Al-Ahram Weekly | Region | The other casualty

Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line7 -13 December 2000Issue No.511 Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

The other casualtyBy Graham Usher

There have been many casualties in the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Intifada. Above all, there have been the deaths of 260 Palestinians (and 33 Israeli Jews), 35 per cent of them children, either at the hands of Israeli soldiers or settlers. Then there is the inordinate damage inflicted on the Palestinian economy, with Israeli-imposed blockades causing Palestinian economic losses of US$10 million a day, according to Palestinian Authority (PA) calculations, and sending unemployment levels to an average of 45 per cent.

But another, less publicised casualty is the severing of ties between the Palestinian national movement and many of its former allies in the Israeli “peace camp.” These alliances had been forged in the first Intifada, when Israeli peace activists “broke” army curfews imposed on Palestinian villages and Israel’s Peace Now movement publicly called for negotiations with the then outlawed PLO — a call eventually adopted by the Israeli government in the 1993 Oslo accords.

But the response of the Israeli peace camp to the present uprising has been one of either “confusion” or “silence, recrimination, even a sense of betrayal,” admits Arie Arnon, one of the leaders of Peace Now. He cites two reasons for this lack of solidarity by the Israeli left.

One “was the existence of the PA. The Israeli left’s initial reaction to the Intifada was to say, ‘we are in the middle of negotiations on a final status agreement. So why are the Palestinians resorting to armed struggle?'” But a deeper reason was that a large portion of the Israeli left genuinely believed that the proposals Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak allegedly made at the Camp David summit last July represented “a huge step forward in the direction of peace.”

Reports that Barak had been prepared to accept some form of territorial division in Jerusalem and an Israeli withdrawal from 90 per cent of the West Bank “were seen as very generous offers by many on the Israeli left,” says Arnon.

It was perhaps for this reason that much of that left accepted the Israeli government’s line — voiced most eloquently by acting Foreign Minister and former peace activist, Shlomo Ben-Ami — that Arafat had “orchestrated” the uprising to “evade” the “difficult historical decisions” placed before him at Camp David.

It was a charge that outraged the Palestinians, including that constituency of secular, leftist intellectuals who had been the Israeli peace camp’s natural allies during the first Intifada. But they were not surprised by it. “It was the culmination of a process we had been witnessing for a long time,” says Rema Hammami, a Palestinian feminist researcher at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

That process was called “Oslo” and it captured the Israeli peace camp as a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “The Israeli left was preoccupied with defining themselves vis-à-vis the anti-Oslo right,” she says. “They never bothered to look at what Oslo meant on the ground for the Palestinians, which was not ‘peace’ but a new form of Palestinian dispossession.”

The clearest instance of that dispossession was Israel’s ongoing settlement policies throughout the Oslo era, whether by “pro-Oslo” Labour or “anti-Oslo” Likud governments. The scale of colonisation has been “amazing,” admits Arnon, whose organisation’s Settlement Monitoring team provides perhaps the most reliable data on Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied territories.

Its latest report was unveiled at a packed press conference in West Jerusalem on 3 December, and provides a salutary corrective for those who still cling to the belief that the uprising was “orchestrated” by anything other than the facts of Palestinian existence in the occupied territories.

According to Peace Now, there has been a 52 per cent increase in settlement construction in the occupied territories since September 1993, including a 17 per cent increase (some 2,830 housing units) during the 18-month tenure of Barak’s “One Israel” government alone.

The expansion has swelled the settler population in the West Bank and Gaza by 72 percent, from 115,000 in 1993 to 195,000 today and projected 200,000 by the end of the year. These are in addition to the 180,000 Jewish settlers who live in occupied East Jerusalem, making an overall settler population of 380,000 as against 3.4 million Palestinians.

The settlers live in 145 “official” settlements and 55 “unofficial outposts” scattered throughout the occupied territories and connected by a web of settler-only by-pass roads, totalling nearly 300 kilometres in length.

During periods of “quiet,” the roads not only enable the settlers to travel without passing through the 700 Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza, but more insidiously, they prevent any contiguous urban development of these areas, a containment enforced by Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes which resulted in the destruction of 740 dwellings between 1994 and 2000, mainly in the 70 per cent of the West Bank and 20 per cent of Gaza still under Israel’s exclusive control.

During periods of war — like the current one — the roads and settlements effectively become Israel’s new military borders in the occupied territories, not only severing Gaza and the West Bank from each other and both from East Jerusalem, but also each Palestinian conurbation from others within the West Bank and Gaza.

For Palestinians it was these apartheid realities that caused the Intifada, far more than the “very generous offers” Barak allegedly made at Camp David and Arafat’s rejection of them. And it was to address these realities that Hammami and 109 other Palestinian intellectuals in February this year and again on 10 November dispatched an “Urgent statement to the Israeli public.”

As “firm believers in a just and equitable negotiated peace between Palestinians and Israelis,” the intellectuals warned their Israeli peers that the “critical situation that confronts us now” will be “revisited again and again.” The only alternative is for Israel to recognise Palestinian national rights. This would require Israel’s withdrawal from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war, Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and a “just and lasting resolution of the refugee problem in accordance with relevant UN resolutions.”

It is a message that seems to finally be getting through. On 17 November, 24 Israeli academics — including writer Amos Oz and former army General Shlomo Gazit — issued their own public statement. This called on the Israeli government to “freeze its settlement policy and recognise the border of 4 June 1967 as the basis for the border between Israel and Palestine.” And on 1 December Peace Now made perhaps its clearest ever call for the “establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel along the 1967 borders” and the “dismantling of the settlements within the framework of an agreement.”

Arnon admits as a “sad but true fact” that it has been the armed dimension of this Intifada that brought a “reality check” to the Israeli public. “Above all, it has destroyed perhaps the greatest of all the illusions of Oslo: that the historical reality of the Green Line could somehow be erased and a solution could be achieved based on a new division of the West Bank rather than on Israel’s withdrawal from it.”

But he also believes it is essential that a renewed dialogue be attempted between the Israeli peace camp and the Palestinian national movement, “especially Fatah.” This is not only because “the two sides have never been closer in their positions” but also “because it is vital for the left to demonstrate to the wider Israeli public that there is still a partner.”

Hammami is less sanguine. “How can you have alliances with people who fundamentally misunderstand you?” she asks. “Throughout the Oslo years, the Israeli left acted as though all that was needed for ‘peace’ was to use Israel’s balance of power to impose an agreement on Arafat. It never accepted that there was such a thing as a Palestinian public opinion, a Palestinian national consensus — which is a pretty sad commentary on a constituency that prides itself on its progressive and democratic credentials. We can have shared interests, not political alliances,” she concludes.

One of those shared interests is that never before have the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish publics felt a greater need to have a clear border between them. The lesson of the Al-Aqsa Intifada is that the border can only run along the line of 4 June 1967, including Jerusalem. It is no longer possible to have another border.

Related stories:Blowing in the wind Waning expectations Barak’s last throw of the dice 30 Nov. – 6 Dec. 2000 No holds barred 23 – 29 November 2000 The cost of weakness 16 – 22 November 2000Crushing the Intifada — phase two 16 – 22 November 2000 See Intifada in focus 26 Oct. – 1 Nov. 2000Intifada special 19 – 25 October 2000

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