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February 19, 2005

How Israel Is Once Again Redefining the Terms of Peace


by Ramzy Baroud

The recent and supposedly 'successful' Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt on February 8 was anything but a triumph, as far as Palestinians, the occupied party, and genuine peace-seeking Israelis are concerned.

Leave out the spectacular view of the Red Sea resort, the impressively meticulous Egyptian hospitality, the heart-rending speeches and the touting of the media thereafter, and you'll have an off-putting view of the upcoming weeks and months: relative calm followed by the typically disproportionate violence the region has known for years.

But before we cast judgment on the summit's initial outcome – as laying the ground for a lasting peace vs. presenting an interval of calm before the resumption of war – we are dually obliged to examine the relative historic context of the present Palestinian uprising. Only then, one can begin to offer an educated and critical analysis of what is likely to follow.

Israeli governments have mastered the technique of pushing Palestinians to the brink, through collective punishment, brutal military policies, house-destruction and so on. However, the implicit objective of the Israeli policy has not been exclusively aimed at subduing Palestinians. Its ultimate aim has been the expropriation of Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories of the 1967 border.

Being pushed to the brink, Palestinians resisted, violently and otherwise. Their resistance has occasionally produced a campaign of collective action, mostly spontaneous, but was often galvanized by local political movements to articulate a well-defined program.

Both Palestinian uprisings in 1987 and 2000 articulated a message that largely reflected the political aspirations of most Palestinians: a truly sovereign Palestinian state in all territories illegally occupied by Israel in 1967, including occupied East Jerusalem.

One must also remember that even in the most radicalized and revolutionary phases of their modern history, Palestinians demanded barely 22 percent of the total size of historic Palestine as was defined prior to the creation of Israel.

These demands frustrated Israel, who continued to infuse false and outlandish claims throughout the Western media that the lightly armed Palestinian uprisings (the 1987 Intifada's most universal weapons were slingshots hurling rocks at Israeli attack-helicopters) posed a threat to the very existence of the state of Israel.

One can hardly claim that Israel's position remained static throughout the years. But it would be harder to argue that Israel's change of position was anything but cosmetic, symbolic and rhetorical. Without a doubt we've come a long way since the days where the overriding consensus in Israel was to eradicate Palestinians as a nation by any means necessary. Also, long gone are the days where top Israeli officials labored to omit the historic imperative that a people called Palestinians even existed.

Nonetheless, reality on the ground still serves the same set of beliefs carried by past Israeli governments as reflected in their policies. For example, despite the frequent utilization of the term "peace" by Israeli officials, on both sides of the political spectrum, especially after the signing of the Oslo accord in 1993, there was an intensive Israeli campaign to drive Palestinians out of their land, to expand the settlements, to expropriate large chunks of the West Bank as "security zones" and to further alienate and completely fence off occupied East Jerusalem. According to the records of Israel's Peace Now movement, the number of illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories has at least doubled since the signing of the "historic" Oslo agreement.

Israel has never changed its ultimate objective. We know this because Israel's illegal practices on the ground have continued unabated. Granting Palestinians long-denied rights, cohesive territorial sovereignty and honoring international law was never on the Israeli agenda. Most likely these issues will continue to be disregarded until the political imbalances (read the US government's dishonest role in the conflict) are rectified.

Then, why bother talking peace to begin with?

Israel has long reverted from its past policies of mass expulsion. Such policies were simply bad publicity for Israel. They embarrassed devoted benefactors in Washington and helped Palestinians garner international attention, significantly slowing down Israel's expansionist designs in the region.

The 1993 Oslo accord thus intended to serve the particular purpose of removing the Palestinian-Israeli file from the more critical list of international conflicts, buffing up Israel's tainted reputation and giving rise to a corrupt and self-consumed Palestinian leadership, under the banner of "fighting terror." And while Palestinian negotiators were pitifully lost in an awesome edifice of detailed proposals containing thousands of pages of legal rhetoric describing in unfathomable language every trivial "deployment" Israeli tanks were to make, Israeli bulldozers dug out the West Bank to erect new Jewish settlements.

In 2000, the year of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, two major factors once again hampered the Israeli design. First, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat diverted from the role to which he was entrusted and abruptly, yet decidedly refused to sign off Palestinian rights to the last one. Second, Palestinian masses – the dual victim of Israeli occupation and of the utterly corrupt PA elite – rose in rebellion. Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proved merciless in his response to both, and the rest is history.

Arafat's death on November 11, 2004 has indeed "revived hope," as the media has since parroted. The "hope" extracted from the death of frail Arafat however, was the hope of returning to the Oslo legacy and returning to the status quo that defined the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for years. This yielded nil – save a few symbolic gestures – for the Palestinians. On the other hand, it won time and vigor for Israel's unilateral expansionist project.

Thus, welcome to Sharm el-Sheikh, another Oslo but with an Arabian scent and flavor. Palestinian political elite shall rule once more, reclaiming their rightful position in society while the vulgar Philistines shall be pushed back to the gutter where they were suppose to remain. Israeli bulldozers shall carry on with the construction of the mammoth, illegal wall, and illegal settlements shall "naturally expand." Israeli troops shall "redeploy," but snipers must maintain their positions at tall buildings adjacent to every Palestinian town, village and refugee camp. Diplomatic life shall be restored between Israel and its immediate neighbors – and maybe a few others – and Sharon shall be King of Israel, for only he has triumphed in war and in peace.

The Sharm el-Sheikh summit was a "success" because it kowtowed to the expectations of Israel and its American client. It fell short of making any serious effort to bring peace that is defined in accordance with the principals of justice as entrenched in international law and a long list of relevant United Nations resolutions. It demanded Palestinians to overcome their violent tendencies and expected the long-victimized nation to provide Israel, a nuclear power with an army ranked with the top five, with the security it "rightfully needs and deserves." Not once was the term "occupation" mentioned throughout the whole conference, says Robert Fisk, writing for the Independent.

Sharm el-Sheikh failed to address the major grievances that defined the Palestinian national struggle for generations: an end to occupation, the right of return, and the removal of the settlements, among others. The summit was almost exclusively reserved for talks about Israel's security: since when was it acceptable for an occupying power to demand security from its captives?

The summit was a failure, infested with all the symptoms of Oslo, and with no doubt, it will garner the same fate. But by the time such a failure is recognized, Israel's imperial project, the wall and settlements and the calculated annexation of most of the West Bank, shall become accepted as "facts on the ground." Maybe then, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the co-author of Oslo, will understand the extent of his self-defeatist pragmatism. But then, will it even matter?


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  • Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle is now out in paperback.

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