Before one engages the question of what Palestinians have gained and lost over the last 18 months of confrontation, it is important to note two things. First, it makes more sense to ask that question to the party responsible for the transformation of relations. Israel, by creating a political vacuum in which Palestinians were asked to take-or-leave the Camp David proposals, stirring up hostility by sending right-wing extremist leader Ariel Sharon to visit Jerusalem’s holiest Muslim shrine and then killing non-violent Palestinian demonstrators at a rate of ten a day in the start of the Intifada, bears the bulk of the responsibility for the situation we are in right now. As such, it would be interesting to know what Israel believes it has gained, other than bloodshed on both sides.
It is also an integral part of any discussion of gains and losses to note that we are now in the dire situation of a zero sum game: any defeat on one side is considered a success by the other.
Palestinians believe that their most important accomplishment over the last 18 months of confrontation has been to focus world attention once again on the Israeli occupation. For years, this fundamental aspect of the conflict was absent from discussions on the Middle East, despite the fact that even in its latest stages, the peace process allowed Israel direct military occupation on 82 percent of the Palestinian territories. Israel began to feel resentful of demands that it continue the agreed-upon gradual redeployment of its army from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Alongside that obstinacy, Israel did not allow one day of peace negotiations go by without further expanding its illegal Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian lands.
Perhaps then, the first gain of the Palestinians– reminding the world that they remain occupied–is tied to the second gain. Over the years of peaceful talks, Israelis increasingly seemed to believe that Palestinians had no other choice but to submit to Israeli will, hence their gradual process of slowing and stopping altogether Israeli redeployments from Palestinian land and the implementation of other components of signed agreements. Palestinians, too, started to feel that they were hostage to Israeli dictates and were simply waiting for Israel to give what it was willing to give.
While Palestinians prefer using peaceful means to achieve their rights, these confrontations have shown all concerned that Palestinians have other means of leverage. There is no doubt that when the Palestinian Authority dropped all other paths save that of peace negotiations, its bargaining position was weakened. Israel stopped respecting its agreements because it had no reason to do so. Now, it is equally clear that Palestinians do maintain the option of violent resistance, an option that has strengthened the Palestinian bargaining position for the future.
The other important Palestinian gain has been to put an end to Israel’s ability to have its cake and eat it, too. The Oslo agreement stipulated that Israel should finish redeploying its forces out of all of the occupied territories, excluding Jerusalem and the settlements, which were to be negotiated in final talks. In the five years in which Israel redeployed from only 18 percent of the land, it was able to benefit greatly from its role as a peace partner. Lucrative windows of opportunity were opened for Israel, which gained significant new economic markets and benefited from economic enterprises, not only as a result of the opening of Arab markets, but also through the international perception that Israel was gradually becoming part of an integrated and peaceful Middle East.
The last 18 months of confrontations have exposed Israel’s true nature as an aggressive occupier to the outside world. If this really is a zero-sum game, then it is to Palestinians’ benefit that Israel’s image has been damaged. It was former presidential advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski who said recently that it was disappointing to the friends of Israel, who expect it to be the shining light of democracy in the Middle East, that the majority of the world considers Israel to be a repressive state.
It must be said that all of these Palestinian gains have come at an extremely high cost. Israel has now regained some security control over the 18 percent of the occupied territories that it had previously given up. In addition, the significant nation-building and state-building accomplished by Palestinians with the generous help of the international donor community has been largely destroyed, especially in the last few months of indiscriminate Israeli bombardment and the recent attacks aimed directly at destroying those achievements. Finally, the prolonged Israeli policy of restricting Palestinian movement over the entire 18 months of confrontations, a policy intended to cause social and political disintegration, is starting to have its effect.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.