Israel has bared all its ugly teeth. It is no longer a question of diplomacy and negotiations. It is simply military might and scourged-earth policies aimed at subduing the Palestinians.
Against that, it is sheer audacity on the part of Israeli leaders to continue to defend their country’s “commitment” to peace and to blame the Palestinians for the crisis. It was interesting to hear former Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently explaining the “pains” he took to advance the peace process and outline Israel’s approach to the peace process.
As an Israeli commentator put it, one could call it historical or analytical truth seen from the Israeli viewpoint. But, apart from exposing Israel’s strategy that failed to force the Palestinians into signing on the dotted line, Barak’s analysis is based on half-truths and a few outright lies.
Presenting the “truth,” Barak told a Washington audience that Israel had viewed the process that was launched following the signing of the Oslo agreements in Washington in September 1993, as an experiment to find out whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could become a “responsible leader of a nation-state if he were treated like one.”
As part of that “experiment,” Israel gave Arafat control over 98 per cent of Palestinians (a highly inflated figure) outside Arab East Jerusalem, was admitted as an equal by the White House and European heads of state, was provided with arms and training for his security forces, was handed large amounts of aid money, and was even given a Nobel Prize. So far so good. But Barak failed to mention here that Arafat was coerced into signing the Oslo agreements.
Arafat was told during secret negotiations that popular support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was being eroded by Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and if he wanted to sustain himself as the leader of the Palestinian people, he had better do business on terms dictated by the Israeli state.
Quite simply, Arafat was told that his political survival was at stake, and this warning had come from Israeli intelligence agencies, which, the Palestinian leader believed, were equally worried about the strong emergence of groups like Hamas as a challenge to the PLO.
Arafat’s worries were not unfounded since he was at the lowest ebb of his political life. He was reeling back from the blow he received as a result of his stand during the Gulf crisis in 1990. His hopes of using Iraq’s military power as a counterweight to Israel were dashed with the destruction of Baghdad’s armaments in the Gulf war. He was ostracised by most of his Arab friends and the flow of Arab aid to the PLO had come to a standstill. He found that the main source of private funds – the Palestinian community in Kuwait – no longer existed.
One of the carrots that were offered through the Oslo agreement was Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, after decades of calling it a terrorist organisation and seeking to marginalise it. Cornered as he was at that point, the Oslo agreements represented an impressive and strong lifeline for Arafat, and he grabbed it.
As such, all that was given to Arafat – as argued by Barak – was with the hope that the Palestinian leader would simply go along and sign the final form of a peace agreement, again drafted by Israel.
It is indeed debatable whether the world community, which stepped in with assistance to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) after the Oslo accords were signed, was aware of that aspect.
If anything, the arms that were given to Arafat (of course under tight restrictions imposed by Israel) and the training offered to his Palestinian police force, were supposed to have been used against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups which would not fall in line with the Israeli scheme of things, implemented through Arafat.
The assistance that was given to the PNA was aimed at serving Israel’s purpose of hiding the reality of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that had left the Palestinians deprived of essentials in a basic social structure.
The education and health sectors of the Palestinian community were in shatters, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip had little infrastructure – except of course roads that were built to allow the Israeli army move around with ease to quell Palestinian resistance.
Israel hoped that the “international aid” that was proffered to the PNA, would help conceal from the world the truth that the West Bank and Gaza were not much better than a remote town in Africa in terms of infrastructure and basic amenities. Israel had apparently also hoped to divert Palestinian attention from the key issues, by improvements in living conditions.
The assertion that Israel was somehow instrumental in giving Arafat the Nobel Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres is, at best, laughable. It is as if Rabin and Peres pulled Arafat onto their Nobel bandwagon as an afterthought. The less said about it the better.
Then comes Barak’s clincher: Arafat turned down Israel’s generous offer during the Camp David negotiations last year, leading to the collapse of the peace process.
What Barak very conveniently forgot to mention was that his offer meant an explicit denial of the basic rights of Palestinians.
Israel’s refusal to accept legitimate Palestinian rights to Arab East Jerusalem and to honour the right of return of the refugees had made the Barak offer a non-starter, because these demands form the central pillar of the Palestinian struggle that Arafat had led for decades. Arafat, or any other Palestinian, Arab or Muslim leader could not accept such a “compromise,” that deprives any agreement of real substance.
Then comes the reality that the geography of the land that Barak had offered to Arafat as part of the package was clearly designed to deny territorial contiguity and demographic contiguousness, that are vital for any independent entity.
Had Arafat accepted the offer, it would have landed him with dozens of Swiss-cheese formula states, comprised of distinctly separate chunks of territory connected only by Israeli-controlled access roads.
Against that backdrop, it is laughable to hear Barak asserting that Arafat is a terrorist because he rejected the Camp David offer, and that the Palestinian leader never intended to accept peace with Israel, since he is personally incapable or ideologically uninterested in making peace.
So, as Barak put it, the “experiment” failed to establish Arafat’s credentials as a “responsible” leader. One wonders whether it would have been otherwise if Arafat had accepted the Camp David package and signed away Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights forever, just to prove himself “responsible.”
If Barak were to speak the truth, we would have heard him say that Arafat spat out the poison Israel tried to force down his throat. But then, Israeli leaders are not exactly known for speaking the truth.
The reality on the ground today, is that the Palestinians are ready for compromises, but not when it comes to Jerusalem and refugees. They have accepted the existence of Israel in their land; that there is no way that the clock can be turned back to the 1948 UN resolution that partitioned Palestine (let no one overlook the fact that even before the 1967 war, Israel had usurped 70 per cent of the land of the state of Palestine, as proposed in UN Security Council Resolution 181); that the bulk of the refugees from 1948 could not go back and reclaim their land and homes which are now occupied by Russians and would have to settle for compensation in lieu; and finally, that they have to co-exist with an enemy who has for long tormented their lives.
But they are also ready to continue their struggle for generations.
Mr. Musa Keilani contributed this article to the Jordan Times.