The Palestinian struggle for self-determination has taken many routes and each, with its own twists and turns has taken the struggle forward in its own way. Subsequent to the Oslo process, one stage of this struggle, the era of exiled leadership and the armed struggle from outside Palestine, concluded.
Oslo and its preceding related processes substituted dialogue for armed struggle and this was welcomed by the international community and a large sector of the Palestinian population, including those who had once thrown their sympathies and support behind the armed struggle. Dialogue finally seemed far more viable and likely to end the bitter years of conflict. It promised a just and lasting peace and a strategy to pave the way for Palestinian aspirations to be achieved. Equally, it promised Israel peace through recognition of its right to exist as a State within defined boundaries and with security.
Tragically, the promises and prospects of Oslo evaporated into thin air with the failure to bring to fruition their intent. It resulted in deep frustration among the Palestinian populations and those in the international community who had dreamed along with their Palestinian compatriots that a just peace was possible, even imminent. In the aftermath of Oslo, it became apparent that Israel was quite unwilling to countenance even some objective essentials and fundamentals in the route to peace. The thorny question of settlements was one of these. Equally crucial was the failure to find common but just grounds on the wider questions on the status of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and borders. Quite clearly the Israeli view was not veering towards an end to occupation.
Analysts suggested that maybe what Israel really wanted was a ‘soft occupation’. It did not help too much that Israel was still an occupier in Lebanon and was drawn into a losing battle in the South of Lebanon with the Hizbollah- a factor that had its indirect impact on the talks with the Palestinians because it allowed Israel to deflect attention from the question of occupation to that of security. This conveniently helped to evade the fundamental issue of Palestine, its freedom based on justice and with dignity.
Alongside, the sagging pace and glaring omissions in the evolution of the formulae of Oslo resulted in elevating the right-leaning Likud to power. This was possible only because of a drastic alteration of the public mood in Israeli wherein the push for Oslo was replaced firmly by the desire for a heightened and still more aggressive type of occupation. The end result was to bring the Palestinians to their knees and get them to accept what was on offer, never mind that the offer was inadequate, devoid of justice, and in violation of all the possible and applicable tenets of international law. On the Palestinian side, it was plain to see that the talks were getting nowhere. The settlements were growing in numbers; the Palestinian economy was being demolished as a way of getting the Palestinian resistance to succumb to the arm-twisting measures. The processes of the ‘bantustanization’ of Palestinian territories were rapidly being put in place. Everyday, there were blatant human rights violations, closures, curfews, arbitrary arrests, houses demolished, infrastructure torn down, and agricultural activities cut short—the list goes on. In short, nothing seemed promising.
A look at recent history may be helpful. The first ‘Intifada’ in 1987– the people’s uprising- was a defining moment and turning point in the long Palestinian struggle for independence and self-determination. It significantly influenced the course and flow of the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict at large. Why? Because for virtually the first time in Palestinian history the weight and the core of the struggle shifted to the confines of Palestine itself. No more was the base and origin outside. Not Jordan, Syria or Lebanon. The locale and organization of the struggle found centre-stage in the West Bank and Gaza.
A significant and noteworthy dimension of the Intifada was that it was, in essence, a movement with young people at the forefront. But it was sufficiently solid to assume the dimensions of a mass uprising joined in by women and men of all ages while cutting across the entire gamut of the political and ideological spectrum. Israel could no longer rest on the claim (dubious as it was) that the Palestinian resistance was being orchestrated from the outside with the sponsorship of Arab and Muslim countries whose sole aim was to destroy Israel. This time around Israel had to contend with the fact that the struggle was planned and executed from inside Palestine and by the very people who had lived under a brutal and totally unjust and unwarranted occupation for more than 20 years at that point in time.
The previous Israeli claims that the people were not in charge of the resistance could no longer serve to malign the Movement. The entire Palestinian nation revolted, each one contributing to the struggle. A well-organized leadership appeared and led the people in their struggle. And this time around, the leadership was right in the presence of the people who could be influenced and actually take their ideas and resistance from the minds and hearts of the people. It was no longer possible for Israel to ignore this peaceful but determined resistance. They were faced by the reality that a solution simply had to be found.
The Intifada was indeed the catalyst for new political and diplomatic initiatives and Oslo was the formula that was proposed for working it out. Let us dwell on this at some more length. For all its promise and prospects, Oslo failed. You could say it never really took off despite the euphoria that followed its signing and announcement. I can even recall how ordinary Palestinian people wiped out awful memories of occupation and offered olive branches and flowers to soldiers as their tanks withdrew. The disillusionment set in very fast.
Clearly, the Oslo agreement failed for the very simple reason that Israel used it as a sort of opium to silence criticism of its occupation. It was manipulation at its worst and cunning at its best on the part of Israel! The Palestinians saw in Oslo the openings for a historical reconciliation. The expectations of both sides were at wide variance and hugely contradictory. Oslo was so weak and ineffectual that it had no effect on stopping Israel’s continued colonization of Palestinian territories. So cynical was the Israeli attitude to Oslo, that they used the opportunity of the world’s gaze on Oslo to convert the accord into the “green light” with which they colonized the Occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza at a rate faster than the previous 26 years of colonization. Even by the most conservative estimates, the number of settlers in the Occupied West Bank increased from 247,000 to 380,000 and the number of settlements increased to 345 or more, not to mention the confiscation of land for things like the by-pass roads and other such tools of occupation between 1993 and 2000.
To Israel, all these gains simply did not satiate their need for more. Having gained what they could, they then set out to create a system and a solution, which would make their access and power unassailable. By 28 September 2000, Ariel Sharon, under the eyes and ears of Ehud Barak, had successfully seen off Oslo. In any case, Oslo was extraneous to the hawks within the Labor party and absolutely irrelevant to the Likud as a whole. Oslo’s opponents never meant it to be the grounds for a just and lasting settlement. So they tried to circumvent the accord by attempting to enforce their own interpretations of it. This way they didn’t look completely out of step in the international community. Barak, in fact, came up with his own formula and interpretation of the Oslo Accords and tried to impose it as a “final solution” for the Palestinian people at the Camp David II negotiations. Barak, then Netanyahu, and finally Sharon decided to employ brute force to impose their solution on the Palestinians with the tacit compliance of the United States government (under both Clinton and Bush Jr.).
Fast forward to the Second Intifada. Equipped with lessons learned from the first Intifada, Palestinians adopted the slogan ‘Freedom and Independence’. It was another affirmation from the Palestinian people that occupation was no longer acceptable. It had to end. New and different realities were created on the ground. The facts are known to all of us. This Intifada has seen more killing, more separation, and a far bloodier struggle than before. Not only are the Palestinians losing lives and properties.
It is a similar pattern within Israel as well. Aside from increased casualties, the Israeli economy is floundering and on the verge of collapse. Their people are more desperate than anytime before. Local and foreign investors have deserted the country having designated it as ‘unsafe for investment’ and lacking ‘decent investment climate’. Immigration into Israel is at a standstill. Many have left Israel to safer and greener pastures in Europe and the United States thus making the claim of the Jewish homeland into something of a mockery. What kind of homeland is it where life is unsafe, jobs are scarce, military service is compulsory, and racism is rampant for those who are not of European origin? As expected, and as usual, the Palestinians have lost a lot too but have succeeded in maintaining their spirit and their determination to continue their struggle for their independence. Three years of confrontation have not brought an end in sight to the conflict. Instead, the continuous conflict has triggered other conflicts in the region.
All this of course, embarrasses the US government no end. They have pretended to be the mediator and tried to forge a peace. But even this peace is floundering because it is a peace designed to serve US interests. Each formula that the US puts on the table gets unraveled only to be doomed to failure. In the meantime, the US is being compelled by other factors to do something. The situation in the region, the so-called war on “terror”, the war in Afghanistan, the war on Iraq- all of these events- compel the USA to present alternatives in the form of political initiatives that they hope to mediate. The Road Map was their new mantra. Once again, the Palestinian Authority and some important political factions took the view that it could serve as a possible base for the commencement of a journey to a historic and negotiated settlement and as a reconciliatory step.
Not surprisingly, Israel has its own designs. It is more than obvious that they are maneuvering to draw the map to suit their needs and interests. Sharon, for example, conditioned his acceptance of the Road Map with some changes. The changes he wants in place are quite outrageous and hideous and lay basis for the argument that an independent Palestinian State is neither viable nor desirable. At best, he is willing to hand the Palestinians a State with no real power. The Palestinian identity is completely outside the frame of his calculations. His notion of the Palestinian State was, and continues to be, one which will do his bidding and bring to a firm and definitive conclusion any resistance to occupation. In other words, the Palestinian State would have to be the handmaid of the Israeli State, subservient in all respects to Israeli interests, and being a State only in name, not content. Sharon has proposed the absurd and is candid about it. He feels neither shame nor regret when it comes to oppressing the Palestinians. It was the foundation of his political career and he sees no reason to abandon the way he has conditioned himself to think and act. After all it has brought him power and legitimacy. He is called a ‘man of peace’!
Sharon wants a Palestinian state comprised of enclaves cut off from one another inside the West Bank and Gaza. The “Apartheid Wall” of which he is the architect has been described as “temporary”. The fact is quite the opposite. The Wall has been constructed at prohibitive costs to the Palestinian. We the Palestinians have paid with our blood, sweat, tears, and our land”.
The Road Map will meet the same fate as Oslo for many reasons. Chief among them is that Israel does not want to have a state next to her within borders as defined before the war of 1967. They might be interested in a Palestinian state within Jordan but definitely not between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The Palestinians on the other side can never ever fulfill the Israeli demand on this score- that new borders be drawn to suit the apartheid-type solutions that Israel has in store for them.
The second reason for the failure is that the solution proposed is not viable any more. It envisages a two-state solution- something that is a fast evaporating idea- a mirage at best. Israel’s thirty-five year illegal colonial enterprise has not been, and cannot be executed without forcefully dispossessing the Palestinian population of the rights guaranteed to them under UN Resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international treaties. The full implementation of Israel’s colonial designs for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which entail vast confiscation of Palestinian lands and water resources as well as disruption of Palestinian territorial contiguity, would leave the Palestinians with a “state” only in name. Israel’s ultimate goal is to permit a Palestinian “state” with no recognition of Palestinian national rights and no recognition of the Palestinian peoples’ historic and religious attachment to Jerusalem; the right of return for refugees, limited access to water and land, and insufficient area to accommodate population growth and returning refugees.
The borders of Israel define “Greater Jerusalem” as including at least 31 Israeli settlements and cover 440 square kilometers, of which only 25% is within West Jerusalem. With a planned length of 360 kilometers, the new Israeli Apartheid Wall will be three times as long as the Berlin Wall and, at points, twice as high. This wall, most of which is built within Occupied Palestinian Territory, will effectively serve as a means by which Israel can consolidate and de facto annex all Occupied Palestinian Territory on the western side of the wall.
The proponents for peace have been somewhat glib in articulating the idea of a two-state solution. The idea is bound to flounder because it has some very fundamental flaws within it. To persist with the idea is to ignore reality and, unthinkingly, provide the seeds of frustration and disappointment from which can stem more conflict. Apart from the above-mentioned factors, there are many other compelling reasons why the two-state solution has no scope to go anywhere and does not introduce an end to the conflict.
First, a two-state formula has no scope to contain the potential fallout of the demographic problem inside Israel because the Arab minority will emerge as a majority sooner or later, unless Israel takes extreme open racist measures like ethnic cleansing etc. (This I will never put beyond the political capacities of any Israeli government).
Second, we must admit that the facts, which Israel created on the ground over the 35 years of occupation, have destroyed the climate for a two-state solution.
Third, the presence of a Jewish state on one side will only prompt the emergence of an Islamic state on the other side and will motivate more Islamic states, as extreme and as racist as Israel, to emerge in the region. The latter will be unacceptable to the International Community in the current situation.
Fourth, and a very crucial factor that will work against a two-state formula is that when it is inaugurated, both states will share one common geographical space, a space which cannot be disconnected because it is linked with history, people, holy sites, economic relations etc.
Fifth, the Palestinian State will be composed of mostly refugee communities. Currently, in the West Bank and Gaza almost two-thirds of the people are refugees. If refugees from outside are add to the already overcrowded and poor communities living there, there will be a drastic decline in economic standards and the competition for scarce economic resources will only create social tensions. Coping with this will require need more than grants and gifts from donor states.
Sixth, the two states will never be symmetrical in terms of power and Israel cannot be expected to be magnanimous in the asymmetry that now prevails. Any attempt to equalize things will be seen as a threat. Nor is there any likelihood of equality coming about now or even in the near future.
Seventh, a Jewish state steeped in European mores, traditions, and cultural practices will continue to be a minority in the region. It has never shown the willingness or capacity to be integrated or engage with the dominant social factors in the region which will provide the recipe for more tensions and eventually conflict of a severe nature.