The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (Anglais) Relié – 4 avril 2000
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Ever since it began secretly in Oslo and was signed on the White House lawn in September 1993, the Middle East "peace process" has seemed to me not only inevitable in its course but certain in its conclusion. Despite various apparent setbacks -- from the 1994 Hebron massacre, to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1995, to the various Palestinian suicide bombings and subsequent closures of territory, to, most recently, the destructive Benjamin Netanyahu period 1996-9 -- the sheer disparity in power between the United States and Israel, on the one hand, and the Palestinians as well as the Arab states on the other, has dictated that inevitability and its conclusions: the Oslo agreements would end in apparent success. As Avi Shlaim, the Israeli revisionist historian, puts it in a new book The Iron Wall, it "was the assessment of the IDF director of military intelligence that Arafat's dire situation [in 1992], and possible imminent collapse, [that] made him the most convenient interlocutor for Israel . . ." With Ehud Barak's assumption of power in May 1999 things have certainly speeded up, so much so that a comprehensive peace between Israel, the Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon will very likely be signed, if not completely implemented, within a year or so. All the parties seem to want it. The Arab states, Egypt and Jordan chief among them, have declared themselves willing partners, and what Israel wants it most certainly will get, including the additional military aid and support from the United States that Clinton gave Barak in July 1999. Yasir Arafat and his small coterie of supporters can furnish little resistance to the Israeli-American juggernaut, even though of course real Palestinian self-determination, in the sense that the Palestinian people will enjoy genuine freedom, will be postponed yet again. A "permanent interim agreement" -- minus any resolution to the problems of refugee, the status of Jerusalem, exact borders, settlements, and water -- is the likely result for the year 2000.
The essays in this book provide a personal attempt to chronicle the final official chapter of the Oslo peace process, to lay bare its assumptions, to detail its accomplishments and, much more, its failures, and above all, to show how despite the tremendous media and governmental attention lavished on it, it can neither lead to a real peace nor likely provide for one in the future. Written mostly for the Arab and European press these essays, I believe, provide a detailed point of view rarely to be found in the U.S. press. My assumption throughout is that as a Palestinian I believe that neither the Arabs nor the Israelis have a real military option, and that the only hope for the future is a decent and fair coexistence between the two peoples based upon equality and self-determination. Already the Middle East accounts for 60 percent of the world's arms sales. Far too much of Arab as well as Israeli society is militarized even while democratic freedoms are abrogated, education and agriculture have declined, and the situation of the average citizen with regard to citizenship itself is worse than it was in 1948. The era of partitions and separations since 1948, the date of the Palestinian nakba, or disaster, as well as the date of Israel's establishment, has not produced wonderful results, to say the least, and can indeed be seen to have failed. The separation of peoples into supposedly homogenous states has imposed burdens on "outsiders" that are intolerable, both in Israel and in countries like Lebanon, whose fifteen-year-old civil war was based on sectarian exclusivism, and produced nothing except a more sectarianized country. Israel's non-Jewish, i.e., Palestinian, citizens constitute 20 percent of the state, so that even the Jewish state is not "just" a Jewish one. The Oslo agreements have built on, rather than modified, these unsound foundations. Insecurity breeds more insecurity so long as a whole nation or people feels deprived and manifestly treated as inferior on the basis of ethnicity or religion defined in advance as "other" or "alien."
These essays have been written as testimony to an alternative view, another way of looking not just at the present and past, but at the future as well. I maintain here that only by seriously trying to take account of one's own history -- whether Israeli or Palestinian -- as well as that of the other can one really plan to live with the other. In both instances, however, I find this historical awareness sadly lacking. The current Palestinian leadership has, in a cowardly and slavish way, tried to forget its own people's tragic history in order to accommodate their American and Israeli mentors. Consider the most recent instance, the cancellation by the PLO of a meeting to be held July 15, 1999, in Geneva by the High Contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions on war, a meeting originally asked for by the PLO and accepted by the United Nations as a way of protecting the Palestinian populations of the West Bank and Gaza from further Israeli violations (torture, land expropriation, house demolition, imprisonment, etc.) of the Conventions. Instead of going through with the meeting on July 15, the PLO summarily cancelled it as a sign of good will toward Ehud Barak after only one hour's convening of the group. And this before negotiating with a leader whose long history of enmity toward Palestinians is well known, and whose meager announcements have made it clear that he is not prepared to dismantle most of the illegal Israeli settlements established on Palestinian land since 1967. It is worth noting that there are 13,000 settlement units now under construction, and that no less than 42 hilltop settlements have been established in the West Bank since last year (1998-9). Along with the already existing 144 settlements and, including the population of annexed Jerusalem, there are about 350,000 Israeli Jewish settlers on Palestinian land. With leaders who refuse ever to deal with this major problem, it is this sort of tampering with and manipulating the Palestinian tragedy by our own leaders that these essays strenuously oppose, committed as I am in them to the facts of our history and not to fictions created at will by oppressive dictators.
As for Israeli history, one of the reasons I salute the New or Revisionist Israeli historians is that through their work they have exposed the myths and propaganda narratives that have attempted to deny Israel's responsibility in 1948 and thereafter for producing, in effect, the Palestinian catastrophe. I contend that unless this historical responsibility is officially borne by Israeli leaders and faced honestly by Israeli society and its supporters in the West, no paper arrangement, such as the one being projected now, can be transformed into peace. There are too many refugees still left homeless (four million at least), too many claims unsettled, too many apartheid policies still in place that discriminate explicitly against Palestinians on ethnic and religious grounds for us to accept such tinkerings as the Oslo peace process. It cannot succeed for long. Particularly after the NATO war on behalf of the Kosovo refugees, it seems ludicrously unjust not to apply the same criteria of right of return to people who were made deliberately homeless by ethnic cleansing over fifty years ago. But once again, I want it clearly understood here that I am totally in favor of peace by coexistence, self-determination, and equality between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples on the land of historical Palestine, and I am therefore exactly the opposite of an opponent of peace. The current Oslo "peace process" is an expedient and, in my opinion, foolish gamble that has already done far more harm than good. The facts must be faced, and in this book I try to face them. Peace requires sterner measures than Arafat, Clinton, and company have, or are ever likely to have, taken. And so some of us must try to make the effort that our leaders will not make.
Yet what the United States wants, the Arabs are prepared to give. More explicitly, as concerns the Oslo-Wye agreements it is absolutely clear that whether or not these agreements have actually helped or hindered Palestinian self-determination, no leader is prepared in any way to forego, modify, or renege on them. The Oslo agreements signed at the White House were first, two letters of "mutual recognition" exchanged between Israel and the PLO (though Israel only recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people) and second, a Declaration of Principles that laid out the interim arrangements for redeployment rather than withdrawal of the Israeli army from unspecified, areas of the West Bank except for parts of Gaza and Jericho. The agreements postponed the really complicated issues -- Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, and sovereignty -- to final-status negotiations that were to have commenced in 1996. Subsequent agreements at Cairo and Taba, and later concerning Hebron, were designed to set up the Palestine Authority that was to administer Palestinian life under Arafat but retained security, border control, water, and most of the land for Israel. Settlements were allowed to continue. Far from ending, the Israeli occupation was simply repackaged, and what emerged in the West Bank was about seven discontinuous Palestinian islands amounting to 3 percent of the land surrounded and punctuated by Israeli controlled territory. Even in Gaza, Israeli settlers held 40 percent of the land.
The Wye River agreement signed in October 1998, which was to give Palestinians about 10 percent more land, was never implemented by Netanyahu; he tried to modify or nullify all these agreements but in May 1999 was voted out of office. Ehud Barak has been greeted as the peace candidate, but given his background and what he has said and done so far I am certain that his ideas are not different enough from Netanyahu's to warrant great optimism. For Barak, Jerusalem remains basically unnegotiable (except for giving Palest...
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He was on close terms with Arafat and many of the top PLO leaders before 1993. He offers an utterly scathing critique of Arafat and the PLO leadership. He portrays them as unbelievable morons and unbelievably corrupt and brutal. He says the main reason the PLO succumbed to Israel's offer in 1993 was that Arafat and his goons were facing an internal rebellion within the PLO because of their corruption, stupidity and lack of democracy. So they jumped at an agreement that made them Israel's collaborator and gave them protection. Their main duty is to round up, and often torture and sometimes murder all people whom Israel believes to be a threat to its always threatened "security" a very elastic concept which includes a great many non-violent persons
Since 1993, Arafat has spent all of the Palestinian Authority's money funding twelve or thirteen secret police agencies and buying off his enemies, real or potential, often with salaries for government jobs that entail absolutely nothing. He graphically portrays Arafat's incredible stupidity as he has endlessly begged the Israelis for more crumbs, and is always hoodwinked. Probably the best chapter in the book (and by far the longest) is "On Visiting Wadie" where he describes, among other incidents, an interview he was granted with the acid tongued PA minister Yasser Abd Rabbo, that was very cordial. Several months later Rabbo, on Arafat's orders, sent goons to all bookstores under Palestinian jurisdiction to seize Said's books and carry them away.
A point that he constantly reiterates throughout this book is something that he says that he has been making to Arafat and other Palestinians for years. He says that Palestinians need to try to emulate the international educational efforts, lobbying and other forms of activism of the old anti-apartheid movement of South Africa. The Arab world, he notes, is currently run by dictatorships of varrying degrees of brutality, most of them propped up by the West, and is at an all time low. Arabs, he says, especially the various kept intellectuals of the pro-Western regimes, are immensely ignorant of Israel. They focus all their attention on the Labor party, but not on any genuine elements of peace in Israel like Israel Shahak or the late General Matti Peled or his daughter who expressed sympathy for the Palestinians after her daughter was blown up by a Hamas suicide bomb. Or the composer Daniel Barenboim, with whom Said has developed a friendship. Or Israel's revisionist historians like Benny Morris, Illan Pappe, Zeev Sternhell, Tom Segev, etc. who were interviewed about their findings on Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestians in 1948 on Israel's fiftieth aniversary special on Israeli TV (of all places) in 1998.
In the rest of the book, among other subjects, he has some interesting things to say about the late Sir Isiah Berlin (especially Berlin's relationship with Noam Chomsky),the difference between Labor and Likud, comparing Shimon Peres and Bibi Netanyahu, with some rather amusing anecdotes about his encounters with Bibi in the late 80's and the great labor party fraud Yossi Beilin, from whom he takes two very pertinent quotes about the true nature of the peace process (page 170).
For decades Edward Said has been a powerful advocate of a two-state solution, preserving the state of Israel within its pre 1967 borders. In this book he again and again condemns those who continue to argue for the elimination of the state of Israel and urges his fellow Arabs to accept the reality of the Jewish state. Indeed, he even goes as far as to brand those who refuse to have any dialogue with Israelis as racist. Anyone who was under the slightest illusion that Said is in any way making a case that even approximates to the destruction of Israel can be left in no doubt by the articles republished in his latest book.
Said argues very powerfully that the Israelis must recognise the wrong that has been done to the Palestinians, and that those who have been forced from their homes at gunpoint, dispossessed, their houses seized or bulldozed should either be permitted to return to their homes or should be compensated (not that all should have an automatic right or return). The Jews have been very vociferous in their campaign to see compensation paid to Jews for losses and suffering inflicted by the Nazis. Why then should they refuse to compensate those who have been dispossessed by Israel, the victims' victims, the Palestinians whose only crime was to live in Palestine?
Although some may think it is absurd to allow the native inhabitants of the land of Palestine the right to return to the land from which they have been expelled over the past fifty years, it is hard for Jews and their supporters to maintain such a position. After all, the principal of the Jewish Right of Return - which says that the land of Israel belong to Jews, wherever they live and that all Jews have an automatic right to 'return' - is the very cornerstone upon which the state of Israel was founded..
Said makes clear the historical context in which the dispute over Jerusalem must be seen. Israel has illegally occupied East Jerusalem since 1967. Its annexation is not recognised by any country in the world and the United Nations has consistently resolved that Israel must withdraw from all illegally occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, which has an overwhelmingly Arab population. The fact that Jews have lived their throughout history has no bearing on matters: Jews have also lived in a great many cities for a great many centuries - are we to allow Israel to annex any city with an ancient Jewish presence?
Then, of course, there is violence. Said's very simple point, which has been amply borne out by recent events in Israel and Palestine, is that if there is to be any hope for a lasting peace it must be founded upon a genuine settlement of the conflict, not some phony 'peace deal' which amounts to little more than formalising the Israeli dispossession of the native population. This is not threatening anyone but rather making plain the simple idea that peace must be made and not taken for granted. Peace must be based on mutual respect and an agreement reached between two parties treating each other as equals, something which Israel has consistently refused to do. (for example, the Palestinians are repeatedly required to 'recognise' Israel and guarantee the security not only of Israelis but also illegal Jewish settlers, but Israel refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Palestinians claim to statehood and refuses to guarantee the security of Palestinians).
Edward Said's book is a powerful, thoughtful statement from a committed Palestinian nationalist and highly respected academic. I do not agree with all he says but, nevertheless, I found the book thought provoking and engaging.
Said incisively dissects the true nature of the Oslo so-called "peace process". His exhaustive research, expertise in the field, eloquence, and intellectual rigour will impress and convince you.
If you would like a sharp, clear look at what is really going on in Israel/Palestine today, look no further than this book.
-Hila Rosenfeld, from Israel
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