the Occupation is supported by its Opponents
illustrate this, let us look at a representative column published
recently in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. There is nothing
special about this column, written by Uzi Benziman, a senior
columnist with a clear anti-occupation commitment: its argument
would be repeated almost verbatim by most Israelis on the
dovish side. In his
weekend column of 16th March, Benziman relates a recent
Israeli atrocity: what he calls "setting up a tight blockade
around the [Palestinian] city [of Ramallah] to try to block
all access in either direction" (note how painstakingly he
is avoiding the more concise term "siege"). Benziman mentions
the official reason given for the siege by the Israeli army
(a purported Palestinian plan to bring a car bomb from Ramallah
into Jerusalem), falls short of criticizing it (why then were
the other Palestinian towns besieged too?), refers to the
international outcry against the suffering caused to the residents
of Ramallah, and sums up:
so, after environmental closures, targeted assassinations,
helicopter attacks, artillery fire, uprooting of orchards
and dissecting the territories had already been deemed unacceptable,
the government and the Israel Defense Forces were now being
asked to remove the tight blockade from the repertoire of
deterrent and punishing measures used to contend with Palestinian
a dove, Benziman must condemn all those atrocities. He admits:
these demands are wholly justifiable: Collective punishment
harms innocents, and pinpoint sniping is akin to execution
without trial. This Israeli violence does not effect a weakening
of Palestinian violence and does not help to resolve the bloody
conflict gripping both sides."
Benziman indeed finds the actions neither moral nor constructive.
But here comes the 'but':
the Israeli side might rightly wonder: Just what method is
legitimate and permissible to use in order to combat murderous
Palestinian terror? What retaliatory or deterrent measure
will the world find acceptable? And if you say that ending
the occupation and withdrawing to the 1967 lines is the formula
for halting the cycle of violence, how do you reply to the
argument that this option was tried nearly in full (by Ehud
Barak) only to be met by the stubborn demand for the realization
of the right of return?"
is exactly where the legacy of Barak comes in. Read this passage
carefully. Observe how the imperative to end the occupation
is supplanted by a reference to Barak's negotiations with
Arafat. Those nebulous negotiations, according to Benziman,
actually mean that Israel has "tried nearly in full"(!) the
option of "ending the occupation and withdrawing to the 1967
lines"(!) whereas in reality, as we all know, Israel
has neither taken a single actual measure towards ending the
occupation, nor withdrawn a single step towards the 1967 lines!
to the signing of the first Oslo agreement in 1993, Israeli
doves shared the belief that there was an occupation, that
it must be ended and that Israel must return to the 1967 borders.
Benziman still echoes those good old days in his column. Since
1993, the concept of occupation has become questionable: most
doves have believed that Israel was willing to put an end
to it soon, so that the occupation was hardly worth resisting
anymore; whereas several prominent figures in the peace camp
Amos Oz, Yossi Sarid out of naiveté or
outright hypocrisy, have sometimes raised the dangerous argument
that the occupation had actually ended already, that the Palestinians
actually had their own independent state "even if it wasn't
called so yet" and that Israel should take the issue off its
now, after the collapse of Oslo, the tune of the doves has
changed: in their view, Israel should not end the occupation,
nor is it likely to end in any foreseeable future, nor has
it ended it already. The occupation is alive and well, but
only because even though the "option of peace" was
"tried nearly in full" by former PM Barak's "generous offers"
the Palestinians replied with rejection and violence.
The occupation has not ended simply because the Palestinians
undermined Israel's deepest desire to end it. The problem
is no longer the occupation, but rather the Palestinians.
In a brilliant colonialist twist, it is the Palestinian victims,
not the Israeli perpetrators, who take the guilt.
is not surprising to find this argument happily embraced by
the pro-occupation camp: asked for his reaction to reports
(immediately denied) about Sharon's willingness to evacuate
settlements in Gaza, a spokesperson for the settlers reminded
us that "Barak had recently offered the Palestinians to evacuate
a hundred settlements, but they refused" (Ha'aretz,
20th March 2001). But it is actually striking to see how anti-occupation
columnists like Benziman recycle this official (ideo)logical
fallacy and use it not merely to defend the occupation as
a whole, but as an outright justification for siege and other
acts of utmost brutality widely imposed upon civilian populations.
Rejectionism: Myth or Reality?
Barak's legacy consists of convincing the peace camp that
the Palestinians do not want peace. The ideological twist
of blaming the victims is perverse, but how seriously can
we take the claim that the Palestinians rejected Israel's
generous peace-seeking hand? This is not the place to go into
detail, but let us just raise a few points:.
Barak contradicted his own words about making "the most
generous offer that Israel can make" by using this argument
twice, once in the peace talks before the Al-Aqsa Intifada
and then again in the renewed negotiations during the Intifada,
so his own claims cannot be taken seriously.
Barak's words were further contradicted by his acts. Had
Barak truly wanted to "turn every stone on the road to peace,"
to withdraw from the territories and to evacuate settlements,
he would not have erected some 45 new settlements during
his 18 months in power and massively extended existing ones.
No protocol of the Clinton-Barak-Arafat talks was ever published.
What leaked was the famous "Clinton Proposal," which does
not mention the dismantling of a single Israeli settlement,
but speaks only in positive terms of what Israel will be
allowed to annex. From this leaked document, the Palestinian
suspicions of a trap a vague agreement that will
not end the occupation, just like all previous Oslo-accords
seem very justified.
The whole story secret negotiations, "generous offers,"
"rejectionist partner", and then armed conflict shows
an astonishing similarity to the pattern of all too many
"unsuccessful peace talks" under American auspices since
the end of the Cold War (Israel-Syria; USA-Iraq; NATO-Serbia
and others). This in itself raises the suspicion that we
are dealing here not with reality, but with a New-World-Order
Finally, note Barak's haste to officially withdraw from
the negotiating table whatever offers he had made, and to
emphasize backed by former president Clinton
that these offers do not bind the next Israeli government.
Strangely enough, Barak's cabinet had never seen the offers
made to the Palestinians, but in one of its last sessions
Barak made the cabinet pass a resolution officially withdrawing
all offers he had made. Had Barak been interested in peace,
he should have done just the opposite.
all these points, it seems to follow that Palestinian rejectionism
belongs to the realm of myth, not reality: that they were
not offered anything, and rather than rejecting generous offers,
they simply refused to surrender to an Israeli intention to
get their consent for the perpetuation of the occupation.
suppose Israel did make its "most generous offer," and suppose
the Palestinians did reject it. Does this legitimize the occupation?
Does the Palestinian insistence on the (internationally acknowledged)
Right of Return justify the Israeli occupation throughout
the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Does the Palestinian demand
to get back 100% of their occupied lands legitimize the provocative
presence of 400 Israeli settlers in the heart of Hebron, not
to mention the murderous brutalities being used for crushing
2001 to 1948
often heard argument is that Barak for the first time put
all the hard-core issues on the table, broke old taboos and
prepared the Israelis for the heavy price of peace. Nothing
can be less true. Barak never confirmed any of the concessions
ascribed to him by the media: on the contrary, he always stressed
that he had made no concessions whatsoever. The "generous
offers" theory was launched only once they had been allegedly
rejected by the other side. The Israelis did not have time
to get accustomed to the "heavy price of peace": they heard
of this price only after it had become clear that Israel was
not going to pay it.
as it is, Barak legacy holds firm. The hawks never abandoned
their prejudices portraying all Arabs or, even better,
all non-Jews as war-lovers. But Barak managed to take
almost the entire Israeli peace camp back to square one, to
"we want peace, but the Palestinians won't let us". What the
devoted supporters of the Israeli occupation could not do
in decades, Barak accomplished in less than two years: a real
national unity, formed around the traditional pro-occupation
to this legacy of Barak, the return of the previous generation
of Israeli leaders was just a logical consequence. If "there
is no partner for peace," as now not only Barak but even Yossi
Sarid claims, if the Palestinians just want "to throw Israelis
into the sea" (as the Right of Return is usually interpreted
in Israel), then we are back in 1948, in the War of Independence
and don't let facts like 34 years of occupation, like
regional superpower and nuclear weapons, like stable peace
treaties with Egypt and Jordan confuse us. Barak often used
1948 as his historical frame of reference, modestly comparing
himself to David Ben-Gurion and saying that "if necessary,
Israel's youth will fight like it did back in 1948." By this
historical comparison Barak was digging not only the actual
graves of hundreds of Palestinians, but also his own political
grave. After all, if we are back in 1948, says the voter,
let us have as prime minister an old warrior from that generation.
this is where Sharon takes over. It now remains to be seen
how far Sharon will take the new consensus around the occupation
and its "inevitable" and "justified" atrocities, and how he
will keep his own promises to make peace: is it peace meaning
peace, or rather peace meaning war? But whatever road
Sharon may take, there is one thing we can be sure of: his
loyal Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will always tell the world
that it is the true and only road to peace.
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