Israel Redefines the Terms of Peace
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.
out the spectacular view of the Red Sea resort, the 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.
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 obliged to examine
the relative historic context of the present Palestinian uprising.
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.
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 with a well-defined program. Both Palestinian uprisings
in 1987 and 2000 articulated a message that largely reflected the
political aspirations of most Palestinians: a sovereign Palestinian
state in all territories illegally occupied by Israel in 1967, including
occupied East Jerusalem.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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 were never on the Israeli agenda.
why bother talking peace to begin with?
has long reverted from its past policies of mass expulsion. Such
policies were bad publicity for Israel. They embarrassed devoted
benefactors in Washington and helped Palestinians gain international
attention, significantly slowing down Israel’s expansionist
designs in the region.
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.” 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.
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, abruptly
refused to sign off on Palestinian rights. Second, Palestinian masses
rose in rebellion. Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proved
merciless in his response to both, and the rest is history.
death on November 11, 2004 has indeed “revived hope,”
as the media has since parroted. The “hope” extracted
from the death of Arafat, however, was the hope of returning to
the Oslo legacy and the status quo that has 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
with the election of Sharm el-Sheikh the 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
Sharm el-Sheikh summit was a “success” because it kowtowed
to the expectations of Israel and the U.S. 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 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 London
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?)
summit was a failure, infested with all the symptoms of Oslo and
will suffer 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?
is a veteran Arab-American journalist and editor in chief of