The most abused word of recent times is “ceasefire”. Hoping to reap international sympathy, several weeks ago Israel declared a unilateral “ceasefire” in its war against the Palestinian people. In reality, Israeli occupation forces continued to operate with all their customary brutality and violence, avoiding only the most dramatic measures, such as the use of attack helicopters and F-16 fighter-bombers.
What Israel discovered is that if it desists from these telegenic measures, it can continue with all its usual tactics of shooting dead unarmed civilians, assassinating activists with car bombs, demolishing houses as it has done without pause in occupied Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, confiscating land and destroying tens of thousands of trees while building settlements apace.
On June 9, three Palestinian women were killed by Israeli shelling as they slept in their home in Gaza. Israel’s army later admitted that it used “Flechette” shells against them, a horrific and illegal weapon which spreads hundreds of razor-sharp nails over a wide area to kill and maim as many people as possible. Meanwhile, settlers rampage through the occupied territories, destroying Palestinian houses and crops and attacking civilians.
Israel guaranteed itself the space to behave in this way by tightening to an unprecedented degree its internal and external siege of the occupied territories, to such an extent that poverty has skyrocketed, normal life is rendered impossible and it is now routine for sick Palestinians to die because they are denied permission to pass through checkpoints, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Following the horrendous bomb attack which killed twenty young Israelis in Tel Aviv two weeks ago, Israel made a great show of “restraint” even though its measures against Palestinians on the ground were as harsh as ever. But Israeli violence against Palestinians has become so routinised that most of the ongoing Israeli repression falls beneath the radar of the US media who almost universally continue to report that Israel has indeed imposed a “ceasefire” while Israel continues to be subject to “Palestinian attacks”. Under severe international pressure following the Tel Aviv bomb, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat also called for a “ceasefire”, an act which, while demanded by the Israelis and Americans, runs counter to popular feeling that a “ceasefire” is something which can only be called between two warring armies and not between an occupied population fighting for its freedom, on the one hand, and a powerful occupying army, on the other.
But like every word related to the “peace process”, the word “ceasefire” has been debased, its meaning altered beyond normal recognition. According to the Israelis, American government and the US media, “violence” is almost uniquely a Palestinian phenomenon. Israelis only “respond” and “retaliate”, the aggressive and systematically violent nature of the Israeli occupation itself having been deliberately obscured. Therefore, a “ceasefire” is something that imposes a burden almost entirely on the Palestinians. What it means in effect is that Palestinians are being told to cease their resistance, accept military occupation in full and return to the situation where Israel is allowed to do whatever it pleases on the ground. The Palestinians, meanwhile, are to give up all rights to respond on the ground and are to limit themselves to futile complaining at what is misleadingly called the “negotiating table”.
It is within this framework that CIA Director George Tenet came to the region with an American plan to cement the “ceasefire” and explicitly to restore the situation on the ground which existed prior to Sept. 28 – one which was rightly wholly unacceptable to Palestinians. This initiative sidestepped and undercut the already minimally acceptable suggestions of the Mitchell report which Palestinians embraced, albeit with reservations, since at least that report recognised the need for the cessation of all settlement activity as a condition for progress.
The Tenet plan, as far as it has been revealed, says nothing about settlements and calls only for Palestinians to cease all resistance (“violence”) and for the Palestinian National Authority to arrest those whom Israel deems to be “militants” or “terrorists”. What few obligations this plan imposes on Israel only follow after Israel deems the Palestinians to have carried out their part to its satisfaction. The absurdity of this plan and the impossibility of Palestinians complying with it successfully is embodied in a so-called six week “cooling off” period which, according to one of Sharon’s advisors, will be restarted every time any Palestinian anywhere so much as throws a rock at occupation troops.
Tenet’s initiative marks the final return of the Bush administration to the failed approach of the Clinton administration. The Bush administration has collaborated with Israel to gut the Mitchell report of the few points which could have served as a common basis for climbing out of the crisis and to adopt an approach which views the conflict entirely on Israeli terms. It treats the Intifada not as the symptom of a long-standing political conflict requiring a just resolution, but merely as a “security problem” requiring management primarily through control and repression of the Palestinians.
For now this must put to rest any hope that the United States can or will break out of its enthrallment to Israel and develop a more just and balanced policy, and must kill the illusion that the Bush administration is any more favourable to Palestinian rights and interests than Clinton.
But the message of the Intifada, which the Americans have studiously ignored, is that the Palestinians will not accept a return to occupation as usual. For seven years of the Oslo accords the Palestinians accepted innumerable agreements and Byzantine formulas, all “cemented” with worthless American assurances. What it got them was more settlements, more human rights abuses, more checkpoints and in the end, the prospect of living forever in a state of semi-autonomy and apartheid, surrounded by “Greater Israel”, while Palestinian refugees would have to give up all their fundamental rights.
The Palestinians have taken a decision to resist the occupation until they achieve freedom and independence once and for all. Neither Tenet nor anyone else is likely to be able to lead them back onto the road which goes from Oslo to prison.
Mr. Ali Abunimah contributed this article to The Jordan Times.