When Past Mistakes haunt Our Present

Many Palestinians have been saying it all along. The establishment of a free, independent and sovereign Palestinian state cannot be achieved by working from the outside inwards. That is, the theory of creating the outer shell and working slowly towards the core will always fall through, namely because the pressure from outside will eventually collapse the thus-far empty center.

While this has not yet completely happened, the writing is one the wall. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is seemingly a "man with a mission", trying to build up the state, one institution at a time before the actual entity is declared. Many may see this as a sound philosophy, with the argument that there needs to be a solid foundation when independence is actually declared. However, the fact that Israel is the occupying authority and does not seem to have any plans to relinquish power any time soon through negotiations or any other civilized means, this approach can hardly bear fruit.

Just yesterday, a report complied by the US Government Accountability Office, a government watchdog, was presented to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. The report found that Israel systematically hinders American efforts to train PA security forces in the West Bank by delaying the transfer of weapons, uniforms, radios and vehicles to them. Furthermore, the report says Israel has blocked US aid to the Palestinians in setting up counter-terrorist units. Since 2007, the US, in line with the Roadmap agreement, has poured money into the PA security forces in a bid to beef up internal security systems that would eventually impose law and order in the West Bank. According to the report, the US has invested $392 million since 2007 in training PA forces in the West Bank.

The point is, if the Americans, Israel’s most loyal and staunchest ally, cannot reign in Israel on something the Israelis themselves agreed to, there is something undeniably wrong with the master plan. Palestinian police, under the strictest orders to steer clear of clashing with the Israelis are still not allowed to operate freely. Their guns, if ever, are pointed towards their own, never at the invading Israeli army. The flaw, as many see it, is this creation of an illusion of a state and government (complete with ministries, security and police forces and a president) that sits on the shaky foundation of Israeli domination. As long as Israel is the overriding authority for the Palestinians, neither they nor even the Americans, who are huge proponents of the security paradigm as a basis for a more comprehensive settlement, will ever be able to push a real agenda for peace.

Last week offered another humiliating reminder of who has the ultimate control over Palestinian lives. As most people know, West Bank Palestinians are only allowed to travel outside the country via the Allenby Bridge into Jordan. The "bridge" as it is infamously called, is a horrendous journey to say the least. After reaching the Palestinian controlled- "rest area" –” a term that should be applied loosely –” travelers are then herded onto a bus and taken to the first checkpoint or the "crossing", where Palestinian security forces check passports before travelling to the actual border. Prior to the Oslo Accords, the real border crossing consisted of Israeli security personnel on one side and the Jordanians on the other. Then the accords were signed and uniformed Palestinians appeared behind the desks at passport control. This semblance of sovereignty at a Palestinian border was short lived. Even then, the dutiful Palestinians would slip the Palestinian passport into a drawer that would mysteriously disappear behind a one-way mirror. If all went well, minutes later, the passport would magically appear again, stamped and ready to go. Of course, behind the mirror, out of Palestinian sight, were the Israelis, from whom permission to cross had to be granted. Only then would passengers be allowed to proceed to the next stop.

After 2000, however when all hell broke loose and even those flimsy semblances of normalcy fell through, Palestinian personnel were ousted from their places at the border crossing and the Israelis boldly returned to the front desk. Only after a security okay is granted are travelers allowed to proceed to the Jordanian side. This is where dozens of people are taken in for questioning (both going in and out of the country) or are turned back for any number of reasons.

Last week, however, buses and buses of people were made to sleep in Jericho or on the hard benches of the rest area because the Israelis decided to go on strike at the border. Summer months are always the worst, with West Bankers traveling in and out of Jordan throughout the season and Palestinians residing abroad returning home for vacation. The bridge, a virtual bottleneck exit, is reportedly open until 9:00 pm, a huge improvement from earlier arrangements when it would close by four. However, for two days in a row, Israeli border authorities have closed down the crossing, reportedly because of the overcrowding. Those who did not make it across were forced to go back, either to wait in Jericho or on the Jordanian side until Israel decided to open the crossing again. Thousands of people including hundreds of small children were made to wait for hours in the sweltering heat in the hopes of crossing over before being forced to return.

All the Palestinians could do at the rest area at this point was try to make the miserable travelers more comfortable and fashion some kind of order out of the mayhem the Israelis had created. They have no authority over the actual crossing (the goal of anyone there) and what’s worse, are made to clean up the mess the Israelis make.

Such instances have created a mishmash of mixed feelings among the Palestinians. Initially, the sight of uniformed Palestinians in their cities and Palestinian "border" police at the crossing was a welcomed comfort after years of having to answer directly to belligerent Israeli security forces. It did not take long however, to realize the façade. Israel is always there, either directly or ominously lurking in the background.

That is why the notion of building Palestine from the outside in has been criticized so much. The core of the issue is Israel’s occupation and all the illegal measures that follow (settlements, land confiscation, the separation wall) to name a few. Somewhere along the line, the international community began to tow Israel’s line and allowed itself to be plunged into the secondary details as a means of deflecting attention from the center. What is unfortunate is that somewhere down that same line, the Palestinians made the same mistake.