A peace process to break the hearts of Palestinians

By Robert Jensen

Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch · September, 1999

[This article appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 27, 1999, p. D-17.]

AS the Israeli government and the “Palestinian Authority” lumber ahead in final status talks that began this month, U.S. officials and the mainstream media continue to present this as one more important breakthrough on the way to concluding the “peace process” that might end in the declaration of a “Palestinian state.”

But all that is breaking are the hearts of the Palestinian people and anyone else who once dreamed of real peace and real justice in the Middle East. Clarifying the terms in quotation marks can help us understand these broken dreams.

Peace process — The Oslo accords signed in 1993 instituted not a peace process but a capitulation process, the abandonment of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to regain the land from which they were expelled beginning in 1948. In the name of this peace process, Palestinian elites now scurry for any scraps that the Israelis might throw
their way.

The Wye agreements signed in 1998 changed nothing, reinforcing an Israeli policy designed to secure the best land and retain control of the water resources of the West Bank and Gaza Strip while terminating responsibility for the Palestinian population. With settlements on the ground and the demolition of Palestinian homes and confiscation of Palestinian land continuing, Israel can maintain some features of the occupation while ridding itself of obligations to the occupied peoples, which have been turned over to the Palestinian Authority.

As the Israelis and Palestinian Authority have quibbled over what percentage of the West Bank should be transferred to full or partial Authority control or when a Palestinian state might be declared, it has been easy to overlook the fact that Israel is an occupying power in violation of international law in all of the of West Bank. A basic principle of international law is that lands taken by force must be returned, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israel from territories taken in the 1967 war, including the West Bank and Gaza.

Though Oslo rendered 242 effectively dead, and some future agreement might bury 242 legally, the moral imperatives have not changed: Israeli aggression and flaunting of international law have paid off handsomely, and Israel should be held accountable.

If this is peace, it is not clear how much more peace the Palestinians can survive.

Palestinian Authority — The irony of the name is that while the Palestinian Authority is authoritarian in nature, it has precious little autonomous authority. While it has a huge police force, it is so tied to Israel that independent action is almost impossible. To keep negotiations going, the Authority has had to agree to become the enforcer for Israeli “security concerns,” which has meant that its own instincts toward authoritarian control have been intensified.

The Israeli demand for a policy of “zero tolerance” of terrorism from the Palestinian Authority means unjustified arrest campaigns, unlawful detention, excessive force and arbitrary restrictions on free expression. Much like in the Bantustan governments created by South Africa under apartheid to give the appearance of black self-rule, the Palestinian Authority has the right to police its people and administer a system designed to keep them powerless and in poverty.

If this is authority for Palestinians, it’s little more than the authority to preside over one’s own second-class status.

Palestinian state — At this point, many Israelis have no problem accepting a Palestinian state, given that such a state will be poor, militarily powerless and cut into pieces by Israeli settlements and roads. The division of resources and distribution of real power in the region won’t be altered by the declaration of a Palestinian state.

Some fanatics still hold on to the notion that no Palestinian state can ever be accepted, but they increasingly are on the fringe. Even before his election as prime minister, Ehud Barak was calling a Palestinian state a “de facto phenomenon.” He explained, “We don’t have to intervene with their decisions about stamps and passports.”

Barak has nothing to fear from a Palestinian state that has few resources and is subordinated to Israel in security matters. It will be a state in technical terms — issuing stamps and passports — but little else.

If this is a state, then being stateless has attractive features.

As always, these matters should be of serious concern to U.S. citizens, given that U.S. diplomatic support and financial and military aid have long allowed Israel to pursue these policies. The relationship between the two countries has not been without friction as strategic interests have sometimes diverged, but in the end it is not only Israeli but U.S. policy that has broken the hearts of the Palestinian people.