4 October 1996
Palestine: The Deadly Peace
Journalist Eve Kay was invited by Genderwatch to speak on the state of the
Middle East peace process on 2 October at the School of Oriental and African
Studies. This is the text of her talk.
The thing that worries most people regarding the events of last week is
that it seems to be the end of the peace process.
What with Palestinian police firing on Israeli troops and Israeli tanks
surrounding six major West Bank towns - promising to reoccupy if the violence
continues - it is a far cry from the famous handshake on the White House
lawn back in September 1993.
They seem to be at war, not at peace.
What worries most of the media commentators is that the untested Benjamin
Netanyahu, Israel's new Likud PM, is not up to the job of peace.
They complain that he is ignoring advice from his Foreign and Defence Ministries
and surrounding himself with aides with no qualification except that they
are loyal to him.
Scrabbling around to find a reason for the upsurge of conflict commentators
are looking at what is only the newest element to the situation - the fact
of Netanyahu's election. They point to the tactical ineptitude of secretly
opening a tunnel by the al Aqsa mosque without informing the Americans,
Palestinians or even Netanyahu's Chief of Staff. 'Is Netanyahu up to making
peace?' asks Newsweek.
My response to all these questions and concerns is that they miss the point.
It is not the case that the peace process is in 'jeopardy' or about to collapse
- what we are seeing is the peace process playing itself out, the peace
process in action.
This goes against conventional wisdom - so I will expand on this later.
But also want to dispel some other myths spread by the media and political
commentators - the idea that America is acting as the 'honest broker' between
the Israelis and the Palestinians.
First of all, it is important to retrace steps leading up to recent events:
Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu wins the Israeli elections; immediately he stalls
the implementation of various deals with the Palestinians; then he begins
demanding new concessions from the Palestinians.
Despite the immediate focus on the tunnel, the main stumbling block has
been the redeployment Israeli troops out of the West Bank town of Hebron.
In Hebron 1450 Jewish settlers are ensconced amongst 120 000 Palestinians.
It is where the zionist fanatic, Baruch Goldstein massacred 30 Palestinian
worshippers back in 1994.
Under the 'Oslo II' agreement signed in September 1995 Israeli troops occupying
Hebron were to be redeployed by 22 March 1996.
So when David Bar Illan says in the Times on Monday that Israelis are stalling
the redeployment due to Palestinian police violence, this is a lie.
Throughout August and September PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Netanyahu exchanged
insults. Arafat pleaded for the Oslo accords to be implemented and Netanyahu
replied that redeployment of Israeli troops in Hebron must be renegotiated.
He also demanded 15 per cent more of Hebron land should be kept for Jewish
What has not been commented on in the press is the deal signed in January
1996 between the Israeli army's Major-General Ilan Biran and the Palestine
National Assembly chief security negotiator, General Yahya. This deal speaks
of 'redelineating the Hebron area as shown on the attached map'.
Nobody on the Palestinians' side has even seen the map except - General
Yahya, Arafat and possibly Mahmud Abbas. But the facts on the ground speak
louder than any words or maps about the content of the deal between Arafat
and the Israelis.
Since January 1996 the Israeli army confiscated 3.5 sq km of Hebron in order
to build a 'territorial corridor' linking the 450 settlers to 7000 settlers
in Kiryat Arba. This corridor comprises 15 per cent of Hebron.
Once implemented, this land grab removes the religious and commercial heart
of Hebron from Palestinian control, creating a Jewish quarter in the centre
of the Palestinian town.
So Arafat has already sold out the Palestinians of Hebron. He has already
conceded the anaemic concept of 'limited self-rule' to an even more limited
version, minus 15 per cent of Hebron.
It is important to dwell on this sordid episode because it is a pattern
repeated so many times over the last 3 years since the first Oslo deal was
signed inaugurating the 'peace process'.
Fifty per cent of the Palestinian 'occupied territories' have already been
settled by Jews. Every day, the Palestinians are hemmed in more and more
by new settler housing projects. Special roads are built for settlers only.
New restrictions are placed on the Palestinians' freedom of movement.
The dissection of Hebron is not extraordinary, it is the norm under the
'peace process'. Under the peace process Israel waves the stick and Arafat
concedes. It might appear that the recent events are a departure from the
peace process. As if the Israelis were now waging war on Palestinians. But
the peace process shows that there is more than one way to wage war.
On top of Netanyahu's intransigence over Hebron he piled further humiliations
for the PLO leader:
On 22 August, Arafat tried to fly to Ramallah from Gaza in his two new Russian
helicopters. The Israelis stopped the flight citing 'technical considerations'.
Along with the demand to renegotiate Hebron, Netanyahu, in the name of 'reciprocity'
demanded the end to all Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem.
On 25 August Arafat complied by closing down three Palestinian institutions
loosely affiliated to the Palestinian National Authority.
On 27 August Netanyahu returned his thanks by sending in the Israeli Army
and bulldozers to demolish a Palestinian community centre in Jerusalem,
for the aged and disabled, saying the five year old building did not have
Finally, in a desperate attempt to claw back some credibility in Palestinian
eyes, Arafat called a 4 hour strike for 29 August and mass prayers at the
Al-Aqsa mosque on Friday 30th August, the muslim holy day. There was not
much enthusiasm for Arafat's belated turn to popular action. Few spontaneously
heeded the strike call and it was only successful where it was enforced
by the Palestinian police. 15 000 attended the Friday prayers - half the
And then on 23 September Benjamin Netanyahu opened the much disputed tunnel.
At that time Arafat's popularity was at an all time low as he called for
more protests. Not surprisingly the response was lacklustre until the incidents
of 25 September.
A group of Palestinian students were being bussed to the demo in Jerusalem.
But instead they were blocked by army checkpoint outside Ramallah. In anger
the students charged the checkpoint.
In reply the soldiers fired first tear gas, then rubber bullets and finally
live ammunition. According to the Economist, only when Israeli soldiers
chased students across the line into Ramallah (a 'Palestinian autonomous
zone') did Palestinian police fire back.
After having been seen to side with ordinary Palestinians, the Palestinian
police are now busy trying to control the situation and keep youths from
attacking Israeli soldiers and settlers.
It is clear that Arafat is cynically using the situation to strengthen his
negotiating position. He is saying to the Americans and the Israelis 'talk
to me because I'm the moderate here'.
From the above description of events it may still seem to you that peace
process is collapsing on brink of disaster. But you could only think this
if you ever bought the idea that Oslo was about creating an autonomous Palestinian
homeland. If you ever believed that, then you will see TV pictures of Jews
and Arabs at war and the tragic end of the 'peace process'. You will be
struck by Netanyahu's intransigence, and his willingness to break agreements.
But Oslo was something else entirely. Oslo was about modifying the form
of Israeli domination over Palestinians. What it omitted was far more significant
than what it included. Ever since the founding of PLO, they have fought
for independent and sovereign Palestinian state. Oslo represented a renouncement
of this goal in exchange for just six per cent of the land of Palestine.
In exchange for the democratic aspiration of self determination over the
original territory of Palestine, Arafat settled for six per cent. And not
even independent, sovereign, Palestinian control of six per cent. Just the
right to collect the rubbish in the six per cent.
Ever since 1967, international law had it that the Israeli military occupation
of West Bank and the Gaza strip was 'illegal'. Countless UN Security and
General Assembly Resolutions said Israeli's hold over East Jerusalem was
illegal, and that settlement activity was illegal.
Legally and morally, Palestinians had the high ground, even though they
were occupied in fact. OSLO is creating a new legal international framework
which justifies the occupation status quo. Worse, it gives Israel a breathing
space to create new 'facts on the ground'. For example, since 1967 international
law has condemned the Israeli takeover of East Jerusalem. The Oslo accords
agreed to put off the issue of Jerusalem to the final status negotiations.
Since September 1993, the Israelis have used every minute to increase their
hold over East Jerusalem by building more Jewish housing projects, confiscating
more Palestinian homes and properties. The clear aim is to drive the Palestinians
out so that when the talking actually starts, it is already all over.
Oslo legally sanitises Israel's domination of Palestine for the first time.
And all the Palestinians got in return was limited self-rule over six per
cent of Palestine. According to Palestinian writer Edward Said, no other
national liberation movement in the twentieth century has settled for so
little. (And for telling the truth his writings have been seized and banned
by Arafat.) Even the six per cent can and is being taken away at the snap
of Benjamin Netanyahu's fingers.
The peace process is a fantastic breakthrough for Israelis - not only because
it legalises Israel's position for the first time - but also because Israel
gets her way with the Palestinians.
With the help of former freedom fighters, one time enemies of Israel, and
with the support of the PLO and Yasser Arafat, the Isaelis are in a much
stronger position to tidy up and control the new prison. But the situation
for the Palestinian masses is grim; they are left in a state of indefinite
subservience. Instead of the usual murmurs of disapproval at Israel's behaviour,
the international community looks on with benign smiles, giving top marks
for the 'peace process'.
My last point: The US is not the "honest broker".
The great honest broker himself, US secretary of state, Warren Christopher
at congressional hearings 1993, refused to even characterise settler activity
in occupied territories as "illegal".
US abstained on UN Security Council resolution, which was so mild it did
not even have the guts to condemn Israel's actions. Still it was too strong
for the US to support.
The US bankrolls Israel. 80billion dollars has been spent by the US over
last 20 years on Israel's security.
As for Washington summit, the whole thing is a charade. The ten o'clock
news reported that the single aim is to get Arafat and Netanyahu talking
- and nothing more. Well Arafat talked to Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin
alright. Where it got him was the OSLO accords.
And what kind of talking can you do when tanks and gunships surround the
six major towns of the West Bank with the threat of invasion and reoccupation
any minute? Palestinian foxholes are the only defence against fifty Israeli
tanks outside Nablus. As per usual, Arafat will talk concessions.
What is the future of the 'peace process'? With no clear solution and no
political expression for Palestinians, the cycle of increasing repression
leading to blind outbursts of violence will continue. It is rather like
the Nazi blockade on the Warsaw Ghetto - when facing extinction you have
to rise up despite the hopeless odds.
Join a discussion on this commentary