A little more than a year ago, at the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on permanent status, the almighty Israeli Security Services, the famous Shin-Bet, handed over to the prime minister a report incorporating its own prospective on the outcome of negotiations.
According to Israeli newspapers, the substance of the report was that an independent and viable Palestinian State was the best interest of Israel’s security, and the essence of the recommendation was the following: Israel should not press its advantage and try to make use of its overwhelming superiority on the ground to impose an unfair, imbalanced settlement upon the Palestinian leadership, because even though this might look very good for Israel in the short run, it might be catastrophic in the long run. It did not take long before this piece of professional advice was confirmed by the tragic events of the last six months. To this difference, however, that Israel even failed to impose an unfair settlement. History will one day, maybe, tell when did Barak lied more: when he claimed to have offered unbelieveably “generous” concessions in Camp David, or when he asserted, after his return, that he never offered anything at all, and only went to Camp David to corner Arafat and to unmask the Palestinian position. To be quite explicit, let us state our conviction that Ehud Barak never intended to reach an agreement, which explains why he had deliberately undermined any possible accord on other issues with such impossible conditions as Israeli sovereignty on Muslim holy shrines or a solemn Palestinian renunciation to the Right of Return.
Historians, however, will probably confirm the Palestinian perception that it was the assassination of the late Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin which derailed the whole “Oslo” process. It did away with the very Israeli will to implement the signed agreements, and the credibility of the stalled peace process became a secondary objective in the political agenda of the successive and structurally instable Israeli governments. Thus, the lack of implementation of the Interim agreements, combined with ongoing settlement drive on the ground, and a total stalemate in negotiations due to the Israeli refusal to carry on talks so long as Palestinians insisted on demanding their legally recognized rights, all of it fueled by murderous brutality and excessive use of force to quell popular protest, led to the present situation. Thus did we move from almost-peace to this undeclared state of war, thus did the whole area regress from the hope of a “new Middle-East” to the all too familiar sound of threats and war talk.
The Israeli government knows – even if Israeli media are prompt to put the blame on Sharon’s Labour partners – that it cannot substantially escalate the level of its current military aggression against the Palestinian people without provoking some form of international, Arab, European and American reactions.
Having measured from its first days of office the objective – even though fluctuating – limits imposed upon the materialization of his pre-election ultra-militaristic boasting, and knowing that the management of Barak’s policy of siege and assassinations would not bring any decisive victory, the new Israeli Prime minister has now embarked on a targeted propaganda and slander campaign against Palestinians, against the PNA, against Fatah, against Palestinian Security Forces in general and against President Arafat personally. Sharon’s recent visit to the US was the inaugural act in this diplomatic-propaganda offensive. It is noteworthy that public calls for the assassination of President Arafat are voiced in Israel without any public condemnation, while much of the official discourse is a hardly veiled called to murder. Speculations about the PNA’s imminent collapse, in this context, do not only reflect anguish for the future or wishful thinking on the part of the occupier. They are also part of a deliberate attempt to de-legitimize the Palestinian leadership by claiming all at once that it is responsible for everything that happens on the ground and that it has lost control.
Israeli Chief-of-Staff Shaul Mofaz’s characterization of the PA as a “terrorist entity”, and the Israeli police allegations of “Force 17” involvement in terrorist activities inside the Green Line are only indicators of the Israeli will to project this construction.
The aim of this ongoing campaign, which prolongs the campaign undertaken by Netanyahu in 1996 and has undergone ups and downs, but has never completely stopped since then, is now to try and convince Western public opinions and governments that the PLO leadership is responsible for the present state of “violence” in our area. It aims both at foiling Palestinian current attempts to reinforce the trend towards international protection and at obtaining American and European endorsement of the Israeli conditions to renew negotiations.
Looking at the vagueness of the US discourse and the hesitations and ambiguities of European diplomacy in this respect, there is no doubt that this campaign has already met a limited measure of success. This is why we must recall some basic facts, and thus contribute to restore the truth.
Ten Points to Understand the Present Situation
1. Who turned his back to negotiations?
We have never said no to negotiations. In the summer of 2000, we left Camp David with a clear and publicized will to continue and go further in the search for a permanent settlement of the conflict. It is the Israeli Prime minister, then, who spoke of a “time-out” of the peace process. It is the Israeli government which declared, in October, that we were no longer “partners”. Even after that, we went to Sharm El Sheikh, and even after months of aggression, we went to Taba, and still last week, in the PLC, President Arafat declared our absolute commitment to peace and our readiness to negotiate. Unlike the Israelis, we know one does not choose one’s partner. The Israeli claim that “Palestinians should go back to the path of negotiations” is an absolute counter-truth. Reality is that the government of Israel stopped negotiating when it discovered that Palestinians were not ready to accept their “take-it-or-leave-it” package deal in Camp David.
2. Who started violence?
First of all one must recall that military occupation is violence and that Israeli armed forces, Israeli government agencies and Israeli settlers have been exerting uninterrupted and massive violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for more than three decades.
Concerning the events of the last five-and-a-half months, the initiative of violence has been purely Israeli. The PNA officially informed the Israeli government that Sharon’s planned visit to the Haram El Sharif on September 28th 2000 would provoke popular anger and protest. Not only did the provocative visit take place, under even more provocative massive military protection, but protesters were met with utmost brutality, excessive use of force, and murderous repression. The ensuing protest encountered even more violence, and the movement spread throughout the whole Palestinian occupied territory, fueled and fed by the daily toll of victims. The killing of two Israelis – alleged reservists whose presence in Ramallah is still a riddle – on October 12th, even though condemned in no uncertain terms by the PNA, was used by Israel to inaugurate the policy of air raids against buildings, institutions, vehicles and individuals, including supposedly “targeted” assassinations.
Measures of collective punishment such as border closures, siege, blockade, encirclement of localities, destruction of roads, etc. are manifestations of increased daily violence against the Palestinian population. All of them fuel the anger and resentment of the people and their readiness to continue resisting.
3. Occupation is illegal
Occupation is a violation of international law, which recognizes the legitimacy of armed resistance to foreign occupation. Legitimate does not mean compulsory. It is a political decision to engage or not in armed struggle. But we cannot accept the characterization of legitimate resistance to the tyranny of occupation as criminal violence.
4. Settlements are illegal
Settlements are racist institutions which have been built by force, on stolen land, for aggressive annexation purposes. Palestinian opposition to settlements is both legal and defensive, and in no way constitutes an aggression.
Armed settlers are not civilians, but constitute paramilitary units and militias involved in terror against Palestinian civilians. In the course of the events of the last month, settlers have been at the forefront of Israeli terrorist violence against Palestinians, most of the time under the protective wing of official Israeli occupation forces, as is the daily occurrence in Hebron.
5. Resistance is legitimate
In these conditions, isolated actions against armed settlers and occupation forces by Palestinian individuals or organizations cannot be considered but as legitimate self-defense, which express Palestinian popular determination to resist illegal occupation and dispossession. But at any rate, armed resistance does not sum up the substance or the ongoing Intifada, which started with peaceful mass protest, and has, all along, included a fundamental non-violent component, which has recently been striving for increased visibility. But it is crucial to understand that, at the eyes of most Palestinians, as recent opinion polls clearly indicate, armed resistance and peaceful protest are complementary, not contradictory.
6. We condemn attacks against civilians
Since December 1985, the PLO has been committed to fight against terrorism. The PNA has condemned, and condemns, attacks against civilians, children, and generally speaking “non-combatant populations”. It is bound by the letter and spirit of the Hague and Geneva Conventions in this respect, and demands Israeli compliance with the same principles. Attacks against civilians inside Israel, however, can often be the fruit of individual, unorganized despair, as was recently the case with the Ashkelon bus, and short of uprooting the causes of despair, there is no full-proof method of prevention.
7. We need a mechanism to de-escalate
To break down the spiral of confrontation, the end of the state of siege is a pre-condition, but we must be aware that a return to the status quo ante of last September cannot in itself calm the situation. The core issue here is the principle of reciprocity: unless a significant reduction of Israeli violence takes place, there is no ground for the PNA to try and bring about an end to resistance operations. Reciprocity implies measures to disarm the settlers and put an end to their aggressions, and it also means to impose a total freeze in settlement activities. Likewise in the field of “incitement”: anti-Palestinian and racist anti-Arab talk runs high in Israeli public and private discourse, in the media and the school-curricula, without mentioning what is uttered and taught in synagogues and religious schools. Unless some reciprocity is injected in this domain, no significant progress can be achieved.
8. Implement signed agreements
The implementation of signed agreements (redeployment, safe passage, prisoners’ release, etc.) is indispensable to restore confidence and create propitious conditions for successful negotiation, especially because it will remove the Israeli temptation to sell the same items twice and use interim arrangements already negotiated and signed as bargaining chips in permanent status talks.
9. Revive the political process
The sole sound basis upon which a serious and fruitful return to negotiations is possible is the terms of reference of the Madrid Conference: 242 and 338, which are an integral, indivisible part and parcel of international legality, including 194. Note that the Palestinian proposal to resume negotiations where they were left in Taba constitutes proof of a remarkable flexibility, since the proposals studied are built upon the idea that practical arrangements could be worked out (such as Land swaps) which would be more accommodating to Israeli demands and concerns than the stern and unmitigated application of international law.
10. We want international protection
So long as the Israeli government persists in its futile attempt to impose a solution by the force of arms, pursues its policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian population and continues to put unreasonable and impossible conditions for a rebirth of the political process, we will continue to demand international protection, and more UN involvement, with a view to materialize the fact that the sole alternative to the Madrid-Oslo process now officially on hold is the return to the UN-sponsored International Conference provided for in UNSC Resolution 338.