A symptomatic approach

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That calls to “end the violence” have come to dominate the diplomatic rubric for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict indicates a tendency to treat symptoms rather than causes. This approach is fraught with dangers. If the calm and stability that all concerned parties hope to restore is to last, symptoms and causes must be addressed together.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness of this need, as exemplified by the Egyptian- Jordanian initiative and the recent report of the Mitchell Committee. Both efforts stress that the cessation of violence must coincide with a complete halt to Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories, the withdrawal of Israeli forces, and efforts to re-engage Palestinians and Israelis in negotiations at the point at which they broke off under the Barak government.

What is taking place in Palestine today is a conflict between an occupying power and a people striving to liberate their land and establish an independent state. It is a conflict, moreover, in which the occupying power is using some of the most inhuman practices in modern history. Under direct orders from the minister of defence and the prime minister, Israeli forces have bulldozed Palestinian homes, fired live ammunition at children and adolescents, bombarded Palestinian residential neighbourhoods and civilian structures with tank and helicopter missiles, and, only recently, unleashed the latest F-16s in a massive assault over the occupied territories. Against the rhetoric of “ending the violence” one cannot help but be struck by the enormous discrepancy between Israel’s highly advanced military machine and the Palestinian stones, light weaponry and, at most, the occasional home-made mortar bomb.

This discrepancy drives home the fact that the Sharon-led government has a single objective. Whereas Barak had thought he could impose a prejudicial settlement on the PA through political coercion, Sharon believes he can accomplish it by bombing the Palestinians. He has drastically miscalculated if he thinks he can break the Palestinian spirit of resistance, grounded as it is in the internationally sanctioned right to fight for what the UN has termed their “inalienable rights.”

Both the Egyptian- Jordanian initiative and the Mitchell report recognise the complexity of the situation and offer a range of balanced, practical measures to end the violence. If there are minor discrepancies between the two initiatives, they agree in substance. Both call for a “comprehensive halt to violence” and a complete freeze on Israeli settlement expansion — including, the Mitchell report stressed, those activities aimed at accommodating “natural growth of settlements,” and the resumption of negotiations. The Egyptian-Jordanian initiative further called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces to their positions prior to 28 September, while the Mitchell report cautioned the Israelis against the use of “excessive” force. In addition, the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative stressed that negotiations should resume at the point they left off.

The PA welcomed the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative, unlike Sharon. The modifications Sharon wanted introduced, notably to the provisions on Jewish settlements and the resumption of negotiations, would have robbed the initiative of any substance and transformed it into a tool for serving Israeli security objectives. Similarly, when the Mitchell recommendations were put before the two sides, the PA accepted them as “a package,” in spite of what it felt were certain shortcomings, whereas Tel Aviv’s initial reaction was to reject it. In spite of the fact that the Mitchell report was carefully formulated to accommodate a number of Israel’s positions, Sharon rejected the provision on settlement construction because it did not allow for “natural growth” and the provision linking the cessation of violence with a specific mechanism for resuming negotiations. If the Sharon government subsequently declared its approval of the report, it nevertheless stuck to its reservation regarding settlement construction in the occupied territories.

Now CIA director George Tenet is in the Middle East in order to hammer out an agreement intended to satisfy Israel’s security concerns. The exclusive emphasis on the security dimension that this visit represents cannot, though, serve as a basis to stop what they term violence. What Tenet appears to be seeking is a cessation of violence from the US- Israeli perspective — a Palestinian white flag declaring the relinquishment of the legitimate right to resist occupation. That is all one can deduce from a proposal that calls upon the PA to arrest some 300 Palestinian nationalists whose names have been provided by Israeli security agencies.

Clearly, something has gone amiss. The Egyptian-Jordanian initiative and the Mitchell report are based on the awareness that the current violence is primarily the product of Israel’s continued procrastination in implementing its contractual obligations and its relentless violation of inalienable Palestinian rights. The Tenet mission, in its attempt to push for the fulfilment of Israel’s security demands, appears to have ignored the import of this message. Any calm resulting from such a one-sided approach can only be ephemeral.

On the other hand, the Arabs are pursuing initiatives at an international level in order to promote awareness of the true nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. One of the most significant results of these efforts was the UN General Assembly declaration issued last Sunday, with the support of the G-77, asserting “the need to safeguard the rights of peoples under occupation and to protect civilians,” and urging international cooperation towards “ending all impediments preventing peoples under occupation from the fulfilment of their rights.” Egypt’s permanent representative at the UN further called on the General Assembly to consider Jewish settlements in occupied Arab territories as war crimes under the provisions of the charter of the International Tribunal for Crimes against Humanity.

Such efforts should help drive home the fact that the actions the Palestinian people are taking against the Israeli occupation are not “terrorist violence,” but internationally sanctioned armed resistance, and that Israel’s attempts to alter the demographic character of the occupied territories are war crimes.

This is the message that should be brought home to those intent upon securing a halt to violence without addressing its political underpinnings.

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