Deconstructing the peace process

The escalating violence in the occupied territories can by no stretch of the imagination be characterised as responding to the call for confidence-building measures conducive to the resumption of negotiations.

The showdown between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupation forces has entered a new stage in which Sharon has raised the level of state-sponsored violence to new heights not, as he alleges, in the aim of liquidating the Intifada, but with an altogether different — and more ominous — objective in mind: the deconstruction of the entire peace process and its replacement by a new game played according to his rules.

What is now happening on the Palestinian-Israeli front is clearly not inspired by the recommendations of the Mitchell report, not least because the report assumes an ongoing peace process when in actual fact the peace process is a thing of the past. The fiction that it is just temporarily stalled, that it can be revived, cannot be sustained in the face of the reality on the ground.

The no-holds-bared campaign of terror launched by the Sharon government against the Palestinians has driven the last nail in the coffin of the peace process. This suits Sharon just fine. He is not interested in a resumption of negotiations or a return to the peace process. Indeed, as President Mubarak said, Sharon does not want peace, period. What he does want is something entirely different: a dictated, as opposed to a negotiated, “peace” i.e. either an unconditional surrender by the Palestinians to the Sharon line or no peace and no recognition of a Palestinian entity.

Indeed, he makes no secret of his aversion to the peace process as it was pursued by his predecessors — albeit with varying degrees of commitment — which he believes entailed excessive and unnecessary concessions from Israel. The whole notion of peace as consecrated by the Madrid conference is a non-starter as far as he is concerned. The idea of a settlement based on a middle-of-the-road compromise, if only in theoretical terms, as the trade-off embodied in the ‘land of peace’ slogan codified in Security Council Resolution 242, is unacceptable to Sharon. For Sharon and the extreme right-wing school to which he belongs, peace can only come about once the thorn in Israel’s flesh, Palestine, is eliminated as an entity and a people.

While the collapse of the peace process could be partly due to a lack of creative ideas capable of impelling it forward, Sharon’s new approach is not aimed at breathing new life into the process but at doing away with it altogether. His “creative” ideas are focused on liquidating the peace process and closing any windows of opportunity still remaining. The following examples graphically illustrate the contempt in which Sharon holds the peace process:

First, he allowed a lunatic fringe group to lay a foundation-stone for Solomon’s third temple on Al-Haram Al-Sharif last week, riding roughshod over Palestinian, Arab and Muslim sensitivities. True, the idea of rebuilding the third temple did not originate with Sharon, but the religious extremists who call themselves the Temple Mount Faithful would not have dared carry out such a blatant provocation without the tacit encouragement of the Israeli government.

Although extensive excavations have so far failed to unearth any evidence that Solomon’s temple once stood on the site of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, Israel insists that the search must continue and that it must retain sovereignty over the entire Temple Mount area, not only under the ground, as Clinton proposed at the Camp David summit, but also over ground. Sharon regards Clinton’s proposal for Palestinian sovereignty over Al-Haram Al-Sharif as totally unacceptable, and his blessing of the latest outrage is a clear message that Israel is not prepared to concede sovereignty over one inch of Jerusalem.

Second, he has effectively sidelined the only “peacenik” in his cabinet, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. When he agreed to join the Likud-led government, Peres countered accusations that he was selling out by claiming that his status and experience, crowned by a Nobel peace prize, would allow him to play an effective role in the decision-making process, where he could serve to counterbalance Sharon’s hard-line approach and ensure that peace negotiations, once resumed, would continue along the lines of the previous peace process. But what actually happened is just the opposite. Any hopes pinned on Peres’s moderating influence were quickly dashed. Sharon is in firm control of his government and Peres has been completely marginalised and discredited, not only in the present but even in future. He has lost all credibility as a political figure associated with the peace process, and is regarded as a fig-leaf used by Sharon to implement his most extreme right-wing policies without any resistance from the left.

Indeed, Peres’s services to Sharon have gone even further. He has taken it upon himself to serve as an apologist for Sharon, embellishing his image and calling on Israel’s friends abroad to rally around the prime minister and support his policies. Whenever differences arose between Sharon and Peres, the latter kept them as an internal matter and continued his public support for Sharon. In other words, Peres has emerged as an opportunistic turncoat who has renounced his past and mutated into a worthy representative of Sharon’s extreme right-wing government.

Finally, there is the campaign of assassinations launched by Sharon against prominent Palestinian activists. A number of reasons have conspired to enable Sharon to get away with what is literally murder. To begin with, the disappearance of an organised Israeli left following Peres’s defection to the right has allowed Sharon’s logic of brutal repression and harsh deterrence to take precedence over Peres’s logic of pacification. Other reasons include Israel’s sophisticated information-gathering technology and its ability to penetrate Palestinian organisations, as well as its skillful use of propaganda to portray its state-terrorism as the legitimate exercise for the right of self-defence and Palestinian resistance as mere terrorism.

Israel is conducting a war of attrition against the Palestinians, hoping that its superior strength will eventually wear down their resistance. The constant provocations are meant to sap their will and convince them of the hopelessness of their struggle. But the strategy has failed to cow the Palestinians into submission, while the latest outrage, last week’s campaign of hits on suspected Palestinian militants brought 10,000 Israeli protesters into the streets and earned Israel criticism from its most stalwart ally. In a strongly worded statement, the US joined Europe in “deploring” the extrajudicial execution of members of the various Palestinian resistance groups, not only Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but Arafat’s own organisation, Fatah. It is said the idea of targetting Arafat himself was floated by the Israelis and vetoed by the Americans. However, given the divergent reactions of the State Department, which openly condemned the assassinations, and the White House, which merely “wish[ed] the levels of violence were lower than they are today,” it remains to be seen whether the veto will hold.