October 16, 2001

Who Cares About the Palestinians?

Dennis Ross, former envoy to the Middle East in the Clinton administration and in Arab eyes an incarnation of the blind American support for Israel, has published a column in the New York Times entitled “Bin Laden's Terrorism Isn't About the Palestinians.” Ross writes:

“In 1990, Saddam Hussein claimed that he had invaded Kuwait to help the Palestinians. He understood that he was isolated and needed to link his invasion to a cause that might appear legitimate. (…) In an echo of 1990, Osama bin Laden tried, in his videotaped message this week, to make the same linkage (...) He is no more credible than Mr. Hussein was. His Al Qaeda network did not attack America because of the absence of peace in the Middle East.”

Bin Laden and the United States are both engaged in the very same game. While both of them could not care less about the Palestinians, they both do their best to convince the (Arab) world that they couldn’t care more. Bin Laden might have tried to attack the US even if there was a fair peace in Palestine – I agree with Ross about that – but he would have found considerably less support if this had been the case. Bin Laden would have been even less attractive to the Arabs and Muslims if the unimaginable sums of petrodollars streaming from Middle Eastern oil-wells had found their way back to the inhabitants of the region, not just to a couple of “royal” families and to the American weapon industry. In fact, if this had been the case, Bin Laden himself might not have gained access to so much wealth in the first place. After all, Bin Laden is a product of a US-inspired economic model that enriches the few and impoverishes the rest.

Peace Process: One Term, Two Meanings

Bin Laden uses the Palestinian plight for his own cause, but the United States is doing the very same thing. Since justice and fairness play no role in American foreign policy, the support of many on the Palestinian street for Bin Laden is all but understandable. If the Palestinians had been quiet and loyal supporters of the US, no one would have given a damn about them at all. Their very reservedness, as well as the solidarity of Arabs in many countries of the Middle East with the Palestinian cause, makes the US court them. On the eve of a new American peace initiative, the question is what this courtship is worth.

As Ross correctly points out, we have a precedent. After the Gulf War, to “reward” the Arabs for their support, the United States organised the Madrid Conference to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, which now counts as the opening stage of the Middle East Peace Process.

The term “Peace Process,” however, has two meanings. Most people believe it means “a process that should lead to peace, and the sooner the better.” This is nice, but it is not what Israel and the United States mean by this term. Their definition would be rather: “a process that defers a just peace, and the longer the better.” Yosef Ben Aharon, Israel’s chief negotiator in the Syrian channel following the Madrid Conference, openly admitted that in meetings with the Syrian colleagues he used to sing out loud and to drum on the table in order not to hear them. Did the United States mind? Not at all, as long as the facade of a "peace process” could be upheld.

The same holds for the Oslo Process, another indirect offspring of the Madrid Conference. The Oslo agreements “deferred all the essential issues to the final status agreement,” as American and Israeli officials use to put it. In fact, those “essential issues” are synonymous to the Occupation, including the fate of the Israeli settlements and the question of borders. Deferring them simply meant perpetuating the Occupation till the “final status.” Daniela Weiss, a prominent leader of the extremist settlers’ movement, says that PM Rabin told her openly from the very beginning that there would never be a final status agreement. And though the final status agreement should have been concluded by 1998, Rabin’s self-fulfilling prophecy – in other words: Israel’s premeditated intention – still holds. So does the Israeli Occupation, in spite of the decade that passed since Madrid.

We have every reason to believe that the new American peace plan has been created with the same intention: gain time for another decade of American-backed Israeli occupation, until the next international crisis, when the next “peace initiative” will be solemnly launched.

'Surprises' That Are Unsurprising

Journalists love to see a crisis where there is none. It dramatises their reports. The world was outraged by Sharon’s “We are Not Czechoslovakia” speech and by its harsh rejection by President Bush (“unacceptable”). What an unbridgeable crack in the intimate relations between the United States and Israel! What a historic landmark! So irreversible was the “crisis,” that it took less than 48 hours for both sides to declare it that was over, forgiven and forgotten.

Another favourite journalistic term is “surprise”; many columnists seem to have developed a selective memory in order to be “surprised” again and again by quite unsurprising information. Thus, Bush’s claim that his “vision” (?!) always included a Palestinian State was perceived as both a “surprise” to, and a “crisis” with, Israel. Columnists have willingly forgotten that just a few days before Bush’s speech, PM Sharon himself said he wanted to give the Palestinians “what no one had given them before,” namely a Palestinian state: in fact, this was the top headline of Haaretz on the 24th of September.

Text-only printable version of this article

Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and has grown up in Israel. He has B.A. in Computer Science, M.A. in Comparative Literature and he presently works on his PhD thesis. He lives in Tel-Aviv, teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature in Tel-Aviv University. He also works as literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. His work has been published widely in Israel. His column appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

Archived columns

Who Cares About the Palestinians?

Dancing in the Streets

The Ideology of Occupation

The Chosen Pariah

Mideast War – Really Imminent?

The State of the Army, Part Two

Building Settlements, Killing Peace

The State of the Army, Part 1

Israeli Left Sells Out Peace

Barak's Legacy

Three Offers That Are One

Sharon’s readiness to accept a Palestinian state was itself perceived as a great “surprise,” until it had to be forgotten in favour of the “surprise” when Bush reiterated it. If, however, columnists had minded checking their archives, they would have been forced to give up their surprise in view of a report published in Haaretz on December 11th, 1998. Sharon was at the time Neyanyahu’s Foreign Minister, and he was on a visit to the United States.

“U.S. sources have told Ha'aretz that during his visit Sharon promoted a formula under which a Palestinian state may be established only in what are now Areas A and B of the West Bank. When the Wye process is compete, Area A, under Palestinian control, and Area B, under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, would account for a total of 42 percent of the West Bank, leaving Israel in control of 58 percent. In return for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's agreement to this formula, the United States would recognize the mini-state. Several outstanding issues, such as Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and final borders would all be indefinitely postponed under the Sharon plan. (...) Israel would thus retain control of the majority of the West Bank.”

The date, again: 11th of December, 1998.

What has so far been leaked about Bush’s expected peace initiative for the Middle East is totally compatible with Sharon’s old plan. Bush will probably offer the Palestinians what Sharon offers them: a “state” on less than half of the West Bank, no more a state than any Bantustan was under Apartheid; with core issues like borders and settlements postponed – in other words: the Israeli occupation perpetuated – indefinitely. This “peace offer” may seem stingy compared with the 96% Barak purportedly offered, but in fact this is one and the same offer, as Robert Fisk of the Independent reveals:

“In reality, Palestinian officials and American sources – the latter wisely avoiding Israeli condemnation by talking anonymously ­- have pointed out that the figure of 96 per cent represented the percentage of the land over which Israel was prepared to negotiate ­- not 96 per cent of the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip. Left out of the equation was Arab east Jerusalem -­ illegally annexed by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War -­ the huge belt of Jewish settlements, including Male Adumim, around the city and a 10-mile wide military buffer zone around the Palestinian territories. Along with the obligation to lease back settlements ­- built illegally under international law on Arab land ­- to Israel for 25 years, the total Palestinian land from which Israel was prepared to withdraw came to only around 46 per cent -­ a far cry from the 96 per cent touted after Camp David.”

Barak’s offer of 46% thus more or less equals Sharon’s offer of 42%: this is the Israeli offer, and Bush’s ideas will be no different.

So exactly like during the Gulf War, Bush’s expected plan for the Middle East will be just an attempt to pacify the Arab rulers, or at best the Arab masses, by false illusions until their support is no longer necessary – when the nice words, just like the imaginary crises with Israel, will be thrown to the dustbin of history and the United States will return to its traditional one-sidedness in favour of Israel’s expansionism. Israeli-American rejectionism offers the Palestinians just one peaceful option: surrender now, or join a “peace process” and surrender later. It is as negotiable as Bush’s ultimatum to the Taliban.

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