers its only source of redress. We must not again allow occupation, repression and violence to overwhelm the progress towards a just peace as we have over the past decade. It is truly time to end the occupation.
Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org