By Jeff Halper
Published on 3/15/2005
In peace-making, as in law, business and other areas of life, the devil is in the details. The crux of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is not over a Palestinian a state. The “quartet” of the Middle East Road Map — Europe, Russia, the U.N. and even the U.S. — all agree that a Palestinian state must emerge. Even Ariel Sharon himself, the father of the settlements and a fervent proponent of the Greater Land of Israel ideology, has come to understand that he needs a Palestinian state in order to relieve Israel of the four million Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. No, the problem is not a Palestinian state but a viable Palestinian state.
Consider this: Israel has deliberately de-developed the West Bank and Gaza over the past four decades so that today all the Palestinians have is a scorched earth: No economy (70 percent of the Palestinians live on less than $2 a day), no agriculture (Israel has cut down a million olive and fruit trees since 1967), no homes for the young generation (Israel has demolished 12,000 Palestinian homes since the occupation began). Add to that the fact that 60 percent of the Palestinians are under the age of 18. These young people have never known freedom, only military occupation. They are brutalized, traumatized, under-educated, with few skills and little hope of employment. Then add in the fact that whatever Palestinian state emerges, small as it may be, will be responsible for the thousands of refugees, themselves impoverished, who will come home. Even President Bush, distinguished by his total support for Sharon, said recently in Brussels that a Palestinian state had to be “truly viable”.“A state of scattered territories will not work,” he stated emphatically.
So the issue is a viable Palestinian state. At the end of the Oslo Process then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak was supposed to have extended a “generous offer” of 95 percent of the occupied territories to the Palestinians. It's not true (the 95 percent figure came from a Bill Clinton proposal that both the Israelis and Palestinians accepted, but which never materialized), but let's say it was. Ninety-five percent indeed sounds “generous.” But what about the other 5 percent? What about viability? Israel, it turns out, could relinquish 95% and still control the borders, freedom of movement, Palestinian water resources, the Jerusalem area (around which tourism, Palestine's major industry, is concentrated), the airspace and even the communications sphere. The Palestinians could get 95 percent of the occupied territories and still be locked into a truncated prison-state.
Offer was a setup
Barak's “generous offer,” then, was a setup. Though it was never made, Barak insisted that it had. Since Arafat did not say “yes” to Barak's hint of a generous offer — especially before nailing down just what 95 percent meant in terms of sovereignty and viability — he was demonized by Barak and later Sharon. “See?” said Barak, “the Palestinians are the intractable ones. Israel has no partner for peace. I have exposed Arafat as a terrorist.” Armed with that, the in-coming Sharon government suppressed the Palestinian uprising against the prison where they are today confined behind 26-foot walls while further expanding Israel into the occupied territories under the cover of “security.”
It now seems like Abu Mazen's turn to be set up for another “generous offer.” The euphoria generated around the “moderate and pragmatic” Abu Mazen in this “post-Arafat era” has put him in a corner. Sharon “generous offer” will consist of Gaza plus 75 percent of the West Bank and a symbolic presence in East Jerusalem. Sounds not bad, but what of viability? Sharon has worked tirelessly and openly for a “cantonized” Palestinian entity for the past quarter century, always rejecting the notion of a viable Palestinian state. Nothing has changed this on the ground. If he says “yes” and Israel's massive settlement blocs in the West Bank remain, he has become the quisling leader Israel seeks. If he says “no,” Sharon will pounce: “See? The Palestinians refused another generous offer. They do not want peace.” And Israel, let off the hook, will be free to expand its control of the occupied territories for years to come.
The Chinese expression has it: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” The “generous offer” worked once. It is our responsibility as those who seek a just and lasting peace to ensure that it not happen again. Viability is the devil in the details.
Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.