A prison camp for Palestinians
Whatever happened to the Middle East peace process? Daniel Nassim reports
A year ago, the prospects for a negotiated settlement between the Israelis
and the Palestinians were being talked up. In June 1992, the Israeli Labour
Party defeated the right-wing Likud for the first time since 1977. The Guardian's
verdict on the election summed up the prevailing mood: 'Israel's change
of politics casts a shaft of good news ona gloomy world.' (24 June 1992).
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian negotiator in the US-sponsored talks that were
already under way, said that 'it looks like the peace process has been rescued
from the Likud's attempt to sabotage it'.
A year later, the negotiations are continuing in Washington, but the Israeli
authorities seem to be pursuing the very opposite of a peace process. They
have instituted mass deportations of Palestinians, dumping them in a Lebanese
no-man's land. They have stepped up their routine harassment of the Palestinian
community, with beatings, shootings, curfews and internment. Israel has
turned the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into giant prison camps, sealing
off territories which are home to about 1.8m Palestinians. Most of the 120000
Palestinians who used to cross the 'green line' every day to go to work
in Israel have been barred from entry.
What has happened in the space of a year to derail the peace process? In
fact the peace process is still going on. What is happening is the consequence
of the peace process.
The problem with the peace process is that it accepts the existence of Israel.
Once it is accepted that the state of Israel is here to stay, then Palestinian
autonomy can mean only one thing: a prison camp for Palestinians policed
by Israelis. Palestinians may be given limited autonomy in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, but only on the condition that they are subject to even
tighter Israeli control.
The very existence of the Israeli state implies the denial of Palestinian
rights. The problem is not one of Jews and Arabs living together. It is
the exclusivist character of Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish state.
This means that non-Jewish inhabitants will always be treated as second
class citizens. It is a relationship between a state of colonial settlers
and its subjects.
An individual's legal identity in Israel depends primarily on whether or
not he is Jewish. This determines his access to jobs, land and to welfare
benefits. Even the minority of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are
not treated equally with Israeli Jews. Palestinians and Israelis live in
the same land but lead separate lives-- living in different areas, attending
different schools, hardly ever socialising.
The Labour Party, which people looked to as the harbinger of peace, constantly
proclaims the need to defend the 'Jewish character' of the state of Israel.
From this perspective it makes perfect sense to talk about making territorial
concessions to the Palestinians while separating the two communities still
further. This is the gist of what Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister
and defence minister, said recently when he advocated substituting Jewish
for Arab labour in Israel: 'Now is a time we can bring about substantial
changes through separation. We must see to it that the Palestinians do not
swarm among us, so that the Jews begin to work and increase their ability
to do so.' (Jerusalem Post International Edition, 17 April 1993)
This is the reality of the 'two-state' solution advocated by everybody involved
in the peace process, from the Palestinian leadership to the American government.
As Rabin's statement makes clear, the existence of a Palestinian statelet
alongside a state of Israel would not provide an equitable solution to the
It is quite conceivable that the Western powers, which are pushing the Middle
East peace process, could decide to repartition Palestine. But such a move
would not bring peace to the region or freedom to the Palestinians. A Palestinian
statelet would be too weak to resist Israeli intervention in its internal
affairs. It would not be viable economically or politically. It might be
able to manage refuse collection or deal with traffic offences, but it would
not be truly sovereign. In practice it would be more like a homeland on
the South African model.
There is an even more fundamental problem with the 'peace process'. It looks
to the West to implement a solution. Many supporters of a Palestinian homeland
believe that if the West puts pressure on Israel to make concessions then
the Palestinians can achieve their aspirations. Recent events appear to
have given some credence to this view. The Americans are threatening economic
and diplomatic reprisals against Israel if it refuses to compromise with
the Palestinians at the negotiating table.
However, the Western powers have not hosted peace talks because they are
genuinely concerned with the rights of the Palestinians. Their real concern
is that Israeli recalcitrance may hinder their attempts to alter the arrangements
through which they have traditionally dominated the Middle East. In the
aftermath of the Cold War, with the collapse of Soviet influence in the region,
the USA is trying to forge closer relations with Arab states and downplay
Israel's role as the West's policeman in the Middle East. The festering
Palestinian problem is an obstacle to cementing new relations, which is
why America is leaning on Israel to negotiate.
Anybody who thinks that the West has apositive role to play in bringing
peace and freedom to the Middle East should think again. For 40-odd years
the West has sponsored the most brutal repression of Palestinian rights
by bankrolling the Israeli state. As a result of Western intervention in
the Gulf War, 200 000 Iraqis were slaughtered and thousands of Palestinians
were expelled from Kuwait. Even now, the USA is only proposing cosmetic
changes in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship; Washington has pledged
to defend the integrity of the Israeli state.
Peace in the Middle East can come only when the Palestinians win the right
to self-determination, and when the future of the region is mapped out by
the people who live there. The first step towards Palestinian liberation
is to reject the right of the Western powers to determine the future of
the Middle East.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 56, June 1993