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http://www.lbbs.org/zmag/articles/mar95niva.htm

From the pages of March 1995 Z-magazine

Peace at Palestinian Expense

By Steve Niva and Simona Sharoni

 

Despite the official appearance of peace between Israelis and Palestinians following the Israel-PLO Accords in September 1993, continued Israeli repression of Palestinians and increased settlement construction and land confiscation in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza have meant that Palestinians have seen little change for the better in their daily lives. The revival of grassroots Palestinian resistance to the illegal settlements and land confiscation, sparked by confrontations south of Bethlehem in Al-Khadar, has refocused attention on the central issues obscured in the euphoria following the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat. Since Israel has already illegally confiscated over 50 percent of the West Bank and 45 percent of Gaza Strip for settlements, its recent actions indicate it has no intention of allowing Palestinians any more than a limited bantustan-style “autonomy” in population centers while maintaining complete territorial control and eventually annexing the settlements to Israel.

By now, as envisioned in the two-stage Oslo Accords, limited Palestinian self-rule was supposed to have been established throughout the Occupied Territories, followed by a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian population centers in advance of elections for an independent Palestinian Administrative Authority. Negotiations concerning the final status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and overall control of Palestinian territory were to begin by 1996. However, while the Israeli government had pledged not to build new settlements or expand existing ones until final status negotiations, it is clear that Israel is maximizing its territorial gains and settlement construction before being forced to the negotiating table. In addition, Israel has delayed redeployment of its army from Palestinian population centers under the convoluted pretext that to do so would jeopardize the security of the settlements.

During a recent fact-finding trip to the Occupied Territories, it was impossible to overlook the large-scale Israeli attempt to ensure that little would remain for Palestinians in any eventual settlement. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlement activity has escalated rapidly along three lines: tightening Israel's control on Jerusalem and encircling it with Jewish settlements, erasing the border between the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, and connecting settlements through an extensive road network which bypasses Palestinian population centers. The result of these actions is an emerging reality of five separate Palestinian population cantons in the West Bank and Gaza, separated by interconnected Israeli settlement blocs. In addition, the political, commercial, and cultural center of Palestinian life, East Jerusalem, has been subject to permanent military closure preventing the entry of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. This policy severs Jerusalem from the West Bank and strengthens Israel's claim to absolute sovereignty over its self-declared capital city.

The narrow Israeli conception for implementing Palestinian autonomy appears to be that Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority are to relieve the Israeli military of its burden of policing the Palestinian population, long an aspiration of mainstream labor Zionist movement. Arafat has been informed that his primary task is to protect Israeli security and silence opposition to the Oslo Accords, which has meant cracking down on the grassroots Islamist and nationalist opposition to the agreement. Although he has little room to maneuver, Arafat hasn't helped matters by stacking the Palestinian Authority with hand-picked loyalists, mostly from the Palestinian Diaspora, which has undercut popular leadership from inside the Occupied Territories. In addition, Israel has sought to determine in advance the composition of nominees for elections, excluding political groups critical of the Accords, which strengthens the claim that the elected Authority would be nothing more than an extension of the Israeli occupation.

The present situation is ripe for failure. It seeks to cancel any hopes for Palestinian self-determination and eventual statehood, and can only lead to increasing inter-Palestinian divisions and violence as Arafat is pressured to demonstrate that he places Israeli “security” concerns above the needs of his own people. The terms of the Oslo Accords must either be revised or abandoned. Final status negotiations on Jerusalem, settlements and eventual Palestinian statehood must begin now before the territorial status quo is too firmly imprinted. At a minimum, to comply with the terms of Oslo, Israel must freeze its settlement construction and land confiscation, withdraw the military from Palestinian population centers, and allow Palestinians to begin political and economic reconstruction to reverse the devastation left by 29 years of Israeli military occupation. For peace to become more than a symbolic handshake which masks continued Israeli occupation and expansion, it is necessary to replace the Israeli vision of limited autonomy and cantonization with concrete steps towards Palestinian statehood in the 22 percent of historical Palestine that remains.

 

 

The authors are activists who currently teach international politics at the American University in Washington, DC, and have just returned from a month long trip to Palestine.



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