EL-HASAN: Twenty lost years 14Apr12 April 14, 2012
by Hasan Afif el-Hasan - Al-Ahram Weekly Online - 5-11 April 2012
Nineteen years after the signing of Oslo agreements that laid the ground for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for negotiations to resolve the conflict, the time has come to sum up what has been accomplished based on the facts as they are on the ground rather than as they ought to be.
During the period since Oslo, Israel has been ruled by governments that while declaring their willingness to reach a negotiated peace agreement, have pursued policies that made the likelihood for such an accommodation even more remote. Negotiations and the signing of more interim agreements including Oslo II 1995, Wye Plantation Memorandum 1998, Sharm El-Sheikh Memorandum 1999, and the Annapolis Conference declaration 2007 have led nowhere. The PA leadership has been sidetracked into unending and futile negotiations.
The Oslo agreements gave Israel’s Ministries of Interior and Defence control over the Palestinian population registry and validate it for the PA. The collected biometric data includes hand- prints, finger-prints coded into magnetic card that any Palestinian must present when applying for a permit to travel through parts of the West Bank. The registry gives the Israelis the power to deny residency rights to Palestinians in the West Bank or Jerusalem and the occupation administrators use the biometric data to monitor the West Bank Palestinians’ daily activities.
The Israeli control system goes beyond security and policing. Its Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories controls the water sources and the Palestinian construction projects all over the West Bank including areas A and B. The policies of colonisation since 1967, especially after the signing of the Oslo agreements, have fragmented the occupied land and reduced the Palestinians’ populated area to enclaves administered by the PA as a proxy. Dividing the Palestinian population geographically makes it easy for Israel to control. The green line that divides Israel proper from the land it took in the 1967 war has disappeared. East Jerusalem has been disconnected from its natural hinterland by Jewish settlements and the Separation Wall. According to retired Israeli Colonel Shaul Arieli, who coordinated the implementation of the Oslo agreements, there were 222,000 Israeli settlers on the eve of the Oslo Agreements signing; their numbers increased to 550,000 under the peace process by 2010.
The Israeli military operates freely in the West Bank to intimidate the Palestinians and protect the settlers even when they destroy Palestinians’ farms and houses of worship, while the donor countries pay for repairing some of the damage. The Palestinian security forces that operate under Israeli and US supervision act against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in accordance with guidelines and direct orders established by Israel.
And in the big jail that is called Gaza, there are daily attacks and assassinations by the Israeli military. The 2008 Israeli military operation killed and injured thousands. It destroyed thousands of homes and the infrastructure including the Electric Utility project, Gaza Emergency Water project, the emergency service support project and the municipal services rehabilitation project. Repairing these facilities requires billions of dollars the Palestinians don’t have and the foreign donors are not willing to provide. An Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal correspondent on 19 January 2009 that one of Israel’s goals in attacking Gaza was that “the Hamas State of Gaza could become a negative example to the West Bank Palestinians”, to destroy their will to resist the occupation and make them accept Israel’s terms for peace.
Financially, the PA is fully dependent on foreign donors to pay wages directly to more than 180,000 employees who provide livelihood for about one quarter of the West Bank population; a large number of Palestinians live off the charity of foreign organisations to prevent humanitarian catastrophe. By maintaining the status quo at no cost to Israel, the donor countries are financing the occupation.
The Jews-only settlements, the forced annexation and expansion of East Jerusalem, the Israeli daily “security operations” in the West Bank and Gaza, and the failure or the unwillingness of the international community to enforce a just solution based on international laws have stripped the negotiations of any value. The PA leaders have discovered what has been obvious since signing the Oslo agreements: that the US policy makers would never side publicly with the Palestinians. And with each US election season, the Palestinians’ national rights become openly a cheap currency in the presidential election politics.
Speaking from the UN podium in 2010, US President Barack Obama called for establishing “an independent Palestinian state” within a year. But in 2011 when the PA decided to ask the Security Council to recognise the 1967 lines as the borders of a future Palestinian state, Obama, who is campaigning for re-election, called on the Palestinians to abandon their claim to statehood. To improve his chances to win the elections, he threatened to veto any Palestinian bid for international recognition or membership in any international organisation.
The path the PA chose since Oslo has not led to Palestinian independence and it has weakened the Palestinian national movement. The PA does not govern its own territory, and became for all intents and purposes the administrator of an Israeli protectorate while Israel carries on with ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, colonising the West Bank and enforcing the criminal blockade on Gaza.
There are calls for restoring national unity and unarmed popular resistance against Israeli occupation. On behalf of the thousands of political prisoners in Israeli jails, Marwan Barghouthi wrote from his jail cell that negotiations alone should not be the Palestinian choice. He called for organised popular resistance against settlements. But the PA security forces that have been trained by US General Dayton to curb Palestinian “terror” will not allow the West Bank Palestinians to demonstrate. The security forces used force to prevent protests against the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza, and Israeli officials thanked the PA for that. President Mahmoud Abbas asked to halt the international investigation into crimes committed by Israel in its war against Gaza. Abbas has declared that as long as he was in office, he would not allow anybody to start a new Intifada. The PA ruling elites are unwilling to compromise with Hamas unless it meets Israel’s conditions.
American-Palestinian historian Beshara Doumani wrote after visiting the West Bank recently that as a result of the PA policies, the people can’t express their strong solidarity with the victims of Israeli occupation in the West Bank or Gaza. He observed that “Nablus [the center of resistance against occupation] is a broken city” where businessmen and professionals who can afford to do so move to Ramallah City or leave the West Bank, mostly to Jordan. Professor Khalil Nakhleh wrote in 2008 that due to the PA cooperation with Israel, there are frightening signs of socio- political fragmentation, Fatah-Hamas rivalry, and individuals, especially those with connections to the PA elites, who place personal interests over national collective ones.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad sought to implement a proactive state-institution-building plan but his initiative does not offer ways to overcome the obstacles against the creation of the future Palestinian state nor does his plan address the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. A peace process based on the two-state model as the Palestinians agreed to implicitly in the Oslo accords has come to a dead end.
The Jewish-ethno-security regime today rules all historical Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean as a single state. Its security is based on military superiority that controls the Palestinian majority and maintains its Jewish identity. Such a rule cannot and must not last even if the donor countries keep financing it. If the two-state model is already dead, then the Palestinians must demand the only option left: a single democratic state where Jews and Palestinians can live as citizens with equal rights and obligation.
The writer is a political analyst.