Ending the Occupation

Paris. The return of Secretary of State Colin Powell to Israel has revived language that, until now, the Bush administration has avoided: peace process, peace partner and the other words that implied America would intervene in negotiations. The United States has been forced to act, because tolerance of Israeli military assaults in the occupied territories encourages demonstrators to destabilise allied Arab regimes like Egypt’s and Jordan’s. This time, the Bush people should learn from the failure of the Clinton administration to bring “peace” through the “peace process.”

The Israel-Palestine dispute does not pit state against state. There can be no equality of power and status between an occupying power and its occupied subjects. State to state negotiations may have been appropriate for Egypt and Israel. They led to Israel’s phased withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula and the removal of Egypt’s army as a factor in the Arab-Israeli military equation. Negotiations produced a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, demarcating and pacifying borders between two neighbours whose governments wanted cordial relations. Israel’s prime minister, General Ariel Sharon, has decried the lack of a Palestinian “peace partner.” He has called Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat “irrelevant” one day, an “enemy” the next. In Madrid, Secretary Powell warned Sharon that Arafat remained “the partner that Israel will have to negotiate with at some point.”

Arafat is no partner. Partnership implies a degree of equality. Israel is a state. Its army is the best equipped and deployed in the Middle East, and its institutions remain strong even during times of internal division and military conflict. Palestine of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a vulnerable, conquered land that Israeli forces traverse at will. Its territory is daily confiscated to provide living room for more Israeli settlements and settlers. Its roads are not under Palestinian control. Provision of electricity, water and other vital services depends on Israeli goodwill. Israeli armored bulldozers rolled into Jenin, demolishing houses to clear the way for tanks, protected by helicopter gunships that fired rocket after rocket on a civilian population whose sons were defending their homes. Israeli troops have Palestinian police and fighters pinned down in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, while the city’s civilian population is trapped in their homes. Palestinians have no tanks, no air force, no heavy weapons. Israel is a member state of the United Nations, whose resolutions – even those critical of Israeli behavior in the occupied territories – reaffirm the right of Israel to exist within secure and recognized borders. Who calls for Palestinians to live within secure and recognised borders?

Powell’s mission, like the previous interventions by General Anthony Zinni and Vice-president Dick Cheney, is doomed. General Sharon has emphasized his determination to ignore calls from Powell to “do it now,” that is, to withdraw from Palestinian cities and refugee camps. Sharon had already turned a deaf ear to Powell’s commander-in-chief’s wish for “a withdrawal without further delay.” Not only has Sharon delayed, Israeli forces have placed more than 4,000 Palestinians in detention without trial, bulldozed more homes, placed more Palestinians under curfew and, as the suicide bombing on Wednesday in the suburbs of the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Haifa showed, failed to provide Israelis with the security he promised them when they elected him prime minister a year ago. The peace process is dead, as any Israeli or Palestinian will tell you. It is time for a new process, not of peace, but of decolonization.

The western world knows what decolonising means. It means you leave. Your settlers go home, and you do not regulate borders that are not yours. You can hold onto, as the Americans knew in the Philippines and the British discovered in Kenya, long leases on a military base or two. For Israel, that might mean bases or early warning stations in the Jordan Valley. It does not mean forcing the Palestinians to accept 400,000 settlers in areas Israel occupied in 1967. Decolonisation ends the state of war between the occupier and the occupied. Two states recognise each other’s rights and accept their own obligations. What can follow is the real process of peace: mutual recognition, diplomatic relations, trade and meaningful discussion of differences between two states – differences that can be solved peacefully. Independence can, as with Britain and India, leave the two sides on better terms than before. Negotiations – Oslo, Wye River Plantation, Sharm el Sheikh, Camp David and Taba – do not mean peace, so long as they function to alter the terms of occupation. To declare peace without leaving your colonies is to lie.

Ending the occupation will end the spectacle of Israeli soldiers forcing Swiss Red Cross delegates to strip when they are delivering food and blankets to homeless Palestinians in Nablus. An end to occupation will restore Israel’s reputation in the world, ending the charges that Israelis torture Palestinians in custody and loot their houses. The process of decolonizing can quiet the voices within its government and the Knesset for the “transfer” of Arabs from the occupied territories, that is, the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and Gaza to provide more space for settlements. Only by working towards a decolonization formula can Israel avoid the accusation that is practices forms of racial discrimination that elsewhere were called apartheid and were condemned by the entire world. No one in Israel or the territories it occupies believes the lies of Oslo, whose failure has claimed 1,800 Palestinian and Israeli lives since this uprising against occupation began at the end of September 2000. It would be useless for Secretary Powell to revive Oslo and its so-called peace process. If he wants to end the fighting, he must compel Israel to end the occupation.

© Charles Glass 2002
Charles Glass was ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent from 1983 to 1993. He has returned from six months in Israel, where he is writing a sequel for Harper Collins to his 1990 book, Tribes with Flags.


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