The near-total Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank and parts of the Gaza Strip has interrupted all aspects of Palestinian life, and resulted in tremendous material and psychological damage to Palestinian society. No one wants to believe that we are back to square one after our ten-year investment in the peace process. Most Palestinians are very pessimistic and feel that the peace process is actually over, at the time when it could have resulted in a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Instead, we are faced with Israeli control, incessant military damage and a curfew unprecedented even in the early days of the Israeli occupation. The implications seem to be that the Palestinian Authority no longer exists and cannot provide any of the services that it should provide, according to the Oslo accords.
We have arrived at this destination because the peace camps on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides committed semi-suicide. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak showed positive signs toward compromise at Camp David, as did Palestinians. But just as we were close to a complete package that would have ended the occupation and established a Palestinian state, Barak permitted Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to Al Aqsa mosque, and launched his “revenge” on Palestinians, giving a free hand to his military forces to kill Palestinian demonstrators everywhere and provoking more protests and reactions on the Palestinian side.
When Palestinians resorted to military means, especially against Israeli civilians, they sent the wrong message to the Israeli public, aiding the Israeli Likud propaganda stating that Palestinians do not want peace. Together, Barak and Palestinian military reactions actually assisted the Likud and Ariel Sharon in coming to power. With the election of Sharon, we were then faced with an individual who has always viewed the peace process as his own personal nightmare. On his initiative, the confrontations have only grown more fiery and grave.
But Sharon’s military solution will not bring the Israeli public the security it seeks. Nor do Palestinians have any other way of achieving their rights than through peace negotiations. As long as he is given pretext, Sharon will not allow any serious negotiations with Palestinians. He will continue to create obstacles to restarting talks, obstacles that will endure even after he is gone from the scene.
I believe that we are looking at the prolonging of this terrible situation of confrontation, an atmosphere that will aid the Likud in diverting public opinion from seeing its settlements, land confiscations, demolition of the Palestinian economy and deprivation of Palestinians of managing everything–down to the minutes of their every day. Now that we may witness a war against Iraq, Sharon will be free beneath this smokescreen to commit all the crimes he has dreamed of. His fantasies, I fear, are much more vast than the crimes he has already carried out.
We should observe that fundamentalists on the Palestinian side are a counterpart to the fundamentalists on the Israeli side. All Likud actions are actually encouraging and feeding the politics of Palestinian and Arab fundamentalist movements, and visa versa. We must break this vicious cycle, where the silent majority is stuck in the middle. There must be a joint struggle between the peace camp on the Israeli side towards ending the Sharon era on the one hand, and the Palestinian peace camp towards securing power in the next elections, on the other. The end of the Sharon government, the end of the confusion in Palestinian politics and the realization of discipline in the Palestinian struggle are key steps toward the resumption of the peace process.
These are not easy tasks for either the Israeli peace camp, or its Palestinian counterpart. Since Sharon has determinant control over events, he can continue feeding the vicious cycle of violence and bloodshed. That situation could lead the Palestine Liberation Organization to dissolve the Palestinian National Authority in order to break the cycle.
In this situation where the Palestinian National Authority has been for so long in a position where it cannot protect its citizens, and the Israeli government deigns to respect any agreements signed with the PLO, it would be better to ask the international community to shoulder its responsibility of protecting the Palestinian people. Sharon’s military power politics game is to paralyze the Palestinian National Authority, and hold it responsible for the actions of every Palestinian. Regrettably, the United States administration buys Sharon’s charges (even as it knows the Authority is paralyzed) and is asking the Authority to stop Palestinians’ military reactions and “invest 100 percent effort.”
One way of beating this game would have been to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, and ask for international intervention to fill the vacuum. If the PLO chooses to go down this avenue, however, it must coordinate its actions with the United Nations, Europe, the Arab countries, Russia and the United States. These concerned parties should be asked to create an interim United Nations government to fill the vacuum and provide protection to the Palestinian people. This government should prepare for the establishment of a Palestinian state according to the American vision based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. It is obvious that Israel will resist any international intervention, and will try to revive the Israeli “civil administration” to fill the vacuum. This situation will put Israel once again in the position where it cannot use F-16s, Apache helicopters and tanks on a civilian population–a position that was once condemned and rejected by the entire world and the ! majority of Israelis.
Samir Abdullah is an economist and was a member of the first Palestinian peace delegation in Madrid and Washington, and a member of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Coalition.