ISRAEL VERSUS ITSELF:
THE "PEACE PROCESS" AS SEEN FROM THE GROUND
Article 31(7) of the Oslo II Agreement states: "Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations."
Was there ever really a "peace process?" Looking solely at the political level it appears there was. After all there seemed to be some movement towards an agreement over the past seven years -- the negotiations, various interim agreements, the summit meetings culminating in Camp David. But on the ground an entirely different picture emerges. Not only has Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories been minimal, but since Oslo Israel has been systematically tightening its grip -- "creating facts" that (1) ensure its continued control, (2) preclude the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, and (3) prejudice and make meaningless the entire negotiation process.
Consider the following:
Since the Oslo Agreement was signed in September, 1993, Israel has:
* Dismembered the West Bank into "Areas A, B and C," giving the Palestinian Authority full control of only 18% of the land and retaining full Israeli control over 61%; divided tiny Gaza into "yellow, white, blue and green areas," giving 6,000 settlers control of 40% of the territory and confining 1,000,000 Palestinians to the rest; and completely severed East Jerusalem from the wider Palestinian society by means of a "closure;"
* Expropriated 385 square kilometers of farm and pasture land from its Palestinian owners (6% of the West Bank) for exclusive Israeli settlements and roads, together with another 10% of the Gaza Strip.
* Established 30 new settlements, including whole cities like Kiryat Sefer and Tel Zion; Constructed 90,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the settlements;
* Demolished more than 1200 Palestinian homes (out of a total of some 7000 since 1967). During the first three months of the current uprising Israel has destroyed -- by shelling and bulldozers -- somew 450 homes and several residential areas in Gaza and the West Bank;
* Doubled its settler population across the 1967 border to 400,000, 90% of which will remain under Israeli sovereignty according to Barak's plan. In the first year of the Barak government, 14,000 new settlers went to live in the Occupied Territories, and 4000 new housing units were approved – more than during Netanyahu's time. So far during the year 2000, there has been a 96% increase in settlement building activity compared to 1999. The Barak government has budgeted $300 million for settlement construction for the 2001 budget year, and has given the settlement a special status of "Development Area A" in order to encourage investment and subsidized housing;
* Begun construction of 480 kms of massive highways and "by-pass" roads serving the settlements while dissecting the West Bank into tiny islands and preventing the free movement of Palestinian people and goods;
* Imposed a permanent "closure" preventing masses of Palestinian workers from seeking employment in Israel and preventing Palestinians in general from entering Jerusalem. The Palestinian workforce has been transformed from one based on agricultural and an incipient industrial and commercial economy to impoverished casual laborers dependent upon an Israeli economy from which they are now largely excluded. Today Palestinians live within "internal closures," unable to move from one area to another, and workers have not been able to work in Israel since the start of the Intifada, creating widespread poverty and hunger. Harassment and humiliation are the Palestinians' daily lot;
* Uprooted some 80,000 olive and fruit trees (out of a total of some 250,000 and counting) for Israeli construction and "security. Some 10,000 trees and hundreds of acres of farmland have been cleared since the start of the current uprising;
* Exploited the natural resources of the Occupied Territories, illegally drawing, for example, 25% of its water from the West Bank and Gaza while leaving Palestinians with chronic water shortages. Ever since June 1967, Israeli occupation authorities seized control of Palestinian water resources. Palestinian aquifers are estimated to hold/produce about one billion cubic meters annually. Israel transfers only 130 million cubic meters to the Palestinians per annum while it pumps the rest to its illegal settlements in the occupied territories or to holding reservoirs in Israel proper. In Gaza, aquifers and renewable water resources produce approximately 580 million cubic meters annually. Israel sells about 115 million cubic meters to the Palestinian while pumps the rest to its illegal settlements in the Strip.
* Vandalized the West Bank and Jerusalem, one of the world's most sacred heritage sites, destroying its historical landscape and turning it into a disposal site for Israel's industrial and urban wastes.
* Created mechanisms of mass oppression. During the past three decades over 815,000 Palestinians had gone through the Israeli prison system mainly for resisting occupation activities. Israel openly practices a policy of assassination (khisul) of Palestinian leaders.
* Formulated plans for "unilateral separation" that include the construction of a massive system of bunkers, walls, fences confining Palestinians to "self-rule pockets," minefields, by-pass roads, "security crossings," checkpoints and other fortifications guarded by tanks, all designed to "protect" those parts of the West Bank in which "we want and need to defend."
All this has occurred in direct violation of international law (especially the Fourth Geneva Convention) and UN resolutions. It raises serious questions about who is and is not actually a "partner" for peace. It certainly provides a context for understanding why a second Intifada has broken out, and why a peace agreement is unlikely until Israel abandons the idea that it can "win," that it can "beat" the Palestinians.