Unbuilding Babel

It is evident from recent statements coming out of Washington that Palestinians, Israelis and the international community speak three different languages. As a people under occupation, the Palestinians want a future free of Israeli domination. As occupiers, the Israelis demand unconditional surrender by all the Palestinians. The American-led international community is proposing a compromise that might bridge their differences. However, instead it is widening the gulf that separates them.

As the region plunges deeper into violence, the Peace Process has turned into a Tower of Babel, with all the parties involved drawing the wrong lessons. Instead of charting a clear way out of the current mess, the international community is proposing a detour in the form of reform, and this has further distorted the Peace Process.

The United States has brought Europe, the United Nations and Russia into a new peace effort based on the three pillars of the reform of Palestinian security, the reform of the Palestinian economy and the fight against terrorism. Content to be on board, the members of the “quartet” have accepted Washington’s dictates and chosen to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room — decades of Israeli military occupation.

When the IMF, one of the designated shapers of the reform, sent its representative to Palestine two months ago to coordinate with the new Palestinian minister of finance, Salem Fayyad, a former IMF representative, the two officials could not meet even once during the three-week visit because of Israeli restrictions and closures. The IMF representative was forced to return to Washington hoping for better conditions the next time around.

A couple of weeks later, the Palestinian Authority and the leaders of Hamas, the group responsible for most of the suicide bombings, reached the final stage of a dialogue that would have paved the way towards de-escalation of the violence. Informed of the discussions, the Sharon Government chose to bomb the residential building where one of the Hamas leaders was living, killing 15 people, most of them children. Since then the level of Israeli killings and Palestinian suicide bombings has only increased.

The declared policy of the Sharon Government is to force the Palestinians to surrender and ensure that any future Palestinian Authority collaborates with Israel over security in segregated Palestinian ”bantustans.” Israel insists on negotiating with the Palestinians under occupation, but refuses to talk to the Palestinian Authority while Palestinians outside its control defy the military occupation.

The occupation, which preceded the suicide bombings by three decades, has robbed many Palestinians of a sense of purpose. No wonder a growing number are finding instead a purpose in death, with Hamas easily finding fresh recruits.

Yet, while Sharon and Hamas might speak the same language of revenge and the killing of innocent civilians, there are three major differences between them.

First, Hamas fights with human bombs in order to rid the Palestinians of the Israeli occupation, while Sharon pursues it with American bombs in order to maintain Israeli domination over Greater Israel.

Second, Sharon’s actions represent those of an elected government of a sovereign state, hence Israel, all of Israel, is accountable for his actions. The suicide bombers, on the other hand, represent only the desperate or fundamentalist segments of the Palestinian people. However, a people denied other forms of expression will increasingly support whatever form of resistance is available.

Third, Israel is a member of the United Nations, and it must abide by the UN’s charter and conventions, especially the 4th Geneva Convention which regulates military occupation. Revenge in the form of pre-emption, deterrence that involves mass punishment and changing the status of occupied territories through annexation or settlement are all illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

The logic of both Sharon and Hamas has failed. Making the Palestinian Authority a kind of buffer zone between vanquished Palestinians and insecure Israelis has not contained the violence, and doing away with the Palestinian Authority will not contain the violence either. The responsibility of any credible Palestinian leadership is, first and foremost, the safety and well being of its people, not that of the illegal Israeli settlers. A collaborator with the occupation cannot make a viable peace with Israel.

To do away with the logic of violence, the international community must impose the language of law. Because a culture of revenge now dominates in the autonomous areas, while human rights are violated on a mass scale, legal means must be implemented in the search for a solution.

What is missing today in this search is not a mandate for the international community to act as it did in the Balkans, but rather its lack of will and courage to do so.

Marwan Bishara teaches at the American University in Paris and is the author of Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid

Leave a comment