Israel’s ‘record is not reassuring’ [Archives:2005/831/Opinion]

April 7 2005

By Ramzy Baroud
An independent and sovereign Palestinian state, with well-defined borders, territorial contiguity and integrity, economic promise and all the aspects that should define any self-respected state has been confined ) since the signing of the Oslo peace agreement with Israel in 1993 ) to the rosy speeches of politicians and optimistic commentators in the West as well as in the Middle East.

The reality on the ground is starkly different. That disparity ) between interpretation and reality ) is perhaps the single most important factor that culminated in the eruption of the Palestinian uprising (Al Aqsa Intifada) in September 2000.

And now we face the same dilemma, the decades-old dichotomy that has defined the Arab-Israeli conflict since its foundation with the Palestinian refugee crisis in 1947-1948 and again in 1967. Since early days, Israel has crudely used the pretence of security to justify its wars, expulsion of the Palestinian population, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the maintaining of its inhumane military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza following the war of 1967.

Since then and even before, dozens of UN Security Council resolutions and General Assembly resolutions have been passed, condemning Israel's action and demanding a swift Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Indeed, there is a wealth of UN resolutions that are yet to be carried out or even acknowledged, for that matter, one of which is Resolution 194, stipulating that Palestinian refugees “wishing to return to their homes … should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.

Today, Palestinian refugees, according to the United Nations, count up to five million, spread across the Middle East. A large number, which continue to live in refugee camps across Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, identifying with no entity other than Palestine.

The main fallacy of the so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the last 12 years was the complete omission or the indefinite postponement of fundamental Palestinian demands ) demands sustained and cemented by international law and, most recently, the July 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice. The problem lies in the Israeli occupation of Arab land. The Israeli military's control of Palestinian territories since 1967 has been anything but benign. It has invited a legacy of violence and counterviolence that has claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis. It has systematically and intentionally destroyed any chance for peace. It insisted to punish the victim for the sins of aggressor.

Palestinians are victims, and their rights, security and welfare should be the priority of the international community. Israel has no right to demand security from its victims; it lost that right the moment it breached international law, when its tanks rolled onto Palestinian land.

Unfortunately, however, it is as if the opposite were true. Those who follow media coverage since the death of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat can draw only one conclusion: that Palestinians are at fault, and only the death of their extremist, uncompromising leader could bring peace or at least revive the deadlocked peace process.

This dreadful habit of blaming the victim has also defined US foreign policy and media discourse for years: only if Palestinians would unify their security forces, clamp down on terrorism, reform their political institutions, cease incitement and put down their weapons and become more democratic, could they become worthy peace partners. But even then, Israel is under no obligation to do much, since democratic or otherwise, the mere existence of Palestinians is problematic.

This is not an exaggeration. The fact that the birth rate among Palestinians is higher than that among Israelis is termed a “demographic bomb”, a problem in the eye of Israel that must be countered by any means necessary, including the fencing off and the caging of Palestinian towns and villages to keep the unwanted multitudes of people out of Israel's domain, while keeping Palestinian land.

Entire communities in the West Bank have lost their farms, freshwater sources, access to markets, schools and major cities. In short, their freedom has been sacrificed, so that the Israeli apartheid wall can continue to grow. Israel's wall will slice the West Bank into two main parts and slice the two parts into numerous others, separated by military zones, settlers bypass roads and other military installations meant to bolster Israel's security, or so we are told.

The occupied territories make up 22 per cent of the size of historic Palestine. But much of the little remaining has been stolen throughout the years, ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian inhabitants to make room for Israeli settlements, all illegal under international law.

Arafat's death on Nov. 11, 2004, has indeed “revived hope”. But by hope, Israel and its friends mean the hope of returning to the Oslo legacy and the status quo that defined the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for years. Oslo has yielded nothing but a few symbolic gestures to the Palestinians. On the other hand, it won time and vigour for Israel's unilateral expansionist project.

Israel's real motives behind the impetus in the peace process are anything but a secret, and thus must not be seen as a Palestinian construct. While Israel is congratulated for its courage and “painful compromises” in deciding to “disengage” from Gaza, Israeli officials speak openly of Israel's dishonest objectives of wanting to partially withdraw from Gaza to simply strengthen its grip over the West Bank. Strangely enough, it was this repugnant Israeli ruse that was translated (thanks to Israel's friends in the media and in the US administration) into an Israeli gesture of good will. As revolting as the Israeli government's intentions are, they supposedly placed the ball into the Palestinian court. Palestinians are now expected to reciprocate an illusion deprived of any substance or value.

A just peace is indeed possible, but not according to the current standards, which the Palestinian Authority has sadly accepted. If the two-state solution is to work, Israel must dismantle all its settlements from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza and withdraw to the June 1967 borders, in accordance with UN resolutions 242 and 338. Palestinian refugees must be given the choice to return to their land, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. The Israeli wall must come down, in accordance to the ruling of the International Court of Justice of July 2004. But, more important than numbers, dates and figures, Israel must accept its responsibility for Palestinian dispossession and suffering for the last five decades. If such willingness cannot be found in Israel, the international community must do all it can to ensure the implementation of the law it helped draft.

Palestinians, on the other hand, must continue to create alliances among peace forces around the world, including Israel itself, and under no circumstance should they forfeit their right to defend themselves.

Shortly before his untimely death, Palestinian-American professor Edward Said wrote in Al Ahram Weekly: “So far, all we hear is that Palestinians must give up violence and condemn terror. Is nothing substantive ever demanded of Israel? Can it go on doing what it has without a thought for the consequences? That is the real question of its existence: whether it can exist as a state like all others, or must always be above the constraints and duties of all other states in the world today. The record is not reassuring.”

The writer is a veteran Arab-American journalist, the editor-in-chief of and a programme producer at Aljazeera Satellite Television. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.