Israel’s use of F16 jets against Palestinian civilians on May 18 departed from all military norms of the previous 33 years of Occupation. This extreme step shows imbalance of judgment. When a nation-state uses fighter planes in an attempt to kill a single Hamas activist, blowing up an entire prison and killing nine guards, one may well question its sanity. Despite international pressure on Washington to denounce the use of American-made planes against civilians, the US has preferred to avoid straightforward condemnation. After all, didn’t it do the same in Iraq and Yugoslavia?
In the wake of the escalation, Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres issued a proclamation that the Hebrew daily, Yediot Aharonot, bannered in black across its front page on May 20: “This is the most difficult situation since the War of Independence.” (That is, the war of 1948.) The speaker is none other than the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the chief architect of the Oslo Accord, and the visionary prophet of the New Middle East. How have we again reached a state of affairs where Israel feels its existence at stake? No such notes were sounded during the whole time of direct Occupation; yet a mere eight years after the rosy predictions of Oslo, the tone has become apocalyptic.
Sometimes questions do have simple answers, and this is an instance. In the guise of Oslo, Israel and the US raised expectations among the Palestinians and the Arab peoples that they never intended to fulfill. As their ally in the fraud, they created the PA (Palestinian Authority) under the then prestigious leadership of Yasser Arafat. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan too took part in the peace festivities, which were never designed to improve the conditions of their subjects by one iota. There was an enormous gap between what Oslo gave the partners in the fraud and the lack of substance for the masses. This gap has been the source of the conflagration that for the last eight months has swept the Territories and threatened to engulf the region.
Oslo gave Israel all the advantages that would enable it to take off as an economic power. To the Americans it gave hope for a reliable flow of cheap energy to maintain their standard of living. The effect on most Palestinians, however, was quite the reverse: it condemned their people to a future under neo-colonialist Occupation, to economic dependence on Israel, and to life in the shadow of a dictatorial puppet regime consumed by corruption.
The architects of Oslo may have been blind to the reality beneath the surface. In contrast, however, the PA and the Arab regimes knew well enough that they were living on borrowed time é and nevertheless, they did not alter direction.
Today, all sides stand helpless. Oslo’s failure has been so complete, its basic assumptions have been shown to be so far off the mark, that today no formula satisfying one side can satisfy the other. The majority in Israel elected Sharon in order that he might “let the army win”. The mood in Israel is that its security can never again rely on Arafat and his security. On the Palestinian side, leadership is in chaos. We shall know how much control Arafat really has only when he attempts to stop the shooting, but the PA leader cannot afford to risk this test. The region’s leaders plead with Washington to take an initiative that will save the Middle East from itself. Yet the Americans are having a hard enough time, these days, trying to solve their own problems. At home they face an economic recession and a severe oil crisis. In the wider world they encounter uncooperative mini-powers like Russia and China. Their Middle Eastern strategy has collapsed, at first in Iraq and now here.
The Americans are not in any hurry to risk their prestige on far-reaching proposals. They know that the most they can suggest, at present, in order to restore quiet to the region, will not be acceptable to the Arab side. Three basic ideas of the Oslo Accords have been rejected: 1) that the Middle East should begin to march to the beat of reforms demanded by the IMF; 2) that the Palestinians will receive a decaffeinated mini-state; and 3) that the Palestinian problem will be swept under the rug for generations. Despite this American hesitation, however, the US worries that a regional war may break out, cutting it off from the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.
Ironically, both sides do not want war, yet neither side is able to yield. Any concession by Israel will have a negative impact on its regional status. Any concession by Arafat is likely to end in his downfall. For this reason, both sides are inclined to accept the provisions of the Mitchell Report, each, of course, using its own interpretation. The Report calls on both to stop the violence and undertake confidence-building measures. The Palestinians are to renew their security cooperation with Israel and suppress Hamas, while the Israelis are supposed to freeze the settlements. Yet each side reads the proposals as it wants to: the Palestinians hold that Israel must first freeze the settlements é and then the violence will stop. Israel, for its part, demands first a cessation of violence, with a substantial cooling-off period é and then it will consider such a freeze. Both, in fact, are playing for time in the hope that some miracle will occur to stuff the genie back into the bottle. In his speech of May 21, US Secretary of State Colin Powell made it clear that the Americans have accepted the Israeli version, avoiding a direct link between a cessation of violence and a settlement freeze.
Is it really the question of settlements, however, that obstructs an agreement? No. In 1992, we recall, the head of the Palestinian delegation to Madrid, Dr. Khaider Abed al-Shafi, resigned when Arafat softened opposition to the settlements. Arafat decided they were no obstacle to peace. The Occupation of East Jerusalem did not seem to worry him either, nor did the refugee problem. He took part in all the peace celebrations fully aware that Israel had provided no reason to think it might yield on these issues. He knew, in short, that they wouldn’t be solved.
The Mitchell Report does not mention the right of the Palestinians to establish their own independent state. Anyone who accepts it, therefore, renounces event the little that the Palestinians did achieve at Oslo. A settlement freeze is to be the prize for suppressing the Intifada and enslaving the Palestinians to Israel’s desires.
Past American administrations have not hesitated to bring down Israeli regimes. They did it to Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 and to Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. Now that Israel has a national-unity government, however, the Bush administration has no alternative waiting in the wings. Dashed are Arab hopes that Bush would behave in a more balanced fashion than Bill Clinton did. As long as Arafat fails to show he’s in charge é fails, that is, to rein in his men é Bush refuses to receive him in the White House. From a “strategic partner,” the Palestinian side has again become a “terrorist organization”. In effect, the Americans charge the Palestinians with direct responsibility for the cycle of bloodshed that began when Sharon paid his visit to al-Aksa.
Israel’s recent bombardment in the Territories signals the country’s loss of direction. Israeli society, where Left and Right today cling to each other, demands revenge. The leaders supply it, despite the lack of any policy advantage, and knowing it will only worsen the conflict. This is a people that has lost its moral basis, because it has too long been accustomed to claim for itself what it refuses to give to others: an independent state, freedom and well-being.
The Arab peoples, and above all the Palestinian people, are right to say “No” to the American agenda. It is the tragedy of the present confrontation, however, that from this “No” no “Yes” has emerged. The way out of the labyrinth does not lead through the White House. The task is not to bring Washington to a better understanding of the Arab side. The way out leads rather through a change in social, economic and political structures, a change that will rid us at last of American colonialism and its puppet regimes. In a global agenda that meets the needs of the region’s oppressed, there is no place for Israeli superiority, whether economic or military. The attempt to preserve such superiority will be, as it always has been, a catalyst for recurring war.
Quite against the needs of their peoples, the corrupt elites that rule the Arab world, among them the PA, do not see any alternative to the American-led trend to globalization. As a result they increase poverty, unemployment and social gaps. At the last minute, however, the Palestinian people refused to submit. It forced this refusal on its own leadership, and now it pays the price in human lives and in the destruction of its cities. Yet if this Intifada is to bear fruit, it must go on rejecting the American agenda.
There is no way to get out of the present mess, except by creating a social agenda that will ensure a better life for the majority of people. Recently, in the streets of Seattle, Prague and Quebec, people have begun to discuss such an agenda, without quite giving it its name. This system does have a name. It is socialism. There is no halfway station. Those who deride its principles will only contribute to modern capitalism, with its ever widening circles of war.
The Organization for Democratic Action é Da’am, contributed this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN).