The whirlwind unleashed on the Palestinians by the Israeli government following the Ze’evi assassination in October and now, in early December, on the heels of the suicide attacks in Jerusalem, Haifa, Afula, Emmanuel and elsewhere, goes far beyond mere retaliation against terrorism. Viewed in the context of Bush’s attempts to build a “coalition against terror,” it is a last desperate effort to bring “industrial quiet” to the “Second Front,” a precondition for building any sustained coalition that includes Arab and Muslim countries. This can be accomplished either if a satisfactory political solution can be imposed on the parties, or if the Palestinians can be made to submit to Israeli dictates.
The first, preferred by the Americans as a resolution of the conflict, has met fundamental obstacles on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The Israelis steadfastly refuse to dismantle their occupation and relinquish control to a degree that would permit a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state to emerge. For his part, Arafat has failed to produce a coherent program for negotiations, and has squandered the opportunity given him by the Intifada to reframe the negotiations in a more equitable way. Faced with an unfocused resistance movement with no political program and fueled by ever more violent attacks against Israeli civilian targets, the American government seems to have been persuaded by Sharon and Peres to choose the second option: defeating the Palestinians outright.
Given their tight time-line for coalition-building and military actions, the Americans are looking for a quick fix. Allowing themselves to be persuaded that Israel can bring the Palestinian Authority to its knees within a matter of weeks is in keeping with the long-standing American bias strongly in favor of Israel. It avoids conflicts with a solidly pro-Israeli Congress, and it can be “sold” as legitimate retaliation against “Palestinian terrorism” – thus legitimizing Sharon’s attempts to link Arafat and the Palestinians with world terrorism.
Having received, then, a green light from Bush to bring industrial quiet to the region through military means (eventually to be followed by negotiations that will give the Palestinians a mini-state while leaving Israel firmly in control of the region), Sharon’s “National Unity” government has developed a multi-pronged strategy:
1. Massive military actions. Besiegement, military strikes against the fragile Palestinian infrastructure and assassinations of key political and resistance figures browbeat the Palestinians into submissiveness. These overt military actions are cast as part of a “war against terrorism.” Having removed the political context of a struggle against an illegal occupation, Israel is free to unleash its entire arsenal (nuclear aside) against whatever targets it wishes for as prolonged a period as it desires, without being held accountable.
2. A campaign of attrition. Long-term policies of attrition, less visible and less dramatic, are as effective as military attacks in wearing down Palestinian resistance to occupation. House demolitions, land expropriation, permanent closure and besiegement, prolonged curfews, restrictions on freedom of movement, induced impoverishment, economic, “quiet” bureaucratic deportations and a dirty war employing collaborators all undermine the will of the Palestinian people to resist. Also undermining support for the Palestinian Authority, Israel hopes they will give rise to a more compliant leadership.
3. Creating irreversible “facts” on the ground. Israel’s grand project of expanding its control over the Occupied Territories is nearing completion. The Mitchell Commission’s recommendations are already irrelevant; Israel has more than enough land and settlements. Its efforts are currently devo
ted to completing the infrastructural work needed to consolidate its hold on the Territories: 250 miles of highways and “by-pass” roads which link the settlements but create massive barriers to Palestinian movement. Since these major infrastructure projects have been agreed to – and funded — by the Americans, they fall outside the Mitchell Committee’s “freeze.”
4. Delaying tactics. Sharon’s demand for “seven days of quiet” before implementing the Mitchell Report has already delayed the resumption of negotiations by months. Time and again “crises” are manufactured which then provide a pretext for not implementing agreements or restarting negotiations. Broad hints by Israeli political leaders that they will seek only long-term “interim agreements” rather than a final status settlement will leave Israel in de facto control of the Occupied Territories long enough to complete its irreversible Matrix of Control.
5. Delegitimizing the Palestinian Authority. Since September 11 the Israeli government has worked tirelessly to cast the Palestinian Authority as an integral part of “world terrorism.” Sharon has called Arafat “our Bin Laden,” and the Israeli government officially labeled the Palestinian Authority a “terror-sponsoring entity.”
This is the program that unites the broad coalition of Israel’s National Unity government. At its base lies the rock-bottom refusal to truly share the country with the Palestinians, in either one state or in two. Yet – and this is the catch — Israel needs a Palestinian state to “relieve it” of the three million Palestinians of the Occupied Territories it can neither absorb nor control forever by force. While the Palestinians strive for political independence in a viable state alongside Israel, Israel is striving for a kind of occupation-by-consent.
Since occupation-by-consent will not be willingly accepted by the Palestinians, Israel must force it upon them. The time-line is tight. Bush’s green light” is only good for a limited period before running into other vital American interests. Hence the ferocity of Israel’s attacks, the final push to defeat the Palestinians once and for all.
It is one minute to midnight. Already Israel has largely completed its physical incorporation of the West Bank into Israel proper, foreclosing any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. If the current campaign of repression succeeds, occupation will be followed by the creation of a dependent Palestinian mini-state – a permanent occupation-by-consent not of the Palestinians, but of the US and a compliant Europe. These are the fateful days of reckoning: a just peace based on two viable and sovereign states, or the emergence of a Palestinian bantustan under Israeli control, a new apartheid.
1. Symmetry. Any demand for an end to Palestinian attacks on Israelis must be accompanied by a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Areas A, and by a clear timetable for resuming negotiations.
2. Freezing Infrastructural Work. Together with implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations and the Tenet Understanding, gestures of confidence-building and efforts to create an appropriate environment for negotiations must address the issue of continued Israeli infrastructural work in the Occupied Territories. Israel has enough settlements and land already expropriated; a “freeze” on settlement building will not endanger that system. Far more crucial at this stage for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state is the issue of ongoing infrastructural construction by Israel in the Occupied Territories: its massive system of “by-pass” roads and “security highways.” Particular and urgent attention should be given the development of the E-1 area between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’alei Adumim which, if lost to the Palestinians, will cut their state in half and reduce it to a non-viable mini-state.
3. Accountability. If the Palestinians are to be held accountable for their terrorist actions, then Israel must be held accountable for the structural violence inherent in its occupation (house demolitions, land expropriation, destruction of agricultural land, impoverishment through economic closure, induced emigration and the like), as well as for policies and acts of state terrorism (attacks on densely-populated civilian centers with F-16s and Apache gunships, for example, a disproportionate use of violence against civilian populations, Israel’s policy of assassinations, and the indiscriminate use of snipers). In particular, Israel must conform to the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians living under occupation and which the United States has long held applies to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
4. New parameters of negotiations. Two fundamental changes must be made in the parameters governing future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: the establishment of a viable and truly sovereign Palestinian state must be a central, explicit and acknowledged goal; and the political negotiations must lead to actual changes on the ground.
Jeff Halper is the co-founder and director of ICAHD. He can be reached at email@example.com.